Hi there. My husband is in the US Navy and we were transferred to Japan a year ago. We live in Yokohama, about an hour south of Tokyo. I love it here!
I agree with what everyone said about how Japanese people will react to your appearance. But even if you weren't as tall or had so many tatoos, Japanese people seem to be a little stand-offish with foreigners. So you'll have just that much more of an obstacle to overcome. But you can do it! :)
You seem like a very sincere and nice person, and if you show that to the Japanese people, they'll appreciate it.
The best advice I can give you is to learn a few key phrases of the Japanese language. You'd be surprised how much they appreciate you trying to speak their language. As soon as they hear you trying, they are VERY willing to help with anything. And be sure to read up on the culture.
A few things to remember:
1. Never talk on your cell phone on the train. It's considered very rude.
2. And when you're standing in the train, face the people sitting down. In the States, most people turn away, but it is considered rude to put your butt in the face of the person sitting down.
3. Learn NOT to point (I have trouble with this), as it is considered rude. If you are pointing something out, simply use your whole hand to gesture in a direction rather than pointing with a finger.
4. NEVER have your chopsticks standing up in your rice. This references death and is considered rude.
5. Don't pour soy sauce on your rice. Instead, dip your rice in your soy sauce.
6. When someone hands you a business card (called meishi
), take the card with both hands and keep it out for a while. Meishi is considered a personal representation of that person. So don't put it in your back pocket, then sit down! :) If you're at a table, place it in front of you and put it away after the person leaves. And don't ever write or deface the card in any way.
7. Always show respect for the people, culture, and traditions. When I'm on the train, I always give up my seat to someone who is elderly or disabled. And I tell them "dozo," which means please.
8. If you have trouble communicating in simple English, try writind your question on paper and show it to a young person. Younger people are more likely to know/remember English than older people, as they have more recently finished school.
9. Tipping is not customary, including taxis, restaurants, hotels, etc. However, in some western-style hotels you might tip. When I am not sure, though, I ask if it is customary or not.
10. Google "traditional Japanese toilets." Although, most places have at least 1 western-style toilet, I have been stuck a few times with having to use a traditional one. This might be difficult for you, as you're so tall.
Most of all, enjoy your trip! Have an open mind and welcome any experience. People will thrive on your great attitude. And gratitude goes a long way.
Here are the two books that I've found most helpful. I suggest you get them before you leave for Japan, as they will be able to help you at the airport.
Japan - The Original "Point and Speak" Phrasebook http://www.amazon.com/Japan-Toshiya-Enomoto/dp/47958184...
For some reason Amazon.com sells it for $40, but you can get it Japan for 1500 yen (about $15). So maybe you will want to wait and buy it once you get here. Just go to a large bookstore and look in their Foreign section.
Japanese Phrasebook by Lonely Planet http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/Primary/Product/Language_Guides/Asia/PRD_PRD_1819/Japanese+Phrasebook.jsp?bmUID=1243030982278 It's only $8.99
I rely on these two books immensely. Of all the Japanese books I have, these two are the best. I never leave home without them.
Wow, this is super long. So sorry! But I hope it's helpful. Best of luck to you! :)