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Getting ready to go to Japan

AnorornAnororn Registered User
edited August 2011 in Help / Advice Forum
Greetings.

So, as the thread title might have tipped you off, I'm getting ready to take a trip to Japan to visit some friends and do some sightseeing over about 10 days. This is, however, the first international trip I've planned for myself (I'm from the USA, if it's relevant), let alone one to a country where there could potentially be huge problems in communication, so there's a couple things I'm not entirely sure about, and I'd really appreciate the help from people who have actually been there as tourists, rather than expats or natural-born Japanese citizens (not that your help and advice wouldn't be invaluable, and I gladly welcome it, but a tourist's viewpoint is mostly what I'm looking for here).

The first problem is (as always) money. Specifically, how much should I get, and what forms should I carry it in? I have one of those Visa Travel Cards with money on it, but I know that Japan is still a very cash-dependant society, so I figure that walking in with nothing more than a plastic card is asking for trouble. I already have a fair amount on the card, I'm just not sure what target I should shoot for especially given the poor exchange rate for USD->JPY. I know that this is a very subjective answer, but any ballpark estimate would be a huge help.

Another problem I have (or will have, I guess) is communication. My cell phone is simply not going to work in Japan, which is just as well, since trying using it on the other side of the Pacific Ocean would likely require a loan. The problem is, if I want to meet up with friends, it would really help to have a way to call them to set up exact times/places and such. I doubt I'd be using it too much (I'd be surprised if I used it more than 10-15 minutes a day). I've seen a few cell phone rental places here and there, but all of them look to be stupidly expensive, even before costs per call are factored in. Does anyone know of something reasonably cheap? Or would it be easier to just buy a pre-paid phone of some kind, and keep trying to use it next time I go back? (assuming I do, which I think I'd like to) Alternately, if pay phones are wide-spread enough, I guess I could use those, but if trends in pay phones are anything near what's happening in the US, coin-eating communications are dying out, so I'm not expecting much there.

Customs is a scary thing, no matter if I'm leaving home or returning. I'm not worried about the US customs (they've never cared about my stupid tourist crap before, I don't know why they'd start now), but Japanese customs are a somewhat different story. Looking around online, it all seems fairly straightforward, but is there anything I should know in advance that wouldn't be mentioned in the official stuff?

Finally, the plane ride over is about 10 hours, but I'm not suite sure what I should do for those 10 hours. Should I try to sleep, in hopes that the time zones won't break me quite so badly? On the other hand, I've severely neglected my Japanese studies, so would brushing up on the language be a better use of time so that getting around is easier? Something else instead?

Other than this, I think I understand what's going on and what to do (I fully expect this understanding to fall apart about a minute after I step off the plane, but for now...). I know I'm asking for a lot of advice here, but any help or miscellaneous suggestions would be extremely appreciated. Thank you!

Anororn on

Posts

  • ChrysisChrysis Registered User regular
    You'll definitely want most of your money in cash. Stores that see a large amount of traffic will likely take credit cards, but they don't deal with them often and so it can be a trial.

    I can't help much with the phone rental unfortunately. Having said that, Internet Cafes are plentiful which may be enough for email contact. I've seen pay-phones around as well, so they may also serve as a decent backup. Really depends what sort of area you're planning to go. The only local payphones I can think of are in schools, so not likely something you can use. But I'm in a very small town.

    As for customs, they have quite strict limits on various things. For example, the number of medications that are banned which would be fine in any other country is substantial. So unless your health will suffer significantly without it don't bring any medicines. Another example is that there is a limit of 20 condoms, which I have difficulty determining a reason for. My experiences with Japanese customs, however, is that they likely won't look too closely so as long as you aren't trying to bring something from the usual list of prohibited drugs (Weed, Cocaine, Heroin, etc) you can probably get through without difficulty.

