What I Learned on My Japan Vacation :)

4 Jun

ImageI’m back from Japan! Actually I got back a couple weeks ago, but I’m back in the blogging spirit.

My recent trip to Japan was simply amazing and further reinforces my view that if you want to go somewhere and can afford it, just do it! In years past I was always nervous about going back to Japan due to cost, possible language barriers, and worries about getting around. Turns out I was wrong on all counts! It was particularly special getting to take my husband to Japan and show him some of my favorite things from my first trip some 10+ years ago. Some things I learned on this trip:

  • Japan isn’t as expensive as people make it out to be. Food in particular was very reasonable, even in the heart of Tokyo. We only spent maybe $3-$6 each on meals generally. One of our ‘expensive’ meals was $9. It’s not 5 star dining, but it was always delicious and gave the chance to eat a lot of delicious Japanese food. Udon, ramen, and gyudon spots were generally our favorites.
  • Some things are expensive….like Starbucks (400+ yen). Why not enjoy a 144 yen 7-11 coffee instead? Coffee also tastes sweeter in Japan.
  • The train and subway system is not as daunting as it seems. All the signage is in English which helps, but not all announcements are made in English so you still need to pay attention. The subway line which we were closest to (Marunouchi) was a great starting point for exploration. If you’re at a hotel that has wifi, bring an iPad or other hand device to map out which lines to take for where you want to go. This was extremely helpful and saved a lot of planning time.
  • Don’t buy the spendy JR Rail pass unless you’re going to use it (like going to Kyoto from Tokyo). We didn’t buy one and mostly walked places or spent $1.60-$2.20 each time for the subway or train. We still spent way less than the rail pass would have cost.
  • Tokyo is huge! You probably already know this but if you really want to explore Tokyo give yourself a few days. It’s much more similar to a state than a city. Every area is different and has its own special attractions. Shinjuku, Ueno, and Akihabara were our favorite areas.
  • If you like shopping, save room in your luggage or pack extra luggage. We found so many great things and great deals we ended up having to buy bags to pack home all the gifts and souvenirs. If you like Hello Kitty, video games, anime, electronics, or Japanese things in general your head might explode from the vast amount of stuff to buy. The elaborately boxed candies and sweets are particularly nice to get as gifts and will take up space.
  • One of the easiest ways to get from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo is the Airport Limousine Bus (don’t let the name fool you, it’s just a bus). It’s $30 per person, but definitely worth the 90 min trip. No dealing with luggage at the train station! The extra bonus? They accept credit cards!!!
  • Bring cash if you can get a good exchange rate or use the 7-11 ATM machines (I’ll save the full awesomeness of Japanese 7-11s for another post). Credit cards are accepted at very few places. Japan runs almost exclusively on cash so be prepared!
  • Lastly, if you have time learn some Japanese, it will help a lot. Not everyone in Tokyo speaks English (contrary to what friends/ websites/ etc.. will tell you). I am 100% sure you will use it! If you can memorize hiragana/katakana that’s even better! One of my favorite parts of Japan was getting to use the Japanese I learned in college. I feel even more inspired to keep up with it.

I hope these ‘learnings’ can help anyone who is interested in visiting Japan. I’ll be sure to add other Japan posts in the coming weeks!

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