By Curtis Hoffmann
Converted to HTML by Rob Kelk
Important Note: This document was written in 1992, and much of the information contained within it is out-of-date. Use it at your own risk. - RK
Before you come to Japan, if this is the first time, there are a number of things to keep in mind:
Any number of tour and history books are available for the history and background of this country, and there seems to be little point to duplicating that information here. A list of
recommended books appears at the end of this file. But. Japan is an old country, with traditions and rituals that go back a couple thousand years. And a lot of the country, and philosophy, has been
re-shaped by the events of the last 50-odd years: starting with the rebuilding after World War II.
Which of course means that Japan is a confused country in transition. Women are still treated as sex-objects, sex is much more open than in the West, and racism is a blatant problem (especially for Koreans and blacks.) Given time, things will improve, but currently, it's better to recognize the situation and work around it, than it is to complain incessantly about things you can't change.
Anyway. Japan is still a great country to visit, and it has many things recommending it. This is most obviously true for the intended audience for this file -- anime and manga fans. There is no other place to go for buying from such a huge selection of paraphenalia, books, and tapes at prices lower than you'll find at home.
No, you do not need special shots or vaccinations if you are from North America, Europe, or Australia. If you are in doubt, check with your nearest Japanese Embassy, or tourist
Yes, you need a passport.
If you are only staying in the country for a few days, you do not need a special visa. Check with your nearest embassy, but for most western countries (including England, Canada, Australia, and the U.S,) you can just enter Japan and stay up to 90 days (This is called "a temporary tourist visa.") But, if you want to stay longer, get a job, or enter the country as a student, you do need to apply for some kind of visa.
If you are planning on finding work once you enter the country, keep in mind that working visas are issued only to university graduates. (Although, sometimes the rules can be bent to accommodate degrees from lesser colleges.) So bring your diploma with you. Also try to get your resume pre-printed in English on one side, Japanese on the other. It will be cheaper than if you have it done in Japan.
If you are thinking of trying for the JET program, good luck. The applications are accepted only once a year, the competition is very strong in North America, and your chances for being accepted are best if you are an English teacher with a University degree, under age 35, and have been to Japan before. Or, if you are a very eloquent application form writer. Either way, the application must be received by October (exact dates vary by country,) and the work won't start until the following Fall.
Decide how much you want to spend, how much cash you want to carry, how much you want in traveller's checks, and whether you want the checks in dollars or yen. The exchange rate varies from day to day, and you might be able to get a better rate from a bank in your own country, than from one in Japan. Also, if necessary, you can find an office in Japan for whatever credit card you hold, and will probably be able to draw a cash advance on your credit card.
Book your flight in advance. Preferrably months in advance. Midsummer, and the second half of December are heavy tourist seasons, which means that getting plane tickets for those times will be more difficult and the prices will be higher than for other dates in the year. It's generally best to visit Tokyo are mid-Spring, and early Fall: the winter is cold and damp, the summer is hot and sticky, and it rains heavily inbetween. Of course, weather conditions will vary for other parts of the country.
Decide where you will stay, and whether you need to reserve a room. The better hotels are quite expensive, but are ok for stays less than a week. If you are on a tighter budget and can't find some friends to crash with, you should consider a ryoukan or youth hostel. Travel agencies will book your hotel room for you, but you'll have to phone or write to a ryoukan or youth hostel on your own. And again, it's harder to find a place to stay during the peak tourist periods. Especially at the only two youth hostels in Tokyo.
Youth hostels usually require you to leave after 3 days (if you stay one night elsewhere, you can come back for another three nights.) And, some hostels only allow members, while other hostels give members discounts on the overnight fee. You can become a member of the Youth Hostel association very easily by contacting your local travel agency to get the address of the nearest youth hostel office. It only costs around US$10, and is good for 1 year. The process should take less than half an hour.
Keep in mind, you can just come to Japan and trust in your luck to get by, but if you want to reduce your headaches and stress level, you'll be better off by making your plans, and booking your flight and rooms, 4 to 6 months in advance. At the least.
If you want to find work as an English teacher, take a course in English as a Second Language (ESL,) or one of the other similar programs. Keep in mind, it may take six months of community teaching at night to get your certificate, but a growing number of English schools in Japan require some kind of English teaching certificate.
If you want to do any travelling by train, consider buying a Japan Rail Pass. These can only be purchased outside of Japan, and come in 1-, 2-, and 3-week versions. If you plan on staying in one city, or will stay for less than one week, don't bother buying the pass.
Bring enough luggage to allow you to bring back all of the goodies you intend on buying, but remember that this luggage will get very heavy if you plan on doing much travelling with it. That, and most airlines are rather restrictive on how many bags you can take with, and on what the upper weight limit is. Also, you can mail back home whatever you don't want to hand carry.
When you get your plane ticket, you'll want to arrive at Narita Airport, if you plan on spending most of your time in Tokyo.
If you plan on staying for one month or more, make sure that all medical and health concerns are addressed before you leave (ie. -- dental check-ups and eye exams.) Japan does have a good health-care system, but it is expensive, and can be very stressful for foreigners.
Don't pack more than you need for one or two weeks. You may want to bring extra shampoo, deodorant, aspirin, and razor blades, but everything else can be easily purchased there. Although, it may cost more, and not be of the quality you are used to (especially true for shampoos and deodorants.)
Any electronics that you want to bring with you should be pre-registered with Customs. Otherwise, you may have to pay a duty tax on those items when you return home. The main things are still cameras and video cameras, and possibly Game Boys and expensive Walkmans.
You can buy film there, but it's cheaper to bring your own. You can also get your pictures developed within 24 hours, but again it's a little more costly than in the States.
If your electronics have a power cord, keep in mind that some parts of Japan are 110vac - 60Hz, and other parts are not. If you have a universal power adapter, you'll be ok. Otherwise, there's a chance that things like your electric razor may run noisier and hotter than normal.
Computer users may be tempted to bring their notebook computer with them. Just remember that although Japan is a very modern country in most respects, an advanced, publically available computer network is not one of them. Even if you can hook your modem to the phone line, your only option may be to call your home network via long-distance on a payphone: very expensive. Either way, make sure you have a universal power adapter, and an extra battery just in case the main battery dies after a few months of use. And register the computer with Customs before leaving the country.
Confirm your flight reservations 3 days in advance.
If you've got everything packed and ready to go:
Keep the Immigrations form with your passport, and stand in line for the Foreign Arrivals windows. When it's your turn, present the form and passport, and remain relaxed. If you are
coming in as a temporary tourist, your visa will be stamped as such, and the stamp will be good for either 15, 30, or 90 days.
Get your luggage, and wait to get through customs. Don't forget to remain relaxed, no matter what happens.
Once you have made it through customs, the fun begins. Narita airport is quite a ways out from Tokyo, and Tokyo itself can be pretty confusing when you first enter it. If you know how to get to where you're staying, or someone is waiting to met you at the airport, you'll be better off. Otherwise, stop off at the tourist information booth at the airport and get subway and JR train maps of Tokyo.
Taxi fare to Tokyo can destroy your budget, and buses are too slow. So, follow the signs to the train platform, buy your ticket, and hop on the train. It'll take about an hour to Ueno, after that you're on your own. If you buy the cheapest ticket you can, you can pay the difference when you exit the train station.
Keep your passport with you at all times.
Assuming that you plan on staying for a few months, you should consider getting business cards printed with your address in Japan, both in English and Japanese. This can be done either at one of the Information Services, or from vending machines located in front of the Marui (OIOI) Department stores in Tokyo.
Call 3 days in advance to confirm your flight reservation. If you have an open-ended return ticket and are trying to leave near one of the big holiday rush periods, you're in for lots
of headaches. Check the section on Airlines Waiting Lists.
Because of the train fare and departure tax, make sure that you still have at least 5000 yen in your pocket.
Give yourself lots of time on the way out of Japan. The train to Narita may take over an hour. Processing your ticket will take a while, and then you have to wait in several lines as you try to get to your gate. Further, Narita has just opened up a new terminal, and closed down the north wing of the old one for five years of repairs -- it's going to be packed and confusing when you try to find the ticket office you want.
Most airlines in the west hide the departure tax in the price of your ticket. For Japan, you must buy a stamp for 2000 yen on your way to the international departure gates, and present the stamp to customs there.
There'll be a number of security posts where you'll have your luggage scanned, and you may even be frisked once or twice.
Be sure to bring some snacks to munch on, because there's not much to buy when you finally get to the departure gates. And you'll probably want a book or game to kill the last couple of hours.
On the plane, you'll again be asked to fill out a customs form to hand in when you go through customs in your home country. Be sure to keep handy that declaration form you filled out for the electronics you took with you to Japan.
When you get back home, and want to convert your yen back to western currency, don't forget that you can't convert coins. So, unless you want to collect those coins, you might as well spend them in Japan and not carry them home with you.
You can relax now, and finally put your passport away.
End of checklist
Note: References to page numbers of 'the Kit' are for The Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit. This is not meant to be an advertisement for that book. However, there is little reason to duplicate information here that is adequately described in that book. Besides, it's one of the better tourguide books on the market, and will be very helpful for locating tourist sites throughout Japan.
The Japanese currency is based on the yen. 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 coins, and 1000, 5000, and 10,000 yen bills. The average exchange rate for 1992 was about 122 yen to the dollar, so
100 yen is about equal to US$0.80 (changing daily.)
The thing to keep in mind is that after a while, you'll find yourself going through 1000 yen bills rather quickly. While 1000 yen bills may seem like $1 each, they're really closer to $8, and it's very easy to spend money too quickly without realizing it. This means that impulse buying on items like sodas and snacks can add up fast, and it's just something you need to be careful of if you're on a tight budget.
Your home country bank may tell you that you can use your ATM card at ATMachines in Japan. While this may be true, being able to find the right machine that'll accept your card may be quite a challenge, if not downright impossible. If you can, make your bank give you exact addresses for the right locations before you leave. Otherwise, you may be completely out of luck. Then again, all of the instructions for the ATMachines are in Japanese...
If you get your money converted before you leave your home country, keep your receipts. You will be charged a conversion fee. When you get back home, you should be able to convert your money back without being charged a second time. Keep in mind that you can't convert coins.
Japan is a cash-based society, which means that checks are not used very much, and international credit cards are accepted mainly by hotels and restaurants. Traveller's checks fall
into the same category as credit cards (unless they are made out in yen.) You can cash them at any bank, although some banks offer better conversion rates than others. If you need more cash, most
credit card companies have offices in the big cities throughout Japan. Make sure that you have the toll-free information phone number for your card company -- to find the nearest office to you, just
call that phone number.
