Insider secrets for Tokyo travelers
Tokyo, world renowned for its delicious food, entertaining attractions, and colorfully cute characters. Most travelers visit the most obvious spots: Ueno Park, Ueno Zoo, Shinjuku for drinking, shopping in Shibuya, Tokyo Disney Resort, etc., but what about something a little bit out of the ordinary? Well, here is a list of tips for you.
From our reporter in Tokyo – First thing’s first. How do you get WiFi in this country?! Let’s face it, technology controls the world now, and if you’re unplugged from everything you’re going to be horribly stressed out during your stay. Well, believe it or not it’s very readily available.
Now, I know a lot of you have special plans through your country’s phone company, or you’re able to do SIM card swapping. Here’s a bit of advice from personal experience. Please don’t. Although a few succeeded with activating roaming, I have met many, many travelers in Japan who have tried to get service in Japan via their own provider, and guess what. They got it after half of their stay was over, or the just didn’t get it at all. If you try SIM card swapping and you’re dead set on it, by all means please ignore what I’m about to tell you, and just do it. You’re going to spend way more money and time on it than it’s worth, but everyone knows how pig headed people can be about SIM cards.
Ok, now for those of you truly interested in taking advantage of what this country has to offer this is for you, Haneda and Narita Airports have cell phones you can rent and return when your stay is finished. Just fill out the application form, pay the money, and you have both a working phone AND free internet that is CONSTANTLY connected to a Japanese server. (Americans, the internet here is much faster and never crashes in this country.) Just follow the link here.
Now it’s possible to rent a cell phone or pocket WiFi modem for providers at the major cell phone stores, but it’s a lot less hassle to do so at the airport. Just follow the instructions on the link provided, and you’re good to go. There is even an online application form you can fill out, so your phone can be waiting for you when you arrive.
Some may not super excited about the idea of having to rent a cell phone. Then here’s the option for you if you already have a smartphone. The Olympics are coming to Japan very quickly, so the city is feverishly preparing to make everything comfortable for their foreign visitors. This includes free internet Wifi. This should be available at all of the major stations, but the only thing I can say for sure is that it exists in Shibuya Station. If you exit the station from the Hachiko Exit, go into the underground street. In the hallway you can find the Tourist Information Desk. Show your passport (proving your travel status), and you can get the Wifi password for the city. Now you have access to google maps, and can find any store you want! But do give the application time to catch up, It will get you to your destination, but the streets are narrow, so it will get confused along the way.
This is the Tourist Service Center located underground the Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station. It’s bit difficult to find, so leave the station, cross the Scramble Cross walk to 109 Men’s, and go 2 flights down the subway entrance to find it. It’s located in B2, not B1.
Nothing is more frustrating than having to waste money on train tickets. Luckily Japan understands this well, so there are many kinds of discount tickets available. But first thing’s first, if you’re not sure about train routes you can use Jourdan or Hyperdia. I’ve always gotten better results with Jourdan than Hyperdia, but some people really prefer Hyperdia. Both sites are available in English, and list all possibly routes by fare, distance, and comfort of travel.
Now, let’s talk about train tickets
回数券 (kaisuken) Multiple Trip Tickets
This is the most basic discount in Japan. Basically it means if you buy ten tickets for the same destination they’ll give you one free. It’s not much of a money saver, but if you know that from your hotel you’re going to take the train to Ginza every day for two weeks, it’s at least $2 saved. Now please take note that this doesn’t work for multiple destinations. You can go to the same place ten times, and that’s it. For example, you can go from Minami Senju to Shinjuku ten times one way. So if you use the tickets from your hotel and back, that’s five total trips, and you have one free ticket. Kaisuken is especially used by business people. Anyone here on business is more than likely to be traveling to the same station daily.
The Tokyo One Day Pass/Free Pass
Many different companies offer this ticket, so make sure you know which company you’re purchasing this from before you do. JR won’t accept a one-day pass from the Metro because they’re not the same company. Basically, you pay $6-$8 and you can ride that line anywhere on that pass for the day.
A one day pass is very useful, and designed specially for foreign tourists in Japan. Anyone touring the Tokyo area will typically visit their hotel, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Oshiage, Asakusa, Ginza, Tsukiji, Tsukishima, and Roppongi. These are all accessible along the JR lines, and if you assume you’re staying at a back packers hostel in Minami Senju (as many do) Going to Shibuya and back in one trip alone is 610 yen. If you jump over to Shinjuku or Harajuku that’s an additional 200 yen, and most foreigners don’t stop at that making the one day pass a good option for anyone wanting to really tour the city.
I have used the Seishun 18 on the Limited Express trains on the Utsunomiya line between Utsunomiya and Shibuya for five consecutive days. It was one of my most enjoyable experiences in Japan. Now, you cannot use it on the bullet trains.
青春１８切符 Sei Shun 18 Kippu Youth 18 Tickets
These tickets are specially designed for high school/college students during school vacations. So they’re typically only available during spring, summer, and winter holidays. (Sorry autumn). The concept here is that you pay $180, and you can travel anywhere along the JR lines that you want. The catch is that it’s a day pass that can be used up to five times. The ticket starts with the first trains around 5:00, and finishes at midnight. Now be careful with this one. If you’re traveling to your final destination, and the clock strikes midnight while you’re on the train the station will charge you from the station you were passing by at midnight to your destination. Now if you’re staying in Tokyo, and not traveling outside, I don’t really recommend this one for you, but if you’re wanting to visit the entire country while you’re here it’s a great opportunity. Oh, do be aware you can’t ride the Shinkansen (bullet trains) with this. You can take Kaisoku (rapid) Kyuuko (express) Kaisoku Kyuuko (rapid express) trains because there is never an additional fee for these.
