Itinerary and other angst about my trip to Japan
March 6, 2010 3:53 PM   Subscribe

We're going to Japan for a week, in three weeks. I'm very nervous about a bunch of stuff.

Most of my angst concerns local travel in Tokyo and getting from Narita Airport to Tokyo. If I could get some questions answered it would help a lot.

First, travel from Narita Airport to Tokyo:

I keep reading there are all these different trains and buses. Which should we do?? We will have a 7-day JapanRail pass, but we'll be going home on Day 8, so we can only activite the JR pass to be good for ONE trip to or from Narita to or from Tokyo.

Which should we do?

and then: what is this N'EX Suica deal I keep reading about?? what's it good for? how will we know if places we want to go to in Tokyo are JR stops or subway stops? Will the N'EX Suica thing get us to any fast transportation from Narita to Tokyo to our hotel? And what is the PASMO?? which should we get?

how should we get from the airport to our hotel? Here's our hotel:

Ueno First City Hotel
1-14-8 Ueno, Taito, Tokyo Prefecture 110-0005, Japan

the website is here

Now, here are places I picked out for us to see in our 3 days in Tokyo: (and thes mostly come from a previous Ask MeFi question, thank you, people who answered!)

Shimokitazawa

Tsujiki fish market

go up Tokyo Metropolitan Building in Shinjuku at night as well!

cruise on the Shimuda River to Akasura

naked public baths ?? (any recommended?)

Tea ceremony ?? (too corny when it's for tourists? any recommended?)

Karaoke? (recommended?)

Kappabashi for plastic food, kitchen stuff

Senjoji Temple

Ueno, the long loud market that runs along the train tracks (will this be near our hotel or do we need to take a subway to it?) (is our hotel REALLY in Ueno? I'm getting mixed messages, that maybe it's not?)

harajuku (takeshita street)

yoyogi park

meiji jingu (shrine)

shinjuku

in other words, "the usual" (?)

I bought a recommended Tokyo atlas thing, but I'm still very worried about being lost all the time. I know much of this is neurotic, but (and) it would help if anybody could help a little with subway stops to some of these places from our hotel.

(we're also going to Kyoto but somehow I was able to get some specific directions to the places we want to see there, via the incredible website japan-guide.com, but haven't gotten any responses to my Tokyo travel questions that clarify things for me (it keeps getting more complicated there, as people add more and more possibilities about this pass or that train etc. I am hoping the Ask-Me-Fites will cut through to the chase a little bit re: passes and trains and how to get here and there). Thank you.
posted by DMelanogaster to Travel & Transportation around Japan (35 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sorry, I can't recommend anything about specific questions regarding your trip, but having lived in Asia for a few years I would just like to advise you not to worry about being lost. One great thing about major cities like Tokyo is that one can wander around aimlessly and encounter the most random, weird, amusing things to see and do.

If you find yourself lost, don't panic. Just soak it in an walk around until you find another subway station. You're always home-free if you find the subway.
posted by fso at 3:59 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I posted my experience at Narita airport here. What I learned that I didn't share there was, get someone to write stuff down for you in Japanese (where you are going, addresses, and so on). I was like a preschooler with a home address pinned to my shirt, but... it helped. I sincerely wished for a dictionary.
posted by Houstonian at 4:13 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Get you JR Pass activated the second day. And I suggest avoiding N'EX until your trip home. Stick with me and we'll ride a different train into town. Don't worry about Suica at this point -- it's optional.

You'll know you're on JR because of the big white sign with "JR" at the stations. The subway lines are more colorful, and you usually go downstairs to get on them.

By the time you get through customs, you'll be frazzled. But wait in line and change some money. Then follow the signs to the trains and to the Keisei express and put two thousand-yen bills into the machine, and press the 2000 button. Take your ticket, then downstairs again and get on the train. Announcements in English will tell you when you arrive in Tokyo, and Ueno station, as well. Ask someone there how to get to your hotel -- it's practically across the street.

Next morning, back to Ueno station, find the JR office and show them your railpass voucher. They'll fix you up with your actual railpass. Enjoy!
posted by Rash at 4:22 PM on March 6, 2010


Ooh, complicated -- I just looked up your hotel, and its been named to sound close to Ueno station but it's not, actually. Maybe better for your sanity to take a cab there, from Ueno.
posted by Rash at 4:29 PM on March 6, 2010


Tokyo is So Easy, you'll be fine. When you come out of customs doors will open and right in front of you will be a counter selling train tickets. For Ueno you want the skyliner. The people selling tickets will understand English and will type how much you need to pay onto a calculator and show you then gesture to the little tray where you put your money. To your right are the stairs down to the platform, everything is well labelled. The stops are announced in English as well as Japanese so you won't miss where to get off. At Ueno you'll end up right next to the park and there are signs outside every train or subway station with maps, so getting around is easy.

