Monday 24 March 2014

A tourist's guide to Tokyo: Written for tourists by a tourist

A tourist guide written by a tourist for my awesome, nerdy friends.  I'm not an expert of Japanese living, just a fan who can't seem to get enough of it.

Topics Covered: Language requirements, accommodations and Hostel/Hotel reviews, Tokyo transit,  shopping!, how to buy food/goods and some store types worth noting.

An intro to how I travel (and thus, what you can expect to see here).

I live for swag and food.  I love Japan for just this reason.  There is swag and food EVERYWHERE.  Although some people like to live the high life when they travel and visit stores of internationally renown brands, I prefer the busiest areas possible.  I love the hustle and bustle that only big city crowds can offer and in Tokyo, different parts of town offer up different crowd with different atmospheres.

Area guide and summary is also done to give you some insight into the parts of town that I spend my trips in.

Language (Barrier?)

Firstly, not being able to speak Japanese is not really that bad in Tokyo. A lot of the shop clerks will be able to understand if you speak slowly and just use very simple English terms.  This is because there are a lot of terms that are adapted from English, so modern Japanese actually contains a lot of English!

I HIGHLY recommend learning how to read Katakana before you go.  I cannot recommend this enough.  More than Hiragana or Kanji, you will benefit greatly from being able to read Katakana, even if only semi-proficiently.  My first trip to Japan, I knew no Japanese.  It was a hard trip to work through.  My second trip, I learned Hiragana, but with limited vocab, it was still rarely useful (except maybe some sushi places and on food stalls during festivals...).  After many years, I finally decided to learn Katakana prior to my recent trip.  It was the most useful trip prep I've ever done.  Katakana is the Japanese alphabet used for words adopted from foreign languages, most of which is from English.  When you read it out loud, you can easily figure out the equivalent English word much of the time.  Much of the pre-packaged foods I came across were labelled in Katakana and even many restaurants had menus which were largely Katakana.  In places where English translations are not available, being able to read Katakana will allow you much greater understanding.

Some examples:
コーヒー(koohii) coffee
レモン (remon) lemon <-"L" and "R" sounds aren't differentiated in Japanese and are merged into one sound ("L" as a letter actually doesn't exist at all in Japanese Romanji).
サラダ (sarada) salad
ストロベリー (sutoroberii) strawberry

When you need to ask for anything in English to someone who does not speak English (or even if they speak do speak English, but with a Japanese accent), you will need to translate your English words into Katakana to make it easier for the other person to understand.  Katakana is how much of the Japanese population go about learning English, so for many of them, this is how they are used to pronouncing and hearing English.  I honestly think this isn't a very hard task for avid anime watchers.

My favourite method of practicing Katakana is a drag and drop game (they also have a hiragana version, both are great).  Once I could complete it without mistakes in good time, I would change up the order that I had to do it in.  By the time I was able to complete it in pretty much any order (forwards a,i,u,e,o,ka,ki,ku,ke,ko,..., backwards n,wo,wa,ro,re,ru,re,ra,..., from left to right in all the randomly assorted characters along the bottom, etc), I was pretty prepared to tackle reading them as they come in Japan.

Although...even being able to reach the katakana doesn`t help sometimes.  This was in the beverage section of a grocery store in Shinjuku.  The label across the top reads "shanmerii".  I still have no idea what this is... X_X

Accommodations and Living Areas:

I've stayed in Asakusa, Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, so these are the only areas I will tackle lodging info.  As for the rest, I'll try to hit on my favourite points for each region that I am familiar with.  Pros and cons of staying in each of these areas.

If you're considering where to stay, travel review sites are great (ie. Trip Advisor, Hostel World, etc).  Learn to scruitinize comments for standard ignorant-tourist complaints.  Complaints of "small rooms" and "unhelpful staff" are usually just complaints from people who don't understand how precious space is in Tokyo and people who can't accept that not everyone they meet can speak English.

