Guide for First-Timers in Japan


Beautiful Shinjuku
Here it is folks, the entry you’ve all been waiting for: my guide to Japan! And what makes this guide so special? Well to be honest, not much. I know that there are a plethora of resources out there for the do’s and dont’s when you visit the Land of the Rising Sun and this guide isn’t that. I’m not going to teach you about etiquette or how to behave. I’m not going to teach you about how to separate your trash or what to do when you go to pray at temples. I may throw in some phrases that are useful to know but really, I just wanted to write out my perspective on one of my favourite places. So if you want to learn about the things I wished I knew or was glad to know, the places I liked, the places I didn’t, and just any other tidbits of information I deem worthy of sharing, read onwards!

Be warned that this entry is extremely long and image-heavy so peruse at your own risk! To aid in your reading, here is a quick menu with all of the main sections:

  • Before Entering Japan
  • Random Tips While in Japan
  • Food Recommendations
  • Where to Shop
  • Other Things To Do
  •  
    If you want to see the full set of photos from Japan, please go here. Be warned that there are A LOT.


    Along the tracks near Shibuya Station
     Before Entering Japan
    One thing about me is that I am a prepper and a planner. I like to be lazy and I like for things to go smoothly. Generally I find that the more preparation I do in advance of something, the lazier I can be when that something rolls around. I find this to be especially true for travel and even more so when it comes to Japan so here are my tips and tricks for things to do before entering the country.

  • Pocket Wifi
  • First on the list is Pocket WiFi! This is something that I wouldn’t be able to survive without but the first time I went to Japan, I wasn’t even aware that existed. Luckily I have family there who picked us up from the airport and my cousin was kind enough to lend us her pocket Wifi for most of the trip.

    Pocket WiFi is just what it sounds like: a portable WiFi network that you can carry around in your pocket. What’s great is that you can rent them in Japan for a very reasonable price. In my experience, most people seem to recommend getting a data SIM card and while this sounds like a great option, it seems to me like it’s much more suitable for a lone traveler. I’ve never gone to Japan by myself so I have no experience with data SIMs but I can tell you all about Pocket WiFi!


    Alley I walked past every day on the way to Shibuya station

    All of the Pocket Wifi that i’ve used have been quite small (about the same size as a typical portable power bank) with varying battery lives depending on where you get them. The battery life on my cousin’s wasn’t so great so we had to carry around the charger but the rental ones we’ve had have been totally fine. You can have up to 4 devices connected at a time and the WiFi radius seems to be quite large. For the most part, it seemed like I got WiFi access everywhere I went with the only exception I can think of being when going through tunnels on the Shinkansen. There is a limit to how much data you can use but we never ran into any issues with that as we mainly used our WiFi for GPS and messaging.

    There are a number of different companies around that offer Pocket WiFi but I have always rented from Global Advanced Communications. One thing that was a bit confusing was the initial pick-up but that was only because I was lazy and didn’t properly read the instructions in the email. At Haneda Airport, on the departures floor, you will see many little kiosks advertising Pocket WiFi services. Ignore all of these and head straight to the JTB counter on the other side of the floor. Show them your ID and they will give you a package containing your Pocket WiFi, instructions page, charger, carrying case, and a postage-paid envelope for final-return. Keep the envelope somewhere safe and, when you’re all done with your rental, put everything inside of it and drop it in a red mailbox (there is one inside Haneda Airport on the departures floor). If you are dropping it off at the airport, be sure to do it before you go through security otherwise you will be out of luck as there are no mailboxes once you reach the terminals.

    In short, if you go to Japan with a group, you should definitely get a Pocket Wifi. Once you’ve divvied it up, the costs will be minimal and you will be able to use your phone to do everything other than text or make phone calls. Even then, if you use an internet-based messenger program like LINE or WhatsApp, you can make calls within the app, so you won’t even be prevented from doing that. Be sure to reserve online in advance!

