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7 Insider Tips For Enjoying Japan

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Flickr: David Offf
Flickr: David Offf

If you're traveling to Japan, slide right in with the culture with these seven tips:

1. Learn the word "shinhatsubai" which means "new product." This refers to a new item that has just arrived on the shelves in any given shop, restaurant, café, convenience store, etc. Have you tried the new ramen-flavored candies, cherry blossom flavored potato chips or McDonald's new Autumn "moon viewing" burger? Ah, the lure of the latest new product! Dream about it, pine for it and become obsessed with it to the point that you must have it as soon as possible. Travel long distances to get it, rearrange your whole day around it, even stand in line for it. If not, you will lie awake at night regretting that you didn't get in on the latest thing. And you wouldn't want that now, would you?

2. Embrace the new pronunciation of your name. The name "Kim," for example becomes Keemu in Japanese. Kimberly, on the other hand, is pronounced Keembaaree. Unfortunate is the person who has lots of 'r's or 'l's in their name, because the Japanese find these sounds difficult to say. (Imagine the problems Rumpelestiltskin would have if he came to Japan!) Introduce yourself with the Japanese pronunciation, ie: Keembaaree rather than Kimberly, as Japanese people will find it much easier to use the Japanese pronunciation. Alternatively, choose a variation of your name that fits best into the Japanese syllabary.

3. Try the flavors, all of them. Let's get this straight -- you are never, and I mean never, too good for a flavor, even if it is red azuki bean-flavored ice cream, a matcha latte or milk-flavored candy. How will you know if you like horse-flavored ice cream if you've never tried it? Yay or neigh?

4. Get some post office souvenirs. Yep, the post office gives out gifts to customers such as coin banks, tenugi (hand towels) and coasters. Hey, you are a customer -- you need gifts.

5. Choose cute colors. There are many colors in Japan that we don't have in the west, such as kawaii pink, kawaii blue or kawaii white. Kawaii red is used for things like drawings of strawberries, smiling cheeks and Hello Kitty's hair ribbon. Navy blue, grey and dark green are not cute colors. Pastels are cute. Color with fur is cute. Any color that has sparklies in it is super cute. You wouldn't, for example, buy a pair of shorts with boring navy blue birds on them. Go for the pair with pink gorillas or pastel-colored cupcakes.

6. Learn to ride the trains efficiently. Westerners might type messages on their mobile phones or read a book while on the train, but there is so much more you can do! Sleeping, for one. After you learn how to sleep on the train, you'll realize how much time can be saved at home in your bed. You'll learn to sleep while sitting with your ears open so you'll know when to get off at your stop. This position is also a great guise for meditation. Breathe deeply, recite mantras in your head and arrive at your destination enlightened.

7. Support local communities. Every area of Japan is famous for some type of food, fruit or sweet. The prefecture where I live, Okayama, is famous for peaches. The town I live in, on the other hand, is famous for the helmet crab, a living fossil. The island I live on is famous for something else -- the sea weed it makes. Find out what the local products are that are representative of the prefecture and town you are visiting. Then buy those products as souvenirs for people back home or to take if you are going to visit someone. You'll be seen as taking an interest in the culture while helping the local economy.