To the outsider, Japan is a place of puzzling contradictions. Its people are modest and welcoming, yet nightlife is vibrant and rowdy. Workers in tailored suits loosen ties in backstreet clubs and sleep off their exuberance on the metro ride home while Buddhist monks meditate in hillside temples.
Ancient temples and picturesque landscapes provide a further baffling contrast to the bustling neon cities. It's this exhilarating, contradictory cultural clash that makes Japan such a rewarding place for travelers. However, people in the West seem determined to cling on to a set of long-established myths about Japanese society.
Myth 1: Japan is too expensive to visitREALITY: We've all heard the story of the $150 melon in Japan, and while this is only half way true savvy travelers should brush-off Japan's misleading reputation as an overly expensive travel destination.
After going through Japan's major cities, we've discovered that Japan is surprisingly affordable when it comes to accommodation, transport, and meals. Of course there are pricey, luxury hotels, but you can also find loads of affordable accommodation that would suit plucky traveler son a budget: capsule hotels, business hotels, 'ryokan' (Japanese inn) -- you could even spend a night in a 'manga kissa', a 24-hour comic book internet cafe with private sleeping capsules.
When it comes to meals in Japan, during our travels we've spent around $20-25 per person with a drink during our travels and have also spent $130 per person on a beautiful 'kaiseki' dinner and tofu tasting menu.
You can always get a quick bowl of ramen for about $6 and even pop into a 7-Eleven for one of their quick and surprisingly tasty meals or snacks.
Also - remember you're not obliged to tip after meals, so you'll save a bit there too.
Myth 2: Sushi is an everyday foodREALITY: Japanese cuisine is incredibly varied, and only the most ardent sushi enthusiasts will eat it every day. It is, however, very normal for the locals to grab a casual lunch at a sushi restaurant or 'sushi-'. Ordering food is not as hard as you might imagine too, the menus are usually accompanied with helpful pictorials.
Myth 3: Public transportation is difficult to useREALITY: Japan offers cheap and efficient public transportation with excellent subway networks and clean trains that run like clockwork, not to mention the bullet train, which hurtles through the countryside at an eye-watering 180 miles per hour. Finding your way around, while daunting at first, becomes simple once you figure out the system, and uninformed station staff is happy to direct you to the right platforms and trains if you're lost. The ticket vending machines and subway maps display different routes listed in both Japanese and English along with the ticket fares that you should purchase, depending on which station you are going to. Whilst on the train announcements are often made both in Japanese and English (in major cities like Tokyo). What you may find when travelling in Japan is that there is often an overabundance of information written rather than the opposite - case in point, while visiting the facilities in Tokyo Haneda Airport we noticed there was a map listing the location of the sinks and toilets along with a suggested route of walking through the restroom (!).
Myth 4. All of Japan is crowdedREALITY: Although parts of Japan are densely populated, especially Tokyo and Yokohama. Japan is a very respectful society and people do not shove or litter (they wait until they get home to throw away trash), which makes dealing with crowds a lot more bearable. There are also lots of quiet and peaceful destinations in Japan, such as the Kii Peninsula which is just two hours away from Osaka and also the remote Tohoku region with rustic charm and all!
Myth 5. There are too many cultural barriersREALITY: When you enter a new place the locals will shout 'irrashaimase' (welcome), and when you leave there will be shouts of 'domo arigato gozaimashita' (thank you very much). You may or may not have read about the arcane social rules of Japanese culture, but the Japanese are very considerate and polite to outsiders and will not take offense at Western transgressions, as long as you are polite, avoid shouting in public and take off your shoes when entering homes and shrines (if required).
The Japanese are definitely not formal as the stereotypes might suggest, and are quite prepared to let their hair down and have a laugh. What do you think of these five myths? If you have been to Japan and would like to contribute and express your opinion, please feel free to do so, by leaving your thoughts in the comment section. Why not dispel the myths for yourself and explore Japan with us, click here for details.
Until next time, safe travels!