A couple colleagues at work are planning trips to Japan in the coming days. They asked me for some recommendations before they go. Got to thinking this weekend and here are my top tips.
Credit Card + International Fees
Check all your credit cards before you go. You will want to rely on the ones that do not have international fees. For example I have a MasterCard World card from Citi (and shhhh I also have an American Express Platinum). Both do not impose the fee. My travel buddy had a Discover card and got hit with heavy fees for using his card. While Japan is largely a cash oriented nation, in Tokyo there were plenty of places happy to accept card payments. But don’t pay more than you need to. Call your card issuer (number is on the back of your card) before you go to see if you do or don’t have the fee.
After clearing immigration and customs, picked up our portable WIFI. A service we used shipped it to the post office in the airport. This gave us the ability to use our iPhone and iPads on wifi setting. We primarily used it to look up locations of shops and restaurants when we were out. Especially helpful cause it can be challenging to find locations (there are no street/building addresses).
We are looking into getting prepaid cell phones for our next trip. As it is me and my better half, and we like to do somethings on our own, we are looking for a way to call/text each other while there. Haven’t finished our research yet… work in progress. But having 1 wifi device was not enough for the two of us to go on individual excursions.
Currency @ Narita
We did exchange a little money in the airport. Just enough to get us a cab from the JR station to our apartment and to buy some snacks at a local benri (便利 – convenience store).
Narita –> Tokyo
UPDATE: The Suica + NEX package was discontinued on 1 April 2014. ｡゜(｀Д´)゜｡ But I still feel the NEX is a good, comfortable way to get from the airport to central Tokyo.
This train package was great! It is a very comfortable and efficient way of travel between Narita Airport and Tokyo Station. We opted to get off at Shinagawa as it was closer to where we are staying. With the Suica & NEX package, available to foreign tourists only, you can travel by Narita Express round trip from the airport to Tokyo and receive a Suica prepaid card worth ¥2000 (about $20.00). You can purchase it in the basement of Narita airport after clearing customs.
Suica/Pasmo Subway Card
This is a pretty good post regarding how to reload and use suica/pasimo to get around the subway. Nothing more for me to add really. I am just really happy you can as of this year now traverse all the subway lines with just one pass.
Currency Exchange “Ticket Shinjuku” (チケット新宿)
Before we left for Tokyo our research recommended that Banks would have the best currency exchange rates. And for the most part that was true. However, we came across this exchange in Shinjuku which blew all the others away. It had absolutely the best rate when we were there. They also sell tickets (vouchers) to events and is popular with locals for that feature.
There were a few exchanges on this street (literally a few doors from each other.) So be sure to check and compare. Like I said, this one in the photo had the best deal while we were there (April/May 2013).
Also, make sure you take the D3 exit. Shinjuku is a big station and it can be very confusing to get around if you come up a different exit. The D3 exit is only a few shops away from the Exchange, you shouldn’t have to cross any streets, it should be right there.
Warayakiya in Roppongi (わらやき屋 六本木)
Casual dining, amazing food, reasonably priced, and a unique culinary experience. If you go make sure you get reservations. We came the day before and put our name down (was easier than figuring out how to call them).
Their specialty is that they cook with straw, which burns very fast and extremely hot. It is incredible. Their tuna prepared this way is out of this world. And if you are not watching your weight, their fried sweet potatoes are delicious. We had a great sparkling sake as well with dinner which paired very nice with the fried food and grilled flavors.
Ippo Izakaya in Ebisu (一歩)
It looks like a hole in wall, but the food was extraordinary. We were the only gaijin in the place! The chef speaks a good deal of English. This is a place where you want to let the chef decide. “Omakase!” came in very handy. Apparently there is a shop or something downstairs. While we were there they would throw open the window behind the bar and fish literally flew in through the window. Amazing sushi for such a great price. And the sake selection was tops.
Ippo is located on the second floor and we actually walked past it once. Below are my pics of the outside so you know what to look for :)
Afternoon in Asakusa
Do spend a nice long afternoon in Asakusa. It is the perfect spot to pick up treats to bring home as gifts for family and friends. All the little shops are so lively. And you can get really great good eats all around the area for cheap. So be adventurous and bring an appetite. Best taiyaki I have ever had.
Skip it. Not worth the long line waiting and the cost. Although the toilet at the top is state of the art and the aerial view is cool. Definitely not worth the 40 bucks me and my better half paid, not to mention the few hours of the day we lost waiting in line.
Maps, Maps, Maps
I ended up drawing myself a lot of napkin maps in order to get around to specific shops and locations. So if you have someplace in mind that you want to go do try to plan ahead and print out a map before you go. Google maps was very helpful when zoomed in so that you could see locations names of shops surrounding the area and get a sense of where you are once you come up from the subway. Or if you have wifi, then you should be OK to skip the print outs.
Hope this is helpful to my mates at work. Bring back lots of pictures and tips to share!!!!