If I were to write a quick note to friends planning their first trip to Osaka or Kyoto, Japan, this would be it. This isn’t comprehensive. In fact, I’m writing point after random point, with no clear outline in mind – just typing away in the middle of the night, in a Kyoto townhouse that is more than a hundred years old.
1. The Japanese (at least those my travel buddy and I spoke with) speak little or no English, but they are willing to understand what you’re trying to say. They’re so polite, you want to hug them.
2. The Japanese train station system looks complex, but you’ll have to get used to it. The first time for us was overwhelming, but eventually, it became…less complex. I should’ve researched more, but work happened, so we ended asking the train officials all the time. They’re so helpful and soft spoken, you want to hug them.
3. Buy train and bus passes. To get around Osaka area, we bought a Kansai pass good for 3 days. The night we arrived, we bought a single ride ticket for a couple of hundred yen and ended taking the taxi (3000 yen for about 20 minutes!) when we transferred lines, because the last train for Amagasaki (where our hotel was) finished operations at 10pm – we missed it because our flight was delayed for an hour and there was a long line at the immigration. Speaking of which.
4. That long line at the Kansai International Airport immigration was something. Took us an hour and half to have our passports stamped. Aside from the usual photo, your fingerprints are also recorded.
5. Back to the passes, you can buy unlimited pass for 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, 5 days. We picked 3 days, that’s 5,500 yen each, or 4,000 pesos for both of us. In Kyoto, we had to move around through buses, so one day pass it is – that’s 500 yen each or about 180 pesos. Speaking of conversions.
6. I like to convert monies using the XE currency app.
7. If I do the conversions, M. does the navigation with Google maps. Google, still, is your friend. And maps, too. Real, actual maps, which are free everywhere, together with Explore Osaka/Explore Kyoto guides. In fact, I have a pad of them maps.
8. If you don’t have a pocket wifi because like us you came to Japan when everyone’s sleeping, and stores are closed and you weren’t able to rent a pocket wifi at the airport, then you can rely on free wifi from your accommodation or cafe/restaurants OR train stations.
9. See signs. Train stations display English equivalent of Japanese characters, so you’ll know if the next stop is ‘Umeda’ or ‘Kyoto’ or ‘Namba’ for instance. For other signs, you will take delight in seeing illustrations! After all, this country is anime/manga come alive, so it’s not short of pictures and illustrations.
10. It won’t hurt to learn a few more phrases or words, I think. I heard enough “Sumimasen” to make me look it up – it means ‘excuse me’. And even in the Philippines, every time I enter a Jap restaurant they shout this string of syllables, which I now Google -Irasshaimase! which more or less means Welcome, please come in. Lastly, ‘Arigatou’ or ‘thank you’ with a small bow somehow returns the politeness to them people whom you want to hug.