Japan 10
(Sensoji main temple in the foreground; Tokyo Skytree in the background)

  • Lots of affordable hostels (including my fave. Khao-san Kabuki, the top rated hostel on most hostel sites).
  • Home to Sensoji Temple (a major tourist attraction and the largest Buddist temple in Tokyo).
  • Close proximity to popular tourist areas (Tokyo Skytree to the east and Ueno to the west) and nerd paradise (Akihabara to the southwest).
  • 24hr Seiyu in the area (massive super market with large ready-to-eat food selection).
  • Frequent weekend festivals at Sensoji Temple.
  • Generally a very safe area.  We've seen stuff like random businessmen who missed the last train sleeping on the covered shopping street alongside hobos.
  • Nice and quiet at night for good quality sleep.
  • Not directly accessible to the JR Yamanote line.
  • Shuts down early (temple and surrounding shopping places close around 6-7pm).
  • Temple grounds and streets leading to the subway are nearly impossible to move through during major festivals.
  • The arcades suck.  Don't even bother...hard to win and the prizes are usually old.


  • Home to Sunshine City (massive mall) and Otome Road (2nd hand anime stores...lots of stuff targeting mostly women)
  • Seibu and Tobu department stores have massive food markets in the basement level (most are ready-to-eat).  Many are fancy, specialty foods.  More expensive than super market or convenience store meals, but still affordable (~$10-15 per meal would cover most people).  Many offer end of day discount sales (usually 10-30% off) after 7pm.
  • Indisputably the easiest UFO catchers in town (still not crazy easy, but generally more win-able than other areas).
  • Sunshine City has a Seiyu (that giant super market again) just across from it.
  • Most accommodations are on the opposite side of the station from Sunshine City.
  • Busiest train station in the world (seriously).  Rush hour can be soul (and body) crushing if you're unprepared.


  • Wide array of food selection.
  • Lots of affordable hotels.
  • Restuarants and stores have long/late hours; stores are usually open until about 9pm.
  • Lots of local shops (Gyaru, lolita, crafts, general) and close proximity to other popular shopping areas (Shibuya, Harajuku and Ikebukuro all accessible within a couple of train stops via JR Yamanote or Metro Fukutoshin line).
  • 2nd easiest UFO catchers in town (slightly more difficult than Ikebukuro, but more arcades in a single area).

  • Shinjuku Stn and Kabuki-cho are ALWAYS bright and noisy, so your choices are to get a hotel closer to the outskirts of the hustle and bustle (ie. Shinjuku Gyoen Mae or north of Higashi Shinjuku) or hope that your travel group is full of heavy sleepers.  It's not too bad if you just shut the curtains tightly, but if you're a super light sleeper, this is probably good to avoid.
  • Kabuki-cho can get kind of sketchy being the "red light district" and all, so I'd recommend having a buddy if you're wandering around late at night.  It's not really that bad though as amongst the host and hostess clubs, there are a lot of bars that are popular with young people.

Hostel and Hotel Reviews

All of these come with shampoo, conditioner and bodywash included.  Towels are only provided at the hotels.  Most require a small deposit (10-20%) to book and the remainder is payable at check-in.  Bring cash as they almost never take any other form of payment.

Asakusa: I've stayed in 2 hostels here, both of which were very nice, but Khao-san Kabuki is a clear winner IMO.

Sakura Hostel - Northwest end of the temple grounds.  About a 10min walk from the subway depending how fast you walk.  This hostel is one of few who offer larger private rooms.  There are 6-bed private rooms which are quite roomy by Japanese standards.  Each room also comes with small lockers (no locks though, but you can bring your own lock or buy one from the front desk).  This comes in handy if you're staying in a public room with strangers and have valuables you need to keep safe and they can easily be used as storage shelves to keep down clutter around the room if you're staying with friends.  The kitchen is not the cleanest and I personally did not feel comfortable leaving any food there since everything seemed kind of old and grungy though.

