1. Forewarned Is Forearmed
Although globalization has done much to equalize the developed world’s cultural landscape, Japan still has a complicated system of mores and taboos that can seem overwhelming to the average occidental. For a last-minute primer, try eDiplomat.com’s section on business etiquette. It can really get you out of a jam.
Sumimasen is the magic word that makes all your gaijin woes wash away. An amalgamation that means Thank you, I’m sorry and Excuse me, if you only learn one word in Japanese, make it this one. In a culture that prizes respect, sumimasen can take you a long way.
3. Home Sweet Homestyle
Sometimes culture shock can be an almost palpable force, threatening to wash you away in a tide of isolation. A simple solution for such periods of disorientation is to go to your nearest major American fast food chain. Yes, your snobbish foodie friends will upturn their noses at your boorish ways, but your subconscious will weep at the familiarity of cornfed McRelief.
4. Lather, Rinse, Repeat
One of your most sought-after locations to visit shouldn’t be too difficult or costly to find; in fact, it’ll be in every self-respecting Japanese person’s home. The Japanese approach to home bathing explains facets of their culture that can’t be put into words, so track one down and enjoy the finest soak of your life. Trust me, once you go Japanese bath, you’ll never go back!
5. Apps-Addled Americans
Smartphones have truly revolutionized the way we hurriedly ask for the restroom. Waygo is a fantastic little app that uses your phone’s camera to translate signs and other collections of characters into English. For quick vocal translation, try iTranslate Voice Lite, currently available only on the iPhone.
6. East Meats West
Did you really travel to a nation synonymous with eating the oddest of hors d’oeuvres to stay tucked within comfy culinary confines? One of the great joys of travelling to a country with such strict food safety measures is to try anything and everything in sight! Our pick for strangest and most delicious: torisashi, skewered sashimi chicken breast sure to get your tastebuds buzzing.
7. Holy Moley
Some of the most beautiful buildings in Japan are religious in nature, which is why it’s so unfortunate that Westerners are often so intimidated by them. A great many religious institutions in Japan rely on pilgrimage for their income, so regardless of your personal beliefs, you’re more than welcome to take photographs. A favorite is Meiji Jingu, a forested Shinto shrine with a seasonal iris garden.
8. The Ties Have It
Not every Japanese souvenir need be encrusted with Hello Kitty-esque kitsch. Some of the finest crafted goods in Japan are at least partially inspired by Western fashions. Gentlemen, Osaka’s Ring Jacket suit brand blends meticulous Japanese artistry with the best of Neapolitan fashion. Ladies, Himiko’s Autumn Line blends practicality with a uniquely Japanese twist.