From my experiences Feb 2014 – April 2014 (ported from my hackpad)
- Get a Suica card immediately (can buy from machine for ¥2000 (¥500 refundable deposit for the card, ¥1500 initial balance). This will make your transportation life much easier – otherwise you have to buy separate tickets for each subway line and it’s confusing/terrible
- The Suica card can pay for subways in cities outside of Tokyo, but you may not be able to recharge it. There are lots of competing subway card brands with different regional presences.
- Get mobile data as soon as possible – life will be much easier with Google Maps and Translate
- Download an offline dictionary app such as QuickDic (Android) or imiwa? (iOS) too
- Most ATMs don’t work w/ international networks.
- Japan Post (the post office) has ATMs that work but they typically close/lock them up after 7PM or 9PM. Can dispense ¥1,000 or ¥10,000 bills
- 7-11s also have ATMs that work but they only dispense ¥10,000 bills. Unlike some other countries, getting changing/using these larger bills is typically not a problem
- There are some Citibanks as well.
- Discover is cross-compatible w/ JCB and Union Pay rails and is actually quite useful in Asia.
- If you travel a lot, Charles Schwab is awesome since they refund all ATM fees at the end of the month
- In general, just try to be polite, my most useful word is sumimasen (means: please, excuse me, and sorry). my conversations usually go ‘sumimasen, do you speak english’ 🙂 everyone says ‘no’ or ‘a little’ but in tokyo i haven’t found basic communications to be too bad and everyone’s super nice and tries to be helpful. google translate will help w/ the rest.
- Also bow and say “arigatō gozaimasu” (thank you very much) a lot
- Ordering food is usually pretty simple since there are plastic food models and photos of everything. Also the machines aren’t too hard to order from when those are there. Otherwise, showing a picture of what you want (taking a picture of a picture, or using a Tabelog/4SQ pic, etc etc works pretty well)
- Some places, noodle shops most commonly, have ticket dispensers at the front which may not have pictures. If you have an Android the camera function in Google Translate is very useful for this. If all else fails just ask for “shoyu ramen negi chashu” (ramen in soy sauce broth served with pork and green onion) or “konbu udon” (udon in salt broth served with seaweed)
- Japan is pretty much the safest country in the world. Just ignore the Nigerian (more annoying because they follow you and keep bugging you if you seem Gaijin/to understand English)/Yakuza (polite and oftentimes will point you to where you want to go) touts and you’ll be fine.
- Everyone uses LINE for chat, a lot of FB as well
- You may not be able to add some Japanese residents on LINE due to LINE’s security features
- Claritin is prescription-only, bring your own if you have allergies (Springtime is crazy pollen)
- Many restaurants don’t have napkins, bring your own. Conveniently tissue packets are passed out for free by advertisers on the street
- Use konbinis (convenience stores) for their trash bins (sometimes outside, sometimes indoors)
- There aren’t really any elsewhere…
SIM cards are a pain in the butt in Japan – basically you can’t buy a prepaid regular SIM (you can get a data-only SIM though) – you can rent one, but data is like $15/day (Softbank SIM at airport) or you can get a data SIM (~$30+), but if you’re sharing w/ people you can get a wifi hotspot for not much more and is probably more useful.
- good reviews
- about $150/30 days
- unlimited 21Mbps 3g
- they sell a 1gb/30day data sim for like $40 and they will deliver to hotel or the airport for pickup (make sure it’s during delivery desk open hours though if you do that) – there’s free wifi in the airport btw
- Global Advanced Communication
- these guys are a better price and offer a 4g (75Mbps) puck
- for 30 days I think it comes out to like $120 as well and they do delivery
- they have a $40/mo longer term plan (3 mo minimum) so interestingly, that’s about the same price:
- Telecom Square
- ~$16/day for 75mbps + delivery to hotel available
- Airport desk hours close at 11pm
- I went with this one bc the GAC’s pucks were all rented out :/
- in the past i’ve used b-mobile .ne.jp/english/product.html (you can buy them locally) – is $30 for a 14day/1GB SIM
- delivers to Airport or Hotel
- if you get the Visitor SIM it’s no registration, just stick it in and go. If you buy a b-mobile SIM in JP you need to register online w/ a JP address (or pay an extra $25 to register via phone)
- about same price and is 30day/1GB SIM
- BIC SIM
- you can buy this at Bic Cameras (all around town)
- the no-registration pack is 30days/500MB and $40, but your only no-registration option once you’re in the country
- The pricing on the registration one is pretty good – $30 for SIM and then $10-20/mo (1-2GB hispeed before throttling). Requires registering w/ JP address. Comes with a free Wi2 wifi account that is extremely useful
There’s wifi everywhere but almost all are paid services that require registration. A lot of the free hotspots email you a code to login. That doesn’t help if you don’t have internet to start with (in jp like all phones have email so i guess it makes sense, but it’s still terrible)… JR stations have actual free wifi as does FreeSpot (very rare around town). Starbucks wi2 is free w/ registration (pre-register here: http://starbucks.wi2.co.jp/sp/sma_index_en.html )
Be careful about which apps you use when you’re on mobile data. Snapchat is a bandwidth hog if you’re on Android because it uses a lot of background data. It’s easy to slurp up data on Instagram too. FB messenger is great, but don’t browse news feed too much. Just think about the media types; generally images = yellow light, video = red light.
Things to Do in Tokyo
See my 4SQ checkins: https://foursquare.com/lhl
Naveen‘s 4SQ: https://foursquare.com/naveen/list/tokyo
Fred Wilson’s 4SQ: https://foursquare.com/fredwilson/list/freds-tokyo-list
So many neighborhoods to walk around: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Yoyogi Park/Harajuku, Ebisu/Yebisu, Tokyo Station, Roppongi, Ginza, Odaiba, etc etc
- Free stuff, lots of cool stuff to see: http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/2999/30-things-to-do-in-Tokyo-for-free
- Sundays are “special days” – when the rockabilly, harajuku girls etc head to Yoyogi, Maid parades in Akihabara, etc.
- If you go a stop out to Ikenoue Station (presumably Shimokitazawa as well) the street has an awesome farmer’s market/street fair vibe with little musical/magic performances, and lots of fresh snacks/food for sale
- Park Hyatt Bar is cool, will probably be ~$100/head. Longpants required.
- Fish Auction may not be worth it (I liked it) but breakfast Sushi is a definite YES – omakase + otoro at Dai was awesome (the shorter line one is supposed to be as good, is another father son duo, although more friendly I take it)
- Walk through a pachinko parlor. Leave because it is loud and smokey and dumb
- Walk through an arcade and marvel at Star Horse 3, Season 2, Blaze of Glory
- Daikanyama Tsutaya is a pretty sweet book store / ok work hangout. There are some pretty good work cafes around.
- Tokyo has good coffee. I like the Roastery (Nozy) for their effort http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/4934/Tokyos-best-coffee-shops
Shows are pretty expensive (¥2500+) but there are free/in-store performances around
Buskers are rare, but there’s some of that too
EDM: JP loves electro/techno. Gets sort of old. There is lots of nu-jazz and experimental/ambient stuff. Some indie pop/folk