For the subway I generally didn't know which system I was on, it doesn't really matter. Grab a map at the station, every line is colour coded and the stations are letter coded so it's very easy to plot journeys. The ticket machines have a button to make them in English and the bigger stations sometimes have a person there to help you (in a cute uniform with a hat and white gloves). The fare info is also generally pretty easy to work out from the signs in the station (so I could figure out from the map and the signs if it was worth buying a pass and which one to buy) and again all the stops are announced in English and Japanese, as are all the signs etc. I was terrified of the system before I went there (no subways in New Zealand!) and was so amazed at how easy it was even with no real preparation or forethought, it's just so well organised.

I'll look at more specific location stuff later if someone local and more knowledgeable hasn't come along. Tokyo mefites are lovely and very helpful.
posted by shelleycat at 4:33 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would also advise taking the Keisei Line into Ueno - the Ueno terminus is much much much smaller than JR Ueno station, and is therefore easier to navigate and get out of (the main entrance is right next to an entrance to Ueno Park, and is across the street from Ueno Station).

Like Rash, I would also advise you to take a cab to your hotel.

You need to print out the name, address and telephone numbers of your hotel, as well as it's location on a map with Japanese characters, and give it to the taxi driver.

To get to Keisei Narita Station in Narita airport, just ask someone in clear concise English "Where is Keisei Station? I am going to Ueno."

I bought a recommended Tokyo atlas thing, but I'm still very worried about being lost all the time. I know much of this is neurotic, but (and) it would help if anybody could help a little with subway stops to some of these places from our hotel.

I think you need help above and beyond the level of MetaFilter.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:34 PM on March 6, 2010


I'm not a Tokyoite, but every time I've visited I've found it almost impossible to get lost. People are extremely helpful if you ask for directions, and many times you don't even have to ask - stand around looking at any kind of map looking concerned for more than thirty seconds, and someone will stop and see if you need help with anything. Is my experience, anyway.

Also, if you have time for it I'd recommend both the tea ceremony and karaoke!

The tea ceremony really is worth it, maybe especially if it is for tourists. That way you can get an explanation about how you're supposed to do the different steps, and why and how all of the details are so important. I find tea ceremonies to be really interesting, and oddly relaxing. I don't know anywhere to do it in Tokyo, but I had a good time with a group of friends at Tea Ceremony Experience En in Kyoto. They speak excellent English, and you can book it by mail.

As for karaoke, you can find karaoke boxes everywhere, and they will have tons of English songs. Some places might even have staff who can explain the machines to you in English, but it's really not that complicated. It's a great, time-honored Japanese way of relaxing together after a busy day, so don't be afraid to be as loud and silly as you want in the privacy of your (possibly uniquely decorated) private room. Music is fun!
posted by harujion at 4:54 PM on March 6, 2010


Caaaaaalm down. Getting lost is okay, because people will be helpful and friendly.

1) There's the JR (operated by Toei) and there's the Tokyo Metro. Make sure you have a map with both of these on them. SUICA is the pass for JR trains, PASMO is the pass for Tokyo Metro trains. They don't give you a discount - it's just convenient. Don't bother getting one yet.

2) There are basically three ways to get into Tokyo from Narita via train: NEX, Keisei Express, Keisei Limited Express. The first two are speed trains. Take those. NEX takes a little under an hour and charges you 3000 yen. Keisei Express takes you about 75 minutes and charges you 2000yen. I'd say take the latter.

3) Take the Keisei Skyliner into Ueno. Tip: If you're coming into Terminal 2, after you exit the gates, go downstairs and there should be a booth selling Keisei Skyliner tickets. Ask for the Skyliner/Metro Pass deal, which will give you a day pass for just a few more yen.

4) Your hotel is 500 feet from the subway station. That's less than a ten-minute walk. Print the map beforehand, go out, try to find someone helpful, and ask them for directions. It'll be more than easy.

5) Shimokitazawa and Tsukiji were the best parts of Japan, in my opinion.

6) Relax and feel free to get lost; if there's anything that you should learn while traveling it's how to be okay with being juuust out of control.
posted by suedehead at 5:21 PM on March 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


I lived in Japan for a year and went to Tokyo 4 - 5 times. The most memorable trip was going to Shinjuku Goyen during cherry blossom season. You're going to be there right in the prime. Take about half that stuff off your list, and get some food and sake and hang out in park.

Sumimasen (sue-me-ma-sen) = excuse me. Say that, ask for help in English, and you'll have a blast.
posted by tenaciousd at 6:00 PM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


First, feel free to memail me. If you need any help, I can send you my phone/email address, and maybe I can help a bit.

Now, about Tokyo, as others have said, it's pretty hard to get lost, and the main reason for that? There are trains everywhere. Either subway entrances, or JR tracks. If you're wandering around, and don't know where you are, especially in Shinjuku, Ueno, or Harajuku, a lot of times, if you just walk straight, you'll sooner or later spot a sign for a subway. They're pretty easy to see. A colored circle with a number inside it, and the Tokyo Metro symbol, which is kind of a stylized M. With the train system, once you've found a train, you've found your way home, it really is that easy.

