Booking Your Trip To Tokyo - The Basics
Travelling To Tokyo
Everything I Needed To Get Me There
My solo trip to Tokyo, this past September, was everything I imagined it would be. I got to experience a city and culture that was far different from my own, and travelling so far away took my out of my comfort zone. Planning the trip took a bit of research to ensure that I took care of the important details and that I knew everything I needed to know to be courteous, polite, and safe. Below are a few of the key things that may help you when planning your trip.
I recommend checking a vacation package booking site for their price, and seeing which flights and airlines fly to your desired location. Then, check the airline and hotel website, separately, to see what their prices are. I actually ended up booking my flight directly with Delta and my hotel via Expedia. This option ended up being cheaper than booking the package together. Many banks, like my own, also have card limits on how much you can spend on a given purchase, so this worked out well, for me.
With Delta, like most flights, you can choose your seat number etc. My flight included several in-flight meals. If you have dietary restrictions be sure to let them know ahead of time. My flight also had complimentary alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, movies, headphones, eye masks, and earplugs, as well a blankets and pillows that you can use during the flight. These are pretty standard on long flights, but be sure to check with your airline.
The flight from the , Nassau Bahamas to Atlanta is just under 2 hours, and the flight from Atlanta to Narita Airport (Tokyo) is about 13 hours, give or take.
As a Bahamian citizen, I did not need a Japanese Visa to travel to Japan, but you can find a list of Visa Exempt countries, here.
However, I did need a US visa, as I was connecting through the United States. We have immigration pre-clearance in the Bahamas, so travelling to Japan, through Atlanta, was a breeze. Once in Japan, the process was fast, smooth, and easy. You have to fill out a few forms, but that’s it.
Coming back, took quit a bit longer. Connecting in the US, on the same airline, I still had to go through US customs, immigration, and security. Some persons also had to collect their luggage to be transferred for the connecting flight. This process can take over an hour, so plan accordingly if you have a short connecting period.
I was very worried about how I would exchange my money into Japanese yen. I did my research, and found a number of options for money exchange, and all worked perfectly fine. There are money exchange kiosks in both the US and Japanese airports. These are convenient, and allow you to have some cash on hand without depending entirely on your debit/credit cards and ATMS. However, the exchange rates can sometimes not be the best. My card also worked perfectly fine in 7/11 convenience stores’ ATMS, and I charged items with ease in major malls. Just beware, that some restaurants do not accept cards. Also, be sure to let your bank know that you will be travelling out of country to avoid a hold being put on your account.
Again, I did my research, and tipping is not common in Japan. I felt a bit bad about not tipping during normal tip worthy interactions, but I saw several tourist try to tip and were politely declined.
Travelling to Tokyo, I was a bit apprehensive about using the subway system, and budgeted for a few taxis if I needed them. (I did not.) Travelling from the airport, I booked the limousine-bus, prior to arrival, via Expedia. (Remember to print your voucher, and take it to the bus counter to receive your ticket.) You can also book this at the airport or your hotel, but it is more expensive. Once in Tokyo, I ventured out onto the subways. The color-coded subway map looked extremely confusing, but once in use, it was a breeze. I accidentally went on the right train, in the wrong direction, once or twice, but it was due to me being tired, and not paying close enough attention.
The ride from Narita Airport to many Tokyo hotels is about and hour to an hour and a half.
Using The Subway
Once in the subway station, you purchase tickets via a kiosk near the wall and many stations have English speaking attendants if you get confused. To find out how much your trip will be, simply look to the map above the kiosk, and put your money into the machine. Then you enter your ticket in the machine leading to the platform entry point, which gives it back to you, and you head to the platform. On the train, all of the stops are also announced in English. There are multiple rail lines, but once you know where you want to go, it is pretty easy to figure out which line to take. The directions in the stations are also in English.
I had no problem finding free wifi connections around the city, and I had free wifi in my hotel. I recommend disabling your data while travelling, or you could rack up a horrible data bill.
