I am in transit from London to Auckland, with an 8-hour layover in Tokyo, so I thought that I might as well explore the city a bit. (As of the last 10 years or so, as US citizens we no longer need a special visa to enter Japan.)
Japan is unlike any of my recent (within the last 5 – 6 years) travel experiences. For one, I cannot speak or read even a little of the language. This has led to some unexpected things. For one, I withdrew about 10 times what I wanted from the ATM (about $600 instead of $60). No worries, I can change it back at the end of the day.
Also, after waiting about 10 minutes to use the Citibank ATM, I walk just around the corner (as in, like a 10 seconds walk around the corner) and spot an HSBC ATM (which is the card I use). Could have saved another couple of bucks had I known about it.
Note that I will get screwed on the exchange rate when I change back my remaining 50000 or so Yen at the end of the day… still, you live & learn. And since I am learning from these experiences, I don’t consider it as money lost. It’s an investment in my education.
But mostly it’s a strange experience for me being in a foreign country and not knowing anything about the language or really how to communicate with people other than in English. I just have to hope that the Japanese with whom I speak have some knowledge of English. I guess this is how it feels to be a foreigner in a completely foreign land. Not a bad feeling, just different. On the plus side, it kind of forces me to rely on other people and to communicate with them (asking questions, etc), which is good because I love interacting with people.
And for me, that’s what travel is really about, anyway. Not the sights, museums, architecture or even the landscapes in a certain place. It’s about the people.
I still need to get out & explore Tokyo a bit. And learn the Japanese characters for “milk”, “egg”, etc so I know what foods to avoid. I’m right now sitting in a Starbucks at the Tokyo Narita airport.