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Tokyo survival guide for the illiterate

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E-flux

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These are the thoughts i had during my 1 month stay in Tokyo by myself for the first time without having a good enough of a grasp of the language to understand the writing or anything more complex than asking a beer. I hope that my experience will help somebody venturing to Tokyo for the first time, or in traveling around the world alone in general.

1. Arriving in Narita. Even though Narita airport is huge you shouldn't have problems navigating your way to the train platforms, there are plenty of English speaking workers there and all of the signs are in English.


1.1 Buying a Suica/Pasmo card. Once you have located the train station you will see a row of ticket machines and gates that bar your entry to the actual platforms, at this point you have a few options, you can either buy a single ticket Tokyo from the ticket machines or from a counter. Or you can buy a Pasmo card for 1500 yen which contains a 500 yen deposit on the card. This is not enough to pay for a one way trip to tokyo but the card is easy enough to charge up and it works pretty much everywhere in Tokyo the public transport to vending machines.


1.2 Arriving in Tokyo. Moving around Tokyo and finding the place you are staying at might be confusing and hard at first, don't worry the criscrossing lines of trains and metro is not as confusing as it looks at first glance. All of the lines color coded and you can just follow the lines to your correct platform which usually include an English map of the stops the line is going to take. At first i would suggest you to jolt down the station names and directions on paper so that you don't get lost on your first few days of traveling.
When travelling on foot take a note of skyscrapers and parks you go past, these are great for finding your way around the place if you cannot read the signs or get lost.



1.3 How does the public transport work?
You might be surprised that you need either a ticket or a Pasmo/Suica card to even get into the station, when you enter the station through the gates and bleep your card on the reader the gate checks your balance and marks your place of entry, at this point you are free to travel about inside the station and hop on to any upcoming train. Once you hop out and leave the station you bleep your card on the gate again and this time the gate calculates your travel distance and charges the proper fee from your travel from the point A to B, note that you might need to go through multiple gates if you swap from metro to train or vice versa.


2. What to do in Tokyo?

2.1 Arcades
Since we are on Neogaf, i would suggest the Arcades near any major train station, they have games for everybody from rhythm games to simulation and competitive card games, most of these are simple enough to play without any knowledge of Japanese but they can be costly, ranging from 100 yen to 300 (2.5€ a play). There is also a indoors theme park called Joypolis near Tokyo bay which is basically an electronic theme park, the place is worth a visit once since the games and atractions are worth seeing and testing out at least once.


Best arcade game i played there
Some more gameplay



2.2 Bars and restaurants
These can be a bit tricky for people who don't speak Japanese, if you go anywhere outside the popular train stations you will be lucky if you will find a restaurant or a bar with and English menu, or people who speak English beyond few phrases. However in my experience bars are a great place to meet locals because once people start getting intoxicated enough suddenly everybody wants to know where you are from and what are you doing there. I have had old copyright lawyers teach me about the copyright laws of Japan to people who couldn't formulate any sentences in English taking me with them to a "secret" bar in the middle of the night on some god forsaken alley. It might have not been the brighest idea to jump into a taxi with complete strangers but it was cool as fuck when they ringed the door bell and a gal came up to the balcony to check who we were before opening the door to a small bar that could hold barely 15 people in it.


Sorry for rambling on, back to the matter at hand. If you manage to make friends with a few locals, your opportunities to do stuff around the city increase tenfold, with them it's easy enough to go and eat in all sorts of places without having to worry about the huge language barrier. So to recap, restaurants and bars near the big stations tend to have English menus and every place further out you will be lucky to stumble upon them.



2.3 Shrines and graveyards
Tokyo is littered with shrines and graveyards and these are great places to visit since especially graveyards can feel like time capsules to the past. However i would i avoid visiting the smaller graveyards out of respect to the locals since the smaller graveyards can be the size of a single room flat, and you would stick out like a sore thumb there.
Some of the shrines are open around the clock, they can be pretty atmospheric to visit in the middle of the night.


3. What to carry?



3.1 Equipment
Carry toilet paper with you, for some reason not all of the public bathrooms stock up on the toilet paper so you might want to carry your own roll with you. Obviously a bag is a must have, especially when there are barely any trash cans in Tokyo so all of the bottles and other trash you accumulate on your day is going to be a bitch to carry around if you don't have a bag.



3.2 Money
Japan is a cash based society, be prepared to use a lot of coins and bills instead of your visa or any other card. Sooner or later your pockets are going to be filled with the useless 1 and 5 yen coins which even the vending machines don't take in so you can either try to use them as change in the shops or you can give them to charity and pass on the pain of using them yourself.




4. Closing words and TL;DR

I would definitely recommend Tokyo for anybody who's interested in travelling as someone who has only been traveling around Europe and Turkey, Tokyo just feels and sounds completely different from the ambient sounds of the city,the constant humming of ACs and vending machines to the cityscape which hides small shrines under the shadows of the skyscrapers.
Also Anime is not as big of a thing there as the internet would led you to believe, outside of Akihabara i didn't see any cosplayers or barely any Anime related advertising, however there are probably other pockets like Akihabara if Anime is your thing.

Okay, now for the TL;DR
Get yourself a Pasmo/Suica card.
Follow the color coded lines on the train/metro stations.
When travelling on foot use the skyscrapers as landmarks.
Carry your own toilet paper and a bag for trash.
5 Visit the arcades.
Bars are the best way to meet locals in my experience.
Go and eat in the restaurants with the locals.

Feel free to add or ask any tips or hints, or if you have any questions i'll try to answer them.

Here's some random footage and pictures from my trip for anybody interested.

festival
festival2


 

Izuna

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You abuse fisheye lens so much.

I have a simpler step: Have a Japanese GF or BFF, with English speaking parents. Boom.
 

