food travel

Japan: A Collection of Hopefully Helpful Tips and Observations


Ok, so maybe you want to go to Japan and don’t care about all my hilarious anecdotes? Here’s a collection of random tips:

If you have an unlocked phone, order a sim card and swap it out! You’ll have internet everywhere.

If you are going to use the local trains, get a Suica card. (You may be able to order a card online before you get there, if you really want to hit the ground running.) We used ours on different lines in Tokyo, and in Osaka. If we had taken the train anywhere in Kyoto, it would have worked there, too. We found the trains fairly easy to navigate. You can trade in your Suica card at the end of the trip to get any remaining money back. They can also be used at some vending machines? We did not try that.

Google translate is a lifesaver! Not sure what the menu says or what you are buying in a conbini? Aim your phone at it (internet required, see the tip above), and it will translate enough bits of things that you can sort of tell what it is you’re considering.

Need cash? Conbinis have ATMs.

Oh, you’ll need cash. Weirdly, not all places take credit cards.

Hungry? Conbinis have surprisingly good food!

What’s a conbini? A convenience store. Family Mart, Lawson, 7-Eleven. Yes. 7-Eleven. I have no idea why they all have ‘L’s in the name, but … they do.

Wendy’s First Kitchens have machines to order at, so you don’t have to interact with other humans (for ordering at least) if you don’t want to.

McDonald’s has handy laminated menus at the counter so you can point at what you want.

No eating and walking on the street. It’s rude, I guess? No one will stop you, but if you pay attention, anyone eating on the street has stopped walking and is standing off to the side.

There are drink vending machines everywhere, but food vending machines are few and far between.

The Japanese are all about the seasons! Including in their snack foods. We managed to get Apple Coke and White Peach Fanta because we were there in the fall. If you are a junk foodie, keep an eye open and you’ll get to try all kinds of weird stuff. (But Apple Coke and White Peach Fanta? So good.)

Japan (and Malaysia, too, so maybe it’s in all of Asia? Unsure) is all about random flavored Kit Kats. We tried all kinds of flavors. All kinds of flavors – many of them probably seasonal.

Stop in at a Don Quijote store. You’re welcome.

Also, check out the Robot Restaurant if you are in Tokyo. No locals attend the show, so it’s not really an authentic Japanese experience in that regard. But it is something unlike anything you’ve ever done, I can almost guarantee that.

food shopping travel

Okinawa: Shuri Castle

Shuri Castle

On this glorious morning: we slept in. I scheduled us a sleep-in day, half-way through the trip because that is what you need half-way through a trip like ours. Okinawa is a tropical kind of place, so it would have been more practical to go out in the cooler morning and siesta away the afternoon, but … that is not what we did.

The in-laws had also arrived in Okinawa! They had flown in from Kuala Lumpur, so no real jet lag: maybe an hour or two time difference? We got together to make arrangements for the Hip Hop Bus the following day, and then headed out for our afternoon adventures.

Shuri Castle is listed as being on the monorail, so we bought monorail tickets and headed on our way. Got off at the Shuri Castle stop … consulted the google maps … wandered a bit … and oh. my. gosh. Okinawa is so humid and so hot, and the castle wasn’t particularly close to the monorail stop. We eventually found the castle walls, but then there was so. much. walking. to find the actual entrance.

And I am so glad we did! A month after we got home, the whole castle complex burned down.

Which happens all the time in Japan: the castle we saw was a rebuilt version from 1992, I think? But, still. It burnt down?? How crazy is that?

We toured the castle, it was nice and cool inside, and they had some nice museum-y displays. In one of the buildings on the grounds, we caught a show of traditional Okinawan dancing! Also, it was nice and air conditioned.

And I found some more Fanta!

Super tart. Did not finish.

We headed back to the hotel, and chilled for a bit before heading out for the evening (so much cooler once the sun goes down!!) on Kokusai Dori street.

We introduced the in-laws to Don Quijote, which is where we left them for the evening. It was their first exposure and so they needed some time to take it all in.

food shopping travel

Osaka in a Typhoon!

Covered markets. On Typhoon Hagibis day.

So the hugely-slowed-down Hagibis arrived in Osaka. We had signed up for the optional tour to Hiroshima, but the bullet trains were down (because, hello, typhoon?!), so that was a no-go.

Which … the people on our tour just would NOT get. They were so complainy, and kept asking questions like, “Well, if the train is down, could we charter a bus?”

Now, the Japanese are not a fearful people. They are not known for backing down in the face of danger. But they are imminently practical. If there is a major typhoon with associated flooding happening? How ’bout you just all stay put till it passes?

Once Katy started using the word “hurricane” for all the Amurricans who didn’t understand what a typhoon was, they all seemed to get it. And then they flipped into the opposite direction, and were scared to leave Katy’s side. Ya can’t win with some people.

So in Osaka, the local trains, all running. Osaka was just … mild tropical stormy. Lots of rain, windy but not knock-people-over windy, and it was deemed safe enough by the local officials for the trains to keep running.

Katy offered to escort people to the train station, help them buy tickets, and take them around to see stuff.

Knowing that the people who needed such … attention … were the ones driving us bonkers, we opted to strike out on our own. We had our Suica cards, after all! So I found some covered markets: perfect for a rainy day! And off we went.

Unfortunately, the entrance to the covered markets: a few blocks from the train station. And so we walked with our new umbrella, got thoroughly soaked, and made it to the market!

Which was covered and dry! But also: all the shops were closed. Because, hello, typhoon? If the shop-keepers were coming in from out of town, it was likely their train lines were shut down.

And so we stopped in at a Don Quijote. Always a good time.

Discouraged that things seemed closed (and also a little worried, that if the locals weren’t out and about … should we be?) we headed back to our hotel.

Our hotel train station had a McDonald’s … so very probably it was a chicken nugget kind of night? Oh the fun of recording your trip 8 months late.

As a plus: the local trains in Osaka are super easy to navigate. I would love to go back someday! On a not-typhoon day.