Khao-san Kabuki - Immediate west of the Kaminarimoon Gate (the big red lantern).  About a 2 min walk from the subway station.  Hands down the best place I've ever stayed in.  All rooms are en-suites with a private toilet, sink and shower and room costs are calculated per person with 3 or 4 people rooms available.  If you're staying in a group of 3, you can even pick a Japanese-style room with tatami and futons for the same price as bunk beds!  There's a convenient common area with a western style diningroom and a Japanese style livingroom with a well stocked and very clean kitchen area (cooking ware, utensils, dishware and all the basic seasonings, sauces and cooking oil for Japanese and western cuisine) and two large refrigerators.  The staff mostly cook their own meals here, so that's very reassuring for even the most paranoid of guests.  There are free for use computers with internet and a wide selection of guides, many made by the Kabuki staff themselves showing all of their favourite local hang outs.  These are all nice points, but it's the staff that takes this hostel to the next level.  Everyone who works there is super nice and helpful.  If you ever have any questions about what to do in Tokyo or how to go about it, the staff will do everything they can to help.  They once spent half an hour on the phone with 7-11 and searching the internet to try to help my boyfriend and I track down the elusive 7-11 collab Gundam kit.  Khao-san is a chain of several hostels, all in the Asakusa and Asakusabashi area.  Kabuki and Original are the two closest to the subway, but Original has had some very mixed reviews and seems to have fallen into a questionable state due to the age of the building.  There's also the new Khao-san Laboratory which is a slight further walk (but almost right across from the Seiyu!).  It looks really nice and even the staff at Kabuki spoke highly of it.  It's a 6-7min walk from the subway.
Japan 30Japan 29IMG-20131226-00152
(Only place I have pictures of... Top: Western dining room in common area, left: Japanese style living room in common area, right: Japanese style 3person private room)

Ikebukuro: I've only stayed at one place here, but it's kind of a 2 in one as they have hotel and hostel buildings across from eachother.

Sakura Hostel/Hotel - North of the station by only a very short walk, but being the busist train hub in the world, don't be surprised if you spend 5-10mins walking inside the station just to get to the correct exit.  There're some nice bakeries/food places inside though, so you can grab a snack on the go.  They more or less share public areas although tecnically, they're not supposed to (but they won't stop you).  There is free wifi at the hostel, although the signal is weak as you get further from the lobby and the computers are pay-to-use.  The rooms are pretty standard fare and facilities are all shared, though they are a respectible level of clean.  The staff didn't speak much English when I was there and they were not exactly jumping at the chance to help a confused tourist like Kabuki was.  They're not rude, but probably more akin to standard hotel concierge who will only do as much as they have to and nothing more.  It's about a 15-20min walk to get to Sunshine City which is also where the 24hr Seiyu is located.  Glorious, glorious Seiyu.  Hostel private rooms go up to 4-bed rooms.

The hotel across the alley from the hostel has a bar on the ground floor.  It's popular with backpackers staying at the hostel and even other expats in the city who want to meet up with fellow foreigners.  The hotel rooms are more private, but unless the hostel's booked up, I don't really feel that it's necessarily worthwhile to pay the additional cost to stay in a hotel run by a hostel when there are equally good beds in the hostel building literally across the street.  I'd rather save my coinage for the many gaming arcades.

Shinjuku: Nightlife central.  I love it although not necessarily because of the nightlife, since when I'm on vacation, staying out until 10pm is pretty much a nightlife to me, hahaha.  Asakusa and Ikebukuro both close down as the business day winds down in the evening hours.  Shinjuku will stay open and active long past that.  Most shops stay open until 9-10pm and attractions (ie arcades) and restaurants here stay open much much later.  This is what makes up for not having a Seiyu in the immeidate area.  There are a number of cheap hotels in the area.  We stayed at one out of desperation near Shinjuku Gyoen Mae (2 stops on the Metro east of the main Shinjuku Stn, although this distance is only a 15min walk in reality), but it's not really a fanciful one, so I'll focuse on the other one which if it was available, we would have booked for the entire stay.