  • Bring Enough Yen
  • Note: this may have changed due to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo

    One thing that really surprised me on my first trip to Japan was how few places accept credit cards. It is basically a cash-only city so be sure to convert enough before you leave your home country! If you do run low, i’ve found that I could withdraw from my Canadian debit card, but the exchange rate isn’t great and there is a $5 fee each time. I think there is also a limit on how much you can take out at a time but I never came close to reaching it so I can’t say for sure. I was able to withdraw from my RBC debit card at all of the 7-11 ATMs that I tried. Off the top of my head, I can only remember two places that accepted credit cards: H&M, and the Shinjuku Biqlo (not sure if the same is true for all Uniqlo and Bic Cameras)

  • JR Pass
  • If you anticipate that you will be taking long trips on the train, consider buying a JR pass. Basically it is simply a transit pass that gives you access to almost any train on the JR lines. Note that in Japan there are many different rail companies–very different from here in Vancouver where we have only one–so it is important to ensure that, when using this pass, you are on a JR line (it is very obvious if a line is JR because it will be emblazoned with that logo on the left, big and bold). JR lines run all over Japan and in my experience, I have been able to get everywhere I wanted to go while taking exclusively JR trains. Sometimes you may need to walk a little further to find the JR station but I would say it’s worth it.

    Now the important thing to know is that you must buy your JR Pass before entering Japan since they are only for use by those who are “temporary visitors”. We bought ours through JTB and, although their website may look a bit sketchy, they are a great company and I have always had very good experiences with them. They are located in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver and items are usually ready for pick-up within one or two days of purchase. I think some of their emails have gotten trapped in my junk folder so definitely check that if you don’t hear from them within a couple days.


    Waiting for the train…

    Before buying a JR Pass, it is important to figure out if it is worth it for you. The first step is to consider where in Japan you want to go. If you will only be staying within Tokyo, fares are fairly inexpensive (e.g. ¥160 from Shinjuku to Shibuya) so you would need to take a lot (approximately 182, based on Shinjuku to Shibuya) of trips just to break even with the $300+ spent on the pass. If you’re going to be traveling to other parts of Japan such as Osaka or Kyoto, this is where the pass shows its value. To travel from Shibuya Station to Osaka Station will cost you a fat ¥14,450 just to travel one-way. This means that one trip from Tokyo to Osaka and back and your pass is just about paid off. If you have an idea of some places that you’d like to visit, I would recommend taking a few moments to do some quick route searches to get an idea of the expected cost. Google Maps shows costs but another excellent resource is HyperDia which is great because it allows you to filter your route to only include JR trains. It also shows the difference in cost between the various types of seats such as reserved, unreserved, and green (basically the “First Class” section of Japanese trains).

    There are three different types of JR Passes available, each one usable for a different duration of time (7, 14, or 21 days) so the next step is to figure out how long you want to use it for. My first time in Japan, we went for 2 weeks, and I knew that for the first week we wanted to stay within Tokyo before spending the second week exploring other parts of Japan. We opted to only get a 1-week JR pass, which we used during our second week, and it turned out to be exactly what we needed. We went to Osaka, Kyoto, Kanazawa, and Yokohama and were able to recover far more than the amount we spent.


    JR signs everywhere

    The last thing to note about the JR Pass is that you need to take it to a ticketing station to activate it before using it. Only activate your pass on the day that you are ready to start using it. I forget what the exact procedure is but from what I recall, JTB does a pretty good job of explaining it. In my experience, Japanese locals tend to be incredibly kind and helpful so if you are confused, just find a JR employee and they’ll get you all sorted out. I can’t remember if you always need to be carrying your passport when using the JR Pass or if it’s only needed for activation, but you will likely want to carry your passport around anyway for reasons explained later.

    Oh also, you can show your pass at a ticketing station to reserve seats at no extra cost. I would definitely recommend doing this for long journeys or for the times when you plan to catch the last train.

