The MeFi take on Tokyo.
August 5, 2008 3:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Tokyo for 3 months. What should I know (and bring) that they don't tell you in the books?

I've read a bunch of books, and now I'm looking for what the authors didn't think of, or just anecdotal first hand experience. I'm looking to assimilate (I know I'll never be able to "blend").

I'll be there on my own with a lot of time and knowing only the Japanese I'll learn while there.

1. What should I bring that I can't get there?
2. I know I'll stand out being foreign, but how can I dress so as to not be the equivalent of the Bermuda short and fanny pack wearing tourist? What should I bring for the one night I'll go to Roppongi? (I know at 6 foot, I'm tall enough that I wont be able to buy clothes there.)
3. Besides the major sights, what should I go see or do?

Bonus- I'd like to bring small, regional, and possibly consumable gifts. I'm from Texas: any suggestions as to what would not be available, yet palatable to an average Japanese? The only thing I've come up with so far are pecan pralines.
posted by Around Tokyo to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and I've made some progress on Tokyo Craig's List. but any suggestions for meeting Japanese (or just getting someone to acknowledge me even though I'm a complete stranger)? As for other foreigners, it sounds like I can just go to a few well know Gaijin bars for that (or are there better ways)?
posted by Around Tokyo at 3:25 PM on August 5, 2008

You'll want to bring a 3 month supply of pain relievers or any OTC medicine you think you may need and deoderant.

They are not as strong there.
posted by spec80 at 3:33 PM on August 5, 2008

deodorant, dang it.
posted by spec80 at 3:34 PM on August 5, 2008

I'll be there on my own with a lot of time and knowing only the Japanese I'll learn while there.

You should make an effort to learn some Japanese from textbooks before you go and while you're there. Immersion is good, but in three months you aren't going to pick up much by just doing nothing. I also highly recommend vocabulary training tools like anki (or SuperMemo, I think it's called). I started using anki and almost doubled my vocabulary in a few months. (Previously I lived in Japan for a year. I picked up a ton of Japanese, obviously, but I wish I had been using anki then.)

Anyway, are you sure you'll have trouble buying clothes? There are plenty of tall Japanese people; I am 5'10" and know plenty of people taller than me.

Finally, I think the best way to meet people is to have some excuse to meet them. Most of my contacts in Japan are friends from school or people I've met at programming conferences.
posted by jrockway at 3:38 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know I'll stand out being foreign, but how can I dress so as to not be the equivalent of the Bermuda short and fanny pack wearing tourist?

Don't wear shorts or sunglasses at all since these articles are kinda rude/off-putting to Japanese.

But being a foreigner is part of the fun, so BE YOURSELF.

2nding bringing 3 months of EVERYTHING you'll need in the personal grooming department. It's not much stuff, plus you can pre-pack a re-charge box to have sent over after 6 weeks.

Nearly everything is *expensive* in Japan -- prices are as if the real exchange rate never got below 150, so anything not weighing under 50bs (or whatever the UPS limit is) that you can have sent over will be cheaper, even counting the shipping cost.

Anyway, are you sure you'll have trouble buying clothes?

I'm 6' too and it's not so much the height as the width -- though being 6' in a crowded train means you get to see the tops of everyone's head.

As for general advice:

LEARN THE HIRAGANA AND KATAKANA before going. Backwards and forwards. I made my own flashcards and took them to work one night, and was able to pound them in about 5 hours each. There's only 50-odd each, so it's not that bad.

Japanese generally don't like most 辛い -- からい -- karai -- spicy stuff so hold off on that as gifts. Regional and random T shirts as gifts are always good, S and M sizes work well.

Getting around Tokyo requires learning the Yamanote Line and also the subway lines.

Get a bicycle if you can. You can't take them on the trains without folding and bagging them, but if you live within 10 minutes of the Yamanote you can actually ride into town. Tokyo is reasonably flat and it's really fun seeing how the neighborhoods change from one into the other (something you don't get to see taking the subway for obvious reasons).

Don't go to Roppongi. You'll find a lot more interesting people and places wandering around any random city center from Akasaka to

Yakitori. MMmmm.