Toyoko Inn (Kabuki-cho) - I LOVED this hotel.  The room was only slightly larger than our other kind-of-questionable hotel, but the staff were all very kind and most of them spoke some English.  It's either a 15miin walk from Shinjuku Stn through Kabuki-cho or a short 3min stroll west of Higashi-Shinjuku Stn (along Tokyo's Koreatown).  Being a hotel, you have the basics of a small desk, a bed, a small tv, private washroom (with tiny Japanese style bathtub) and to our delight, a small fridge.  Toyoko is a wide spread chain of hotels in Japan.  If you book online in advance, you can get a e-reservation discount.  If you don't require room cleaning every day, you can get an eco-plan discount.  If you buy their membership card (good for life and at any of their locations), you can get a membership discount.  THESE DISCOUNTS STACK! If you're staying more than a few days, buy the membership card and stack all the deals.  You can purchase the membership card at check-in and they will apply the discount right away to lower your total right before you have to pay.  They also have a free buffet breakfast.  It's pretty basic, but it's filling and they change the selection every day for a nice variety.  Behind the elevator area, they have coin laundry available which is quite rare for hotels.  This hotel seemed popular with businessmen as every other person I ran into late at night on the elevator seemed to be heading up in a suit with a set of disposable PJs purchased from the front desk.

Tokyo Transit

In terms of general travel advice, if you're planning to take the trains a lot around Tokyo (3-4 rides in a day or more), Metro/Toei lines have a joint Tokyo Subway pass for visitors which offers the best value at 3-days of unlimited rides on both systems for only 1500yen.  These can be picked up at the airport travel and tourist office or in a small variety of stores scattered throughout Japan.  Metro also has a tourist-only 2-day pass ( that you can buy at the airports and ONLY at the airports. They're 980yen each, but gives you unlimited rides on the Metro lines for 2 days which is fantastic if you're going back and forth across the city. Also, the Metro Fukutoshin line is practically a shopper's dream since it goes right through Shibuya, Meiji Jingumae (aka Harajuku), Shinjuku Sanchome (closest stn to Marui Annex) and Ikebukuro. That's both lolita mecha's in Tokyo plus 3 Closet Childs along a short stretch of subway. The JR Yamanote line runs pretty much parallel along this section of its route, but if you're going to be getting on and off at each stop thoughout the day (you'll need 4 rides per day to make the pass worthwhile with these short rides or 3 rides per day if part of your commute includes going across town), you'll save more money with the one of the special tourist subway passes. I usually plan days with a lot of travel together so that I know how many of these passes I need to get and we just take whichever line is more convenient and buy loose tickets on low travel days.

If you're not taking the train so much, purchasing a discount Suica card would be very handy.  This is similar to the Octopus card in Hong Kong (slightly like GTA's Presto), so you can also use it at certain stores that display one of many Suica symbols.  These cards carry a balance, so you slowly diminish your balance each time you swipe in at a station.  Don't put too much money on it at once as the passes are not tethered to your ID, which means if you lose it, any balance you have on it is lost as well.  Suica does have other benefits though, such as being usable on almost all of the Tokyo local trains as well as local trains in some other regions.

In either case, if you're flying in through Narita, I recommend getting your local transit pass in a discount bundle with your airport -> Tokyo airport express train tickets.  Either transit has a partner airport train. Keisei Skyliner tickets can be bought either at a relatively non-descript info booth on the ground level of arrivals, or at the above ticket booth on B1F on the way to the tracks.
Metro + Skyliner: (the metro 2-day pass info is here as well as Skyliner bundle info)
Suica + N'EX:

Pasmo is similar to Suica, but it doesn't have a partner airport express, though it functions just like it in almost every other way.