     

    Ghibli signs along the walk from Mitaka Station

  • Ghibli Museum
  • Last but not least, if you’re thinking of visiting the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, be sure to reserve your tickets in advance! For a Ghibli fan, this is a must and even just the walk from the station to the museum is a treat. Now don’t underestimate me when I say that this place is popular! Local tickets tend to sell out month(s) in advance so if you slack on this, you’re going to miss out! From what i’ve gathered, there are two ways to procure yourself tickets:

    1. Expensive but easy
    2. If you just want yourself a no-fuss buying experience, head on back to JTB and purchase your tickets there. First check the availability calendars and verify that there are still some tickets left for the date you want (you will also have the option to put a back-up date on the order form). Once you’ve ordered, wait for the email saying your vouchers are ready to be picked up. The cost is $25 per person (cheaper if you are under 18) and again, you must show your passport to prove that you are a non-resident of Japan. What’s great about these tickets is that you may enter the museum at any time on the specified date. This may seem like a given but if you read the cheap and complicated method, you’ll see why this is considered a bonus.

       

      Ghibli Museum in sight

    3. Cheap and complicated
    4. I call this the cheap and complicated way but really, if you happen to have friends or family in Japan, this becomes the cheap and easy way! Get them to head over to Lawson and buy you tickets which are very cheap at only 1,000円 (note: 1,000円 is just another way to write ¥1,000) a person. Again be warned that these sell out very quickly so they will need to be vigilant and purchase them well in advance.

      If you are not quite so fortunate as to know any Japanese locals, you can also purchase tickets from Lawson online. More information can be found here but I can’t say much about the process as i’ve never done it.

      Now the one thing to note about tickets purchased through Lawson is that they have a specified time period during which you are allowed to enter the museum. Once you are in, you are free to stay until the museum closes, but you must be sure to arrive at the entry gate within the half hour time period specified on your ticket. I imagine they do this to reduce waiting times and line-ups so I think it’s worth it for the minor inconvenience.

    The first time I went, my friend bought the tickets, but on my recent trip, Lawson tickets sold out too quickly so I ended up going through JTB. Both ways ended with the same result but I must say, with the JTB tickets it was nice to be able to just wander on over whenever I felt like it rather than having a set entry time. Is that simple luxury worth $10 a person? I’d say no but that’s for you to decide.


    Filmstrip tickets!

    I really enjoyed the Ghibli Museum both times I went but I probably wouldn’t go a third time. Photos aren’t permitted once you get inside but somehow I actually didn’t mind that; I guess I felt like it eased the stress of always wanting to capture every moment. Most parts of the museum were the same both times but the seems to be one exhibit that changes. Most recently, there was an exhibition on food which was really cool as it examined how Ghibli always manages to give their food such a realistic texture. Another thing that’s awesome is that when you enter the museum, they give you each a ticket stub that can be used at their theatre to see an original Ghibli short animation. Even better, the ticket stubs are actually film strips! And you get to keep them!

     

    Shinjuku
     Random Tips While in Japan
    Next up is just a collection of little tidbits and observations that might be useful to know while wandering around Japan.

  • Garbage Cans
  • It is very difficult to find public garbage cans in Japan! Anticipate that you will have to carry around any trash you make so be sure to save the plastic bag when you grab a snack at a convenience store. In my experience, I would always find garbage cans at fast food restaurants like Starbucks or in department stores such as Isetan or 0101 (“Marui”).

  • Narita Airport
  • If you are arriving at Narita airport and staying in central Tokyo, you can take the N’EX (Narita Express) train directly from Narita to Shinjuku station (and vice versa on the way home). Shinjuku station is the largest one so you can get pretty much anywhere from there. Round trip tickets cost ¥4,000 and they are valid for 14 days. I forget the price of the one-way ticket but I think it was close to ¥3,000, well worth it when you’ve got a plane to catch. The train is very comfortable with both Asian and western style washrooms as well as garbages and space for your luggage.


    Narita Express

  • Haneda Airport
  • If you are arriving at Haneda airport, you can take a Limo Bus (basically a greyhound) straight from the airport to Shibuya. It costs about ¥1,030 per person each way and luggage is stowed for you during your commute. I recommend getting off at Shibuya Mark City since that is very close to Shibuya station.

  • Transit Passes
  • So you’ve looked into JR Passes and realized they won’t be of values to you so now you’re stuck carrying around a bunch of change to use every time you want to take the train, right? Wrong! Get a transit pass! So far i’ve encountered two types, Suica and Pasmo, but there may be more that I haven’t heard of. I think they correspond to the different cities with Suica being Tokyo and Pasmo being Osaka? Not 100% sure on that as i’ve only had a Suica myself. I found it very useful, especially when running for the last train because you can just tap at the gate and get on the train without knowing the exact cost. Then once you arrive at your destination, you can find a fare adjustment machine and pay the difference. I’m not really sure about the limitations of these cards as I only used mine when traveling within Tokyo, but isn’t the penguin cute? I do enjoy how every company in Japan seems to find a way to include a cute character.



