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A Gaijin Friendly Guide to Tokyo

Tokyo is one of the most spectacular cities in the world. It’s the city of bullet trains, skyscrapers, fashion, street food and fun, where the traditional meets the contemporary and the bizarre meets the brilliant.

 

It’s also notoriously difficult to navigate for tourists.

While in many ways it’s a city at the bleeding edge of business, technology and couture there’s an almost impenetrable sense of etiquette and complex tradition that can bamboozle most gaijin (foreigners). In this kind of culture it’s important to know the right way to behave and the most tourist-friendly places to visit to help you get the most out of your visit without falling afoul of the difficulties some tourists tend to encounter.

 

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Cheap flights to Tokyo are getting easier to come by, so a Japanese holiday may well be more affordable and accessible than you’d previously thought. Before you start packing, though, here are some useful tips for a gaijin in Tokyo.

  • A little Japanese goes a long way. Most Japanese people haven’t spoken English since their schooldays. Showing some willingness to attempt their language will be very ingratiating.
  • Remember that ‘gaijin’ is not an insult, it’s a far more nuanced version of the English ‘foreigner’. If someone refers to you this way, smile and be polite. Chances are they’re not trying to offend you.
  • Learn the local etiquette. There’s WAY too much to learn here but always removing your shoes before going indoors, purifying yourself on the way to a shrine, never blowing your nose in public, never pointing with chopsticks and never ever tipping your waiter (it’s considered an insult) are a good place to start.

 

A note for vegetarians and vegans

It’s surprisingly hard to subsist on a plant-based diet in Tokyo. While you’ll find plenty of items on your menu that seem perfectly safe but beware of dashi, a fish stock that finds its way into most soups and sauces. Vegetarianism and veganism are unusual concepts to many asian cultures so be sure to explicitly mention that you don’t eat meat of fish including dashi.

 

Essential locations

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There’s so much to see and do in Tokyo it’s difficult to know where to begin. Shinjuku is no doubt at the top of your list and the thriving skyscraper lined district really is spectacular to behold with its ultra-chic department stores and legendary nightlife but this district really is just the tip of the iceberg.

 

You should also make these essential stops on your itinerary. All of them encounter tourists on a regular basis so will likely be friendly and welcoming (so long as you observe the customs and etiquette).

  • The Imperial Palace– A must for anyone with an interest in Japanese history. The walled palace is surrounded by walls and moats and is lined with beautiful 17th century parks.
  • Senso-ji Temple– The city’s most famous temple is thronged by shops selling traditional handmade carvings, masks and kimonos. Built in 645 AD its appearance has remained unchanged despite it having been rebuilt numerous times. While the pagoda itself is currently closed for renovations it reopens to tourists in September 2017.
  • Ueno Park– The quintessential Japanese park, Ueno is a gorgeous oasis in the bustling centre of Tokyo. The cherry blossom lined gravel paths lead to a huge range of attractions including the reed fringed Shinobazu pond with its Bentendo temple, 17th century Toshogu Shrine and the Tokyo National Museum.

 

Image by Pixabay

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Cherry Blossoms In New York’s Central Park

I love New York and I already sound like a broken record saying that. Everybody who knows me too well know for a fact that I am quite fussy when it comes to traveling and I have my set criteria for me to like a certain place. And New York has that charm that draws me to it like moth to a fire.

We’ve been to New York a number of times already. Most of our travels are during autumn and spring and never on winter. Why not winter? It is because, you’ll never know when you’ll get stuck because of a blizzard. We have had the misfortune of getting stuck in New York during Hurricane Sandy and we wouldn’t re-live the fear by exposing ourselves to inclement weather system during winter. It can be brutal. So, we prefer the not-so-cold seasons of Spring and Autumn.

We spent few days last April 2012 in New York City. It was only 3 nights and 4 days but I made sure to check another bucket item in my bucket list – to see Cherry Blossoms regardless of country or city. And April was the perfect time to view the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom.

We went straight to Central Park because they have lovely Cherry Blossoms there. We had fun with the photo op under the Cherry Tree branches filled with lovely pink blooms. I feel bad though that our daughter couldn’t come because her passport was being renewed. So, I took these lovely snaps for her to view and enjoy virtually.

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This is my favorite photo, the jump shot! 🙂
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Seeing these pretty flowers in the flesh is a dream come true! Next goal is to see them in their country of origin – Japan!

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Akihabara and the Many Cafes

Japan is one of our favourite destinations. We love Japan and the many sights to be seen. Not to mention, the trinkets, the oddity, the food, and the cafes to try.

I am very happy to have visited Tokyo last Dec. 2013 with my husband and daughter for a brief pre-Christmas get-away gift for our daughter. She loves Japan and anime stuff so much so visiting Japan as her Christmas present was the perfect choice. We were lucky enough to visit Akihabara, a nice area for cafe and cosplay lovers.

Akihabara has plenty of cosplay and maids’ cafe for various types of people. It is also home to many action figure shops and souvenirs. During our visit, we didn’t see much cosplayers because it was during the weekday. We saw some staff wearing costumes along the streets near the west side of Akihabara Station but we could not take picture of them.