If you can not find the toll-free number for your card company, or can not locate the office, then check the section on Information Services.
One thing that you may want to consider: most credit card companies take advantage of fluxuations in currency exchange rates, and may not actually bill you for a cash advance for
several months. This effectively behaves like a small-fee loan to you. As an example:
The ordinary American Express card allows you to borrow up to $1000 US, (a Gold card is good for $5000,) every three weeks, for a small fee. So, if you take one cash advance, and then return home and deposit that money in a high-interest savings account, you are earning compound interest on about $950 until you finally receive the bill for that $1000 -- which may not be for 4 to 6 months. The upper limit for the more exclusive AmEx cards is $5000 at a shot, every 3 weeks. Is it worth the hassle to you for a 4 to 6 month loan? That's up to you to decide.
If you find work in Japan, you're going to want to open up a savings account. This can be done at any bank, and should take about 30 minutes. But shop around. Look for a bank that is
friendly, has English-speaking officers, and offers low-cost electronic transfers. the interest rates will normally be about 1.5%, so the only reason for getting the account is to have a place to
store your money until the exchange rate becomes favorable enough to justify sending it to your bank back home. Many gaijin play with the exchange rates to strengthen their earnings. (Of course,
having a bank account in Japan does allow you to wire credit card cash advances to your home country account more easily, too..., for a fee.)
Also, it's more than likely you will be paid monthly, via an envelope, in cash. Most companies do not handle direct-deposits.
There are a number of ways to transfer funds from Japan to your home country, but each method has drawbacks, and you really need to shop around to get the best deal.
[Add appendix referring to money transfers article, if I can find it.]
Telex, telegraphic transfer, and Postal Orders are the main ways to move money from one country to another. Each has a fee, and drawbacks, attached to it.
You may find yen denomination travellers checks to be a very good way to convert money prior to going to Japan. You can convert your checks to cash at the hotel front desk for free once in the country. AmEx has good exchange rates, and you can use travellers checks to send money to friends in Japan. This may be more convenient than postal money orders.
There are many different ways to get information. Most big train stations have tourist offices, and there are other tourist offices located in each of the big cities.
You can get:
|the weather in English||(045)52-2511 Ext. 4181|
|The Japan Travel Bureau||3276-7777|
|Tokyo English Life Line (TELL)||3264-4347|
|English Assistance Travel Phone||0120-222-800|
|Tokyo English Language Directory Service||3201-1010|
In addition, you can probably find international service offices in any major city. These services can help you find an apartment, as well as providing job listings, fax and
typewriter services, and message boards. The better offices also provide reader copies of newspapers, and a space to relax and meet other foreigners.
If you have any problems, or need assitance in some way, these information offices can help you! When I ran out of cash in Fukuoka, Kyushu, the woman at Rainbow Plaza was very kind in aiding me in finding the AmEx office a mile away.
Call for directions (yes, they speak English,) or check the Travel Survival Kit. The ones I have visited:
Kimi Information Office, Tokyo:
phone: 03-3986-1604 FAX: 03-3986-3037
KS7 Building 6F, 2-54-3 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171
West exit of Ikebukuro station. Go about 2 blocks to the first major street. There will be a Marui (OIOI) store on the opposite corner, depending on which end of the station you exited.) Cross the street, turn right, and walk another 4 blocks (about 2 sets of signal lights.) There will be a drug store on your left. Turn left and walk another 2 short blocks. It will be on your right, 6th floor of the grey building.
Provides fax, typewriter, resume printing, and business card services. But, the job listings are all old, and the office is not intended for giving you a place to relax. There are some magazines, but no newspapers or TV.
Sapporo International Communication Plaza, Sapporo, Hokkaido (3rd floor)
Much more professional, and aimed more at helping out foreigners. Even if you're just touring around, it's worth dropping by here. If you're planning on finding work, this is the place to be, since the job listings are always current. (page 316 in the Kit.)
Rainbow Plaza, Fukuoka, Kyushu (8th floor of the IMS Building)
This is the best information center I've found. The people are very friendly and helpful, the surroundings are more relaxed and user-friendly, and besides, Fukuoka is one of the most pleasant places I've visited in Japan. (page 601 in the Kit.)
When you first arrive in Japan, you'll probably want to call your
hotel or hostel to confirm your reservations or to simply find a place
to stay. This is when you find yourself dealing with Japanese phones.
The most common one is the standard green payphone, which accepts both
10 yen and 100 yen coins, and phone cards. If you are calling Tokyo
from Narita, it's a long-distance call. Start pumping in coins before
you dial. As you hear one coin drop in, throw in another one. Any
unused 10 yen coins will be refunded when you hang up, but if you're
using 100 yen coins, you won't get change back at the end.
Local calls cost 10 yen for 3 minutes.
Phone cards can be purchased at any kiosk shop (ask for a 'hone kardo', or 'denwa no cardo',) from vending machines near the pay phones, and from any NTT office. Just look for thin stiff cards about the size of a credit card. They come in 500 yen, 1000 yen, 5000 yen denominations, but most phones only take the 500 yen and 1000 yen cards.
To use a card, lift the receiver off the hook and insert the card face up, with the notched end pointed towards you, into the top slot of the machine. It may take a little bit of work to get the machine to take the card. You'll then get a dial tone, and the machine will show you how many credits you have left. Dial your number, and treat it like any normal call. When you hang up, the machine will spit the card out through the lower slot. Occasionally, the phone will punch a hole in the card to give you a rough indication as to the number of credits left (10 yen to the credit.) There is a magnetic strip within the card, which is used to store the actual number of credits remaining.
If you are making a long-distance call using a phone card, you can see the numbers on the readout decrease rather quickly. If it's going to be a lengthy call, make sure that you have a second card ready, and stuff it into the slot when you get the warning beep.
Other pay phones are:
A few years ago, Japan had to upgrade its phone system, so if you get an old style phone number for someone, where there are only 7 digits for the Tokyo area, just preceed the number
with a 3. Normal numbers in Tokyo now have 8 digits.
(03) 3888-8888 = 3888-8888 = 3 + 888-8888.
If you find yourself in Ueno, or Harajuku, you may find olive-skinned men trying to take your old phone cards off of you, or that these same guys will try to sell you cards at a
discount. This is a scam, so be careful. If you look closely at the cards they sell back, you'll see where they added a little bit of paint to fill in the holes. You may be told that it's a
50 credit, or 100 credit card, but the magnetic strip is still convinced that it has been used heavily already. Again, this is a scam, so avoid these people like the plague. Alternatively,
some of these cards have been stolen from vending machines, and may still have their credits intact.
In a related scam, if you put some opaque tape over the last hole of a zeroed-out card, you can sometimes fool the phone into thinking that you have 5 credits remaining on it. This is good for repeatedly making local calls that last less than 15 minutes.
When you have a job, and succeed in getting an apartment, keep in mind that NTT charges around US$600 to sell you a phone line. The installation charge is negligible, and you can keep the line for no extra charge when you move to a new location. But that initial fee is considered to be a killer.
Not all phone cards are equal. The ones with unusual artwork, anime characters, and naked women are collector's cards, and are twice as expensive as normal (ie. -- a 50 credit card is
1000 yen.) From a collector's point of view, once you use the card, it's worthless.
Each NTT branch throughout Japan has its own set of card designs. You can pick through the selections at any NTT office. The NTT buildings can be found easily -- just look for the big, weird towers up on the roof. However, if you want anime phone cards, you need to go to an anime paraphenalia shop, like Animate. Anime cards are collector's items, so they sell for 1000 yen (about US$8) each. But they have some great artwork on them. And you can buy the cards in sets -- a pack of three Sailor Moon cards goes for 3000 yen.
Even more bizarre: during the summer, when you take the temple walk from Kita-Kamakura Station down to Kamakura Station, you will find a table set up along the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere. Two NTT employees will be manning the table, selling cards featuring paintings of some of the temples you have just visited.
If you need an English phone directory (equivalent to the western 'Yellow Pages,') look for something called 'City Source.' The big problem with this book is that it's very incomplete, probably because a number of stores don't want to pay to have their number listed in the book. Some pay phones will have the City Source along with the normal Japanese phonebooks. Otherwise, you can ask for a (free to foreigners) copy at any Tokyo NTT office. I don't know whether the same book is available in other big cities, although I would assume that it is (page 155 of the Kit.)
It's easy to make international calls, but you'll go through 1000 yen phone cards really fast. Instead, try to call collect. By dialing 0039 and then a country code, you can get an operator in your home country to place the call for you -- costs you 10 yen.
The instructions, and a list of country codes can be found on the back of the Tokyo City Source book. A few numbers are:
|USA (mainland)||0039-111, 0039-121, 0039-131|
Train cards are very similar to phone cards, except that they're a little smaller, and are used only for purchasing train tickets. They come in 1000 yen, 2000 yen, and 5000 yen
denominations -- the higher priced card actually has a couple of extra credits on it as a bonus. Train cards are good if you do a lot of travelling on a particular train line, and can be purchased at
nearly any station connected to the specific train line you want.
When you want to buy a ticket, look for a ticket machine that accepts a train card (not all machines do.) Insert the card face up, with the notched end pointed towards you. Select the value of the ticket you want, and then take your card back. Works just like a phone card does.
Post Offices can easily be found in all cities. Just look for a red letter 'T' with a horizontal bar over it, on any major street, and in the larger train stations and airports. I
haven't found one post office that has English speakers working it, so you just have to bluff your way through the process of mailing packages. But mailing letters and post cards is easy. The clerk
will punch up your bill on a pocket calculator and show it to you. Letters within Japan cost about 62 yen for 2 sheets of paper. About 160 yen for a short letter to the U.S.
You can mail magazines, books, and parcels easily enough, but it helps to have a native Japanese speaker along to assist in filling out the paperwork. You can mail packages via Air Mail (very expensive, but only takes 5 days,) Sea Mail (cheaper, but takes 1-2 months and is more subject to theft,) or Surface Airlift (SAL) (still takes 1-2 months, and is cheaper than Sea Mail, but has a minimum weight requirement.)
Shipping boxes can be purchased at the post office. When the clerk is filling out the little green customs stamp for you, you will be asked what it is you are mailing (books, magazines, toys,) and what the total purchase price was (200 yen, for example.) If at all possible, use a return address located in Japan (your current hotel, if nothing else) because there's a chance that the package can't be delivered as labelled, and the guy behind the counter really does want to make sure that the parcel will not get lost along the way.