Note: This is not the Youth 18 discount tickets, but this is what the display will look like when you try to purchase the tickets
The JR East Pass
This is one amazing pass only available from OUTSIDE of Japan. So make sure to buy this ticket before you come. Basically for $500 you can ride EVERYTHING for one month without paying extra. This includes the ever coveted Bullet trains. So if you’re seeing the country hard core for a month, this is the way to go. But if you’re only staying in Tokyo, I’m not sure if you would spend a total of $500 in a month. I only spend about $200 to get to work and back every day.
Update: The pass is currently a two week pass that can be used up to five consecutive days, and costs approximately $220. And they have begun restricting which Shinkansen you can and cannot take. For further accurate, up to date information regarding the pass please visit the website via this link. Japan Railways Group is considering selling Japan Rail Pass at certain stores across Japan.
Theme Restaurants. If you’re visiting, and willing to spend some money why not try a theme restaurant? There’s everything from Princess tea times to Ninja holes, even an Alcatraz Prison themed restaurant and the Robot Restaurant (image on top). But be aware, these places aren’t cheap, and you’re spending more of your money on the experience than the food. Here are some links to some of the more popular places.
If you’re the adventurous type, I would recommend trying out a typical Japanese Izakaya. These can be a fun experience, and many Izakayas have English menus available. Most people consider Izakaya cheaper than the typical restaurant because of the amount of food you can get, and share with friends.
However, I typically spend about $30 for myself. Now that does include 5-6 dishes and two alcoholic drinks. Also please do be aware that these are not family friendly establishments. They’re better suited for ages 21 and above because of the amount of alcohol and tobacco being consumed.
Some even have themes. Roppongi has Pizzakaya that serves western style pizzas. Located close to Roppongi Station (by the way, take the escalator up, please don’t attempt the stairs, there are like 4 stories worth of stairs to climb in that station). You can get all the information you need here at the website of Pizzakaya. Map here
In Kanda’s Yutori Heaven Tavern, you can get all you can eat karage, or fried chicken. The rules are that every time you place an order you can have a plate of fried chicken free. The first serving is six pieces followed by servings of four to follow. However, as typical Japanese culture demands don’t waste! If at the end of the meal you have left over karage you get charged 50 yen for each piece left over. But be sure to get there fast because this place will crowd up quickly. This is located a five-minute walk from Kanda station Things to be aware of, there’s no English menu here, and I am doubtful if the staff speak it. So I would brush up on my Restaurant Japanese if I were you. If you’re really wanting to go. Here are some helpful phrases: (point to the picture of what you want)’kore o kudasai’ This one please. ‘O kudawari kudasai’ (Seconds please!) (name of drink) ‘wo kudasai’ (drink) please. ‘Kore wa totemo oishii desu’ This is very delicious. ‘Ryoshusho o kudasai’ The bill please. ‘O tearai wa doko desu ka?’ Where is the toilet? Also, again, this isn’t a family friendly place. If you have children under 18, a family restaurant is a better option for you. Google maps can take you there with the following address, map here
Tokyo To Chiyoda Kunai Kanda 3 chome 5-1
Exit from Kanda “Minami Guchi” (South Exit)
If you’re looking for something a bit more entertaining, but are a bit wary of the language barrier, then why not try listening to a live concert? The music industry is thriving in Japan, and many young people move to Tokyo to try to make it big at “live houses” (Live meaning Live Concert). Unlike most places, Japan is very concerned about doing things well, so rarely will you encounter someone who can’t perform or sing a song well. You don’t even need to make a reservation, you can show up when the doors open, and pay. Most live houses in Japan have an “advance” and “at the door” price. The charges typically range from 2,500-3,000 yen, and usually includes one drink.
You’ll almost always see more than one performer. Better yet, most Japanese really enjoy having foreigners come listen to their concerts! They think it’s the secret to attracting fans. Concerts usually start from 7:00 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30. Plus there is a drink bar. As a tourist you may want to be a little mindful of taking pictures. The local culture dictates that you should ask beforehand if picture are allowed or not. In most cases they’re not. But if you make a mistake, no worries, the Japanese are very forgiving, just make sure to bow politely and say a small, “I’m sorry.” And don’t worry about the language, all most all Japanese can speak English, you just have to be very patient and wait for them to start speaking. Also please be aware, some live houses aren’t built as well as others, and barely meet safety and regulation coding, so try to check out the place before going in. Also, not all live houses have seating.
Perhaps, you’re looking for something a bit more traditional? Maybe after getting some lunch in Tsukiji’s fish market, you could take a walk down the street to Ginza’s Kabukiza. Of course, you’re probably not the mood to sit through a couple hours of Middle Japanese, which almost no one understands, but you can go into the gallery in the basement for free. Just walk around to the corner to the subway entrance, and you can take a look around their souvenir shops. There is even an elevator that you can take to the eight floor, and for a small fee you can see firsthand how Kabuki is performed. Many of the props are available for visitors to try out for themselves. The staff usually enjoy watching foreigners behave “silly” with the props. Now that’s “silly” not “stupid” and not “wild.” ;). Map here
If you’re more into the night life clubbing has become legal in Japan. Roppongi’s “Tokyo Brandy” is just a five-minute walk from Roppongi station. Now a bit of a caution about clubbing. Foreigners and alcohol in Japan have a very negative reputation. And the club scene itself carries a negative connotation, so don’t be surprised when people give you strange looks.
These are just some of what this city has to offer. I hope you found some information here that makes your stay more pleasant!