Japan for First Timers
Are you traveling to Japan for the first time? A lot of tourist who are visiting have no idea where to go. Well in general, traveling to any international destination needs some research. Not only for your itinerary, but so you could prepare for the differences in custom and culture.
That’s why “My Tokyo Guide” a list of things that you need to be aware of when visiting the land of the rising sun.
The number one rule in Japan, as anywhere else, is travel light. Bulky luggage can be a hassle in Japan and most coin lockers at the train stations or other places are only large enough to hold small day packs.
Although Tokyo is ultra-modern, you may have to revert to carrying travelers’ checks for the duration of your stay. Few ATMs accept foreign cards, although you will have more luck at Seven Eleven convenience stores and branches of Citibank. ATMs in busy areas stay open until 9 p.m. and most are closed on weekends.
Japan is a Cash Society, especially in rural areas. Credit cards are fine in large establishments in Tokyo and Kyoto, but even in these cities, small hotels, inns, shops, and restaurants only accept cash. And, you will need cash for buses, taxis, trains, and admission to all sightseeing spots. Japan has a 5% consumer tax, the price shown on goods is usually before the tax.
The Japan Rail Pass
available in 7, 14, and 21-day varieties are one of the best bargains for traveling in Japan. As an example: a regular round-trip train ticket from Narita Airport to Kyoto costs more than an entire Seven Day Rail Pass. The Japan Rail Pass is accepted on all “Japan Railway” operated trains, buses, and one ferry (Hiroshima area to Miyajima), anywhere in Japan (including all “bullet” trains except the Nozomi Super Express). However, it is important to remember that you must purchase your rail pass before leaving your home country. The rail pass is only available to non-Japanese residents and cannot be purchased in Japan.
Tokyo has an incredibly efficient subway, but the 13 lines are run by two different companies, Toei Subways and Tokyo Metro, meaning a bewildering variety of day passes are available. A good bet is the Toei and Tokyo Metro One-Day Economy Pass, which costs ¥1,000 and gives you a day of unlimited travel on all subway lines. During rush-hour the subway becomes an unbearable crush. All social niceties go out the window in a free for all that’s best avoided completely. Note: Subways are not part of the Japan Rail system, and thus, are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
During the day traffic can be gridlocked, but in the evening, when traffic is lighter, taxis are reasonably alternative to the subway. Enter and exit taxis by the back left-hand door. Don’t make the novice’s error of trying to open or close the door — your white-gloved driver will do that from the front seat. Ideally, have a map of your destination, or at least an address written in Japanese. Tipping is not expected.
Tipping is not common in Japan, especially for cab drivers, porters, or waiters. In more upscale establishments, a service charge will be added to your bill. However in some situations were special services are arranged for example: your private guide and or the head maid at a ryokan (Japanese-style inn) money gifts are acceptable. Money gifts are presented in an envelope containing relatively new and flat bills.
In some public restrooms, you may need to be prepared your own tissue. However there are an abundance of tissue packets handed out free (a common form of advertising) as you walk along major streets, it is always nice to have a couple of packets on you in case you encounter a restroom without.
Traditional Style Toilets
When traveling in Japan the odds are you will probably encounter a traditional “Japanese-style” toilet. These can be found in most public restrooms, train stations and in all small towns. In locations with several toilets there will probably be a Western toilet option. However, if you have no other option but the traditional style, stay calm and remember the following. As the toilet facility is located at floor level, you must carefully squat, balancing yourself over the facility, the correct position is facing the hump/hood part of the toilet away from the door. This is the opposite to the normal Western option, so it takes some getting used to.
High Tech Wonder Toilets
On the other hand, In upscale hotels, ryokans and restaurants, you may discover Japan’s new high tech wonder toilets. These toilets much like the inside of a racing cockpit are equipped with many intriguing buttons. Each button function is often indicated with a vivid image, however as the powerful functions include stream, spray and dry, do not confuse these with the flush button, as it could make for an embarrassing experience at a fine restaurant or at a friends house.
Sending Domestic Luggage
Trains have no porters, no checked luggage, and there is little overhead space for carry-on items. Most train stations have stairs affording your luggage wheels useless. Most train stations have lockers, but only major stations have temporary storage windows or lockers large enough to hold large suite cases. How to get around this problem? Use the domestic luggage carrier service “takkyu-bin” to send all but an overnight bag to your next major stop. This service is available from airports and hotel front desks or bell stations. If you are staying at a small family-run, budget “ryokan” (inn) in the city, you can usually arrange takkyu-bin with a nearby convenience store. Average bags normally go overnight between cities, two nights to the airports.
Taking a small gift when you visit someone is a Japanese tradition. Common gifts are usually chocolates or alcohol, but everywhere you go in Japan, especially in train stations, you will find shops selling local delicacies. These shops will wrap your gift beautifully as part of the service. If you are visiting friends, business associates, you may want to take some small gifts. All items should be wrapped or presented in an attractive bag. Gifts for more informal meetings can include: t-shirts or baseball hats from your hometown or even local memorabilia, such as maple syrup from Canada, or a Merlion statue from Singapore.