Babysteps into the land of Japan...
March 8, 2012 12:40 AM   Subscribe

Travelfilter: Things to do in Japan that are good for someone who finds traveling stressful, and are welcoming to tourists and non-Japanese speakers.

I live in Japan, which is pretty awesome! I am here with my spouse on a U.S. military base nearish to Tokyo. The problem is that the base is basically a little-America. Everyone speaks English, and it's very self-sustained, so you pretty much never have to leave. It doesn't look or feel like Japan at all. There are people who boast of never leaving the base the whole time they are stationed here! I don't want to be that person!

However, I have extreme social anxiety, and I feel like a huge boob for not knowing much Japanese. Pretty much not knowing any Japanese. But with being a grad student thing and having a job (both English-speaking) I haven't had much time to remedy that.

So I was hoping for suggestions in the Tokyo area for things to do or places to visit that would be very accessible and "safe" for someone who has social anxiety and doesn't speak much Japanese. Basically, a gentle starting point so that we can gradually start exploring this neat country. Just being in public here stresses me out, and I think I'd feel better if I knew I was in an area where tourists are expected, and possibly even welcomed. I do want to do less touristy things eventually, but I think even just doing touristy things would be a good first step. We do already go out to restaurants in the base area, though I am a vegetarian which somewhat complicates food-tourism.

We're going to be here for another few years so there's plenty of time. We can handle the trains alright, and my spouse doesn't have social anxiety, but he does get kind of stressed out when I start getting stressed out in a public area. He doesn't mind traveling but he's a real home-body so between the two of us we rarely leave the base.

The next two weeks or so are relatively free for us, so that is the time frame we're looking at in the near future, but we also have free days at other times throughout the year.

Thank you Metafilter!
posted by Arethusa to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You could start out by going to a nice vegetarian or vegan Japanese restaurant. There are some mentioned here and you can read the reviews. I remember reading about one where they said service was very good and the people there were very friendly.

Another thing you could consider doing is spending time at an onsen in a quiet place. Japanese guest houses will book it for you and give you all the information you need to know (in English). At some of the places, you can ask for vegetarian cuisine and/or substitutes (and if you go to Mount Koya area they only serve vegetarian food). When you go to the website, you can choose a place comfortable for you with everything that you are looking for (including private baths and pick-up service if you are anxious about being lost).

I'll also recommend the websites where in Tokyo and The former are things to do in Tokyo, the later is about restaurants.

Good luck and I hope that you find the right things for you.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 1:13 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Kudos to you for leaving the base and taking the opportunity!

I took this bike tour when I visited Tokyo and absolutely loved it. The guides were so friendly and I saw a lot I never would've even known existed. The guides spoke English and made me feel very welcome.
posted by cadge at 1:21 AM on March 8, 2012

Best answer: Tokyo is really easy to get around and I always enjoyed getting lost there. It is a huge city though.

Hanami will be coming up soon and you absolutely should visit Ueno Park at it's peak. It won't matter whether you speak Japanese or English as long as you speak fun and party. It's beautiful and a cultural blast at the same time.

And as cliche as it sounds, baby steps in Rappongi and Ginza are still worth while, foreigner friendly and interesting. I know they have a certain reputation for later-night stuff, but you can easily avoid those places.

Lastly, Asakusa is the temple district in the city and is accessible to all. Arguably one of the few remaining areas of "Old Tokyo"

Apologies if this is stuff you already knew, but I figured I'd get the standard stuff out there.
posted by michswiss at 1:30 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) Nekobukuro! If you like cats, it is a nice relief. I missed cats and other pets a lot when living in Japan, and this was such a fun visit to hang out with the cats and watch them do stupid things and cute things and... . You'll notice repeat visitors bring along toys. There are other cat cafes, including one in Akihabara, but this one you pay for entry, not per time.

2) If you want to do something outside of Tokyo, there is always Kawagoe and Kamakura. Easy train rides, pick up maps at the tourist booth, and just wander around. Kamakura has oodles of temples, so you can't turn wrong to see something very Japanese. Kawagoe is a "little Edo" - they have lots of old architecture and a street lined with old-style shops selling mostly food and candy. Kawagoe gets crowded with Japanese tourists, but you don't have to interact with a lot of people.