Zoe

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3.2 Money
Japan is a cash based society, be prepared to use a lot of coins and bills instead of your visa or any other card. Sooner or later your pockets are going to be filled with the useless 1 and 5 yen coins which even the vending machines don't take in so you can either try to use them as change in the shops or you can give them to charity and pass on the pain of using them yourself.

I barely used any cash last time I went--basically only for street/shrine vendors.

Reserve the 1 and 5 yen coins for offerings at shrines.
 

Izuna

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I barely used any cash last time I went--basically only for street/shrine vendors.

Reserve the 1 and 5 yen coins for offerings at shrines.

I can hardly believe this. Like, you can't even buy a ticket without cash.
 

E-flux

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I barely used any cash last time I went--basically only for street/shrine vendors.

Reserve the 1 and 5 yen coins for offerings at shrines.

Huh, well i might have been wrong, though in my opinion they should just get rid of the 1 and 5 yen coins.

Yeah, the fisheye is a shame.

Glad you enjoyed the country, though! It's an amazing place to visit and being able to live here is wonderful.

I'm definitely planning on going back there again, it's going to be much easier now that i know a bunch of people there.
 

Zoe

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I can hardly believe this. Like, you can't even buy a ticket without cash.

I did forget about trains. Didn't really need to think about it because we had the JR Pass.

I only topped up my Suica near the beginning of the trip and had to use it once because there was a train accident somewhere in Yokohama that closed down the JR station.
 

Ultryx

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I fucking loved Japan. I can't wait to go back again. Would highly, highly recommend people visit. My brother and I ended up liking Kyoto the best, then Osaka, and then Tokyo. Tokyo was just so busy compared to the other two. Although, all of them were awesome!
 

Raw64life

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Went to Tokyo for the first time a couple months ago. I definitely agree with the trash bag recommendation. On several occasions I was walking around for 30-40 minutes at a time just looking for somewhere to throw something out. So many things I loved about my trip to Japan but the stunning lack of anywhere to throw out stuff was definitely a hassle, as minor as it may be.
 

E-flux

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Went to Tokyo for the first time a couple months ago. I definitely agree with the trash bag recommendation. On several occasions I was walking around for 30-40 minutes at a time just looking for somewhere to throw something out. So many things I loved about my trip to Japan but the stunning lack of anywhere to throw out stuff was definitely a hassle, as minor as it may be.

Yeah, most of the parks tended to have trash cans but other than that i didn't really notice them anywhere else. I just tended to carry the trash to the guesthouse i was staying and throwing them in the thrash there.
 

Mattlikewhoa

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Toronto, Canada eh!
Man... I can't wait to go back (2018).

I hated walking about with serious amounts of cash when I was car part shopping at TAS, but what could you do. any other large transactions I used my credit card.
 

alternade

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I've always wanted to go to Japan, but not speaking a word of the language and being a 6'2" black guy, I feel like I would be a prime target for robbery and scams
 

Izuna

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I've always wanted to go to Japan, but not speaking a word of the language and being a 6'2" black guy, I feel like I would be a prime target for robbery and scams

Nah dude, you'll be fine. Go Roppongi* for that freaky pussy too :D

Edit: What I mean is, Japan ain't he country to do those sorts of scams. Thailand maybe.
 

Desmond

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You posted a picture of an Icoca ticket machine, when you mentioned Suica.

It's ok OP though, Icoca master race here.

I used to just buy stuff in the conbini using my Icoca/Suica cards over there. Got fed up counting change.
 

E-flux

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You posted a picture of an Icoca ticket machine, when you mentioned Suica.

It's ok OP though, Icoca master race here.

I used to just buy stuff in the conbini using my Icoca/Suica cards over there. Got fed up counting change.

It's similar enough to the other ticket machines, and i didn't have any pictures of the machines on my stuff so i had to resort to google.

I thought this was an actual survival guide.

Like, if shit hit the fan and they had a huge earthquake or something.

Ahahaha, when i first felt the earthquakes the shit nearly hit the fan.
 

Zoe

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Nah dude, you'll be fine. Go Hokkaido for that freaky pussy too :D

Edit: What I mean is, Japan ain't he country to do those sorts of scams. Thailand maybe.

If anything he'd be pounced on in Akihabara and dragged into a Maid Cafe.

Which might as well be scams.
 

Nephtis

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It's similar enough to the other ticket machines, and i didn't have any pictures of the machines on my stuff so i had to resort to google.



Ahahaha, when i first felt the earthquakes the shit nearly hit the fan.

Man, if I was in Japan and I started feeling an earthquake I'd freak the fuck out. I'm totally reading up on that if I ever go there.
 

Raguel

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Just go to 7-11, Lawson or Family Mart ;p


Oh, and:
http://m.neogaf.com/showthread.php?t=539079
This. The thread Mike posted is a treasure trove of info. Also Japan was one of the easiest places to visit. Wife and i went last year and had no trouble at all figuring thibgs out. Went for three weeks to tokyo, sendai, osaka, hiroshima, kyoto, and miyajima. Was a wonderful experience that left me wanting to go back asap.
 

Camp1nCarl

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Rule 1: Know where you are
Rule 2: Know when the last train home is

Fuck all the other rules

And make sure to break both of these rules by going out partying all night at least once. Watching the random people that also crawl out for first trains is amazing on its own.
 

Drazgul

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Carry toilet paper? But I thought all the japanese had those amazetastic robotic toilets that do everything for you.
 

E-flux

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Carry toilet paper? But I thought all the japanese had those amazetastic robotic toilets that do everything for you.

It might be a bit risky to start pushing the random buttons, i went drinking one night and the toilet was one of those high tech button abominations and i managed to make the toilet squirt some water on my pants which wasn't fun. It's like russian roulette but with toilets.
 
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