3 Weeks in Tokyo

So here’s a guest blog from a friend who spent 3 weeks in Japan. Here he talks about common misconceptions and what to do whilst you’re there….

Common misconceptions about Japan

For as long as I can remember I have loved Japan. When I was a teenager I discovered that my favourite things throughout my life, from video games to TV shows were linked in some way to Japan and the more I learnt about the country the more I fell in love with it. It’s very hard to explain what it is I find so endearing because there is so much to like about it. The food, the people, the music, the architecture, the language, the history, the list goes on.
I visited Tokyo for the first time in 2012. As a birthday present to myself I paid to go over and have my 21st birthday in Japan and it was an incredible experience. This year I went again for a longer period of time but I did things differently. I paid for a hotel in Tokyo for three weeks but I also got a three-week railpass which allowed me to travel anywhere in the country using the bullet trains. So I went to up and down the country to places like Osaka, Kyoto, Hokkaido and many others.
But when I tell people about my trip there are some questions or comments that always come up and I have noticed that there are some misconceptions about the country that I would like to address. So since Kerrie has given me this opportunity I will write about them here.

The people are incredibly friendly.

A common question I get asked is “How do you communicate with people?” I’ve learnt a little Japanese so I can ask basic things like how to get places, how to introduce myself and I know how to order things at bars/ restaurants. But a lot of Japanese people around the age of 35 and under know basic English.  If you try to speak the language, even a tiny bit the people appreciate it immensely and will go out of their way to help.

One of the greatest experiences I had this year in Japan was just going to a local bar. On my latest trip I stayed in an area called Okubo on the outskirts of Shinjuku, not too many tourists go there so it has a very local feel to it. The bars there are so small they only fit eight seats and they don’t get tourists often, because of this they are elated to have new people come in. I made a number of friends from visiting the bar, and I am someone who avoids going to pubs back home as much as possible.

Just make conversation with someone at a bar, try out some phrases from a book and you will see just how friendly the people are.

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“Don’t they all eat sushi?”

This is probably the most common thing people say to me and it is untrue. Yes people so eat sushi but it is not as popular as you would think. The most popular food in Japan is Ramen, noodles served in a broth with vegetables and meat. But that is only a basic idea of what it is, ramen comes in hundreds of different ways and every restaurant has their own speciality.

The food is so popular there is a museum dedicated to it and magazines, yes, plural.
I know what you’re thinking: “Aren’t those packs of noodles you get form a supermarket ramen?” That’s insulting to ramen. Real ramen is great and not even Wagamama can do it justice, and I enjoy wagamama every now and then.
I’ll leave this video by TokyoCooney here as he can do as it sums up my feelings towards it perfectly.

Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mU7D0wU6ag

 It is a lot cheaper than you would think.

With Tokyo being an ‘Alpha City’ you would expect everything to be overpriced, like it is in other alpha cities like Los Angeles or New York. The truth is if you eat where the locals eat and drink what the locals drink you will spend far less than you expect.

This is because of two things: 1. People’s flats in Tokyo are so small that they don’t have full kitchens and 2. People work so much that they don’t have the time to cook. These two reasons are why the vast majority of people eat out every day. With 4,000 Ramen restaurants in Tokyo alone as well as sushi, curry and chain restaurants there are countless options competing for business.

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The picture above is of a typical Chicken Katsu Curry which cost me 580 yen, that’s £3.11! It also came with free green tea, that was from a small shop in Shinjuku, one of the busiest areas in the city and it wasn’t a chain restaurant. Imagine going to a small family run place where you live and paying just over £3 for a full meal

Getting around Tokyo is easy

Ask me how to get anywhere in London and I would not be able to tell you, I would have to look it up online and it would probably take me a good 10-15 minutes. However, if you asked me how to get to anywhere in Tokyo I could tell you which rail line goes through or if not I could look it up in less than half the time it would take me to check something in London.

Finding your way to a district of Tokyo is so simple, especially if you are looking for the major stations. This is because there is a railway loop around the city called the Yamanote Line (Pronounced: Ya-ma-no-tey) that goes to the majority of these major areas such as Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ueno.
Simply put, if there is somewhere you want to go it is more often than not going to involve using the Yamanote line.

What do you do in Tokyo for three weeks?

I have been to Tokyo twice, once for two week and once for three weeks and there are still a ton of things I haven’t seen or done yet because there is just so much to do.  To make this a bit easier I will just write a short list of the things that come to mind:

  • Eat Japanese food
  • Karaoke
  • Visit Temples
  • Arcades
  • Ride the Shinkansen (Bullet train)
  • See Ukiyo-e (Traditional Japanese paintings)
  • Visit Akihabara
  • Shopping in Shibuya
  • Visit local bars
  • See the countryside

So there you have it, a quick and easy guide to navigating your way round Japan. Thanks Aiden!

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