The two main transit systems in Tokyo are the Metro and JR.  Metro has a complex network of lines snaking all around the city while JR is one big loop.  Most transit maps will have all the different systems listed on them.  When you're planning your travel, take into consideration how many transfers you have to make.  Transfers can get time consuming as many stations are HUGE and you may have to walk from one end to the other to catch the next leg of your trip.  We once spent almost 30mins walking the full length of Tokyo Stn because we failed to take this into consideration.  When possible, DON'T transfer at major stations.  If you have multiple spots along your travel that you can transfer trains at, go with the smaller stations and it will save you a lot of time.  For example, if you're traveling between Asakusa and Shinjuku on the Metro, you can transfer at Tokyo Stn or at Akasaka-Mitsuke Stn.  Picking the latter will save you at least 15mins of walking through the station...


Shopping Basics

There are really only a few phrases you need to get a lot of shopping done. A standard transaction for me usually only requires the following.
Excuse me = sumimasen
How much is this = ikura desu ka?
Let me see that/can I see that = sore o misete kudasai
This, please/I want to buy this = kore kudasai
Thank you = arigatou gozaimasu


You may also wish to learn some numbers.  Most people won't need to buy a huge number of anything, so you can probably get by with only learning the low numbers (if you need to buy more of something, you can always hold up fingers...see the next bit).


Counting Numbers


0 / *zerozero / ゼロ
1ichiichi / いちhitotsu
2nini, ji / に, じfutatsu
3sansan / さんmittsu
4yonshi / しyottsu
5gogo / ごitsutsu
6rokuroku / ろくmuttsu
7nanashichi / しちnanatsu
8hachihachi / はちyattsu
9kyūkyū, ku / きゅう, くkokonotsu
10jū / じゅう

Use counting numbers when you're referring to something that is labelled by the number, like "track 6" or "row 3".  Use the objects column when you're asking for multiples of one item.  For example, if 3 people want the same thing for dinner, point to the item and ask for "mittsu o kudasai" (3 of this please).  If you're really confused, just use counting numbers or your fingers.  They'll understand well enough.

When you need to use your fingers to indicate a number, if you go over 5, instead of holding up both hands palm out like you would here, the first hand is held up palm out to indicate the first count of 5 and the fingers of the other hand is held against the palm of the first hand for the additional numbers.  Luckily, someone on the internet already made a visual demonstration of the difference.

Plus a lot of bowing (just give your head a good nod for every day generic bowing).  When in doubt, "sumimasen" and a bow will cover you for almost any occasion.

Tax is 5%, to be raised to 8% on April 1, 2014.  It's usually included in the listed price on goods, so if you see 2 numbers on a price tag, they're usually the pre and post tax amounts.  If there's only 1 number, that's most likely the price with tax already included.  Most goods are also priced right on the original product tag instead of a separate price tag stuck on by the individual merchant.  It's usually in tiny font in a little box listed alongside all the product info on the tag.  I'm not sure how merchants are going to handle the tax hike, but it's possible that many of them will actually put on price stickers that reflect the new tax rate so that they don't have to eat the 3% difference.

When you buy something, there's usually a little flat tray beside the cash register (pictured above).  On rare occasions, it'll be attached directly to the cash register so the staff can just brush all the change directly into a money counter instead of counting it manually. Put your money or credit card in that and the staff will return your change in that as well.  Don't count your change.  This is usually considered rude, but don't worry, stereotypes of Asians being good at math aren't entirely unfounded.  In addition to the usual shopping bag, stores will seal the bag using a strip of tape.  When they finish bagging up your stuff, some shops will have the shop staff walk you to the entrance before giving you the bag. If they gesture towards the door or don't hand you the bag over the counter, this usually indicates that they'll walk you out and hand you the bag at the entrance.

