I’m taking a break from the Lolita posts (part four is still forthcoming!) for a different kind of entry. This post is geared towards English-speakers coming to Japan — either as tourists or to live. It’s mostly a link dump of things I’ve found helpful in my day-to-day life while I’ve been here. A lot of this stuff is Tokyo-specific, but some of it applies to all of Japan.
For tourists, English-speakers, and those new or coming to Tokyo:
Surviving in Japan
Ashley is no longer in Japan, but her site is still incredibly useful for both tourists and English-speaking foreigners. Learn how to work your Japanese air conditioner, find an apartment, buy a used car, or pretty much anything you might need to do in Japan.
Exactly what it says. Cheap stuff in Tokyo!
I’ve only used this site once (for Okinawa), but it has tons of cheap day trips and tours for Tokyo and other parts of Japan. Want to go hiking, or eat lunch with a Japanese salaryman? This is the site for you. There are also many activities (Ghibli Museum, baseball games, maid cafe, etc.) that you can definitely do on your own, but if you’re only here for a couple days and/or you don’t speak any Japanese, it might be easier to just book a tour.
Japanese Postal Code Lookup
This has come in handy for me a bunch of times. If you need to know the postal code of an address in Japan, you can look it up here. The site is in Japanese, but with some Google Translate help, you should be able to navigate it.
An explanation of the Japanese residency system
The residency system had a complete overhaul last year, so this info was helpful for me.
Info about bringing prescription drugs into Japan
Whether you’re coming to Japan as a tourist or to live, Japan has strict drug import laws. Some drugs that seems fairly innocent are 100% illegal in Japan. Sudafed, for example, is not allowed. (Anything containing pseudoephedrine is prohibited.) The drug Adderall is also apparently illegal, as another example of something you might think is fine to bring into the country. MOST prescription drugs are allowed, but only one month’s supply. If you want to bring more than a month’s worth, you need to fill out what’s called a yakkan shomei. The link to the form is here. You have to fill it out and mail it to Japan and they will send you back a stamped form to carry through customs. Otherwise, you’re taking your chances trying to get prescription drugs into the country — I think that in the best case scenario, they’ll take your drugs away and in the worst case, you’ll be deported or arrested.
Azabu Japanese Language School
I took Japanese lessons here with Baba-san and she was awesome. I’d recommend it for a short-term course.
The HOLY GRAIL of Japanese English language transit-related sites. If you need to get anywhere in Japan, you will be using this site. A lot.
Also good, but in Japanese.
I’ve never used Willer Express, but I’m including the link because you might want to. They have a very good English website and run cheap buses between various cities in Japan. Often WAY cheaper than taking the shinkansen, but you will of course, be spending many, many, many hours on a bus.
The site is kind of an overload of information, but it includes everything you might want to know about the Japan Rail Pass and the various other kinds of transit passes you can get in Japan.
JR East Fares and Passes
Good information about all the various transit passes available in the Kanto area specifically. If you’re living in Japan and don’t have access to the Japan Rail Pass (or any of the passes that require a tourist visa), there are some other options, like the Kanto Area Pass and the Seishun 18.
JR West Tickets and Bookings
Same thing as above, but Kansai area transit passes.
I love Amazon Japan. The novelty might have worn off earlier if I wasn’t from Canada (where Amazon mostly only sells books), but I love love love being able to order almost anything via Amazon. If you don’t speak any Japanese, the site might make shopping easier for you. Can’t read the packages at your Japanese supermarket? No problem, just order your toilet paper, dish soap, and groceries from Amazon! The site is mostly in Japanese, but Google Translate should be enough for anyone to get by.
If you don’t have a Japanese credit card, you can use a foreign credit card with your Japanese shipping address. Or you can choose to pay at your nearest convenience store. You can also have your goods delivered to a convenience store (Lawson or Family Mart). AND! Amazon Japan can even ship things to you in the SAME DAY, or any day, at any time you choose! This must be the future.
Like any Groupon site, but you know, for Japan. It’s especially practical for cheap food and cheap hair/nail deals. I feel like it might be a bit unethical to use as a tourist (when you have no intention of going back to the place) but if you want bad Japanese karma, who am I to stop you?
