Traveling to Tokyo for the First Time

What should you expect, traveling to a foreign country for the first time? Here are a list of things you should prepare yourself to expect when traveling to a foreign country for the first time:

You will be lost.
I do not know how many times I have gotten lost in Tokyo, Japan. I have been there, now, a total of four times in the past nine years. I know that number is not as much as others who travel there yearly, but I still consider it a well-rounded amount of times. I have stayed in different places each time I traveled to Tokyo, and without any doubt, have gotten myself lost.

I would say the biggest challenge is not speaking or knowing how to read the language. Thankfully, these days, Tokyo has accommodated to foreign travelers and majority of the signs in Tokyo have English translated right below it. These direct translations in Japan’s railway system has made directions read-able, but not necessarily easy to travel. What direction should I take? What line do I have to hop off of, and hop back on? And simply.. WHERE AM I?!

I first traveled to Tokyo, in 2007, with my Japanese club in High School. During this time, I had 4-years’ worth of Nihongo in my curious brain. Being 18 years old, I knew that I thought I would ease my way through Tokyo by simply asking locals directions and reading signs — back in these days, Tokyo was not as translated as it is today. Reading signs was not a problem, and neither was asking for directions. The method of transportation was what had me going to wrong direction for 45 minutes, realizing I was heading South instead of the intended North. The public transportation system, i.e. the railway system, was so new and foreign to me, that it simply had me lost.

After a few slaps to the back of my own hand, I finally became comfortable enough to use the railway system in japan and generally know where I am headed. (However, in my most recent trip to Japan with my husband, we began running around stations because we were lost trying to find our way to a popular onsen, 1 hour away from Tokyo.)

But what is the point of getting lost, if not to learn from your mistakes? Take it from me; It’s okay to get lost. Sometimes getting lost is part of the fun when traveling to a foreign country. When you get lost, you will find things off the beaten path and discover a new shop, street, or restaurant unscathed by popular tourism. I believe that getting lost is the best part of traveling.

Connectivity helps you in the long run
Two words; POCKET WIFI. I cannot express the power of having access to wifi connectivity. In Japan, there are special services out there that allows you to rent out wifi services, which you can simply bring with you everywhere you go. These days, these wifi modems, which can fit in your pocket, can be rented out at NRT Airport, or are already included in popular home rentals, such as homes from AirBnB. At the end of your trip, you can simply drop the wifi pocket back at to the service provider, or simply leave it in the rental.

Out of the four times I traveled to Tokyo, two times I decided to save money and not have pocket wifi access. Not only did I save money, I also wasted a lot of time, became frustrated, lost my way traveling to a desired destination, and more. There are several places in Tokyo that offer free wifi but they are not reliable sources. Many times, you must create an account, go through a long set-up session, ask for a password, and many times have these connection opportunities dropped on me mid-search, and wasted my time trying to re-connect, and essentially ruined my afternoon. These battles are not worth it — invest in a pocket wifi service. You will find your traveling is much easier, and you will have less frustration.

Plan ahead
Not sure where to stay on your trip? The best way to guarantee convenience, is… convenience! Plan ahead. Do a lot of research and make sure where you plan to stay, is directly accessible to other places you want to visit. For example, let’s take a look at the Tokyo’s awesome subway map:

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Now, let’s center in. And by center, I truly mean the center. Do you see that small railway, that is colored green? What I highlighted below is the Yamanote line. I like to tell beginner travelers that this line gives you the most access around popular Tokyo. The Yamanote line easily connects you to Narita and Haneda Airports, main prefectures such as Ikebukuro, Akihabara, Ueno, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku….. Need I say more? Since the Yamanote line connects to huge prefectures, I would say it’s the perfect spot to start searching for a place to stay while traveling for the first time.

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Yamanote Line

So if your hotel, hostel, or home rental is a few minutes’ walk from a subway station, I would say you are golden. I would however, make sure that the station you are using to travel to/from the airport, contains an escalator and/or elevator to aid you and your heavy luggage full of omiyage (souvenirs) for back home.

I think that hits all of the major points, in terms of what to expect when traveling to a foreign country — specifically Tokyo, Japan. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. I would love to help you and your journey to new places.

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