If you buy stuff at regular price, a lot of shops have point cards. If you're doing a fair amount of shopping, ask for one. Just use the Romanized Japanese pronunciation "pointo cado" to refer to it. Once you have one, when you purchase stuff, just put down the point card with your money/credit card in the tray when you pay. Many of the lolita brands and Closet Child have point cards. In particular, I find the CC ones fill up real fast since you can find some real treasures (I went through 3 cards in 2 weeks...).

Some useful store types:

Dollar stores (Hyaku-en) - There are a number of them (Daiso, Seria, Can Do, etc), but nearly all of them will have "100円" on the sign just like how dollar stores here often have "$1" on them.  There are also not-a-dollar dollar stores.  The most popular one is 3 Coin which usually has 3 coins on their sign.  Items are usually 315yen (300+tax) here, but they do carry some very nice items.  The most impressive of the dollar stores is the massive 4 story Daiso in Harajuku.  Right by the entrance to Takeshita Dori, it's a prime spot to drop off friends while shopaholics hit up all the punk and lolita stores nearby.

Second hand stores - There are 2nd hand stores for practically EVERYTHING.  You can find designer clothing (Ragtag is a pretty popular chain for high end, Closet Child is the gothic and lolita mecha), used books (Book Off's are almost as common as book stores and Mandarake usually has entire floors dedicated to yaoi doujinshi alone...), used toys and collectibles (plz see Nakano and Akiba...too many to summarize).  Not everything will be dirt cheap, but if you look around, many items are.  Don't expect these goods to be in pristine condition and if you are looking for rare collectibles in tip top condition, you may very well wind up paying more than the original retail price.  This said, if you look hard enough, you can find almost ANYTHING.
(Left: Closet Child, Tokyo's holy grail store of 2nd hand gothic and lolita clothing; right: One of many 2nd hand anime collectible stores that can be found in Akiba, Ikebukuro and Nakano)

Convenience stores (konbini) - 3 major chains rule Japan.  Lawson, Family Mart and 7-11 are EVERYWHERE.  I'm not kidding.  They are probably the most common stores of any kind and you can't walk a few minutes in the big city without running into one.  They are open 24/7 and offer a wide variety of drinks (including alcohol), food (ready to eat), snacks, basic living necessities and even limited collectibles.  The prices are a little higher than going to a super market like the Seiyu chain (that I keep mentioning), but there's a limited difference, so if you don't have a Seiyu nearby, this is your best bet for some cheap, fast and convenient food.  Unlike the convenience stores in North America, all the hot food by the cash registers are very edible and certain items are almost addictive.  If anyone's feeling unwell, they offer oden (a variety of meats and sides slow cooked in light broth) all year round.

(Lawson x Attack on Titan snacks and event goods)

ATM's - Not a store, but ATM's are important as you never know if you're going to find yourself spending more than you originally budgeted and want to get some more cash.  7-11 is also home to Diamond Plus and Cirrus friendly ATMs.  JapanPost is another place you can find foreign card friendly ATM's.  You can use your debit/checking card from home to withdraw yen at what is indisputably a better rate than you can find at home.  Recommended that you pull the maximum withdraw amount that your limit will allow each trip as most debits will charge a usage fee per use (usually $5 per use), so unless your account has a special no-usage fee deal, don't make multiple withdraws of small amounts or you'll end up losing out by handing over a bundle of fees to your bank.  You must withdraw in multiples of 10,000yen as this is the only bill the machines carry.
(7-11 ATM)

Gaming Arcades - This is my guide...are you surprised that this is in here?  Gaming arcades in Japan are nothing like what you'd find in the west.  They are often located on prime plots of land and contain many floors of all of the latest arcade games, UFO catcher prizes and purikura machines.  UFO catcher machines are usually located between B1 to 2F and the entire ground floor and shop front is usually covered in them.  Arcades often have tables of tethered plushies out front that you can touch and squish.  These are samples of prizes that you can win inside and are meant to lure you in.  Above UFO catchers are the amazing assortment of arcade games.  Everything from rhythm games to fighting games to Gundam pods.  Finally, perched at the very top floors you usually find the purikura machines (decorated photo stickers).  Not all arcades are built equal, but when you visit the largest ones, they'll not only offer an assortment of machines, but often have free costume rental and change rooms/make up areas so you can primp and make yourself pretty first.  Compared to regular photography, this primping is optional as the purikura machines have special settings that will automatically lighten and brighten your skin, make your complexion flawless and enlarge your eyes.  Ideals of Asian beauty can sometimes have terrifying effects on unsuspecting foreigners...

