Discovering Japan

I’m off to Japan in early January to visit some colleagues. First, Tokyo for about 5 days, then Kyoto for 4 days.

Does anyone have any tips? In particular, I’m wondering about how to get sim chip into my phone so it will work there (I have a Verizon iPhone 5 and it’s unlocked). Also, what should I eat? How hard it will be to find my way around?

157 replies
  1. 1
    PsiFighter37 says:

    I haven’t gone in nearly 10 years, so not much advice. I would say – eat a lot of sushi, and have some takoyaki (fried octopus balls, as in the shape of the food, not the body part) when you’re in Kyoto. Those are tasty.

    You should be able to manage getting around okay, although Tokyo will probably be easier than Kyoto (Tokyo is more internationalist).

  2. 2
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    The Hello Kitty factory is a must!

  3. 3
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Kyoto, being the old Imperial capital, has an amazing castle which is seriously must see.

  4. 4
    Jon says:

    Doug-

    How nuts are you about sushi? Do you speak any conversational Japanese?

    This sushi restaurant in Tokyo is ridiculously expensive (~$300 for a 20 minute omakase meal) but supposed to be one of the best in the world.

    The owner has a documentary on the place and his sushi process on Netflix called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. No idea if you’d even be able to get in, but it’s the first thing I’d try to do if I was going to be out there.

  5. 5
    Skippy-san says:

    You can get a sim card at Narita before you get on the train to Tokyo. They have several booths near the baggage areas.

    It is New Years time so expect LOTS of things to be closed. The time is known as O sho gatsu.

    Do go on New Years or the day after to a shrine and say your intentions for the new year. Its fun and a great way to sight see.

    Akimashite omedetou gozaimasu! ( Say that after midnight on New Years eve).

  6. 6
    Ochotona Princeps says:

    Since you are going in winter, I highly recommending eating some oden. Its a mix of plant-and fish-based snacks floating in a big pot of hot broth, available at many convenience stores and groceries; you point to what you want and the server will fish it out with a scoop and give it to you with a cup of the broth. Very good with a beer on a cold day.

    Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oden

  7. 7
    Jon says:

    For some reason I couldn’t leave the URL of the restaurant. It’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukiyabashi_Jiro

  8. 8

    I recommend you read David Sedaris stories of traveling in Japan from “When You Are Engulfed In Flames.” That and watching “Lost In Translation” might help.

  9. 9
    DougJ says:

    @Jon:

    I like sushi but I’m not that much of an expert on it. I’m a bit more excited about the tempura there.

    I speak literally no Japanese.

  10. 10
    Skippy-san says:

    I re-read the post. Since it appears you will be there after the 5th don’t worry about what is open.

    Go to Harajuku, Shinjuku and if you like night life, hit the bars in Ebisu (all in Tokyo). Get your self a Suica card-charge it up with yen and have a great time. Tokyo is a GREAT CITY. Eat Ramen, or Shabu Shabu, or got to an izikaya and have bar food. Lots of great little ones near Ikawacho station.

  11. 11
    specialed5000 says:

    Unless there’s some hack that I’m not aware of, and I can’t imagine how it could even be done, Verizon phones of any kind won’t work. They don’t use SIM cards. The radio technology they use isnt isn’t used by much if anyone else anywhere but the US. Think of it as an iPod touch while you’re there and use Skype, web based text on wifi, etc, or buy a cheap pay as you go GSM phone.

  12. 12
    Bill Arnold says:

    Re the verizon iphone, I’m going to Australia for a few days with a pretty new iphone 4 and punted, installing (and testing) the free skype app and making sure that there were some “skype minutes” attached to my account. Should work OK with hotel wifi, at least for voice.

  13. 13
    dfatty says:

    last time i was there a couple of years ago, US ATM cards would not work on a lot of japanese ATMs. but the post office has ATMs that are US card friendly.

  14. 14
    Bill Arnold says:

    @specialed5000:

    …anyone else anywhere but the US

    We inflicted CDMA on Iraq during the reconstruction.

  15. 15
    lahke says:

    Ooh, ooh, ooh! Definitely ride the bullet train–why can’t we have those, again? There are beautiful bamboo gardens west of Kyoto, and gorgeous temples also. Try going where you can see Fuji– I went to Prince Hakone park just to get a view, but was fogged out.

  16. 16
    quannlace says:

    From everything I’ve seen and read, the Japanese love to eat. And snack. I don’t think you’ll have trouble finding good choices.

  17. 17
    nathaniel says:

    Its been a decade since I have lived in Japan and I do speak some Japanese, but the subways have great english signage and you should be able to get around. The one big piece of advice I can offer about them though, is figuring out the right fare can be really hard especially when transferring between different companies lines (you can stay on the same train and end up riding lines run by three different companies), my advice when in doubt by the cheapest ticket and when you get to to where you are going put the ticket in the fare adjustment machine by the exit and pay what you need to.

    As to sushi go to a keitan sushi place (a conveyor belt with rotating sushi). You pay based on the color of the plates you pick. Just don’t go to one that is empty because that means some of the fish could have been rotating for a while.

  18. 18
    LurkyLoo2 says:

    Hi Doug,

    Sometimes Tripadvisor some times has great suggestions by people who have traveled to where you are going. Take a look at their forums.

  19. 19
    Guy says:

    @dfatty:

    The ATM’s at 7/11 stores also take US bank cards. Verizon has quite a few CDMA/GSM phones that use a sim card and work just fine in Japan.

    I recommend visiting the Tokyo fish market when it opens if you don’t mind getting up very early.

  20. 20
    katie5 says:

    @specialed5000: Agreed. I visited a few years ago. Because Japan operates on a different network, your phone won’t work. However, you can rent phones in Narita for the duration of your stay. The airport has an amazing number of facilities that you don’t see in American airports.

  21. 21
    Shadows mom says:

    If you are going to Kyoto, do not miss opportunity to take train to nearby Nara. Go to Nara Park to visit temple shrine housing one of largest bronze buddha’s in Japan

    http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4100.html

    Plus tame deer and amazing gardens

  22. 22
    rachel says:

    Let me think…
    Ramen is affordable compared to other food. I used to like getting it in a set with some gyoza on the side.

    I like grilled eel, but people eat it more in summer, and the same for zaru-soba.

    Okonomiyaki (a sort of cabbage and batter pancake, sometimes with beef or seafood) is pretty cheap from what I recall and filling too.

    I’m very fond of nasubi-dengaku (grilled eggplant with sweet miso sauce), but that’s more bar food than a meal in itself. Same goes for yaki-tori.

    Nabe (one-pot stews) are popular in winter. I used to eat yosenabe (esp. with citron-flavored mustard) and sukiyaki (I prefer to dip mine in a beaten raw egg).

    Donburi (things on rice) are good. Oyako (chicken-and-egg) donburi, gyu-don (beef and sometimes egg) and ten-don (tenpura shrimp and sometimes egg) are all good.

    Other methods I’ve tried when there wasn’t an English menu:

    Go look at the models in front of the restaurants to see what looks good, and then lead a staff member out and point to what you want.

    Point randomly at a menu item in your price range and hope you like what you get.

  23. 23
    katie5 says:

    Tokyo Fish market: get there early (as in 6am at the very latest). There are a few stalls outside the fish market that serve sushi direct from the market. You may need to stand in line–the restaurants are tiny–but the sushi there is amazing. Just get the chef’s special.

    Other food–try the 7-11s. Trust me; the sushi is delivered twice daily and the rice balls are fabulous.

    My favourite was the Toto toilet showroom but that probably says more about me than what’s normally on a tourist’s agenda.

  24. 24
    Matthew B. says:

    Navigating intercity trains, and the local transit in big cities like Tokyo or Kyoto, shouldn’t be any problem. But you might want portable access to Google Maps or some such if you’re trying to find your way to a specific address — the address system is much more complicated than in the States, and many of the streets don’t even have names.

  25. 25
    rachel says:

    @Shadows mom: Ise Shrine is good, just don’t go there on New Year’s Day (or soon after).

  26. 26
    katie5 says:

    @Matthew B.: Addresses are based on the age of the building on a street. It’s district, block, address (and occasionally floor). Good maps, digital or not, are essential.

  27. 27
    Don says:

    @DougJ: I recall having Tempura in Tokyo many years ago, and it was an eye-opening experience. Nothing remotely like it anywhere I have tried in US, nor at home. So, Tempura is a good start.

    Enjoy. If all else fails, the McDonalds in Shinjuku serves familiar fare.

  28. 28
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    My wife and I went about 15 years ago. It was an interesting time. She had a college friend who was there, so we had a guide.

    The fast food places can be weird. There was some chain in Tokyo that looked like an old NY diner with a central counter area and had women working there who would screech orders in an incredibly painful, loud, high voice. It was interesting.

    The Korean barbeque-type food is very good.

    Most of the restaurants seemed to have displays of plastic food in the windows, so knowing the language wasn’t necessary.

    The trains are amazing. The toughest thing for us was figuring out which exit was north (or whatever direction we needed to go). With GPS that shouldn’t be an issue.

    Do go to Kyoto if you can. The temples are amazing.

    Have fun!

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  29. 29
    Roger Moore says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Kyoto, being the old Imperial capital, has an amazing castle which is seriously must see.

    It’s also famous for having lots of beautiful temples and shrines.

  30. 30
    Tom Levenson says:

    Check out my long-ago college tutor Merry White’s book on coffee and Japan. Then go to one of the cafes she recommends. (It’s a genuinely fun read, btw.) Been 25 years since my last time in Japan, so I have nothing more useful than that.

    Good ramen blogs exist, however, if you want to check out that scene.

