14 Things to Know About Rural Japan
1. Be flexible about business hours
2. Know your local train routes
3. Maximize your time with cars and taxis
4. Use offline maps with geo-tags
5. Try local, even if you don't know what it is!
Japan's local villages may look similar on the surface with their tiled roofs, wooden structures and tatami mat rooms. However, the real charm is in their hidden specialties, such as katsuo tataki in Kochi Prefecture or Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki with yakisoba. Japanese communities are proud of their traditions and show them off with posters and stores on the main street. If you see a line-up, join in and order whatever everyone else is ordering (most places have one signature food).
6. Follow the non-English signs to great places
Many of rural Japan's most scenic spots have no English signage. Famous spots usually have Japanese signs, so be sure to copy the Japanese text onto your phone before heading out so you can recognise them later.
7. Follow the sun
While Tokyo is known for its city lights and 24-hour life, Japan's rural areas are known for their harmony with nature. Farmers rise at dawn between 4-6am. Many famous sights are also known for a view at a specific time of the day. Some places are known for their golden sunsets, others for their evening birdsong. Some villages set up community dances and activities in the evening.
8. Know some Japanese phrases
Even though the Japanese countryside doesn't have much English, a few Japanese phrases will take you a long way. People are kind and often friendly. In addition to the functional phrases in pocketbook guides, many easy expressions will make locals feel like you understand them a little bit better.
9. Expect countryside customs and manners
In the Japanese countryside, the pace of life is more relaxed and people are friendly because everyone knows each other. Neighbours will often stop by and shopkeepers may pause to greet them and say a few words. In this case, don't be offended, as they will come back to you!
10. Look for restaurant houses
Actually most places in rural Japan are houses. Family-run establishments usually have the restaurant at the front and the living area in the back, just as their ancestors have always done. Look for these characters: お食事 in banners or signs that indicate food. Because these restaurants are often traditional houses, they may also have a raised genkan area where guests are expected to take off their shoes.
11. Be prepared for the bugs
The Japanese countryside means nature, which also means some crawly friends! Whether you are up in the mountains or down in the fields, be prepared for mosquitos! One of the best mosquito repellents is a local Japanese incense that looks like a spiral that is called ka-tori-senko. Alternatively, just bring a bottle of bug spray to keep the mosquitos away.
12. Don't treat ryokan and minshuku as hotels
- Pay on arrival
- Cash only: many local, family-run places don't take credit cards
- Usually one or two meals (usually dinner, and maybe breakfast) are included in the price. Some places accept sudomari (bookings without meals)
- Make same day bookings by noon (after that, the places do not have enough time to prepare your dinner)
- If there is a same-day cancellation, there's an expectation you will pay the full fare
- Don't arrive until after 3pm. Preparations are being made.
- Arrive by 5pm because they need to serve your dinner!
- Take off your shoes in your room and leave them by the door
- Use the provided slippers to walk around the ryokan or minshuku rather than your street shoes
13. Accept people's generosity
The rule with receiving gifts is to first pretend that you don't want it. Refuse not once, but a few times. If they still insist, they probably mean it, so just say "arigato-gozaimasu". One time isn't enough, say "domo-arigato-gozaimasu". It won't hurt to say it three or four times (as they're paying a bill, while putting on your shoes and again when you finally say goodbye).
14. Download a translator
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