If you're lost, and you're looking for a train, you can use this phrase "(name of train line) wa doko desu ka?"Most people will be happy to help you.

In Narita station, there's a tourist information desk. They have free maps, and can usually help with little questions. Helpful, friendly people. If you're nervous then, it might help to start the trip off with talking to a person who is there to help you. Definitely pick up the map of Tokyo, and a couple train maps as well.

As for Narita, if you're staying in Ueno, you definitely want to take the Keisei train. There are usually more of them an hour than the JR trains, they are cheaper, and they go directly where you want to go. The two stations are right next to each other. The Keisei line is on the left, the JR is on the right. Both logos are pretty hard to miss. If you're not sure, go up to the ticket window and ask which station it is.

As for Pasmo/Suica? They're magnetic commuter passes. Suica (which can increasingly be used for buses and subways) costs 500 yen for the card, and is primarily for JR. You'll have your pass, so Suica isn't worth it. Getting Pasmo for the one week (one for each member of the family) might be more hassle than manually purchasing tickets for each trip you take. It's nice to be able to swipe a card, but it's not a big deal to buy the tickets. You can ask for help when buying a ticket, though the station staff most likely won't speak English. They do, however, get lots of foreigners asking questions, and it's part of their job, so they will be polite and helpful.

About your itinerary, be careful about place names. For the most part, you're fine, but you're looking for the Sumida river, and the tour leaving from Asakusa. Sensoji is in Asakusa, and the dock is quite close to it. You should see the black building with the giant gold... poop. That way is the river. The river trip isn't bad, and you might be well served to take the boat to the Hama-rikyu gardens. It's an imperial palace garden, set up on the river, and it's quite pretty.

The market area near Ueno is called Ameyoko. It's quite a busy place, but definitely fun to walk through. I think I've said this before, but if you go straight, and follow the train tracks, it's about a fifteen minute walk to Akihabara (the computer/electronics area) from Ueno.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:18 PM on March 6, 2010


Yes, learn a little bit of Japanese. I had a complete blast on my trip to Tokyo and Kyoto, and only in Kyoto did I have even the tiniest language barrier problem. However, the fact that I had my handy "Say It Right in Japanese" book with me helped smooth over any bumps, and really helped me feel less lost and more engaged in my surroundings. Reading through your rushed post I'm pretty sure that you should buy a phrasebook and maybe a pocket language guide; it seems like you would be helped by arming yourself with these tools.

First and foremost, repeat after tenaciousd up there: Sumimasen. Say it often and say it with an ingratiating tone and you can soothe the ire of stressed commuters and confused shopkeepers. It means excuse me or sorry and is the most important word for a tourist to know.

Yes = hai (pronounced like high or hi)
No = iie (ee-eh)
Thank you = domo arigato (mister roboto) (just domo for short, but since you're a tourist it's best to default to super polite)
English = eigo (eh-go)

Generally, if you're asking for something, you ask it in the structure of "desired noun, please." Please, in this case, is o kudasai (oh koo-dah-sigh). A lot of times people will know the English word for things but not know why you are talking about them. You can ask for a map with "map, o kudasai?" and generally what will follow is furiously and precisely drawn directions with bonus cartoons, differently colored routes and a star for your destination. If you have your phrasebook you can just state the thing, place, or person in question and then put why, where, when, please, and so-on after it and you'll be understood eight times out of ten.

There are so many things to do in Tokyo that you can fill your time with "the usual" or just wander around and you'll still have a blast. Don't stress out about hitting the "important" things, because more often than not the unimportant things are just as fascinating, beautiful, or fun.
posted by Mizu at 6:28 PM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and karaoke. It might be a little mystefying, trying to figure out how to work it. Look for signs that say カラオケ (karaoke), and make sure it's a big, shiny, chain like place. They'll have a book with foreign songs in it. Usually there's a time limit accompanied with a all-you-can-drink option, though they will have a softdrink option as well.

And yes, Hanami (cherry blossom viewing). You should be here in the peak. Tokyo will look like cotton candy has exploded all over the city.

As for bathing, the public baths are called sento, and they're pretty rare in Tokyo these days. There are some big, commercial places, more like spas, with several kinds of baths available. One of the bigger, easier to find ones is LaQua. It's right near Suidobashi on the JR Sobu line (take the Yamanote (green) line to Akihabara, then change trains (go up to the highest platform) to the yellow line, going towards Shinjuku, two stops to Suidobashi. It's in the same complex as Tokyo Dome, where the Yomiuri Giants (BOOOO!) play. If you get a chance, Japanese baseball can be fantastic. I'm not even a baseball fan, but I go to games three or four times a year, mostly for the atmosphere. From the same website, check here for the schedule. Maybe there will be a game on while you're here.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:30 PM on March 6, 2010


Thank you. These responses are SO helpful, better than a 1 mg. Ativan!

