Surviving Tokyo

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Alas, returning to my dreary homeless life in Melbourne, I still do not forget of my duties towards my blog readers (even as I am listening to a Microeconomics lecture). So here is a big overview of how to survive in Tokyo (and potentially the rest of Japan).

The way this will work is I will split everything in several categories and use this template for future posts.

1. Money

The currency of Japan is (shockingly) the yen. Like other first world countries, this is the only currency you can use to actually do stuff.

Now, how to get money. There are two main ways: you can either exchange foreign currency (in your own country or once you get to the airport there are countless Currency Exchange). Or you could just take money out of ATM’s. Now, this bit is a bit tricky: first of all, not all ATM’s are international ones. Most convenience stores have them, yet only 7eleven has international ones (the other ones have some sort of deals with specific banks). It doesn’t stop here. If you have an international card, your card is capped at taking out only 20,000 yen. If you try to take out more it will just say “Insufficient funds”. Off course, you can just take out 20,000 and then reinsert your card and redo the process.

2. Language

The Japanese are (or should be) well known for not speaking Japanese. What I have found even is that if anyone speaks Japanese, the older ones seem to be more likely to do so (which is strange as generally the new generations know more). I repeat. People do not speak English (generally). This means be ready to have a bit of a hard time communicating with them.

I would really advise you to read some pages of the “Japanese Phrasebook” beforehand (and bring it with you). Even a bit of knowledge would be invaluable. I know many who cannot go around without it. Many places also have Japanese only menus. Be prepared for this.

3. Getting around

From-to airport: There are several ways. The cheapest seems to be taking the Skyliner to Ueno and then just use the metro to get wherever you need. There are two types of Skyliners, a faster and a slower one, obviously with different prices. There is also a direct(ish) train to Shinjuku but it takes a while and is more expensive than the Skyliner.

In Tokyo (public transport): The underground (and overground trains) are very, very efficient. One can easily travel around with speed, but it might be a bit confusing at first. Let me try to give you the string to the Labyrinth.

The underground: Now, the underground seems to be the battlefield for two different companies that manage it. What this means is that some lines are governed by one company and if you want to switch to the lines of the other company you will pay more money. Ticket prices also depends on where you go to and from where. The two companies are the Tokyo Metro (lines: Ginza -orange, Marunouchi – red, Hibiya – silver, Tozai – sky blue, Chiyoda – green, Yurakucho – yellow, Hanzomon – purple, Namboku – dark aqua, Fukutoshin – brown) and Toei (lines: Asakusa – rose, Shinjuku – leaf green, Mita – blue, Oedo – dark purple). You can buy a day pass for both lines for 1,000 yen (which if you plan to travel a lot might be the best option). Otherwise prices go from 160 yen per one way. Last trains run at about 12 midnight. Not sure there is any other public transport after (I don’t think there is).

JR Lines: Now, many underground stations have nearby JR Stations. These are overground trains that go throughout Tokyo. I rarely use them as I find the subway much more accessible so I don’t know all that much about this.

The streets: As a general rule, Tokyo has no street names (except for the very very large streets which have them). Instead they have three sets of numbers and the name of the neighbourhood. So unless you have internet or manage to understand how those random numbers work… well… good luck finding your way. Really.

4. Phones and internet

Yo and behold, Japan does not really sell pay as you go SIM’s. It seems rather quite difficult to find a card for your phone. But there is hope!

This website gives you the possibility to order (you must order it, you cant get it in store) an internet only SIM (which is all you need really). You can order it to your accommodation or to the airport and pick it up there.

I cannot tell you how invaluable internet is.

5. Food

Japan has amazing food. I might just write a huge post explaining all the different kinds of food one could eat. What you should know: many places take orders via “vending machines”. You need to insert your money then pick one of the options, get a ticket, get your change (by pressing the change lever) and taking the ticket to the cook.

Most restaurants give you free water and generally free tee (which could be ice tea – tsumetai kocha). Whilst chopsticks are universally used I presume one could ask for a fork (not that I tried). If you are up for a cheap meal and dont mind not eating no meat, prices could go as low as 300 yen. Generally for 1,000 yen one could get a very good and tasty meal. I have never eaten a bad meal whilst in Japan, even when I ate cheap.

6. Security

Japan must be one of the safest places. People here are not accustomed to stealing or lying. I forgot my camera in the airport at one level as I was going to Starbucks and when I went back it was still there. People might look at you if you are white (more outside Tokyo), but that’s about it.

7. Culture

You will notice that people don’t eat on the street or in the subway. However, you can use your quality of being a foreigner (like me) and just disregard that. Many people will give you an easier time because you are foreign and they do not expect you to be proper.

There is no tipping culture in most of Japan. It is an insult to tip here. So don’t do it. Also people will follow you out even just to give you 3 yen back.

Whenever you give them a large note this small ceremony of presenting the bill to many people begins, which is rather strange. Also there is a lot of shouting when one enters a restaurant (Irrashaimasen generally).

Ladies, cover your breasts. Really. Japanese people seem to care less about short skirts, but cleavage will get you a lot of stares.

I will update this if I remember anything more.



If you want to see my entire Japan logs:

Or just my Tokyo ones:

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  1. If you take the JR-lines they offer a service to foreigners. You can get a JR-Pass which you can use for an entire week, this pass also includes rides on the Shinkansen. You just can’t buy this pass in Japan, you have to buy it online and have it shipped to your house before leaving. Then you can activate the pass in the airport. But it is super useful!

    And, never forget the important: If you are a blond woman, old japansese men WILL stare at you and sometimes talk loudly about you.

    • Thanks! I myself didn’t use the JR almost at all, I preferred the subway. But it seems you need everything shipped beforehand.


  2. I’m going to Tokyo this summer for a week! This has been pretty helpful! Would you also know how much I should prepare to spend on food a day? That is if I eat moderately- I”m not too much of an exquisite diner and am flexible! Also- are the street souvenirs and clothes reasonably cheap in Tokyo as other Asian countries?

    • Compared to other Asian countries, Japan is quite possibly the most expensive (maybe together with Korea).

      As for food, I think you could find to eat under 2,000 yen for sure! Again, a good meal is about 1,000 yen, but you can find things with even 300-400 yen (and the convenience stores sell a lot of nice cheap eats as well).

      If you want to see some of the places I’ve been to:

      I should have added that in the post.

      Hope this helps!

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