Tips for the Modern Traveler in Japan

Monday, June 15th 2009 | Ismael Ghalimi

It’s 8pm local time, I just came back from a delicious teppanyaki dinner in Ebisu, and I am sitting on my hotel room’s balcony, on the 11th floor of the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo. From my MacBook Pro’s speakers, Gábor Szabó is playing The Sorcerer, and I am enjoying the cool breeze of an early rainy season. It’s my 16th trip to Japan, and over the years, I have learned a few things that might be useful to people traveling there for the first time, especially when traveling for business purposes.

Best affordable hotel in Tokyo
One of the best places to stay in Tokyo is the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo. At $150 a night, it offers amenities that places twice as expensive cannot match. The hotel greets visitors with a stunning view on an exquisite zen garden, and features one of the best Chinese restaurants in town. It’s also very conveniently located for easy access to most of Tokyo’s business distrists, and just ¥980 away from Shinagawa station, which is served by the Narita Express line.

Most convenient place to get cash
While Japan is a giant showroom for many modern technologies, from bullet trains to robotics, it remains an island, and its banking infrastructure is as modern as it is isolated. As a result, most ATM’s won’t dispense cash to foreign travelers, while many shops and restaurants won’t take any plastic as a form of payment. As a result, finding old-fashioned cash can quickly become a challenge. But don’t fret, for 7-Eleven’s local incarnation recently rolled-out a nationwide network of gaijin-friendly cash dispensers. Good news: a 7-Eleven convenience store is located just a block away from the aforementioned Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo.

Best alternative to cash
If you want to avoid cash altogether, you might want to try the ubiquitous Suica, which mascot Linux geeks will love at first sight. Suica is an RFID card that can be used in very many stores and cabs, especially in the Tokyo area. It can be purchased in many train stations (including the aforementioned Shinagawa station), and can be refilled using cash (drawn from a 7-Eleven ATM) or foreign credit cards (if you’re lucky).

Best 3G mobile Internet connection
Now that most Japanese mobile operators support 3G technology, your cellphone and 3G Internet access card should work in Japan, but be careful: one week of careless surfing might cost you a couple thousand dollars in roaming fees. If you’re planning to visit Japan on a regular basis, a local Internet access card is de rigueur. In the Tokyo area, the best mobile Internet operator is EMOBILE. To open an account, just bring a Japanese friend with you as a translator, and enjoy broadband connectivity in the underground and on the long ride back to Narita (one hour away from Tokyo).

Most relaxing activity
If time permits, join a tea ceremony, you won’t regret it.


Entry filed under: Office 2.0

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