Starting this article is super hard for me because all I can say after visiting Japan is “GO! Just drop everything and leave! It’s the best place ever!” However, naturally you’re going to want more details. If you haven’t yet read part one of The Quirky Black Girl’s Guide to Japan, you can find it here. For all of you that are caught up, you may still want to reference part one—because amazingly, everything that I mentioned WORKED! So as promised, here’s some more tips and experiences I learned while visiting my official favorite place in the world–don’t tell New York City I said that.
1. Packing and Flight
Packing was a little difficult. The weather in Japan during the months of May and June is similar to the East Coast but with a bit more rainfall. Layering was our best bet as Japan is also fond of air-conditioning in its buildings (especially in the city areas). Wearing a short-sleeve shirt paired with a light cardigan was perfect for me. As for footwear? Well, you’re most likely going to walk between 12,000 and 20,000 steps a day, so being comfortable is key! Sneakers for the tourist attractions during the day and cute sandals for Shibuya chillen’ at night!
QBG Tip #1: Mix and match your clothes! Make sure a shirt or pair of pants can go with more than just one thing. Also, roll your shirts and pants in your suitcase. It’ll save space!
The flight was surprisingly smooth. I’m not sure if it was the thrill of being on my first 747, the fact that I had unlimited access to great films for 13 hours or maybe it was that the food wasn’t half bad. We flew Delta and had no complaints. Though the flight was a bit cramped at times there are definite things you can do to make it more comfortable.
GBQ Tip #2: Wear comfy flight clothing! This isn’t a short flight by any means. I’m talking leggings and flats (easy to take off for TSA) with a loose-fitting shirt and some type of light jacket.
2. Air BnB, Hostels and Capsule Hotels
So in part one I explained how my best friend and I met in the middle as to where we wanted to bunk up. Our Air BnB was great! Our host was super nice and was at our call whenever we needed him for suggestions. However, when traveling with another person (or in general) always expect the unexpected. My best friend and I decided to leave Tokyo for a few days and head down to Kyoto and Osaka and guess what? Air BnBs aren’t as cheap in those parts of Japan and they’re actually a bit out of the way from attractions. Enter: K’s House Kyoto! This hostel was the best! Friendliest staff that not only spoke English and Japanese but also Spanish and French. They had tasty, made-to-order breakfast every morning and the CLEANEST hostel I’ve ever stayed in! To top it all off, it was only $24 a night.
Toward the end of our trip we also decided to check out a capsule hotel. These are primarily meant for businessmen or those with long layovers at the airport. Because the Narita airport was over an hour away from our Air BnB, we thought it wise to spend the night at the 9h Ninehours capsule hotel. Not the comfiest or the best price, but to wake up and not have to worry about getting to the airport on time–definitely worth it.
QBG Tip #3: Live in the moment but always think ahead! Waking up and already being in the airport saves stress, trust me.
Japan has ruined me for sushi. After arriving back in the States I didn’t have sushi for over a month. Japanese sushi is too good. The food in Japan is impeccable. It’s made with such care and you savor every bite. The biggest thing I noticed about food outside of restaurants was that even convenience stores had amazing quality. Every morning, my best friend and I would go to the Family Mart near our Air BnB and pick up some onigiri. As for morning caffeine? Well, Starbucks is legit everywhere but our preferred method was the vending machine! Japan has hot and cold vending machines so take your pick. You can get a full meal in some of them…or even socks. As far as other food goes–explore! You can find any and everything and one thing that you can count on is that it’s all fresh–even at McDonalds.
Japan Fun Fact: The soft drink, Dr. Pepper, has 23 ingredients in it’s American formula. In Japan it only has 20…makes you wonder what America is putting in our food…4. Language Barriers and Getting Around
I had been practicing some survival Japanese for two months before our trip but nothing compared to what happened once we landed: all the years of listening to J-Pop and watching subbed anime came flooding back to me. The strangest feeling while in Japan? Not having culture shock. I know, I know, that’s nuts! When we landed though something just felt right. As I said in Part One, I’ve been in love with everything about the country from a young age but I didn’t think getting around would be so easy. Don’t panic. In major cities like Tokyo, you’ll find a LOT of English. It’s written underneath Japanese on signs and on the subway things are said in Japanese first and then in English. People are also more inclined to converse in English too. The people of Japan enjoy the practice and also didn’t mind helping me with my Japanese.
QBG Tip #4: Effort is always appreciated. Learn some basic Japanese before going. Also, download the app, TripLingo. Thank me later.
As for transportation? BUY. A. JAPAN. RAIL. PASS. That had to be the best purchase we made in terms of preparation. With this pass we were able to get on to most of the subway lines. The Japanese subway system is very complex and it’s owned by different companies. There are private lines in which you will need an actual subway card that is pay-as-you-go. These are called Pasmo or Suica and can be purchased at any subway station. Don’t worry, the machines have an English option. Not only is the Japan Rail Pass good for the subway—it was also our to and from ticket on the Shinkansen, AKA: The Bullet Train. Thats right, with that pass you can be on a train going almost anywhere in the country. We used it to get to Kyoto and from Kyoto to Osaka, back to Kyoto and then back to Tokyo.
QBG Tip #5: Buy the Japan Rail Pass at your local travel agency or online BEFORE you leave for Japan. They’re not available once you arrive in Japan.
Ready to talk about budget? Well, looks like you’ll have to stay tuned for Part 3! I’ll breakdown just how much 10 days between 3 different cities in Japan cost and clue you in on some personal favorites and things I didn’t get the chance to do but you can!