31 May, 2016

Tokyo Travel Tips part 2

  • BRING YOUR PASSPORT! Japan is very generous with tax-free shopping. You can get an immediate 8% (ok it's really 1/1.08) discount at most shops after spending ¥5000. They'll staple the receipt to your passport. IN THEORY you have to show the goods at the airport and can't use them in Japan. In practice, at the airport after the security check and before immigration (so after checking in your luggage), they just took the receipts from our passports and didn't even check the receipts.
  • You'll notice many shops span many floors. At first this sounds huge. For instance, Itoya, a stationery store in Ginza, spans something like 9 + 6 floors over 2 buildings. But the area of each floor is tiny. Yeah they have lots of tiny, not interconnected buildings. For instance, Bic Camera in Shibuya is separated into 2 narrow "buildings" A and B that are side by side but you can't cross between them above the 3rd floor. They're something like 7 floors high. One building, occupied by one shop, split into 2 narrow, tall... stacks?

  • There usually isn't any toilet on the first floor. Ok most places around the world are like that. Toilets might only start on the 4th floor. But the odd thing is they usually only have toilets for one sex on each floor. So 4th floor might be female, then 5th floor is male. Oh and all their toilet paper is 1-ply. The only 2-ply I saw was on the plane. Yet they have bidets and heated toilet seats. Some even play privacy music.
  • They say it's rude to rub your chopsticks to get rid of splinters in Japan. Too bad, because most of the chopsticks I used weren't that good, they had lots of splinters.
  • I thought Japan was pretty environmentally friendly, but they must use as much plastic bags as Singapore. Some shops will wrap your goods in a smaller plastic bag before putting them in another one, which is cute and polite and great for gifts, but wasteful.
  • Many shops are already in Singapore: Uniqlo, Muji, Ootoya, Watami, Ippudo etc. which takes out a bit of shine from traveling. For Muji, I couldn't find any differences in their stationery and cosmetics/toiletries. Maybe they sell more clothes / household / bigger items in Japan. The good news is if you miss Tokyo or want to buy more stuff later, you can get your fix in Singapore.

Ok I'll say it: their train system is a mess. It's reliable and accessible, but also indecipherable. At first you'll think, "Wow, each train line has an alphabet and colour, how organised!" Haha nope, that's only for the Toei and Tokyo Metro network. There's also the JR lines. Speaking of Toei and Tokyo Metro, if you use their app to search for directions, they'll only use their network, even if other networks have shorter and direct routes.
This is probably wrong, but I feel JR does more long-distance stuff, probably because they run the Narita Express from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station. Then again, they also run the Yamanote Line, "one of Tokyo's busiest and most important lines".

I still haven't figured it out. My only advice I can give is get mobile Internet access and be prepared to use maps. Oh and the major stations have people who can speak simple English so you can ask for help.
Oh and if you're planning routes, Google Maps seems to be better since it calculates using all the rail networks.
If you have to transfer, lines in the same station may be far apart, so be prepared if you're carrying something.
Stations have multiple exits. I haven't found guides that tell you which exit to use, but if you know the direction (compass or road name), you can read the maps in the stations.

For example, this is Akihabara Station, according to Google Maps. But this is only the JR part, if you want to take the Hibiya line by Tokyo Metro, the entrance is difficult to find and not on the map.
  • The good news is there are toilets in all the train stations I visited, and they were surprisingly clean. Some of them are right on the platform!

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