Japan can be intimidating, even for seasoned travellers. You arrive to massive sticker shock, tiny octopi in soup, and 30 kinds of hot canned coffee (which all taste moreorless the same) in ubiquitous vending machines.
Japan is a long country with 80% mountains – covering several climates, from frosty Hokkaido in the north, to tropical Kyushu giving adventurous folks much opportunity to head to the outer provinces for exploration of the heady scenery of this varied archipelago. With some planning, politeness and persistence, combined with a little zen, you can find big adventures.
Indeed, it is easy to get lost in the big cities of Tokyo and Osaka – crowded with skyscrapers and twisted alleys, piled high with screaming neon clubs pumping techno, reggae or karaoke and shops piled with futuristic technological gadgets that won’t make it to North America for another decade – but, far away from the expensive hotels and talking toilets of the huge Pacific metropolis, you may find yourself soaking in alpine hot springs on a starry night, drinking sake with strangers crammed into a mountain hut after a backcountry dinner of rice, seaweed, miso and green tea.
Best to fly to Kansai (KIX) Osaka airport. This schmancy modern airport is located on a human-made island in the middle of the bay and includes 2 hotels, like 100+ restaurants, post office, an airplane viewing platform and importantly, a train station. The hotels (the full-service Nikko Hotel & business-single-pod-style First Cabin) are super useful if you arrive exhausted from the long flight (usually about 14 hours from N.A. west coast). A short trip from the airport’s island by shuttle bus brings you to loads of other hotels. This airport village also has loads of shopping for buying treats on your way home. Of course, the are other airports, specifically Tokyo (massive international hub Narita NRT or sometimes Haneda HND which is usually used for domestic flights) and the new Centrail/Chubu/Nagoya (NGO) airport. While you might save a few dollars on the flight, you’ll have a longer (more expensive) train journey to reach Okayama which is the destination for the shindig.
Fly direct to Okayama (OKJ) via the charmingly convenient and cute Momotaro Airport. If you fly to Haneda or Narita (Tokyo) mentioned above, you can transfer and fly right here. Sometimes this requires an airport shuttle between Narita (mostly international) and Haneda (more domestic). There is a bus service from Momotaro to downtown Okayama too. Note: there is a huge service difference for the long-haul flights from North America. My personal experience is to fly an Asian-based airline, i.e.: Japan (ANA *fave, JAL), Korean (Korean or Asiana), Taiwan (EVA), HK (Cathay Pacific) or Singapore if coming from YVR, SFO, LAX, etc. If coming from other Asian destinations, well you are usually all good. I have experienced much less enjoyment from US-based airlines and China mainland airlines often have low prices but check the reviews and adjust against your comfort levels.
A few notes and tips and phrases compiled for guests coming to wedding but likely useful for most anyone coming to Japan.
Remember you must always have your passport with you (stupid but hey… rules is).
Shoes are never worn in homes, change into slippers (which will never ever fit), then different slippers for toilet, don’t forget to change back (you will forget), socks only in tatami (straw mat) rooms.
Big stores / malls often offer tax-refund. Gotta take receipt, passport and credit card (if used) to special kiosk. They will stick receipt and stamp in passport, weird but hey, ya get money back.
Don’t walk and smoke. Hang in front of konbini store, pachinko, find smoking cage, or smoking section of resto or park.
Can drink alcohol on streets and parks however… no sloppiness, penalties/jail harsh.
Konnichiwa = Hello
Chotto matte = Just a moment/please wait
Hai = yes
Iie or Chigaimasu = no / different or wrong
Douzo = go ahead, please (this is super handy!)
Sugoi! = Great! Amazing! i.e.: How is Japan? Sugoi!
Suimasen = excuse me (used allll the time as is Go-men which is like “sorry”)
Kudasai = please i.e. “Kohi o kudasai” = “coffee please”
Domo, Domo Arigato, Domo arigato gozaimasu = thanks, thanks a lot, thank you very very much
Jaa ne / Matta ne = See you / again
Toire (toilet) doko desuka? = where is the toilet (there are more trad words for toilet “benjo” and “o teirei” but the Japanese-i-fied english word is easiest
Konbini = convenience store (7-11, Lawson, Family Mart are plentiful & amazing)
In prep for a barrage of international renegade diplomats descending upon Okayama, I cobbled together another decidedly mediocre video to share a few ways of getting around the city – streetcars, busses, taxis, and bicycles – as well as a finding those said ways and other information about information, ya know for tourists.
Another dispatch coming soon with specifics about getting to shrine (ceremony), resto (fancy lunch) and goat farm (party). In the meantime, please accept my humble offering.