3) If you are sick of the crowds, I used to live in Tsukuba, north of Akihabara. There is a mountain you can climb! From the train station there is a bus that goes directly to the mountain, or you can rent bicycles for the day and bicycle there, passing all the fields on your way. Either of these plans can be communicated easily, and plenty of people have done the same trip. Tsukuba has a lot of foreign residents who you can grab for questions, many of whom speak English (because they don't speak Japanese either).
posted by whatzit at 3:06 AM on March 8, 2012

Best answer: You're in Yokosuka, right? (according to your profile page.) That's right near Kamakura, which has all kinds of interesting historical things (some replicas, but some are original - especially the Daibutsu giant buddha statue). It's pretty touristy; you should be able to go there, get a map and just wander around (and I see whatzit recommended it as well).

Enoshima is another nearby touristy place.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (in Shinjuku, near central Tokyo) is beautiful. You can wander around it for hours.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:09 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Does the base host any excursions that you could join to go out and about? The base in Europe that my husband is attached to, does lots of trips that are pretty inexpensive. These include more tourist-based travel and also more outdoorsy type stuff through Outdoor Rec.

You'll be with other Americans, but it might be a good starting point to see things without too much stress, as they do all the planning.
posted by chiefthe at 4:15 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So I was hoping for suggestions in the Tokyo area for things to do or places to visit that would be very accessible and "safe" for someone who has social anxiety and doesn't speak much Japanese.

Good for you. Japan is cool just because so few people speak English and there are so few signs and menus in English. It is one of the places in the modern world where an English speaker can feel really out of place! Try not to see this as something scary, but as something kinda rare and really cool to experience.

You already know the Japanese are polite and helpful. My wife and I - who do not speak a word of Japanese between us - used to go into restaurants in Tokyo off the beaten path and just point at the food other people were eating and everything went without a hitch. A smile and a sense of adventure is all you need. Enjoy yourself.
posted by three blind mice at 4:16 AM on March 8, 2012

Best answer: I know if must be tougher with the anxiety you have to deal with, but Tokyo is one of the easier cities out there. At this point, every station has English, and English subway maps are feely available. You might try checking out Kamakura first, since it is close by. There are a ton of places to see, plenty of English guides. There are also a good number of hiking trails behind the temples which are quite beautiful.

Yokohama is also pretty awesome, and pretty westernized as Japanese cities go. The aka-renga, or red brick warehouse is a landmark/refurbished shopping center, and just a little ways away, there is the Yokohama passenger terminal, which, in addition to being a port for passenger ferries, is also one of the best urban outdoor spaces in this region. Great place to lounge around and take in the view of the city.

In Tokyo, you might try the Hama-Rinkyu Palace Garden. It's a large garden near the Sumida river. It's a large park, basically, but it's surrounded in three sides by the city. From there, you can get on the water taxi for Asakusa, which, while busier, is one of the most tourist friendly places in Tokyo. You've got a big, famous temple, surrounding tourist shops and a covered shopping arcade which is fun to browse.

While I don't have anxiety issues, I honestly dislike being approached by staff when I am just browsing. I tend to wear headphones and just give a slight nod when I'm feeling anti-social. The nod lets them know you're aware of them, but also that you're okay.

There are also some good boat tours of Tokyo, up the Sumida River and around Odaiba.

Finally, when I used to listen to the AFN station, they talked a lot about groups to join to go out and experience Japan. It might be worth it to check out the on base support groups. I'm pretty sure they can point you towards some basic conversation lessons if you can find the time. For the most part, though, Japanese people don't expect foreigners to speak the language. I can't say don't worry, because the unknown is worrisome. Keep in mind that Tokyo is an incredibly safe city, and that, given the depth of English on the trains here, if you can find a subway or train in Tokyo, you're not lost, because it will, somewhere, connect to the train that gets you home. Finding them is usually pretty easy, especially inside the Yamanote line.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:25 AM on March 8, 2012

Best answer: I wouldn't worry about having to interact with strangers in Tokyo if that's the cause of your anxiety. It is one of the world's most socially distancing cities in that it's possible to wander around unmolested all day every day without having to interact at all with other human beings, especially if you're a forienger as many Japanese have a complex about talking to foriegners. You don't even have to talk to or deal with shop assistants as you can use the vending machines in plenty of places.
posted by dydecker at 6:52 AM on March 8, 2012

Best answer: Tokyo Disney World is pretty foreigner friendly.
posted by nikkorizz at 12:52 PM on March 8, 2012

Best answer: Seconding dydecker that Tokyo is a very good place for the socially anxious.  I lived there for a while, and I'm very prone to social anxiety.  I found that I felt less conspicuous and self-conscious there than I did at home in England (where, ethnically, I fit right in), and I left with much more confidence than I'd arrived with.  I hope you get to have the same experience.

