I'm sitting in the airport waiting to leave the fabulous city of Tokyo. And when I say fabulous, I barely had time to scratch the surface of what this amazing place had to offer and I still fell completely in love. There were a few things that made the trip special and a few things that made the trip challenging, so I thought I'd share. This is the stuff that nobody told me and I was too lazy to read the guidebooks:
- Cell service: I assumed that a. I could use my international roaming (sparingly of course) and/or b. I could get myself a pre-paid SIM card (with data)...no such luck on either. North American SIM cards don't work at all (maybe there is a special plan somewhere?) and there are no pre-paid SIM cards to be found. My phone was merely a fancy clock for most of the trip. From what I understand, though, you can rent temporary phones. Not sure if they have data available.
- Wifi: this was tougher to find than I assumed as well. I'm used to walking around anywhere and picking up at least wifi I can pay for. My hotel (and it was fancy) only had wired in access. Some coffee shops (where young people hang with their laptops like the Book First BCafe) and a couple of karaoke places (like JoySound) seemed to have wifi. Once again, this made it hard for me to use my cell phone - mostly to access my google maps as I wandered around, so I was a little lost at times.
- Bank Machines: Most Japanese bank machines/ATMs don't read foreign banking cards (Citibank looks like the only one). But if you find a post office, you can use the ATMs there no problem. Careful, though. Take out lots of cash because they close at 5pm.
- Credit Cards: pretty much everywhere takes them...so in regards to the bank machines, it's not a biggie if you travel with credit and this is all compatible.
- Twitter: it's incredibly popular in Japan and I was told is quickly taking over as the most popular social network. Most Japanese tweet in...well...Japanese...but definitely reach out to locals because: 1. they are incredibly friendly and helpful (will give you the BEST tips) 2. some speak English and can help you figure stuff out. I had a karaoke tweetup and I don't think I've ever had a better time. :) To start: Akira, Masa and Keyjp are good to say hi to! :)
- The most amazing meal experience I've ever had: Shimoyama, my publisher in Japan, took me to this area called "Shimbashi Gahdo-Shita" in J (translated as "Under the Shimbashi Railroad Bridge Area") to have BBQ. OMGWTFBBQ!!! Not only was the food good, but the atmosphere was incredible. I felt like I was 'in'...like I got let in on a local secret that nobody would print in a guidebook. It topped my Peking Duck in the Hutons of Beijing, which I thought could never be topped. Walk through the smoke of the BBQs, pull up a seat at a picnic-like table and order pretty much anything and watch the Japanese businessmen around you probably making their biggest deals. Very cool. And inexpensive!
- Harajuku: Sunday is the day. Guidebooks probably tell you this, but wow. This is truly a cultural phenomenon. I totally want to be a Harajuku girl when I grow up.
- Puri Kura: Do it. Bring a friend. Or do it by yourself...doesn't matter. Find a booth area and do it, though. Holy crap, it's awesome. It's been part of Japanese culture for over 15 years. I have no idea why it's not as big as karaoke back home. I'm addicted. :) Lots of spots in Harajuku and I've heard other areas like Roppongi as well. It costs between 300 and 400 Yen (about 4-4.50 USD) and the machines are completely in Japanese. Bring one of your new local friends to help you do it best and check out Asian Poses ahead of time to know how to work it!
- Metro: The Japanese metro is AMAZING and expansive and cabs are a wee bit pricey (cost me about $25 USD to get anywhere, but the Metro is super affordable). Download this map ahead of time and study it a bit. I wish I had more time to just ride around and find new areas.
Okay...there is probably much more (and you probably have tips of your own), but I have to jump on a plane. I'll be back Tokyo!!!