This dispatch shares wayfinding tips to get from the main train station, down a covered shopping arcade, over a canal, a stop for coffee (optional) and then to Koraku Hotel (conveniently embedded with a post office and convenience store). Then passing statues and bars, to the Okayama View Hotel – located across from the Birkenstock store ¥100 shop – and over to the Tenmaya shopping area and transit hub as needed.
A lil video in which i mispronounce various words, stumble through “advice”, share poorly made photos, and in general, provide semi-useful instructions for riding trains – specifically the various Shinkansen “bullet” trains to get from KIX to Okayama for various wedding festivities.
This dispatch shares the logistics of getting to and fro various important locations for the wedding festivities, specifically: Munetade Shrine, Fuyahei resto and Rural Caprine Farm goat farm by party via train and taxi. Also, the general plan about what to expect, when to show up and how to dress.
Plus an overview of activities to do with free time like museums (lots), hot springs, picnics, and day trips to Kurashiki (art and canals), Bizen (pottery and swords), Hiroshima (atomic bombs), and Kyoto (everything). Plus tips on staying in communication with all your new friends – both Japanese folks and the other 25 international radicals.
Some great tips – recently i’ve moved 13 blogs, pods, columns and other feeds into one big site and now organizing and coalescing the all artifacts from various speaking gigs. So many links are expired, images removed, videos down (thanks blip.tv) and so on.
I have a few tips to add:
Archive.org’s Wayback Machine is a great way to capture some – not all — old posts and reviews etc. Mainstream media outlets are the worst it seems for archiving — plus some sites block Archive with a robots.txt file prohibiting indexing and/or some dynamically generated sites don’t archive well so your mileage may vary
Before i do an event, i set up a Hootsuite dashboard to monitor all the conference or whatever’s conversation. Instagram & Twitter hashtags, Youtube, geo-located searches and variations on my name and company name (when applicable)
Once i am done a prezo or other gig, i’ll quickly favourite, star, like whatever all the relevant posts (usually at the airport) and then, soon after, create an archive “roundup” in Storify (used to do manually but this is so quick). UPDATE: Storify is no more, but Wakelet does a great job.
I keep monitoring for a week or two for any blog followups, news mentions etc. and then add to the Storify. Storify will send each person mentioned a Tweet thanking them for the contribution
Once done, i create a roundup blog post for each gig including a preface for context. I often now copy/paste almost entire posts (with a preface) since so many things are lost to the ether
Then i add the event to a “Speaking Gigs” list on a page which references back to the roundup post
A dear friend’s teenage daughter was heading out on her first foreign adventure–as such, i passed along a few thoughts. Sharing as perhaps others will find helpful.
Hi E.,It’s Dave here – and while I don’t have knowledge of all things, I do have a lot of knowledge about traveling… Not about fancy hotels and airline miles and gourmet restaurants but instead, grassroots travel where you immerse yourself in the culture and never really quite return home because much of your heart remains behind.
Now I don’t know all the details but I understand you’re going to a rather “developing” (hate this term but…) with a school group to do a humanitarian project – all that is awesome and, since I’m here, I’ll share a few random tips for you to consider while you ramble.
First off, all that stuff about packing light is very, very important. Consider your clothes a “uniform” and trust me, no one cares what outfits you wearing plus, one of the funnest things to do is buying clothes local and then you come home with a neat outfit. I take clothes which are quick drying, dark colors, and well-worn in so I don’t mind giving them away when I leave.
Since you have this extra room in your pack now you will fill it with something much more valuable: treats for the people. I don’t mean important expensive things but some of the things I take include: sets of pencil crayons, notebooks, pens and buttons with fun designs, postcards from my home town (remember agricultural people around the world love seeing photos of animals and farms and plants and so on), sometimes deflated soccer balls but those are a bit clumsy.
My last big trip I printed out hundred postcards of my art so I had something to give to people that really created that connection much more than a “Facebook friend.”
Document extensively but use cameras judiciously. What I mean by this is that photos are often the worst way to connect with the people (there are exceptions like instamatics), as it put something between you and them, and that something is also an expensive piece of technology.
Now photos are so important and I’m so grateful for the few foggy images I have from my first travel spots, my rule was to buy one or two disposable cameras, peel off the outer wrappers so is just a plastic black box and then I am limited by those 24 or 48 exposures so each shot had to be very important.
Sure lots of them turned out really lousy but the intention was a lot of fun. Now I travel with a sardine can film camera which produces hazy water-colored memories which sort of seemed like how memories fade.
Instead, I love to make notebooks, fill up journals, scrapbooks with all my travel artifacts (ticket stubs, postcards, brochures, signatures, sketches, maps,…) These give you an interactive talking point with folks as you meet them and, of course travel with a pencil bag so folks can sign and add their thoughts to the big jumbo book, plus flip through and see other artifacts of me and my journey. I even throw in a few family photos and stuff like that before I leave to show new friends (as well as stave off the possible homesickness).