Also called Kuroneko (“black cat,” like the logo). One of the biggest courier companies in Japan (the other is Sagawa), and you’ll probably see their trucks everywhere. If you travel between cities in Japan and you have large luggage, the easiest thing to do is ship your luggage between places. They can pick up your bags, or you can drop them off at a convenience store. It’s quite cheap and they’ll deliver them the following day. You can also use this service (called takkyubin) to get your bags delivered to or from the airport. And of course, you can use them to ship almost anything domestically or internationally. They have a fairly extensive English site. They also have an English-language phone number you can call if you need to get a package redelivered or whatever.
I’ve mentioned this site before, but it’s sort of a Japanese version of Makeupalley. It’s all in Japanese but it’s been great for helping me decide which Japanese cosmetics to spend all my money on.
Japan has this unique and wonderful thing where magazines often come with something for free. It’s often a tote bag, but I’ve bought magazines that came with makeup, blankets, IC card holders, tshirts, cosmetic pouches, stationery, wallets, and stickers. They are also often tied to some designer — I’ve acquired several cute Marc by Marc Jacobs items via Japanese magazines. This site details practically every magazine and the free thing that comes with it. It’s updated very frequently. Since it’s mostly pictures, you don’t really need Japanese to figure out what’s what.
If you’re new to Japan and/or don’t speak any Japanese, this primer about emergencies from the US Embassy in Japan is useful. It tells you how to call 911 (119 in Japan) and what to say.
I have not been to a doctor in Japan (knock on wood) but Mike had a minor issue and we went to Primary Care Tokyo in Shimokitazawa. The doctor there, Joe Kurosu, went to medical school in the US (Stanford! Yale!) and speaks both English and Japanese fluently. We have private insurance, but the clinic also takes Japanese national medical insurance. There was almost no wait to see the doctor AND you can book an appointment online! (The receptionist speaks English though, if you’d rather call.)
Here’s a list of some other English-speaking doctors in Tokyo that I found via the internets:
If you want to go to a Japanese salon but are afraid to make an appointment over the phone, 美美美 to the rescue! You can look up salons by area or train line, and then book an appointment online! You can also read reviews and see photos of the salon. Even better, most of the salons have coupons for your first visit.
For English-speaking salons, I’ve heard that foreigners like Sin Din and Watanabe, but I haven’t tried them. I’ve ended up going to Japanese hair salons, which I think works out better for my Japanese-ish hair.
You can also likely get a better deal going to a Japanese hair salon. Because there are SO MANY hair salons here, most of them offer rather substantial discounts (we’re talking like 50% off) for your first visit and then a point card for additional discounts. But if you’d prefer an English-speaking hairdresser in Tokyo, here’s some I’ve found:
If you’re lazy yet hungry, Rakuten Delivery is your friend. Put in your postal code and pages of restaurants that deliver to you will appear! Ramen, pizza, udon, curry, sushi, whatever. You can order online and food will soon be on its way to you. This is especially good if you don’t speak Japanese or just don’t feel like picking up the phone.
Kind of like a Japanese version of Yelp on steroids. It’s a bit difficult to use without knowing Japanese, but you can get a decent amount of information with Google Translate. Basically, every single restaurant in Japan is on Tabelog, with ratings and photos and reviews.
Another well-used restaurant guide in Japan. This one even has an English version! (You’ll get waaaaaay more information from the Japanese version, though.) I like it because it often includes restaurant menus.
I don’t use this site, but Mike does, because he’s a ramen nerd. You can see the highest rated ramen by location. Mike’s picked out some pretty tasty spots using this site so I give it a thumbs up. It’s entirely in Japanese, but again, turn on Google Translate and find yourself a nice ramen shop.
Mike also wants me to mention that site includes other food databases — there’s links across the top of the page for curry, chahan, gyoza, udon, and soba.
I really have nothing to say here, because we’ve used Airbnb the entire time we’ve been here (except when we’ve stayed in hotels). I’ll do another post on that soon, but it’s worked out well. Airbnb isn’t terribly popular in Japan (compared to some countries), but the number of places available in Tokyo has probably doubled in the past year.
However, here are some foreigner-friendly rental places I came across when I was looking into this last year. I have not used any of them.
If you have anything else you think I should include in this entry, let me know!