How to prepare for your first visit to Japan


Twenty years in advance:

Be a Girl Scout. When it comes time to choose a country for your troop to study for Thinking Day, choose Japan. Taste sushi for the first time. Marvel at kimonos and coins with holes in them. Cultivate a lifelong longing to visit.

Two years:

Make a list of your life’s biggest regrets and discover “never learned Japanese” at the top. Discover the Japan America Society of Washington DC. Try to train your Western mouth to form a sound between “l” and “r” but not quite either. Win a perfect attendance award every semester but one.

Six months:

Find out about an awesome deal that makes your lifelong dream to visit Japan finally affordable on The Flight Deal. Realize that you can live with its narrow time frame and three layovers.

Make a complete itinerary and budget spreadsheet in Google Drive. Nail down four cities, six must-see sights, and ten days in which to get it all done.

Five months:

Book all your hotels. Ignore American chains in Japan, not only because they cost twice as much but because because you think taking classes for a year and a half means it’ll be a piece of cake to book hotels in Japanese. Accidentally book two extra days in Kyoto because learning Japanese doesn’t make the time difference any easier.

Memorize how to say “Sumimasen, watashi wa yobun ni futsuka no yoyaku o shiteshimaimashita.” (Sorry, I accidentally booked two additional nights.)

Get a little overzealous and begin writing your own Japanese phrasebook for when you’re too jetlagged to remember Japanese. Fill it with phrases specific to your trip like, “Excuse me, will you take my photo in front of this Gundam?”

Four months:

Take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test to determine just how conversational you are. Worry that you failed and discover renewed zest in adding to your custom travel phrasebook. (But discover that you passed the test two months later!)

Get a hepatitis A vaccine at the advice of your doctor. Ignore the pain by thinking of all the questionable raw food you are going to try eating now.

Three months:

Give up on planning an exact train itinerary and order your Japan Rail Pass. Decide that Future You can wake up in the morning on travel days and look at the timetables then, when they feel more real.

Buy a big, lightweight suitcase since you’ve only ever needed a carry-on for domestic travel. Read up on the Takkyubin, the system for sending your suitcase ahead to the next hotel in Japan, just in case it’s not as light as advertised.

Two months:

Get excited. Tell everyone all the time, “I’m going to Japan in two months.” Some relatives will insist on giving you cash. Take it and make a list of people you want to buy souvenirs for. Not everyone will believe your declaration, since you’ve been talking about visiting Japan since you were a teenager. Leave them off the list of people who get souvenirs.

Convert all your cash into yen bills. This will be easy because the only cash you have is from those relatives who gave it to you for Japan. Snap photos and caption them: “Did you mean to give me all these hundreds? Haha!” because relatives are where you got your terrible sense of humor in the first place.

Two weeks:

Make a packing list in your diary. Don’t forget the essentials, like an electric cord converter, your laptop, and a WiFi hotspot. Vow to continue your anime reviews and blog posts every day. It’s OK to secretly have your doubts so long as you set yourself up for success.

Slowly attempt to pare down your projects and obligations. Fail to do so. Relish the inevitable passage of time and the realization that you’ll be in Japan in fewer than 14 days, ready or not.

Photo by Moyan Brenn