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!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Culture Note #4: What is Hanami or Sakura Season?

This is by far is the most beautiful sight you will ever see. No photograph can ever do it justice. When it is that time of year, all time seems to stand still. The endless white and pink pedals fluttering down makes you feel blessed that you are alive. You see it in movies and you hear about it but this is a once in a life time MUST SEE! So for all those in should feel blessed.

Sakura Season varies from location to locatio
n. For Tokyo it is blossoming right now! There is actually an adventure called Sakura Chasing. Because of the change in climate from north to south, spring hits at a different time. You can thus travel from North to South chasing blossoming sakura for about a month and a half. You can imagine that it is an expensive endeavor. However, I hope to one day do it myself

Hanami (花見) - It literally means "Flower Watching". It is when Sakura Season comes, and you pretty much go get drunk with your friends all day long. People will spend the night in the cold to reserve the best hanami spots through out the park!

When I say drunk..I don't mean a little tipsy... People get PLASTERED! They do CRAZY things. The norm is dancing, singing songs, play instruments, doing homoerotic dares...o_O like the boys in this photo...--->

Preparation: Bring a tarp, blanket, alcohol, TONS of s
nacks, and a Camera!(you never know what your gonna see!) I saw some guys go swimming in the public pond!

Warning: The line to go to the bathroom is going to be if you need to go start waiting in line early, and don't wait till that absolute LAST MINUTE!!!

There are Hanami Spots Everywhere, but
These Were My Favorite:
(If you aren't sure how to read maps please read my older post)

Inokashira Park:

5 min walk from Kichijoji (JR Chuo Line)
1 min walk from Inokashira Kōen (Keio Line)
...Just follow the signs that say Inokashira Park.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park:(MAP)

JR・KEIO・ODAKYU Lines:Shinjuku sta. "south exit" 10min. walk
SEIBU SHINJUKU Line: Seibu shinjuku sta. 15min. walk
Marunouchi Line(Subway): Shinjuku gyoen mae sta. "Exhit1" 5min. walk
Toei Shinjuku Line(Subway): Shinjuku 3 chome sta.: "C1&C5exit" 5min. walk

Don't know where to go? Just follow the trail of Japanese people! TAKE SOME GREAT PICTURES!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Culture Note #3: What is Kanamura matsuri (aka the penis festival!)

Hey all,

Sorry for the delay in recent posts. It's mid-terms time, and I can't write as many posts as I would like. I will be moving this blog to soon, so look forward to it! For now, please enjoy and attend the Kanamura festival.^_^ I attended it last year and it was great!

Warning: there will be 70%+ gaijin attending.


What: Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus)
When: April 5 (Sunday)
Where: Kawasaki, Kanagawa

Start time: 10:30AM(it is best to go earlier)
End time: 4:30PM

Nearest station: Kawasakidaishi (Keikyu line)
Direction: Take the south exit and follow the Gaijin crowd. Kanayama shrine is just a minute walk from the station.

The Kanamara Matsuri, also called Festival of the Steel Phallus, or in layman's term "Penis festival", is an annual Shinto fertility festival held in Kawasaki, Japan in spring. The penis is the central theme of the event, and it decorated in every aspect of the festival; in illustrations, candy, carved vegetables, decoration, a parade of mikoshis, etc.

There is a huge 4 foot tall penis permanently at the shrine year round.

The best part about this festival is that it is right next to a kindergarten school o_o

Note: Not too many Japanese people know about this festival, it is more popular in foreign countries, so be careful who you speak to this about this wild festival. You might still get odd looks if you flaunt your pictures. ENJOY!

Check URL's for:
* Train times & connections
* Weather forecast
* Kanamara festival
* Photos

(some of this information was copied from a Tokyo Gaijin e-mail)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How to #16: follow train etiquette (with funny Metro Posters!)

These are educational for Gaijin and Tokyoites alike... If you are ever on riding a Metro subway train you will see these posters up.

Most of these don't-do's are committed by drunk people at night.


Please also enjoy:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Culture Note #2: What is KY and why is it important?

Kuuki Yomenai = K.Y.(Adj,,n.)

When I first heard it I thought of something dirty. Don't lie, you know you did too!

It literally means "cannot read the air"

While you are living in Japan you will find this is a commonly used phrase. It is NOT ONLY used by young people. It is referring to a person who is oblivious to his current surrounding, and may say or do something insensitive or inappropriate.