  31. 31
    Keenan says:

    @specialed5000: Virtually all of Europe uses GSM like the US and Japan. CDMA is the oddball.

  32. 32
    Keenan says:

    @specialed5000: Virtually all of Europe uses GSM like the US (ATT and T-Mobile) and Japan. CDMA is the oddball.

  33. 33
    Peej says:

    The iPhone 5 will work on a gsm network…and the Verizon version comes with the gsm unlocked.

  34. 34
    Aries Moon says:

    I’ve been to Tokyo and Osaka. The subway system in Tokyo was super easy to use and very efficient. I remember it being a little more difficult in Osaka with more signage using only Japanese characters but maybe that was specific to the area of Osaka I was in.

    The high speed rail between Tokyo and Osaka is very convenient(Kyoto is a quick hop from Osaka) but it’s probably good to have a reservation depending on the time of day you plan to travel. The trains are like commuter trains so if that’s how you’re getting from Tokyo to Kyoto, don’t bring more luggage than you can gracefully manage.

    Travel by taxi is a little iffy away from international areas / western hotels… I learned to carry city maps to help communicate my destination to non-English speaking drivers.

    Food was one of my favorite things about Japan but everything seemed very expensive, even with my company’s generous per diem.

    One funny lesson learned: In the US I am used to grabbing coffee to go… walk with it, take it on the subway, whatever. Apparently this is not commonly done in Japan and can, in fact, be considered rude.

  35. 35
    Aries Moon says:

    I’ve been to Tokyo and Osaka. The subway system in Tokyo was super easy to use and very efficient. I remember it being a little more difficult in Osaka with more signage using only Japanese characters but maybe that was specific to the area of Osaka I was in.

    The high speed rail between Tokyo and Osaka is very convenient(Kyoto is a quick hop from Osaka) but it’s probably good to have a reservation depending on the time of day you plan to travel. The trains are like commuter trains so if that’s how you’re getting from Tokyo to Kyoto, don’t bring more luggage than you can gracefully manage.

    Travel by taxi is a little iffy away from international areas / western hotels… I learned to carry city maps to help communicate my destination to non-English speaking drivers.

    Food was one of my favorite things about Japan but everything seemed very expensive, even with my company’s generous per diem.

    One funny lesson learned: In the US I am used to grabbing coffee to go… walk with it, take it on the subway, whatever. Apparently this is not commonly done in Japan and can, in fact, be considered rude.

  36. 36
    Aries Moon says:

    I’ve been to Tokyo and Osaka. The subway system in Tokyo was super easy to use and very efficient. I remember it being a little more difficult in Osaka with more signage using only Japanese characters but maybe that was specific to the area of Osaka I was in.

    The high speed rail between Tokyo and Osaka is very convenient(Kyoto is a quick hop from Osaka) but it’s probably good to have a reservation depending on the time of day you plan to travel. The trains are like commuter trains so if that’s how you’re getting from Tokyo to Kyoto, don’t bring more luggage than you can gracefully manage.

    Travel by taxi is a little iffy away from international areas / western hotels… I learned to carry city maps to help communicate my destination to non-English speaking drivers.

    Food was one of my favorite things about Japan but everything seemed very expensive, even with my company’s generous per diem.

    One funny lesson learned: In the US I am used to grabbing coffee to go… walk with it, take it on the subway, whatever. Apparently this is not commonly done in Japan and can, in fact, be considered rude.

  37. 37
    Linkmeister says:

    From LowCards.com:

    Chip And Pin & RFID Cards

    Many international merchants are moving away from the traditional swipe credit cards and toward cards with chips used for payments. Make sure you research the area you are traveling to and confirm that they still accept traditional credit cards. If they do not, contact your card issuer to see if they can supply you with a chip and PIN card.

  38. 38
    Yutsano says:

    If you can, get out into the countryside and get a good look at semi-rural Japan. If it helps, English is compulsory at least until grade 9. But even pointing and grunting works in a pinch. And Japanese expect you to not know a lick of their language, so don’t get too concerned there either.

  39. 39
    Aries Moon says:

    I’ve been to Tokyo and Osaka. The subway system in Tokyo was super easy to use and very efficient. I remember it being a little more difficult in Osaka with more signage using only Japanese characters but maybe that was specific to the area of Osaka I was in.

    The high speed rail between Tokyo and Osaka is very convenient(Kyoto is a quick hop from Osaka) but it’s probably good to have a reservation depending on the time of day you plan to travel. The trains are like commuter trains so if that’s how you’re getting from Tokyo to Kyoto, don’t bring more luggage than you can gracefully manage.

    Travel by taxi is a little iffy away from international areas / western hotels… I learned to carry city maps to help communicate my destination to non-English speaking drivers.

    Food was one of my favorite things about Japan but everything seemed very expensive, even with my company’s generous per diem.

    One funny lesson learned: In the US I am used to grabbing coffee to go… walk with it, take it on the subway, whatever. Apparently this is not commonly done in Japan and can, in fact, be considered rude.

  40. 40
    Linkmeister says:

    From LowCards.com:

    Chip And Pin & RFID Cards

    Many international merchants are moving away from the traditional swipe credit cards and toward cards with chips used for payments. Make sure you research the area you are traveling to and confirm that they still accept traditional credit cards. If they do not, contact your card issuer to see if they can supply you with a chip and PIN card.

  41. 41
    Peej says:

    The iPhone 5 is gsm capable, even the verizon version.

  42. 42
    burnspbesq says:

    Electronic gizmos will charge more slowly in Japan because the domestic power is 100 volts, vs. 115 in the USA. The outlets are similar to our two-prong outlets, but three-prong outlets are virtually unknown, so bring adapters if necessary.

    If you’re a gizmo boy at trip to Akihabara (“electric city”) is a must.

    If somebody gives you directions that specify a particular exit to use when leaving a subway station, pay attention. Use the wrong exit and you could get hopelessly lost.

    Go to First Kitchen and get an order of wasabi french fries.

  43. 43
    Vikram says:

    Lots of places to visit in koto, but the absoluteley best place to ea in kyoto is Daiichi Asahi ramen noodle shop near kyoto station. It has the best ramen noodles bar none I have eaten n japan so far.
    The address is at http://www.timeout.jp/en/kyoto.....ichi-Asahi
    Try it- you ont be disappointed!
    W

  44. 44
    Tokyokie says:

    This will sound counterintuitive, but Kyoto’s a lot easier to navigate than Tokyo is. In Kyoto, the streets have names and mostly meet at right angles. In Tokyo, not so much.

    Street addresses in big cities usually have the name of a district followed by three numbers separated by hyphens. The first number is the district subdivision, the second the block, the third the house number. But in Tokyo, the blocks aren’t necessarily what Westerners would term blocks; it could be one side of a street between two cross streets, it could be more. And the houses are numbered in the sequence in which the property was developed in the 19th century, so they basically make no sense. If you’re trying to get to someplace a bit off the beaten track (i.e., not the Meiji Jingu Shrine or Imperial Palace or a store in the Ginza), have somebody fax you a map. Tokyo’s street numbering system even confounds natives. Kyoto, despite being a much older city, has a much more rational street-numbering system, and although it doesn’t have Tokyo’s subway station, it’s more compact and the bus system is pretty straightforward.

    As a previous poster mentioned, lots of signs will be in English. Well, at least in romanji, which is Japanese expressed in Roman characters. The signs will also generally be written in kana characters, which are the Japanese phonetic alphabets, as well as kanji. As you get further away from the major population centers, first the romanji, then the kana signs will disappear, leaving you with just the kanji. You’re not going to be able to learn any spoken Japanese before you leave, and besides, with all the levels of politeness of spoken Japanese, whatever you learn would probably be useless anyway. And even though Japanese schools require English throughout their curricula, few Japanese actually speak English worth a damn, so asking for directions in English isn’t likely to do you any good outside of major tourist sites, such as airports and big hotels. But you’ve got time to learn the kana scripts before you leave, so make up some flashcards; you should know them well enough to sound things out with about four hours of studying. (And it’s a looooong plane ride.) And before you leave, look up and print out the kanji for anyplace you intend to visit. You can then look for the correct sign, and if you get lost, show it to anybody who speaks Japanese to get some help.

    I won’t make any dining recommendations for Japan, because I don’t know what you like, but I will point out that most joints will have realistic plastic versions of what they offer — and Japan is far and away the world leader in plastic food technology. Look for something you like in the window and just point. And remember, tipping is considered impolite in Japan.

    Kyoto has better gardens than Tokyo, but all Japanese gardens are seasonal, so do some research before you go as to which ones emphasize winter foliage. And although you should visit them under any circumstance, if there’s snow on the ground in Kyoto, the Kiyomizu-dera and the Kinkakuji are especially lovely. (Even if the latter is merely a reconstruction. There’s a lot of that in Kyoto.) And if you’re looking to make a day trip out of Tokyo for some sightseeing and are choosing between the Tokugawa sites in Nikko or the Kamakura sites, go to Nikko (even though it doesn’t have a daibatsu), and while you’re there, visit one of the many onsen. But, if you don’t have a Japanese to help guide you, read up on proper onsen etiquette beforehand, because you’re supposed to bathe before entering the spring and that sort of thing.

    And one last thing: The signage for the express train from Narita to downtown Tokyo, which is far and away the cheapest, fastest and best way to make that trip, is pretty lousy. So look carefully and ask for assistance. And look up the kanji. Hope this helps.

  45. 45
    dfatty says:

    @Guy:

    good clarification, didn’t know the 7-11 ATMs work. i just remember having no luck at any of the ubiquitous ATM kiosks or at non-7-11 convenience stores.