Is there such a thing as karaoke where it's more a public thing, rather than my husband , my son , and I going alone into a cubicle? More of a "show" as in the US?
posted by DMelanogaster at 8:44 PM on March 6, 2010


My advice from years of traveling is this: Angst is excitement in unfortunate disguise. Don't let worry about logistics ruin your excitement. Yes, find out as much as you can and be prepared. But if you remember nothing, remember that if you miss a train, bus, or plane there will always be another one. Plan something to occupy your time while you wait for the next one and you'll be fine.
posted by thorny at 12:50 AM on March 7, 2010


I think I would leave the onsen (bath) and tea ceremony for Kyoto where they are better enjoyed. I also second the recommendation of taking time out to see the cherry blossoms.

Regarding trains: At the risk of repeating the above, getting around Tokyo is easy once you know that there are two train companies operating distinct subway systems (JR and Tokyo Metro), sometimes with stations that share a name (often in the same building or connected underground, but sometimes not: for example, Akihabara station is in walking distance of JR Akihabara station). There are also surface trains such as those run by Tokyu Dentetsu.

Your JR Pass is of course valid for all JR operated trains and buses, so you should prefer those where you can. Maps for: Tokyo Metro, JR (pdf), and the ever handy train route finder. You'll most likely end up taking a subway detour or getting out at a less than convenient station/exit once in a while, but that happens to everyone, including Tokyoites! I'd like to echo everyone's suggestion that getting lost in Tokyo is not a big deal (and completely safe), but if you like you could pick up a copy of Lonely Planet Tokyo/Japan which are excellent and have detailed directions (exit numbers etc.) to your sites.

Suica and PASMO are rechargable magnetic smart cards which require a Y500 deposit and allow you to access most public transport without using a ticket machine. Suica is the JR card and PASMO the non-JR lines', but the train companies have struck a deal so the cards can be used interchangeably all over Tokyo, including surface trains. It wouldn't hurt to get one, but you don't really need it for a week. If you do get one, remember to get your deposit back before you leave.

To/from Narita: Personally I would just activate the JR pass at the airport, take the NEX to Ueno, then the JR subway to Okachimachi and walk. By day 8 you'll know exactly where to get the Keisei Skyliner from.

Take it easy! And have fun!
posted by carnival of animals at 2:41 AM on March 7, 2010


At Narita, do this:

go to the airport limousine counter on the lower level ("limousine" means it's actually a bus). Tell them the name of the motel you want and they'll tell you what bus to go on.

From checking these websites, if you're staying here then it seems the closest stop they make is this place , check the bus website under hotel guide, and your destination appears to be a 12-minute walk away. Specifically it'll stop at Hotel Astil, a 2 min. walk from the JR Ueno station, and the place you're staying is a 12 minute walk from Ueno stn. So 12 or something like that.

I suppose you could also get a cab too, for the short journey. (If you're stumped you could probably go into the Astil and ask them to get you a taxi at the concerge, I'm sure they'd help).

The advantage of the bus is, that you just pay the fee, get on it, and ride it. No trying to figure out which trains to take when you're totally exhausted. That is something you'll want to try, IMO, after you've had some sleep and food.

If you're concerned about walking around, again the people inside the motel will be able to give you directions, and often in Tokyo they have publicly posted maps of busy areas.

But if you do this, indeed go to the counter at Narita and ask the helpful people which bus to take, and they'll point you in the right direction.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 3:58 AM on March 7, 2010


I live in Tokyo.

how should we get from the airport to our hotel?

Your hotel is located a 10-minute walk from Keisei Ueno Station, so using the Skyliner limited express train is the easiest option. (Your hotel, incidentally, is in Ueno, but the most convenient subway station is Yushima Station on the Chiyoda Line.) You can purchase the Skyliner and Metro Pass (which includes a one-day or two-day pass you can use on Tokyo Metro lines within Tokyo) at Narita Airport at the gates to the station. However, depending on when your flight arrives you may find it more economical to simply purchase the Skyliner ticket alone, without the Tokyo Metro pass. Employees at the station should speak at least some English, and I believe the ticket machines also have English display capability.

If you have the Japan Rail pass, feel free to use it on one day (on either your arrival or your departure day) to ride the Narita Express from Tokyo Station. (The Narita Express does not serve Ueno Station.)

and then: what is this N'EX Suica deal I keep reading about?? what's it good for? how will we know if places we want to go to in Tokyo are JR stops or subway stops? Will the N'EX Suica thing get us to any fast transportation from Narita to Tokyo to our hotel? And what is the PASMO?? which should we get?

Since you have the pass, and your hotel is in Ueno, you don't need to purchase the N'EX Suica (if you do, however, you should do so the day you arrive -- otherwise the stored-fare portion of the card will be useless).

