A few posts back, I explained the unfortunate outcome of booking my flight with STA Travel. While the ticket I bought was the cheapest I could find, I definitely got what I paid for: traveling to Japan has been the most stressful part of my journey. Each leg of my trip (there are 4) was booked on a separate airline. I wasn’t able to reserve seats on my flights, or access my boarding passes online. Also, the ticket I purchased said I would be flying on ANA from Newark to Tokyo; instead, STA informed me that I would be flying with United Airlines, an airline in partnership with ANA. In hindsight, I probably would have paid a bit extra to get a simpler package. STA is a great resource, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the inexperienced international traveler.
Some tips for long plane rides. United Airlines provides each traveler with a blanket, pillow, private television, headset, and plenty of food, which was great. The plane was pretty chilly, so I’d suggest wearing comfy long pants. Also, I didn’t sleep at all on the plane and was awake for about 28 hours before finally getting to my hostel. I’d suggest taking some sort of medication to help with that. A horse tranquilizer perhaps.
One of the best things about Japan is the subway system. I expected to be totally lost and overwhelmed trying to find which train to take where, but the Tokyo underground is so well marked that it is almost impossible to get lost! On the rare occasion that I needed directions, people were more than happy to direct me. The phrase “ (insert location here) wa doko desu ka?” or, “where is (insert location here)” has proved extremely useful. This is a map of Japan’s railway system. I keep it in my bag where ever I go and it has been a lifesaver.
While still on the topic of railways, I suggest taking the Narita Express from Narita Airport to your first destination. The prices are great (3500 yen for a one way ticket), and it comes with a Suica Card with 1500 yen already on it. If you are from Boston like me, the concept of a Suica Card is easy to get used to; it’s the same as a Charlie Card for the T. When you enter and leave a train station, you tap your card at the gate and money is automatically deducted from your Suica Card. There are kiosks scattered throughout train stations where you can add money to your Suica Card.
Something else I didn’t realize when I left the states is that the 3G for my IPhone does not work here. I can only access the Internet and my apps when I have Wifi, which is very hard to come by in Japan. So long to my dreams of the GPS/phone/translator/computer all in one. I have found one haven of Wifi besides my hostel, the Ace Inn (which by the way, has exceeded my expectations). Starbucks offers free Wifi if you first register on their website. Good to know.
Before coming to Tokyo, I was under the impression that I would be spending most of my money on meals. While I have treated myself to some more expensive dinners, I find that convenient store food here is nothing short of gourmet! At Lawson, a such a store near my hostel, I pay 400 yen for breakfast and lunch combined! They have anything you can imagine, from fresh fruit, yogurt, and pastries, to crackers, candy, and bento. However, my favorite is the countless variety of onigiri, rice balls with fish or meat filling.
Finally, a bit about traveling around Tokyo. When my roommate who is studying in Japan informed me that it is disgustingly hot here, she was not lying. While the temperature is generally the same in Tokyo and Boston, the humidity differs immensely; Boston’s humidity is usually around 30% this time of year, but in Tokyo it has been around 80%! Suffice it to say, I need not have packed anything with long sleeves.
Also, comfortable shoes are imperative. The amount of walking I’ve done in Tokyo is unparalleled. I feel more sore than when I was training for the Boston Marathon and have accumulated numerous blisters. Flats weren’t the wisest choice.
Finally, and to underscore the above point, there are very few places to sit down take a load off in Tokyo, especially in the busy shopping areas. I’ve had to dodge into random McDonald’s to rest. The combination of A/C and chairs that this establishment offers have never appeared more glorious.
Here is a link to pictures of my travels! Please feel free to comment or ask questions! Next time, I will relate my more touristy escapades.