Tips for Travelling to and around Japan

Q & A Interview for a web mag (reference lost):

-Did you know anybody in Japan when you went?

Nope, didn’t know anyone or speak a word when i arrived. My older brother had lived in Japan and heard from a friend about a mushroom farm looking for a foreign worker. At the time, I was hitchhiking through the southern US after traveling Europe when i called my Mom to check in. She told me about that he’d pay the airfare. So, 2 weeks later i was standing on the side of road with my backpack, late at night with snow up to my knees waiting for a van to pick me up. The next day i started a 6 day a week, 10 hours a day job growing enoki and shiitake mushrooms.

-How did you survive the communication barrier?

First, humility – you have realize you will sound like a child or a caveman saying “I need food” “where is toilet” and basic tasks become tricky and people will try not to snicker

Second, smiling – i had a long hair and big beard and wore worker’s overalls and rubber boots so people didn’t quite know what to make of me in the rural area where i lived so smiling helped ease the surprise and awkwardness

Third – if you learn a dozen “special” words, you can totally act like you know it all ;-) Domo, dozo, so desu ne, so desu ka, hai hai, itsu, doko, suimasen …

-Any tips to people going to Japan?

Be prepared to simultaneously step 100 years into the future and 100 years into the past. Stay away from everything familiar (restaurants, hotels) and embrace the weirdness. Soak in hotsprings, eat octopus, get lost, head into the mountains and stay in a hut with strangers. For me, hitchhiking the country roads was totally safe and fun – folks picked me up and often invited me to their fave restaurant, tourist attraction, house, bar or temple. I stayed almost entirely away from the cities and found countryside somewhat unexpectedly wild and full of old agricultural and spiritual traditions. I also grew to savour the classic and modern literature of Japan – read these rather than guidebooks before going to better appreciate Japan.

Whatcha think?