(I really really like UFO catchers...)
Japan 235a
(My friends and I...including one who was not aware of what those "beautifying effects" set for Asian women would do to his white boy face)

Department Store Basement Gormet Food Halls (depachika) - If you're travelling in a group and can't seem to decide on a single restaurant that everyone wants to eat at, if you're near a major department store (ie. Seibu, Tobu, etc), it might be worthwhile getting some take away instead.  Food courts are usually thought of as pretty low class in the west, but these department store food halls are stylish, diverse and extremely tasty.  You can find anything from local specialties to guilty pleasures to top notch gormet classics.  Desserts are usually seperated into their own area on one end and raw ingredients (raw meat, fish, veggies, etc) on the other end with a wide assortment of ready-to-eat take away offerings in between.  The prices lie somewhere between convenience store and restaurant prices and you'll find many people buying dishes to take home for dinner after a long day at work.  Each section is a separate stall/shop and you have to pay for each item at their own register.  There are usually stall staff right close by who will be happy to take your selected items from you, ring them up and package them up for you.  In the evening (near the end of rush hour, ~7pm), many shops will discount the remaining food items to clear them out before the end of the day.  The discounts will usually range between 10-30% although you can sometimes find items marked down by 50%.  A standard meal (at full price) will usually range around 600-1200yen.  At end of day, you can always buy an assortment of dishes with your group and all share them family style so everyone can try each dish.


Now for some food porn.

(One of my goals for my New Years trip was to try "osechi" which is the traditional food for the first 3 days of the new year.  They're usually ordered far in advance in sets large enough for an entire family and can be extremely costly.  Depachika was the only place I found individual meal size portions during our trip.)

(Sooooo much food)

Restaurants (overview) - Restaurants in Japan usually take cash only.  Most will either have a menu posted out front or have a full display of fake foods with names of the dishes and prices.  If you are going into an unfamiliar restaurant, review these first to make sure that they offer a meal you will want before going in; otherwise, you may find yourself facing a menu with only Japanese text or worse, a limited menu of items different from what you want to eat.  If you cannot figure out what items on a text-only menu match your desired meal from the display window, you can copy down the name of the meal from the display on a piece of paper or take a picture of the tag on your phone and show it to the staff or use that to find the item on the menu.  Unlike restaurants in the west, you do not settle the bill at the table and instead, the wait staff will give you the bill at the table and you are then expected to settle the bill at the cash register on your way out.  Tipping is not done in Japan, so the change you receive, you can pocket.  If you wish to show your gratitude, thank the staff for the meal on the way out.

Conveyor Belt Sushi - You can usually estimate how expensive each restaurant is taking a peak at the price of their cheapest dish.  If the cheapest is at or under 120yen, the entire restaurant is usually pretty cheaply priced and most people can enjoy a filling meal for about 1000yen (~$10US).  If it's more than that, you're likely going to be looking at about 1500-2000yen (~$15-20US) for the meal.  Most are relatively small establishments with the sushi chefs in the center, surrounded by the conveyor belt that carry the dishes of food around and finally surrounded by a round of bar stool like seats along a counter flanking the conveyor belt.  During meal hours, the conveyor belt will usually be filled with continuous streams of food, but during off hours it can often be mostly empty, decorated with only a couple of plates of food of questionable vintage.  During these times, it's best to just order direct from the chef and staff.  All you have to do is get their attention with an excuse me (sumimasen) and then list what you would like.  Order sushi directly from the chef and order other cooked items (that would need to come from the kitchen in the back) from other staff.  The plates that everything come on are colour coded to denote the cost of that food item.  Tea, sauces and utensils are self-serve.  There are stacks of cup and sauce containers lining the counter that customers sit at.  You may need to reach in front of someone else to grab your cup, sauce and utensils.  Along side the cups you'll find little containers containing the green matcha powder which you can spoon into your cup and then fill with hot water at the tab on the counter.  The tap works by pushing the flat circular knob with your tea cup.  Don't use your hands as the water is extremely hot and you can burn yourself.  When you are finished with your meal, call the staff over. They will count the number of plates of each colour and give you a bill listing the number and colour of plates.  This is your final "bill" that should be settled at the register.

