Travel in Japan – Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakune
Let me preface this post by saying that we travelled in a group of nine. At first I wasn’t going to go for many reasons work related and things like that but they persuaded me last minute. We also had two elderly grandparents, one of them partially physically disabled and needed assistance walking and couldn’t walk on stairs. This was quite challenging because, take note, the subway stations in Japan have a ton of stairs. We spent some time searching for elevators and escalators. Sometimes it was impossible to find stairs and she had to walk the stairs very very slowly.
EATING IN JAPAN
Menus may not be in English.
You must have cash on you because there are many cash only places.
There is no custom for tipping. The restaurant includes a service charge of around 8% and almost always is factored into the bill.
Some restaurants use order machines. These machines issue you a ticket which you turn in to receive your order. The process essentially starts with you putting in money. Then you pick your menu selection on the machines. Machine will produce a ticket that you hand to the server. Then they serve you your food.
I’ve taken the bus/train almost all my life in SF and LA; however, I’m most impressed by this rail system. The Japanese rail system is extensive! And impressive. I found it clean and organized. It’s not the easiest to digest since it’s such a huge system of rail systems. But it makes sense.
We took JR line mostly but we did have to pay for the HANKYU line or the other lines. We bought the Japan rail pass green card first class for one week $377 (yes it was expensive). It covers bullet trains to Kyoto (and other cities) and you get to reserve seats in the first class portion of the train. I saw a handful of Americans using this pass. It saves you the trouble of always pulling out your coins to buy a ticket but you should calculate if the cost of worth it i.e. how much you’ll think you’ll spend per day on train rides. I’ve found that getting around from one stop to another (regardless of how far you are) is around $2-$3, but it mostly varies.
When you take a JR line you just walk to the lane at the gate with a person who is checking the passes. Then you flash your pass to the guard(s) and you just walk through.
If you don’t take a JR line, you just pay at the pay station.
The bus is a different story. I once took a bus and I paid on the bus right before I disembarked. A process that’s very different.
Winter is in the 50-60 degree range. Wear sweaters/jackets/scarves and layer your clothing to keep you warm if you plan on being out for the entire day and return at night.
What I found very helpful for traveling is always packing
1. A jacket with pockets!
2. Pants with pockets!
3. A medium sized purse with a zipped main pocket for safety reasons!
I have heard of many pickpocketing stories about handbags getting stolen in broad daylight. Also, there are pickpocketers who will go lengths to steal anything. For instance, my friend’s bag was cut open with a knife while she was still wearing the bag. The thief reached into her purse, but she stuck her hand into her purse to hold onto her wallet! That’s SO dangerous on so many levels. The thief ran, but not everyone is so lucky.
4. Lightly! Leave your entire wardrobe at home. There’s a reason why your closet isn’t portable.
Are you wondering what Japanese fashion is like for the winter? This video shows what people are wearing and selling
Long jackets and tights with feminine flare for the ladies. I think this is a pretty universal fashion sense for the season. But I can see how there’s more subtle sparkle and subtle fluff that’s characteristic of the fashion style.
Also, people wear masks. I mean, the mask covers the mouth. I think it’s mostly because they don’t want to get sick or they are sick and don’t want to spread the disease to others.
Not sure what or who made me think that Japanese service was going to be exceptionally warm but I didn’t find it to be so. They were helpful and polite but I didn’t get the sense that they were very warm or extra accommodating. It was a bit hard asking for directions at railway stations and servers at restaurants were a hit and miss. For instance, we were given a menu with pictures. The picture wasn’t very clear. So we asked what is in this. She blatantly said chicken. We asked what was the other thing in the picture? She said chicken and with more impatience. We just ordered it.
Then on one occasion we were lost at a town in the middle of nowhere. There were bus station attendants, thankfully. I found that there usually is someone there to ask questions. The language barrier may be a bit challenging but it can work out sometimes. We asked the attendant how to get to this hot springs hotel that seemed to be tucked away in a rural town. He said take the red line, transfer to the t line and get off at shinosomething. We looked at the map. There wasn’t a station marked as shinosomething. So we clarified, where do we get off? He said the station again but mentioned it’s not on this map. Then I asked how do we transfer to the t line? He said take the T line. No but how do we transfer? He said you get off. But do we walk and i motioned with my two fingers walking in the air? No no you take the T line. But do we see it after we get off? You get off.
Needless to say we got off but getting onto the T line was not obvious. We got off and saw the stop was marked for the T line. So we wait for a t line and get on right? After half an hour I felt like we needed to ask the bus driver if we passed our hotel stop. My question gets floated to a member of the group closer to the driver (the bus was crowded). He tells us that we are going the wrong direction. So we had to ride the bus until the end of the line and then take the bus in the right direction. When we got to the end we took a taxi for $100 per car because it was just easier considering all the luggage we had to carry. Lesson learned, clarify at all points! In retrospect we should have got on the T line and asked the bus driver if this bus went to our hotel or in that direction or would have passed by the hotel.
Or just took the taxi because of many reasons: faster, safety, and being in rural areas is just plain inconvenient.
Whether it’s a chain or not, I generally found Tokyo and Kyoto hotels to be clean and accommodating. It depends on the hotel, of course. Stay at a hotel near the stations, so you can easily get around.