This has a negative connotation of ignorance.
Synonymous words would be : Dense or Thick-headed.
Another variation is C.K.Y.
C is for Chou = super, really, extremely

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Culture note #1: What is Aizuchi and why does everyone look like a bogglehead?

Aizuchi (相槌 or あいづち)

It is the act of nodding your head an uttering something to reassure the speaker that you are listening. This is VITAL to communicating in Japan.

The noise that is often used is:

  • "un"
  • "ee"(pronounced "eh")
  • "hai"
  • "soune"
  • "sou desuka"
  • "sou desune"
  • more variations of "sou"(haha)
  • variations of "hontou"
To be safe, just stick with the top 3.

When: when any Japanese person is talking, regardless of status.

How: constantly nod your head(like a boggle head), and say "un" every 4-6 nods.

Why: To be polite, and further integrated in the culture that is Japan.

I actually participated in a study on how Gaijin learn or pick up Aizuchi. They recorded me speaking Japanese and English. If you live their long enough and you converse enough in Japanese you WILL pick it up. It's only when you go back to your country that people ask you why you keep constantly nodding and interrupting them, that you realize that you subconsciously picked it up.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How to: #15: eat out in Japan (must know words!)

This is a list of things/words you need to know:

Kinen-Seki and Kitsuen-Seki:

These will be the first thing your hear when you enter a restaurant. It means non-smoking and smoking. In Japan, smoking is still allowed in doors. This was a bit of a culture shock to me, since I grew up in San Francisco. We haven't had smoking sections since I was a child.

If you wand non-smoking you say "kinen-seki onegaishimasu".

Note: their little dividers will do little to block the smoke from wafting into your nostrils. Also, if you have sensitive eyes like I do...invest in some eyedrops...o_o

Oshibori(おしぼり or お絞り):

Wherever, you eat you will have a wet towelette to clean your hands. You will have this regardless of whether or not you will be eating with your hands.

Note: hot in the winter, cold in the summer

WARNING: DO NOT WIPE YOUR FACE WITH THIS (I've seen some salarymen do it. but it's a no-no)

Osusume(おすすめ or お勧め):

It means recommendation. Most places will have a recommendation written on the menu. So learn the kanji well...because you will be seeing it. Also, sometimes you won't be able to read the menu. It is very useful to ask your waitor/waitress what is their recommendation.

"Osusume ha.." is acceptable... or
"Anata no osusume ha nan desuka" if you are determined to speak in whole sentences.



I love love...LOVE Teishoku! It is set meals! Considering that I was hungry for the first 4 months in Japan, I looked forward to these reasonably prices filling meals. Lunch time is of course cheaper, and it always comes with delicious miso(even at Denny's)

I find that the family owned hole-in-the-wall spots can be pretty darn start looking! And share you favorite spots with your friends.


It means "to go". If you go to fast food restaurants they will ask you for here or to go.
Note: There are no such things as doggie bags in Japan. People will just look at you funny.


Whenever you eat at a restaurant you will almost always pay at the door. Before you pay, just say the magic words "betsu betsu" and they will very easily SPLIT THE CHECK. Each person will pay only for their own meal, and since gratuity is included it just makes it easier.

Note: I'm more impressed because I am American...Because if you ask an American waitor/waitress to split the check, they look at you as if you asked them to do advanced quantum physics.

"Gochisou sama deshita" (ごちそうさまでした):

"Thank you for a wonderful meal"

This is very useful for relationship building...and it's pretty standard for politeness.

Whether you live in a dorm or go to you favorite sushi place. You should say that as your are leaving. Say it loud and proudly, to further emphasize how delicious the meal was! It will make them happy, and make you happy for feeling like you are a part of the culture.

I had Kaiten-sushi(revolving sushi) way to often... so I used it regularly. The preparers will remember you, and it will help your cultural immersion in Japan!

Gan Batte!

Friday, January 9, 2009

How to # 14: Deal with losing your Wallet

Call me clumsy... but I've lost my wallet 3 times in Japan... It happens... you walk around a lot..things go in and out of your's bound to happen.

However, each time I lost it, it was not only returned but had ALL THE CASH! This would happen ONLY in Japan!