    My transit cards from Japan (Suica) and Korea

    Getting a Suica is easy! Just find a green JR ticket machine and follow the instructions to get your card. I think it costs ¥2,000 the first time, of which ¥500 is a deposit for the card. I’m assuming that you can get this back once you’re done with the card but I can’t say for sure since I decided to keep mine as a souvenir. Once you’ve completed the buying process, a brand new Suica will pop out complete with your name on it! So cool! If your funds run low, you can recharge your card at the same machine in minimum ¥1,000 increments.

    Another cool thing is that some shops, including Family Mart and Lawson!, will let you pay using your Suica card. Most game stations also seemed to accept it as payment and would even give you bonus plays for paying by card!

  • Station Exits
  • Pay close attention to which exit you are taking when leaving a station, as different exits can lead you to vastly different areas. Taking the wrong exit especially somewhere like Shinjuku Station can result in lots of extra time spent walking just to get where you would have been, had you taken the correct exit. Also one random thing that shocked me the first time is that you don’t get your ticket stub back when exiting a station.

  • Washrooms
  • Washrooms typically don’t have paper towels or hand-dryers so bring a cloth to dry your hands.

  • Napkins
  • Alternatively, I would recommend carrying around a small pack of tissues. The first time I went, when I first arrived, my aunt took me to 7-11 and bought me a bunch of supplies, including tissues. I put them in my purse without really thinking about it but I was glad that I did because most restaurants didn’t seem to provide napkins. More recently, it seemed like a lot more restaurants did provide napkins but I also stayed only in Tokyo, which is quite tourist-friendly.


    Beautiful Mitaka

  • Matching at Disneyland
  • If you have any plans to go to Disneyland Tokyo, you should wear something matching with the other people in your party! You’ll see when you get there that people like to match at Disneyland Tokyo. I saw everything from couples with matching headbands to large groups in fully co-ordinated outfits, including shoes and accessories.

  • Convenience Stores
  • Convenience stores in Japan are awesome. They’re open 24 hours and unlike the ones here in Vancouver they actually have good food to eat. If you want a snack, be it sweet or savoury, just find a 7-11, Lawsons, or Family Mart. You can get warm canned coffee, onigiri, karaage, corndogs, Puccho, Hi-Chews, and all sorts of cold treats. My favourite thing is Gari Gari Kun soda flavoured ice pops.


    Convenience at its finest

  • Grocery Stores
  • Grocery stores also have a great selection of ready-to-eat foods, including tonkatsu, tempura, nigiri, etc. There are typically microwaves and kettles in the area after check-out so you can easily prepare your food.

  • Tax Free Shopping
  • There are many places that will give you tax free if you show your passport and spend over ¥5,000 (before tax). They will remove tax immediately at the time of purchase, so there will be no need to go through the troublesome claims process at the airport. Note that this ¥5,000 is separate for consumable items, such as make-up or food, and non-consumable items. In other words, if your total cost is ¥5,600 but it is made up of a mixture of consumable and non-consumable items, you won’t be able to get tax-free; each category must total ¥5,000 in order to get tax free on that category. Also note that consumable items will be put in a sealed bag which shouldn’t be opened until you leave Japan. At the time of this post, Japan’s (Tokyo’s?) consumer tax is 8%.


    Sealed bag of consumable goods.

     

     Food Recommendations

  • Tokyu Food Show
  • If you’re near Shibuya station, I would recommend checking out Tokyu Food Show. It’s in the basement under Shibuya station and has a vast selection of bakeries, dessert shops, karaage, nigiri, and more. We loved the curry buns from Andersen bakery.


