Travel Tips for Transportation in Japan
Tokyo, Kantō Region, Japan
There is far too much to Tokyo to write in one entry here. I will attempt to put the most important (for a tourist's point of view) things here today. I will add more as I think of things.
MONEY: The most important thing I can think to write is to remember to bring cash. It is easier in Tokyo than in the rest of Japan to find places that accept credit card, but it can still be frustrating at times. You can always get cash from post-office ATMs (Look for a symbol that resembles a large red 'T' with an additional horizontal line at the top) or at a Citibank (Shibuya has one that is easy to find. Right past McDonalds).
TRANSPORTATION: Tokyo runs on trains. When you get to Tokyo, get a SUICA card (similar to Boston's Charie card) for use on the JR lines. You will frequently have to switch between JR and the Tokyo Metro lines, but a SUICA card will at least allow you to bypass ticket lines when riding the JR trains. If you do not wish to spend all of your money in one go, avoid taxis. They are a sure way to run out of cash fast in Tokyo. If you plan to stay more than a few months, buy a bike. Most bikes are decently cheap (under 100 dollars) and come with baskets to hold your things and a dynamo-powered headlamp for riding at night.
FOOD: If you are looking for good sushi, go to Harajuku station (原宿駅) on the Yamanote line (山手線) (The big green circular line). When you exit the station, everyone will head for an alleyway to the left of a giant Snoopy shop (not Peanuts, just Snoopy). Go to the right of this shop and take the elevator to the 3rd (I believe, though it may only have been 2nd) floor. There are two restaurants here. Go to the sushi restaurant on the left called Kakiya-Zushi (柿家鮨). You will most likely have to wait a half hour or more to get a seat if you aren't alone, but it is definitely worth the wait. While this is a kaiten (conveyor belt) restaurant, their sushi is among the best I tasted while living in Tokyo.
Never be afraid to try something from a street vendor. Street vendors sell some amazing food. Not to mention, they usually set up in the same place each day making them fairly reliable as landmarks.
When you want dessert, try a milk tea or crepe from Pearl Lady (In Shibuya. Look for Book 1ST. Stay on the left side of the street (across from the book store) and continue away from Shibuya station. You will round a corner and pass a soap shop. Pearl Lady is a recessed shop on your left.). Else you can look for a parfait restaurant. These are easy enough to spot from their flamboyant displays. No one can ignore that many parfaits lined up and lit in a window. It's simply not possible.
ELECTRONICS: Head to Yodobashi-Akiba in Akihabara. Take the green Yamanote line (山手線) to Akihabara Station (秋葉原駅). Electric town is on one side of you (always worth a visit) and Yodobashi Akiba is on the other through the Showa Dorii exit. You will take a left before you reach the street, pass a bakery, and the entrance is on your right.
OTHER...TOYS: If you want to embarrass yourself or others, or if you really need those handcuffs and that costume, go to Akihabara station via the green Yamanote line (山手線). Exit through the Electric Town exit. You will be facing a large electronics store that remotely resembles your 10th birthday party due to the large glass tubes that house the escalators. Turn right and follow the street. You will see a neon pink awning when the street Ts out at the end of the block (Electric town continues to your right for some blocks and is worth a visit when you get your curiosity back under control). That's your happy place. Else, you can walk toward the electronics store and pass it to the left. Take your first right and encounter a second store on your right (Yes, there are two in one block). This one has a more plain front and is harder to distinguish. It is the last door on the block. There are far more than these if you are willing to search. By all means, enjoy yourselves.
WESTERN FOOD: Since some of you may be students at Sophia University in search of Western food, I will list a few restaurants that are NOT McDonalds. First, you can get a good selection of Western beers at Za Morrigans (Turn right out of the main gate to Sophia's Yotsuya campus or take the yellow Chuo line to Yotsuya station, exit, and head toward the campus. The bar is about 2 blocks past the post office.). You can also find a Subway if you go the opposite direction across the bridge next to Yotsuya Station. At the end of the bridge take a right. The Subway is on your left.
DRINKING: If you really want to party, head to Gas Panic. There are several of these spread all over Tokyo, but the best is still the "red" Gas Panic in Roppongi (anyone can identify it if you describe it as this). This bar is two floors of liquid insanity. From the female patrons dancing on the bar to the bucket of viagra on the second floor, nothing is ever boring here (unless you come on a Tuesday night. stick to the weekends and you'll be fine.). If you want a more relaxed and personal atmosphere, but still want to get away from your part of town, head to Azool. Also located in Roppongi, Azool creates an amazing atmosphere by using private, themed rooms for parties and curtained tables for couples. To reach Azool, simply head toward Roppongi Heights from Roppongi station. Pass Roppongi Heights and continue straight for about 1 km. The entrance is on your left. The exterior is fairly subdued, so keep your eyes peeled and look for a wall of running water.
