NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Japan has an expansive list of stunning sites to see when visiting the country. But before venturing out to this island nation for the first time, you should probably know a few survival tips for making a memorable trip a pleasant one.
These survival tips will cover everything from mastering Japan's old-fashioned squat toilets to its super high-tech commodes to finding the ever elusive public trash can. And, of course, there is some practical advice for avoiding temple and shrine burnout, as well has how to find a private, personal tour guide for free.
Let the fun begin.
Here are ten 10 practical survival tips for making a Japan trip the best one.
Believe it or not, this commode is one of the simpler versions of Japan's high-tech toilets.
Others feature deodorizing and electronic flushing, amid an extensive panel of buttons that are often in labeled in just Japanese and no English. Japan's leading toilet manufacturer Toto has even gone as far as planning a high-tech toilet gallery in some sections of Narita international airport in Japan.
In a number of older structures, such as some train stations and historic sites like the Hiroshima Castle, or Carp Castle, the bathrooms rely on Japan's old-fashioned squat toilets - in both the men's and women's restrooms. If you have a hard time bending your knees, this type of toilet may prove a challenging task.
Thirsty? No Problem
Feeling parched after walking to numerous shrines, temples and castles? No problem.
Vending machines stocked with sodas, water, iced coffee, iced tea and, yes, even beer, are found in even greater frequency than a neighborhood Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Report in the U.S. These boxy machines filled with drinks can be found parked outside obscure neighborhood businesses on side streets, as well as in front of homes. It turns out the property owners get a cut of the revenue, which may explain why these vending machines are so abundant.
In a trendy section of Osaka called Amerikamura (American Village), or Amemura by locals, you may find a fix if you're suffering from a withdraw of American brand names.
Apple (AAPL) - Get Report, for example, has a store on the main street of Midosuji, while Prada, Hugo Boss and Nike (NKE) - Get Report are some of the other iconic brands located across the street. With the strong U.S. dollar, now might be a good time to snap up some American goods on the cheap.
Lost Charger Solution
Left your phone charger at the hotel, or one of the outlet-equipped bullet trains? No worries.
A number of hotels in the mid-range to inexpensive category have Android and iPhone charging stations in the lobby that the public can use. There is always the Internet cafes, of which users are likely to find such a device, said Yasuda Akio, front clerk at the Court Hotel Hiroshima. The cost at Yasuda's hotel is 200 yen for a 20 minute charge.
Shrine, Temple Burnout
Try monkeying around instead.
In the town of Arashiyama in the western section of Kyoto, there is a mountainside park called Monkey Park Iwatayama, where people are allowed to mingle with wild Japanese Macaque monkeys. The hike from the park's entrance to the observation landing is roughly more than half a mile and an elevation climb of approximately 525 feet, so a pair of good walking shoes and a body that's in shape makes for a pleasant hike.
Gift giving in Japan is part of the social norm in a big way. Omiyage are souvenirs that you distribute to friends, family, co-workers and associates, while temiyage are thank you gifts when visiting others, according to Japan-guide.com. In either case, these gifts should ideally be wrapped before giving to the recipient. Getting a gift wrapped in Japan is easy and free, providing you let the cashier know at the time of purchase it is for an omiyage or temiyage.
A trip to Nara or the historic Miyajima island will likely lead to a deer encounter. But rather than finding only timid Bambi-like creatures, these four-legged furry darlings can sometimes be downright aggressive - chomping on any paper exposed out of your pockets or purses, nibbling on your clothes or taking a bite at your flesh.
The deer, which are considered sacred and messengers of the gods in Nara, associate people as bearers of tasty deer crackers that are sold in nearby shops and carts.
Elusive Trash Cans Found
Japan is an amazingly clean country, based on the streets, trains and neighborhoods that are virtually free of litter. But what makes this so surprising is that finding a public trash can be as challenging as panning for gold.
Public trash cans in train stations and airports were whisked away in 1995, after the terrorist cult Aum Shinrikyo released toxic nerve gas sarin into Tokyo's subway stations. That practice is also felt on on public sidewalks, in which public trash cans are virtually non-existent on city sidewalks. As a result, your best bet in finding a public trash can are convenience stores, or keeping a plastic bag in your purse, briefcase or backpack for later use.
If you are agoraphobic (a fear of going outside), then visiting the trendy teen-age shopping hangout of Harajuku on the weekend should be scratched off the list -- now. No matter how much your teen whines.
This narrow pedestrian lane on Takeshita street should be avoided at all costs, given the throngs of teenagers that pack the street.
Personal, Private Tour Guide - for Free!
Hiring a private, personal tour guide for the day can literally cost you at least a hundred dollars to several hundred dollars in Japan.
A far cheaper alternative is hiring a private personal guide through the list of volunteer guides on the Japan National Tourism Organization website. The list includes regions in Japan where volunteer guide organizations are based and the terms of using one of the organization's guides.
Frequently, the only cost involved would be covering the volunteer guide's meals, admission to place you want to visit and transportation costs from their home to the sites you desire to see. These volunteer guides, many of whom speak English or other languages, do not charge for their time.
One volunteer guide is Taeko, who is affiliated with the Himeji Goodwill Guide Kashinoki-kai group. She provides tours of the famed white Himeji Castle, a world cultural heritage national treasure, and surrounding area. "I am retired now and have free time," said Taeko, who learned English when attending college in the United States. "I wanted to do something to contribute to the country that would make people happy or glad."
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.