Visitors travel to my country, England, expecting to see Buckingham Palace, country cottages, red phone boxes and the Lake District.
We went to Tokyo looking for, well, whatever we could find really.
Old and new go together
Like many countries with a long history, Japan has an interesting and sometimes eye-opening mix of old and new.
Stand at the Senso-Ji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, and see how the giant Skytree tower dominates the horizon.
Or the Mohri Garden (its website is here) in Roppongi, a traditional Japanese garden next to the upmarket Roppongi Hills shopping area.
There’s no Android Pay or Apple Pay in Japan. In fact I don’t think any Western contactless payment methods work here and many shops don’t accept credit or debit cards either, just good old-fashioned cash. However you can use your Suica or Pasmo card (smartcards for use on public transport, think Oyster Card or similar) in vending machines around the city and even in many of the konbini convenience stores like 7-11, Lawson and Family Mart.Oh, and women in traditional kimonos are a real thing:
English (not always) spoken here
Although the majority of the signposts on roads and at railway stations are in both Japanese and English, most people in Japan don’t speak English. Sure, they might know how to say words like hello, goodbye, please and thank you but don’t expect to have conversations with people on the street. For balance, I’ll say here that hello, goodbye, please and thank you are pretty much the limit of my Japanese speaking ability too.
That said, you’ll have no problem getting by with English in the tourist hotspots of Tokyo like major railway stations, shopping centres, Starbucks and big department stores. However, away from those places, you will need to use some quizzical please-help-me looks, pointing at things (just say: “kore kudasai“, “this one, please”) and Google Translate.If you’re a vegan or vegetarian shopping for food, you won’t be able to ask shop assistants if something has milk or fish stock in it. Clue: damn nearly everything in Japan has either milk or fish stock in it. Nor will you be able to read the ingredients on packets either.
The easiest answer in those circumstances is to use the Google Translate app. We scanned everything with it, from food labels and restaurant menus to subway timetables and supermarket shelf labels.
Wifi and cellular data
I cant stress this too highly. If you are a western traveller coming to Japan, you will need some kind of portable wifi or mobile data connection.It is *essential* for everything from Google Maps (“Where the hell are we?“) and Google Translate (“OMG, it’s got milk, eggs, pork AND chicken in it“) to Wikipedia (“ooh, i didnt know that“, usually said when standing in front of a building, object etc).
The most common way of getting a data connection on the move is to use a Pocket Wifi (also called Portable Internet) connection. This is just wifi-in-a-small-box that you carry with you everywhere. Slightly technical: it’s a portable, miniature router with a built-in 3G/4G SIM card. Your mobile phone sees it as a normal wifi hotspot like the wifi in your house, and you connect to it the same way. Being portable though, you can take this one around with you when travelling and have Internet access everywhere.
There are lots of companies offering these devices: Pupuru, eConnect and many others. Just Google it. You can even order your Pocket Wifi before you leave home and they’ll deliver the device, pre-configured, to your hotel when you arrive in Japan.Otherwise, you could buy a Japanese SIM card for your mobile phone. This is the route I took and I’d recommend it for anyone with an old, spare phone (or a dual-SIM phone like a OnePlus 3 or Moto G5). I bought the SIM from here – https://www.mobal.com/japan-sim-card/ and it was delivered to my house before we left the UK. It gave me 7Gb of data downloads, valid for 15 days, and cost about £50/€56/$63.
As a guide, we were using 200-400Mb of data per day while travelling. This did not include the wifi we used in the evening while in the apartment which had its own, separate broadband. If you won’t have separate unmetered wifi and you’re uploading lots of photos and videos each day to iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive etc, you’ll need to double the amount we used, maybe more.
And finally, as this is usually a food blog, here’s a picture of some food. This is the delicious vegan cheesecake at the Brown Rice Canteen (website in English, here) in Omotesando, Tokyo …
Oh, I nearly forgot. If you get to Tokyo soon, have a great time and say hi from us!
Peverilblog’s Notes from Tokyo
- Part 1: On being vegan in Japan
- Part 2: Television, Cuteness and Vending Machines
- Part 3: Essential apps while visiting Japan
- Part 4: Old & New, on speaking English, and Wifi (this page)