how to look up train times (in English) in Japan

Coming from the western side of the U.S., I had never ridden a train nor ever had a need to. The majority of my transportation was by car, and occasionally hopped on a plane or bus. (In fact, my first time on a plane wasn't until after I graduated high school). Some time after I moved to Seattle I learned how to use the public bus system, and even then it took me some time to navigate. I had no idea what awaited me in Japan, though I was eager to learn new ways of getting around.

My second day in Japan I decided to cut out on not-so-helpful seminars (provided for newbies of that popular teaching program in Japan...) for some city exploration, starting from Shinjuku station - one of the busiest stations in Tokyo. Upon entering the station, I froze as the busyness moved around me. Throngs of people passed by, weaving in and out almost effortlessly, as sign boards blinked destinations and times in neon and the hum of voices filled my head. Have I mentioned before that I am easily over-stimulated? After a few moments of simply staring, I began a long process of trying to understand the colorful, littered map that is Tokyo's train lines. I thought I would head to Akihabara first, and before I left my friend offered notes on which line to take. His words flew fast, and unfortunately, being a visual person, none of it registered. I'd never been to Japan before. Public transportation was still new. He reassured me I could just ask someone in a special booth. Yeah, if I could even find it... (my Japanese was not anywhere good enough at the time to figure out very much...)

HOW TO: Find (good) toothpaste in Japan

Another one of those "living in Japan" myths claims that Japanese toothpaste generally doesn't work. Or that it doesn't contain fluoride. And some folks go so far as to insist this is one of the main reasons why Japanese people have bad teeth. (I hope you realize this is a generalization, and not one that I came up with nor believe!) Of course I bought into this myth, although a few people mentioned something about Aquafresh toothpaste, and brought four tubes with me from the States. Nothing wrong with bringing toothpaste with you, but you certainly don't need to waste luggage space on it. So now that I've dispelled the myths about deodorant, sanitary napkins and tampons, let's delve into toothpaste.

toothpaste, Japan, Aquafresh, fluoride
Aquafresh toothpaste - 3 stripe kind. 

NEW Series - From the Sempai: Shirley of Lovely Lanvin

Today I have the pleasure of introducing Shirley Karasawa, a fabulous food blogger, for Surviving in Japan's new series: From the Sempai.

Sidenote: for those who do not know what sempai (or senpai, せんぱい) means, it is of course, a Japanese word, and means "senior." But not senior as in elderly, rather, senior as in more experienced or older in age/level. Similar to saying something like, "he is two years my senior."  It is used often in group relationships in Japan - especially in schools or the workplace. So in high school, a 10th grade student (typically the lowest grade) would be considered a kohai (こうはい) to the 11th and 12th grade students. The 10th grade student would call the older students his or her sempai.

Anyway! Back to our featured sempai! Shirley, an American raised in Tokyo, serves up lots of delicious posts over at Lovely Lanvin. We hit it off quite instantly over Twitter when I discovered she now lives in Seattle, the place I hail from. When she told me about her volunteer experience - working with the Tokyo American Club to help expat women adjust to life in Japan - I had to ask if she would share some of her expert knowledge with us. So she's here today with some great tips for living and "surviving in Japan":

A Guide to Tampons in Japan

Sure enough, I’m back with some “alternatives” to ladies pads… So, sorry again guys, it’s just one more you have to sit out. (And I wouldn't recommend reading this as there are pictures of actual tampons below). Feel free to pass this along to any women who may find this helpful, though.

Ladies, today I want to examine Japanese tampons. Yes, tampons. Some of you may be thinking, “can you even FIND tampons in Japan?” Certainly! Most daily goods/drug stores sell them, and you may even find some convenience stores sell them as well. Though, they are much less prominent than pads, and usually only take up one shelf versus an entire aisle at the store. And, only one company produces tampons in Japan: Unicharm or “Charm” (チャム) for short. There are also some called エルディ, but they are also produced by Unicharm.

interesting links from the past few weeks

Shimizu Shopping Mall
For anyone who follows Surviving in Japan on Twitter (@survivingnjapan) you may have already seen these links (or perhaps seen them anyway) but for those of you who haven't, thought I would share some of them anyway. Enjoy.

A guide to sanitary napkins in Japan

If you’re a man, this post isn’t for you – unless you are the partner of some lovely woman who may find this information helpful. If so, either pass it along to her or read on. Don't worry, nothing graphic here.

Ladies! This is a post I’ve been wanting to tackle for a while. I’ve heard various comments that pads in Japan are smaller than their Western counterparts, and also various recommendations to bring pads along with. How silly! Sure, pads can serve as excellent packing materials, but so can clothes. Whether you’re moving to Japan, or even just coming for a visit, rest assured that finding pads is quite easy.

how to find bus times/schedule online - part 2

Riding the bus in Japan can be tricky. And no, I don’t mean the process of actually riding it. That’s rather simple, and you can find tutorials on that elsewhere. Just don’t forget to take a ticket when you first hop on the bus - if it’s one that requires that (not all do, but probably most). Although, I forgot once during my first year and just paid the amount I owed without a ticket - but the ticket reminds you of which stop you got on. No, what’s tricky is finding bus times and routes, as in some cities they are so sporadic. And from personal experience, often notoriously late, though I’m sure that depends on the city.

how to find bus routes/schedules online - part 1

The nice thing about traveling by bus is that many places and organizations list necessary bus information (and general access information) on their website. If you know kanji, or can navigate Japanese websites with some ease, then this how-to probably won’t be relevant to you. So, for everyone else, let me first guide you through an example of how to look up (and interpret) the bus information. In part two I will examine how to look up timetables and schedules online.