Both the Suica (issued by JR) and the PASMO (issued by every other railway company) are stored-fare contactless smart cards. If you're familiar with the Metro in Washington DC, they are similar to the SmarTrip card. You can charge the card with cash at an electronic ticket machine, and simply touch the card to a reader on the top of a fare gate when you enter or exit. Either Suica or PASMO can be used on any station in greater Tokyo, so don't worry about which kind you get. Either requires a 500 yen deposit, however -- which, while you can get back before you leave, requires dealing with someone at a service window. If you purchase one of these, I recommend doing this at Narita.

I'll try to give you detailed information on what stations to use to access the sights you listed. I highly recommend using Hyperdia to find the best route between your hotel (Yushima Station) and your destination.

Shimokitazawa: Shimo-Kitazawa on the Keio Inokashira Line and the Odakyu Odawara Line.

Tsujiki fish market: Tsukiji on the Hibiya Line.

go up Tokyo Metropolitan Building in Shinjuku at night as well!; shinjuku: Walk from Shinjuku Station, although Tochōmae on the Toei Ōedo Line is directly underneath the TMG building.

cruise on the Sumida River to Asakusa: You can board a water ferry either at Asakusa or at Hinode pier, near Hamamatsuchō Station.

naked public baths ?? (any recommended?): Ōedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba (Telecom Center on the Yurikamome Line) is the most accessible for visitors and has a lot of things you can do, both with a swimsuit or without.

Tea ceremony ?? (too corny when it's for tourists? any recommended?): I don't really know much about this, except that your hotel might be able to help you. Barring that, here's a list from the Japan National Tourist Association.

Karaoke? (recommended?): Any major terminal on the Yamanote Line (Ueno, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Shimbashi, etc.) will have several karaoke (Japanese: カラオケ) boxes nearby. You go in, tell them how long you want to sing, and then order drinks and things as you wish. It would be a lot easier if you have someone who speaks Japanese to help out with the staff, but don't let that dissuade you!

Kappabashi for plastic food, kitchen stuff: Tawaramachi on the Ginza Line is closest to Kappabashi-dōri, but you can easily walk from Asakusa. Walk west towards Ueno Station along Asakusa-dōri until you see the giant head, then turn right at the intersection.

Senjoji Temple: Sensō-ji is the center of Asakusa, so you shouldn't have any problems finding it. Just follow the flow of people to Kaminarimon, the large gate.

Ueno, the long loud market that runs along the train tracks: Ameyoko runs west of the Yamanote Line tracks between Ueno and Okachimachi stations. It's quite close to your hotel (just walk west), so ask the desk for help getting there.

harajuku (takeshita street): Harajuku Station; use the Takeshita-dōri exit in the middle of the platform, which will take you right there.

yoyogi park, meiji jingu (shrine): Also via Harajuku Station, but using the other exit. Meiji Shrine is at the head of Omotesandō (which literally means "front approach (to the shrine)") and well-marked. Yoyogi Park can be accessed the same way; walk south past the entrance to Meiji Shrine until you see the park entrance.

Hope that helps!
posted by armage at 4:46 AM on March 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm trying now to parse several pieces of information from several posters and come to a conclusion.

"Your hotel is located a 10-minute walk from Keisei Ueno Station, so using the Skyliner limited express train is the easiest option. (Your hotel, incidentally, is in Ueno, but the most convenient subway station is Yushima Station on the Chiyoda Line.) You can purchase the Skyliner "

So this means that we're getting off at Keisei Ueno station, as opposed to the most convenient station, which is Yushima Station, because the limited express train doesn't stop there?

"2) There are basically three ways to get into Tokyo from Narita via train: NEX, Keisei Express, Keisei Limited Express. The first two are speed trains. Take those. NEX takes a little under an hour and charges you 3000 yen. Keisei Express takes you about 75 minutes and charges you 2000yen. I'd say take the latter.

3) Take the Keisei Skyliner into Ueno."


So -- Is a Keisei Skyliner the same train as a Keisei (non-limited) Express? What makes it a Skyliner?

---------------------------

"Then follow the signs to the trains and to the Keisei express and put two thousand-yen bills into the machine, and press the 2000 button."

----------------------------

SO...Which train should we take?? the Keisei express or the Keisei limited express?? I vote EXPRESS! Do they stop at different stops? (it sounds like it, since one posted said take the limited express because it stops near(er) to our hotel? Where should we get off if we take the (non-limited, "actual" exprss train?) (and are both limited and non-limited Skyliners??)


AND, whichever train we take...