    Sleeping or Study are probably a good use of your time. Although I'd lean more towards sleep as I don't think that a final 10 hour cram is going to impart enough lasting knowledge to be useful. You'd actually be surprised how many people can communicate in at least basic English. I'm living in a town of roughly 4000, and a good dozen or so of the people I've met actually have decent English communication. It's a compulsory subject in Junior High and High School, so any relatively young person is going to be able to dredge up some really basic English if they are so inclined. If you're planning to stay in major cities, then I would imagine any essential service you need you'll be able to get without any Japanese.

    Tri-Optimum reminds you that there are only one-hundred-sixty-three shopping days until Christmas. Just 1 extra work cycle twice a week will give you the spending money you need to make this holiday a very special one.
  • Limp mooseLimp moose Registered User regular
    The exchange rate right now is just awful. Bring a lot of cash. I think the last 6 pack of Asahi I bought was $20 US.

    In tokyo there are pay phones and you should be able to go to a SOFTBANK store and speak to someone in english. If you are going elsewhere in japan probably not. But I think they have rental/cheap phones.

    On the plane try and sleep but honestly the jet lag coming here is not so bad. You tend to wake up pretty early in the morning which means you get a good jump start on the day of sight seeing. Going home on the other hand is just awful. I felt like a zombie the first week I went back to the states.

    If you plan on eating at any of the famous/trendy restaurants in tokyo make a reservation. It is critical.

    Lastly not sure when you are arriving but a CAT 1 Hurricane is going to make landfall right between Tokyo and Kyoto on friday. It may effect air travel.

  • Evil_ReaverEvil_Reaver Registered User regular
    My wife studied in Japan a few years ago and she bought a cheap pay as you go cell phone while she was there. I couldn't tell you the company off the top of my head but this might be something you can look in to.

    XBL: Agitated Wombat | 3DS: 2363-7048-2527
  • wonderpugwonderpug Registered User regular
    In just about every city I went to in Japan, large or small, there was a tourist help center made for people just like you. You can go there to find not just people who can speak English, but who are overly willing to help you find a hotel or show you how to get somewhere or whatever. They'll even call around to different hotels on your behalf.

    Re: phone calls, calling cards are easy to buy and use. You can find them at just about any drug store looking place.

    As far as the air travel, the key for me on quickly getting over jet lag is to dive right into adopting the destination sleep schedule ASAP. If your plane lands in the morning, sleep as much as possible on the plane and make yourself wait until night to sleep--take no more than a short nap if you just can't make it. If your plane lands in the evening, keep yourself awake on the plane ride so you'll be ready to head to bed as soon as you get there.

    As far as Japan: go to an izakaya as soon as possible! It's a glorious combination of tapas restaurant and bar, where the intention is to hang out for hours with your friends, ordering more rounds of drinks or snacks as you go on.

  • ChrysisChrysis Registered User regular
    Most Izakayas (at least out here in the more rural areas) also offer 飲み放題 (Nomihoudai). That is, for about 2000 yen, depending on establishment, as much as you can drink for around 2 hours.

    Tri-Optimum reminds you that there are only one-hundred-sixty-three shopping days until Christmas. Just 1 extra work cycle twice a week will give you the spending money you need to make this holiday a very special one.
  • Evil_ReaverEvil_Reaver Registered User regular
    wonderpug wrote:
    As far as the air travel, the key for me on quickly getting over jet lag is to dive right into adopting the destination sleep schedule ASAP. If your plane lands in the morning, sleep as much as possible on the plane and make yourself wait until night to sleep--take no more than a short nap if you just can't make it. If your plane lands in the evening, keep yourself awake on the plane ride so you'll be ready to head to bed as soon as you get there.

    I just want to point out that this is really good advice. I did all of this when I was going to/from Europe this summer from the States and I never had a problem with adjusting to the time differences. YMMV of course, but this is generally great advice.

    XBL: Agitated Wombat | 3DS: 2363-7048-2527
  • AnorornAnororn Registered User
    Limp moose wrote:
    Lastly not sure when you are arriving but a CAT 1 Hurricane is going to make landfall right between Tokyo and Kyoto on friday. It may effect air travel.
    Crap, really? I'm actually leaving this Saturday (though I'll get there Sunday), and want to get to both Tokyo and Kyoto. Well, be ready for anything, I suppose.
    wonderpug wrote:
    In just about every city I went to in Japan, large or small, there was a tourist help center made for people just like you. You can go there to find not just people who can speak English, but who are overly willing to help you find a hotel or show you how to get somewhere or whatever. They'll even call around to different hotels on your behalf.

