Experience Japan

Vol. 17- Tourism

experience18_1.jpgName: Victor Szeto
Area of Visiting: Tokyo and Kyoto
Useful link: Flickr page

This was my second visit to Japan and although both of them were short ones, they were memorable and made me want to go back again. Below are some points that I think are worth sharing for anyone who is also planning a visit.

Cash is King

experience18_2.jpgBefore your trip, consider planning how much you will spend, add a little cushion to it, save up, and exchange as much as you can in cash. Cash is still prevalently used over credit and debit cards, so avoid finding a great hole-in-the-wall shop or eatery only to find plastic in your wallet. Finding a ATM isn't always easy especially when you get out of the bigger city centres, and you may end up paying more in the long run depending on the types of cards you have. Plus, using cash up front means you'll have less debt to pay back when you get home.
An exchange company I would recommend is Guardian International Currency (http://www.guardianfx.com/) at Yonge and Richmond in downtown Toronto since their rates were better than the banks and they had Japanese yen readily available.

Navigating Tokyo's Metro

experience18_3.jpgIf you come from Toronto, you may be intimidated by the complexity of Tokyo's transit system. Not only do they have many more routes, but they're run by multiple companies and a JR pass may not cover all the places you want to go to. An incredibly useful app I downloaded on my iTouch for Tokyo was the Tokyo Metro. For $1.12, I was able to use it offline and helped direct my route with complete ease. However, getting to and from stations is one thing - you also need to know which exits to follow once you get out of a train, otherwise going the wrong exit at a big station like Shibuya will lead you pretty far from your intended destination.

Know Your Food in Kanji

The further away from Tokyo and other city centres you are, the less likely you'll be exposed to English. Knowing Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji is obviously very helpful in general, especially after taking classes at AITAS. But the one area that I wish I studied more was memorizing and familiarizing Kanji for food. Yes, many restaurants display beautiful plastic food at the front, but not every place you eat will have those displays. It's also helpful to research how to eat the various Japanese-style foods as sometimes it comes on your plate but involves assembly.
An offline Japanese dictionary app I used when it got a little desperate was Kotoba). I'm sure soon enough, there will be a pic translator app for Japanese, but not at the time of this writing.

Japan is a very safe and fascinating country to travel in, and having travelled there by myself and with others, I was always able to find something to see and do. I don't think anyone can ever be fully prepared, but the people are generally polite and helpful and there's always something to discover when you least expect it.


(January 2011)

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