Incidentally, I found learning the kana and studying simple kanji a real confidence-booster; they don't help you talk to people, but it's much better when you can read some of what you see.  Particularly useful kanji: entrance, exit, station, north, south, east, west, meat, fish, chicken.  It's also handy to be able to recognise some of the kanji that crop up a lot in place names.  I know you've got a lot of demands on your time, but if you make up some flashcards, you can look through them in the odd five minutes here and there.

Right, on to specifics.  I have three suggestions - the same three suggestions that have come up over and over in this thread already.

First, because it's closest to the base: nthing Kamakura.  There's plenty there to see, but to start with, it sounds as if you'll be most comfortable with the two biggest tourist draws.  If you take the Yokosuka line north, you can get off at Kamakura and follow the crowd to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine.  There are plenty of foreign tourists who visit it; you won't stand out.  Then, you can go back to the station and take the Enoden line a few stops to Hase station, where the crowd (or, failing that, the signs) will lead you to the Daibutsu (Great Buddha).

Second, carrying on north along the Yokosuka line, you've got Yokohama.  I agree completely with what Ghidorah said, and I'd also single out the Landmark Tower.  It's in Minato Mirai, so it's in the same general area as the Red Brick Warehouses and the passenger terminal.  It offers great views on a clear day, including Fuji looking shockingly big, and again, they're very, very used to foreign tourists there.

And third, further north along the Yokosuka line, there's Tokyo.  Here I'd like to nth Asakusa, which is great, but is also one of the most touristy places I've ever been.  There will be plenty of Western tourists in amongst the Japanese crowds; you'll go unnoticed.  And it's well worth seeing; the Sensoji temple and its gates are spectacular, and I think the surrounding avenues of little shops and stalls are fantastic.  Don't miss the amazing cake-making contraption in one of the stalls near the main gate!  Oh, and just a short walk away is the Sumida river.  Look across the river, and you can admire the spectacular and/or bizarre architecture of the brand new skyscraper, Tokyo Sky Tree, and Philippe Starck's Flamme d'Or.

The other places people have mentioned are pretty much all high on my list too; I've just picked out the three I think fit your criteria the best.  I would recommend against Roppongi at night, though.  It gets very crowded, there are guys employed to try to talk passers-by into visiting *their* clubs etc., and all in all, if you're not into clubbing, it's just not that interesting (IMHO).  Plenty of gaijin, but I don't think it's what you're looking for.

Anyway, I wish you the best of luck!  Here's hoping you're back next week, or next month, asking for more places to explore.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:09 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Edo-Tokyo museum would be a good fit. There is also a major museum in Ueno park, but I forget what it is called.
posted by twblalock at 10:19 AM on March 9, 2012

Response by poster: By way of an update, we went to Kamakura and had green-tea ice-cream and saw the great Buddha! The ice cream stand had a picture of president Obama with a cone. Lunch was had here and despite the lack of an English menu we managed, hopefully, to eat without totally offending anyone, though I imagine my pathetic attempts at chopstick use were amusing for the other patrons. (Eventually the server had pity on me and brought us forks... XD) They had fractal broccoli!

It was a bit tense, but there were loooots of tourists (even Japanese tourists!) so I didn't feel too much like ye proverbial sore thumb.

Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions and reassurances. Even that small trip really helped my confidence, so hopefully we will be trying some of your other suggestions soon enough.
posted by Arethusa at 11:08 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Arethusa, memail me, I might be able to point you to some stuff available to you from base.
posted by Runes at 2:15 PM on April 24, 2012

« Older Hiding my SSN from pying eyes   |   Help me find the best freebie FTP client software... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.