Mail boxes can be found at most major street intersections, and outside of post offices.
While there are Police Department buidings as we know them in the west, they're less common, and hard to find. However, the Japanese police system actually revolves around the concept
of 'the police box.' Police Boxes are located near most train stations, and at major intersections throughout the city. This way, if a crime is committed, the police can get to the scene very quickly,
without worrying about blocked-up traffic along the way. Further, the police know the people of their neighborhood pretty well, and are on favorable terms with most of the residents. Each police box
is large enough to hold 2 or 3 policemen, and the police are usually very helpful and professional. If you are lost, or have an address for a place that you can't find, look for the nearest police box
and ask for help. Again, most of these guys don't speak English, so you may have to be a little creative to get your question understood. ("Kono juushoo wa doko des ka?" -- "Where is this
When you need directions for some address, there's a good chance that the police will have a copy of the district map to mark up and hand to you. This has helped me out a couple of times in the past.
Getting to Japan is easy. Moving around once you're here is a little more complicated. For a more complete description of the bus system, and renting/driving a car, please refer to the Lonely Planet Survival Kit. You can rent a car here, but it's not recommended for innercity travel -- the roads are usually congested, and the streets are laid out in such a way as to confuse residents as well as foreigners. But, if you plan on investigating a lot of the countryside, a car will be more useful.
I haven't taken the buses in Tokyo. In Kyoto, the only way I could get around on them was with the aid of a native speaker I met at a youth hostel. Unless you can read the bus
schedules, and determine which line you need, they can be very intimidating. You'd be better off taking the subways and trains at first.
However: You pay for the bus just before you get off. You should have your destination written down on paper, at least in Hiragana, and ask your driver (preferably, in Japanese) to tell you when you have reached where you are going.
Taxis cost too much. It's that simple. Unless you have lots of money, are in a real hurry, or need to travel a short distance with a bunch of packages, stay away from them. If you have to go a couple of miles, you may find yourself paying US$30 - $40 very quickly.
As mentioned here, the streets are confusing, having been laid out originally so that any invading force would not have a direct path to follow from the outskirts in to the Imperial
Palace. Therefore, the roads radiate out from the Palace in a rather zig-zag pattern, and the intersecting streets are more-or-less circular. It's very easy to get lost, especially since the smaller
streets aren't labelled with street signs. And if you're looking for a particular address, you'll notice that the buildings aren't numbered sequentially (rather, it's in the order that they were
constructed on that street.) This is why even seasoned taxi drivers have to stop and ask for directions at times.
So, if you don't have good directions to follow yourself, stop by the nearest police box and ask for help.
Bicycles are by far the most common publicly-owned form of transportation. You can probably get a good bike for about $100 if you look around. When you buy the bike, you need to
register it with the police. Otherwise, you stand a good chance of getting ticketed, and possibly questioned concerning "the ownership of stolen property." When you register the bike, you'll
get a special sticker for putting your name on the frame.
You can also rent a bicycle. This is good for short trips around a city.
However, another way of getting a bike is to look around trash piles. Please refer to the section on Gomi Hunting. The main point is that you can find a bike that has been tossed either because of a flat tire, or the owner bought a newer model. For the cost of repairing the flat, you have yourself a decent way to get around. But if you don't register it, just be careful.
Someone I know in Tokyo had stolen a bike from those parked in front of the nearest train station. The following night, she was stopped for not having a headlight. The police determined that the bike had been stolen, and she was taken to the station for a while. She was let off with a light warning, and told that the next time this happened, she'd be deported. But, many people still do not lock up their bikes, so if you're extra careful... Of course, I am not condoning any criminal activities on anyone's part.
If you want to cross the countryside, the cheapest way is to hitchhike. Most hitchhikers say that they can get a ride within 10 minutes. But, it's a lot more difficult to do within the
bigger cities, so you'll be better off hitching only outside the cities. The more experienced hitchers have a large notebook and black magic marker, for writing out their destinations both in hiragana
and kanji (or maybe romanji and kanji.)
This is a great way to meet people, and possibly make friends, if you are on a real tight budget, or have lots of time for travelling. Some hitchers claim to have gotten free stays at people's houses, and free meals from the people they meet.
Trains and subways are the easiest ways to get around, once you know the system.
There are a number of train lines, owned either by Japan Rail (JR) or private companies. The Shinkansen (bullet train owned by JR) is the fastest and most expensive, and is good for going from one end of the country to the other. Local trains owned by JR or private companies cover the inner cities. Some local trains will parallel the shinkansen lines and connect the cities together. Express trains are like locals, except that they only stop at certain stations along the line.
Sometimes, there are reserved cars on the Shinkasen. If so, you may find that the non-reserved cars are completely filled with people at the peak times. So, if you can, reserve a seat via the JR window at the train station, a few days in advance.
Finding a train station is fairly easy -- just follow the elevated tracks. But, if you are taking the train during rush hour (about the same times as back home,) you'll find that the
cars are packed, that you may be shoved around a lot, and that you can't move when you get inside the car.
Once in the station, if you have a JR pass (either purchased before coming to Japan, or a travel pass issued by your company,) just flash your pass as you go by the manned window at the ticket gates. Otherwise, you need to buy a ticket. (Travel passes are good within certain stations on a given train line: If your pass lets you travel free between Ikebukuro and Shibuya, you'll have to buy a ticket if you want to go on to Ueno.)
Look for a bank of machines with many buttons on them, and lots of people standing in line. Above the machines will be a rail map. If you can read kanji, this map will tell you how much your trip will cost. Otherwise, don't bother -- just go to the JR information window (or nearest tourist information office) and get a small copy of the map so you'll know what lines to take, and what stations to make your connections at. When you have the map, make be careful and check that you are buying a ticket for the train you want -- some stations serve more than one train company, so if you are taking a JR train, make sure you are using a JR ticket machine.
There are three kinds of ticket vending machines:
When you get up to the platform, keep in mind that there may be tracks on both sides of the platform, so if the signs say that platform 14 is on the left-hand side, stay on that side
when you get to the top. If you want to know when the next train is arriving, there're two ways to do it. First is the electronic display boards hanging from the ceiling. Just check for the platform
number, or destination station you want. Second, look for a sign on the platform that is covered in numbers. the first column on the left is the hour of the day. The next big column lists the times
for weekdays, the third column will be times for weekends, and the fourth will be for holidays.
Example: It is 4:13 PM (or 16:13) on a Monday, and you are standing on the platform in front of this sign. Scan down the lefthand column to 16. To the right, you'll see 01 04 08 12 15 18 21 25 etc. You just missed the 4:12, and will have to wait for the 4:15.
If you need to switch trains a couple of times to get to your destination, don't panic. Just make sure you allow yourself plenty of time, if you're trying get to an appointment. If the
trains you want are all owned by the same company (ie. -- JR) you only have to buy one ticket. Otherwise, when you change lines, you need to hand in your first ticket, follow the signs directing you
to the train line you want, and the buy a second ticket.
When you get to your destination, go to the ticket gates. If they are manned, just hand over your ticket here. If it's an automatic gate, look for the gates with the green lights on the front, and insert your ticket in the slot -- you won't get your ticket back this time. If you owe money for the ticket, the gate will close on you, and you'll have to go to the fare adjustment window. Insert your ticket, and put in as much change as the machine states you owe. Take the new ticket, and go through the gates again.
If your destination station is large (like Shinjuku,) getting out of the station may be as confusing as trying to find the train you want. However, the bigger stations have maps on the wall, showing you where you are, and how to find the exit you want.
Last example: You are in Takadanobaba and you want to go to the Ginza. By looking at the train map, you'll see that there is no station marked "Ginza." By looking at the Bilingual Atlas, you'll see that the nearest train station to the Ginza is Yuurakucho, on the JR Yamanote line. You have two options:
A note on Tokyo trains:
Most train lines radiate out from Tokyo station. You can ride from one end of the line to the other, and back for the price of the cheapest ticket on the line (as long as you don't leave the train and exit one of the stations along the way.) If you have a train map, each of the lines will be color-coded, with a color chart at the bottom listing the names of the lines (make sure that you have an English version of the map.)
Now, the exception to this rule is the Yamanote line, which runs in a big circle from Tokyo Station, through Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, and back to Tokyo. You can ride around in circles from 5:00 AM to 12:45 AM uninterrupted for 120 yen (assuming you get off at the same station as you got on, or the nearest stations to it.) Shinjuku is at the opposite side of the circle from Tokyo station.
Tokyo is one huge city, with stations all over. But the key to the "inner city" is the Loop. On it, you can go to:
|Akihabara:||the electronics district|
|Ueno:||with it's park and zoo|
|Ikebukuro:||location of many department stores, and a few manga/anime shops|
|Takadanobaba:||site of several used manga shops and university campuses|
|Shinjuku:||the more trendy nightlife and shopping area, and location of a few more manga/anime shops|
|Harajuku:||with the entrance to Yoyogi Park and the many strange people that gather there on Sunday. And a warren of little trendy fashion shops on the side away from the park (includes two places that carry their own line of anime paraphenalia)|
|Yuurakucho:||the closest station to the Ginza shopping district, which is also home to the famous Kabuki theater|
|Tokyo:||the biggest, most confusing station in the city, and the nearest exit on the loop to the Imperial Palace|
Now, Tokyo's subways are very much like the train lines, and the ticket machines work the same. However, the big differences come from the fact that the subways may be a little cheaper, a little faster, and have fewer stops. But not all of the train stations are connected to the subway lines, and you really do need separate maps, one each for the trains and the subway. Sometimes, you may need to take the JR line to one station, walk outside and downstairs to the underground, and then buy another ticket to hop the subway. But it's really pretty easy to get used to this quickly.
The subways are more crowded than the trains during rush hour, and this is when you'll see the station employees forcibly cramming people into the cars so tight that they can't move.
Example: You want to go to Roppongi from Shinjuku. Get on the JR Yamanote line to Ebisu. Drop off your JR ticket, leave through the west exit, cross the street and go down the steps to the Hibiya line. Take the Hibiya subway to Roppongi. Go up the steps and look for the disco you want.
For both the trains and the subway, usually the signs will be in Kanji and English. However, there will be exceptions. Especially in the subway, just before you get to the final stairs leading to the train or car you want. So, if you can, have your train line, and destination written down on paper in Hiragana and kanji. This will help you read the signs, and will let some kind Japanese person figure out where you are trying to go.
