I am not an expert on travelling in Japan, let me make that clear from the outset. I am however an enthusiast traveller and therefore a student of travel, and that means whenever I travel to new destinations for the first time, like was the case during my trip to Osaka and Kyoto in Japan, I try to soak up as much knowledge as possible and learn on the go.
The outcome is to give me a chance to share whatever knowledge I have obtained, as minor or as detailed it may be, with my readers. So if you are travelling to the region and anywhere in-between anytime soon, I may be able to assist for your upcoming Japanese experience, which promises to be a beauty, especially if my trip is a reflection on what is in store for you.
Some of this knowledge in this article will not only help you with your adventures into the neighbouring cities, but some of it will also be useful through your travels in other areas in Japan. So, sit back, get yourself a coffee and have a read through a few of the things I learnt from my brief trip to Osaka and Kyoto.
A Few Wisdom Points from My Trip to Osaka and Kyoto in Japan
Smooth Sailing at the Airport
The Kansai International Airport just a little out of Osaka is one of the most proficient airports I have seen. The urgency and professionalism showed by the staff to get you through customs and the rest of the airport standout above most airports I have seen in my time of travelling the world.
While it’s not a pretty airport by any stretch of the imagination, that’s never important when at the end of the day when all you want to do is get through the arrival area of Kansai Airport quickly and begin your adventure in Japan with the trains or buses to other cities at your mercy.
Purchase your Sim or Pocket WIFI at the Airport
Sim cards or pocket WIFI’s at Kansai International Airport are expensive, although finding an outlet outside the KIX airport is difficult, and that is precisely what a staff member selling the sim cards told me before I ignorantly ignored her and exited the airport without a SIM.
Because Kyoto was the first city I visited in Japan, I ended buying a sim card at half of the price at BIC Camera, a mega electronic store near Kyoto Station which was put together by a friendly staff member because installing a SIM card is a complicated process in Japan compared to other countries. It’s not as easy putting a SIM card in the slot and turning the phone on. Believe me when I say that.
Check out the range of Pocket WIFI’s you can order at Kansai International Airport on this link.
Public Transport is Phenomenal
It’s no surprise that the public transport in Japan, specifically around the Osaka and Kyoto area, is phenomenal, albeit a little complicated especially when you don’t understand a word of Japanese. Let Google Maps be your navigator and get around the country either by train, bus or taxi and maybe get lost once or twice, as I did on a couple of occasions.
In a nutshell, the Japan rail pass system (JR Pass) runs like clockwork throughout the whole country, with the likes of bullet trains to get you where you need to go at quicker speeds, when travelling to faraway cities like Tokyo, or using the Osaka to Kyoto train that has several lines available to get you there, which usually takes you around an hour to travel between the two cities.
In saying that, Purchase your ICOCA Card To Get Around with Ease
The ICOCA Card is a necessary purchase and can be used on all local railways, buses and even shopping with some retail outlets accepting the card.
Where to buy ICOCA Card? You can purchase the ICOCA card from allocated ticketed machines at JR West train stations or the Japan Rail West office (JR Office) with an office situated right outside the central train station at Kansai Airport for easy convenience, no need to pre-order. Top up your funds to the sufficient amount required and scan the card at railway stations when entering through the gates or on buses upon getting on or off the relevant transportation.
Don’t be afraid to up your card too much either, if you still have an outstanding balance on your ICOCA Card after your Japan trip; you can refund any exceptional credit and even get a 500-yen deposit back on your ICOCA card upon handing it back in if you wish. Some conditions do apply.
Don’t be a J-walker; you could look like a fool
One thing that surprised me through my adventures through my travels in Osaka and Kyoto was how little the Japanese people J-walked at pedestrian crossings. You know what I mean, people who don’t cross the road on a red light. While it did happen on a few occasions, more often it didn’t occur.
It didn’t matter if the pedestrian crossing was on a quiet street with no cars around; most locals would wait until the light turned green before crossing the road. It astounded me really to see a calm intersection and about four-metres to get to the other side, and no one would cross, they would wait patiently until the light turned green. That kind of patience wouldn’t happen where I am from in Australia.
The bottom line is, J-walking is frowned upon in Japan, and you can be given a fine for crossing on a red light. A friend in Japan did tell me that the police are stricter on such rules to the locals than foreigners, but it’s the best advice to do the right and wait for the light to turn green before crossing, you may look back to find that you were the only fool to cross at the wrong time.
Don’t place your rubbish on the ground
Not to litter is a no brainer of course, but don’t litter on the streets because you will get fined by police for throwing your rubbish on the ground, as you should. The roads in Japanese cities are mainly clean of waste, and it’s advised that you follow suit and keep your rubbish on you until you can find a bin to place your trash and sometimes it can be a while, as public rubbish bins are far and few between in Osaka and Kyoto. But still, don’t litter.
