Japan Recap : Tokyo Basics

Hi everyone!  I have a couple of really exciting posts to share- recapping my recent trip to Japan!  I was lucky enough to be able to go for about two and a half weeks in December, and it was the trip of a lifetime.  This has been the longest trip I've ever taken since I started working, and it was amazing to feel like I was really immersing myself in another culture!


I have so much to share about my trip, so I'm going to be breaking it down into a bunch of different posts.  First up, I'll be talking about our first stop of the trip- Tokyo.  This was a HUGE city and we spent four days there, so first I'm going to talk about some basics and give a couple of tips and general observations.  Next I'll talk about what we actually did and ate in Tokyo, then move on to the rest of the cities we visited (eight others!).  I hope that this is useful for anyone who is planning a trip to Japan, and if you have any questions please feel free to email me or leave me a message on Instagram.  Let's go!

Stay

Hyatt Regency Tokyo
I want to start out by saying that we stayed at some AMAZING places during our trip to Japan.  These were all probably the nicest hotels that I've ever stayed at (and I will talk about each one individually).  However- we were lucky enough to be able to use credit card points and cash in Hilton points as well.  Even though these places were nice, they were definitely on the expensive side, and if we were paying everything out of pocket, we would have been staying in either Airbnb's, added some capsule hotels, or less expensive hotels.  Not sponsored- but if you're looking to start earning points for travel, we've really liked the Chase cards which have a high trade in value for Hyatt hotels.


Moving on to the actual hotel- I loved everything about this place!  The location was right in Shinjuku, across the street from the Metropolitan Government Office, and within walking distance of Shinjuku station.  The hotel offered a free shuttle service to the station, but we were able to find an underground tunnel within steps of the entrance, so we always walked and could get ANYWHERE in the city (and country) from this gigantic station!


The rooms in the hotel were really nice and spacious, and had a "wet room" of a combined shower and tub (which we had in every hotel, must be a Japanese thing!).  We also had an upgrade to get breakfast every morning, as well as complimentary happy hour at night.  Both were great, and helped us to save a little big of money on food and drinks.


Transportation

One of the main things that I heard before this trip was how difficult public transportation was to understand.  My experience couldn't have been further from that though- I found it extremely easy to get around!  I do have a few pieces of advice that helped us a lot-

- Download the Hyperdia app.  With this, you can enter in your starting station and ending station (make sure you know the exact name, you can't search for locations), and the app will tell you exactly which line to take, which platform in the station, and the cost.

- Remember which line / letter you're taking.  It may seem confusing at first, but there are a few different companies that have subways and trains in Tokyo.  On a plus side, each company has their own logo, and area of the station.  When we were looking for our platform, we first looked for signs that directed us to the company, then looked for the letter and color of our specific line.  It was pretty simple once we did this a few times- we mostly used JR lines since we purchased the JR Pass, and could easily find our platform once we were through the turnstiles!



- Pick up an IC Card!  This definitely makes travel easy- all transportation takes IC cards (either Pasmo or Suica), and all you do is touch the card to the turnstile when entering and exit the station.  I've heard that there are no differences between the cards, and they can also be used in most vending machines and convenience stores.  One note though...


- Japan is very much a cash society.  We only used our credit card (maybe) three times in the 18 days we were there.  You need cash to buy IC cards, buy food, etc.

- JR Passes make travel so easy!  If you're planning on visiting multiple cities in Japan, I would recommend ordering a JR Pass.  This lets you travel on any JR line in the entire country for free, including most bullet trains!  We were even able to reserve seats on bullet trains.  There are a lot of calculators out there to figure out if the pass is worth it, but I found it useful just for the convenience of not paying for individual tickets or constantly checking the balance on our Suica.


Food

I would say that one area that I was really surprised about Japan was the food.  I expected everything to be really expensive, and to eat a lot of sushi.  While this may be true for some people, I found the food to be really reasonable, and only ate sushi twice on our entire trip!  We mostly ate from street vendors, got quick meals to go from 7-Eleven, or put together picnics from department stores.  Here are a few other tips:

Practice using chopsticks.  We were never given forks or knives outside of our hotel, so make sure you know how to use chopsticks before going.  Also, most chopsticks were found in little boxes on your table.

