October 13th, 2015


Japan travel, part II: other generalities, and things and stuff in Tokyo

I'm writing this with the assumption that y'all've already (or will soon) read one of the standard travel guides; my listing of stuff here is mostly to highlight niche interests or things that might otherwise be overlooked by more mainstream guides. It's almost entirely about Tokyo because, well, that's what I'm familiar with.

Bits I forgot from part I:

  • mobile phones and data service

    • Japan's mobile phone environment used to be extra-unique, but is now only mostly unique, on par in terms of idiosyncracy as the US. In particular, the frequencies and protocols used are somewhat non-standard; 3G GSM is somewhat available now, however. See http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Japan for some of the details (which look reasonably accurate, but which I haven't verified.)

    • T-Mobile (at least for US subscribers) has free data, although coverage can be extremely spotty, and can be rather slow.

    • You will probably not be able to purchase a pay-as-you-go voice SIM card. You can rent a voice SIM (and a phone if yours doesn't support the local frequencies) for usurious prices at the airport.

    • That wikia link above mentions several "buy a temporary data SIM" vendors; I haven't used any of them myself.

  • Toiletries, laundry, and other miscellaneous supplies

    • Generally speaking, you'll want to hit up either a drugstore (くすり/薬, "kusuri") or a 100円 shop rather than a grocery store for things like deodorant or soap or towels. The hundred-yen shops are usually pretty decent, with a wide variety of goods, and the quality of items there ain't bad. The collapsable laundry bags I find to be particularly useful; I also like having my own towel (and a spare or three.)

    • If you're going to do laundry, keep in mind that most Japanese folk air-dry their laundry rather than using a dryer. Most of the cheaper foreigner-catering hotels do have coin-operated washers and dryers around somewhere.

Online resources for Things and Stuff:Nerdery

  • There are two main centers of nerd activity: Akihabara and Nakano Broadway; Ikebukuro is a secondary center.

  • Akihabara (秋葉原, aka "Akiba") is the epicenter of old school "otaku" culture. It has most of the maid cafes and figure shops and tall buildings and trading cards, and one of the largest branches of Mandarake (the comic/book/figure store) is there. It's where the women dressed in maid outfits hand out packages of tissues exhorting you to go to their cafes. It's also home to a lot of the electrical and electronics parts stores, although that's fading. The northern section of Akiba west of the main road has some used laptop stores that are worth looking at if you're curious in computers that never made it to the West.

  • Nakano Broadway, on the other hand, is a single building of concentrated fandom. I particularly recommend the bookstore Taco Che on the third floor; there are also a couple of shops that sell original animation cels.

  • Ikebukuro is home to Ototome dôri (乙女通り, "Maiden road"), where a lot of the otaku shops catering to girls' manga and BL and whatnot are; if you enter a manga shop and are stunned by acres of pink on the book spines, you've found this. There are also some other hobby shops and whatnot scattered around Ikebukuro, but not nearly to the extent of Akiba.

  • If you want to hit up the Studo Ghibli Museum (which I highly recommend; been there four or five times thus far), be aware that you have to get tickets in advance. You can attempt to order from the overseas vendors (JTB, usually), or once in Japan you can hit up a ticket machine in a Lawson convenience store. If you get your ticket through JTB, it's twice as expensive and is tied to your passport - but you can also enter at any time during the day. The Lawson machines don't have any English (and can thus be difficult to use), and the tickets they provide require you arrive during (or after) your time window; the main downside to buying via Lawson is that museum admissions can sell out. If you do decide to go, I recommend going to Kichijoji, walking through Inokashira park, and ending up at the musem - then taking the Totoro bus back to Mitaka staiton. (The walk to Mitaka station from the museum is pretty dull.)

Books, Art, Art Supplies, and Toys

  • Village Vanguard has all sorts of amusing stuff; the place is jam-packed with books and trinkets and whatnot. Multiple locations, but I recommend the ones in Koenji and Shimokitazawa in particular.

  • If you like pens, pencils, or art supplies in general, Tokyo is a wonderland. My favorite art supply place is Sekaido in Shinjuku (東京都新宿区新宿3-1-1 to be exact) - six floors!

  • Similarly, Tokyû Hands has a quite good office supply section, as well as craft supplies, toys, and all sorts of other things. The main difference between the Shibuya and Ikebukuro locations is that Ikebukuro's has "nekobukuro", a cat cafe on the top floor where you can pet cats for a couple of hundred yen per hour.

  • The two main toy stores in Tokyo are Kiddy Land in Harajuku, and Hakuhinkan Toy Park in Ginza; the former has more sorts of kitschy Hello Kitty and action figures and whatnot; the latter has an excellent selection of jigsaw puzzles, games, and stuffed animals.

  • Design Festa Gallery in Harajuku is a nice constantly-changing gallery; most of the things there are outsiderish-art or doujin-ish rather than high fine art. If you're in the neighborhood, worth a look.

  • For bizarro and sometimes NSFW High Fine Art, Vanilla Gallery in Ginza has a selection that rotates every few weeks. (Link can also be NSFW.)

Areas to wander around in, and other miscellany

  • Shimokitazawa is home to tiny boutiques, lots of small clubs with live music, and general funkiness. It's much more laid back than Shibuya.

  • Kichijoji is home to Inokashira park (with a zoo, a lake with paddle boats, etc) and olde-school shops. It's also home to my favorite death-themed izakaya with rubber spiders that drop from the ceiling, Yurei. I don't think they speak any English there.

  • Asakusa has Senso-ji, the Big Honking Temple that's practically de rigeur; however, the historical district south of the temple is worth a looksie (and the numerous monja places are worth a stop and a bite, too; they're at least somewhat used to tourists and often speak at least a little English.) West of Senso-ji is Kappabashidori, the restaurant supply area, and home to the giant chef head, plastic food stores, and quite a lot of nice ceramics shops and knife shops.

  • Ebisu is home to a metric ton of ramen places; my favorite is AFURI, but pretty much all the other ones around are good as well.