    Goodies at the Food Show

  • Nagi Ramen
  • My favourite ramen shop is a little place called Nagi ramen; they have various locations but I really liked the one at Golden Gai in Shinjuku. The noodles especially are amazing. They taste so fresh and almost..pastry-like? I’m not even sure how to describe them but they are good, especially the flat noodle. Their special ingredient is anchovies which they place at the center of each bowl. Be warned that mixing this ramen results in it being very fishy-tasting. I don’t typically mix mine up so I didn’t have that problem. If you get the spicy one, they will ask you what level of spice you want between 1-30. I normally like very spicy things so I got level 20, but I found that it was spicy to the point that, by the end of the bowl, it hurt to eat it.

    I did notice that the chashu portions seemed to have decreased a lot compared to the first time I were there, but i’m not sure if that’s just because I got the spicy one this time.
    I didn’t mind too much because i’m all about the noodles.

  • Asuka Ramen
  • I also recommend Asuka ramen near Shibuya Station. It’s cool because, instead of chashu pork, you can get a tonkatsu cutlet in your ramen. They don’t have marinated eggs here but you can ask for a free bowl of rice (“gohan”).

  • Hakata Ramen
  • When in Akihabara, I found a ramen shop called Hakata that offered two free servings of extra noodles per bowl of ramen!

    Some Notes About Ramen

    Typically at ramen shops, they will ask you for your preferences regarding broth richness, noodle firmness, and possibly spice level. If you want everything to be the standard/mid level, just say “futsuu” (pronounced like “hoot sooo”). They will also usually ask you what size you want (small, medium, large) but all sizes cost the same price. I believe that this is due to the culture of not wanting to waste food so it’s ideal if you can select the actual portion size you want to eat.


    Spicy ramen at Hakata in Akihabara

    If you finish your ramen and want extra noodles, you can ask for “kaedama” (pronounced like “kah eh dama”), which typically cost about ¥100 or ¥150. Just be sure that you still have some broth left to marinate them in.

    Tan tan men is spicy ramen. Tsukemen is warm noodles with a broth to dip them in. I find that tsukemen gets cold very quickly so I don’t particularly like it. Aji tamago is a marinated soft-boiled egg. Chashu is stewed pork slices. Ramen is written like: ラーメン or らーめん so keep an eye out for signs with those characters if you’re craving it.

     

  • Famous ramen shops that I haven’t been to
  • Here is a list of some famous ramen shops that people rave about. I haven’t gotten to try them yet but i’ve made a note of them for my future trips:

  • Nakiryu ramen
  • Fuunji ramen
  • Nantsuttei ramen

  • Tickets for spicy ramen and a marinated egg.

  • Cheap BBQ and Beer
  • Another recommendation is a yakiniku place called 焼鳥の鉄人 aka Yakitori no Tetsujin. It’s a little hole in the wall restaurant, filled with cigarettes and salarymen. Locals tend to go there after work to drink and smoke so the air isn’t the best but the food is great and it’s an awesome deal!

    Their menu is all-you-can-eat (“tabehoudai”), all-you-can-drink (“nomihoudai”), including alcohol, for 70 minutes. The regular menu costs ¥1,500/person and includes chicken, pork, and drinks such as beer and whisky sours. For about ¥2,099/person, beef is included as well as some other premium cocktails. How it works is each table gets a charcoal grill and you can then order plates of marinated meat to cook (basically Korean BBQ). You can also get rice and vegetables and there is a delicious miso sauce for dipping. For drinks, I always get the green apple whisky sours, which are my favourite, but I should mention that I tend to love stuff that everyone else thinks is too sweet. It’s also a good idea to ask for a cup of ice and use the tongs to rub the cubes on the grill when it starts to get too blackened.



    焼鳥の鉄人 “Yakitori no Tetsujin”

  • Other Must-Eat Foods
  • Other foods that I would recommend are okonomiyaki, monjayaki, sukiyaki, Japanese curry, and of course sushi-nigiri. For a lot of these, I usually just pick a random place and so far it has always been delicious.

    There is a restaurant at Kyoto station called “Morita-Ya” which has delicious sukiyaki. Just a heads up on what sukiyaki is; you are given a broth containing meat, noodles, and vegetables, and on the side you are given a raw egg and a dish. Crack the egg into the dish and scramble it, then take items from the broth and dip them into the scrambled egg one by one as you eat them. The raw egg may sound gross but it’s really tasty.