    Re: phone calls, calling cards are easy to buy and use. You can find them at just about any drug store looking place.

    As far as the air travel, the key for me on quickly getting over jet lag is to dive right into adopting the destination sleep schedule ASAP. If your plane lands in the morning, sleep as much as possible on the plane and make yourself wait until night to sleep--take no more than a short nap if you just can't make it. If your plane lands in the evening, keep yourself awake on the plane ride so you'll be ready to head to bed as soon as you get there.

    As far as Japan: go to an izakaya as soon as possible! It's a glorious combination of tapas restaurant and bar, where the intention is to hang out for hours with your friends, ordering more rounds of drinks or snacks as you go on.
    Tourist help centers sound...well, helpful. I'll definitely make a point of looking them up in the smaller areas I go to. Phone cards sound like the way to go, honestly. I won't be making that many phone calls, and I'll have internet access of some form or another (besides internet cafes, I'm planning on bringing my netbook and a LAN cable). I think the weirdest thing will be not having a cell phone in my pocket for most of the trip, but that's easily survivable. Timing sleep on the plane will be interesting, though. I'm getting in in the middle of the afternoon, which means I should take a short nap, I guess?

    Also, I don't really drink. I've just never liked the taste of alcohol. I am aware that this puts me in an odd position in Japan, but, again, be ready for anything.

    Anyway, thank you for the help so far, all!

  • ChrysisChrysis Registered User regular
    The nomihoudai covers soft drinks as well usually. It probably isn't good value though.

    If you're staying in hotels, all of the ones I've stayed at have offered free or cheap in room internet, so if you have your netbook with you there shouldn't be problems there. Also, all the McDonalds have free wifi, so that's another option.

    Tri-Optimum reminds you that there are only one-hundred-sixty-three shopping days until Christmas. Just 1 extra work cycle twice a week will give you the spending money you need to make this holiday a very special one.
  • wonderpugwonderpug Registered User regular
    Anororn wrote:
    Tourist help centers sound...well, helpful. I'll definitely make a point of looking them up in the smaller areas I go to.

    Even some of the smallest cities I went to, like Takayama in the Hida District, at least had a small booth to help tourists, so I think you'll have good luck finding them, but it doesn't hurt to check.
    I'll have internet access of some form or another (besides internet cafes...
    I'll save you the trouble of scratching your head the way I did at my first JP internet cafe-- the keyboards have a button that toggles between kana and roman characters. Once you hit that it should mostly act like a standard American keyboard.
    Also, I don't really drink. I've just never liked the taste of alcohol. I am aware that this puts me in an odd position in Japan, but, again, be ready for anything.

    Try C.C. Lemon! It's a popular citrus soda over there that "Harnesses the Power of 1,000 Lemons" or some such, but I thought it was very refreshing and delicious and I wish it was easier to get in the States.

    It sounds like you've got a wee bit of the language under your belt, but one phrase I found particularly useful (as long as you're adventurous about food) is "Nanika osusume wa arimasu ka?" I might be getting the spelling wrong, but basically "Is there something you would recommend?" Helps a lot for the places that don't have an English menu and don't have pictures.

  • poshnialloposhniallo Registered User regular
    wonderpug wrote:
    Anororn wrote:
    Tourist help centers sound...well, helpful. I'll definitely make a point of looking them up in the smaller areas I go to.

    Even some of the smallest cities I went to, like Takayama in the Hida District, at least had a small booth to help tourists, so I think you'll have good luck finding them, but it doesn't hurt to check.
    I'll have internet access of some form or another (besides internet cafes...
    I'll save you the trouble of scratching your head the way I did at my first JP internet cafe-- the keyboards have a button that toggles between kana and roman characters. Once you hit that it should mostly act like a standard American keyboard.
    Also, I don't really drink. I've just never liked the taste of alcohol. I am aware that this puts me in an odd position in Japan, but, again, be ready for anything.

