Peverilblog’s Notes from Tokyo. Part 4: Old & New, on speaking English and Wifi

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.

SensoJi-Skytree

Or the Mohri Garden (its website is here) in Roppongi, a traditional Japanese garden next to the upmarket Roppongi Hills shopping area.

Mohri-Garden

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.

Suica card

Suica card for public transport – and other things too – in Tokyo

Oh, and women in traditional kimonos are a real thing:

Women-in-kimonos

 

English (not always) spoken here

Akihabara-signAlthough 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.

Sekai-Cafe-Menu

Restaurant menu in both Japanese and English at Sekai Cafe, Asakusa.

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.

Met-Gov-Building

“What’s this big building called?” (It’s the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.)

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.

Tokyo subway map

And you thought your city’s transport system was complicated. Time to get on Google Maps instead.

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 …

Brown-Rice-Canteen-Cheesecake

Oh, I nearly forgot. If you get to Tokyo soon, have a great time and say hi from us!

 

Peverilblog’s Notes from Tokyo

 

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Peverilblog’s Notes from Tokyo. Part 4: Old & New, on speaking English and Wifi

  1. Hi!
    Saw your amazing post today cuz I also wrote an article about kimono a few days ago. And I really like what you said, “eye-opening mix of old and new”, that was just too true!!! I went to the senso-ji (in kimono) as well, love there so much!
    p.s. that cheesecake looks so yummmm!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Back in England now, I’m sorry to say! Absolutely loved Tokyo and can’t wait to go back again. It’s a long way from here though and expensive to get there too 😦

      I knew that going there as a vegan would be difficult but the konbini/convenience stores were a life-saver. This did require Google Translate – Japan has a habit of putting some very strange ingredients in bread, potato chips etc!

      We also used the HappyCow app heavily; it takes your phone’s GPS and shows you all the nearby vegan and vegetarian-friendly shops and restaurants, with lots of user-reviews and photos.

      Also, since I like cooking, we decided to stay in an Airbnb apartment with its own kitchen. We took some packet foods with us so we could easily make our first few meals (see blog notes No.1 for a list!) which was a really worthwhile thing to do!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s