    Spicy pork okonomiyaki

    For sushi-nigiri, it’s a cool experience to go to a kaiten-zushi restaurant which is the Japanese term for “conveyor belt sushi”! Just grab dishes as they go past and at the end they will count your plates to calculate your total. A good price seemed to be about ¥125 per 2 pieces. If you want something that is not on the conveyor belt, don’t fret because you can order just it from one of the chefs. You can say “sumimasen” to get their attention (it means “Excuse me” and is pronounced like “soo me mah sen”), then you can say the item that you want and add “kudasai” (“koo dah sah ee”) on the end (it means “please”).

    Observation About Nigiri

    One thing that I noticed was that if I was speaking to a native speaker and just said “nigiri”, they would be confused and either not know what I was talking about or think that I was trying to say “onigiri”, as in rice balls. It seems like you need to include the word sushi before it to be properly understood: sushi-nigiri.


    Conveyor belt Sushi

  • Shibuya Karaage
  • In Shibuya there is a really good fried chicken stand called “Kin no Torikara” which means “Karaage of Gold” or, more eloquently, “Golden Karaage” and it truly is gold. For ¥290, you get a paper cone filled with delicious mouth-watering karaage. There is also a large variety of sauces that you can put on it including Japanese mayonnaise, hot chili, garlic, and even chocolate. Would highly recommend!


    Bag of karaage from Kin no Torikara

  • Takoyaki
  • There are lots of takoyaki places all around Japan but Osaka is known for their takoyaki so I would recommend having it somewhere there! (I actually don’t like takoyaki so this is just a secondhand account of what everyone has recommended to me). Osaka is known for okonomiyaki as well, which I did have there and it was delicious.

  • Krispy Kreme
  • Krispy Kreme donut flavours are different in Japan compared to the ones i’ve had in Canada, the US, and the UK so i’d say they’re definitely worth a try if you like sweet stuff. The boston creams there are less sweet so I didn’t like them as much but they had a pink-iced donut that was super delicious.

  • Baskin-Robbins
  • Baskin Robbins is another good place to satisfy a sweet tooth and Japan has a very unique selection of flavours. There are a few flavours containing pop rocks, which I just loved.

  • Other Sweets
  • I had an expensive fruit and ice cream parfait at a cafe in Shibuya, which did taste as good as it looked. I saw a lot of Japanese crepe shops but I haven’t been able to try one yet as I was always too full. That’s definitely on the docket for next time. I tried a few melon cream soda floats which I wasn’t too impressed with, not sweet enough for me.


    Shaved ice at Yokohama Sea Paradise

     

     Where to Shop
    Note that i’ve always done the bulk of my shopping while in Tokyo so this list doesn’t include any areas in other parts of Japan. Also be sure to read my note about tax free shopping.

  • Shinjuku
  • My favourite area is Shinjuku because it’s so amazingly lively and bustling. There are lots of great stores, with the some notable ones being Biqlo (Uniqlo combined with Bic Camera), MUJI, Yodobashi Camera (electronics), and ABC mart (shoes). There are some department stores such as Isetan and 0101, and I also saw a LINE Friends cafe. I think there is a Tokyu Hands around somewhere as well but the list could go on and on. Shinjuku is just an awesome place to wander around and explore.


    Favourite place for wandering

  • Shibuya
  • Shibuya is beautiful and iconic (the famous intersection and the statue of Hachiko the loyal Shiba).. and just about as busy as Shinjuku but equally amazing. It is also similar in that there are a ton of places to shop. Some notable ones are MUJI (again!), Tokyu Hands, Tsutaya (book store), huge Adidas store, 109 building (“ichi maru kyu”), and the 109 men’s building. The 109 and 109 men’s buildings are these giant towers full of clothing stores. You just follow the escalators spiralling up and up and up while checking out all of the boutiques on each floor. Tokyu hands is a general store that seems to carry everything from art supplies, to stationery, to bags, to make-up, to workout gear, just everything you can think of.