    Try C.C. Lemon! It's a popular citrus soda over there that "Harnesses the Power of 1,000 Lemons" or some such, but I thought it was very refreshing and delicious and I wish it was easier to get in the States.

    It sounds like you've got a wee bit of the language under your belt, but one phrase I found particularly useful (as long as you're adventurous about food) is "Nanika osusume wa arimasu ka?" I might be getting the spelling wrong, but basically "Is there something you would recommend?" Helps a lot for the places that don't have an English menu and don't have pictures.

    That's good advice about the 'recommend' sentence, but in natural Japanese that can be shortened to the much easier 'O-susume wa?'

    I figure I could take a bear.
  • KathemoKathemo Registered User regular
    edited September 2011
    Whenever I travel overseas, I usually got traveler's checks from my bank beforehand. You can go ahead and hit a bank ASAP when you land or the airport itself will have places where you can convert your US dollars to JPN yen.

    The konbini (コンビニ / convenient stores) are amazing. 7-11 was my go-to place my entire trip in Japan as it was right by my hostel. You can pick up snacks and beverages. I highly recommend always making sure you have 100Y to 500Y coins with you to buy stuff from vending machines and/or konbini. I'm not sure if it's the same for you but I'm used to drinking water during meals and throughout the day. It's not as big in Asia (or that might be the more older generation) but that was one of my biggest issues when eating out so I tried to keep water bottles with me at all times.

    I'm not sure what your ethnic background is but if you're physically non-Asian, you'll have a much easier time with any social/cultural/traveling faux-paus. I'm Chinese and while people I traveled with would get a free pass if they bought the wrong metro ticket, the agent took me back to the ticket machine and helped me buy a new ticket. So unfair, haha.

    Edit: italics abuse. XD;;

    Kathemo on
  • ReaperSMSReaperSMS Registered User regular
    I just got back from there the other day, my 2 cents:

    Cash is king. The exchange rate does look to be terrible now (it was up around 80Y to the $ when I was there 3 weeks ago) but there isn't much you can do about that. I was there for 6 nights, and I recall changing about $500 at the airport, then $1000 in tokyo a couple of days later. IIRC, I still had $800 or so worth in yen with me when I flew on to my next destination at the end. Lunch was usually between 500 and 800Y, beers/cocktails were 260-600Y depending on happy hour, dinner was usually just chipping in my share wherever my expat buddies went, call it 1200Y or so each time. That was for eating lunch mostly at curry and ramen shops though.

    For the flight, whether you want to sleep or not depends on when it's leaving and arriving. If possible, try and adjust your sleep schedule beforehand. If the flight's landing at 3PM Tokyo time, you want to probably be awake for the last 6 hours of it, less if you're fine with being a night owl for a while.

    Getting around tokyo isn't terribly difficult, most of the signs are in english and japanese. Don't bother with a taxi, they start at ~9$ for the flag drop and first 2km. There's a nice circle train that goes around the main portions of tokyo, the Yamanote line. Look for the green JR ticket machines. Fare is 120-180Y for just about any destination on there. You should look into a Suica card, it's a stored value card you can use for most of the trains, some of the busses, and a few of the vending machines. You load it up at one of the ticket kiosks, and then just swipe it at the turnstiles when you get on and off. It automatically tracks where you get on, and deducts the right amount as needed when you swipe it at the exit (can't share them thanks to that). Handy for quickly getting on a train without having to decipher the fare map. Keep in mind that the trains don't run between 1AM and 5AM.

    Walking across tokyo seemed fairly safe, though it was easy to get a bit confused. *Usually* there's an information map nearby you can use to get your bearings. All of those maps are oriented such that up is the direction you'd be looking when facing the map itself. If you're lucky, they might have an indicator for north on there somewhere.

