Recently, I had the honor of traveling with the great Ray and Lisa, who are on their year-long journey of discovering life outside of Toronto. Even though they are extremely experienced travelers, they made some sub-optimal decisions when traveling to Japan, the same mistakes that I made. So here are a few things that I’ve experienced over the past few months, that I really hope will make your life a lot easier.
Getting From the Airport To Your Hotel
Tokyo has one of the most efficient and effective transportation systems in the world. But contrary to the common traveler’s intuition, taking the metro is not the best way to get from the airport to the hotel. Obviously, this depends on where your hotel is, but if you’re like any other tourist, you’ve probably booked a hotel near Shinjuku station. Long story short, if this is your first time in Tokyo and you have anything more than just a backpack, the best way to get here is by airport shuttle bus. Here are some options:
Option 1: Airport Shuttle
- Company: Airport Limousine
- Cost: 1230 Yen ($14.84 CAD) for Adults, 620 Yen ($7.48 CAD) for Children
- Duration: ~1 hour (depends on traffic)
- Pros: This is the most straight forward method to and from the airport. If you are departing FROM the airport, you DO NOT need to make a reservation. You can just get one from the counter. All the staff there speak English. If you are going TO the airport, then I recommend buying a ticket online to be safe. There are plenty of buses that run throughout the day and go all around Tokyo. But the MAIN REASON why this is the best way is because there are ZERO TRANSFERS. If you take the train you’ll have to move your luggage up and down the stairs. With the bus, you get right to the main station, and if it’s a popular hotel, say for example Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, they basically drop you at the front door.
- Cons: Takes a little longer compared to the metro. Depending on the time of day, this could be up to an additional 30 minutes. Also, this is TWICE the cost of taking the metro.
Option 2: Metro
If it’s your first time and you feel like dragging your luggage around town, then you can consider the metro. It’s actually not that difficult and it’s very affordable. Using Shinjuku as your destination, here is the info:
- Cost: 610 Yen ($7.36 CAD)
- Duration: ~ 1 hour
- Directions: From the airport, follow directions to the Keikyu Line (it’s blue), and buy a ticket to Shinagawa Station. From there, walk to the JR line, and buy a ticket to Shinjuku station.
- Cons: Intimidating if you’ve never been to Tokyo or used the metro. Stressful if you have luggage and it’s even worse if you’re doing this around rush hour (
Option 3: Take the NEX
This is very similar to the metro, it’s just an express train that gets you to the airport faster.
- Company : Narita Express
- Cost: 3190 Yen ($38.58 CAD) for Economy, 4730 Yen ($57.20) for First Class
- Duration: ~45 minutes
- Pros: More comfortable and luxurious than the metro, don’t have to transfer and there is space for luggage
- Cons: Expensive, still need to drag your luggage through Shinjuku station, which can be a nightmare
- Notes: If you’re a pro traveler, you can take the Skyliner, it’s cheaper than the NEX, but it takes you to Ueon or Nipporo, and then you can take the JR from there.
Option 4: Taxi
Just don’t take the taxi. It’s extremely expensive and there’s really no reason to. Even if this is a business trip, the shuttle is all you need. If for whatever reason you still want to take the taxi, here is what you need to know:
- Tokyo has crazy expensive taxis. Expect Shinjuku to the Airport to cost around 15,000 yen ($181.03 CAD) if you just randomly flag one down
- The best way is to take a flat fare taxi, you can reserve one online or at your hotel. This will cost around 8000 yen – 10,000 yen ($96.55 – $120.69)
- The doors open by themselves, it’s magic 🙂
Meeting Up With Others At A Station
Tokyo has some of the largest and annoyingly complicated stations in the world. Using Shinjuku again as an example, this massive beast has over 200 exits and serves as the transfer point to 12 different train lines. If you want to meet someone at this station, things like: “Meet me by the front, or in front of the Starbucks” means absolutely nothing. Most of the stations here are fairly large. Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shinagawa, and Tokyo station are places where you can’t just “figure it out” with your friends. You need to be very specific.
While meeting up at a station may seem like a good idea, I generally don’t recommend it unless you’re familiar with how the stations operate. If you can, pick a popular / google maps-able destination. In Shinjuku, I recommend the Toho Cinema (〒160-0021 Tokyo, Shinjuku, Kabukicho, 1 Chome−19−１ 新宿東宝ビル 3F) It’s really big, and it’s in the middle of the action of the red light district. (Yes, it’s safe for families during all hours). There’s also a giant Godzilla on top of the building, so you can see it from far away. If for whatever reason you would like to meet inside a station, here are some suggestions:
- Pick a direction
- North / South / East / West. It’s more complicated than that as you’ll find out, but if you can agree on the “East” exit, you’ve at least arrived at the same universe. New travelers will find going from the West side of Shinjuku station to the East side extremely frustrating. Tip: At Shinjuku, use the “New South” exit, it’s straight forward and easy to find.
- Pick an Exit Number
- Very often the exit number will be marked with a letter and number. A15, B26, etc etc. Depending on which train and the people you are meeting up with, this may also introduce stress as it will be a long walk, but at least it’s specific. Note: If you choose to do this with your friends, ask for help the second you get off. They will guide you in the right direction. Don’t bother doing this yourself, as walking from one end to the other is 20 minutes plus. If you’re at a smaller station, then you may be adventureous.
- Refrain from referencing big shop names
- Meeting in front of the Seiyu at Ikebukuro or Keio at Shinjuku will give you a heart attack. It’s basically a mall within the station and there are dozens of entrances that are both above and below ground. Meeting in front of a “vending machine” is also a terrible idea, there are easily a hundred vending machines in any one section of the station. Also, I had to learn this the hard way, but there are 4 Bic Camera shops at Ikebukuro and they’re all massive, so don’t use that as a meetup spot either.
Cash Vs Credit Card
Japan is mainly a cash-based society. Yes, you can use your credit card at your hotel and most nice restaurants, but any normal ramen or sushi shop will most likely be cash only. So, bring enough cash with you or just fork up the 3 – 5 dollar ATM fee, it’s not that bad. Here are a few tips for using your credit card at the store:
- Always hand your card to the cashier. In North America you either tap or put the card in for your pin, in Japan the cashier will insert the card into the machine for you.
- If the
sales personasks you a question in Japanese, it is usually: “Do you want to process it as 1 transaction?” Credit cards are not very popular in Japan, and for whatever reason, some people split up buying 100 dollar shoes into two separate transactions.
Getting a Travel Sim Card / Pocket Wifi
For a variety of security reasons, Japan is a little anal on travel sim cards. You can’t just buy one, pop it in and start using data like it’s a Tuesday afternoon. Many of the ones offered at the airport or Bic camera require ID verification such as pictures of your passport. It’s not hard to get a sim card, and there are plenty of options at the airport for travelers, just budget more than 60 seconds to complete this task. If you have many people on this trip, consider just getting pocket wifi instead. Many places at the airport or Bic Camera offer short term rentals. Tip: If you book an Airbnb, it is VERY COMMON for the host to include unlimited pocket wifi. So check that out first.
Stand Left Walk Right
In Tokyo, you will spend your first days bumping into people. It’s okay, it happens to everyone. Everything is sort of on the opposite side, and people drive on the right-hand side too. When you’re on the escalator, stand on the LEFT, and walk on the RIGHT. The annoying part here is that when you’re in Osaka, it’s back to stand right walk left. Honestly, just follow the crowd.
On a future post, I’m going to specifically break down using the Metro, because it is very complicated at first glance. But fear not, Carson will assist you. Good luck in Japan!