  • Akihabara
  • Akihabara is a really cool area to visit, especially if you’re into video games or anime. Most of the shops here are either very touristy, packed with souvenirs, or are game/anime focused. Note that merchandise seems to get pervier the higher you go, so beware the 6th floor! unless, of course, that’s what you’re looking for. The exception to this is the Akihabara Don Quijote, which is 5 floors of good stuff; definitely worth a visit. There are Don Quijotes all around but the biggest one i’ve seen was in Akihabara. It is a general store, kind of like Tokyu hands, carrying all sorts of things and is a great place to buy souvenirs too!

  • Harajuku
  • There are shops all around Harajuku station as well as the famous Takeshita-dori! For those who aren’t in the know, Takeshita-dori is the main street, jam-packed with people and shops. If you can handle the crowds, it’s pretty cool to wander along and see everything there is to see from specialty boutiques to candy stores to crepe shops. I saw a couple Etude Houses on my way through and on the other end, there is a LINE friends store. The Daiso on takeshita-dori is massive (4 floors!) and has all sorts of cool things for only ¥100 each.

  • Ameyoko Market
  • Ameyoko Market is a great place to buy skincare and make-up products for much cheaper than anywhere else. I saw Shu Uemura cleansing oils for around 20% cheaper than Canada or other parts of Tokyo. Sapporo drugstore here was also much cheaper than Matsumoto Kiyoshi and other similar stores. For example, the Biore Sarasara UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence Sunscreens were only ¥500 each, compared to the ¥700 I saw in other parts of Tokyo.


    Entrance to Ameyoko Market, near Ueno Station

    Matsumoto Kiyoshi

    Matsumoto Kiyoshi is a drugstore that you will see all over Tokyo, carrying all sorts of medicine, skincare, and cosmetics. From what I understand, the cosmetics market in Asia is much more competitive which forces companies to offer better products for way cheaper than what you’ll find in Canada.

  • Ginza
  • I didn’t do too much shopping here myself because I was just passing through but I saw lots of interesting places. I think this might be a good place to shop for designer goods but I haven’t done so myself.

     

     Other Things To Do

  • Game Stations
  • Probably my favourite thing to do in Japan is to go to the game stations. They are full of UFO Catchers (what we in the west call “claw machines”) and other arcade games. Now I know what you’re thinking, rigged right? Wrong! In Japan, unlike here in Canada, claw machines are actually winnable! There should always be at least toy positioned in a way that it can be won and if you don’t see one, you can find an attendant and ask them to “reset” it for you. You can even specify which toy you would like them to put into a winnable position.

    Shiba UFO Catcher, Taito Game Station

  • Kabuki-cho
  • Kabuki-cho is an area of Shinjuku which is full of casinos and host clubs. I’m not really interested in either of those things, but there are also lots of bars and restaurants, and the area is just so beautiful at night. Golden Gai is an area near Kabuki-cho that is full of bars and restaurants; Nagi ramen is in a building there on the second floor (you go up a tiny ladder staircase to get there).


    Bright lights everywhere

    Note About Casinos

    As I understand it, gambling is illegal in Japan but no worries, they’ve found a loophole. Casinos there are full of these things called “pachinko machines” where you can spend money to win some sort of expensive purse or something (not 100% sure since i’ve never tried it myself). You then visit the pawnshop next door to “sell” that toy back to the casino for the amount of money that you would have won. I suppose it’s the same as poker chips but with a purse instead.


    Wandering around Ameyoko Market

  • Roppongi Hills and Mori Skytree
  • I don’t like this area very much but i’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it feels too touristy or too posh or something. To its credit though, it does have one really cool place which is the Mori Tower Skytree (very touristy!). For ¥1,800 per person, you can go to the top and see an amazing view of Tokyo.. I would highly recommend it, especially going just before sunset so that you can take in the view both during daylight and at night. Tokyo tower looks beautiful in the distance and you get a good sense of just how vast Tokyo is. A giant mecca with tall buildings that go on forever!

    Note about Tokyo Tower

    I would highly recommend the skytree over Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower was pretty underwhelming and didn’t feel very tall in comparison to all of the tall buildings around it. Tokyo tower itself looks quite beautiful (similar to the Eiffel Tower) so it’s nice to get a view of it in the distance from the Skytree.

