Andrews Fav Spots
Info about Tokyo
Tokyo is the biggest city in the world with 38 million people, but only if you count the connecting districts which all merge together. It’s huge and there’s lots to see and do. This page is about the suggested things to do for your holiday. 🙂
See the Tokyo wiki page here.
TRAVEL INFORMATION AND LOGISTICS
For Australians there is no visa required for Japan. We get to holiday for up to 3 months per year. Best to book your return flight and have that printed for customs on entry, it can actually be more of a problem with the airlines and leaving Australia I’ve found.
There’s a lot of Japanese people in Tokyo who know quite lot of English, but don’t expect anybody to understand you. If you get into trouble it will be likely that somebody can help easily. English is seen as a bit of a cool thing here so people write signs in English, and wear shirts in English etc etc. But most people only speak a few words and are shy so won’t be talking to you.
If you wish you can study a tiny bit of Japanese. I recommend reading the first couple of chapters in Human Japanese. The teaser version is free and all you’ll need. I think there’s android versions. It gives a very good introduction to the language and japan in general.
A flash card app for remembering basic words is great. I use Cram which is a great free app and website.
Lastly Hiragana is the basic phonetic alphabet here and takes about 2 hrs to learn. It’s kind of fun to memorise the basic alphabet and a great app which uses mnemonics to learn Hiragana is “Dr. Moku’s Hiragana app” it costs about $5. Other alphabets here are Katakana which is exactly the same as Hiragana but is weirdly used for foreign words and then Kanji which has literally thousands of symbols and is crazy hard to learn.
Arrival In Tokyo
There’s two Tokyo Airports and you can fly to either. Jet Star and Qantas will most likely fly to Narita. The other airport Haneda is actually closer to Maki’s house but both are an easy subway trip from Tokyo Center. The ride from Narita to Central Tokyo is about 45 mins.
International ATMs are found at the airport, 7 Eleven Stores (they are everywhere) and Post Offices. Other ATMs may not allow you to withdraw funds!! There is a charge for the ATMs refer to your bank for details, I usually just pay the charge while travelling.
At the moment the exchange rate is pretty easy to convert. Roughly $1 AU = ¥100 yen so think of yen as cents and you’re pretty good to go!
Getting a phone connected to the internet
It’s best to rent a pocket wifi, I’d consider this a must have and gives you mobile internet on your phones/tablets. Tokyo doesn’t have much free wifi due to the phone companies being so good, not so good for tourists!
Japan runs on a different phone system to Australia so your phone probably just won’t work here. There’s also no prepaid mobile phones everything is long term contract so it’s much easier to hire a pocket wifi. It’s best to order these in advance or get them from the airport. The pocket wifi’s are pretty good. There’s a couple of different plans. One for wider area coverage and one for speed! The 4g here is very fast! 🙂
Right now I’ve only briefly looked at pocket wifi options, but it looks like it’s around $70 for the week and becomes much cheaper for a second week.
Here’s a thread with some info about the pocket Wifi’s to rent. But I haven’t needed one yet with Maki as my tour guide!
The Suica Card is the swipe card you’ll be using for trains. It’s best to get this straight away. You can get them in the Suica Machines as soon as you have cash. These should be in the train section at the airport of just ask.
There’s a deposit of $5 and it works like a prepaid card. You can top up at the Suica Machines which are in almost all stations and most of them have English options in Tokyo.
With the Suica you can access all local Tokyo lines Kyoto and Osaka, possibly even in Hokkaido too. Bullet Trains are different as the rides are usually roughly $100 each depending.
This card also allows you to buy stuff in regular stores! You can even use it in a lot of vendor machines too!
Navigating the Tokyo Subway
As Maki says, there are too many train lines in Tokyo. Look at the spaghetti maps below. After a pause take a thought that the two maps actually overlap each other!! They are two different systems. In Tokyo there’s good English signage for trains.. but not perfect so it’s best to be prepared and have a good idea where you’re going. Many stations have free wifi, however I’d recommend the pocket wifi rental (above) and download some map apps too.
The Tokyo Rail Map Lite App if you have an iphone. There should be good free apps for station searching for android too. Be sure to get both the Subway Line map and the JR line maps. Here’s another page with free app recommendations.
The main lines for us are…
JR Company Lines
Yamonote Line (city loop
Subway Line (lots of companies)
Asakusa Line (Maki’s Station is Magome)
Airport lines (goes between both airports and runs through the Yamonote and Asakusa lines)
Most tourist locations are on the Yamonote Line (JR) though the Skytree and Temple 01 aren’t on it.
Tokyo Subway Lines
Airport lines (see Narita Airport) and Maki’s Asakusa Line in desaturated orange-pink down the bottom. Click the image to make large.
