My husband and I got back from spending a week in Japan for vacation about a month ago; one week is nothing. We could have spent one week in Tokyo alone and that still wouldn’t have covered all the exploration ventures we wanted to do and check out events that took place.
When we go on vacation, much like the New York trip we went on back in January, there are only ever a few things we actually “plan” to do. All the other days we merely explore without an itinerary and most of the time we find the best things to do, see, and eat by doing so.
Before I get into further posts about the mouth watering foods we ate, I want to tell you about a few surprises we encountered in this non-English speaking country and drop a few tips that you readers can possibly benefit from.
At first it was a bit overwhelming. We used Airbnb to find a place to stay and our host gave us directions to her place, but getting off the subway train at Shinjuku Station completely shattered any confidence we had in following them. There were people covering every square inch of the station. Luggage everywhere as well, all we heard were wheels rolling on the ground through the chattering and footsteps; when we stood on top of the stairs it was like looking down on an old arcade game: multiple centipedes traveling in all different directions somehow not crashing into each other. It was crazy. But, we found our way, plenty of signs translated into English to help. So when in doubt, follow the signs for where you want to go.
Airbnb is amazing, I would recommend it to anyone who decides to travel internationally. The apartments in Tokyo are much like what you see in Anime if you’re familiar with it. If not, imagine a small living space, maybe 200 square feet. Walking through the front door there were two separate doors on the right, one for the toilet and one for the shower. Directly across the hall (which we could stretch our arms across and that was the width of the hallway) was a closet with a washer (no dryer, hang dry your clothes outside), a small sink, stove, and microwave. If I was facing the toilet and turned around, I was literally one step away from reaching the kitchen. Walking the rest of the way through the hall was the living area with a futon, bed, small table, and closet. And that’s it! It may seem extremely cramped but my husband and I had no problems living here for a week.
Once we were settled in the apartment with a few trips to and from, we got the subways down quickly. Google Maps was a great help (my husband constantly had his phone out so we could navigate which trains to get on). When you’ve got them down, there are only a few other things to remember and prepare for before visiting this sleepless city.
Garbage cans are nowhere to be found in the streets, literally. No garbage cans but plenty of recycle bins. In the Japanese culture it’s considered rude to walk and eat simultaneously. So those of us who are used to doing this, just keep in mind that you will be holding trash in your bag for a while. The recycle bins make more sense as there are vending machines with water, juice, and soda on almost every block; most drinks costing you at most 150 yen.
If you’re going to be visiting Japan in the summer I would recommend bringing a purse, travel bag, or backpack large enough to fit a least two bottles of water. That is, if you’re going to be walking and taking the subway everywhere. In the summer it’s hot and you could stop every few hours at a vending machine to get a bottle of water, but it may add up quickly. Sometimes we bought a 2L bottle of water for 79 yen at the convenience store and just poured it into smaller bottles we saved to carry around. But again, this is all based on preference.
With all this consumption of water, nature can call quite often. Ladies, don’t be surprised when you walk into a bathroom and they only have the hole-in-the-ground toilets that you have to squat over. Most of the popular subway stations, tourist-y places like malls, and some restaurants will have actual toilets so they’re not non-existent but just be prepared. Be prepared for the lack of paper towels as well, THOSE are non-existent. Really, every bathroom I went into there were no paper towels to wipe my hands. If I got lucky there were dryers against the walls but more often that not I was left to pat my hands on my pants. Which for me it wasn’t a big deal, but others may feel differently. I saw a lot of Japanese men and women carry around towels of their own to serve as both handkerchiefs and towels to wipe their hands.
Now I don’t want all of you to read this post and have it deter you from wanting to go to Tokyo or Japan in general. All of these things I listed that Japan had or didn’t have were not seen to be negative in my eyes; in fact it allowed me to experience “life” in a different way. Different isn’t bad. I absolutely loved our stay in Japan and we plan to go back quite often to explore more areas. But for those of us visiting from America, sometimes we don’t think twice about certain differences. If you want to, bring your own handkerchief or hand towels, if you don’t want to do your laundry pack enough clothes, bring bigger travel bags, etc. If you prepare correctly to a certain extent, it can make your experience that much more enjoyable.