First Time In Japan- Don't Forget These!

Japan- ahh... Japan is my happy place. When I touched down in Osaka, I felt a strange sense of comfort in the unfamiliarity. Even though there was kanji galore (that I am horrible with), I didn't feel panicked at all.
Beautiful scenery on one of the first train rides.

Japan is one of those countries that you will be just fine getting around without knowing the language. Though it does help to know at least the most basic phrases and I never travel to a country without having those handy!  I’ve been lazily studying Japanese on and off for three or four years, so I had a slight advantage. I traveled with my brother and he knew a little as well. We developed a nice little system, I would read the kana and he would usually be able to tell me what it meant.
But language aside,  nothing could have prepared me for lack of toilet paper and soap in so many bathrooms that I encountered.
First guest house/hotel I stayed in. Luckily they had both toilet paper and soap.

The first thing I would advise to have on hand is toilet paper. A lot of promotional marketing in Japan involves handing out tissue packets with business names/brands on the front of them. Take them. Keep them in your bag so when you’re out and about and need to use the toilet, you won’t have to worry about whether or not there will be toilet paper.
I, unfortunately, have seasonal allergies, so I had handy a mini pack of tissues. It turned out to be not so unfortunate in the end. Japan’s spring allergens didn’t bother me at all and I had a packet of tissues in my bag that really saved me a time or two. When I was starting to run low and had planned on buying more, I passed a girl handing out the promotional tissue packets on a shopping street. Win!
Another tip, Japan’s toilets aren’t as powerful in terms of flushing as you might be used to if you’re from the states. That being said, try not to use so much toilet paper. You might also see signs like this-

Plenty of ESL signs around Japan that you will generally get the idea of and I am so thankful most places make an effort of English.

The next recommendation would be hand sanitizer. It isn’t very practical to carry around soap, so I liked to have sanitizer handy to use in between those times I would actually get soap to wash my hands.
One thing I noticed very early on was the way that every restaurant had individual packages of hand wipes available for you to use. While I didn’t find this overly odd, I did think it was a bit different, seeing as most places in the United States don’t practice this. Well it worked out because riding the bus and train all day long, touching the rails, touching door handles, touching– touching. So much touching all day long, paired with bathroom breaks and no soap makes for dirty hands. I’m pretty sure I used a hand wipe at every restaurant I ate at.
Alternatively, you could buy a small pack of baby wipes and keep those in your bag with you, too. I guess it depends on your preference.
Next would be, well, a bag. More accurately, a garbage bag. The streets of Japan are generally very clean and presentable and they do all of this without the overuse of public trashcans. Most of the time, when you dostumble on what you think is a trash can, please look again. It might be recycling. Their recycling is separated with different materials of waste, so please be mindful of that.
The third day in, I took a plastic sack that I got from a local Family Mart and I carried it in my bag in case I accumulated any garbage throughout my adventures of the day. Some areas are easier to find garbage cans than others, but you honestly never know when you’re going to pass one again (if you’ve even passed one at all). Larger train stations almost always have them and same goes with larger shopping streets. But even then, you can never assume one will be present.
So if you’re anything like me and you tend to eat way too many snacks along the way, you might want to consider a small bag inside your bag just for your trash, until you can dispose of it properly.

Something else to consider would be an umbrella. Though you don’t absolutely need one of these, Japan can throw a rainstorm at you without warning. Most hostel/guest houses and even hotels will have these available for you to use throughout your stay. Don’t forget to return it, though!
I ended up buying me a cheap one at a Family Mart. I think I spent the equivalent of three or four bucks and it served me well. If I hadn’t have taken it to Osaka Castle, I would have been a wet, miserable mess.
If you have the means of bringing a small one with you, it might be worth it. A bigger one might feel like it gets in the way at times (and it does, I’ll admit), but it was all I had and it served me well.
At that point, my big umbrella seemed like a nuisance. Not even five minutes after this photo was taken, I was very thankful I had it!

Last, but certainly not least, manners.
Sounds silly, right? It may, but Japanese are so polite that it is almost painful (but in a good way). “Sumimasen” (sue-me-mah-sen) or the shortened “suimasen” (sue-ee-mah-sen or often even see-mah-sen) can go a long way. Making your way through a crowd, getting a waiters attention, bumping into another person, accepting help, and many more. Just be polite and you will likely encounter most people showing you the same politeness.
Oh yeah, and if you smoke, don’t forget:

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Stick to the smoking areas, please!
Have you encountered any of these slight inconveniences? What would your suggestions be when traveling in Japan?
*Cross-post from my blog www.traipsingtara.wordpress.com all photos are my own*

Tara Trujillo