Tokyo JR Map
See the city loop right in the middle in green called the Yamonote Line… that’s the important one! Click the image to make large. There’s also a zoomed in version of the Yamonote Line (scroll down the page to accommodation)
Contact Details and Maki’s House
Maki’s mob is, in Japan she is easiest to catch on the app “Line” which is a lot like “Viber”. I will be on both Line and Viber, my phone will not work in Japan, just the chat/voice call apps. Facebook is also good for Maki too.
To get to Maki’s house go to the Magome station the follow the following map…
Accommodation Location Info
For the family you can all stay at Maki’s house… or as Maki says, Maki’s mums house. Maki’s mum is called “Hiromi-san”, you can call Maki’s uncle who also lives in the house “Ojichan” which means “cute uncle”.
Maki’s house is in Magome, a suburb that’s very close to the center of Tokyo about 3 short stops from the Yamonote Line at Gotanda. Magome is on the Asakusa Line.
It’s best to think of the center of Tokyo as the entire Yamonote Subway Line, which is the city loop. That loop will take 40min-1hr to ride a complete loop, so the center of Tokyo is really made up of many cities.
Yamanote Line – The Center Of Tokyo
Take note of the stations Gotanda and Sengakuji where you can switch to the subway and Asakusa Line to Maki’s house. This map is a zoomed in version of the JR Line Map above.
Cherry Blossoms and Picnic
Cherry blossom season in March, it only occurs for 2 weeks of the year and it can slide around a bit so fingers crossed they’ll be out for us!
On the Sunday the 29th of March… if the weather is nice we’ll organise a Cherry Blossom Picnic! This is a very popular event for the Japanese as after the winter the weather is starting to become warm again and it’s a good time to celebrate and drink beer under the cherry blossoms as the flowers fall.
Japan is chocked full of cherry blossoms, so when they flower it creates some amazing for some scenery.
THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND TOKYO!!
The Sky Tree is one of the best places to get a view of the city. The building is the tallest in Tokyo and far from the cities so the view is fantastic.
There may be a waiting time and without a Japanese Credit Card you can’t book online unfortunately. But for midweek it should be ok.
You can get to the Sky Tree which is a short walk from the Oshiage Station. It’s on the Asaksu Line which is the same one as from Maki’s house.
Asakusa Shrine (Sensō-ji near Sky Tree)
Asakusa is home to Sensō-ji. A very famous temple grounds which is also close to the sky tree so you can do them both in the same day. It has a very big gate which you walk through, you’ll see a lot of these if you go to Kyoto though not as big!
Asakusa Station is the place to get off of course, the station that the Asakusa Line is named after.
The Zojoji Temple is near another tower this one called the Tokyo Tower (not to be confused with the Sky tree). It’s lovely to walk around and see inside. It’s near Maki’s work too.
The Zojoji Temple is famous for being the temple and burial grounds for the Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu and his family. In the book “Shogun” the character Torronga is heavily based on Ieyasu who basically founded Tokyo and took power from Osaka in The Battle Of Sekigahara. So dad a good one for you! The Battle Of Sekigahara has a whole floor dedicated to it inside of Osaka Castle where the battle took place… but that’s for Osaka so scroll down for that.
Anyways the temple here is quite pretty and you can go inside and look around. Also Tokyo Tower is quite cool too.
Tokyo has one of the worlds most successful Disney Lands! An exact replica of the Disney Land in LA. Awesome fun and being in Japan makes it all the more strange and interesting! Disney Sea is also next door if you’ve been to Disney Land before.
The famous Mt Fuji can be seen from Tokyo but only on clear days. It’s not as close as many pictures make out so best to take a day bus tour to visit. It’s a very long walk up the mountain and only open in Summer, a number of people have died on the walk, usually from extreme weather conditions. Mt Fuji is an active volcano too, but the last eruption was in 1708.
At the base of Mt Fuji is Fujuku Highlands a theme park which is the home of many of the worlds fastest roller coasters.
In Japan bath culture is pretty massive. In the home the bath is always seperate to the toilet and is not a place to wash more to relax. You usually wash using the bucket or a quick shower before getting in the bath. The Japanese have baths everyday and the whole family shares the same bath water.
The Japanese also enjoy public baths which can be from natural hot springs though usually is just heated water. The Japanese usually bathe naked and the baths are separated for men and women, though there are some baths which allow for both sexes been naked and also some public baths which are shared and where usual bathers are worn.
The bath house is something to be experienced, it’s a hotel built around the baths and is primarily used for weekend getaways and relaxation. The famous oscar winning film Spirited Away is set around a traditional bath house. Modern bath houses can be found in many places, inside of sky scrapers and with all the modern conveniences.
The food in Japan is amazing, cheap and delicious. Japanese food consists of a lot of rice with the usual Ramen, Sushi etc. One of my favorite types of meals is yakiniku or Japanese BBQ. Each table has a hole for a fire, usually gas these days and a chimney and you cook your own food with very thin meats, it’s a must do. Yakiniku Meals are more pricey usually $25 + all other meals are very reasonably priced, you’ll have to talk to Maki about the best places to eat, but there’s just so many places in Tokyo it’s usually a matter of looking seeing what’s around. Luckily many restaurants have 3d fake food or pictures so that can make the ordering much easier, and bad food just doesn’t cut it in Tokyo!
