First off is converting U.S. dollars to yen. As I’ve mentioned before, Japan’s economy is cash based. All of my hostels require that I pay upon arrival and many restaurants do not accept credit cards. In light of this fact, it is important to carry around some change. While I found myself reluctant to carry so much cash, many people have assured me that Japan is one of the safest countries and there are rarely incidents of stealing. Even so, I purchased a money belt to wear under my clothes in which I will stow my yen, passport, and other important items. One can never be too careful.
One option for procuring yen is to use the Japanese ATMs at Narita Airport; however, I expect to be quite frazzled and overwhelmed after landing. Deciding to forgo the hassle of traveler’s checks, I opted to procure some yen before leaving the United States. Since my bank didn’t carry yen, I had to place an order for a specific amount online. After a few days, I simply stopped by to pick it up. Super easy. The yen I received is the first I’ve ever seen and I take it out occasionally. It smells like new books and I enjoy looking at it.
Once in Japan, the easiest way to obtain yen is by using ATMs at the post offices and 7/11s. These ATMs have English options and most foreign credit cards are accepted.
While on the topic of credit cards, it is a good idea to contact your credit card company before leaving to notify them of your plans. The company will target your card for international travel, so they won’t suspect any suspicious activity when they see withdrawals being made from across the world.
Another thing to internationalize would be your cell phone. Most of the sources I’ve come across advise renting a phone in Japan. However, because I’m paranoid about things going smoothly, I bought an international plan for my IPhone. The IPhone has many features that I expect to be using frequently in Japan, such as the GPS and Facetime options. I even bought an App that translates things that I say from English into Japanese! I just got my IPhone a week ago and (can you tell?) am still mystified by the possibilities.
On to packing. I plan on bringing a backpack as a carry on and one suitcase. Luckily, I am traveling in the summer and don’t have to bring heavy or bulky clothes. To save space, most toiletries that are available in America can be purchased upon arrival in Japan. I have heard from some that it is difficult to find deodorant, so I will be bringing my trusty Lady Speed Stick. In anticipation of the long plane ride, I dusted off my old gameboy and bought my first new game in years.
At first, I thought I needed some sort of outlet converter for my electronics, but for most gadgets none is needed. Japanese outlets have two prongs, while some American plugs have three. In this case you will need an adapter. Additionally, the voltage in Japan is only 100 volts compared to the 120 volts in America. My friend told me that it took much longer to charge her IPod in Japan and that her hairdryer didn’t blow with quite as much vigor.
Also, if you plan on visiting a Japanese person in their home, you will want to bring a gift. I have bundles of See’s gourmet lollipops that I’ve wrapped in pretty ribbon. I figure anything edible is bound to go over well.
Finally, I suggest trying to familiarize yourself with the Japanese language as much as possible before leaving. After watching many a J-drama recommended by my Japanese-savvy roommate and looking over my class notes, I feel a bit more prepared.
It is nighttime now and a bonfire is in full swing. Illuminating the delighted faces of my brothers who sit on either side of me, fireworks flash all the neon colors of Tokyo after hours. My next blog post will be coming to you from the Land of the Rising Sun. Wish me luck!