It's assumed that if you are only staying in Japan less than a month, that you have already booked your return flight. However, a longer stay may imply an open-ended return ticket. The most important thing to remember is that if your return flight will fall within one of the big salaryman travel periods (August, and around Christmas) that you must reserve your flight as early as you can. If your visa expires on December 23, and you don't reserve your return tickets until November 20, don't be surprised to learn that the latest open date is December 12.
You can put your name on a waiting list in hopes that a seat will free up along the way, but this is pretty iffy. In any case, if you must return near a holiday period, try to make your reservations well in advance. Keep in mind, too, that the airport will be pure chaos during those days, and give yourself lots of time for waiting in long lines.
There are a number of airports in Japan, so it's not absolutely required to land in Narita, if your initial destination is not Tokyo.
The Japanese do not believe in recycling used equipment, so when something breaks down, or the owner upgrades to a newer model, he/she will simply toss the gear into the trash. If you
want a second-hand bicycle or VCR, trying visiting the backsides of apartment complexes some night.
Further, manga phonebooks are usually read once, and then tossed. If you are on a budget, or you just want to see what manga is available, visit a train station, or ride the Yamanote line for an hour on Monday (when the new issues come out.) Otherwise, just wait until some family tosses a bundled stack of phonebook manga on trash day. Over the course of a couple of months, you'll find that you've saved a lot of money this way. Assuming of course that you're not too finicky.
Unfortunately, this is closely related to Gomi Hunting, in a moral sense. Sexual and racial descrimination are still rampant in Japan. If you are a woman in a bar, you will be swamped
by undesireable men. On a crowded train, someone may feel you up. One counter may be to grab the offending hand, raise it over your head, and yell "CHIKAN!" (pervert.) Otherwise, if you feel
vulnerable, always travel with a friend.
The Japanese are a lot more casual about sexual mores than westerners are, and they don't recognize 'date rape' as a valid problem. It's also claimed that most rapes go unreported. So make sure that the person you're with understands that "No" means "NO!" before you leave the bar with him/them. Otherwise, if you get into his car, or go to his room, it's your own fault if things get out of hand.
However, while it is true that women will be groped a lot more than men, and probably can not get the really well-paid executive jobs, the knife does cut both ways. It's easier for foreign women to get certain teaching jobs than men, and an easy source of money can be found 'hostessing.' The job conditions may not be great, but the money is good even if you don't resort to 'hooking' -- although many male customers of hostess bars are looking for someone to sleep with, it's your perogative as to how far things go if you take a customer up on his offer of a dinner date later on in the week.
Yes, the Japanese mafia is still alive and doing well in this country. They have their hands in the Pachinko parlors, and the prostitution trade throughout Tokyo. The Yakusa can be
most easily identified by their full-body tattoos, if you see them at the public baths, and by the missing digits from their hands. The traditional cliche holds them to wearing dark suits with white
ties, and sunglasses, but it is after all just a cliche now. Personally, I have yet to meet a Yakusa in Japan (in Minnesota, yes, but that was a different matter.)
If you do meet a Yakusa under normal conditions, he'll be quite friendly. In fact, many of the yearly festivals are supported and assisted by volunteer Yakusa who are helping out their community. Up until recently, the Yakusa were treated mainly as folk heros by normal people, but that has been changing lately as the government has been cracking down on political corruption and corporate crime.
Actually, sento is just another word for 'public bath.' The sento is usually found in the more residential areas of the city, away from the main drags. When you stay at a hotel, you'll
be supplied with a nice little western-style shower room of your own. A ryoukan or hostel will probably have a public bathing area -- a shower off to the side of a hot tub. But if you're at a gaijin
house, or an older apartment, you may find that there're too many people competing for the shower, or that there's no hot water during the winter. That's when you go to the sento. Ask one of the
renters where the best sento is in the area.
The common Japanese philosophy holds that you digest food better after a good hot bath in the evening (they don't bathe of shower in the morning, but that is when they do shave.) So, the hostel showers are turned on only between 5:00 PM and 10:00 PM. Sentos are open all hours, and if you go consistently, you'll want a small basin -- which is used for carrying your shampoo, towel, and toiletries on your round trip there.
On entering the sento, you may find a vending machine that dispenses plastic tokens. Buy a token (adult male, child male, whatever) and present it to the attendent. The sento will be segregated by sex (men on one side, women on the other with a wall in the middle.) [The rest of the instructions hold for the common bathing areas in the hostels.] Take a towel if it's provided by the attendent, undress and follow someone else's lead as to where to put your clothes. Bring your basin, and grab a little plastic stool. The idea now is to wash yourself down in front of the mirrors, and shave if you need to. Soap yourself up, fill the basin with warm water, and splash yourself down. When you've taken off the grime and soap, you can get into the tub.
The water may be pretty warm. Usually there's a limit to the number of people soaking in the tub, so look for a sign on the wall. Feel free to relax as long as you want. Afterwards, go back to your basin and rinse yourself down. Then go back to your clothes, dry down and get dressed. Put the sento towel whereever everyone else does, and take your basin and stuff back home with you.
It's that easy. The more difficult part may be in coping with being stared at from the corner of people's eyes, or outright gawking. If you have a tattoo, be warned that some sentos have a restriction against people with tattoos, as a method intended for keeping Yakusa members out.
Japanese Style Toilets:
If you have knee troubles, these toilets will cause you a lot of pain. The Japanese feel that their style toilet is more hygenic than the western type. It's certainly more of a shock to tourists than anything else is.
In a Japanese house, there will be a pair of toilet slippers that you are to wear only in the toilet room. Face the plumbing, drop your pants, squat down over the porclean bowl, and grab 'the grunt bar' (the water pipe running to the floor.) Everything else should be pretty obvious.
The flush lever has a 'small flush,' and a 'big flush' marker. Just move the lever to 'big flush' when you're done.
Make sure that you have some tissues for those times when you need to use a public toilet (as in the train stations) because there won't be any toilet paper. Also have a handkerchief with you, because there won't be any paper towels for drying off your hands. Now, outside of the train stations, you may see people handing out packages of tissues with advertising on them. Take as many as they give you -- these tissues are intended to be used in the public toilets, and it's one of the really good bargains in Japan. (The advertising may be for phone sex companies, or something related.)
The below information holds for most nationalities, but there are some exceptions. If you have any questions, call the nearest Japanese consulate or embassy office.
For most western countries, if you are just planning on visiting the Japan for a few days, you don't have to do anything special. When you arrive at the Immigrations windows, you will be asked for your intended length of stay. Then you'll get your passport stamped with "Temporary Tourist," and either 15, 30 or 90 days. Technically, you're not allowed to work at all, but some of the shadier companies don't care.
People with British passports can have the visa extended without needing to leave the country. Just about everyone else will have to go outside of Japan for one day and come back to get another temporary tourist visa stamp. You can do this once or twice, but if Immigrations suspects that you're trying to hold down a job on the side, they'll either prevent you from re-entering the country, or will stamp your passport with "Final Re-Entry" or "Final Departure."
You have to be a little careful with this one. I'm told that if you already have a degree, it's much harder to be allowed into Japan to study at an accredited school as a student. The rules state that you have to study pretty much full-time, and can not work more that 20 hours a week. But you can get around this if you have a sympathetic school administrator.
To apply for a cultural visa, you must show that you are studying some uniquely Japanese activity (like Tea Ceremony, or Aikido) for a minimum of 20 hours a week at a valid school. You must be able to provide a certified bank statement from a Japanese bank showing that you have at least US$10,000 to live on. (Since it's not necessary to keep the money in the account for any length of time, you can borrow the cash from a friend just long enough for it to register in your account when you ask for the statement.
From what I understand, you can come to Japan as a tourist, apply for the cultural visa, and when it is accepted, you'd need to leave the country for one day to get your status changed. Contact your local consulate to find out what's necessary if you want to apply from outside of Japan.
Canada, England, and Australia all have reciprocal agreements with Japan that allow their citizens to come to Japan and hold jobs for 6 months. You need to contact your local consulate to get the paperwork for this visa, and to determine the requirements for receiving it. After 6 months, you'll have to make a visa trip to extend it. Most working visas can be extended at least once, and sometimes you can get up to 3 extensions before your passport is stamped with "Final Extension."
The most coveted visa status if you're trying to stay here for any length of time, and make money. If you work for a company that has a branch office, try to get them to transfer you to Japan. That way, all of the paperwork will be handled for you. It may take up to 2 months to process.
Otherwise, you need to find a company that is willing to hire you and sponsor your visa. There're a lot of very strange hoops that the company must jump through, so smaller firms will be hesitant to do this for anyone. The bigger ones have been through this before, and have all of the forms pre-printed with the necessary company data already filled in.
You can come to Japan on some other visa status (although temporary tourist is the least desired form) and try to find a company to sponsor you. If you succeed, it will be faster than if you mailed your resumes from home and waited for something to come up. But, it's becoming a riskier proposition now, and your hunt for work may turn out to be nothing more than an expensive, extended vacation.
However, you must have an University degree to receive a working visa. That is one of the first requirements of Japanese Immigrations, and they want you to show them the actual diploma.
The Visa Trip:
A few countries are exceptions (like England,) but normally, to extend your visa, or to change it from one status to another, Japanese law requires that you must leave the country for at least one day. Most travellers will visit Korea for this, because it's the closest and cheapest neighboring nation (2 hours by air, and about US$240 round trip, depending on the time of year.)
But, unless you are in a real hurry, stay in Seoul for at least 3 nights. It's like a more relaxed version of Tokyo, and well worth exploring. Korea has a $10 departure tax.
When you re-enter Japan, you'll get your passport stamped again. This is when you show your new paperwork, and ask for the new status if you're getting it. Otherwise, you may have to fast-talk your way into being allowed back in. ("If you have been touring Tokyo for the last 90 days, why do you what to continue touring here for another 90 days?" -- "That's the address of a friend who's handling my mail for me. I'm going to spend the next 90 days up in the Japanese Alps, searching for enlightenment among the lichen.")
Very simply, when you leave Japan, you will be told to pay 2000 yen. In Korea, the departure tax comes to about US$10. Most western airlines bury this tax in the cost of the ticket,
so you don't know that you're actually paying it. But, when you return home, you will have to pay this tax yourself.
This is just something to keep in mind when you go on a Visa Trip, or when you are counting your pennies as you near the end of your vacation.