  46. 46
    Nikolita says:

    If you’re in Kyoto and have time to sightsee, Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) and Kiyomizu-dera are a must-see. Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) isn’t as impressive for me, but the grounds are still pretty. Tokyo has lots to see but I’d have to review my photos from my trips before I made suggestions, as there was just so much to see and do when I was there.

    I went in 2003 while still in high school as part of an exchange trip, and then again in 2009. I took Japanese in high school but never had more than a basic understanding, so I can’t help much with language tips, aside from mentioning that it’d be a good idea to carry either an electronic translator or a pocket Japanese–>English dictionary on you in case you get stuck. Most things have English translations, but I remember transit (subway) being a pain in the ass to navigate. I had my mother with me though, so she was my translator and navigator.

    I can’t help you with the phone sim card thing, sorry.

    As for what to eat… ramen, tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet, though you can get it with chicken too), miso soup, Mos Burger, rice bowls, ichigo pan (strawberry bread). Tempura and sushi are good too, but different than their Western counterparts (taste-wise). I’m a fan of anything deep-fried and lived on like, 3-5 things while I was there. And as someone else already mentioned, most shops have plastic food displays with prices listed, so customers know what they’re getting.

    I recommend trying to learn a little of the language before you go, even just basic phrases (Hello, Sorry, Thank you, Please, etc). It’ll make it easier to communicate and the locals will be impressed by your efforts (at least that was my personal experience when I went both times).

  47. 47
    mental_masala says:

    I have been to Japan quite a few times and have a few suggestions:

    * If you are a ramen noodle fan, there’s a fun museum dedicated to the food in Yokohama (the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum). It’s a 30 minute train ride from central Tokyo, and a 10 minute walk (print out the directions!).
    * The out of print Lonely Planet “World Food Japan” is pretty useful. More useful from an education point of view is Donald Ritchie’s “Taste of Japan” (also out of print?).
    * The basements of big department stores have incredible food sections. Sometimes with 50 little stalls selling tea, prepared food, desserts, boxed gifts. A great place to get light meals without knowing any Japanese. A MUST VISIT!
    * Akasuka Temple is an classic temple complex, easy to reach by subway or the JR loop line.
    * Shinjuku train station is mind boggling. Definitely worth a visit to see.
    * The Tokyu Hands department store and the 100 yen shops (esp. Daichi) have some shopping: gadgets, kitchenware, etc.
    * The bar upstairs in the Imperial Hotel is the only surviving part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the old Imperial Hotel (destroyed in the 30s).

    On my blog, I have written a few posts about my travels in Japan, collected under the Japan heading. About half of the posts are about cooking, but if you keep scrolling you’ll find the pieces about travel.

  48. 48
    AndyG says:

    Have a delicious meal of tofu (I kid you not) at a 350 year old restaurant in Kyoto:

    http://www.sugarednspiced.com/kyoto-okutan/

  49. 49
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Domo arigato Mr. Roboto.

    Domo. Domo.

  50. 50
    RareSanity says:

    @specialed5000:
    @katie5:

    This is incorrect.

    The Verizon (and Sprint) “versions” of the iPhone (since the 4S) support all of the major cellular technologies including GSM, HSPA, and most important for Japan, WCDMA. Hell, it’ll even do LTE on KDDI’s network in Japan. It’s the only network that uses the same frequency bands as Verizon.

    As other commenters have said, there are quite a few booths at Narita (or Haneda) by the baggage claim and ground transportation areas.

    Just know that if you want data access specifically, it will be EXPENSIVE. It has only been recently that Japan has allowed non-citizens to rent data capable SIMs at all. They used to only allow foreigners to rent voice only SIMs. I assume you’ll be expensing it, so it may not be that big of a deal. But unless you have some kind of corporate credit card, you’re going to have to pay the bill before you get reimbursed…so it’s something to consider.

    You might also want to do a little Googling to find out which rental services have the nano-SIM you’ll need for the iPhone 5. They all have the micro-SIM, I’m not sure how widespread the nano-SIMs are though.

    When I go, I’m usually only there for a week and am usually in range of some sort of wifi, so I just let my (T-Mobile) phone roam onto NTT-DoCoMo’s network for voice only. I can expense any business related calls, and my wife can still just call my regular U.S. number if there’s some kind of emergency. If you rent a SIM that has voice access, it means that you will also have a local Japanese number, and you won’t receive calls/texts to your U.S. number. Again, I’m not sure how all of the roaming works with a Verizon phone if you don’t get a local SIM. You should prolly call VZW and ask them about it. It’s bad finding out details after you receive a comically large bill.

    As far as getting around, if you know where you want to go, then you don’t usually have a problem. There is usually someone that speaks “good enough” English at the information booths at the subway stations, to point you in the right direction.

    Point being, do a little Googling before leaving out, their mass transit directions are fantastic and help you navigate the labyrinth of the train network…it even gives you the estimated fare!

  51. 51
    Wrye says:

    Japan is cold in winter! Dress appropriately.

    One thing to bear in mind is that convenience store food in Japan is surprisingly good and reliable. So don’t be afraid to just grab something at one of those if you are pinched for time.

    Kyoto has more beautiful historical things to see than you will ever have time for, but I recommend the Gold and Silver Pavilions, as well as the central shopping arcade. If crowds are really bad, it’s good to have a back up plan. The city is laid out in a grid which makes navigation easier.

    Tokyo also has more historical things than you can possibly see, but also more futuristic things, more cultural things, and so on. I recommend the Imperial palace, and (north of it, across the street) the notorious Yasakuni Shrine, which has a beautiful set of gardens and a totally warped (funded by Japanese right wing nationalists) Military History Museum.

    And, though it isn’t to everyone’s taste, Tokyo Disneyland can be really fun, too. Many of the rides are a few years behind “updates” at the NA parks, so you can often see stuff that’s no longer in play obver here. And removed from its usual context, it becomes clear what Disneyland actually is: A theme park where the theme is America. After seeing Union soldiers played by Japanese actors, you’ll never look at Disney exactly the same again.

  52. 52
    matt says:

    buy some japanese whisky, and check out the high tech massage chairs in the dept stores

  53. 53
    Tokyokie says:

    Oh, a couple of other things: The ATMs for U.S.-based banks will take American cards, the ones for Japan-based banks generally won’t. But there are some Chase sites around, like in Hiroo.

    Also, Japanese cabdrivers don’t understand a lick of English, and probably won’t understand you if you attempt to tell them where you want to go in Japanese. Again, print out place names beforehand in kanji so you can show them, travel with somebody Japanese or just use the subway.

    And finally, try to avoid the restrooms in train and subway stations. They’re usually filthy and probably won’t be stocked with toilet paper. (If you see somebody in Shibuya or Shinjuku handing out packets of tissues with advertising on them, grab a couple and carry them for emergencies.) If you need to use the restroom, find a department store. The restrooms in Japanese department stores are immaculate (and even have toilet paper!), even if the toilets have far more buttons on them than you thought was possible (which for me, is more than one).

  54. 54
    MikeJ says:

    Make a commercial and have a strictly non-physical relationship with Scarlett Johansson.

  55. 55
    RareSanity says:

    @Tokyokie:

    I won’t make any dining recommendations for Japan, because I don’t know what you like, but I will point out that most joints will have realistic plastic versions of what they offer — and Japan is far and away the world leader in plastic food technology.

    Holy crap…this.

    You will never see higher quality plastic food displays, than what you will see in Japan.

    I’ve never had to use a traditional Japanese toilet, but they’re around if you’re feeling particularly adventurous…

  56. 56
    LABiker says:

    If you get off the Yamanote Line (the train line that runs in a loop around Tokyo) at Ueno, there’s a little district where there are a lot of motorcycle shops. I popped into a small restaurant in that area once just because the model plastic food they had in the window looked particularly good. They specialized in chirashi, which is basically sashimi on top of a bowl of rice. It was one of the best meals I ever had in my life, and not at all pricey. Ueno is also a nice area to walk around. There’s a big park there, a zoo, a great art museum that will probably have some good show going on, and a really old-school street market. I recommend that you walk around Shibuya, Harajuku, Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Jingu shrine — all these places are clustered together. Get off the Yamanote Line at Shibuya. You’ll be in that huge crosswalk that you always see in movies and documentaries about crowded urban life. Some may think going to the kabuki theater in Ginza is a bit touristy, but it’s an amazing bit of entertainment. I saw the tale of the 47 ronin, a winter classic; the staging and special effects were amazing. Kyoto is fantastic. I recommend a visit to Nijojo, the shogun’s Kyoto residence. The builders made the floorboards so they produced a peeping sound to prevent ninja intrusions. Have a great time!

  57. 57
    kathy a. says:

    @dfatty: YES! we visited japan a couple of years ago, and she showed us the postal ATMs. which, at least in hiroshima, were kind of bizarrely set up — the number keyboard with typewriter buttons across the bottom.

    take lots of yen (if your local bank will exchange), and know that traveler’s checks are still useful at major hotels. also, there are exchange places in international airports, here and in tokyo. really, carry lots of yen.

  58. 58
    Arm The Homeless says:

    I know there was a xmas present post yesterday, but could we get SG to put up a technology open thread?

    I got myself a Nexus 7 and now I need some people to tell me how much Android sucks.

    Also, too: Evernote as a DIY cookbook? Tamara, I need you!

  59. 59
    trollhattan says:

    @Jon:
    Leading to the inevitable yet no less frightening oden vending machine. I’d hunt, also, too, for a good ramen house–a wintertime treat–and nabemono (I like yosenabe, there are other varieties).

    Hope you’re on an expense account.

  60. 60
    trollhattan says:

    Also, also, too, golf clap for the Graham Parker thread title.