Can we navigate with a map on foot to find our hotel in the dark (it will be about 8PM when we arrive in Tokyo, getting off the plane at at least 5:30PM on a Sunday night)? And, since taxis are so expensive, if the limited and non-limited stop at different stops, should we actually take the non-limited if it stops significantly closer to our hotel, to save some money on the taxi fare? (if we are taking a taxi, which sounds like the smartest thing to do at night, in a new city, exhausted)?

thank you

and one more question not nearly as important as the preceding question: is there such a thing as karaoke that's more public, in other words, more like in the US, where you get to watch people you don't know singing? because a little cubicle for my husband, my son, and me will not be a lot of fun. (If not, fine. We'll continue to sing in our separate showers when we get home)

thanks
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:20 AM on March 7, 2010


I was going to direct you to other recent questions about Japan here, but I see you've made most of them... I'd like to recommend, as someone else above suggested, that you seriously consider crossing a LOT of things off your "to do" list. It sounds like you have a giant checklist of Japanese Things That You Must Do in Order to Have Seen Japan. What you might not realize (I certainly didn't, before my first trip) is that in Japan, *everything is interesting*. Electronics stores are interesting. Back alleys are interesting. Vending machines are interesting. Fast food is interesting. Going to the toilet is interesting (and occasionally nerve-wracking).

Try to relax your itinerary a little bit. Pick areas (like Asakusa, or Shimokitazawa, or Akihabara, or Harajuku) to visit, wander around, see the various sights and have a bite to eat (each meal will be an adventure in itself, if you have limited Japanese skills). You can probably hit two areas in a day, plus hang around your hotel area in the evening or hit a rock show.

With three days I'd forget about planned activities like karaoke (unless you have Japanese friends who will take you), baths, tea ceremonies. Just trying to get through the day as a tourist in Japan is a confusing, stressful, overwhelming, and completely magic and wonderful experience. Relax, wander about, get lost, eat food, take pictures, make friends, enjoy.
posted by Gortuk at 6:43 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I agree that taking the Keisei line to Keisei-Ueno is probably the easiest way to get to your hotel, because there is no need to transfer and the Keisei-Ueno station is the terminus for that rail line; in other words, you will not miss your station, even if you fall asleep or are otherwise completely befuddled.

Likewise, regardless of whether you end up on the Skyliner (essentially just a fancy express train that skips a few more stops), the Express (a fast train at a reasonable price), or even the Local train-- you will get there eventually (it will take forever if you end up on the local train, because it will stop at every single stop, but you will get a nice calm view of the rural scenery and not be surrounded by tourists.) Just make sure that the train says it's headed for Ueno, and not Haneda Airport.

Once you get to Keisei-Ueno, it is up to you whether you want to get a taxi or walk. It looks to be a very simple walk (see Google Maps; they even have Street View if you want to practice...!), consisting of exiting on the side of the station with the lake, going left down a large road (Chuo Doori) for a bit and then turning right when you see the triangular park/median (or whatever landmark of your choice).

For your return trip, you can just use your JR rail pass to depart from the nearby JR Okachimachi or JR Ueno stations (for free!).

I would also like to reiterate what others have said numerous times above: as long as you know the name of your "home" train station and the relationship between it and your hotel, it is pretty much impossible to get lost in Tokyo. In fact, I dare you to try-- I think it's one of the best ways to experience the city.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by caaaaaam at 10:35 AM on March 7, 2010


What you might not realize (I certainly didn't, before my first trip) is that in Japan, *everything is interesting*.

This, a thousand times over. Enjoy!
posted by ambrosia at 11:02 AM on March 7, 2010


Okay, begging a bit more patience with me......

"Likewise, regardless of whether you end up on the Skyliner (essentially just a fancy express train that skips a few more stops), the Express (a fast train at a reasonable price), or even the Local train-- "

These are all Keisei trains, departing from the same place at Narita Airport?


"you will get there eventually (it will take forever if you end up on the local train, because it will stop at every single stop, but you will get a nice calm view of the rural scenery"

at night?

and not be surrounded by tourists.) Just make sure that the train says it's headed for Ueno, and not Haneda Airport.

So the Skyliner or Express (I guess we will take either of these) both stop directly at a station called Keisei-Ueno, without having to transfer anyplace?

If I can just know this one thing my mind will be at peace and I can assume a Zen-like state as I prepare for my introduction to Japan: Will we have to change trains??

thank you

Oh also, I was going to ask a separate question, but since I've used up my weekly question, I'm going to tag it on here:

What modern novels by Japanese writers are your favorites? I read _After Dark_ by Murakami fairly recently and liked it a lot. Other writers?

Thank you for all this advice; the combination of information and calm-downed-ness is just what I needed and was hoping for.
posted by DMelanogaster at 11:33 AM on March 7, 2010


These are all Keisei trains, departing from the same place at Narita Airport?

Yes; they all travel on the same line, just some skip more stations than others.

Looks like the Skyliner stops at platforms 3 & 4, and the others stop at 1 & 2-- but you really don't need to worry about this, as it will be more than obvious when you get there because this line is heavily traveled by tourists.

In the airport, you will be looking for this entrance which will then take you to these platforms. It's at the basement level, and there will be signs in English.

at night?

I don't know your specific date of travel, but it looks like March 30 brings a full moon.

Will we have to change trains??