Good luck, going to live in Japan without any language skills is rather difficult on a day-to-day basis. You'll feel like a 5 year old.
posted by yort at 4:02 PM on August 5, 2008

. . . Akasaka to Kichijoji.
posted by yort at 4:05 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Apropos, David Sedaris's new book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, ends with a lengthy memoir which features excerpts from the journal he kept while he lived in Tokyo for three months. It probably won't be of much help as far as assimilating is concerned, but I certainly found it to be hilarious.
posted by halogen at 4:15 PM on August 5, 2008

Finding a language practice partner should be easy and will provide you with companionship as well as free Japanese lessons. Usually you just meet for an hour and talk about whatever you like. I think Craigslist would be a good place to look for this. There's also a Japanese language-only social network called mixi.
posted by lhall at 4:23 PM on August 5, 2008

I used to read a blog of a guy who went to live in Japan for several months. This is the post about the stuff he brought that was useful and the stuff that was superfluous.
posted by sharkfu at 4:50 PM on August 5, 2008

Don't wear shorts or sunglasses at all since these articles are kinda rude/off-putting to Japanese.

Sorry but wth? This is completely off the wall.

Clothing wise you may have difficulty with sleeve length in regards to long sleeved shirts.

Craigslist is not very popular here you would be better picking up copies of the free weekly magazine Metropolis (available ibn bars, restaurants, book stores) and looking for Japanese language exchange partners.

Bring deodorant and possibly toothpaste if you have a fav brand (although recently Don Quixotes has had imported toothpaste).

As for meeting fellow gaijin - I would suggest contacting a group or association that you are interested in - there are stacks of groups here in English from professional to sport to hobbies - some have websites, some groups on Facebook and Yahoo groups.

For some harsh reality you could also check out the fucked gaijin forums where a bunch of old timers hang out.

Beef jerky also makes a very portable and appreciated omiyage (souvenir).
posted by gomichild at 4:53 PM on August 5, 2008

Don't wear shorts or sunglasses at all since these articles are kinda rude/off-putting to Japanese.

Everyone, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, wears shorts. Not as many people wear sunglasses, but that's because women tend to carry parasols and because of a general association of sunglasses being worn only by yakuza.

But you're not Japanese, so wear what you like. You're going to stand out by virtue of your height, skin color, hair, etc. anyway, no matter what you do.

As for answers to the rest of your questions, try reading through previous questions on the topic.

Incidentally, if you are only going to be in Japan for three months, can I assume that you are on a tourist visa? If so, and if you are not going to undergo alien registration, then you will be unable to obtain a mobile phone, bank account, or do other things that require Japanese identification. Please be forewarned.
posted by armage at 5:41 PM on August 5, 2008

1. What should I bring that I can't get there?

It's only for 3 months, but just in case bring your American medicine. Any kind of non-perishable food/candy (reminds me, can you bring me some Lemonheads? Impossible to find in Japan). Antiperspirant: you can find deodorant, but for some odd reason the antiperspirant/deodorant combo doesn't exist in Japan.

2. I know I'll stand out being foreign, but how can I dress so as to not be the equivalent of the Bermuda short and fanny pack wearing tourist?

Well, are you Japanese-American? You'll blend right in. Are you white, black, other? Well...Tokyo is fairly anomalous in Japan--foreigners are a dime a dozen, and you won't get any stares or anything. Go to a small town and it's a really different story.

The typical American attire for warm weather is shorts and T-shirts. Japanese will go as far as T-shirts but think shorts are for children. You'll see a lot of dark, black clothing, so if you wear that bright red shirt with your bright yellow shorts, you'll definitely stand out. But wear what you want, you're a gaijin and can get away with it!

What should I bring for the one night I'll go to Roppongi?

Plenty of money, for one thing. If you're looking for companionship (I'm talking about making friends here, not a business transaction), then Roppongi is a good bet. Beers are about 700 yen (7 dollars) apiece. If you want to go to the really hip dance clubs, cover is about 4,000 yen (40 dollars). An overnight stay in a love hotel is roughly 7,000 to 9,000 yen (70 to 90 dollars), though that can vary a lot.

(I know at 6 foot, I'm tall enough that I wont be able to buy clothes there.)

Not a big deal. Just look for the LL size of anything. I'm 6 feet as well and it's rarely an issue for me.

posted by zardoz at 6:02 PM on August 5, 2008

Everyone, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, wears shorts

guess times have changed since the early-mid 90s. I do dimly remember seeing more men wearing shorts in Tokyo in the late 90s, but nothing like here in California.
posted by yort at 6:45 PM on August 5, 2008

Bring a good digital camera and a decent size memory card. Lose any inhibitions you have about taking photos, because you'll probably see a lot of things that all of us answering these questions take for granted, yet will be incredibly snazzy to you.