  61. 61
    Jewish Steel says:

    Mope around your hotel until Scarlett Johansson shows up.

    ETA: MikeJ!!! Arrraaghh!

  62. 62
    kathy a. says:

    @Shadows mom: YES! go to nara — a train ride from kyoto. watch out for the deer near the temple — one of them bit my daughter on the butt, because she was not passing the deer food fast enough. :)

    and yes, take lots of yen.

    we went a couple of years ago, to visit and travel with our daughter, who did a year abroad. there is so much in the kyoto area. you must visit the castle. and also, there is a philosopher’s walk, which is required. just do it, even if it is rainy and the path is long. you will never see so much gorgeous and interesting stuff in your life.

  63. 63
    Mike E says:

    OT but, Thunderbirds are a no-go.

  64. 64
    JCJ says:

    @Guy:

    I would agree that the Tsukiji fish market is a must. I took a cab there but the subway back. The Golden Temple in Kyoto is another good place. I ate a lot of noodles in little restaurants under the train tracks. These could be found in Tokyo and Kyoto – the noodles were good and not too expensive.

  65. 65
    The Dangerman says:

    How hard it will be to find my way around?

    I’m sure I’m repeating what others have said, but the subway is ridiculously easy. Also, in taxi’s, don’t tip the drivers. Food will be easy to navigate as well; English is common and those places that are only in Japanese are easy to navigate, too (point at the pretty pictures).

    I suggest Kyoto as a sidetrip (see the big Buddha, lovely Temples, etc) and, if housing costs are a concern, consider a Ryokan (I hope I spelled that right; if not, the Mighty Google should figure it out).

    ETA: Well, shit, you already said you were going to Kyoto. Reading comprehension still suffering from Turkey hangover.

  66. 66
    kathy a. says:

    yes, about finding department store restrooms, if you can. carry tissues for emergency situations, seriously.

    the trains are fabulous! especially the distance trains, which are comfortable, and the cart ladies come around with food and beverages. but i also love the smaller trains and subways — you can get almost anywhere.

    carry lots of yen. can’t emphasize that enough. check out rail passes, too – -we got a great deal on a 2 week pass (even though we were only there for 10 days, it was far less expensive than paying freight each time; although some bits of transit were not covered).

  67. 67
    MikeJ says:

    @Jewish Steel: I know what we’re both thinking about.

  68. 68
    The Dangerman says:

    @DougJ:

    I’m a bit more excited about the tempura there.

    There is a FANTASTIC Tempura place quite near the Imperial Palace (OK, this a few years old); I’ll try and find it and link it later.

  69. 69
    Peter says:

    The banking system in Japan is arcane and you may have trouble getting your money. If all else fails: find a 7-11. The ATMs there are fucking magical, they almost always work.

    The good news for you is that most street and train signs are in English as well as Japanese so navigation shouldn’t be TOO big of an issue. Worst come to worst find a police officer and ask them – Japanese police are the most polite and helpful people in the world and they’ll usually speak at least a little English.

  70. 70
    The Dangerman says:

    Also near the Imperial Palace is the Sony building; if you are interested in what toys are coming out in the future, this is a fun building to check out.

  71. 71
    Ruckus says:

    @Nikolita:
    I recommend trying to learn a little of the language before you go, even just basic phrases (Hello, Sorry, Thank you, Please, etc). It’ll make it easier to communicate and the locals will be impressed by your efforts (at least that was my personal experience when I went both times).
    I have employed this in every country I have ever visited. Those 4 phrases have made all the difference even if I couldn’t speak them well or speak/understand one other word. It opened up so many doors and minds. And it got almost everyone to speak english well enough that communication was never a problem, even dancing with spanish girls in Majorca. Of course their english and my american clashed on occasion.

  72. 72
    Ben Cisco says:

    OT: Gerry Anderson of “Thunderbirds” and “UFO” fame has died.

  73. 73
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    Kyoto prefecture borders Nara prefecture. There are some interesting ruins and shrines in Nara. The most interesting to me was the great bronze statue of the Daibutsu.

  74. 74
    Ruckus says:

    @RareSanity:
    Japan is of course different but I used my Sprint crackberry in NZ in 2003 and all I had to do was have Sprint set up international calls on my phone. Took less than a minute. Worked just like at home.

  75. 75
    Mike E says:

    @Ben Cisco: Jinx–buy me a soda.

  76. 76
    The Dangerman says:

    SORRY, I brain cramped; the Buddha/Temples are in Kamakura, not Kyoto. Others are saying Nara, which might include Kamakura. Do check a map ;-)

  77. 77
    Seanindc says:

    No-pan Shabu Shabu — trust me dude.

  78. 78
    specialed5000 says:

    @Peej:

    I didn’t realize that the 5 was dual mode capable, they weren’t up through 4S, no slot at all for a sim in the Verizon version. Good to know.

  79. 79
    Tokyokie says:

    @Ruckus: Ohayo, Gomen nasai, Domo arigato gozaimasu and Dozo, respectively, but I’d also add one more key phrase: Wakatte imasen. Knowing how to say “I don’t know” is crucial in any language.

  80. 80
    Tokyokie says:

    @The Dangerman: Japan has two daibatsu, one in Kamakura and one in Nara. The one in Nara is bigger, but the one in Kamakura is considered to be of greater artistic merit. Kamakura is a couple of hours south(ish) of Tokyo, Nara is near Kyoto. A trip to either will pretty much take up the whole day, but there are other sites to see in Kamakura, but the daibatsu is pretty much the only reason to go to Nara.

  81. 81
    sven says:

    It could be quite cool even in Tokyo and Kyoto this time of year. Take advantage of this fact and indulge in the wonderful Japanese hot spring (onsen) culture. The onsen were one of my favorite parts of life in Japan and the prices are quite reasonable.

    If you have a day to escape the big cities, a visit to a traditional inn (Ryokan) might be a nice change of pace. A two-hour train ride can deliver you to some surprisingly rural areas. If you leave at noon one day, you could be back to the city by noon the next day and have seen a very different side of Japan. I tire of the big cities so this would be high on my agenda.

  82. 82
  83. 83
    Nikolita says:

    @Aries Moon: Eating on the go, whether while walking around or on transit, is also considered rude.

    @Ruckus: That’s awesome. :)

  84. 84
    The Dangerman says:

    @Tokyokie:

    A trip to either will pretty much take up the whole day, but there are other sites to see in Kamakura, but the daibatsu is pretty much the only reason to go to Nara.

    Thanks for the correction; my memory is slowly coming back. I went to Kyoto by way of Kamakura and saw the daibatsu in the latter, along with all the temples. The temples were fascinating and I witnessed, by happenstance, a very traditional Japanese wedding (I fought the urge to take pictures, as it felt intrusive, but it was beautiful).

  85. 85
    TOP123 says:

    As others have said, Nara is well worth the short side trip. The Toudaiji is worth a visit, and in your hurry to get to the Daibutsu (the enormous Buddha sculpture), don’t miss the two guardian sculptures in the Nandaimon when you enter.

    The trains are awesome, yes, and when you are in Kyoto, give yourself a little time to look around the train station itself. It’ll make you wonder why we can’t have nice things like that here. Remember that the trains are on time… and depart the station accordingly! And you can listen for the chime announcing your train once you learn what to listen for.

    Depending on the weather (it’s outside in the woods), the Fushimi Inari shrine complex is amazing. Explore the whole Arashiyama area while you’re at it.

    ETA: Kyoto is also a great town for handicrafts. Paper, dustbrooms, fabrics, you name it. If your bank account is flush enough, the kitchen knives are works of art.

  86. 86
    Tokyokie says:

    @The Dangerman: Japanese weddings are indeed strange affairs. There will often be a traditional Shinto ceremony that only immediate family will attend for which the bride will wear a traditional wedding kimono, followed by a pseudo-Western ceremony that’s open to a larger group of people, with a fake priest officiating and the bride wearing a Western-style wedding dress. I knew a Jewish guy who would make money on weekends playing the role of the fake priest, and yes, he did think it was pretty weird.

  87. 87
    Skippy-san says:

    @dfatty: That’s changing. Most department stores have ATM’s that take US cards and Citibank has branches all over Tokyo. They take US cards.

  88. 88
    Skippy-san says:

    @Tokyokie: A guy can make 15000 yen per ceremony. The reason it works is because the ceremony really means nothing as far as the marriage is concerned-its when you register the marriage at the City Hall that it is official.

  89. 89
    BGinCHI says:

    @trollhattan: Squeezing Out Sparks was on my all-time favorite album list.

  90. 90
    Catsy says:

    @Tokyokie:

    Ohayo, Gomen nasai, Domo arigato gozaimasu and Dozo, respectively, but I’d also add one more key phrase: Wakatte imasen. Knowing how to say “I don’t know” is crucial in any language.

    Worth noting here, Doug: Ohayou [gozaimasu] is “good morning”. If you want a more general greeting, then kon’nichiwa would probably do the job. “Good evening” is kon’banwa.

    Also, the right word to use for “please” is a bit context-sensitive here; it depends on how you mean it. If you’re asking someone else for something, then I would recommend you say onegai shimasu rather than douzo.

    It would probably be more polite to say sumimasen rather than gomen nasai, but either will be be understood as an apology just fine.

    A+ on the addition of “I don’t know”. It might be easier for you to say wakarimasen instead of wakatte imasen, but the semantic difference between them is not important here and both will get the point across.

    If you have trouble with pronunciation, and are familiar with Spanish, you won’t really go wrong by treating the vowels the same. All else fails, drop the words into Google and look for a site with audio clips of someone saying them.

