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I've been lucky enough to have traveled to quite a few places, but I'll admit, I was a little intimidated about going to Japan.
Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world, I speak about 5 words of Japanese, and I just wasn't sure how much I would enjoy it.
I have to say though, that I was so wrong about Japan. Not only did I love it, but it was much easier and enjoyable than I thought it would be. I decided that it might be helpful to lay out a few helpful tips that I was stressing about before I went...so here it goes!
How to get around:
Tokyo is a big place, but with just a little bit of prep, you can be set to explore this city with ease. If you are staying primarily in the Tokyo area, I would suggest getting a Suica card. It's a card that you load up with money to pay for JR Trains, the subway, and buses. I'll admit that the first two days I just walked everywhere because I was a little intimidated by the subway stations and figuring out the routes. That was silly. With a Suica card you can just zip through without having to buy a ticket for every trip and without having to figure out how much each fare is. When you swipe your card it will automatically calculate the fare for you.
I'd also download the Tokyo Subway App. There were a few times when I found a station, but I wasn't sure which line to take or if I needed to make a transfer. With this app, all I had to know was the name of the station I was at, and the name of where I wanted to go. It then put in the line, the platform, the transfers and told me how long it would take.
A note about Tokyo addresses* This was the most difficult part for me. The addresses look something like this: 1-22-14 Jinan, Shibuya-Ku.
Shibuya-Ku is the ward or neighborhood. Jinan is the district within the ward. The next part is what gets confusing. One of the numbers represents the block, and one of them represents the order of when the building was built...so the numbers do not go in sequential order and most streets are not named.
This can make finding an exact address challenging. Luckily many areas have maps posted on the sidewalks, so if you now a landmark near your address that is helpful. There's also often police officers posted on many street corners. If you have your address printed (which I would highly recommend) they are really nice about helping you find where you are going. This article was helpful to me when figuring this out.
Google maps was somewhat helpful, but sometimes maddeningly unhelpful when navigating, so keep that in mind.
If you are traveling elsewhere in Japan, I would look into getting a JR Pass. You have to buy this before you get to Japan.
I was pretty much the envy of everyone in my group because I always had wifi even on the subway. Surprisingly, free wifi is a bit rare in Tokyo. So, I rented a pocket wifi hotspot from the airport. It was about $50 for the week and was so helpful! It meant I had wifi on the subway (which people who were using regular cellular data didn't have) which was super helpful when I was trying to figure out where I was going next. It was so easy to pick up and they provided a free prepaid envelope for me to just stick it in the mail when I was done.
A Few Quick Tips:
-Drive and walk on the left
-Do not talk on your cell phone in public places (sidewalk, subway, restaurants), it's considered rude.
-Be prepared to take your shoes off for temples, some restaurants and homes
-7-11s are your best bet for an atm that accepts foreign cards
-Do not tip, ever!
-People do not walk and drink, even coffee or water. If you get a drink from a vending machine, drink it there. This is also helpful because there will be a garbage can there, which are hard to find elsewhere.
-Bring an umbrella. I don't like using umbrellas, I prefer just a rain jacket with a hood. I'm just the right height to stab someone in the eye with an umbrella by accident. But everyone uses one, and in fact one person gave me there's despite me having a hood because they're just so nice. So, the next day I went right out and bought one because 1) I didn't want to continue to take advantage of their kindness and 2) I didn't want to look like the 1 weirdo in 15 million who was too unsophisticated to use an umbrella.
-Wear comfortable but stylish shoes. The Japanese tend to be very fashionable. They generally dress conservatively, but well tailored and put together. I averaged 9 miles a day, so whatever shoes you decide to wear, they have to be comfortable. I literally walked the sole off one of my ballet flats.
I also found that English wasn't as widely spoken as it is in other places, but many people know a few key words. They will also be very appreciative of you just trying to speak Japanesse, even if you fail miserably. So...
A Few Helpful Key Phrases:
Sumimasen- Means excuse me. In many restaurants, they will not come give you the check or even take your order until you let them know you are ready. They are not being rude, but letting you take your time. All you need to say when you are ready is Sumimasen and they'll know you are ready.
Mizu- You should say oh-Mizu. It means water. Water is not typically served unless asked. I was getting seriously dehydrated because I wasn't drinking near as much water as I typically do. So, this was very helpful for me.
Dōmo arigatō gozaimashita- Thank you
Ohayō- Good Morning
Irasshaimase- This is not a word you need to learn to say, but it will be said to you several times in nearly every place you go. It means welcome. It might be shouted, but it's just a customary way to welcome you.
Gomen'nasai- It means,"I'm sorry". As you stumble your way through a new city and an unfamiliar language, you'd be surprised how helpful this phrase is. People appreciate you trying, and that you realize that you might be fumbling. Me just being able to "I'm sorry" when I couldn't explain what I needed made people really sympathetic. Every single person I met, without exception where extraoridinarly nice and helpful, so I felt that this was an important phrase to know as I slowly but surely found my way.
I would also learn 1-10 in Japanese. It's helpful when the nice police officer says it's "ni" blocks that way. With that said, I think every time I bought something, they displayed the amount of yen on a calculator or on a register screen, so that was super helpful.
I'll have another post soon on some places to visit and things to do while in Tokyo. Overall, if you've ever thought about visiting Japan, I'd say you have to go. It's unlike any place I've ever been, and I wish I hadn't waited so long to go.
I'll also be posting soon about Key West. Pat and I are taking off in two weeks, and I can't wait!
Wherever you are today, don't forget to travel happy!
Hi there! I'm Skeeter. I grew up moving a lot and that makes me a bit restless for travel and exploration. I started this blog with my husband Pat when we decided to backpack New Zealand for a year. We are always looking for the next adventure and are loving life. We're just your average couple with two sassy dogs and a love for travel. We're sharing our travels and the tips we pick up along the way.
Hello! I'm Liz. Blogging is very new to me, but I'm so excited to finally write as much as I talk!
"Don't forget to travel happy"-Skeeter & Liz