  • Ferris Wheel
  • While in Japan, you should ride one of the giant ferris wheels! There is one in Odaiba close to rainbow bridge. I rode one near Disneyland Tokyo which was pretty fun (and I’m terrified of heights). You get an amazing view and it’s kinda romantic.

  • Disneyland Tokyo
  • Honestly, i’m a big Disney fan and I don’t think I would have liked this place very much were it not for the company I was with. Risa loves it and suggested that we go so I was happy we were able to go with her and her adorable daughter. The curry popcorn here was really really good and we played the carnival games. They’re different from the ones in the west because you have to buy tickets in advance so you need to know how many games you want to play. Once you’ve used up your tickets, you have to line up to buy more if you want to play again.

    One thing that’s cool is that you get a prize whether you win or lose; the prize is just better if you win obviously! When we were there, the win prize was a jumbo stuffed toy while the consolation prize was a metal charm. The evening parade was really beautiful and I liked climbing the treehouse but overall, I liked Disneyland LA a lot better.


    Consolation prizes

  • Yokohama
  • Yokohama has a theme park and a cup noodle museum. You can pay ¥300 to make your own cup noodle; you get to pick the flavour, the toppings, and customize the cup then they give you a cool air bubble carrying pouch for it (i’m not really sure how else to describe it, see photos if you’re curious!). I bought some cute little cup noodle magnets to take home.

    Yokohama also has a pretty cool Chinatown area that is especially worth checking out at night. It was super bright and lively which is just my type of place. My aunt took me for all-you-can-eat Chinese food–where you have a tablet at your table to order whatever you want–and it was delicious! I don’t know the exact price but I think it was under ¥3,000 per person.


    Yokohama Chinatown

  • Kyoto
  • Kyoto is just so so so beautiful to walk around, especially Kiyomizu-dera, but it is jam packed with tourists. The crowds were a little overwhelming, which is strange now that I think about it considering how much I love Shinjuku and Shibuya.. oh well. I also went to Fushimi Inari shrine right at sunset which was very peaceful and pretty. They had all sorts of food stands that open up in the evening time. In Kyoto, there are shops where you can pay money to rent a Kimono or a Yukata, so you see lots of people wandering around in those.

  • Osaka
  • Osaka castle is cool to see though and the area around it is really nice to walk around. Actually, I think Osaka in general just has nice parks and scenery that is perfect for lazy wandering. Somehow I felt like Osaka fashion was very reminiscent of Vancouver.

  • Kanazawa
  • Kanazawa, which I have lovingly nicknamed “Samurai Town” because the buildings there look so cool and old-fashioned, is like something out of an anime. You have to find the right neighbourhood, the Higashi Chaya district but you can take a bus from the station to get there. Really cool area to see. I accidentally got on a bus in the wrong direction so I spent two hours riding around, seeing all that there is to see. I must say 10/10 experience, would do again.

  • Working Out
  • Working out gets a bit tricky in Japan. On the plus side, it doesn’t seem to be a very big part of their culture so the gym is never packed with people. The downside however is that it’s pretty hard to find a gym and once you do, it’s kind of expensive to go. Based on my experience, it seems like if you’ll be there for a couple weeks or more, it’s best to find an anytime fitness and sign-up for a 1 month pass. I think you need your passport but one you’re signed up, they’re 24 hours so you can even go in the middle of the night. I’m not big on working out so I just ran on the treadmill but I was surprised how quickly time flew by; the treadmills have their own internet and browsers so I spent the whole time watching YouTube videos.

  • Wandering Around
  • Really one of the best things to do in Japan is just to wander around and get lost. Whenever I travel anywhere, I always want to see how the locals live. Japan is such a safe country that you can just walk wherever you want to without fear of ending up in the wrong part of town. This is also where it’s nice to have Pocket Wifi for GPS so that you don’t have to worry about trying to find your way back. Some of my favourite memories were just times spent wandering.


    Wandering around Mitaka

    Closing
    So there you have it, whether you wanted it or not, my thoughts on Japan. I absolutely love it and would go back a million times over.

    In true fashion of saving the best for last, pictures of yours truly! ha just kidding… or am I?

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