  91. 91
    SatanicPanic says:

    RAMEN. Eat some good ramen at a proper ramen shop.

  92. 92
    Judge Crater says:

    I’d try some very good sake over their. Even the best stuff we get in the States supposedly does not compare to the real stuff in Japan.

  93. 93
    Michael says:

    I haven’t seen anyone mention Namba City in Osaka. Great shopping and nightlife. The three train lines meet there as well as all the cities subways, so if you pass through it is worth a stop or make it your destination for an evening/morning combo. I recall it being about an hour and a half be train from Kyoto. Most any palace/shrine/temple in Kyoto or Nara is worth a visit. Do not pass up okonomayaki. Go to one of the restaurants where the grill is built into the table. Also, find a steakhouse somewhere in the Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe region(Kansai). You will not regret it. With the trains, try to take note if you are getting on an express or a local. Locals take a lot longer, but an express may pass right through the station you want to stop at. It’s mostly not too difficult to catch on to.

    It can be quite a damp cold at this time of year. Do take a good jacket and some woolens.

    And most of all, enjoy, it’s a lovely place to visit.

  94. 94
    Marc says:

    Nijo Castle in Kyoto is smaller and less well known than the Imperial Palace, but well worth a visit.

    In Kyoto, aside from the many places mentioned, take the subway out to the stop near the Westin Miyako Hotel, walk through the neighborhoods to the east, then follow paths up the hill into the cypress forest, many shrines, temples, gradens, views of Kyoto, etc.

    Osaka is my favorite large city in Japan, it’s worth the 40 minute train ride from Kyoto, in particular, the Dotonbori district along the canal, get the best okonomiyaki and takoyaki there.

    We learned early on that the key to using subways in most cities was determining the number and/or letter code of the station you want to get to, signage then becomes much easier to deal with.

  95. 95
    The Dangerman says:

    @Tokyokie:

    There will often be a traditional Shinto ceremony that only immediate family will attend for which the bride will wear a traditional wedding kimono…

    I guess I saw them walking to the traditional service; the women walked behind the man by a few to maybe even several steps … I recall her kimono was lovely … I don’t recall what he was wearing, but it wasn’t Western.

  96. 96
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Tokyokie: Friends can go to your Shinto wedding, there’s just a family meet and greet that they don’t take part in, but anyone is welcome to attend the actual ceremony.

    Oh, and someone else said it, but always have cash on you. Unless things have changed, lots of places won’t take your card.

  97. 97
  98. 98
    Ruckus says:

    @Tokyokie:
    That helped but once I got the four down everything else worked out.
    Really if you just try not to be the ugly american things go so much better. In the navy I’d come back to the ship thinking what a great town and people and others would be so pissed off because it wasn’t east bumfuck, nowhere, usa. I some times wondered if I had walked into an alternate universe. Or they had.

  99. 99
    Aaron says:

    In Japan the hand can be used as a knife. Beware of people offering you their hand, it means they want to cut you. Take out your gun and shoot them. Then tell them they shouldn’t have brought a hand to a gun fight!

  100. 100
    Mnemosyne (iPhone) says:

    I have never been to Japan, so I can’t help you there, but the most current advice about jet lag is to try and arrive in the morning, stay up all day, and then go to bed at your normal time, local time. Apparently getting at least a few hours of daylight through your eyeballs when you first arrive is vital to resetting your internal clock.

  101. 101
    Bill in Chicago says:

    @Shadows mom:

    That is my recommendation, as well! Todai-ji is my favorite place in Japan – there is nothing else in Kyoto or Tokyo that comes close.

  102. 102
    Linkmeister says:

    @Linkmeister: Here’s a better picture of the Buddha at Kamakura. I took it probably in 1973, while wandering away from the Naval Base at Yokosuka where I was stationed for a couple of years.

  103. 103
    JonJ says:

    All of the suggestions about looking for addresses, and how chaotic the street addresses are, are quite correct. Even cab drivers often have to ask people in the neighborhood when they get close to the right place. I haven’t been there since smartphone maps appeared, so they probably are very handy.

    It’s often said that English is the second language of Japan, but it runs a very, very far behind second. On the whole, younger people will know more English than their elders if you need to communicate, but don’t count the old folks out either; many of them were much more diligent students than the kids these days. (Doesn’t that sound familiar?) In an urban setting, if you stand around on the street looking puzzled it probably won’t be long before someone comes up and offers their help in (some sort of) English. And many folks are eager to practice their English with native speakers — so much so that it can get a little irritating some times.

    But the Japanese continue to be some of the nicest and friendliest people on earth. And absolutely don’t tip! It’s not the custom.

    One more thing I just remembered: if you do take a taxi (I agree that subways are a better idea), watch out when it comes to a stop. The driver opens the door from where he sits, and people have gotten their hands bashed by the door flying open just when they reach out to grab the handle. Just one of the many unusual aspects of the society (like having to take your shoes off at the entrance to any building where you see lots of street shoes and slippers just inside the door).

  104. 104
    Catsy says:

    @JonJ:

    Just one of the many unusual aspects of the society (like having to take your shoes off at the entrance to any building where you see lots of street shoes and slippers just inside the door).

    On which note, it is not at all a bad idea to invest in a pair of comfortable street shoes that you can quickly and easily slip on and off, if your current pair requires a lot of time spent lacing/unlacing.

  105. 105
    JonJ says:

    Another suggestion: good guide books such as Fodor’s have loads of this practical information.

  106. 106
    Laguna_Bob says:

    I traveled to Tokyo and Kyoto on business several times a few years ago. The first few trips I was with a local who knew the territory pretty well, but on my last trip I traveled around Tokyo on my own and also spent a few days in Kyoto. Getting around to the major districts in Tokyo is relatively easy on the circle line that connects them: Shinjuku, Sibuya, Ginza, Akihabara, Tokyo Station each have their specialty and are worth checking out. The gardens and shrines in Tokyo are also (mostly) easily accessible.

    Everyone under 50 has studied English all through their schooling, but most people are too embarrassed to speak it, especiailly to foreigners. Still if you’re in a jam, I found that you can get people to understand and help, especially a stations; speak slowly and clearly without slang or “uhs”.

    The bullet train to Kyoto (Shinkansen) is quick and if the weather’s nice, will give you some nice views of the countryside. I stayed at a hotel in the Kyoto station, a megastructure from which access to the rest of the town is easy, but there are traditional places to stay in Kyoto that would be more authentic, if you have the time to find one.

    I love Japanese gardens and visited several in the few days I was there, though I don’t know which are open in this season. Kyoto is located on a broad plane surrounded by hills and most gardens are at the nexus of the hills and valley. Ryoan-ji is the most famous Zen garden in the world and a World Heritage SIte and is well worth visiting any time of year (it’s gravel and stones); the Golden Temple is also beautiful and pretty close to Ryoan-ji. If you can get a ticket, definitely visit the Sento Gosho. The tours are only in Japanese, but the garden can be appreciated without knowing what they’re saying. Most people get tickets well in advance, but when I went, I got tickets from a special booth near the garden that offers tickets for that days tours only. The garden is large and elaborate, with many beautiful features: a moss garden, a black-pebble beach, traditional garden structures: everything is quite stunning and well maintained.

    If you’re adventuresome, try the blowfish…

  107. 107
    HI says:

    @Linkmeister:
    That is NOT the Great Buddha of Kamakura. That’s Ofuna Kannon, which was made much more recently. The Great Buddha of Kamakura is the one in Kotoku-in temple.

    Anyway, Kamakura is definitely worth the visit while you are staying in Tokyo. It’s about an hour and half from Tokyo by train.

  108. 108
    Linkmeister says:

    @HI: “Much more recently” is relative. ;) Maybe the English signage 40 years ago wasn’t very good, or maybe I didn’t know what I was looking at. Either’s a possibility.

  109. 109
    kathy a. says:

    @The Dangerman: kamakura is near yokosuka, south of tokyo and yokohama. kyoto is not in that direction; but nara is near kyoto.

  110. 110
    kathy a. says:

    @Linkmeister: linkmeister! we were also at the naval base in yokosuka — where my daughter was born. do you remember the blue note, in town? i’m sure you remember the peace park with fountains. my daughter went there for her 21st; she couldn’t go on the base, of course.

  111. 111
    dfatty says:

    @Skippy-san:

    Good to know. I remember being completely shocked at not being able to use most of the ATMs, I wrongly assumed it would be no problem because, well, it’s Japan. Hopefully our combined ATM information will keep DougJ from having to wear a “Will Troll for Yen” sandwich board.

  112. 112
    kathy a. says:

    seriously, take a lot of yen. it is hard to get cash in japan, still. our best bet was the weird ATM machines at the post office; we could also cash traveler’s checks at the one really nice hotel we stayed at.

  113. 113
    magurakurin says:

    All good advice above. Surprisingly almost no bullshit urban legend stuff, quality recs from all I’d say.

    Some things I would add…

    It’s cold this year. We’ve had a cold December and Osaka even had some snow flurries in December. If January continues like this I’d expect days in the 40’s and nights in the 30’s. But sunshine is usually the rule on the Pacific side of Japan in Winter. Also, Kyoto is much colder than Tokyo as the cold winds sneak into that bowl/valley from the Sea of Japan side. Kyoto is cold in winter, no question.

    Google maps can’t be saved off line in/for Japan. If you have a device with GPS (Nexus 7 for example) I’d download the Openmaps through the Maps With Me app and give yourself a little GPS navigator device. If you have a smart phone connected, Google Maps online will get you around. Otherwise, getting around is a nightmare. The trains and subways aren’t bad, but the streets…forget about it. Streets don’t have names (exception is the major roads in Kyoto city) never did, never will. Even the Japanese can’t find there way. Taxi drivers will often stop and ask for directions. Nightmare. Deal.