Taking Off Shoes
I did not have to take off my shoes in Tokyo. I didn’t go into any of the shrines due to my tattoos (I’m not sure if I would be let in, and out of respect, I didn’t try.) All of the restaurants that I went to were sit-down, and I didn’t go to any of the bathhouses. (Same reason as the shrines.) The bathrooms at the places I visited also did not ask that customers take off their shoes. This was one of the things that I was most worried about, but it turned out my reservations were for not. (This is just for the places I went to, but it’s a big city.)
Be prepared to have no idea what you are eating. Purchasing snacks and items in convenience stores was a complete guessing game, as the packages had no English on them, and the photos were not very helpful. You can often see the calorie count on snacks clearly, on the back, but not what they are. In restaurants, many times there will be an English menu, or you can guess what the dish is based on photos or food figures outside many restaurants. If you have allergies, are vegetarian, pescatarian, or have dietary restrictions, you might find this challenging. (I’m a pescatarian, so I had to be a bit careful.)
In food courts, the food is also served in ceramic plates and bowls, which is nice. You simply take the empty service-ware back to a side window at the same place you got your food, once you have completed your meal.
There are also a number of restaurants that offer machines where you place your order (many have an English option.) You enter your money, and get a ticket that you hand to the host. Depending on the place, you have a sit down meal or sit at a bar-stool area, and the staff brings your food. I noticed that at these places, you usually just leave your used service-ware on the table when done wit your meal. (I felt bad about doing this, and not leaving a tip, but it seemed to be the norm.)
In restaurants, you also don’t have someone coming up to you every minute to check on how your meal is going. Once seated, you have to say “Sumi-ma-sen” which means excuse me, to get the attention of the service staff. There are many sushi-go-round places that allow you to take sushi off a conveyor belt, with price/color-coded plates, and at the end of the meal you are presented with a bill. You usually pay at the front of the restaurant. At these types of restaurants, you usually have a pot of matcha green tea powder, and hot water at your table to make complimentary tea. (Note, all of the tea that I had in Japan was unsweetened. Be it bottle or in restaurants, it contained no form of sweetener, nor was there an option to add sweetener, unless you were in a US chain like Starbucks or in a western style restaurant.)
Stray observation: I don’t like the flavor of mayo. The only way that I will eat if it is the taste is washed away my mustard, lime or another flavor. However, the mayo in Japan is different and quiet pleasant. Try it out on Takoyaki (a type of octopus dumpling/fritter, and you will fall in love.)
I stayed in The Prince Park Tower Tokyo hotel, which is on the side of the iconic Tokyo Tower. The hotel was a western style hotel, and the rooms were pretty large (but felt a bit dated.) The room included all of my toiletries, beyond the usual conditioner, shampoo, and body wash, and also had pajamas to wear. This was a nice touch that seems to be pretty common. (My room also had a Jacuzzi jet tub that was divine.)
Best Time To Travel
I cannot give a definitive answer for this because you may have different priorities. I read that cherry blossom season is in the spring, but I chose September because the humid Japanese summer would be cooling down, Mount Fuji would still be open for climbing, and the timing worked well, for me. However, the rain started pouring during the third day of my trip, so I didn’t get to see the mountain- though I still had a blast. There is also a fireworks festival in the summer, snow in the winter, and a Brazil-esque carnival in August, so find what works for you.
Japan is big on souvenirs. Consider brining back edible gifts for family, friends, and coworkers. You can find cute snacks almost anywhere, and if you forget, there are some shops dedicated to those last minute gifts.
The Daiso ¥100 store is also a great place for souvenirs and snacks. I recommend bringing a tote bag of some sort that you can put things in as you shop.
It is important to bring comfortable shoes with you. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice that I can give you. I travelled with tennis shoes, flats, and sandals. The first day, my flats annihilated my feet, and I had some severe blisters throughout my entire trip. From that day on, I wore my tennis shoes, and with the rain, I would blow dry them, at night, to keep them dry. Tokyo is a walking city, and there are not very many benches, if any. You will be on your feet all day, unless you stop to eat or sit on the subway.
If you have any other questions about travelling to Tokyo, feel free to leave then in the comments section of the video. I will d my best to answer them.
Be on the lookout, soon, for some of my recommendations for places to visit.