Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tips for Tokyo Summer Travelers

Summers in Tokyo are hot and steamy, and in 2020 a lot of travelers will be heading to Tokyo for the summer Olympic games. As hindsight is 20/20, I'm noting what I learned from my travels and sharing these summer travels tips for Toyko:

1. Travel light
Portable, light suitcases that can easily navigate the tight spaces of trains, smaller hotel rooms, and crowded public spaces are essential. Fewer belongings are better than wrestling with too many bags! A reasonably small roller suitcase and a backpack or bag work well- especially one that slips over the suitcase handle which also reduces back strain. I made my kids use carryon suitcases for their stuff and had them put their electronics, book, sweater, and snacks in a backpack for easy access. I had a larger suitcase with half of it stuffed with OU t-shirts (see #7 below).

2. Pack quick drying clothes
Laundry in Japan is generally dried on the clothesline or rack. Public laundries do have dryers, but if you only have access to a hotel or apartment amenities, laundering items in the sink will require you to hang them up to dry. Quick drying clothes (polyester fibers, nylon, etc.) ensure your clothes are dry and ready. This particularly is relevant to your underwear but also applies to most things of thick cotton which can take a long while to dry. Pack well by bringing less- follow the 5 4 3 2 1 rule, choose coordinating colors (pick one scheme), and roll your stuff up.

3. Carry a hand towel
Public restrooms rarely provide paper towels or air dryers in Japan. The Japanese carry small hand towels for drying their hands in the bathroom. Purchase a small (wash cloth sized) hand towel- easily found in a variety of stores- look for absorbing fibers and darker colors.

4. Skip the water bottle
Japan has vending machines on top of mountains. My point here is that vending machines are every where in Japan. It's hot in Tokyo, and you'll want that drink cold. Skip the reusable bottle, and plan to purchase beverages as needed. I recently observed a Tokyo business man in his suit pull out and chug a liter bottle of o-cha at a cross walk- convenience stores sell single servings as well as half and full liter bottles. Restaurants do not generally provide refills in Japan, and in Japan, a small beverage is smaller than in America. Hydration might cost you a bit more in Japan, but you will need your fluids, and you'll appreciate them cold.

5. Pack out your garbage
Garbage can be complicated in Japan. At it's simplest you can find containers for "burnable" and "recyclable." However, you often have to pack out your garbage which means it is something to be mindful of that when you create trash, you'll need to think about when and where you can dispose of it. Sometimes this means carrying it for a bit. For example, some vending machines have a recycling collection for the bottles, but not always. Don't expect to readily find trash cans for your food wastes or hand wipes.

6. Hygiene products
I struggle the most with choosing which hygiene products. I've got curly hair so in humid weather the kind of hair products I use changes the way my hair behaves. In Japan, I opt for only taking hair gel as I can generally rely on the hair products in the hotels and onsens to be reasonably good, at most I would add conditioner. I also bring sunblock for my face, face lotion, deodorant, and contact cleaner. Everything else I can skip or buy there. Most of my Japanese friends buy toothbrushes at the convenience stores. You can even buy underwear at a convenience store in Japan- but you need to be a fairly small American (I wear a small in America but a large in Japan).

7. Gifts
Japan is a gifting culture that is alien to me- people give gifts when they go to your house, when you come to theirs, and so many other occasions that I don't understand. I often find myself in the awkward position of receiving a gift without one to give. Luckily,  much of the gift giving is food based; it's easy to use it up (this is my minimalism coming out). Bring something from your hometown to share- whether a special spice, t-shirt, a jar of jam- then take it with you if someone invites you over.

8. Get a rail pass card
It's safe and easy to get around Japan whether on the train, subway, or bus. The subways, trains, and buses are easiest with a rail pass. My husband thoughtfully brought our Suica cards from five years before. These electronic cards make daily travels (and using those vending machines for cold drinks) infinitely easier and more efficient since you won't have to fish for coins or make your jet-lagged fogged brain count- add yen to your card and the fare is deducted electronically. Different rail (and bus) lines such as East Japan Railway Co. versus private, etc. may use other cards like the Pasmo. In an around Tokyo, either work for most of your transportation needs. The station agents can help you navigate platforms, train lines, and generally assist you with directions, but there's also an app.


Vending machines in Japan