Selective Hearing’s Japan Trip Planning Guide Part 8 – Misconceptions About Japan

In this final installment of the guide we will break down some common misconceptions about Japan so you don’t make the same mistake many before have made. It would be funnier to let you wander out into the wild and screw up like a normal person, but seeing that many of you want to make a good first impression we’ll throw you a bone.

Some of these points have been mentioned previously but this is a good way to reiterate certain things of importance. With that said, let’s get this going shall we?

Don’t assume everyone speaks English

Even though globalization has brought us closer together there is still one constant barrier that keeps everyone apart: LANGUAGE.

Sure Japanese children take English in school. Same as you or I who took French, Spanish or some other foreign language as part of our daily studies back in the day. But how many of you actually remember most of the stuff you learned?

For example, I took French because in Canada they said you couldn’t get into university without it. (Bullshit by the way.) But the only stuff I remember now is what I can read off a cereal box in the grocery store or the phrase “C’est le but!!!!” (Hockey fans should know that one.)

You should expect the same type of deal from Japanese people. They are educated in English but some either don’t have the drive to become fluent or just want to get by and forget about the whole awful experience of having to learn it in the first place after getting by on enough to pass their classes.

Do the right thing and learn some Japanese even if it’s the typical touristy type stuff that will really get you nowhere in a hurry. As long as you can manage to at least scrape by you should be fine.

If all else fails then just whip out this gem and prepare to be rejected:

“Eigo ga hanase masu ka?” – Can you speak English?

Or just pull the ignorant gaijin and be like Chris Tucker in Rush Hour:

“Can you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”

Riding the train is difficult and scary

Looking at the maps of the Japanese train system is confusing and mind boggling at first but after the first few trips it’s very convenient and simple to understand.

As I mentioned before you can always use the JR Yamanote line if you’re completely scared shitless and that will get you to where you need to go for the most part. But to understand the train system and its efficiency you must use it in its entirety. That means learning how to read the map and figuring out all the interconnecting lines besides the big circle. Every line has a color and each station has a number associated with it and as long as you can remember those you shouldn’t have any issues getting from point A to point B.

Using the ticketing system is a bit tricky since some machines do not have the option for English. It’s not hard to figure out what to do but you’re better off going with the pre-paid card system if you don’t like headaches or holding up other people in line.

Lastly, everyone is afraid of the crowded train and the pushers who cram you in like sardines. From my own experience I have never seen any train cars get so full that the dudes with the white gloves and the prodding sticks start playing human Tetris.

It’s really not that bad. Yes, there are a lot of people around all the time but there’s no significant difference from any other major city. Rush hour, off-peak times, rush hour again and off-peak time until end of service.

Honestly you’ll have way more difficult tasks ahead of you and riding the train will be a cakewalk in comparison.

Everything is expensive

No. It’s you who has expensive tastes. Stop planning to buy a lot of shit and quit wanting to live like a baller in some fancy hotel. Don’t have a list of restaurants you saw on the Food Network on your must eat places.  Those will only burn a hole in your wallet faster.

You can easily live off the recommended $200 US per day if you cut back on temptations and stick to your budget. Eat at a ramen stand, Lawson’s or 7-11.   Or just don’t eat at all and live off the stored energy in your body. Bears can do it, why can’t you?

Referring  back to the expenses chapter of this series,  I know that most of you who are reading this do not subscribe to being frugal. “Go big or go home.” is the mantra that most J-Pop fans follow when they get to the center of their universe. In that particular case then yes,  Japan is expensive. But it’s your own damn fault for making it that way.

Japan is a futuristic wonderland

Granted the country has some cool technological innovations but don’t expect to see robot dog butlers, floating cars and sex androids. That’s just silly and a byproduct of Akihabara and the geek culture that fuels the image of neon infused Mecca of tech.

In some ways Japan has some neat things like practical infrastructure, architecture that makes use of limited space, vending machines for various products and the automated car parks that do some weird stacking of your vehicle. But there’s also some back woods stuff like old school squat toilets, lack of hand towels in public restrooms and no 24 hour ATM’s.

To think that maybe you would be walking into the world that is portrayed in the Ghost In The Shell series is unrealistic and perhaps delusional.

You are gaijin, you can pick up any woman off the street

If that were the case I should have been swimming deep in maid café workers but that wasn’t the case. Why? Because I’m Asian yo. Okay, that is a bad example because I’m not ethnically exotic enough and kind of just blend in.

Still, if you’re of another ethnicity don’t expect go get any play from the many random Japanese women off the street just because you don’t look like the average dude they see on a daily basis. Especially if you don’t speak the language.  By the way hand gestures only get you so far and eventually you will have to verbally communicate with others.

Obviously if you got game you can step to any woman and find a spinner for the night without having to pay an insanely high price for your 30 seconds of ecstasy. I’m just telling you not to expect a land of booty and honey unless you end up in Roppongi. With that said I’ll direct you to some advice from Kanye West as a word of warning.


These were not all of the misconceptions about Japan that maybe you were thinking of, but those were the ones that stood out to me the most. Feel free to add your own in the comments section below.

Now that this is over with I can say I believe that is the end of this series. Perhaps some of the information provided was helpful in your own planning or maybe not. The least you should have taken away is that there is some investment in strategy when it comes to a trip such as one to Japan. You can always just wing it but that takes a certain type of personality to deal with the unexpected.

Whatever you end up deciding to do out there have fun, stay safe and don’t try to GLOMP your favorite idols.

About Greg 994 Articles
Greg is the creator, administrator, editor, code monkey, overlord and general jack of all trades at Selective Hearing. He can be found lurking among the overseas Asian pop fandom and bumming around Japan every year for some reason or another.