A bit of background: Japan had been economically very strong up to 1992. Wages were good, people had lots of spare cash to spend on frivolities, and lots of money was invested in real
estate. But then, the bubble burst, and companies started to tighten their belts a bit. Now, going into 1993, fewer people are spending money on language schools, and the foreign teachers that had
been making easy money are back on the streets looking for more work.
At the same time, word had gone out that Japan was a good place to come to for easy money -- the only qualification you needed was the ability to speak English. Which of course meant that a growing number of people arrived to fill the demand. Now, there are more people looking for all kinds of jobs than there are open positions. Which means that the companies can afford to be more picky, and offer lower wages and lesser benefits. And, since Canadians, the British, and Australians can get working holiday visas, they are more likely to get work than other people that need to be sponsored for a working visa (which is a big hassle for the company.) So...
A lot depends on the kind of work you want to do. Obviously, English teaching is going to be one of the most popular professions to try for. But times have changed, and most English
schools in the big cities are being much more picky -- demanding certification in an ESL (English as a Second Language) program at the very least. Other schools want the proper visa (anything other
than 'tourist',) and previous experience. Further, the 'burst bubble' means fewer students, and some of the shadier schools have gone out of business. There is still money to be made as an English
teacher, but you're really going to have to hustle to find it. The best approach is to go to your local library and get a copy of the Tokyo area yellow pages. Blanket mail your resume to every school
in the book. If you can't find a copy of the yellow pages in the library, contact the Asian Studies department of your state university and try to get access to it that way. If you still can't get the
yellow pages, contact me, and I'll try to arrange something for a small fee.
If you are willing to accept a posting to a small town, your chances improve dramatically. Include a cover letter stating why you want to teach at that school, and a recent photograph of yourself. The school will want to know how old you are and whether you can come to Japan on a working holiday visa, so state that in the letter, too. The problem with teaching in a small town is that there is little to do in the evenings, and you will feel like a real outsider if you can't speak Japanese. So far, the burst bubble has affected Tokyo a lot more than it has places farther out.
There is money to be made as a model, but it's just a temporary source of income, since the Japanese tire of new faces within 6 months. Put together a portfolio, with some recent photos, and start showing it around to the modelling agencies in the city. This is one job where it's better to try to find work after you arrive in Japan, rather than before. You probably will not get sponsored for a working visa, but it is one form of income where your visa status doesn't matter. Anyone can work as a model, but be prepared to do your own makeup and even supply your own outfit. It's fun, and a great ego trip.
Programming, sales, and hardware repair are tricky fields to get into on your own. Again, you're best bet is to find a company in your home country that has a Japanese branch, and get posted that way. Otherwise, get a copy of the Japanese yellow pages as described above, and blanket-mail your resume to every company listed. Also, contact your local Chamber of Commerce and find the location of the office that handles import and export of materials to your state. The book you want is JETRO (which may be at a library.) JETRO lists companies that import and export to the U.S., so some of them will just be distributors. But you'll get a few addresses to send resumes to, anyhow. Otherwise, you can contact me, and I can provide a list of addresses for computer houses for a small few.
There are other jobs that crop up at times, and other sources for job listings. First, you can get a subscription to the Japan Times, an English paper that has classified ad listings every Monday.
Your local university will have an office that receives announcements of foreign job listings -- call up information, and track down that office. The listings may be old, but you'll get some more addresses this way, and you can ask these schools if they can refer you to other schools that also have job openings currently.
Lastly, you can try contacting the Chamber of Commerce for each big city in Japan, and request a listing of job openings on file, or addresses for schools and companies in their city for the field that you're interested in.
Remember, it takes time to get a response from most of these companies, so this process may take 6 months just to get one reply back out of the hundreds of resumes and letters you mail out. This is not a speedy process, and you should start as soon as you can, and hustle as hard as possible, to guarantee any kind of results. But, if you don't have an university degree, you're at a significant disadvantage and will have to try even harder.
There is an advantage to being female in Japan.
Hostess bars are still popular in Tokyo. Mainly, these are places for older salarymen to go and try to pick up foreign women. And many of these places really soak their customers for every cent they can get, while treating their employees like shit. However, there are a few respectable hostess bars, if you look around for them.
If you are young, blond, outgoing, and attractive, you'll probably be able to get a job within a week if not less, and you don't need a university degree because you won't get sponsored for a working visa this way. But it requires a lot of restraint, the ability to put up with a certain amount of pawing, and dealing with undesireable advances from crude, drunk men. But, this is the easiest money to be made, and you can get big tips from nice people even without having to go to bed with any of them.
If you are from the Middle East, just come over and make contacts with your brethern in Ueno and Yoyogi Parks. Most Arabs and Iranians in Japan are in the construction, or demeaning manual labor fields. The money is not bad, but a number of these workers are in the country illegally, and there is a slowly mounting pressure for the government to clamp down on them.
Resumes and Business Cards:
Shortly after arriving in Japan, you should get your resume and business cards printed up in both English and Japanese, if you haven't had it done in advance. Many job openings in the paper require that you submit a bilingual resume.
You can have your resume printed up for you, bilingually, at any of the Information Services. Kimi Information Center charges about 6000 yen, and takes about 2 weeks to finish.
The Japanese take the ritual of exchanging business cards (meishi) very seriously. So, when you meet someone for the first time, it's standard to hand over your card -- either during a job interview, at a nightclub, or a conversation house. Therefore, even if you don't have a job, if you are staying at one place for more than a few weeks, you should have some cards made up with your home address and phone number included. Because, this is how the Japanese remember your name. They probably will never phone you, but if you meet them again, they will recall your name.
You can either go to an information center, or to a vending machine outside Marui (OIOI) to have the cards printed up. The vending machine costs 1000 yen for 20 cards, one language on one side.
The Japan Survival Kit has a listing of addresses for places to stay throughout Japan, in a variety of price ranges and conditions.
If you are going to be in Japan only for a few days, and can't find someone to stay with, you can either make do with a youth hostel, business hotel, or capsule hotel. If you're going to be doing some travelling, and money is a factor, a ryoukan, hostel, or capsule hotel will be better. Finally, if you're going to be in one place for more than a week, and money is a factor, you'll have to settle for a gaijin house until you can get work. If money is not a factor, then you'll want one of the upscale hotels, or you can settle for the less elegant atmosphere of a business hotel.
These are great places if you're on a tight budget. Some hostels require that you be a member of the International Youth Hostel Network. (Others will give you a discount if you are a member.) You can find out how to join the IYHN by calling a travel agency, and asking for the phone number of the hostel office nearest to you.
Youth Hostels can have some very restrictive rules (like having to be in bed by 10:00 PM, and outside of the building between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM,) and normally you can only stay at one hostel for 3 days max (you can go somewhere else for one day, and return for another 3.)
During peak tourist periods, you may need reservations for any given hostel. The hostel in Tokyo is always booked weeks in advance, because it is central to where the action is. Hostels can cost between 2000 and 2500 yen. Some hostels also offer breakfast and/or supper for an additional 450 to 650 yen each. They'll normally have public bathing and a laundry room.
A couple hostels are actually attached to shrines or temples, which changes the entire nature of your stay there -- and be lots of fun.
Normally, these are supposed to be cheap ways of experiencing Japanese living. For 3000 to 4000 yen, you stay in a house or building with many rooms. You get meals, and bathe in the classic Japanese style. In the one ryoukan I stayed at in Tokyo, this was not the case. Basically, that was just a flop house with showers each shared by two single-room apartments, with no meals, and a curfew.
Just be choosy about where you want to stay, and it will be a good experience.
AKA Coffin Capsules. For 3500 to 5000 yen, you will get a slot in the wall 3' x 3' x 6'. The slot will have a light, radio, TV, sheets and bedding, and a curtain over the entrance. The hotel will also have a public bath, tv room, vending machines, small locker for your street clothes, a sleeping robe, and maybe even a little restaurant.
These places are made for businessmen with a little money, and a need to sleep overnight in some town before moving on. They are not good places for staying more than a few days, and there is no place to store lots of belongings or anime purchases. But for short-term crash space, they're rather pleasant.
This is a more upscale option. For 5000 to 10,000 yen per night, you get your own single bedroom room, closet, and shower. The bedroom will measure about 8' x 8'. You may even get a TV, tea warmer, teapot, and tea. One that I stayed at had a VCR in the room, and a video tape rental machine in the lobby. If you plan on staying in Japan just to shop for a few days before leaving, this may be your best bet.
This is the only long-term option if you can't get an apartment through your work. Apartment space is very dear in Japan, and some landlords will not rent to foreigners, arguing that foreigners won't stay long enough to give them a profit.
A gaijin house is most likely a dump -- a few apartments in one building that will be rented out to 2 to 5 people in one place. These places rent out for 30,000 to 60,000 yen per month. When you get work, you may be lucky enough to have help in locating a real apartment. the place I stayed at in Tokyo had 12 people, a TV and VCR, two refrigerators, 2 showers and baths, no hot water pressure, a stove but no oven, and cockroaches. It is one of the better gaijin houses, and costs 43,000 yen/month with a 5000 yen deposit.
If you view this as a frat house, you may be better off.
If you find work, you'll probably want your own place. Unless you live outside of the bigger cities, you won't be able to find a house you can afford. The best thing you can hope for is to have your company provide an apartment for you as part of the contract. Otherwise...
It's not easy to find a good apartment that you can afford, in Tokyo, that you actually want to live in. Fewer landlords are willing to rent to foreigners, but if you work at it, you will find something. The best bet is to go through one of the Information Centers, using their apartment finding service. Otherwise, you can try using a realty office.
There is a finder's fee for any company that locates an apartment for you (about one month's rent,) then there's the deposit, and key money (which is a 'gift' to the landlord as thanks for letting you live there -- one to two month's rent.) Depending on where you stay, what would be a $300 efficiency apartment in the west may cost you $5000 in the first month, with a little of that money serving as an actual rent payment.)
These are one of the more interesting elements of Japan. Housing is so limited in Tokyo, young lovers need a place to escape to for an intimate hour in bed. Some love hotels have theme rooms, and others are merely gaudy. The rates differ from place to place, and room to room, but you can rent a room for one hour or for the night. Nightly rates drop if you arrive after the peak hours -- sometime after 11:00 PM.
Some love hotels work on the vending machine principle: a light panel in the lobby shows you which rooms are available. You pay your money, push the button for the room you want, get a keycard for the lock, and then follow the arrows.
The cost is a little higher than for a business hotel, and is a great way to spend the night even if you sleep alone.