With regards to the medicine, definitely bring over your own (things like Nyquil liquicaps, advil, claritin) but be aware that, as I understand it, some medicines are illegal here, and could be seized at customs. It's rare to have any problems at customs, but whatever you do, dress respectably for your flight. Slacks, maybe, and a nice shirt, these don't hurt. Most people I see getting bags searched these days are in grungy shorts and t-shirts, and also returning from Thailand. Just a hint.

Being in Tokyo, you'll stand out a lot less than you think. There are a lot of foreigners there. The hubbub about shorts and t-shirts is kind of mystifying to me. I wear them everyday in the summer, as does my wife, and most of my university students. Somber colors really depends on the section of society you're dealing with, and those godawful Paris Hilton giant sunglasses are very fashionable at the moment. For work, however, yes, pants, shirt, dark colors are important.

When are you coming over? What will you be doing? If you're coming over to work, Cool Biz (being able to wear light slacks and short-sleeve button up shirts, no tie) ends on the 1st of September. After that, (even though the weather doesn't magically cool off) you'll need to switch to suits and ties, if you're doing any kind of business.

Roppongi isn't bad for new people, but in terms of meeting other foreigners, especially in Tokyo, it seems, it's just like any other big city. Most people go out with their friends, and aren't really looking to meet new people. In other words, check out Metropolis, which gomichild suggested, as it has a long section on Friends and Interests, as well as language partners.

For 3 months, it's unlikely you'd need to buy all that much clothing here. If you're skinny, or at least have a slenderish upper body, LL should be okay. If you're a bit chunky, like me, LL will be a great disappointment.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:46 PM on August 5, 2008

and if you are not going to undergo alien registration

oh yeah, good point, might as well get the alien registration card. You can get it once you're on the ground with a tourist visa no prob, or at least I could back in 1992 LOL. Takes about two weeks or so to arrive in the mail.

Sure beats having to carry the passport around everywhere.

Which reminds me.


They are your friends and are IMO exceedingly professional when you're following the rules, but can and will make life tough if you screw up.

ALWAYS carry your ID. If you get stopped without ID then you WILL have a trip to the nearest koban ahead of you until the cops can establish your visa status, which generally requires you calling somebody to go and get your ID from wherever you left it and bring it to you.
posted by yort at 6:51 PM on August 5, 2008

If it's just three months this might be applicable, but if you're of any significant height, finding shoes that fit will not be an easy task. Get some new ones (and break them in) before you go, because you'll be doing a lot of walking when you're over there. =)
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:46 PM on August 5, 2008

yort, I'm not sure what you mean by getting a alien registration card. Those are for people who are living and/or working here. For that, you need more than a ninety day tourist visa. If you are working here, or conducting business here, and you don't have a visa, keep in mind that doing so is illegal, and Japan has massively upped its penalties for visa infractions.

If you've just got the ninety day visa, you should be ready to carry around your passport, because, like yort said, DO NOT FUCK WITH COPS (althought to be honest, they are usually pretty clueless/useless here). Just give them a wide berth. They will, depending on the color of your skin, either leave you alone completely, or make your life a living hell. It's not uncommon for Indian residents to be stopped regularly and hassled about their documents, and from what I understand, it's much worse for Africans and people from the Middle East.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:57 AM on August 6, 2008

Seconding the deodorant and drugs. But what I really came here to say was BUY THIS BOOK. For about $12, you can find any location in the Tokyo metropolitan area within a block. You don't know yet HOW important this is, because there are almost no street names or addresses as you know them at home. This is an absolute godsend for finding anything, and is super portable for walk-around-random-neighborhood jaunts. Also has subway exits labelled at major neighborhoods, so you come out on the right side of the monstrous intersections, etc. You can buy it in Japan, but really, make sure you get a copy.
posted by whatzit at 4:59 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

For that, you need more than a ninety day tourist visa.

I could swear I got mine before I got my proper visa (I arrived in August started working in Sept and the visa came in December) though maybe . . . reading journal from 1992-93 . . . ah, right, I got the ARC /after/ the visa and signing the employment contract thing. . .

more good advice. . . KEEP A JOURNAL!
posted by yort at 4:45 PM on August 7, 2008

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