Japan 10: Dos and Donts

Do go to Shinjuku Station to get lost. You can’t fail.

Cross the mad road at Shibuya. It IS mad.

Have an expensive drink at The New York Bar at the Hyatt Regency, Tokyo, enjoy the views and meet the ghosts of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

Sit at the counter or a low table upstairs at Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu, Tokyo, where Uma Thurman chopped up a couple of hundred Yakusa before parting Lucy Liu from the top of her head. It’s a great spot.

Get a mobile wifi. It’s about €8 a day but to get around, check bus and train timetables and to find your way out of Shinjuku Station, it’s vital.

Watch the Japanese hold a seat upstairs in a cafe by leaving their bag on it while they go down to get their coffee and sweet cake. The level of trust and honesty is amazing.

See eight year old children make their own way home from school completely safely in down town Tokyo. It’s wonderful.

Get a Suica card from day one for transport all over Japan and you can use it in 7Elevens to buy stuff too. Best. Thing. Ever.

Learn the few words of please, thanks, hello before you go. The Japanese are so polite, it’s only fair to make the effort.

Go into a top notch store at opening time to experience twenty or thirty people bowing at you as you pass, as if you were the emperor. Bow back.

Take a chance on the food. What’s the worst that can happen? You order a dozen tuna eyes, yum yum pigs bum.

Get out of the cities. We saw flying squirrels in the woods at night, for fuck’s sake.

Read Understanding Japan, a Cultural History by Mark J Ravina before you go. Or get the audiobook.

Try to meet and quiz a Japanese person. We didn’t and I regret it. We did meet Niamh a couple of times which was great and we learned a lot from her. By the way she goes by the name of Ni Ah Fu (3 symbols) over there. I’d probably have to be Tie Ag. A bit like the Kerry pronunciation.

Never use the word Jap. I was in an onsen (hot spring) and a nearby American used it a few times. Grrr.

Go to a ryokan and onsen. Wear a yukata and get naked in the hot spring. There are rules.

Go to a temple (Buddhist) and a shrine (Shinto), light some candles or incense, take your shoes off and say a prayer.

Don’t go to McDonalds (we didn’t) or Starbucks or Tullys (we did, for good coffee).

Do check out the pachinko (fucking mad slots and manga games places loud loud loud); a toy store (you couldn’t make it up); manga; cycling in Kyoto; bento box takeouts for lunch; warm toilet seats; street food from a market; how the locals can take power naps on the train; the cleanliness despite no rubbish bins; the orderliness and queues; Miyajima island; Hiroshima; the Geisha quarter in Kyoto; Dotonbori in Osaka; the Shinkansen (bullet train) – get the JR Pass in advance; saki with sushi and sashimi; buses trams and the metro; the baskets/boxes in restaurants for coats/bags; kabuki theatre; the salarymen suits and scuffed shoes; crazy outfits in Karajuku; chat to the little school kids who will come up to you in groups in the street to practice their English (escoose me, escoose me); the two types of rubbish strictly enforced – burn able and non-burnable; slippers for indoors; the great spelling and grammar mistakes on English signs and notices; whisky without an e; the road traffic control guys with little light sabres; no towels in toilets – buy and carry around your own small one & look the part; the TV (we didn’t); Koyasan (holy mountain); bamboos in Arashiyama, Kyoto; all the food types; no tips ever; bowing back; making eye contact; the ‘r’ and ‘l’ challenge; Akihabara in Toyko; Hakone, a baseball game, much much more…

Do go to Japan.


Novelist, short story writer, essayist, sports writer. Crime novel: Whatever it Takes due out 31 July 2020. The First Sunday in September, debut novel, published in 2018. Mercier Press, Stinging Fly, Irish Examiner, Irish Times, The42.ie, Holly Bough, Honest Ulsterman, Quarryman, Silver Apples.

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