    Jet Lag. Nothing helps. Deal with it.

    Language. There are folks who speak English well, but the Japanese are rather shy but most people will try their best to assist you anyway they can. Don’t worry to much about it. Japan is safe and no one will cheat you (well mostly no one).

    On eating, in the big cities there are places in which the restaurants have no prices on the menu. Do Not Eat There. They will be insanely expensive and some are run by the Yakuza mobsters. This places are not common, but they do exist. Also, in Kyoto there are places known as “ichigensan okotowari.” These are exclusive places that only allow entrance to known customers who their guests. Doubtful you will go to one, but if you are refused entrance to somewhere, that could be why. It’s a Kyoto thing and not everywhere in the city. Most places do not practice this. And besides the ones that do are crazy expensive.

    There are lots of great budget options for food. Many were mentioned above. Noodles are great. In general Udon is better in the West and Soba better in the East (Tokyo). Kyoto has lots of little places in the stations where you can pop in and have a bowl of udon noodles while you stand at the bar. Very cheap, and very delicious. Learn one type of udon and just always order that. For example meat udon, “niku udon” has a little bit of beef floating on top. Also, too, ramen.

    Another place to try food is the basement of a large department store. For example the Iseten store in Kyoto station. Every department store has a food section in the basement and there are many types of prepared foods for take out. You can wander around and point to buy stuff. Often they are giving little samples as well. Sometimes there is a little section with tables where you can sit and eat the stuff you bought.

    Carry cash. Some places still don’t take credit cards and little places surely won’t. It’s safe. Unless you drop your wallet you won’t get robbed.

    And if you don’t know how already, definitely know how to use chopsticks. It is pretty much essential.

  114. 114
    Maude says:

    @magurakurin:
    I was waiting for you to comment. Happy early New Year.

  115. 115
    magurakurin says:

    @Maude:

    thanks. I’m getting ready for work now. Three more days to go and then I have a week off. The big holiday should click into high gear by Saturday. Or, I suppose I should say low gear, as once everyone gets where they are going, Japan slows to a crawl at the New Year. At least for the 1st anyway.

  116. 116
    Michael says:

    I don’t remember great problems with ATM machines and my bank card. Could have just been the area I was in. I do remember getting screwed royal on the exchange rate by my bank here when I first went there and took a lot of yen. After that I just took a lot of hundred dollar bills. Got a much better exchange in the banks there. Not true at the hotels or restaurants. When I saw an ATM that had the right signs on it I would replenish the cash. Will get double screwed if you bring yen back here, so spend down at the end.

    M

  117. 117
    nastybrutishntall says:

    Daitokuji.

  118. 118
    Joe Max says:

    The ramen (noodle) shops are always good for decent, inexpensive food. If you try to eat Western the whole time, it’ll cost you a fortune.

    Also, Chinese (Canton-style) food is the same the world over. One can also find decent Indian food, and the curry is great.

    Remember, sushi in Japan comes with the wasabi already on it, under the fish, and it’s mildly insulting to the chef to ask for it on the side – it already has the perfect amount of wasabi on it, you see. And eat it with the fingers – it is finger-food after all. Eating it with chopsticks is like eating New York pizza with a knife-and-fork, you look dumb. But do NOT order pizza in Japan. Just don’t. It’ll make you cry.

    Most restaurants put pictures of their food dishes on display, and simply pointing to one and saying “dozo” (please) usually works fine.

    Bring business cards, even if it’s not a business trip. Exchanging business cards is a mini-ritual in Japan, with lots of bows. Most Japanese business cards are in Kanji on one side and English on the other.

    Learning a few Japanese words – like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘where’s the bathroom?’ is a good idea, and unlike the French, the Japanese will actually be pleased that you at least tried to speak the language, even if you butcher it, and then they will revert to using their English on you. All Japanese students had English lessons in school, but they don’t get to use it much, and they will relish the chance to practice on an English-speaker. Be patient with them and help them learn more English. This is more the case in large cities like Tokyo, less in smaller towns, but you won’t be doing Fukuoka or Yamoto this time…

    Almost all hotel employees speak passable English, so they’re the best people to ask about where to go to shop or find a decent restaurant.

    You must see the Akihabara (‘electric-town’) district while you’re there, and the terminally-hip Shibuya is cool too.

    Look for the small Shinto shrine gardens in Tokyo (get a map.) They are stunningly beautiful, and often have been there for hundreds of years while the skyscrapers grew around them. They’re like time capsules of old Japan. The big Buddhist temple in Tokyo (near the Tokyo Prince hotel) is also impressive, just fall in behind some local visitors and do what they do. Get some incense (leave a donation) and make a wish on one of the garden shrines.

    The subway system in Tokyo has color-coded “lines” (like the London Underground) and all of the signs are in Japanese and English, so it’s possible to get around if someone (like a hotel clerk) tells you where you need to go. I got from the NHK building where my hotel was to a shopping district halfway across Tokyo to find a Sailor Moon doll for my kid using the subway. But DO NOT ride the subways at rush hours, or you will learn the true meaning of “packed like sardines.”

    Remember, if you’re flying into Narita airport, it’s about an hour away from Tokyo itself, so bring a book for the long ride.

    Kyoto is the ultimate tourist town. They know tourists, you’ll be fine.

    I love Japan. Wouldn’t want to live there, but great to visit. Have fun, it’ll be “SHUGOI!”

  119. 119
    bmoak says:

    Been ten years since I’ve been in Japan, but I’m guessing the basics haven’t changed too much.

    Getting Around (Tokyo): I wouldn’t call the Tokyo subway/train system easy, but it is manageable. It’s a conglomeration of train lines, public subway lines, and private subway lines. Easy to understand with a subway map. Transfers often involve finding your way through a crowded station while trying to avoid getting swept away in a current of people. You’ll probably ride the Yamanote Line, which runs in a circular route around central Tokyo. Make sure you get on a train going in the right direction, or you will be in for a long ride. The problem is figuring out where you are going once you leave the station, as street names and addresses are pretty notional in Japan. Best bet is street atlases for the neighborhoods you will be visiting.

    Getting Around (Kyoto): Central Kyoto is a classic grid with named streets and numbered blocks, and has been since its founding. You’re going to riding the bus in Kyoto quite a bit, as a lot of the sights are on the eastern and western edges of the city. There is (or was) a very well-stocked and useful tourist info kiosk outside the north exit of JR Kyoto Station.

    Since you’re there for 9 days, you might want to look into getting a Japan Rail Pass for your stay, which gives unlimited rides on JR trains (including bullet trains and airport monorails) and buses. You have to buy it BEFORE you enter Japan, though.

  120. 120
    vanmet says:

    Tokyo Balloon Juice Meet-up?

    Any other Balloon-Juice-reading expats in the area? I’m about 15 minutes north of Ikebukuro on the Yurakucho/Fukutoshin and Tojo lines, so easy Tokyo access.

    With or without DougJ, it could be an interesting experience. Open to any suggestions.

    We all get off on well-meaning, expert advice, but isn’t also futile and pointless? There’s no must-eat, must-see, or must-do thing, and there’s no quintessential japanesey thing anywhere.

    I imagine your hosts/colleagues won’t leave you totally high and dry, so try whatever with ordinary curiosity and attentiveness!

  121. 121
    Linkmeister says:

    @kathy a.: The Blue Note isn’t familiar, but hey, I was there in the early 1970s. There could have been thirty name changes since then. The peace park is vaguely familiar. I worked two days, two mids and two swings and then had three days off, the first spent sleeping. I didn’t venture out much until later in my tour when I had a car, and even then it was hard to figure out how to get where I was going.

  122. 122
    Edo says:

    Some may think going to the kabuki theater in Ginza is a bit touristy, but it’s an amazing bit of entertainment. I saw the tale of the 47 ronin, a winter classic; the staging and special effects were amazing.

    it truly is an amazing spectacle. *And* you can bring in your own food and drink (sake/beer is a good call!). Most people in fact do bring their own food. No need to worry about understanding the language, either, as its spoken in a really old dialect of Japanese–virtually everyone, including the Japanese–rent headsets that translate for you.

    I second virtually all the recommendations for Kyoto: especially the castles and the giant buddha in nearby Nara; if memory serves, it is housed in the largest wooden building in the world.

    Ramen shops are the best value for food and are a great fit for the season, sushi in Kyoto is to die for. Potentially literally in the case of blow fish. My friend I ate at 4 different sushi shops (sushi-ya) in Kyoto in one day; niether of us were brave enough to try the blowfish. Sukiyaki in little hole-in-wall mom-and-pop joints near train stations are almost always a good bet.

    the big buddha in Kamakura is worth the relatively short side trip from Tokyo. not sure if a tournament will be underway while you are there, but if there is and you can afford it, going to sumo wrestling would be one of the most uniquely japanese things you could manage in the short time you are there. Trust me, this is nothing like a boxing match here (or MMA for that matter)–highly ritualized. Again, like Kabuki, bring food & drink.

    Finally, the other commenters are spot on when it comes to the language and politeness. they don’t expect you to speak Japanese and if you are patient and friendly they will go out of their way to help. have a wonderful trip.

  123. 123
    TOP123 says:

    I’d agree with the sake recommendation; if you have enough time and enough interest, you could spend an afternoon in ‘sake country’ in one of various areas. Kyoto has Fushimi, and Saito, for example, outside of Hiroshima (a city worth seeing itself, maybe on your next visit, though it’s not a tremendously long ride on the Shinkansen Nozomi (~express high speed train) ) is charming. You can stop in some of the kura (breweries) for a tasting, and (more useful in the summer) fill your water bottle with their well water.