As long as you get on any Keisei train bound for Ueno (上野), then no-- it's a direct trip to the last stop on the line. Can't get any easier!
posted by caaaaaam at 12:12 PM on March 7, 2010


Thank you for the link to the picture of the station. It made me so excited! also the Japanese characters.
posted by DMelanogaster at 12:18 PM on March 7, 2010


Most of your questions have been answered.. One thing I discovered which helped me feel happier about navigating Tokyo, finding hotels, etc, is that those helpful people at Google have photographed the entire city. So, you can just find your hotel on google maps and jump to street view to see exactly what it looks like, make a note of other landmarks, even make the walk from the nearest station to the hotel "virtually" before you set foot in the area.

(Also, generally, adding "hl=en" as a URL parameter on a google.co.jp service will switch the language to english - which is helpful: example.)

Personally I take the Keisei Limited Express from Narita, because I'm a cheapskate - but all the Keisei trains from there go to Ueno.

Transport around Tokyo and around Japan on the shinkansen is easy - Station names are in romaji (Japanese in latin characters so you can read it) so no worries at all about that. I suggest printing off a few copies of the Tokyo metro map with romaji station names before you go though, since the maps you can pick up instations just have kanji on. Ticket machines have an "ENGLISH" option, don't worry about that either.

Wikitravel is good on Tokyo.
posted by dickasso at 1:22 PM on March 7, 2010


So this means that we're getting off at Keisei Ueno station, as opposed to the most convenient station, which is Yushima Station, because the limited express train doesn't stop there?

Correct -- Ueno (which includes Keisei Ueno, which is physically separate but nearby to the larger Ueno Station run by JR) is a hub for long-distance trains, while Yushima is only a subway station that has no direct connections to the airport.

So -- Is a Keisei Skyliner the same train as a Keisei (non-limited) Express? What makes it a Skyliner? SO...Which train should we take?? the Keisei express or the Keisei limited express?? I vote EXPRESS! Do they stop at different stops? (it sounds like it, since one posted said take the limited express because it stops near(er) to our hotel? Where should we get off if we take the (non-limited, "actual" exprss train?) (and are both limited and non-limited Skyliners??)

Others have answered this, but the Skyliner is a reserved-seat train that requires a reserved seat fee (in addition to the normal fare that is distance-based). The nomenclature varies depending on the railway company, unfortunately, but on the Keisei network, only the Skyliner is a reserved-seat train. All other trains, while slower, don't require the reserved-seat ticket. Since the Skyliner will get you straight to/from the airport with few stops and a minimum of fuss (and with plenty of English guidance) that's your best option.

Can we navigate with a map on foot to find our hotel in the dark (it will be about 8PM when we arrive in Tokyo, getting off the plane at at least 5:30PM on a Sunday night)? And, since taxis are so expensive, if the limited and non-limited stop at different stops, should we actually take the non-limited if it stops significantly closer to our hotel, to save some money on the taxi fare? (if we are taking a taxi, which sounds like the smartest thing to do at night, in a new city, exhausted)?

Your hotel is located near the last stop, so it wouldn't matter if you took a different train, except that you might have to change trains mid-way. The Skyliner will take you from the airport to Ueno, from which you can walk 10 minutes to your hotel -- there really isn't a better option.

and one more question not nearly as important as the preceding question: is there such a thing as karaoke that's more public, in other words, more like in the US, where you get to watch people you don't know singing? because a little cubicle for my husband, my son, and me will not be a lot of fun. (If not, fine. We'll continue to sing in our separate showers when we get home)

There are, but they're not nearly as prevalent.

These are all Keisei trains, departing from the same place at Narita Airport?

They are, but some of them don't go all the way to Ueno. Only the Skyliner and the Limited Express do -- and the Skyliner is more comfortable (front-facing reclining seats, English guidance, no standees) and makes fewer stops, which is why I recommend it.

If I can just know this one thing my mind will be at peace and I can assume a Zen-like state as I prepare for my introduction to Japan: Will we have to change trains??

If you ride the Skyliner, no.
posted by armage at 5:45 PM on March 7, 2010


(Incidentally, if any of the answers in this thread were particularly helpful, you might consider marking one or more as "best answer" to assist other members who might see this thread in the future.)
posted by armage at 5:47 PM on March 7, 2010


the Skyliner is a reserved-seat train

When do we make these reservations, when we get there?
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:41 AM on March 8, 2010


Oh, and, on another note: I've been reading about electricity differences between Japan and the US (re: we are bringing our laptops).

"The voltage in Japan is 100 Volt, which is different from North America (110V), Central Europe (220V) and most other regions of the world. Japanese electrical plugs have two, non-polarized pins, as shown above. They fit into North American outlets.

Japanese power outlets are identical to ungrounded (2-pin) North American outlets. While most Japanese outlets these days are polarized (one slot is slightly wider than the other), it is possible to encounter non-polarized outlets in some places.