Shopping is great in Tokyo with prices for clothes and electronics cheaper than Australia. I usually save all my clothes and shoe shopping for Japan. Most of the large western chains are here and some great second hand multi level stores!
The main places to check out are Shinjuku Harajuku and Shibuya. Shibuya is so massive that Time Out does 101 things to do in
Harajuku is sort of like the fashion center and where you’ll find the girls dressed up in all sorts of costumes.
Japan is a nation of nerds, so when they have a nerdy part of town it’s reserved for the super nerds or the otaku! Akihabara is that part of town filled with electronic stores, comic book shops (Manga) and Maido Cafes!!
Maido Cafes quite something, best way of thinking about them is like a Disneyland Cafe mixed with a hint of underage strip club. The customers seem to be either young girls, western tourists and old creepy otaku nerds!
Bullet Trains and the Rail Pass
Bullet trains are the way to travel between cities in Japan, they are shockingly cool! With speeds up to 350km per hour and smooth as butter to ride on the time really flies. And since you get dropped off in the middle of the city they are usually faster than planes door to door.
Tokyo to Kyoto is about 500km and by bullet train will take 2-3hrs depending on the service.
From memory bullet train fares are about $100 from Tokyo to Kyoto one way. There’s package deals too with accom that’s very cheap and maybe tours as well included so have a look around. One page here has some deals for example.
Tourists on temporary visas can obtain a JR Rail Pass which is about $300 for 7 days. If you find yourself paying more than this for bullet trains it’s worth grabbing as it’s 7 days unlimited travel! Many buses are also included in this price.
THINGS TO DO IN KYOTO AND OSAKA!!
Kyoto is the spiritual center of Japan or the city of ten thousand shrines. It was Japan’s capital for over 1000 years. Now it’s a city home to 1.5 million people, but it feels a lot smaller than Osaka and Tokyo.
The main train station would be the first stop, it’s a tourist location in itself and is just ginormous. I loved it! It’s a futuristic shopping center mixed with a train station and hotels, make sure you walk (or ride the twenty escalators to the top and check it out. You can go right to the top and do the sky walk for free.
Kyoto Station, look at the people down the bottom for scale reference!
The site seeing spots are spread around the place and Maki and I hired bicycles and rode around. I suggest without knowing the language and with time restrictions a bus tour for westerners would be much easier as the locations are quite spread out, some even required public transport for us and there’s no english signage in Kyoto like there is in Tokyo.
Some cool spots are. The bamboo forrest is great and if you go there make sure you go to the Tenryu-ji Temple which has a $5 fee, the gardens there are simply amazing!
Tenryu-ji Temple and Gardens, world class!!
Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for it’s red gates, and you can walk through them forever, like for kilometers ever. They are a sign of good luck and you can still buy a red gate today for about $5k future generations!
The golden temple or Kinkaku-ji is exactly that, completely covered in gold!
The Kiyomizu Temple has a great view over Kyoto and is a brilliant giant wooden building built without using a single nail!
Osaka is a giant city of 19 million, flying over it I was shocked at it’s size! It’s famous for it’s octopus balls fried octopus which are quite tasty, sort of like a much better version of fried squid.
Being a huge city there’ll be a thousand things to do, but it’s not super renowned for tourists.
By far the thing to do in Osaka is spend the time to go to Osaka Castle which is right in the center in a massive heritage listed area. Imagine New York’s Central Park with a castle in the middle!
What really impressed me about Osaka Castle more than the Castle itself (which is wooden and has been rebuilt after fires a number of times) is the moats that surround the castle and it’s defences. Huge stones make up the walls. Toyotomi Hideyoshi who built the castle was one paranoid dude!
The history of the castles prominence in the Samurai era is much like reading a Game of Thrones Novel, when Hideyoshi finally had a legitimate baby with his actual wife (and not just one of his concubines) he had his eldest other illegitimate son killed along with 22 of his family members/children!! He also made his favourite friend, a simple tea ceremony guy kill himself too over an insult, that sort of thing.
Anyways Hideyoshi is famous for uniting Japan and is still well thought of. He died peacefully and at an old age. A few years later however Tokugawa Ieyasu and his clan rode up from the then very new city called Tokyo, and with 150,000 samurai and killed every surviving relative of Hideyoshi in the The Battle Of Sekigahara. This is why Tokyo is the capital of Japan today and not Osaka!
In the book Shogun Hideyoshi is Nakamura the peasant leader who died before the book starts but is frequently mentioned.
Shogun is a must read!
The Castle will be at it’s best if the cherry blossoms are out. Hideyoshi was a huge cherry blossom nut!
Cheers guys there’s the info. We’ll update this page with maps to come. The URL may change too as my site is changing around. Hope is helpful this should be a great trip!