- Convenience stores and department stores are the BEST.  You might have been surprised to read that I did most of my food shopping there, but the experience is completely different from in the United States.  The main convenience stores- 7-Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson- offer amazing food for really cheap prices.  I liked picking up onigiri (rice balls with different fillings), sandwiches, bento boxes, pastries, and hot drinks.


They also have hot food sections, where you can get fresh yakitori  (skewered meat).  Department stores all have food floors (as well as a restaurant floor), where you can get groceries, food presents, fresh bread, and sushi to go.  It was just an experience to walk around the floors, even if you don't buy anything!  One of my favorite ones was Tokyu Food Show in the Shibuya station!



At restaurants, you're usually given a wet towel.  No matter where we went, from fancy sit-down places to convenience stores, we were always given some kind of towel.  This is to wipe off your hands (not your entire face/body!), and then you neatly fold the towel and place it back on the dish.  It might seem obvious, but we were a little confused when we went to our first restaurant!

- Ramen/udon vending machine restaurants are amazing!  Not only are they cheap, but it was much easier to order for us, and was a unique experience.  All you have to do is put your money in the machine, make your food selections, and hand the ticket that spits out to the chef.  Once your food is done, it's handed to you and that's it!  Most of these shops were tiny with only a few seats, so usually you have to eat quickly to get the next person in line your seat.


- Tipping is not a thing in Japan.  I've heard that servers will chase you down if you leave money!  I also found that most places don't even give you a receipt- if you ask for the bill, they will bring over a calculator with what you owe, and you usually have to pay with cash.


Language

Before we went to Japan, we learned a few (emphasis on FEW) phrases.  Even though we weren't able to hold a conversation, we found that being able to greet people and say thank you was really helpful, and everyone was EXTREMELY nice to us.  I usually use the app Duolingo to help me learn the language- makes learning easy and fun!

When looking at restaurants, we looked for places that offered English menus, or used vending machine places to make it easier.  I've heard that some places will even turn you away if you aren't Japanese, but we never faced this.

In Tokyo, there were a lot of signs in both Japanese and English (especially in train stations).  There weren't a ton of street signs, and those that I found were always in Japanese, so I just relied on Google Maps to help me navigate.


Random

- Get a pocket wifi.  I have never done this in any other foreign country, but I would say it is a necessity (or at least makes travel a lot easier).  We were always able to get transportation directions, use our translator app, and look for places to go!

- Tokyo is VERY crowded.  We were there in December, which is supposed to be the low tourist season, and it was still packed everywhere.  Get used to battling through people constantly and being on crowded subways.  On a plus side, everyone kind of keeps to their side (typically on the left) and moves quickly.

- Japan is VERY clean!!  I seriously did not see any litter or even a random piece of trash during our stay.  Even weirder is the fact that you don't find public trash cans anywhere!  Instead, people will carry their trash home with them.  I usually saw trash cans at convenience stores and vending machines (which are seriously everywhere), so if I wanted a quick snack or drink, I would buy it and immediate eat/drink it so I could toss it right away.

- Bowing is a big thing.  We saw it everywhere, and started to do it as well.  I found it to be equivalent to a wave or a handshake.  You also bow when visiting shrines (you can read about the "proper" way to visit shrines and temples here).


I'll be back to share more specifics about what we did and what we ate, but I hope this was a helpful guide to some things that I noticed in Tokyo.  It was a city that I fell in love with quickly, and I can't wait to visit again.


Have you ever been to Asia?
What has been the biggest culture shock in your travels?

Comments

  1. Danny really wants to visit Tokyo. I was neither here nor there but have been warming up to the idea. I love this post and cant wait to see more details

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    Replies
    1. I never thought of visiting Japan until Dan had to go to Guam for work and suggested it as a vacation afterwards. Now I can't imagine NOT going, and I want to go back again soon! If you get an opportunity I would highly recommend going.

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