Longtime Snippet & Ink reader, and wedding photographer eLLe PHOTOGRAPHY recently went on a honeymoon to Japan, and she’s sharing all her favorite Japan hot spots with us! From Tokyo to Kyoto get the low down on what to see, where to stay and what to eat!
One night over a sushi dinner, Mark and I decided to go to Japan for our honeymoon. This decision was rather momentous as we had pretty much debated and rejected almost every place on the planet for various reasons, many of which were we had gone there with previous significant others and we wanted to go somewhere new together. Neither of us had been to Japan before, but we quickly got to work reading guidebooks and talking to friends who had been there. The books were helpful to a point, but we found the best information was the “insider tips” that were passed along to us. In case you’re planning a trip to Japan, here’s our best guide to going. I’d highly recommend that you go – we loved every minute.
Pre-reading/pre-viewing to get in the mood:
I’m a big fan of learning about a place before I go, but I find guidebooks and history books overwhelming, and sometimes I put this off until I’m there. Here’s a few articles and books that give insight into Japanese culture, which is incredibly different from American culture and fascinating to learn about.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Japanland by Karin Muller
Geisha: A life by Mineko Iwasaki
Colorless by Haruki Murakami
You can fly directly to Tokyo from San Francisco International Airport (and probably Los Angeles too). There are two airports in Tokyo, Narita and Haneda. Narita is the main airport where most international flights are routed to. It’s located about 1.5-2 hours outside of Tokyo, depending on traffic, which is further away than most main airports. Haneda is in Tokyo, but doesn’t serve a lot of international cities. As a result, you’ll probably end up flying into Narita. To get into Toyko proper, the best way to do this (if you’re on your honeymoon and don’t want to deal with schlepping your luggage) is to take a bus from the airport into town. The bus is called “Airport Limousine” and there is a counter for this company in every wing of the airport.
When you land, you can go buy a ticket for the bus in the airport. They run frequently, and are on time to the minute, so be sure to be in line for yours a few minutes early. The bus company will help with your luggage, and they drop off at major spots in Tokyo. Our hotel was on the bus route, but other stops were close to taxi stands and taxi’s are easy to flag down. I would recommend using the Trip Advisor app to translate the name of your hotel into Japanese to show your taxi driver as not many speak English. The bus costs about $30 a person (depending on the exchange rate), and a taxi from the airport into Tokyo costs about $350. A taxi is an option, but the bus was so easy that I would recommend saving a few pennies here.
Japan does quite a few things differently from the US, and it’s helpful to know a few things in advance. Here are my tips for things that are just good to know:
Rent a mi-fi: Having an internet connection on your phone is a lifesaver. You will want to use google maps to get around and to look up subway connections. We found that our wireless plan wouldn’t give us enough data to use our phones freely while we were there, so we rented a mi-fi for the trip. It was a lifesaver. It was easy to use, and cost $200 for the two weeks that we were there. I emailed the company we rented from a few weeks before we left, and they delivered our mi-fi to our hotel so it was waiting for us when we arrived. They also gave us a return envelope, so all we had to do was drop it off at the front desk of our hotel on our way out. Here’s a link to the one we used, but there’s quite a few companies out there. I chose this one at random, and it worked out great.
Send your luggage ahead of you: The easiest way to get around in Japan is on the subway/train system. The two systems link up with each other and go everywhere you could ever want to go. Everyone in Japan takes them, and like everything there, they are clean and safe. They are also crowded, so I wondered what people did with their luggage. It turns out, the easiest thing to do is to send your luggage ahead to your next destination using a forwarding service. These are apparently in many convenience stores, but we just went through our hotel in each city. The best way to pack is to take a suitcase and an overnight bag (one that’s big enough to handle your toiletries and a change of clothes). That way you can pack up your suitcase, send it on, and only take your overnighter with you on the train. We did this several times, and the system was simple and our bags always arrived on time and in perfect condition.
Use the bathrooms in the subway and train stations: They are spotless. Seriously, they are the cleanest bathrooms you will ever see. They also are the only bathrooms that will have both a “western” toilet as well as a “squat” toilet. At many shrines and temples, the only toilets are of the “squat” variety, which are hard to use if you’re unaccustomed to them. So go in the subway and train stations and thank me for this tip later.
Vending machines: These are everywhere, and they sell delicious things like Suntory iced or hot coffee. It’s the perfect pick-me up. Look at the buttons carefully though – the blue ones indicate a drink is cold, and the red ones indicate a drink is hot. The machines pretty much only take cash and some accept subway cards.
Get cash: Speaking of cash, you’ll need more of it here than in the US. There are many restaurants and shops that don’t accept credit cards, including the subways. The best place to get cash in Japan is at 7-11 ATM’s. Luckily, these are easy to find as there’s a 7-11 on almost every corner in Tokyo and in almost all the subway stations. (7-11 also sells great prepared foods, which is not what you might expect from this chain.)
Don’t eat or drink on the go: In Japan, no one gets a coffee to go, or food to go, and eats or drinks while they’re walking around. Instead, you consume everything where you buy it. It’s a nice way to slow down a bit, and it’s also good to know because there are hardly any public garbage cans – the only way to toss your trash is at the place where you purchased your food, and you can’t slip in trash from some other spot.
Don’t bother packing an umbrella: It rains a ton in Japan, but the country is prepared. At every corner market (and there are tons of corner markets), plastic umbrellas are for sale and they’re cheap – about $5 an umbrella. Everyone there uses these umbrellas, too, so they help you blend in.
No need for converters: This was a welcome find – there’s no need to take a converter set to Japan as US electronics work there just fine. That said, all the plugs are 2-pronged and not grounded, so your hairdryer will not work there (and this is a shame as the hotel dryers there were pitifully lacking in power).
Take the subway: Cabs are expensive and the subway is really easy to navigate. The signs are in Japanese and English, and the announcements are made in both languages as well. Tickets are easy to get too, as you can push a button for “English” guidance. We hired a guide on our first day in Tokyo to show us around and how to do basic things like get tickets (there wasn’t much to it), and he recommended buying about $1000 yen per day (about $12 worth) of subway fare and getting a plastic re-loadable pass to use. We took his advice and it was really handy. The pass worked in Tokyo (Kyoto has a different system), but was handy to have and it also could be used to buy things in the vending machines.
All words and image by eLLe PHOTOGRAPHY.
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