Vending Machine Restaurants - These can be entertaining or an absolute headache to deal with, these are essentially pre-pay meals.  If you cannot read Japanese, take a peak to see if the machine has pictures or English on them before you enter.  Sometimes you'll find a touch screen menu with coin slots in place of the traditional machine covered with light up buttons.  In either case, once you decide the meal you wish to have, deposit the money into the machine to make the options selectable and make your selection.  These machines usually work similar to snack machines in the west so you can't select your treat or beverage until you have put enough money into the machine to cover the cost of that treat/beverage.  The machine will provide any change along with a ticket(s) with your selected meal listed.  You give this to the staff in the kitchen directly.  They will make your food and place the tray on the pick up counter (which is usually at the opposite end of where you hand over your ticket).  Drinks (usually tea and or water) are usually self-serve and near the kitchen.  Utensils and extra sauce are usually located at your table.  Similar to cafeterias, when you finish eating, you take your tray with all your trash and dishes to a drop off spot (again, usually by the kitchen) and you should clean up your table before leaving.  If there is no drop off spot for dishes and trays and there are wait staff in the restaurant, you may not need to clear your table.  It generally depends on how large the restaurant is.  Smaller ones usually do not employ enough wait staff for them to also manage clearing tables between customers, but larger establishments/chains may have a number of wait staff and they take care of delivering the ticket to the kitchen, bringing you the purchased meal and cleaning up afterwards.
(Even fast food in Japan can be pretty fantastic.)

High End Restaurants - Don't.  That's really about it unless you know exactly what you're doing.  These places aren't just like going to The Keg where the meals might run you $30 instead of $10.  These restaurants will sometimes run you hundreds of dollars for a single person's meal.  If you want to try some high end dining, try going for lunch instead.  Many will offer lunch specials for workers in surrounding businesses and these are often posted right out front.  Double check this menu to make sure that they're within an acceptable price range before setting foot inside.  They usually won't offer a huge variety for lunch, but they are none-the-less top notch in preparation and tastiness.
(These lunch sets were around 1000-1200yen and my chirashidon (sushi rice topped with assorted sashimi) had some of the best and freshest seafood that I've ever had.)

Clothing Stores - A note on clothing try-on etiquette in Japan.  Please ask the staff before you try anything on.  It's almost never a "self-serve" situation.  They will hold the clothing for you until you are in the change room.  The change room is usually carpeted and often on a slightly raised platform.  You should take your shoes off before entering just as you would in an Asian home.  Once inside, they will usually show you a basket and a box of what looks like tissue paper.  The basket is for you to place your own clothing in while you try items on and the tissue paper is actually a uh...sack for your head.  You wear it with the long side on your face.  This is to prevent any make-up you may be wearing from transferring onto the clothing when you put them on overhead.  They're actually quite handy (and they're disposable, so you can take it with you if you wish).  Lolita stores will also usually provide a petticoat or two.  If there are more than one, they're usually different levels of poof or shape (ie. one A-line and one bell shaped).  This way, you know what the dress/skirt looks like when it's fluffed out and not just hanging flat.  Be sure to put the petticoat back when you're done.

Area guide and summary is now available as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment