Our trip in Japan was really fun, and I was the most relaxed I’ve ever been in another country while I was there. I’m an anxious person, and the same goes for when I travel. I’ve had panic attacks abroad, and dealt with a low level of anxiety the entire time I was in certain countries, but I travel anyway because the good outweighs the bad, and I don’t want my anxiety to rule my life.
I say all this to contrast my experience in Japan. I only felt anxious a couple of times on my whole two-week trip. That was mostly related to eating, which is often what can bring on my anxiety because my anxiety stems from my health.
Context probably played a big role for me. First of all, I lived in Asia for 18 months, and specifically in East Asia for about 14 of those. So right away, Japan hardly felt foreign. I first noticed the similarities with South Korea, though as time passed I noticed more differences.
Second, I was traveling with two Japan experts. Jeff and Kevin had lived in Japan for 3 months and a year, respectively. Jeff speaks some Japanese, and Kevin is conversant, so I could defer to them when I needed to. I taught myself some Japanese beforehand, and especially focused on learning kanji, which did come in handy occasionally and was kind of fun.
Those things were unique to my trip, but there are several other factors that would make Japan a good destination for anyone.
People are Polite and Helpful
Politeness is a key value in Japan (this is one of the ways that it is different from Korea, where people were not always polite). We had very pleasant interactions with everyone we spoke to.
Many people were quite helpful, even if they did not speak much English. If we stopped to look at a map, someone might come up and ask if we needed help.
Large crowds in Japan are very civil. This is important because it’s a crowded country. It’s very unlikely that anyone will try to shove you out of the way or run into you in a crowd. I can get nervous in crowds but I was okay even in Shibuya Crossing!
It’s Easy to Find English or Picture Menus
In the big cities, English menus are a breeze to find. You won’t need to limit yourself to the most touristy restaurants, either. But even elsewhere, at places with no English menu, you aren’t necessarily out of luck.
Often, there will be pictures on the menu. And, even better, most restaurants have food models out front showing the dishes they serve. If you’re in a bind, you can always guide the waitress outside and point at the food model you most want to eat!
Also, all subways and trains have the names of stops in English letters, so you won’t need to worry about that. The shinkansen did announcements in English as well as Japanese. Local trains didn’t always, so you’ll need to pay a bit more attention to the station signs.
Everything is Convenient
The best part of travel in Japan is the convenience. Not just convenience stores like 7-Eleven, though those are extremely abundant and a great place to grab a drink, a snack, breakfast, or cash.
Rarely will you find yourself at any large distance from a public toilet, and they are clean and free. Most of them even have at least one Western toilet, though for the squat-toilet-challenged like me, a lot of the squat toilets have bars to hold onto! I also, for the record, really love the fancy Japanese toilet seats with heating and jets.
Vending machines are absolutely everywhere, so we didn’t even need to worry about how much water to carry with us. We just carried however much we felt like, and then bought water at a vending machine when necessary for around $1.
There was hardly a time in Japan when I needed something and couldn’t easily find it nearby. That is a rarity when traveling – it can often be stressful if you need a band-aid or other small thing and having to figure out where you’ll need to go to get it. But in Japan, you can walk into a grocery store, department store, 100-yen shop, or convenience store, and likely find what you need.
The only thing that can be hard to find is a place to sit! Public seating is not very common.
Japan is Safe
Japan is clean. The water is safe to drink. The food safety is very good (there isn’t much street food, but what there is I wouldn’t hesitate to eat).
Personal safety is rarely an issue. Violent crime is very rare. I felt safe at all times, which takes a lot of stress out of travel days. If you lose something, you will most likely find it.
There are many reasons that I loved my time in Japan, but the low stress of traveling there was a big part of why I fell in love with it. I recommend Japan to anyone – maybe learn a few phrases to be polite, but don’t be afraid to go!
Have you been to Japan? What did you think?