Japan: A Collection of Hopefully Helpful Tips and Observations

Osaka

Ok, so maybe you want to go to Japan and don’t care about all my hilarious anecdotes? Here’s a collection of random tips:

If you have an unlocked phone, order a sim card and swap it out! You’ll have internet everywhere.

If you are going to use the local trains, get a Suica card. (You may be able to order a card online before you get there, if you really want to hit the ground running.) We used ours on different lines in Tokyo, and in Osaka. If we had taken the train anywhere in Kyoto, it would have worked there, too. We found the trains fairly easy to navigate. You can trade in your Suica card at the end of the trip to get any remaining money back. They can also be used at some vending machines? We did not try that.

Google translate is a lifesaver! Not sure what the menu says or what you are buying in a conbini? Aim your phone at it (internet required, see the tip above), and it will translate enough bits of things that you can sort of tell what it is you’re considering.

Need cash? Conbinis have ATMs.

Oh, you’ll need cash. Weirdly, not all places take credit cards.

Hungry? Conbinis have surprisingly good food!

What’s a conbini? A convenience store. Family Mart, Lawson, 7-Eleven. Yes. 7-Eleven. I have no idea why they all have ‘L’s in the name, but … they do.

Wendy’s First Kitchens have machines to order at, so you don’t have to interact with other humans (for ordering at least) if you don’t want to.

McDonald’s has handy laminated menus at the counter so you can point at what you want.

No eating and walking on the street. It’s rude, I guess? No one will stop you, but if you pay attention, anyone eating on the street has stopped walking and is standing off to the side.

There are drink vending machines everywhere, but food vending machines are few and far between.

The Japanese are all about the seasons! Including in their snack foods. We managed to get Apple Coke and White Peach Fanta because we were there in the fall. If you are a junk foodie, keep an eye open and you’ll get to try all kinds of weird stuff. (But Apple Coke and White Peach Fanta? So good.)

Japan (and Malaysia, too, so maybe it’s in all of Asia? Unsure) is all about random flavored Kit Kats. We tried all kinds of flavors. All kinds of flavors – many of them probably seasonal.

Stop in at a Don Quijote store. You’re welcome.

Also, check out the Robot Restaurant if you are in Tokyo. No locals attend the show, so it’s not really an authentic Japanese experience in that regard. But it is something unlike anything you’ve ever done, I can almost guarantee that.

Tokyo on Our Own

Prince Hotel PJs

The hotels in Japan all seem to come with Pajamas! Yukata, I suppose, but these are like extra long, button-up sleep shirts with 3/4 length sleeves. (Maybe they are full-length sleeves on a non-monkey armed person? Unsure.)

I of course had to try them out! And also there are slippers! They fit size 8 lady feet! They do not fit size 13 man feet.

Also: bidets. I had to work up the courage to try it, but, you guys? I think they are really on to something. They don’t understand how to sell a ticket online because they have been perfecting the bathroom experience.

Also: the hair dryer was incredibly underwhelming. I thought I had come to the land of my hair people (I have twice as much hair as your average human … and each strand is twice as thick … drying my hair is exhausting …) and so I was super excited about the hair dryer sitch. Alas, hotel hair dryers in Japan leave just as much to be desired as the ones in the US.

Breakfast at the Tokyo Prince Hotel? Awesome spread. Western food! Eastern food! Something for everyone at the buffet. So I did what any Asianish-American lady would do: served myself up a bowl of piping hot steamed rice, snagged some butter from the Western toast station, and added some sugar (meant for coffee, I’m sure) from our table. Breakfast butter-sugar rice! (Ok, so probably that has an actual name? I just know it as ‘how I like to eat rice at breakfast.’) Also I loaded up on bacon and fresh fruit. (Tip: fruit is really expensive in Japan. If you have a hotel breakfast buffet, take advantage!)

Y’all, I ate butter-sugar rice every morning we had a breakfast buffet. So good. Also a complete abomination? But so good.

Probably we stopped in the hotel basement Lawson (I LOVED that the hotel had its own Lawson!!) for some bottled water and snacks.

Before we headed out, we swapped out the husband’s sim card for a Japanese one. We had ordered it beforehand and had it shipped to us, just to make things easier. So we had internet and maps and access to google translate everywhere we went! Pretty awesome! And a world of difference from our 5th anniversary trip to Italy where we rented a blackberry so we’d have access to email. EMAIL. No internet. JUST OUR EMAIL. 10 years ago. The world is such a different place, in just 10 years!

Our hotel was a bit of a walk (15 minutes?) to the Hamamatsucho train station, but we had our maps, the weather was perfect, so off we went!

At the station, we struggled with the ticket machine for a bit. From his research, the husband knew we wanted Suica cards, and that we’d start out with $20 on them and add more as we needed it. The menus weren’t super intuitive, but we eventually figured it out and got our cards. (We later learned from another couple on our trip that you can order Suica cards ahead of time and have them shipped to you in the US. Probably for a nice up-charge, but, no fighting with machines!)

So we found the right train, hopped on board, and a few stops later we were in Akihabara. Nerd capital of the world, so, yeah, of course that’s where we started.

First stop was the Mandarake Complex, 8 floors of anime collectibles. Each floor was small, but crowded with … so much. Some of it I recognized, some of it I didn’t. Totoro, that fried egg with a butt, vintage video games, comics, just all completely unnecessary but oh-so-fun stuff! We stopped at a wall of capsule vending machines and found the perfect souvenir. Seriously, this little guy still goes with me everywhere I go.

Next up was Yodobashi Camera. So spacious! Floors and floors of department store goods, not just cameras. Also books, stationery, beauty products, refrigerators, phones, watches … if you want it, they have it.

Lunch at McDonald’s, nothing to write home about there …

And an owl cafe! Not sure why it’s called a ‘cafe’ (they do have a vending machine for drinks?) but they delivered on the owl front!

We rounded out Akihabara with a stop at Don Quijote. If Yodobashi Camera is spacious and classy, Don Quijote is … brash and cluttered? But you have to stop in, it’s like nothing else. The aisles are mazes, the store is floor after floor stacked on top of each other, you never know what you’ll find. It is claustrophobic, but also amazing! Snacks, toiletries, clothes, halloween costumes, toys, they got it!

We snagged some adorable toothbrush covers, they are open-mouthed cats that eat your toothbrush head when it’s packed away in your bag. But also, they eat the bottom of your toothbrush and stand it straight up on the hotel bathroom counter to dry. They are adorable and genius.

My fitbit history tells me that took us over 10 thousand steps, so we likely called it a day and headed back to the hotel to meet our tour group and for our Gate 1 welcome dinner!

We tried everything! Even liked some of it!