Each place I’ve visited around the globe holds its own charm as it does its unique challenges. For the longest time, the family and I have been in Japan only for stopovers enroute to our US trips. Last December , however, I decided to make Tokyo our destination rather than our layover. Here are 5 things every tourist must know during his first time in Tokyo.
1.SECURE A VISA – Yes, Fiipinos still need to apply for a visa to enter Japan. You have a greater chance of getting one if you have had previous travels abroad. We (family of two adults and two kids ages 11 and 3) were lucky to get five year visas to Japan. No appearances. No interviews.
2.DO YOUR RESEARCH – What places would you like to visit? The tourist agency that was arranging our accommodations included castles and temples to our schedule. I declined that suggestion and searched the web for places that the family would be more interested to see such as GUNDAM FRONT TOKYO (See my earlier blog on this http://thebusyqueenp.com/gundam-front-tokyo-a-showroom-of-real-steel/) a large showroom of Japanese robots and SANRIO PURO LAND (Hello Kitty Theme Park). Of course, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySEA were number 1 and 2 on the list. I will write about these places next.
3. CHOOSE THE RIGHT TIME FOR YOUR TRIP / CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST – Unfortunately for us, I only checked the weather two days before the trip. I swear, TOKYO IN DECEMBER turned out to be the COLDEST place we have EVER visited! And since we were OUT IN THE DISNEY PARKS, the freezing weather really took its toll and the kids got sick.
I spoke to another family who chose to visit Osaka last December and they encountered the same problems. Being out in the cold and returning to thick carpeted hotels is the perfect formula for respiratory illnesses.
Added to this, please expect everything to be expensive if you visit Tokyo during Christmastime. So please book everything IN ADVANCE. Since we have young children, we stay in hotels during vacations. Hotel rates go as high up as quadruple the normal during this time. It’s ideal to visit during springtime.
4. LANGUAGE IS A PROBLEM – This to us , is probably the most surprising of all. We stayed in TOKYO BAY (where the Disney parks were located) and were billeted in GRANDE SHERATON. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that very few locals spoke English. Our location was a tourist destination and yet we had a difficult time asking for directions, ordering food IN the hotel and asking for our sizes in shopping malls.
I wish I took the time to learn a few helpful Japanese phrases.
5. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION CAN GET TRICKY – If you should choose to stay in the Tokyo Bay area, figuring out how the DISNEY monorailway works shouldn’t be a problem. There are only four stops and everything is in a loop.
The real challenge is riding the JR LINE (public monorail). There is a gigantic board filled with little multicolored lights and endless branches of stations. We tried it on our first night . We wanted to go to LALAPORT (the area’s biggest mall). A local girl helped us put money in the machine but it was horrific after that. NOBODY spoke English while we were waiting for the trains to arrive. We weren’t sure which one to take! After using sign language and resorting to charades, we finally reached our last stop. It turned out we had to walk a good fifteen more minutes in a dark underpass and then overpass to get to the mall. Don’t get me wrong, some people were friendly enough. They just couldn’t speak English.
We took a taxi to get back to the hotel (7500 YEN or about P2500 for one way 40 minute ride). Be warned, taking a cab is very expensive but it’s better than getting lost in the city with children in tow.
I hope I didn’t frighten you with this post. I’m just sharing my experience during my first visit. Tokyo is a beautiful city (as you will see in my upcoming articles) and we had a lot of fun during our stay. Next time, though, we know better and will be better prepared!
Shopping in Tokyo — up next on the blog!