Japan 2019 – Retrospective

This post is not about any specific day from the trip. Instead, my plan is to think outloud about Japan and reflect on things generally. It’ll probably be very dry since there aren’t really pictures.


First, I some comments on the blogging. I thought it was a good idea before, and I mostly feel good about it. The first few days were great, and I liked reflecting on the day before going to bed, when I wasn’t too tired. When Google Photos stopped being in order though, blogging felt like a chore. I won’t commit to it in the future, but I will most likely give it a try and keep at it as long as Google Photos behaves.

Japan and Cleanliness

In my first / pre- post I mentioned that my first impression of Japan was not of cleanliness. I have a slightly different view after finishing the trip. The excitement with which the cleanliness was conveyed to me implied it was pristine, which is definitely not the case.

That said, you can tell it’s clean by how rarely you see pests – flies, gnats, rats and even pigeons. But the cities still had a fart / “dirty water” smell anytime you walked around enough, there were still water stains / rust, and anytime I looked for them, cigarette butts.

What I did see though was that there was a lot of sweeping, a lot indoor dusting, and at one of the gardens I saw someone trimming a perfectly good tree. So it does seem like, for certain things, they seriously get ahead of any messiness so that it doesn’t even come up.

I’ll talk about trash here too, including a little bit more generally. I mentioned this previously, but public trashcans are rare. They have them at train stations, but I don’t recall seeing any of them just on the street. I think my experience there would have been a lot better if I spent less time worrying about my trash. On a related note, they seem pretty serious about recycling, which is good, but it was super confusing at first. I’m not going to provide details here, but I would recommend you read up on trash in the cit(ies) you’re going to before visiting Japan.

Lastly, I’m going to just say briefly that I think smoking is absolutely disgusting and I’m genuinely surprised that it’s so common in a culture which values cleanliness. I believe I read somewhere that ~90% of Japanese smokers consider themselves addicted, and I want to be compassionate toward that, but it was frustrating enough during the trip that I’m mostly just annoyed – being an addict doesn’t mean you need to smoke inside a restaurant. I literally don’t want to go back until they modernize on this point.


I planned certain things for week days specifically expecting fewer crowds. At no point during the day did it really seem like fewer people were out and about though, and it was enough adults and families that it didn’t feel like a spring break thing. The trains were always at least a little bit crowded, and I was in for a rude-awakening when we were on a truly crowded train where people were packed in like sardines.

The street crowds weren’t too bad, but the ones at the zoo and the last aquarium made things much less enjoyable. I felt like both were chaotic, you just had to push your way forward rather than there being an orderly line, which again for me doesn’t jive with Japanese culture overall.

They crowds were bad enough that I would make an effort in the future to plan around them, as much as possible, and to know when I wouldn’t be able to so that I can be mentally prepared.

Other Random Observations

Here are a few things which didn’t really deserve a whole section:

There were vending machines everywhere. They all accepted coins, and many accepted the train card. They rarely had food, which was a surprise based on what I recalled about my reading.

I don’t recall seeing any cigarette ads. I’m used to that in the states, but I was surprised about it in Japan given that the government owns a large stake in Big Tobacco there.

I strongly dislike what I saw of bicycle culture. Basically, people use the busy sidewalks. I definitely take bike lanes for granted sometimes, but at least for what we saw of Japan I wouldn’t be very comfortable cycling there.

Japan is conveyed as “high-tech” oftentimes and my evaluation of this is similar to the cleanliness. Yes, it’s true to an extent, but it’s not as exaggerated as one may expect. One thing which might factor into this view is how complex some things are, e.g. I had a hard time figuring out how to take a hot bath, and accidentally made noises in the living room while trying. My view on that though is that technology should be elegant, you shouldn’t need Google Translate to take a bath and they don’t get any tech-points from me for over-complicating things.

The clothes washers don’t have driers. That was an unpleasant realization, though not a big deal. It was weird though, having let the clothes dry by themselves meant they felt crusty, which to me is at odd with Japanese culture and cleanliness, but I guess they don’t see it that way.

I felt like light switches weren’t very intuitive. I figured out eventually that they tend to be outside of a room instead of inside, but I still felt like I had a hard time predicting which, in a cluster of switches, might do what I want.

Money isn’t handed directly to someone, it’s put in a tray as a middle-man. Same with the change and with credit cards. Haven’t looked into this, though it was interesting though.

Splitting lines is common. In the US, if a line gets too long, it just becomes awkward. In Japan it was common when a line got too long to have someone who worked at the place create a gap, and manage it so that the line wasn’t as disruptive. That was cool.

I agree for the most part that Japanese culture is very polite. I feel like smoking in public (especially in restaurants) causes them to lose a point, and crowds didn’t feel polite, but the only direct / personal issue we had was at the hotel check-in, and that seemed unusual.

Face masks were very common, though I don’t think the majority of people used them. I’m too lazy to provide a link here but I read that there’s not really much science behind them being particularly useful. Overall, they seem unnecessary to me but I don’t blame people for being conservative about it (except for the smokers).

I like their escalator culture. There’s enough space for two people side-by-side on just about every one of them, and people were good about staying left and allowing walkers on the right. Two out of the three times I saw this violated, it was by someone blond, so they were probably not Japanese (and a little clueless unfortunately).

I didn’t meditate regularly during the trip. I do so for 10-15 minutes every week day at home (and often on weekends). I felt like I was mostly very mindful during the trip though, especially of when I was hangry or in a bad mood which the guys were never responsible for. I realized fairly late in the trip that during all the walking around, there was a blind spot to my mindfulness which was bothering me. No details on that here, but the trip would have been better if I had handled that part better.


Make sure you have Google Translate installed before the trip, along with the Japanese language pack. While there are real-time translation features, I would recommend translating anything ahead of time when you think there might be an issue, since back-and-forth is rarely necessary.

I regret not making an effort to learn some Japanese before going. I thought I would get along fine, so it wouldn’t be an issue, but that was only half true. I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t made the effort, because clearly so many Japanese people we interacted with did make an effort. In the future, I plan to at least go through a Coursera course or something on the local language before going somewhere new.

Visit teamLab Planets, it’s great!

Be mindful of IC-card (e.g. Pasmo) use at vending machines. We nearly ended up having to leave several more dollars than necessary on our cards because we had to reload because we used it on vending machines, which itself may entail hitting an ATM which has a minimum withdrawal as well as any fee(s). Instead, I would have stuck to change. The other thing is that it means that all three of us would have had the same balance, instead of having to figure how much needed to be added for each card individually.

Things That I Missed

I have a heavy blanket on my bed at home. Cats. Just feeling comfortable at home. Driers. Easy bathes. Wall sockets which reliably have ground. By the end of the trip, I was very ready to be home.


It was a great trip, and I would do it again. I still don’t plan on revisiting Japan until they modernize on smoking, which I expect they will. The guys were great to travel with and the worst part was when I snapped at Mikel which he didn’t deserve, but they really were great. I might plan for a slightly shorter trip in the future and a day off of work before going back in. I’m happy about the blogging, which I expect to read when I’m older even if no one else does.