Japan Tour Guide

Japan requires a lot of preparation and research before you come. When I met my wife, she asked me why I first came to Japan. I explained that when I was young, I read a lot of science-fiction and always wanted to go to Mars. But when I realized I would never get there in my lifetime, I came to Japan. She eventually got over it but you should realize that there's no depiction of alien culture in science fiction that's stranger or more complex than our humble island country.

You will need a StarTrek-type beam-me-up communicator. Rent a Japanese cell phone at the airport counter.

Narita Airport  Take either the Friendly Limousine Bus or the Narita Express to your hotel. The bus counter is bright orange, and is on the main floor. Just tell the people the name of your hotel and ask when the next bus is. If their bus is too far in the future to wait, or if you arrive at rush hour, take the train.

The train is in the basement. You want to buy the Suica card deal, where you get a Suica smart transportation card for just a tiny premium over the one-way fare to Tokyo, so you can ride the subways and buses forever after without making change or worrying about the exact fare. You can only go to Tokyo Station or to a few others, but all the trains stop in Tokyo, so you will probably end up there. You will need subway directions to your hotel, or you can just hop a cab.

Transportation  How nightmarish is the Japanese address system? The streets aren't named, only intersections, which often adjoin the area of town they're named after. Addresses go from the largest denomination, Japan; to the next smaller, say Tokyo; to the next, say Shibuya-ku; to say Higashi, to for example the 4th ward of Higashi, Higashi 4; to the block number and then the building number and finally the apartment number. Thus our address is Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Higashi 4-4-12-404, being the 12th building built in the 4th block of the 4th ward of Higashi in Shibuya Ward. You don't wanna do this without a map, thanks.

It's easiest to print a map of where you're going off the computer and show it to the taxi driver or to friendly pedestrians. You can get a map by asking your hotel concierge or the restaurant to fax it to you. You need to bring the phone number of the place you're going so that when you get lost, you can call. But don't call from inside a bus or train, except in between the cars, it's rude. Set your cell phone to Manners Mode in public transit. Calling in taxis is permitted.

Taxis are comparatively expensive.

Walking Around  Japanese don't eat on the street. The distance between the stations can be far. Plan the route. Unplanned walking almost always gets you to somewhere uninteresting and a taxi ride back to civilization.

Bullet Train  The shinkansen is amazing. If you're lucky, you'll see Mount Fuji as you go by, about 20 minutes out of Tokyo on the north side of the train as you go west to Kyoto. Your phone won't connect well in the bullet train except at stops.

Food  Japanese food is complicated and interesting. Here's a short list of the foods you should be able to recognize and say yes, you wanna eat them or no, save them for another time:

ramen, often served with gyoza dumplings
soba, great for brunch
sushi and sashimi
yakitori
yakiniku
teppanyaki (think Benihana without the stupid act)
izakaya (or nomiya) a drinking place with snacks, some quite heavy)
oden
wine bar
Chinese, Italian, French, Thai, Vietnamese (way better than in New York, less oil and more authentic)
Turkish, Mexican (just say No, you'll only be disappointed)

Drinking  Japan is one of the best places in the world to drink, due to the snacks and the wide variety of imported brews. To taste sake best, drink it cold, which is called reishu.

Tokyo
Kyoto
Tokyo Food Guide

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