This one may sound weird but stay with me: I (usually) have a rule in which once I decide where to go, I learn nothing about the country.
This seems super counter-intuitive but, because traveling is so easy now (my first trip to Europe at 21 was before cell phones, Internet, ATMs, common currency etc.) so to keep that “degree of difficulty” up to snuff, I go in naïve so I can feel like an early explorer, there before the masses.
Now I realize that doesn’t fit exactly with the logistics of your trip but the thought of going with a clear mind and minimal expectations opens up so many opportunities. Think of the place as white paper or canvas waiting for your contributions rather than pre-coloured with the drivel of guide books and instagram stories.
Great examples is: “the most famous tourist site in every country” in which you can line up for hours to see something which you could go to another town and see something less crowded, perhaps not quite as magnificent, but almost wholly to yourself.
In other words, find your version of what’s awesome and discover the story(s) for yourself. Trust going to places you’ve never heard of or never expected, and you’ll find bits of magic which you can feel like you were the first person to document.
OK, health stuff… Like you, I’ve struggled with terrible migraines on and off throughout my life and now I’m dealing with a bunch of other crappy illnessess (fibromyalgia, CFS/ME etc). So, when I travel, I always have my little “safety kit” of killer soft eye mask, best earplugs, lavender oil, sticky heating patches from Japan for my shoulders and back, various ointments and magic to deal with onset of crazy pain.
Like your situation I suspect, once it hits, you are done and need to shut down until you sort it out. So make sure you have your emergency escape kit and don’t be afraid to take an extra day in a quiet room when you need it.
You are young, South America is just getting going (keep in mind it was a collection of “banana republic” – another lousy term, sorry – dictatorships for most of my life) so you can return again (and maybe again). The important point is to come home inspired and not battered.
Besides my beloved scrapbooks (if you want links to view photos of them just let me know) I also often take an audio recorder and love to record ambient noises of markets and streets and crowds or music or buskers and when I’m home and feeling blue, I put on my headphones and the audio drift you back better than any photo ever could (usually).
Also, with my travel artifacts besides scrapbooks I also make big “static montages” meaning a kind of wall-hanging collages with all my bits and pieces floating and stuck on, sometimes with some paint, and a bit of narrative on top.
Anyhow I could go on and on but mostly I’m just super excited to see you heading out on an adventure. Your Mom tells me so much about you and while I met you was a baby, I look forward to seeing you as an adult one day soon.I am constantly available to offer any bits of scattered wisdom or encouragement… At your leisure…
My Hootsuite alum comrade pal Adarsh Pallian has yet another start-up biz — this one is a travel-expense related company called Trippeo. He published this article (with assistance from the charming Katie Fritz) in which explores some of my marketing-fu. Shared below for the record with gratitude and appreciation.
Can’t buy me love: A renegade marketing pro’s tips for making an impression
One of Vancouver’s tech-scene’s radicals used to tout the “cheap and cheerful” effect. Instead of relying on the filet mignon to impart success and influence, renegade marketer Dave Olson preferred to take his clients to underground shows and then chat business over a bowl of ramen. The man knows what he’s doing: after coming on as Director of Marketing for Hootsuite in 2010, he helped grow the user-base to 8 million, and was integral to the development of the quirky, lovable brand.
Of course, in those early days, Hootsuite wasn’t exactly rolling in the cash. Dave and his team needed to find ways to make an impression… while pinching those expensable pennies. These are a few of my favorite cheap-n-cheerful moments from the Master:
Host a dinner party
Personal AND cost-effective. One of the most memorable moments of Hootsuite’s inaugural SXSW trip was the barbeque that they hosted. Austin, of course, is pretty intense about their barbeque, so the conversation was built in. The event was inexpensive, easy to coordinate, and most importantly, an authentic place to chat with potential clients and investors.
Dave loved to bring enthusiastic people together around a cause, be it a Hootsuite “Hoot-Up,” a day of renegade marketing school, or a community of podcasters. Volunteers have been indispensable to Hootsuite’s success: they have translated websites, thrown parties, shared tips and tactics, and pointed out bugs. In return, Dave and his team acted as references and champions for these volunteers, helping them gain experience and land professional roles.
Say thank you, in person
One thing Dave liked to encourage was “going analogue”. He knew that facetime was the ultimate impression – no number of Mentions, Likes, or Upvotes can replicate a genuine “thanks.” Can’t be there in person? Dave was a big proponent of the quick video that included his team waving and saying thank you! A little goes a long way.
Want more stories from DaveO? He’s logged a great many of his talks on Youtube. You can find his channel right here.