Mind you that I'd carry about 30,000yen at minimum ($300USD) You live in Japan long enough, you know...that you ALWAYS need to have cash!

In either case, this is possibly my favorite attribute to why Japanese people are so great! They are so considerate. In America, the best you could hope the case of a lost wallet your empty wallet with all your ID's and credit cards. Not in experience has been phenomenal. If it was at school I got it in the lost and found. College students are poor...I would not have been surprised to find my money missing.

The other occasions I lost my wallet, I was called by the cops. They found like bank card which had my cellphone number on it.(talk about service!) They called to inform me where it was, and I was able to pick it up within a couple hours of loosing it. Luckily I had some change for the train...or it would have been yabai...(no good)

So in Japan here is the protocol for receiving all your money back! This is not mentioned in textbooks or anything of that sort. So yes...japanese people are considerate...but it is also assumed that you will be grateful...and thus be osewaninatta(in debted to).

Rule of thumb
is about 20-30% of the cash that was in the wallet. Wherever your wallet was returned to, they will often leave contact is up to you to contact them and give them thank you money.

  1. Lose wallet
  2. Get wallet back with all the cash
  3. Give Thanks in the form of 20-30% of wallet content
you got it? and it doesn't hurt to ask a Japanese friend for help on this matter.

So pay it forward!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

How to's #13: Understand the eerie quietness of a Tokyo Train

World's most populated city, along with the most advanced rail systems....

Tokyo is famous for their crowded trains. Now, combine the idea your average encounter with Asians(likely to be Chinese, and loud) except multiply that by thousands... and you will probably have an image that it is unbearably NOISY!

However, Japan is quite the opposite.

When I say eerily quiet, I do mean it. You will never have heard such intense silence in your life (Except possibly a Japanese movie theater before a film starts...I'll explain in a future post)

There is generally some minimal noise created by living beings. Such as: coughing, shuffling, breathing... In the trains though, you are left with only the sounds of: the tracks, cellphone button clicking (e-mails), PSP's, tapping of a DS, or a rude person with earphones too loud. I can honestly hear a sneeze practically in the next car over.

Now for people who live in Japan for longer periods of time, you will likely have your handy iPod or mp3 player on hand all the time. But one of these days, you will forget to charge it or you didn't plug it in correctly...and BAM! It's your morning commute and you are deprived of your music and/or podcasts for the remainder of your journey. It is at that moment, when you realize that it's quiet....scary quiet.

To make things clear, the only time that it is not quiet is during the late evenings....which are usually loaded with drunken salary men and rowdy young people who are trying to catch the last train home.

In most countries, trains will be noisy...but it in Japan it is the norm to be near silent?

Well when I asked a number of my Japanese friends as well as students, the best understanding i can provide is it's historical context...

When trains were first introduced, it was a luxurious form of transportation. People would dress up, and exhibit a "proper" image. During that time, it would be rude and inappropriate to be boisterous. It is only over time, that the train system evolved to span the entirety of Japan...and grow into one of the world's most efficient systems. It may no longer be considered and a upper-class luxury anymore, but the importance of caring for others is still very much there

In addition, considering that you are often face-deep in somebody's armpit during a rush hour train...don't you think it's nicer that nobody is talking and yapping away letting their morning breath into the already stuffy train?

Although this is a generalized statement, Japanese people are very much the type to care for others. It is both a positive and negative attribute...But if you are to live or stay in Japan, it is one of the core understanding that is needed to understand Japanese culture...

So next time you are in the train...understand hat by being loud and inconsiderate of others, you would be infringing on another persons overall comfort and experience...Thus, it is important as foreigners that we respect and abide by this social rule of in train silence. Many foreigners feel it is stupid to abide by this rule..and that Japanese people simply care too much...but in the end...if you are in THEIR country, you should abide by THEIR rules.

So please....Don't be a BAD foreigner, and be courteous in the train. (don't eat on the train either!)

Please also read How to Survive a Rush Hour Train!

Suggestion on how to endure the silence:

  • keep you Ipod charged!
  • Podcast are your friend
  • Go to Kinokuniya to buy some books (hard to read in a rush hour train though)
  • Nintendo DS/PSP is a godsend! (i advise nintendo DS for it's more casual games and realtime games are ill advised)
  • Learn to sleep standing up (I did can you)
  • Cellphone e-mails ( I use to text my friends at's usually the
  • meditate