    Also agree with Marc that Osaka is a very cool city–and a great place, depending on where you are, to see absolutely no tourists, if you want a more immersive experience…

  124. 124
    Kobekid says:

    how about a Kansai BJ meet up while Doug J is in Kyoto? I’m in Kobe but would go to Kyoto or Osaka for a few beers and to meet other BJer’s.

  125. 125
    Edo says:

    there’s no quintessential japanesey thing anywhere.

    Geh?! Au contraire. Not that its really the best season, but the misogi ritual at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine is indeed a quintessential “japanesey” thing.

    Getting hammered with the guardian priest and the Reverend Dr. Stuart D. B. Picken after the ceremony, however was not (albeit quiet fun and memorable).

  126. 126
    bmoak says:

    Eating (Tokyo): Japanese Restaurants in Japan are very specialized, and often have a lot fewer seats than a restaurant in the states. Ten seats at the counter with a handful tables served up by a chef who has been working on a focused, limited menu for 20+ years. You say you like tempura? Speciality places that serve only tempura (or tempura-based dishes like ten-donburi) abound, with things you would never see in your average tempura combo. Ayu? Dojo? Shishito? Renkon? The problem with restaurant recommendations in Tokyo is finding some of the restaurants without a guide, as quite a few of them are tucked down side streets in non-descript neighborhoods or are in the basements of anonymous office buildings.

    Eating (Kyoto): Kyoto is the home of kaiseki-ryori, which is Japan’s equivalent of haute cuisine. Courses of beautiful seasonal food, but usually very expensive. Kyo-ryori is a less formal, less expansive form. Kyoto is also home to several specialty dishes and cuisines. Chirashi-zushi and hako-zushi are traditional pressed box sushi dishes, much older than nigiri-sushi. Kyoto is also great for tofu-based cuisine and dishes, as well as Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. It’s also known for traditional sweet and pickles. Go to the Nishiki market for a sense of things

    Eating (General): High end department stores have very good food departments in the basement, where you can often cadge free samples. A lot of the top purveyors in the city will have booths there. Japanese food is seasonal. For example, I love eel, but I wouldn’t order it now because it is a summer dish. Oden ( a broth where you choose what is added in) is a great winter dish, and tastes great eating from a street cart. Robata-yaki (charcoal grilled skewers) is also great in the winter, as are kama-meshi (rice cooked together with your choice of ingredients in an earthenware pot), nabe (hot-pot dishes cooked at table), and, of course, ramen.

  127. 127
    hoi polloi says:

    Ramen in the train station sounds really good in this David Chang show. I’d go there, but what do I know?

    http://video.pbs.org/video/2299820860

  128. 128
    Tokyokie says:

    @bmoak: Next to the staircase leading up to the street in most of the subway stations are detailed maps of the immediate area from the perspective of the entrance, and they’re usually in Japanese and romanji. Learn to use them (and guide books will generally tell you which train station exit to use). Some train stations, like Shinjuku, look completely different (government center one way, red-light district another) depending on which exit you use, and just getting to the right train station is often not enough to keep you from getting lost.

  129. 129
    bmoak says:

    @Tokyokie:

    Agree. But during rush hour in a major station like Shibuya or Shinjuku, it can be hard to stop to read the maps and signs. Plus, you can easily got lost in the underground shopping arcades looking for your exit. I still needed a street atlas for unfamiliar neighborhoods more than a few blocks from the station.

  130. 130
    bmoak says:

    Last part….Hope I’ve helped.

    Sightseeing (Tokyo): Too, too much to see in your time there, and I have no idea what you like preference-wise. Check to see if any local festivals are going on for any location you’re in, as they are often a blast. IF you are going to Akihabara to get your electronic doodads and thingamajigs, I would suggest wandering over to nearby Kanda, which has miles of used book shops of all stripes. Kanda also has the Kanda-Awajicho neighbrohood, a small patch of land containing some restaurants and stores dating back to the 19th century. Yabu-soba for soba (buckwheat noodles), Botan for chicken sukiyaki (and only chicken sukiyaki), and Isegen for anko (angler fish) dishes. The Tokyo Transportation Museum is there, too. There are so many temples and shrines in Kyoto, that I would skip most of the Tokyo ones. Asakusa Kannon would be the exception, but that is more for the marketplace and neighborhood surrounding the temple. IF you go there, walk a little further to Kappa-bashi, which is where all the restaurant supply stores are located. Lots of cool stuff in general. Those ubiquitous plastic food displays outside restaurants? Kappabashi has showrooms of them, with everything from plastic sushi for your keychain to ginormous replicas of 50-scoop sundaes or whole roast fish.

    Sightseeing (Kyoto): IIRC, some of the Imperial Place sights require reservations in advance. There are good walking trips along the east edge and the west edge of the city. The Philosopher’s Walk along the east side, starting from Kinkakuji is especially nice. Get to the major sites, such as Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, and Heian Jingu as early as you can, as they are much nicer before tour buses start pulling up and discharging hordes of tour groups.

    Sightseeing (Other): If it’s Kamakura vs Nara, I would choose Nara every time. It’s a lot less of a commute from Kyoto to Nara then it is from Tokyo to Kamakura. Nara has not only the world’s largest wooden building, but also the oldest (Horyuji).

  131. 131
    Lurking Canadian says:

    Get a Japanese friend to take you to a yakitori grill. They will put every damn piece of a chicken on a stick and grill it in front of you. It is an experience not to be missed, but there’s no way I would have found that joint on my own.

  132. 132
    Linkmeister says:

    @Lurking Canadian: I actually had chestnuts roasting on an open fire right outside the base in Yokosuka. Some guy was cooking them on a grate over the top of an upright 50-gallon drum burning charcoal.

  133. 133
    Tokyokie says:

    @bmoak: I always found the maps near the subway staircases helpful, but I used them in conjunction with a good street atlas, which is essential, at least for Tokyo. You probably don’t need a particularly detailed one for Kyoto.

  134. 134

    Re: iPhones, there was no way to get an American iPhone working in Japan when I was there, and also no wifi anywhere, so we brought a detailed paper map and Googled everything at the hotel before leaving. One issue that came up frequently was that Google seemed to be kind of crummy at handling Japanese style addresses, and mostly couldn’t get us to exactly the right spot. It did always get us to the right neighborhood, though, so we tried to find specific things, and then just explored if we couldn’t. This was a tourist trip on the way to a conference in Singapore, but if we’d had any exact destinations in Tokyo we’d have gotten a cab.

  135. 135
    TOP123 says:

    @Lurking Canadian: Mmm, chicken ovaries…

  136. 136
    Chet Manly says:

    Everyone above has you pretty much covered, but I’ll just add that it’s not really a big deal if you get lost. Even if you don’t have a single word in common, most people in Japan will do everything they can to get you to someone that can help you. If you get really lost hailing a taxi and showing the driver the key card for your hotel room will get you home even if he has to ask half of Tokyo where the hell it is.

  137. 137
    Linus Pickle says:

    What you should eat is everything you can get your hands on, especially if it’s fresh seafood. I’ve never had seafood like I did the year I lived in Tokyo. Try something that you have never seen before, it’ll probably be delicious. Seriously. You can go wrong with food in Japan, but it’s not easy.

  138. 138
    Robert Sneddon says:

    Three basic words, all ending in “en” will get you a long way in Japan. “Gomen” meaning “sorry”, “sumimasen” meaning “excuse me” and “wakarimasen” meaning “I don’t understand”.

    Japanese folks in the big cities are ruder to obvious foreigners than residents of smaller towns. Live with it, or try visiting non-tourist places. My favourite town in Japan is Onomichi, not too far from Kyoto by train but practically unknown to Westerners hence a severe lack of gaijin tourists. It has a shinkansen stop (all-stations Kodama service) but it’s up in the hills and that means a bus-ride down into town. I normally use the local JR line from Fukuyama when I visit there as the station is right on the waterfront.

    Take lots of yen, large bills are OK — the ichi man yen note is 10,000 yen or about 120 bucks US and is accepted everywhere, including conbinis (convenience stores) like 7/11, Lawson’s etc.

    If you’re in Kyoto you could make a day trip to Hiroshima via shinkansen. The Atom Bomb dome and the Peace Park are a short tram ride from the main JR station.

  139. 139
    TOP123 says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Yep. Hiroshima is a great city, and one of the ‘Three Views’ is right there, as well–Itsukushima/Miyajima is so easy to get to from there. And you might as well have okonomiyaki in Hiroshima…

  140. 140
    kathy a. says:

    @TOP123: yes, hiroshima is an excellent visit. we went from tokyo to hiroshima, then on to kyoto.

    miyajima island is a wonderful antidote after visiting the atom dome and peace park and museum. the deer there are small and not as mean as the nara deer, but they flock down to the ferry, and really do want you to give them something to eat. the tori gate is an icon. the island dish is all forms of large oysters. there are many small shops, many scenic sites in very easy walking distance. several shops have these old machines to make bean-filled pastries — really great to watch, and they taste good, too.

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    DON’T GO the whole island is radioactive see Fuchicima Diary

  142. 142
    DougJ says:

    Thanks everybody!

  143. 143

    okay but its true go and see for yourself they are finding cesium everywhere. there are people who know that say the fourth reactor could cause an extinction event.go look
    at the blog plutocrap for the link.

