Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How To's #20: Get a Prepaid Cellphone

Please visit my new site:

They finally have a relatively tourist and short stay friendly system for prepaid phones. It is darn reasonable too! Before getting a cell was a crazy ordeal; You had to sign a contract and pay crazy rates for only 30 minutes a month!

Visiting friends for a short period of time is a pain without the coordination convenience of a phone. The only prepaid phones that were available were the ones for rent at the airport. THEY WERE AND STILL ARE TERRIBLE! The Rates are horrible and the phone is incredibly old. Worst is the LACK OF E-MAIL! If you have friends in Japan, this is a necessity.

Introducing the new softbank prepaid phone. It's only 4000yen for the cellphone and prepaid phone cards. The rates are still pretty bad at 9 yen per 6 seconds. However, they don't over charge you for short conversations, which I greatly appreciate. These prepaid cards can be purchased at local convenient stores if you run out of minutes.

Now the best part:
Unlimited e-mails for 300yen a month! isn't that insane!?!
My old cellphone charged be 1000yen for every 10,000 e-mails... which seem like a lot... but you can blast thought it pretty quickly if you are using it like instant messaging.

Notes and the Catch:
  • The phone only lasts for a year.
  • You can only have e-mail only and emergency calls only up to 90 days. Otherwise you need to add more money to your prepaid minutes.
  • Choosing you own e-mail is possible, but difficult to figure it out. I had to use a crazy looking one.

  • You need to get a Japanese person to handle the contract for you or have an alien registration card (my friend was able to do it without it... but that is a pretty big inconsistency... so assume that you need a Japanese person).

  • Go to Flagship Softbank Stores!!! The one in Shibuya is the one I went to. Locations that sell softbank phones like yodabashi and akiba do NOT have prepaid cells. The large one in Harajuku might have it, but I have not confirmed.
  • PUSH PUSH PUSH! I hiked all over the city trying to get this damn phone. I called to make sure they had it, only for them to tell me that they didn't. When I insisted that someone confirmed that they did have it, than they were able to sell me the phone (not before disappearing for 15 minutes to check with their manager of course). It was frustrating needless to say.

Finding a Softbank Store:

So getting the phone was still a little painful and infuriating, but in the end I was infinitely satisfied with my phone. After everything, it cost me a little over 8000 yen to get me set up. Of course, I am not counting the cost of training around the damn city >_<! I got the 730SC - I was satisfied with the screen, functionality, and buttons (if they are to flat its hard to type). However, I never figured out how to get infrared to work.

If you are indeed staying a longer time in Japan: Please check out my older posts on my overview of cellphone carriers How To's#3: Getting a Cellphone(j-phone)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

How to #19: Find a Hotel (People keep asking!)

My blog has moved to

Please look at the new post at

Here is an excerpt on How to find a hotel in Japan:
So your options are as such:

  • Friends homes: I had host families and made lots of friends over the years. (Not everyone has a spare room, or as open to share their home… just a heads up)
  • Hostels: are good but still a little unsafe. (Your stuff can still get stolen!)
  • Ryokan (旅館): Japanese style hotels are expensive but super nice! You get to wear the yukatas and eat japanese billion course meal ^_^
  • Minshuku (民宿): Japanese style bed and breakfast. Usually owned by families. Food is usually mediocre and AC is limited.
  • Hotels: I stayed at Daichi in Kichijoji, nice but expensive. Loved the brunch buffet!
If you are unfamiliar with Japanese customs (bathing, cuisine, squatting toilets), I suggest you stay at a hotel. Shinjuku, Tokyo, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, and Kichijoji have Airport Limousines (If I am not mistaken). Those are far more convenient than taking the train. With luggage and such, it’s going to be a pain to navigate through the crowded stations. Especially, if you are going to Shinjuku!

Warning: Do not book a hotel near the airport. Narita is 2 hours away from Tokyo and it is not a cheap train ride!

There are Japanese websites that aggregate hotel rates, but alas, they are in Japanese…and chances are, if you reading this post, you cannot read Japanese. However, I do have a solution!

I love sites like these, I mean I like saving money…but my time is also worth something as well. So you’ll know you’ll get a good deal if you use one of these sites:

  • : It’s searches a over 30 hotel booking website, so it’s a pretty good resource.
  • Similar…If you select the hotel, it will tell you which rooms they have available those days.

Must Packs:

* Comfortable shoes
* Dufflebag (you are gonna have tons of stuff to bring home^_^)
* Simple phrasebook
* Camera
* Medicine (Ibuprofen, stomach medicine)
* CASH (The country mostly operates in cash on a day to day basis; credit cards are only for large purchases)

Monday, June 15, 2009

How to#18: Find something cheap to do in Tokyo’s greatest spot!

Sorry for the delay my friends... been caught up graduating and getting a job. As well as making the long transition to is proving to be far more difficult to me than I had initially anticipated.

Anyways here is the long awaited post:

Please read the full post at the link above. I have step by step photographic instructions.


"Yes…I do indeed speak of hookah or the water tobacco. Guess what… it is dirt cheap and good. You get your own hookah for 400 yen and you are expected to buy a drink from around 200 yen. All in all, it’s a really cheap way to spend a couple hours. I used to go here about once a week. They also offer free mixes. My personal favorite flavors are: Honey and Rose/Vanilla mix. This place is literally a hole in the wall and super tiny. Still a great place with great people though.

