Looking back on the last week in Japan, I’m most surprised by just how much we were able to do there. We visited –
- 3 cities: Kyoto, Nagoya, and Tokyo
- 6 companies: Omron, Suntory, Toyota, Shiseido, Mitsubishi Estate Corporation, 500 Startups
- 1 school: Hitotsubashi Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy
- 5 temples and shrines: Shunko-in, Fushimi-inari, Kinkaku-ji, Senso-ji, Meiji Shrine
We sampled ramen, sushi, yakitori, donburi, syabu-syabu, izakaya, tempura, monjayaki, and takoyaki. And we got pretty close as a group through many nights of sake and karaoke—not to mention trying the ryokan together. We learned how to drink tea, meditate, say “thank you” and “excuse me” in Japanese, and navigate the Tokyo subway system.
We wouldn’t have been able to do so much if not for the extensive planning and thoughtfulness of our student organizers but also the amazing variety of Japan itself. So I leave Japan feeling very grateful. Fortunately, “thank you” is one of the few things I can now say in Japanese: arigatou gozaimasu.
A few other surprises we encountered along the way in Japan:
- Though you always drive on the left in Japan, pedestrians should keep to the left in Tokyo, but keep to the right in Osaka.
- There is no tipping in Japan, and offering a tip can be considered an insult.
- There are women-only cars on Japanese subways. The rule only applies during rush hour, but you will be escorted off the train if you attempt to violate it.
- Toto seems to have a monopoly on toilets in Japan, and Americans may be surprised by the running water sound effects, heated seats, and multitude of other buttons.
- Sleeping on a tatami mat is surprisingly comfortable. Sitting through dinner on a tatami mat, however, requires a bit of flexibility.
- Wear nice socks. You will take off your shoes a lot in Japan: before sitting down a for meal, before entering a fitting room, before entering a shrine.
- Smoking is allowed in most restaurants. (There are, however, non-smoking rooms or floors in hotels.)
- Trashcans are hard to find in Japan. Streets are not lined with trashcans, and you won’t find trashcans in most public places or in lobbies. (Hint: look for recycling bins near vending machines.)
- Most people do not speak English. Most restaurants, though, have an English version of their menu and/or use a lot of pictures—pointing came in handy on this trip.