It's usually pretty easy to just come into a town, and call up the place you want to stay at, and be accepted. Just don't expect to find a space during a major festival, or at the height of the tourist season. (Keeping in mind that the main hostel in Tokyo is almost always full.) Otherwise, try to get your travel agent to book your hotel in advance (which saves you the long-distance phone bill if you do it yourself.)
Some hostels don't care if you stay more than 3 days, if you pay for one day at a time. And most places will let you store your big bags there while you go on a short trip for a few days (if you want to travel light at that time.)
It is very difficult for most Japanese to meet new people -- they're so afraid of embarassing themselves and other people that they won't say anything at all. Which makes things
difficult when they want to find someone to talk to in English.
Conversation houses solve this problem, by supplying a place for Japanese to mingle with foreigners. The Japanese have to pay an entrance fee, but foreigners can get in free. Coffee and tea are free, drinks are cheaper than in a bar, and some places also serve munchies and alcohol.
If you want to meet some Japanese (and practice your language lessons on them), and any number of foreign English teachers, conversation houses are the places to be. Some newcomers have gotten jobs, both teaching and modeling, others have gotten dates, and most have made useful contacts this way. Some of the AnimEigo people go to one of the places in Ebisu occasionally.
The best times to visit are between 8:00 and 11:00 PM on Fridays or Saturdays. All three of the below places are in Tokyo, on the Yamanote line. (The information on page 157 of the Kit is incomplete and is incorrect for Mickey House. I have no idea what The Japan International Friendship Club is like.)
Mickey House: Takadanobaba. From the station, take the north exit and head east on Waseda dori. Cross the street to the First Kitchen, and keep heading east. After about 3 blocks,
you'll pass a subway entrance. A couple of buildings later, there's a doorway with the sign on the opposite side. Go up to the 4th floor.
The best place I've found so far. Doesn't have food. Closed on Mondays, hours: 6:00 PM -- 11:00 PM. 3209-9686.
Corn Popper: Ebisu. From the station, take the west exit, cross the street and continue west. At the next light, turn left and walk 200 feet. You'll see the sign on the sidewalk out
front. It's in the basement.
Run by a New Yorker, it's not one of the friendliest places. Two TV's, a pool table, and lots of chess boards and video tapes. Popcorn and rice crackers are available, and there's all-you-can-eat tacos on weekends for about 2000 yen. Most people come in only on Fridays and Saturdays. Hours: 6:00 PM -- midnight. 3715-4473.
Com'Inn: Ebisu. West exit from the station. Cross the street. When facing Sakura bank, turn left, then turn right at the next street. Walk about 1.5 blocks, the sign is visible near the top of the building on your left. 350 yen entrance fee for foreigners. Some books on the walls, and people who are willing to play Othello, Shogi, chess, and Scrabble. Busiest days are Fridays and Saturdays. Evening hours, closed on Mondays. 3710-7063
There are many new customs arising in Japan, and the Challenge is one of them. What happens is one person will challenge another to do something unusual. Eating sushi. Going on stage at a karaoke box. Making pottery at a craft center. Whatever. You can turn down these challenges, but it's a lot more fun to go along with the crowd and try them out, believe me. Although, I have yet to try karaoke.
You'll soon discover that nearly everyone except people from the U.S. and Canada smoke a lot in Japan. Trains and elevators are off-limits, and most women will not smoke
while walking on the street. But, once inside an office, restaurant, or bar, out they come. To the Japanese, smoking is an accepted part of life, as it is to most Europeans. And, although some
restaurants may have non-smoking areas, don't be too surprised if someone lights up next to you, anyway. You can be beligerent, or persistent in making them stop, but this may also provoke an angry
confrontation, with you on the losing side. Really, if you don't like tobacco smoke, don't come to Japan.
When you go into the major shopping districts in Tokyo, you'll find locations where salespeople are outside the shops, offering free samples to potential buyers -- both adults and high school students.
Drinking is very common in Japan. It's an accepted method for relieving stress, as well as a form of bonding. You can get a variety of beers and cups of sake from vending machines on
the streets in front of liquor stores, up until midnight on any day of the week.
As a form of bonding, in a sort of new-wave samurai ritual, one person (male or female) will be the designated drunk for the night. Everyone else will keep him supplied with beer. Then, at the end of the night, the inebriated party will stagger back home, dragging their comatose 'fallen comrade' along, and helping him out when he pukes his guts out along the way. You can see high school students (boys more often than girls) doing this, too.
On the other hand, office drinking parties, where everyone from the department goes out together, are also common. Now though, it is a way of letting employees complain to their bosses without fear of retribution. Because, the idea is that whatever you say while plastered can not be held against you. But it will still be remembered the next day, and acted upon if change is required.
Since drinking is such an important activity, many strange and beneficial deals can be made at a bar or other drinking establishment if you're lucky or wait long enough. If you can hold your own and have plenty of cash, consider going to one of the more popular bars, and keep your ears open.
A 12-ounce can of beer is 220 yen from a vending machine or convenience store, and 450 to 800 yen in a bar. Mixed drinks cost much more. If you drink at all regularly, you will go broke pretty fast. So unless you have a good job and lots of money, be careful of how much you spend at one time.
There's a phenomenon called 'the bottle club.' These are a form of bar where the customers pay lots of money for their own bottle of liquor, which has their name on it and is kept behind the bar for the next time the customer returns. Most Japanese can't tell the difference between good and bad whiskey, so they almost always get ripped off by club owners that refill expensive bottles with the cheapest whiskey on the market. Foreigners normally don't go to these kinds of places, but if you do, remember that you're paying for 'atmosphere', not good booze.
Karaoke clubs are also a good place to spend cash fast. If you do go to one, make sure that you're with a bunch of Japanese friends. The idea is to get drunk to loosen up, and then stand up on stage and make a fool of yourself. It's considered 'a challenge' (please see the section on Challenges.) There'll be a TV set in front of you, and the DJ will start the next song, which you can request if you want. The vocals have been stripped from the soundtrack, and the words appear (usually in Japanese, unless you go to a western Karaoke Box) at the bottom of the TV for you. While karaoke is not as popular as it once was, it's still a standard pastime on a Friday or Saturday night.
It should not be too surprising to know that alcoholism is a major problem in Japan, while most Japanese still don't recognise it as such.
If you like sake, visit the Sake Center in The Ginza. The first floor is a display/sales room. The second is a reading library that contains books on sake and wine production all
around the world, and there's a computerized look-up system too (only in Japanese though.) The third floor is used for presentations and meetings. The stairwell walls are covered with beautiful sake
bottle labels of all kinds. It's not a big place, unfortunately.
For 300 yen, you can sample 5 kinds of sake in a sort of blind taste test, on the first floor. This is a great way to learn how much variety there can be in the kinds of sake available for sale.
Yes, you can bring your notebook or laptap with you to Japan. Just make sure that your power supply can automatically compensate for different voltages and frequencies (it's called an
universal power supply.)
Yes, your modem will work on the Japanese phone system.
No, it's not easy to tie into a local computer network.
Unless you have your own apartment and phoneline, are staying at a hotel with a modem jack on the phone (use of which may cost you more,) or can find a payphone with a modem jack,
you're simply not going to be able to connect the machine to the phone line.
The next step is to find the number for a local computer net. Good luck -- most network access is limited to company employees, or university students taking the right classes. And of course, most of the text will be in Japanese.
Niftyserve is the one commercial network in Japan, it's in Japanese, it's not cheap, and is not international. Although, there are rumors of a gateway to Compuserve.
Compuserve is rumored to have an access number in Japan, but I don't have proof of this.
The only alternative is an international phonecall to your favorite BBS's back home. (If anyone can prove me wrong, please do so.)
If you have studied Japanese in a school in the west, odds are that what you studied has little relationship to what is actually spoken in Japan. And it will take a while to adjust to
the differences. Further, each region has its own dialect, which just makes it that much harder to understand what other people are saying. To get a feel for how much you do or don't understand, read
Making Out in Japanese books 1 and 2, and Japanese Street Slang.
You don't necessarily have to speak the language to survive in Japan, because many signs are in English, and a fair number of people have at least studied English in school. But it's a lot like going to France and only eating hamburgers. To really get to know the Japanese, you should be able to talk to them in their own language. (Which also makes it easier to get dates and phone numbers, order esoteric foods, and understand non-subtitled movies.)
Don't tell someone that you are using them for speaking practice -- it's insulting. If the person you're talking to will answer you when you speak Japanese (no matter how bad it is,) then feel free to keep at it.
As for language schools in Japan, be careful. Some of them are very shady, if not outright rip-offs. Ask around. Look at the contracts, checking for how much you need to pay up front, and how to get a refund if you need to cancel that contract. Some schools have an iron-clad contract requiring you to pay for a full year in advance, with no refunds. Others are fly-by-nights that take your money and shut their doors a few days later.
Zeus, in Tokyo, has been classified as "one of the cheaper schools, and the instruction is ok." The better schools will usually be much more expensive -- which is a problem if you're studying on a student or cultural visa. Because you won't be able to afford food.
There are certain schools with offices in the U.S., that teach Japanese that are based in Japan. Some of these schools have arrangements where you can make some money back by teaching English part time. (The KEN School is one such place to look for.) Otherwise, you can try for an exchange student program, or just get a student loan to come over to study at whatever school will accept you. Contact a big university, and they may be able to put you in contact with the school you want, or look in the Yellow Pages under language schools in case KEN School is listed there.
Get a copy of the Friday edition of the Japan Times, which includes a page on practical language usage, and common mimetic words ('gyuu gyuu', 'niko niko', and 'hahaha'.)
Kinokuniya Books in Shinjuku, Tokyo, has a good foreign books section on the 6th floor. There's a large section with textbooks, dictionaries, phrase books, and 'survival Japanese' books that, although costing more than in the States, are still useful to students of all levels.
It's been said that the best way to learn Japanese is to have a Japanese boyfriend/girlfriend. While this is true in one sense, the real problem with this situation is that men and women don't speak using the same words (Watashi = Boku = 'I' for men; Atashi = 'I' for women.)One of the most distracting things for a Japanese is to have a man talking in 'woman-speak,' or women sounding like men. Although, the latter case is changing as younger women refer to themselves with 'boku,' and take on more of the men's language.
The most simple advice for people wanting to learn Japanese is: Live in Japan as long as you can, avoid gaijin, never shy away from asking questions in Japanese in the fear of making a mistake, spend time in conversation houses, and make as many Japanese contacts/friends as you can. Go to a good school, and study, study, study.