First don't let the the 'foreigness' of Japan stop you from visiting.
Exhange money easily at any "ginko" or bank.
The best way to eat and or shop is to get away from the mainstream places and go down the alleys to little 'mom pop' resturants. Here you will get great food for a fraction of the price. All resturants have plastic versions of the menu, so all you have to do it point! Water is safe to drink. There are no real health risks to speak of.
Ask how to find the 'recycle' shops. Here is where you can find everything especially true antiques at bargain basement prices. Shrines sales are great too!
Local fish markets first thing in the morning are a great way to eat and shop at too.
Most toilets are not 'western' style, but squat style. Japanese believe this to be more sanitary. Bring toilet paper. Also be aware in at least one McDonalds I went to, the bathrooms were unisex.
Japan is very safe to travel in. A lot crime is commited either by drunks or foreigners. But be aware on the crowded commuter trains, women are frequently touched and grabbed by men. Stand your ground and let them know you won't tolerate it! Japanese women will find your small children and infants extremely fascinating. They may even just pick them up. But don't fear, they are just loving on them! The people tend to be very honest also. Once a gentlemen on my tour (I was a tour guide for our local area) left his wallet on a counter at a large department store. The clerk actually ran down the block to give it back to him intact.
Be patient and polite and you'll get the same in return! Grunting and pointing and charades (done politely of course!) work very well. If looking for someone who may speak english, look to college or high school age Japanese if possible. They are taught english in schools and remember is better. Just be aware it's not conversational english, so be patient. They love to practice their english when given the chance.
Traveling in Japan: In Tokyo, take the trains. Just try to avoid commute times! They are easy to navigate, cheap and the best way to get around the city. Taxis are expensive and scary! If going outside the big cities, you'll want to rent a car. Japan drives on the left so just remember to keep the steering wheel closest to the center of the road! Women: I traveled quite extensively alone and felt very safe at all times.
Staying in Japan, unless you have friends/relatives to stay with, is expensive. This will probably be your biggest expense. Ryokans (bed breakfast type places) are expensive, but a wonderful experience!
Japan is much more than crowded streets (actually it's not that bad even in Tokyo in most places) and temples. The politeness and eagerness of the Japanese people to help you and just enjoy your company is the best I've come across! Most of the country is like visiting a picture book from National Geographic. Especially in the northern prefectures were things are still done the same ways they've been done for hundreds of years. It's like stepping back in time! The entire country is gorgeous no matter the time of year. I've never been to a country more hospitable and interesting and beautiful. You don't need to speak/read Japanese to get around either. Just be adventurous and polite and you'll have an experience of a lifetime! There are too many things to see and do! Shrines and festivals are plenty. But each area has it's highlights. I know more about the Aomori prefecture area of northern Japan which I highly recommend if you want to see the 'real' Japan. I lived in Japan for 4 years in the Aomori prefecture. Was a local area tour guide and love to answer any questions you may have on visiting Japan. Happy Trails! Patty Barnes firstname.lastname@example.org
Kyoto, Kansai Region, Japan
You have to use the bus system to get from Temple to Temple. The bus route map is confusing and they don't differentiate the colours of the routes very well! Â If you're not into Temples I wouldn't go out of my way to visit here.
Narita, Kantō Region, Japan
Make sure you are on an airport train going to Narita Airport and not a local train going to the town/city of Narita. If this mistake is made you will have to wait for the next train on the platform and risk missing your flight home.
Okinawa, Okinawa Region, Japan
Activities: Diving, all types of water sports Dangers: Habu snakes, they're extremely poisonous. Annoyances: The humidity, Monsoon season, and for some the typhoons. Health: The Local's are into health and exercise, ie eating mostly raw food, running outside at all hours of the night... Interacting with the Locals: Be respectful, don't play loud music when you're driving, speak softly, dress modestly... the Japanese are respectful people if you respect them and their culture it means a whole lot. Also, try to learn the language that means so much to them. Transportation: The taxi's are always available, they do not accept credit cards here on island, mainland Japan taxi's do, but not here. If you are in the Marine Corps the Green line buses are available free of charge.