Bicycles are everywhere and usually on the footpath
The locals love to ride bikes but instead of riding their bike on the side of the road, they travel along the path with pedestrians, and it can create a hazardous environment, especially when it goes all wrong. The best practice is to walk in a straight line and try and not veer off to the side if it can be helped because you never know what is coming up behind you.
Once I did veer off that straight line and almost got in a tangle. Naturally, a few choice words were coming right back at me (I didn’t understand them). I soon learnt that being all over the place is not a safe practice and usually if you do the right thing, you won’t get tangled up with a cyclist. Although when you are a tourist in another country, a lot of things can distract you.
Locals will dress in a Kimono, ask politely if you want a photo
Just because the locals like to dress up in their traditional kimono dress, especially in Kyoto, it doesn’t mean they are tourist attractions, where it is safe to assume you have permission to have photos with them as you feel. They are just everyday people, dressing up in their Kimono and sightseeing the lovely attractions just like yourself.
Naturally, it’s fine to ask and more often or not they will give permission to have a photo with them, just like I did in the picture below. At times, they may even refuse, say thank you and walk away, there is no need to be offended. On another note, you will encounter times where high school students in large groups will ask for a photo with a Western foreigner, it did happen to me a few times, and I was more than happy to oblige.
Don’t panic in the event of an earthquake
In my brief time travelling in Osaka and Kyoto, an earthquake happened while I was catching a train out to Nara. At the moment of the earthquake hitting, all phones were alerted with a loud tone to state that there was an emergency and in no time, the authorities were around to help to make sure everyone was safe.
Earthquakes are unfortunately frequent in Japan, and the best advice is just to follow the local’s routine and do as they do. Any announcements going over the loudspeaker above are all in Japanese, and at times you will feel helpless at what to do in that moment of crisis, or indeed what is happening next. The locals will know what to do in the event of an earthquake, and usually, they are calm and measured during the process, and it’s best to follow their lead.
If you do need to reach out to anyone in Japan during any crisis, the best advice is to find University, aged students, the chances are they may be able to assist in some way with basic English grammar. That is indeed how I got my information during the four-hour delay during the earthquake in Osaka.
Overkill Friendly – Get used to it
The Japanese are friendly folk, and that is indeed a great thing, I wish a lot of other countries could embrace the customer like the Japanese do when doing something simple and purchasing a coffee at a Starbucks store. Their customer service is top notch.
At times you may think it is overkill friendly, because anyone who enters a shop, restaurant, café, will be thanked for coming into their store and again upon exiting the shop. It could be five people arriving or exiting at the same time, but the friendly staff will do their best to shout out a thank you very much (in Japanese) to every individual. I loved the cheerful greetings and found it fascinating, but then again, I am a massive fan of using your manner and the Japanese people get it right.
Lots of coins – Be ready for it
Carrying a large number of Coins in Japan is common, and you’ll always need to be prepared to have a large wallet or a convenient travel bag with you. The bottom line is, you will get an annoying amount of loose change during your travels, and that won’t be helped, because at times you’ll think it gets shovelled out to you.
You could hand over a sizeable ten-thousand-yen note at a retail outlet and coming back at you in change will be several coins of different numeracies, especially those annoying one-yen coins, which at times are useless and hardly ever accepted at vending machines, but you’ll work it out.
Another essential detail to note, when purchasing any product in Japan, they have coin tray in front of you on the counter. Usually, you don’t hand it over to them by hand to hand, you place your notes or coins in the tray in front of you. Sometimes the shop assistant will even point to the plate when you attempt to hand it over directly. Although I will admit, the plate is a useful way to get rid of your small change as it allows you time to get it right.
Vending Machines are everywhere – You probably knew that already
Put those coins to good use, because just about every street corner you go to in Osaka and Kyoto, you are bound to find a stack of vending machines rowed together. It’s not always drinks you’ll find in those handy vending machines either, because you’ll often find a variety of vending machines full of either ice-creams, snacks, coffee, beer and even cigarettes, because that is just how they roll in Japan, but at least you’ll get rid of those frustrating coins that seriously mount up.
Divulge in Green-Tea Soft-Served ice-cream
During your Osaka Itinerary, adventures in Kyoto or anywhere in Japan for that matter, you are bound to find many boutique ice-cream shops that serve the ever popular green-tea ice-cream cones that people queue up to purchase the delicious sweet.
If the green-tea flavour is not your thing, you should find the other popular flavours in vanilla or chocolate as another choice, or why not combine a couple and have several options.
There you have it, some of the practical wisdom I gained through my adventures in Osaka and Kyoto. Two genuinely unique cities that need your attention and one thing is for sure; you’ll love your time travelling in Japan.
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