Some North American equipment will work fine in Japan without adapter and vice versa, however, some sensitive equipment may not work properly or even get damaged. "

(from japan-guide.com)

So --- do we need adapters or not? Toshiba laptops, bought in the US.
posted by DMelanogaster at 9:56 AM on March 8, 2010


No adapter needed for 2-prong equipment, but you will need one if you have something with 3 prongs.
posted by Gortuk at 12:30 PM on March 8, 2010


When do we make these reservations, when we get there?

Yes. The Keisei ticket office at Narita Airport is immediately adjacent to the ticket gates, and you can either purchase at the counter or using a ticket machine.

So --- do we need adapters or not? Toshiba laptops, bought in the US.

As Gortuk says, no, you do not need an adapter (save to convert three-prong to two-prong).
posted by armage at 6:41 PM on March 8, 2010


I'm not sure if someone else has answered it, but I'm not sure how you're going to get from Keisei-Ueno Station to your hotel.

It doesn't make any sense to take the subway from Ueno - there would be about as much effort at finding the subway station as there would be to find your hotel.

So, I would suggest that you take a taxi from Keisei Ueno Station. It should cost 1000 yen, or about $10.

The best thing to do is to find an information booth at Keisei Ueno Station - any station employee should be able to help you.

You should have a map with the location of your hotel marked with an X, plus the name of the hotel, its address, and its phone number.

Approach a station employee, and say: "We need help. Where is our hotel? Where is the taxi stand? Can you help us?"

Remember to smile and say thank you, and if you feel frustrated, don't show it (any display of frustration and irritation is very bad manners in Japan)
posted by KokuRyu at 9:37 PM on March 8, 2010


So, how did things turn out?
posted by caaaaaam at 3:57 AM on April 19, 2010


Things turned out great. Thank you for asking.

Here's what we wound up doing:

Arrived Sunday March 28, early evening, EXHAUSTED from 14 1/2 hour flight. Got our JR Passes validated for the next day (took a long long time on a long long line). Took that Express with no difficulty to Ueno, and then took a taxi to our hotel which was about a 7-minute walk from Ueno Park. (our closest JR station was Okichamachi (I've probably forgotten how to spell that already)

Here's what we did:

Monday -- Tokyo: HamaRikyu Garden where we walked around and caught a boat to Asakusa, walked around, then to Kappabashi and to Akihabara where we went to a wild 5- or 6-story "toy" store (manga, etc.) *BY the way, this website, www.hellodamage.com, was fantastic. Some American (I think) guy telling you all kinds of stuff to see in Tokyo including the more "far out" stores, punk rock venues (which we didn't get to), etc.,

Tuesday -- took train to Kyoto and directly to Nara. Great afternoon with the deer. Then to our hotel in Kyoto.

Wednesday -- Johnnie Hillwalker tour which was WELL worth the time. Very informative and fun. Left us off, late afternoon, at foot of Kiomyzu (sp? sorry, please forgive) which was very very good. Then we walked around Gion and that was just great and finally found a restaurant right on the river.

Thursday -- Day to ourselves in Kyoto. We went to Nijo Castle and then to the Philosopher's Path, hitting the Silver Pavilion and down to Nanenji, stopping at a couple of other places along the way. Thursday early evening we took the train back to Tokyo, COMPLETELY screwing up as I got on the train that was at the right platform, but it was an earlier train, and it was the bullet train you are NOT allowed to take with a JR pass (Nozomi) and that was very stressful but had a happy ending.

Friday and Saturday -- hung around Tokyo. Went to Ueno Park for sakura-watching with the hundreds of thousands (or so it seemed) other people, went to Shinjuku and Harajuku (and we really hated those commercial areas and had no interest in those stores); but then referred once again to what I printed out from the tokyo damage website and went to a smaller neighborhood (name I cannot remember now) with a very interesting little mall where my son did some shopping and we all did some eating. Oh we also got to Yanaka, old neighborhood north of Ueno, with cemetery and interesting shrine to dead children.

And other stuff I can't remember! HOWEVER I edited my little home videos and if you have 45 extra minutes in your life you can't think of anything to do with, feel free to watch it here:

http://www.echonyc.com/~jimb/videos/japan2010.html

We LOVED Japan. I'd go back in a minute if the plane ride were 7 hours instead of 12. But then it wouldn't be Japan.
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:13 AM on April 20, 2010


oh the "other neighborhood" above was Koenji.

I think if I were to do it again I'd pick a few restaurants to try, because I think we "shorted" ourselves on the food because when we were hungry we were very hungry and just popped into the easiest places, often looking for English on the menus. I think we missed a lot of food experiences. We were happiest food-wise at the food stalls in Ueno Park, actually, which was amazing (a man cooking fish (maybe sardines; small fish) on sticks; a man grilling squid; lots of bean=paste-filled pancakes in the shape of fish; and more, much more; and then all those stalls turned into mobile yakatori bars at night

All in the all the beautiful things in Japan were much more beautiful than I expected and the "differentness" of Tokyo (and Japan in general) was much much more so.

I felt I could go back there again and again, not like a "vacation."
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:24 AM on April 20, 2010


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