Japan had never really been top of my list of places to see. My ex was the main reason I ended up in Japan. He suggested it and I came around to the idea pretty quickly – after all, I had two weeks off, it was somewhere I’d never been and the flights were fairly cheap (£550 return from LHR to Tokyo). Oh, and what was that? Did you say something? There’s a Tokyo Disneyland?!! SOLD. So what did I learn from my time in Tokyo? Well, let me tell you in my first time guide to Tokyo.
FIRST TIME GUIDE TO TOKYO
NINJA TRAINING IN NODA
I had been training Japanese ninjutsu for nearly two years when I arrived in Tokyo. I was staying in Noda, a small town outside the madness of central Tokyo. It is also the birth place and home of grandmaster Hatsumi, the last living ninja. Yes, that’s right, a real life ninja. However, he’s not a turtle – he’s an 80-something year old man with a shock of bright purple hair. While I stayed in Noda I had the opportunity to train with Hatsumi himself in the Honbu/Dojo. It was amazing to see an elderly person move with such fluidity, throwing people around the room with just the touch of a finger. However, he did throw a paintbrush at me and I was able to duck out of the way, so perhaps he’s losing his touch? 😉 During the break period of each lesson Hatsumi sat and drew pictures, often X-rated, on pretty much anything put in front of him. He used traditional Japanese ink, so even when he drew a pair of boobs it still looked arty. Yep, I’m mentioning boobs in my first time guide to Tokyo.
Let’s be honest, this was the best part. Though I must admit I was slightly worried about whether or not I would fit on rides made to accommodate the average tiny Japanese person. Luckily I managed to squeeze in. However, it should be noted that the rides were much less thrilling than their Parisian or American counterparts. Perhaps Japanese people have a lower thrill threshold? Now, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but Japan is known for all things ADORABLE, also known as “Kawaii”. Therefore, it was a natural assumption that Tokyo Disneyland would have the cutest Disney merchandise imaginable, and it did. Everything had huge eyes and could be attached to your phone somehow. It was an added bonus that the Christmas theme had started when we arrived for our day of Disney madness. I BOUGHT EVERYTHING. A visit to Disneyland belongs in every first time guide to Tokyo. Also, in comparison to other Disneylands the price of a ticket is quite reasonable.
If you are anything like me (a massive nerd) then your favourite place in Tokyo will, without a doubt, be Electric Town, aka Akihabara. Basically it is full of all things manga and anime at prices that you would not believe. Everything flashes and sparkles. There are arcades full of stereotypical Japanese school kids and girls that look like they walked straight off the set of a Gwen Stefani music video. This place never sleeps. I spent hours trawling through shops that had floor after floor of amazing merchandise. If I ever go back I will bring a spare suitcase to pack full of sexy figurines. Seriously. You can see my favourite purchase in the photo above. She cost me the equivalent of £10. MADNESS. Also, BEWARE the top floor of any anime/manga shop – FULL OF HENTAI (Japanese animated porn). A very important tip in my first time guide to Tokyo.
I got bitten and it was pretty bad. Luckily I was able to communicate with my Japanese counterpart in the pharmacy (I’m a pharmacist) and procure some steroid cream. Most itchy experience of my life! Otherwise there’s not much to complain about with regards to Japan. Oh, if you’re big on chicken breast then I’m afraid you’ll be horrified by anything classed as chicken (tori-niku in Japanese) on a Japanese menu. Basically it will be an extremely unappetising, sinewy, chewy mass. Avoid at all costs. There was a small earthquake, but sure that’s just a bit of excitement. And I was born in New Zealand so I’m no stranger to earthquakes.
TOP TIPS FOR YOUR FIRST TIME IN JAPAN
- 100 yen shops are the equivalent of pound/ euro shops. Everything in them costs 100yen (about 60p). They have EVERYTHING. If you are spending a considerable amount of time in Japan and need household goods, these are fantastic, or if you simply want cute souvenirs for a reasonable price. I purchased a ridiculous amount of tabi socks (traditional Japanese socks with a split in the toe) and they were much nicer than the over-priced ones I had seen in the markets.
- Use the trains and underground. The maps may seem daunting at first but you’ll soon grasp them. If you have a lot of trouble the easiest thing to do is buy the cheapest ticket and then when you get off there will be a machine which will read your ticket and tell you if you need to pay any extra. If you do, simply insert the money into the machine and then you’re free to go. Even when trains are packed they never feel uncomfortable. So much nicer than the London Underground.
- If you’re not a complete travel diva, you NEED to stay in a traditional Japanese Ryokan. I stayed in Asuza Ryokan in Noda. Basically it’s the traditional Japanese experience; rice paper sliding doors, bamboo mats, flat mattresses on the floor for a bed, floor level table with cushions to sit on, traditional Japanese robe for wearing indoors. AMAZING. The bathroom was even more wonderful. It was a giant wetroom with shower heads around the walls and tiny stools for you to sit on as you hosed yourself down. There was a giant heated bath in the corner that you got into once you had been showered. It was like heaven after a days training. The water was only changed once a day regardless of how many people used it, hence the need to shower before hand. This fact might freak some of you germ-fearing people out, but I was not the least bit bothered by this. If a Ryokan doesn’t sound like it’s for you then make sure you check on this guide where to stay in Tokyo. It’s really handy and goes through all the best places to stay in each neighbourhood.
- If you intend on using an ATM/cash machine in Japan you are nearly 100% guaranteed that the only one that will work will be in a 7/11 store. There was one at the Tokyo Dome in a post office that worked for me. However, I did have trouble with post offices in other parts of Japan. My advice is to TRY and avoid having to use an ATM. If you find one that works, take out a bit more than you think you’ll need, just to be safe.
- If you’re into martial arts, Japan is like Mecca. There is a huge sports centre in Ayase. If you can get to a ninjutsu class there it’s amazing, even just to watch. I just loved being in the place. The girls practising Kyudo or Japanese archery were particularly breath-taking. The markets are good for picking up cheap weapons and kit too. I got some cheap shuriken or throwing stars and a new pair of training tabi.
- Be polite. Hand your money to the shop assistant with both hands and take your change with both hands. Bow. Learn the words for please, thank you and excuse me. Learning a bit of Japanese should be at the top of every first time guide to Tokyo.
- If you want to drink alcohol, avoid beer in bars. It is very expensive. Buy alcohol in supermarkets. They have these delightful mixes of lemonade and beer in cans that are around 8%. Cheap, effective and delicious, which is high praise considering I really dislike beer. They do not ask for ID, a screen simply asks if you are over 20 and you press yes or no. I handed my ID to the assistant and I thought she was going to die of embarrassment.
- If you want a picture of/with someone, just ask. In my experience people were delighted to be asked. In fact in Disneyland a stereotypical Japanese school girl asked if she could get a photo of me and her. ADORABLE.
Looking for accommodation in Tokyo? Then check out this comprehensive guide to accommodation in Tokyo for first timers.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my first time guide to Tokyo. If you have any question feel free to leave me a comment. And let me know if you’ve been to Tokyo and what you thought. I LOVED it and would love to return to Japan and visit Tokyo AND explore the rest of the country.