Although you may be going to Japan solely to buy anime and manga goods, try to do a little travelling outside of Tokyo, and see some of the other tourist sites. Japan still has many, many locations unique to it, and a cultural history that goes back a long way. Sapporo can be beautiful in the winter, but it's also a great place to start a hiking trip from into the mountainous regions farther east during the summer. Plus, there's an impressive underground shopping district running under the streets near the train station.
Kyushu, down at the south end of Japan, has it's own colorful history, including the Nagasaki Peace Memorial. An ancient volcano in Central Kyushu measures 15 by 20 kilometers across and contains 7 smaller active volcanos and several cities. It's a fun place to go climbing, and the people are very friendly.
In between, Japan offers zen temples, castles, factories, sex museums, sumo matches, and martial arts schools. Plus some people. If you only spend a few days shopping in Tokyo before rushing back home, you really are cheating yourself of some incredible experiences.
The main reason for travelling to Korea is to extend your visa. Which is a shame, because Korea now has all of the things Japan had and has since lost. Seoul is a much more relaxed version of Tokyo, and the people of most outlying cities have never seen foreigners. The prices are lower, and there's as much to see in Korea as there is in Japan, including a lot of history indicting Japan for its Imperialistic expansionism that continued up to World War II.
If you like mountains, but don't have much time, you can take one of the city buses to the end of its line -- a one hour trip that places you at the foothills of the national park bordering on the northern part of Seoul. About $0.50 for the ride. And there are three large open-air shopping districts within walking distance of downtown Seoul, that must be seen to be believed. This is also the place for developing a taste for the spicy delicacy, kimchie.
The cheapest place to stay is the Inn Dae Won: a little dive where most would-be English teachers visit when they first arrive. US$7.00 a night puts a roof over your head, and you'll be four blocks from City Hall. To get there, take the bus from the airport in to Seoul. Get off at the Koreana Hotel (near City Hall) and double back 2 blocks to the previous major intersection. Use the underpass to cross to the other side of the intersection and go left past the fast food joint (it's probably a Wendy's) along the intersecting street A short block later, there will be a large bakery on your right. Just past the bakery, there will be a little alley off to your right. Go down that alley and look over your head for the sign -- it's about 75 feet into the alley.
Another large file could be written on Korea as well, but it's just as good to refer to the Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit for Korea. The current edition has many errors, and needs updated maps, but the next edition will correct these flaws and should be coming out shortly.
In public, do not blow your nose. Keep sniffing until you can blow your nose in private.
Do not give a Japanese host or friend a gift unless it seems appropriate. The recipient will then be forced to determine how much your gift was and to give you another one in return.
No eating while you're walking. Although, in some places and at some times, you'll see younger Japanese eating ice cream cones, or drinking sodas, it doesn't happen often. If nothing else you'll notice that you're getting dirty looks from people if you so much as carry an empty pop can as you walk along.
Do not go anywhere without at least a small amount of kleenex. Many of the public toilets do not have toilet paper. And, many places do not have towels for drying your hands when you wash them -- your handkerchief is supposed to be for wiping your face and hands, not blowing your nose.
Don't wipe your sweaty face with your shirt sleeve -- have a separate hanky for patting your face dry.
Do not worry too much about offending, or surprising people. As a foreigner, you are already something of a spectacle, so you might as well do something outrageous to justify their staring at you.
Do not forget that traffic travels in the opposite direction than it does in North America. Look right first, then left, when crossing the street.
The word 'gaijin' has taken on the same connotations as 'negro' in the States. 'Gaikokujin' (foreign country person) is the more polite version to use now.
Do not call yourself an 'otaku' while you are in Japan. It's used more as an insult, and will turn people off of you. It's especially bad when talking to someone from an anime or manga studio, when they are surrounded by Japanese otaku all the time.
Do not expect that a Japanese person agrees with you when he says yes. Quite possibly, he is simply indicating that he is still listening. Remember, the Japanese will not normally disagree with you outright. Do not simply answer the japanese with "no". Instead, "Yes, I hear you, but..."
Do not forget that the Japanese dislike direct confrontation. This can work in your advantage in many different ways. But it also means that most Japanese will avoid direct eye contact with you on the street, or in conversation.
Remember to be polite, and thank people, even when you are buying things from them. Also, the Japanese normally consider the passing of money to be rather offensive. So, when you are buying something, look for a tray of some kind. That's where you are expected to put your money, and that's where they'll put your change. Not all Japanese are picky about this, but many still are.
You are not expected to to tip waitresses or bellboys, so don't.
Do not be surprised if someone comes up to you and starts to talk to you. They are not being overly-friendly (unless they are asking for money for some cause, in which case the flyers
in their hands should give them away. The approach to use here is to look to the side, say "Wakerimasen" -- I don't understand you -- and just keep walking.)
When someone comes up to you and starts talking, they are simply trying to get a free English lesson out of you. When they are satisfied, they will continue on their way. Many Americans get offended by this after a while. Don't worry about it. Just go through the motions, and continue on your own way when it is over. Besides, it can be fun, too.
Don't be so stupid as to try to smuggle proscribed drugs, or rice, into Japan. The odds are that you'll get caught, and the Japanese do not treat such matters lightly. As always, play things smart (and buy from the yakuza if you want something for your own consumption.)
Any travel guide for Japan that you buy will have at least some useful phrases in it to help you get around more easily. Either memorize these phrases, or write them down on a
separate piece of paper that you can carry in your hand along with your map and/or train ticket.
Note: "Desu" is pronounced "des".
The below phrases will not only get you to the correct train platform, but also the right store, the right city, or the right bus stop. Just keep asking people until you know you are where you want to be, smile, and thank them when you are done.
When someone answers you, they'll probably speak too fast for you to follow them, even if you do know a little Japanese. Just smile, head in the direction they aim you towards, and ask the next person.
|No.||Iie ("ee -- ya")|
|Yes.||Hai. ("Hi") either...|
Ii ("ee") or...
|Forgive me||gomen na sai|
|I want to go to (place name).||Watashi wa, (place name) ni ikitai.|
|Where is the toilet?||Toire wa, doko desu ka?|
|Is there anyone here who speaks English?||Eigo no dekiro hito wa, imasu ka?|
|Please telephone (number/name).||(number/name) ni, denwa o kakete kudasai.|
|Is this (place name)?||koko wa, (place name) desu ka?|
|Where is (place name)?||(place name) wa doko desu ka?|
|Where is (place name) on this map?||(place name) wa kono chizu no doko ni arimasu ka?|
|How long will it take to go to (place name)?||(place name) ni iku ni wa dono kurai jikan ga kakarimasu ka?|
|Which line should I take to go to (station name)?||(station name) wa nanisen desu ka?|
|Which train should I take to go to (station name)?||(station name) wa dono densha ni noreba yoi desu ka?|
|Where do I buy a ticket?||kippu wa doko de kaemasu ka?|
|How much is a ticket to (station name)?||(station name) made ikura desu ka?|
|What is the platform number for (station name)?||(station name)-iki wa nanbansen desu ka?|
|Is this the right platform for (station name)?||(Station name)-iki wa kono houmu desu ka?|
|Is this the right train to (station name)?||Kore wa (station name) ni ikimasu ka?|
|Does this train stop at (station name)?||Kore wa (station name) ni tomarimasu ka?|
|How many more stops to (station name)?||(station name) wa ikutsume desu ka?|
|Where should I change trains to go to (station name)?||(station name) wa doko de norikae desu ka?|
|Please let me know when we arrive at (station name/place).||(Station name/place) ni tsuitara oshiete kudasai.|
|What time is the next train to (station name)?||Tsugi no (station name)-iki wa nanji desu ka?|
|I want to buy this one. (Point to the object you want.)||Kore kudasai (Pronounced "ko re coup da sigh")|
There are a lot of strange shows on Japanese TV, and the strangest are the game shows. One particular game show will present a series of "factual information," with a few ringers. If a contestant thinks something he's being told is false, he will respond with 'Doubt.'
This response is showing up in news broadcasts, and normal conversations, in place of 'chigau' (wrong.)
Many train and bus stations have pay lockers where you can store your bags if you want to walk around a city for a few days. These can cost between 200 and 600 yen per day, which can add up quickly if you don't pay attention. (Midnight is considered the end of one day. After midnight, you have to pay again to get your bags back.)
Do not bring things you don't want to carry. Clothes for a few days, a toilet kit, and any additional papers for getting work if needed. Anything more than that may need to be stored somewhere while you travel.
If you plan on doing some travelling while in Japan, get a rail pass.
Bring a water bottle, or buy one here. Try to avoid buying too many soft drinks since they'll go for about $1 each, and during the summer, may add up to $10 a day, easily.
Look for restaurants that sell large dishes for 500 yen. Or lose some weight.
Buy your food at grocery stores -- not the convenience stores. You get a better selection this way, while saving money. But also comparison shop when walking by the vegetable stands. You might be able to save a little more money on fresh produce. And yes, during season, a melon can still cost $5 each, and bananas can be as cheap as 300 yen for 4. All food is expensive in Japan.
If you can find a gaijin house, you can try to keep your expenses down to 4000 yen a day (1600 for the lousy apartment, the rest for food and other expenses.) Walk, don't use the rails if you're only going 1 or 2 miles in any given direction. This translates to a budget of $1200/month.
Staying at places other than gaijin houses may bring your expenses up to 6000 to 7000 yen/day. Especially if you want to travel, sightsee, sample the food, and buy stuff.
Visit department stores. All big stores will have a food section. Sometimes, these food sections (and some stores in the underground shopping tunnels) will give away free samples. This can be both good and bad, if you don't know what it is you're putting in your mouth -- but it is free food.
Take care of all your health matters before coming here. Japan's health care system costs money, and isn't the greatest.
And if you wear glasses or contacts, make sure that you bring a spare pair, and/or your prescription. If something can happen to trash your glasses, it will (trust me on this one.)
Some Mid-Easterners live in the parks, especially in Yoyogi and Ueno. To avoid paying for train fare, they will walk through the ticket gate of the fare adjustment window in the middle of the crush of other people that walk by flashing their pass cards. You may get caught doing this, but can also possibly bluff your way out of it, since the Japanese don't like direct conflict ("Wakerimasen".)