The whole place is really interesting. We managed to spend almost an hour in one of the buildings with claw machines and those that dispenses capsule containers with toys inside. We did spend a lot there but the experience was worth every penny! We managed to get lots of kawaii trinkets too from those machines. And we also realised that people actually spend their time (and money) there for fun. I thought we were the only foreigners sucked in there out of curiosity. But the whole building is just meant for those machines or what the Japanese call as gashapon. It is quite addicting! I had to stop because I was spending way too much on the dispensing machines just to try my luck completing a set of miniature toys.

We strolled along Akihabara but didn’t go inside the cafes. Some cafes were not open when we visited in the morning after our stop from Shibuya. It was fun to stroll along the many themed cafes and I bet, it would have been more fun if we went inside to check them out.

We also went to some shops with action figures for our collections. I managed to buy a toy robot (I forgot which one) for my brother.  Akihabara is also known as the Electric city.

Visiting Akihabara is just one of the many things you can do while in Tokyo. It’s easy to reach by train.

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Osaka? Amsterdam? Orlando?

Posted in Europe, family trip, Japan, personal, travel, US
on November 14, 2015

Well, my feet is itchy and I want to scratch it real bad. It’s not fungus. It’s just the travel bug, biting me real bad.

Traveling is my great way to de-stress myself. I have to travel somewhere every year, every quarter, and even every month, if only I can. I just feel happier when I am out and about, discovering new attractions, enjoying other country’s culture and having a good bite of their  local cuisine.

Next year, I have planned tentatively several places as a gift to my daughter’s 18th birthday in February. Unfortunately, we will be using staff travel tickets so getting seats are unlikely due to the high season. Anyway, just in case our Osaka doesn’t happen in February, there is always April! Either it’s back to Keukenhof Gardens or fly off to Orlando to enjoy Disneyland.

All these plans will depend if my daughter has enough vacation to spare and if my boss allows me to utilize my leave in advance.

Anyway, for now they are in the planning stages. I will be very upset if I don’t get to travel anywhere in 2016. I will have to squeeze in a travel anytime soon or I will go bonkers.

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Little Passport’s Scavenger Hunt and Japan Trip Info

Posted in Japan, Little Passports
on July 24, 2015

**The links in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

Last week, I featured an article about summer activities involving campfires and of course, yummy recipes to go with the camping!  The Little Passports Camp Explorer Activity Series continues this week and not only that, there is a Scavenger Hunt involved as well! Super exciting! See how many items you and your little Explorer can find. Go on- get outside with the Little Passports Blog-Camp Explorer Week 2

When you are ready to come back inside, Little Passports has you covered. They asked travel writer and mom of three, Heather Jenks, how she introduced Japan to her family with Little Passports. Read what she had to say on the blog post Traveling to Japan with Little Passports . Maybe even try the origami boat activity. Will your Little Explorer’s boat float better if they color the bottom with a wax crayon?  Introducing Japan to your kids will give them a lot of insight about the country’s magnificent culture, history and art.  I have been to Japan 2 years ago and up until now, I still vividly recall the place, the people, the sceneries, the amazing food, their intricate artistry and many more. Let your kids have that kind of experience using Little Passport.

Interested in the Japan country Kit? It is the second country Sam and Sofia visit so can be explored with any of the World Edition subscriptions ( 12, 6, or 3 months)! Sign up for your subscription and start exploring! 

Interested in more Little Passports blog posts? You can find lots of indoor and outdoor activities on the Little Passports Blog.

And if you missed the Camp Explorer Series Week 1, you can view the post and download the recipe on the Little Passports Blog-Camp Explorer Week 1

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Tokyo…Maybe!

Posted in December, family vacation, Japan, personal, trip
on September 13, 2014

I’m cooking up a storm again with my travel plans this last quarter of the year as we plan to visit Japan once again and this time, with the 2 oldies (my mom and mom-in-law) in tow.

We are holding staff tickets so it will be a big challenge to get on board because of the high season and this is right after Christmas. Anyway, everything is still on the drawing board but we’ve already decided to go to Japan again this December instead of the Christmas Markets in Europe due to budget constraints. It’s much cheaper to visit Japan than Europe!

So, I hope we finalize this plan soon so we can all apply for the visa again. Logistics is quite challenging now since my daughter is in Manila and we, the parents, are here. A lot of paperwork has to be requested and given to my daughter so she can apply as a minor and guaranteed by her parents. Ahhhh…. I wish applying for visas for Filipino citizens isn’t this hard!

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5 Reasons to Visit Japan

Photo credit: deshow.net
As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Japan welcomes millions of visitors each year. Here are just five reasons to consider joining the crowds for a visit to the Land of the Rising Sun.

1: The Food

From savory chazuke to exotic wraps of onigiri, you’ll find plenty of culinary adventures in Japan. Don’t forget to down a few shots of sake and top it all off with the sweet flavor of anpan!

2: The History

If you’re a fan of history, Japan will delight you from the tips of Chusonji Temple to the lowest levels of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace. Thousands of years are packed into these religious and cultural landmarks, and it’s actually impossible to see them all during a single trip.

3: The Company

Japan is famous for its friendliness to foreigners, especially in big cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, where strangers will walk right up to you and ask if you’re free for dinner. They don’t have any bad intentions; they just want to practice their English on you!

4: The Size

For all its diversity, Japan is a small country, meaning that you can travel from the remote hills of Hokkaido to the gleaming metal of Kagoshima all within a matter of days. It’s like having multiple vacation experiences in a single trip!

5: The Fun

More than anything else, Japan is a place where omoide are made. Click here to learn more about the Asian holiday you could be taking right now.

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