Continued from Part 1.
Packing for the weather.
Unlike the Philippines which only has two seasons (wet and dry), Japan experiences four distinct seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Remember to pack appropriately for the season you are traveling in.
Bring waterproof coats and umbrellas for spring and fall since it rains more often during these seasons than the other two.
Summer in Japan is actually hotter and muggier than Manila, so bring light clothes that can breathe. Just be careful to cover up any body art, as large tattoos are still considered taboo in polite society (tattoos are culturally associated with the yakuza or the Japanese mafia).
Pack heavy coats for winter. If you’re wondering where to get them in a tropical country like the Philippines, try your local thrift store aka “ukay-ukay” — they usually have some in stock.
Selecting transport to and from the airport.
There are three ways to get to the city center from Tokyo International Airport at Narita (contrary to popular belief, Narita is actually not in Tokyo but in the neighboring prefecture of Chiba): by train, bus, and taxi. Cabs are easy and convenient but extremely expensive — so unless you’re happy to spend USD 300 on a single taxi ride, better give this a skip.
One of the cheaper ways to get from the airport to major city centers like Tokyo Station, Shinjuku, and Shinagawa, is by taking the airport bus — known locally as the Airport Limousine. Fares range from JPY 3000, and many Limousines will drop you off directly at your hotel if it is included in its route. This method is recommended for people who are not confident in their train route navigation skills.
Express trains like the Keisei Skyliner and the NEX Narita Express are the fastest ways to get to the city from the airport — just 30 minutes compared to 90 minutes via Airport Limousine. They are also quite affordable — tickets range from JPY 1200 to JPY 3200. However, to get the most out of this method you have to be familiar with the Tokyo train system or have a good head for maps, since the trains only stop at major stations and you have to find your way to your exact train stop yourself.
Finding the perfect accommodations.
Tokyo offers a wide variety of accommodations — from luxury hotels to cheap hostels. But what is the difference between a hotel, a hostel, and a ryokan? A hotel is pretty easy to define — any place where you need to rent an entire room for yourself, whether it’s cheap and cheerful or on the lap of luxury, is a hotel.
A hostel is a place where you simply rent a bed for the night — everything else like showers and toilets are communal. Lastly, a ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn where you sleep in a futon on a tatami floor, and bathe in a traditional Japanese bath. Pick the place you love at the price you can afford, and this is “home” for your holiday.
Getting around the city.
Getting around the city can be really intimidating, especially with Tokyo’s intricate transport system. The best way to cope is to simply prepare for it. Before your trip, download and print out all the train, subway, and monorail routes you think you’ll need. Head for Google maps and plan out a route from your hotel to your next destination — whether it is Akihabara, Nakano, Shibuya, or Harajuku.
Armed with your maps, head for the nearest Japan Rail East train station and purchase a SUICA card — a reload-able train card that you can use in place of purchasing individual tickets. A new SUICA costs JPY 2000 — JPY 500 is the deposit on the card and the remaining JPY 1500 is usable load. With your SUICA card you can hop on and off any train, subway, monorail, and bus route. The card can also help you save money since you do not have to rebuy tickets if you ever get lost.
Eating out and other adventures.
If you think you know Japanese food, think again — it’s not just tonkatsu and sushi.
For example — do you know the difference between ramen, soba, and udon? Ramen is egg noodles, soba is buckwheat noodles, and udon is wheat noodles. Meanwhile, the difference between katsu and tempura — both deep-fried dishes, is that katsu is covered in breadcrumbs while tempura is covered in batter. As for sashimi, sushi, and maki — sashimi is sliced fresh fish, sushi is sliced fish on vinegared rice, and maki is fish and vinegared rice rolled inside a sheet of dried seaweed.
If you want to eat at a noodle bar — it doesn’t matter if it’s ramen, soba, or udon, ordering is so simple thanks to the ticket machine outside the door. Just pick the one you like from the pictures, feed the machine your money, and push the appropriate button. Once you have your ticket, just go inside the restaurant and present your ticket to a staff member — he or she will serve your noodles in a few minutes.
As for conveyor or kaitensushi, just walk in, pick a spot at the bar, and grab the first plate that tickles your fancy. When you’re finished with your morsel, set the plates aside on a stack and keep going. You can keep a quick tally of how much you’re spending inside your head by taking note of the plate colors — plain is JPY 100, patterned is JPY 200, and super-fancy is JPY 300 and up. Once you’re done, have a staff member take note of the final count, and head over to the cashier by the exit to pay for your meal.
Continued in Part 3.