(Warning: whoever said hookah is better for you than cigarettes was lying. I am telling you up front that it is like smoking 100 cigarettes. You have been warned…Also, water tobacco isn’t legal in Japan…but they get away with calling themselves something herbal. Just an FYI.. You aren’t going to get deported or anything, so no worries)

It is located in a place very close to my heart… Shimokitazawa(下北沢)

Shimokitazawa is a great spot for cheap dining and shopping and very much has a culture of it’s own. It reminded me of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. In fact, there is a store called Haight Ashbury! This is not covered in a lot of tourist books so it’s tourist free. Only people who have stayed in Tokyo for a while know of this place. It’s also a great place to meet other cool international people."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tokyo How To's #4: Japanese Toilets(continued...)

So for all of you who have read my previous post about the dangers of Japanese toilets... I wanted to share with you a good laugh from one of my fellow bloggers. I will list excerpts from the post but I highly recommend reading the whole thing!

Reannon of Taken by the Wind wrote:

"The 999th reason why I hate kanji"

"I woke up this morning at seven, stepped into the shower, and sleepily pushed the button that turns on the hot water heater....Or so I thought."

"Suddenly the bathroom erupted into chaos. Sirens blared, an automated computer voice started shouting instructions at me through the vent over the bathtub and I screamed in terror. "

"Apparently the button located near the hot water heater wasn't outlined in pink because it symbolized 'heat', but because it was the emergency call button. I'd just unwittingly notified the doorman, the receptionist and possibly the police, that I was having a heart attack in the bathtub."

"I could hear the intercom buzzing so I grabbed a towel and dashed towards the front door...I punched every button, pausing for a second after each one to shout: 'moshi moshi!' into the microphone."

"...Yes, I set off the fire alarm."

"Damn. I forgot the Japanese word for mistake. "Misutaiku!" I yelled, pronouncing the English word with a Japanese accent."

"Chotto Matte (Just a moment)," came the reply....there was a knock on the door."

"I only had enough time to quickly rearrange my towel back into place before I watched in horror as the front door clicked open and in walked a police officer."

"Not only do I have to be 'that idiot gaijin who can't read' but I have to be caught wearing nothing but a towel with sopping wet hair and ugly mascara tracks running down my cheeks."

"Funnily enough, this has happened to me twice before..."

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Please read the whole thing at

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Culture Note #6: Happy Golden Week!!! ゴールデンウィーク

If you are new to Japan, let me tell you about Golden Week. It is a glorious time when nobody works and everybody travels....and I do quite mean EVERYBODY! If you know what is good for you...Don't leave the house!

I am giving you fair warning to let you know that Shibuya and Shinjuku will be twice as crowded...It is normally pretty crowded, but it's usually efficient at least.

People book their vacations MONTHS in advance...sometimes even half
a year. If you are planning to do an impromptu trip, it is going to cost you a lot of money. Even the cheap places mark up their prices. You can expect to spend at least 10,000 yen to travel and eat for a few days during golden week.

Notes: Travel activity is anticipated to peak on May 2 with people leaving the large urban centers and on May 6 in the opposite direction. Heavy traffic can also be expected on April 29 and May 3 and 5.

A Bit 'o' History

In 1948, Japan decided on holidays. They just so happened to all be concentrated into one week, end of April to early May. There is a huge spike in spending during this week and everybody makes money! In 1951, "Jiyū Gakkō" had record sales and the director of Daiei Films to coined the phrase"Golden Week" based on the Japanese radio lingo “golden time,” which denotes the period with the highest listener ratings.

So...if you think there is some awesome ancient history about golden week....sorry to disappoint. It's kinda like how department stores in New York invented Santa and Coca Cola made him red. It's still awesome though^_^.

At the time, April 29 was a national holiday celebrating the birth of the Shōwa Emperor. Upon his death in 1989, the day was renamed "Greenery Day". In 2007, Greenery Day was moved to May 4, and April 29 was renamed Shōwa Day to commemorate the late Emperor.

Thought this was funny... so I tried to google image some pictures for this blog post. This is the first image that comes is a Japanese ad for getting a wax...I guess everyone was clicking on it..haha.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Culture Note #5: What is Karoshi?

Karōshi 過労死 is Death by Overwork

Only in Japan does such a thing exist or is even an issue. Japan has been known for it's hustle and bustle lifestyle but not without a cost. All those who live in Japan know that when it turns night, every izakaya is filled with drunken salarymen. However, for every one of those there is one somewhere else working excessive overtime.

Karoshi is usually a stroke or heart attack. However, suicide that was caused by stress is also considered Karoshi. This is a recognized death by insurance companies. If a family member dies of Karoshi the company that they worked for will pay out the family...not well mind you.

This is a serious problem in Japan and they have attempted to rectify it, but after understanding the dynamics of the culture, I can say that it won't change anytime soon. The expectation from workers is intense.

I know people who sleep a a couple hours a night to than wake up and go to work. The offices pay for dinner and taxi cab fare. I also know people who's companies have paid for hotels nearby the office so that they do not need to leave for too long.

I will leave the topic of crazy suicide rates in Japan for another day. Now please enjoy this un-PC game based on Karoshi


Thursday, April 9, 2009

How to #17: continue to hanami after hanami season! Follow the sakura!

"The Ground Sakura"

When: Mid April - Early May

Where:Hitsujiyama Koen in Chichibu, Saitama

How: From Ueno or Tokyo station ride to Ōmiya station. Reserved seat costs ¥2800, and a non-reserved seat cost ¥1580. (Japan Rail Pass or JR East Rail Pass work) Do yourself a favor and get the reserved seats! Tickets sell out on the way don't get stranded!

My notes: It was great! The azaleas aren't as vast as advertised but it is still an amazing sight. Shibazakura is kind of considered and obaa-san place. There are some very decent matsuri food, like huge yaki-ika. I recommend that you leave most of your stuff in the lockers by the station. It's a very nice hike in the park so enjoy!

Footage I took from Shibazakura last year!