    For food, most places will have an english menu, and you can usually make do with pointing at the nice pictures. Your friends can probably provide some assistance there as well.

    Google can give you some info on cell phone rental. I picked Mobal Narita, which had some upsides and downsides:

    Pros:

    No per-day rental fee past the insurance against loss/theft/damage
    Incoming calls/emails were free
    Outgoing email was reasonably cheap, at 20Y/20KB

    Cons:

    Only had a desk in Terminal 2, I landed in Terminal 1. The nice fellow for the bus company getting me into Tokyo proper helped me track it down though.
    Rates for outgoing voice and sms were a bit obscene, on the order of 3-400Y/minute, 140Y/message for SMS.

    The usual 140 character SMS texts you're used to here are almost nonexistant over there, their phones tend to just send/receive regular SMTP email. What I tended to do was use email to close in on things, and then have my friend call me, to avoid the incoming charges.

    Things to do:

    There's plenty you can do without having to pay much for other than train fare. Plenty of temples and gardens around Tokyo with no or small entrance fees. For about 800Y each way you can take the train down to Kamakura on the coast (Suica card works for that too), ton of temples and general waterfront type things down there, depending on how nasty the hurricane is.

  • Limp mooseLimp moose Registered User regular
    This weekend there is a bonzai tree festival.

  • JinnJinn Registered User regular
    edited September 2011
    I literally just flew back yesterday from a 10 day trip to Japan. It was great. Most people have already answered your questions pretty thoroughly, but I'll chime in anyway.

    Cash cash cash. I spent about 60,000 yen in 9 days, not including my shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto. You could probably do it with less, but travel is rather pricey outside of the Tokyo subway system, and well, I like to drink and eat well.

    Where are you going specifically? I highly recommend a day trip to Nara, if you are in the Kyoto/Osaka area. Tokyo is a zoo. I've been to a lot of major world cities, and NYC is the only thing that even comes close, and that's still a stretch. Prepare for madness.

    Since you are posting here, I can reasonably assume you will love the shit out of Akihabara in Tokyo. Shinjuku and Shibuya are madness in the evening, and Roppongi is basically the real life Mos Eisley. I stayed in Asakusa which has some really neat side streets packed with delicious little local food joints. If you can find Ebisu Gyoza (its a little dumpling restaurant near the amusement park in Asakusa), you absolutely have to try their gyoza. Best I've ever had-- highest possible recommendation.

    Feel free to PM me if you have any more specific questions about Kyoto or Tokyo. Osaka and especially Nara are worth a day trip if you are in the area.

    Jinn on
  • baudattitudebaudattitude Registered User regular
    Japan cracked down on cheap prepaid phones recently, so they're not easy to find or cheap. When I was studying there last summer, it took me the better part of a day to find a Softbank store that would sell me a prepaid, it was on the order of Y8000, and it took about an hour to actually buy the thing with all the paperwork and activation hassles.

    Rental is the way to go if you're only going to be there 10 days.

    I've been to Japan 5 times now and the incoming customs takes about 30 seconds after getting through the line. Obviously your mileage may vary.

    Oh, don't buy the Kyoto pass thing, the thing that supposedly lets you into all sorts of temples and things. It may be seasonal, but the last time I was in Kyoto doing the sightseeing thing, a couple of the bigger attractions had signs up saying that they weren't accepting it.

  • garroad_rangarroad_ran Registered User regular
    edited September 2011
    Oh, don't buy the Kyoto pass thing, the thing that supposedly lets you into all sorts of temples and things. It may be seasonal, but the last time I was in Kyoto doing the sightseeing thing, a couple of the bigger attractions had signs up saying that they weren't accepting it.

    Interesting, because when I went in 2008 the Kansai Thru Pass was absolutely fantastic value. Are you certain those specific attractions were listed in the Pass guidebook to begin with?

    garroad_ran on
  • AnorornAnororn Registered User
    Man, this is a ton of great advice. Thank you again, all! I'm actually getting ready to go to the airport soon, but I will definitely keep all of this in mind while I'm there.