  144. 144
    kathy a. says:

    you asked originally about phones, and i’ve got nothing on cell phones. there are international pay phones in hotels lobbies and such. internet is an easier way to keep in touch. many places have wifi; hotels usually have some internet hookup in the room; and hotel lobbies also tend to have coin-operated internet access (like pay phones). my time zones were messed up the entire 10 days in japan, so i used those internet access machines a lot at 5 a.m., so i wouldn’t wake everyone else up.

    if you are on the internet at 5 a.m., you also need hot canned coffee from the vending machine. go for the cafe au lait style. there was no such vending machine in the very fancy kyoto hotel where we stayed, but the garage next door had one.

    what with one thing and another, you’ll want to hold on to 100 yen coins, which are good for all the vending machines, pay phones, and internet access. the smaller coins, you should definitely unload in the donation bucket at temples you visit.

  145. 145
    wetcasements says:

    “How hard it will be to find my way around?”

    Very. Unlike other Asian countries, they don’t have bi-lingual signage.

    But make sure you eat some good sushi and wash it down with warm sake. Definitely splurge on that.

  146. 146
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @kathy a.: A lot of Japanese hotels have wired internet in the rooms, not all have wifi and when they do it’s often buggy in my experience. Take a network cable with you or ask at the front desk to borrow one when you need it.

    Vending machines are *everywhere* — I knew things at Fukushima Daiichi were recovering when I saw a pic of the worker’s accomodation blocks at the reactor site with an Asahi drinks machine by the stairs. BTW the tap water is eminently drinkable if you don’t want to pay 120 yen for 500ml of bottled water every time. Remember to recycle empties and for Tunch’s sake don’t drop litter even though there are no public litterbins, take it with you.

  147. 147
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @kathy a.: I tried visiting Miyajima once but it was full of tourists…

    I prefer the more out-of-the-way places where Western visitors tend not to go, towns like Onomichi which I mentioned before. I’m not fond of Kyoto which is manicured to within an inch of its life, ditto for Nara. I do enjoy cities like Osaka and Kobe which have a lot of everyday life about them (I’m a Kansai kind of guy, okonomiyaki and cheap ramen FTW and how about those Carp) and I have a soft spot for Niigata too.

    For a (not-Hakone) truly Japanese hot springs experience go down the coast from Tokyo to the town of Atami; it’s on the Sanyo shinkansen line and this time of the year it will be quiet.

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    Bob h says:

    You can rent a cellphone at the airport, drop it off on your way out. Also, don’t
    get seriously sick, aso you will be expected to pay out of pocket for your care.

  149. 149
    HayZeus says:

    Go here for your tempura and a unique dining experience: http://www.andysfish.com/Shin-Hinomoto

  150. 150
    kathy a. says:

    @wetcasements: the train stations all have english signage — so navigating the trains was not so difficult as expected. (much easier than when we lived in yokosuka in the late 1980’s.)

    but it is true that streets, restaurants, shops often do not have bilingual signage — especially outside the heavy tourist areas. we had trouble locating recommended restaurants, for example, and usually ended up stumbling around until we found something that looked good.

    when we lived in yokosuka, i memorized the route from our house to the navy base, and that is where i drove. the one time i tried driving to a department store, i got hopelessly lost, and ended up crying at a car dealership, where a nice man called the base and gave directions to the operator, who translated and told me how to get back. (i had tried to get my bearings using this tall building with a giant bowling pin on top, but it turned out that the bowling pin looked exactly the same from every direction.) directions for english speakers tend to go like: “go two blocks uphill, and turn left at the fish shop with an eel on the sign. then drive exactly 4.3 kilometers, and turn right at the shop with a 6 foot tanuki statue….”

  151. 151
    kathy a. says:

    take lots of books! more than you think you’ll need, because those flights are long (so are some train rides), and you may be awake at odd hours. take paperbacks that you won’t mind leaving behind, to make room in the luggage for stuff you are bringing back. it is hard to find reading material in english.

    as someone mentioned, you’ll be taking your shoes off a lot; be sure you have good socks and plenty of them. many hotels and attractions offer indoor slippers, but they may not fit large american feet.

    also, think layers for clothing. it will be cold, and some indoor places will be too cold — others will be way overheated.

  152. 152
    xian says:

    @DougJ: sushi and tempura are the tip of the iceberg. every meal i had in tokyo was amazing and eye opening. can your colleagues take you out? feasting is a tradition.

    street addressed in tokyo are insane. even the cabbies need gps or big-ass city atlases and directories to find their way around.

  153. 153
    VCB says:

    Hey, so as a long time Tokyo resident, I am surprised to agree with many of the food suggestions. Also strongly agree with a possible BJ meetup in Tokyo (or in Kansai, as I am there once a week for work, during non-holiday times). I will do my best to correct a couple of outdated bits. First, we hit the tipping point recently where most ATMs will accept foreign ATM cards. 7-11 surely, but the 2 major banks (SMBC and MUFJ) are everywhere and I use them frequently with a US or other foreign card. Second, in Tokyo the tipping point has been hit with credit card usage — 5 yrs ago it was a cash-heavy experience, living day to day. But now you can do the majority of things with credit (even if it is not obvious how to do this, to be clear). Finally, the telecommunications situation is far better than described — most areas have 3G, and when a friend came in I asked Softbank how to rent a 3G data router similar to the one I have and they sent me a link to rental of the same unit with unlimited data for a reasonable price. Or maybe I’ve been here too long — I think it was about USD $30 for the week.

    Happy to throw out food/restaurant suggestions — but would love to know area of town. Ueno is a great, great place to wander around in as someone said, with alot of great small and cheap restaurants (best udon in Tokyo, by my sights, at that crazy place with the long lines and the name I will never remember). And of course the island is not radioactive.

  154. 154
    Rob Lll says:

    My partner is Japanese-American and still has lots of family there. We’ve made a couple of extended visits and I really love the country. You’ve got lots of good advice above — I’ll second a few tips and add a couple of my own:

    – Consider a Japan Rail Pass. We did the shinkansen (bullet train) round-trip Tokyo/Kyoto and a few day trips from both cities and the pass easily paid for itself. Take a bento box of sushi on the trip and hope you get to see a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. You need to buy the pass from a Japan Travel Bureau office before you leave.

    – Basement food floor of department stores. Heaven.

    – You will get lost in Tokyo. Multiple times. Just expect it.

    – There are lots of cheap, fast noodle places with vending machines at the entrance. The vending machine is part of the restaurant: you pick your dish (they’re indicated by pictures), feed the machine your change, it gives you a ticket, and you then hand your ticket to a server. There’s no need to exchange even a word. Some people might find it alienating but I thought it was pretty cool. Also, notice how when you sit down there’s usually a wooden slab running around the tables at head level. It prevents eye contact among the patrons, giving you a little privacy in an otherwise crowded space.

    – Try all the staples: sushi, tempura, noodles (I like udon best), but also some of the stuff less readily available in the States such as okonomiyaki.

    – There’s a great tonkatsu restuarant on the top floor of the Kyoto rail station (which is itself a thing of wonder).

    – The Mori Art Museum in Roppongi is great, if you’re into contemporary art.

    – Kinokinuya bookstore near Shinjuku startion. There’s also still a Tower Records (!) there.

    – Himeji castle is a good day trip from Kyoto. You can wander all through the place and imagine that Toshiro Mifune will come barreling around the corner any minute.

    – If you’re not shy about nudity (or even if you are but are brave enough to try something different), a sento (Japanese communal bath house) is a great way to end the day. There are a couple old atmospheric ones in Asakusa that I really liked and a big 3-story deal in Kyoto that has to be seen to be believed. If you want to ride naked in an elevator, that’s the place.

    – The Japanese are exceedingly gracious hosts and very helpful to visitors. You are not expected to know Japanese, but learning a few key words will be greatly appreciated.

    Have a great time!

  155. 155
    kathy a. says:

    one more thing! it is better to travel with people than to agree to meet up somewhere.

    this advice is mainly because we did not have cell phones in japan. the worst time was when our daughter was flying to hiroshima, and we agreed to meet outside the train station — and her flight was delayed for some reason. we finally learned of the delay from a helpful person at the train station, and she did eventually turn up.

    but as mentioned above, it is also easy to get lost, even in the vicinity of a hotel in a large city. better to be lost as a group, is my motto.

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  157. 157
    Stentor says:

    You won’t be able to use a sim card in a Verizon cellphone and the reason is that Verizon uses a different communications system of which there are 2 in the US. Sorry but I’m going to whip out my electrical engineering background here & really crank up the IQ level on this post, so try to follow along.

    CDMA (Code-Division Multiplexing Access) and GSM (Global-System Multiplexing) are shorthand for the 2 major communications systems used for cell phones in the US. Which Carriers are CDMA? Which are GSM?
    5 of 7 carriers in the U.S. use CDMA: Verizon Wireless, Sprint, MetroPCS, Cricket, and U.S. Cellular. AT&T & T-Mobile use GSM.

    This means we’re mostly a CDMA country, & it also means we’re not part of the global norm, because the rest of the world is GSM (as usual). The global spread of GSM came about because in 1987, Europe mandated the technology by law, & also because GSM comes from an industry consortium. What we call CDMA, by & large, is owned by the chipmaker Qualcomm. This made it less expensive for 3rd-parties to build GSM equipment.

    It’s much easier to swap phones on GSM networks, because GSM carriers put customer information on SIM cards. Take the card out, put it into a different phone, & voila, the new phone now has your number. What’s more, to be considered GSM, a carrier must accept any GSM-compliant phone. So the GSM carriers don’t have total control of the phone you’re using, which is good.

    That’s not the case with CDMA. In the U.S., CDMA carriers use network-based white-lists to verify subscribers. This means you can only switch phones with your carriers permission, and a carrier doesn’t have to accept any particular phone onto its network. They could if they wanted, but typically, U.S. carriers chose not to.

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