A few weeks ago I had what is undoubtedly one of the best trips of my life: a week visit to Kyoto and Tokyo. I grew up reading Japanese comic books and watching Japanese cartoons (shoutout to Mari-Chan, Doraemon, and Sailor Moon), so this has been on the bucket list for as long as I can remember. To say I am excited to be writing about my experience is an understatement. I literally started a Google doc of all things I wanted to talk about during the actual trip, just so I can keep a note of all the awesomeness of Japan. It quickly became apparent that there is no way I’m going to be able to include everything in one post. There are so many interesting quirks of Japanese customs and travel, that I thought it would be appropriate to start there before I even delve into the hotspots of Kyoto and Tokyo.
As a title suggest, there will be a giveaway at the end of this rainbow, so hold on giveaway lurkers.
1. DOWNLOAD GOOGLE TRANSLATE
After you download the app, go to the “Offline translation” option within the app’s settings and download the Japanese language. You’ll need to clear off a bit of space on your phone but this will allow you to do translations without using your data. This app, along with Google Maps, will be your two lifelines while you’re in Japan. One of the things that gives me a lot of anxiety about visiting the country is that their alphabet is completely different, which means I can’t even begin to read it or to try and type it for translation. Luckily, Google Translate has this handy feature that allows you to essentially translate pictures.
3. PACK APPROPRIATELY
Should you check in a bag? Most airline lets you check at least one bag for free on international flights. And if you’re planning on bringing beauty products and sake back (i.e. liquids), you’ll definitely want to take advantage of that. I planned on doing quite a bit of shopping on my trip, so I checked in a mostly empty suitcase on the way there.
Do consider dressing customs. You are going to another country after all. When I think of Japanese fashion, I think of anime cosplay and Harajuku girls — in other words, wildly creative dressing with lots of colors. So that combined with the expected temperature during the trip got me packing tons of crop tops. I realized too late when I got there: I saw nobody else baring shoulders, let alone torso. This is a stark difference to New York where you’ll find those things very commonplace on a hot day. While the younger generation dresses a bit more “daring”, I find most people there dress pretty conservatively. There’s also definitely a marked difference between urban cities like Tokyo, and more smaller traditional ones like Kyoto. You’ll for sure feel REALLY out of place visiting one of the shrines in Kyoto in a crop top.
So based on this late learned information, I saved my more “conservative” outfits for Kyoto, which happened to be the first leg of my trip. Towards the end of the trip, I ran out of clothes (and also out of patience with the heat). So the second to last day, I wore an outfit of crop top and high-waist shorts. I got some stares from the older folks, which is not a big deal, but the hilarious moment came when a random old lady poked my belly button while crossing the streets #LMAO. Now, I’m not telling you not to wear crop tops, but just be aware of what you’re walking into. Plus, having an old lady poke your belly button makes for an interesting LULZ vacation story.
3. PREP FOR THE LONG-FLIGHT
Even if you’re on the west coast, you’re in for a very long flight. And unless you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford first class, long trips are never fun. Here is a few essentials to pack in your backpack to make it more bearable:
- Headphones – this is kind-of a no duh, but consider it a friendly reminder. Bonus points if you bring the noise cancelling kind. Because who knows, you might be that lucky person that gets to sit next to a screaming baby for 8-hrs. FUN!
- Eye Mask – never fails, there’s always that person who has to open the window to peep outside. For the last time Mr. Peeper, there’s the sea, clouds, and BRIGHT LIGHTS, just like there was 2 hours ago!!!
- Light scarf and a small travel-sized Febreeze – this one may sound weird, but trust me on this, especially if you’re sensitive to odors. On the flight home from Japan, I got stuck for 13-hours in front of someone probably should have not taken off their shoes. Yeah let’s just say I wrapped a blanket around my face (read: nose) for pretty much the entire flight.
4. PICK UP THAT MOBILE WIFI AT THE AIRPORT
This is SOOOOOO IMPORTANT. Hopefully you’ll have dowloaded the Japanese dictionary on to Google Translate already, so you won’t need the internet to use it. But hey can’t hurt to have a back-up plan. You will definitely need internet for your other lifeline app: Google Maps. Plus, you’re going to see so much eye candy there, you’re going to want to upload them to Instastories ASAP. You can rent a mobile wifi from one of the kiosk at airport arrivals terminal. They cost around $7-13/ day depending on which plan you get and can be shared between up to four people. You’ll of course need to return it before you get on your flight home, so don’t forget to account for that extra time when getting to the airport.
Yeah don’t be Vincent Vega in Japan.
5. LEARN HOW TO GET AROUND
Hot diggity damn, I could probably write an entire blog post about just this topic. But instead I’m going to just skim over some points.
- Google Maps is the shit. The accuracy of the train times is just unreal. If the app says that the train is coming at 2:30, it WILL come right at 2:30. The app will also tell you how much the fare will be.
- Make sure you get on the right train. Unless you’re at the first or last stop of the Shinkasen (bullet train), it will only stop at the station for a few minutes, so be ready to get on. Also, remember when I told you the train comes right on time? So don’t get on the train at 4:10, if your ticket says 4:20. Yep, I learned that the hard way.
- There are different fare for different subway lines. This is probably one of my peeves about the Tokyo and Kyoto subway lines. If your travel requires you to take two different subway lines, you may have to physically leave one area, purchase another ticket, and enter another one. One way to avoid this is to get the subway pass, which may or may not be worth it depending on how much you’re planning on taking public transport.
- You cannot buy tickets online ahead of time. Considering I’m an anal-retentive planner, this at first gave me major anxiety. But it turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Since we don’t have any pre-purchased ticket, we’re not beholden to a schedule. It was really freeing!
- The Japanese are stickler for rules. It doesn’t matter if the entire train car is empty, except for your group. If you bought seats for row 5, that’s where you need to sit — and the train conductor will make sure of that. Don’t even THINK about trying to steal a seat on the reserved section if you bought unreserved tickets. I’ve heard they consider this to be even worse that stealing.
- The Shinkasen is cool AF. I mean come on, it travels at more than 200mph. It’s kinda fun seeing your dot move fast on Google Maps (or really really fast on the Pokemon app)
6. KNOW SOME IMPORTANT WORDS BEFORE YOU GO
- Hai (pronounced: ha · ee) – yes
- Sumimasen (pronounced: sue · me · ma · cen) – excuse me / sorry
- Oha yō (pronounced: Ohio, like the state) – morning, as in good morning
- Arigato (pronounced: uh · ree · guh · tô) – thank you
- Reishu (pronounced: ray · shoe) – cold sake
Just pull out your trusty Google Translate if you forget them. Also if all else fails, just bow a whole lot. It’s a sign of respect.
Looking for more Japan trip guides? Check out my other posts:
Now time for the giveaway! One lucky will get an e.l.f make up set that they can use everyday or keep in their suitcase as their travel set.
All task entry below is optional; do as many as you like. The more entry you complete, the higher your chances are to win.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Not so little fine prints:
- No purchase necessary. A purchase does not improve your chance of winning. Void where prohibited.
- Entrant must be 18 years old as of sweepstakes start date and a legal resident of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia as of start date.
- Sweepstakes begins Tuesday, Sep 25, 2017, at 12:00 a.m. EST, and closes on Wednesday, Oct 11, 2017, at 12:00 a.m. EST.
- Each entrant selected as a potential winner must comply with all terms and conditions set forth in these Official Rules, and winning is contingent upon fulfilling all such requirements. Winners will be selected by random drawing. If a potential winner cannot be contacted within fourteen (14) days after the first attempt to contact such potential winner, an alternate entrant will be selected in his or her place from all entries received.