  • AlegisAlegis Impeckable Registered User regular
    Cool! Where are you going?

    Getting a prepaid sim/phone there will be difficult, prepaid options (when even available at all) aren't cheap ; and AFAIK they don't sell SIMs separately - always with a phone. Supposedly to limit use of 'cheap throw away phones' in crime gangs.

    Communication shouldn't be too much of a problem. I disagree with whoever said here that many speak basic English (my experience has been vastly different, then again I spent most of my time in Osaka). Prepare yourself to do a lot of improvised sign language and pointing your finger at plastic models of food outside restaurants. Still! It should be fine, Japan is a safe country with friendly people willing to help.

    if you're traveling far and wide you might want to consider one of those 'all-in-one' train passes: only available outside of Japan (embassies etc). JR Rail Pass I believe it's called. includes shinkansen (except for the nozomi which is the super-fast-one, but you'll be able to hop on the still-goddamn-fast ones) which is convenient if you're going from tokyo to kansai or even further down the line to hiroshima (which i don't think you'll be doing with 10 days). As for place in Japan I recommend Kyoto the most.

  • AlegisAlegis Impeckable Registered User regular
    Also
    Anororn wrote: »
    Also, I don't really drink. I've just never liked the taste of alcohol. I am aware that this puts me in an odd position in Japan, but, again, be ready for anything.
    donn't worry about this. I'm not a fan of sake and Japanese beer is absolutely terrible. You're not committing heresy or something like that.

    oh and the basics; don't ever tip, when you're done with your food you just get up and pay at the counter, when speaking English speak veeeeeeeri surooooowri

  • poshnialloposhniallo Registered User regular
    Yes, tipping in Japan will actively piss people off, because they have to get you to take the money back.

    I figure I could take a bear.
  • ED!ED! Registered User regular
    I'm confused about the folks who have had such problems traveling with no cash. The times I have gone to Japan, most of my money was on a Visa - if I needed any cash, I simply hit up one of the ATM machines owned by the Post Office. There were some cash only places I'm sure (though I'd be hard pressed to remember), but there were many more places accepting Visa's or other similar types of cards.

    "Get the hell out of me" - [ex]girlfriend
  • descoladadescolada Registered User regular
    entirely dependant on where you're going. cash only is still fairly common outside of big cities and chain restaurants/shopping centers.

  • Oi-Oi- Registered User
    edited September 2011
    I went with three other people about two years ago, one of them carried traveler's checks. We had to wait over an hour for him to get them changed over while the rest of us could instantly withdraw yen from the ATMs in any post office. (I had my Wells Fargo Check Card, no problems.)

    Remember to tell your bank that you're traveling so they don't freeze your account thinking it's suspicious spending.

    We bought a bunch of guide books, but in all seriousness about the only one we used was a little pocket book I kept in my purse called Frommer's Japanese Phrasebook & Culture Guide. (ISBN 978-0-470-22858-6) Very useful sentences that we actually needed.

    Can't help you out with the phones, though, we stuck together and didn't need them.

    If you can try to make it to Iga, they have an old ninja house down there near Ueno castle and a very fast lady dressed in pink will disappear behind the walls and pulls swords out of the floor. It's awesome.

    Also, you'll see them in vending machines at nearly every train station so I recommend trying a Pocari Sweat (sports drink) and/or Qoo. I wasn't able to find it while I was there but be on the lookout for cucumber pepsi, supposedly very refreshing.

    I hope you have a great time, we met only very very nice people with the exception of one drunk man on the train who smelled like pee.
    (I also hope this information kind of helps you since from what I'm reading above you may already be there, whoops!)

    Oi- on
  • Idx86Idx86 Long days and pleasant nights.Registered User regular
    Most of what I would suggest has already been covered, but in case of additional cash needs I found the best place to go was the Post Office, of all places. They have great ATMs there. Otherwise there's a fair amount of Citibank's around with decent ATMs.

    sig.gif

    2008, 2012, 2014 D&D "Rare With No Sauce" League Fantasy Football Champion!
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