|Flying laser kitty visits Japan. Via.|
When Japan Society announced it would give away a trip to Tokyo as part of the spring membership drive, the rush of entries was incredible. After processing over 4,000 applications, a winner was chosen today at random [right column], and the lucky Nina Hazen will receive round-trip tickets for two courtesy of United Airlines and three nights in a deluxe suite at The Capitol Hotel Tokyu.
For the first-time traveler—a person who may never have dreamed of going to Japan—how does one prepare to go to Tokyo?
Help abounds online. Tokyo’s official tourism site has some amazing resources on visiting the city, and the national tourism site covers the country as a whole equally well.
For hip goings on each week, Time Out Tokyo lists everything from the local music scene to the latest restaurants and gallery openings. CNNGo’s comprehensive Tokyo Insiders Guide explores the best eats (Japan leads the world with the most Michelin 3-star restaurants) and attractions, including the top five museums. The site also humorously (and mostly helpfully) lists the “50 reasons Tokyo is the world's greatest city”. Lonely Planet highlights which seasons are the best times to visit, and Fodors has some helpful cost saving tips.
Sometimes important-yet-culturally-subtle travel tips are missing from mainstream guides, so we asked Japan Society staff members what their top tips are for first-time Tokyo goers:
✈ You’ll find ATMs everywhere, but they may not accept foreign bank cards. Be sure you take some Yen with you, so you do not have trouble getting cash right away. If you're in a pinch, look for ATMs with the U.S. postal logo. They accept American bank cards and there is usually no fee beyond the regular bank transaction fee. Also, don’t spend all your money on vending machine and conbini (convenience store) drinks. You will find yourself out of cash sooner than you think.
✈ Bring lots of new and clean socks! It is customary in Japan to remove shoes when entering a room, but there are not always slippers available.
✈ Even though you may not be visiting for business purposes, bring a bunch of business cards. Everyone you meet will want to exchange cards, even if they know they will never see you again.
✈ Don’t forget a hand towel and pocket packs of facial tissues. Japan is a famously clean country, but most public restrooms don’t have paper towels or toilet paper. Everyone in Japan knows to bring supplies when out and about, but this tip doesn’t often make it into the guide books. In shopping areas, you will probably find people handing out promotional tissues with advertisements on them. Take them!
✈ There is no need to bring pajamas because whether you are staying at a traditional inn (ryokan) or a commercial hotel, the room will come with yukata (thin, comfortable kimono-style robe) for men and women to wear when getting ready for bed.
✈ Likewise, you don’t have to bring your toothbrush or toothpaste. Hotels, no matter if ritzy or more economic, always provide these for free.
✈ When shopping, try to make it to the depāto (department store) basement, which is filled with luxurious food vendors. Be sure to try fresh fruit in Japan. It is über expensive, but super delicious. And pick up some Japanese Kit Kats. There are over 200 different exotic flavors to try from cantaloupe to ginger ale to wasabi.
✈ While Tokyo is typically the prime destination in Japan, visit other cities to get a better sense of the country. Consider a daytrip to Kyoto, which is steeped in Japanese history; Osaka, a mecca for street food; or Hakone, known for their onsen (hot springs).
✈ Other daytrips can include a spectacularly beautiful mountain hike at Takao-san (an hour away from Shinjuku station on the Keio line) with endless mountain staircases for hardcore hikers and easier paved paths for casual walkers; the Indian cuisine in the Waseda/Takadanobaba area is a must—try the restaurant Daruma for its to-die-for nan and happy atmosphere; or take a trip on the Arakawa line—the last remaining street car in Tokyo.
Finally, Japan Society President, Motoatsu Sakurai says:
Take an enthusiasm to experience an incredibly vibrant and engaging culture. In addition to the sights of Japan, be open to meeting the people and sharing stories. This is especially true after the tsunami and earthquake that devastated the northeast coast last year. People are very thankful for the thoughts and generous support from America and people around the world and want to share their thanks. For this very reason, visiting Japan is one of the best ways to help it recover.Ambassador Sakurai also notes, “Just as important as what people take to Japan is what people bring back. In addition to an experience unlike any other, I also recommend bringing back Pocky. Anyone who knows me knows it has been a good meeting when I share Pocky from my most recent trip to Japan.”