Tip# 1: traveling does not mean you have to go for broke! Avoid the crowd because it’s always cheaper when nobody wants to go where you want to go.
After spending 5 days in the Philippines for a friend’s beach wedding and not sleeping since I left Vegas, I flew to Tokyo, Japan on Valentine’s day. I told myself I’d go to Japan after I graduate but due to the earthquake in March of last year, plane tickets and hotels were significantly cheaper so, I had to go.
I remember when I first went there as a teenager back in 1997. I didn’t really have resources/guides or a digital camera to capture and enjoy my short time in Japan. I was not friends with Google yet. I didn’t know a lick of Japanese. In short, I was unprepared. All I had back then was plain curiosity and knowing the currency conversion from USD to JPY (which was 1USD = 100JPY at the time).
Tip# 2: learn a few phrases, the culture and custom.
I bought a Tokyo guide in 2006 and a Japanese phrasebook in August 2011. I packed my bags in November 2011, had my itinerary and my yen ready. February 14, 2012 – I came back with a vengeance! However, I had forgotten all the Japanese phrases I’ve learned except for one: korewa, ikura desuka? (“how much is that?”) – I used that phrase a lot and I used it well. Even in the capital city, Tokyo, most do not speak English. Japanese people are generally nice especially if you show that you try to speak Japanese. I said gochisosama (“thank you for the food”) to my sushi chef in Tsukiji and he walked around the counter just to find something to say to me and thank me.
Tip# 3: it is okay to push at subway stations/inside the subway.
For non-Japanese passport holders, you can purchase the Suica card which is a refillable pre-paid card you can use for trains, buses and shopping at convenience stores/ duty free shops. If you’re arriving at Narita International Airport, purchase the Suica/N’EX pass if you’re only traveling around Tokyo(shinkansen/bullet train requires a JR East pass). The busiest train stations in Japan are Tokyo Central station and Shibuya. Don’t be offended if somebody pushes you, push back and push harder! During rush hour, trains get too crowded (think sardines in a can). There’s nowhere to sit, you can swap faces with the person next to you and you don’t even have to hold onto anything to keep your balance. Evenif that’s the case, you can be confident that your stuff won’t be stolen as there aren’t any pickpockets anywhere in Tokyo.