If you stop at Bangkok before coming to Japan, you can do the same thing that one Isreali did. He'd taken 9 months to travel from Isreal, through India, to Japan. Mainly on foot. In Bangkok, he bought a Freelance Journalist badge for $8. By flashing this, and looking like he's going to do a write-up on some activity, he could get into museums, rides, and other stuff for free. Sometimes, he could even get free transportation.
|The Japan Times|
5-4 Shibaura 4-Chome
Minato-ku, Tokyo 100-91
|Oversea Courier Service Co., Ltd.|
9 Shibaura 2-Chome
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108
|--||Overseas subscriptions and inquiries for The Japan Times.|
|Tokyo International Youth Hostel|
(03)3235-1107 (page 184 of the Kit)
|--||The more popular hostel in Tokyo|
|Yoyogi Youth Hostel|
(03)3467-9163 (page 184 of the Kit)
|--||The easier hostel to get into, near Shinjuku.|
If one of the signs of otaku-hood is the complete abandonment of your life at home, to go to the source of your addiction and check it out, then I'm showing at least one or two of the
main symptoms. I quit my job at home, dumped my car (which had to be replaced anyway,) unloaded my apartment, and sold off some of much belongings before coming to Japan. I've travelled a bit, lived
in a gaijin house in Tokyo for 5 months, watched the occasional anime, visited the manga sections of bookstores, and survived long enough to try to pick up a basic functionality in reading and
speaking Japanese. Even with the purchases I've made, and having 60,000 yen stolen from me by another gaijin renter, I've been able to live on about US$1000 per month for almost exactly 6 months.
I do have a job waiting for me in Tokyo, but whether I can get my working visa after my next visa trip (this one is back to Minnesota for the Christmas holidays,) is a question to be answered only by Japan's Immigration department. Time will tell.
The following is my attempt to pave the way for anyone else stupid enough to try this stunt. Do not attempt this at home -- this act should be performed by trained professionals
You have been warned.
Keep in mind, Japan is a big, busy, expensive place. If you can get someone else to finance the trip, and your stay here, this will be a major first step. I don't actually recommend
joining the navy just so that you can take your six-month leave here, but if you're already in the military, do everything you can to get stationed here.
Otherwise, having friends or relatives that live in Japan will make a big difference. Or, coming over here for school, or as part of a "home-stay" program, is another possibility. Finding a decent place to stay is one of the foremost hurdles to overcome, given that you're not the only one trying to do this.
If you can find a place to stay, then all you need are some good maps, the Walking Guide to Tokyo from one of the FTP sites, and some spending money.
Much of Japan is covered with various buildings, and lots of people. Unless the city is next to the coast, where the wind is strong, the air will be polluted. Any nearby body of water will look green and sluggish during the warmer periods. There will be trash most everywhere, and people that refuse to look you in the eye as you approach, but will possibly run you over with a bicycle because they're not looking at you. Japan has a very sophisticated rail and subway system, that while very efficiently run, is difficult to understand at first. And of course, the only way to get around in this country is by train or subway.
Shopping is not a problem in Japan. There are stores of all kinds, everywhere. Huge department stores, little convenience shops, book stores, fruit shops, kiosks, etc. There are a variety of vending machines every 50 feet or so, but most sell only soda and cigarettes. Deciding where to go to buy what you want is a slightly different matter. Being able to afford the higher costs is much more important -- almost everything in Japan costs too much.
You can buy the weekly phonebooks, and monthly magazines just about anywhere. The kiosks are at all of the train and subway stations, and sell weeklies and monthlies along with Calpis, Poccari Sweat, snacks, and some of the newest manga volumes. Walking along any major street will take you eventually to a bookstore. The smaller bookstores may carry some serious books (novels, cookbooks, history books,) along with a relatively decent selection of manga, although there are some stores that concentrate solely on manga. Department stores will also have a book section. (Going up to people and saying "Hon-ya wa doko des ka?" may also eventually get you to bookstores on the second or third floors of buildings that you normally wouldn't have looked in.)
Of course, what you really want is one of the big bookstores, like Kinokuniya, that carry just about everything, because they will have the widest selection of manga. Keep in mind, though, that if the book you want is out of print or no longer popular, that the only way you may find it is to seek out the hidden used bookstores in Tokyo. So far, I haven't found any of these, but I'm just starting to look for them.
Another hint: In Himeji, a smaller tourist town between Kyoto and Hiroshima, there's a really nice little manga store that has the entire collections of Orange Road, City Hunter, and Pat Labor. (Something that the big stores in the big towns I've visited don't have.) The only catch is that you have to buy the entire collection at once, they won't sell those books singly. The advantage is that the collections are discounted from the original cover prices.
The point is, some of the smaller towns have better selections than the bigger cities do. So, you may want to prepare yourself for a bit of travelling. Further, there are some series that you simply can't find outside of used stores. Lupin III, for example. Right now, the only easily found Lupin III manga is the color manga version of Castle Cagliostro.
One book that will help you out, if you can find it before you come to Japan, is Tokyo: A Bilingual Atlas. There are 29 maps of Tokyo, and an index at the back. This way, you can figure out where the Kinokuniya store is in Shinjuku. That Kinokuniya also has this book for 1800 yen.
If you want to read the weekly phonebooks, look in garbage cans on the street -- near train stations, or on the trains themselves. People buy these, read them in an hour, and throw them away. You can save $20-$40 per week this way. Just make sure that the phonebook is clean when you pick it up.
|Types of manga:||Best Locations to Check|
|Magazines (Newtype, et al)||Moderate bookstores on up|
|Collected Volumes||Small bookstores on up|
|"Art of" Books||Big Bookstores only|
|Odd-sized manga||Big Bookstores only|
This more of a problem. Japanese TV doesn't carry as much anime as you'd expect. And the Tokyo area (Kanto region) has a poorer selection than the Osaka area (Kansai), but the Kansai TV schedule is more subject to spontaneous schedule changes. (There are three major areas listed in the English version of the Japan Times paper.) And Kansai and Kanto both get the NHK broadcasts. If you have a satellite dish, you can get a lot more programs, but the Japan Times listings only state that there are "cartoons" on in any given slot, they don't give actual titles. If you can read Japanese, the listings in Animage may be of more use to you.
Note: The Japan Times is one of the few papers printed in English, and it's NOT sold everywhere that Japanese papers are. Kinokuniya does carry it.
Theatrical anime shows up occasionally, but there are dry spells.
So, naturally the places to turn to are video tape sales and rental stores. Unfortunately, buying anime is expensive (but you already know that.) Any place that sells video tapes will sell anime tapes. Fewer places carry laser disks. Some department stores that sell anime paraphenalia will also have the tapes and disks. (Look for the Children's Toy Sections.) Otherwise, look for an "Animate" store. (However, the Bilingual Atlas does not list Animate in its index.) And, there are times when you can find used video tapes for 1000 to 3600 yen apiece.
All video rental places will have an anime section, if you only want to watch tapes (or dub them if you can get the equipment.) I haven't seen any places that rent laser disks.
This is a lot like anime video tapes. If you look for CD stores, you'll find them. This is a good way to blow money, given that CD's run between 2600 and 3600 yen each. You can find places that rent CD's, but I haven't found any that carry anime soundtracks.
Not a problem.
Go to any store, you'll find something. From Dragon Ball Z yogurt cups to Chibi Maruko Chan sea weed packets, from models, to stuffed dolls. If you just want to spend money on silly stuff, go to a grocery store and look around. You'll find candy, crackers, sea weed, and cereal boxes. Some of this stuff will include special prizes like rubber balls, stickers, and miniature toys.
For the other stuff, you may be better off stopping at a tourist bureau just outside the big train stations and ask someone that can speak English (there may be one or two.) Otherwise, look in the Tokyo Walking Guide for the location of an Animate store (there's one in Kyoto, and Yokohama, too.) Also, certain big department stores have toy sections that include a wide variety of paraphenalia, books, and tapes. The toy section of one big department store in Sapporo had a better selection of stuffed dolls (Jiji's, Cat Buses, and Totoros) than the Yokohama Animate did.)
You can expect to find pencil boxes, posters, erasers, toys, notebooks, and other stuff. But Record of the Lodoss Wars paraphenalia is not as popular as it once was, and the posters for that are not around much any more.
Phone cards are used in many pay phones, just like money. They come in 500, 1000, and 1500 Yen values. NTT makes them, and each NTT office in each city can decide what designs they want to use. However, the only real anime cards sold most places in each city are for Chibi Maruko Chan.
So, the only good place to get phone cards with anime designs are at Animate stores, and some other places that carry paraphenalia. Keep in mind, though, that most anime cards are aimed at collectors. So, you'll pay 1000 Yen for a card with 500 yen in credits. (Local phone calls cost 10 yen each.)
The best place to go for computer, or game system games is Akihabara. Just look for places that carry computers, and then wander into the software sections. The only problem is that PC games normally list for 9600 Yen. The Game Boy carts are much cheaper.
Most department stores will also have games departments, with some kind of selection for most game systems. When you walk the streets near any train station, you'll find places that rent Nintendo, Sega, and Famicom games. Some of these rental places also sell their used games for 300-600 yen apiece.
These are a little harder to find, since the only real option seems to be to search out stores that specialize in models. But these do exist, so you just need to look around a little (the Walking Guide will help you out, too.)
You may be tempted to visit one of the anime or manga studios while you're here. The only drawbacks may be a lack of addresses for them, and the inability to speak Japanese. According to several people, the anime and manga artists don't really speak English much, so it's a little silly to drop in on a studio without an interpreter on hand. (This is the main reason why I haven't done this myself.)
If you don't already have the addresses for any of the studios, it's going to be a little difficult to dig them up elsewhere. There is only one studio listed with the Tokyo Tourist Information Center (TIC) that is identified as conducting tours in English, and it's one that I've never heard of. But, with a little perseverence, you'll probably be able to visit any studio that you want -- just call in advance and set up an appointment. Don't forget that the Japanese trade magazines also conduct regular interviews with these artists, and that your interest in visiting the studio may be viewed as just another disruption of the production schedule.
|AnimEigo||--||Robert Woodhead (Usenet address: Trebor@foretune.co.jp)|
Phone (03) 5481-9663. You probably won't get to tour the studio (Robert keeps saying that there's nothing to see,) but you might be able to set up a lunch appointment.
|Omnibus, Japan||--||A computer animation house that has produced a number of TV ads for different companies, some presentations for a couple of the local theme parks, and is listed in the closing credits for the new American Batman cartoon series. They're not really set up to handle tours, because of a very low public profile, but you can talk them into letting you drop by and showing you their demo tape.|
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