Thursday, 8 September 2016

Preparing to Travel to Tokyo for the First Time - First Thing's First: Research

The following blog post(s) are published here in the spirit of recording the present
for the interest of future generations -- which is a big part of genealogy, BTW.
You can't just go back! The present will be the past someday
[tomorrow, in fact, if you want to get technical]!

Hubby is embarking upon a business trip to Tokyo next WEEK. Of course, that means I've been doing a fair amount of touristy research since I will have quite a lot of time to myself in the world's most populous metropolis. Just as there was NO way I wasn't going with him,* there is equal chance I will be sitting around waiting for him to be done with work before experiencing the culture, heritage, history and FOOD that Japan has to offer. This may well be a once in a lifetime experience and I fully intend to do my utmost to live the shit out of it. That said, I'm not the adventuresome spirit I'd like to think I am or even wish to be** but I'm gonna giv'r a damn good go.

Thank gawd I travelled solo to RootsTech in 2015 or I may have been rendered entirely useless on my own in Japan for lack of confidence in the face of my social anxiety disorder!! A city -- not a country, a CITY - of around 13 million people is plenty scary (For comparison, Ottawa has ...holy crap! less than 1 million people spread out over a much larger area than Tokyo). Nevermind the fact that the prevalent language will not be my own and I have nada clue when it comes to Japanese vocabulary... domo origato mr. roboto... sake... hai... and samurai ... that's pretty much it.

Clearly, I had a lot to look into before I would feel semi-confident proceeding on my own into such a vastly different culture. Upon hearing of our exotic travel plans the first thing my helpful mother said: "Be careful you don't show them your toes!" I'm thinking "what the hell's wrong with my toes??" but, of course, she meant she thought it is considered rude to bare your tootsies in Japanese culture. SMH. I'm not 100% sure this is true (she is adamant) but I don't plan on displaying my feetsies anytime, anywhere on this trip so I think it is a moot point. Especially, because I don't have the moolah to enjoy a pedicure beforehand.

Anyhoo. Onward.

What's the first thing you do when you are planning to travel to a new, exotic location? If you're me, you order books from Amazon. When you're me AND you're poor, you make due with what you can get from the local library -- and that equals all of the Japan/Tokyo travel books I could get my grubby little paws on!

Books in the photo (at beginning):

1. Tokyo A Cultural History by Stephen Mansfield. I have to admit that, so far, I have only browsed this book but it looks like a wonderful overview of the history in which a foreign traveller would be most interested. Not too deep, not too light. I haven't decided yet whether or not I'm going to bring this to read on the plane...

2. Tokyo 29 Walks in the World's Most Exciting City by John H. Martin and Phyllis G. Martin. This travel tome comes with a folded map of Tokyo in a pocket on the back flap. [Yes! Even the library copy!] I think 29 Walks is probably my favourite of the lot because it includes many smaller maps that give you an accurate understanding of where attractions are located in relation to each other and just how much walking will be involved. [Answer: A LOT.] Ironically, I don't plan to do a whole heck of a lot of walking to and from attractions [I'm-a-teach me the terrifying train system, first thing!]. The suggested tours give you a good idea of which attractions to schedule per day.

3. A Guide to Tokyo, Kyoto, Tohoku, and Japanese Culture Past and Present by Sumiko Kajiyama. This talks about major attractions plus some of the more obscure, more specialized city highlights like the Hello Kitty Shop, the Myth of Tomorrow Mural and 100 Yen stores. This book is my second favourite.

4. Fodor's Travel Tokyo. This one is your best overall travel guide book. It has some of everything, as per the Fodor's usual.

5. Live & Work in Japan by Erica Simms. I borrowed this one because I thought it might have a few not well-known tips for travelling on a budget in Tokyo -- thinking, maybe thrift or discount stores. Also, I thought it might have some enlightening info regarding dealing with potential medical issues, safety precautions, emergency procedures, cultural traditions. Ultimately, I think this would be of more use to, obviously, someone who plans to work in Japan or someone who is going to spend more than a week and may be interacting more personally with locals (ie, staying with them).

6. Seeing Tokyo by Kaori Shoji.
7. Tokyo megacity by Donald Richie.
These are the coffee-table style photo books from the picture. In all honesty, I have not opened either of them even once. I thought they might give me an idea of what sort of similar style book to purchase in Tokyo as a memento of our trip. I think, now, that I will either design my own or just see what pops out at me if I happen to wander into a bookstore.

Next thing? GOOGLE.

The first thing I discovered, actually, was a video posted to a YouTube channel by Brittany from Boston, a young lady who globe trots solo. Her accompanying travel blog is very helpful as well. These are her Tokyo blogposts:

This foray into the tubes, of course, started me down the rabbit hole... I don't know about you but my first inclination when researching is never to hop onto YouTube. But turns out, for travel, it's a GREAT idea! What better to give you a realistic idea of what it's like to travel around a foreign city than a first-person video from someone who is also a foreigner travelling in that exact city??

Among the many vlogs that were either annoying or just junk, there were a few one-off videos I found helpful:
6 Things that are OKAY in Japan (but are illegal/rude in the US) via Texan in Tokyo
Tokyo Travel Guide via Attache
Japanese Street Food via Amazing Street Food
Travel Channel Culture Shock via CyneriaDOC
3 Tokyo Travel Vlogs by Ann Lu
20 Essential Travel Tips for Gamers Going to Tokyo via IGN
25 Things to Do in Tokyo, Japan by Mark Wiens
Tokyo Vacation Travel Guide via Expedia
22 Things to do in Tokyo, Japan via Red Dragon Diaries
Japan Travel Guide: 10 Things you need to know Before Coming to JAPAN by Experience Japan with Yuka

There are a series of Japan-related vlogs by Kim Dao who is a young Australian transplant to Japan. This series, while helpful, is definitely geared to a younger demographic than old mid-thirties LDC. While I like Kim very much, I could only take the videos in short doses whereas the next channel I could watch for hours (and I kinda have).

And that channel, which has frequent and recent videos about travelling in Tokyo, belongs to Jesse and Anna Lee (although the channel is called AnnaLee and Jesse). Anna Lee is a hairstylist who works periodically in Japan. Jesse is a photographer and her husband who accompanies her. Together they create entertaining vlogs about their journies, their "hauls" of loot and tutorials. #JesseEats is a particular favourite of mine. Here is a link to their Japan-related vlogs.

When I needed to get my jaws around some more meat and potatoes, I looked to Google again. This time, I ignored the video results and chomped down on the other links she spit out.

Websites of particular interest to me as a first timer to Tokyo:
This might seem like a no-brainer but Trip Advisor is useful for so many things! Read recent reviews of the hotel you are going to stay at or even get TIPS for booking at those hotels (for example, which specific floors or rooms to avoid, which floors to request for various views or employees with whom one can look forward to interacting). There is usually a list of popular nearby attractions, reviews of all of those - including visitor photos! - and forums where you can ask questions of previous visitors, or staff. and, I'm sure, many other sites offer similar reviews and forums which should also be checked.

Live Japan
Unmissable Tokyo
Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Tourism, Culture and Sport Resource Directory
Japan National Tourism Organization

Please note that I do not, necessarily, endorse any of these companies. I just found their sites useful to my research. I probably have not booked anything with any of them.

[And because I'm a nerd.... ]
Pokemon Go In Japan is a site I found thanks to the aforementioned Kim Dao. It helps you to plan your trip to Japan in a sort of Pinterest-style. You can send your created trip to your phone and/or print out your final plan. It's in beta testing but seems to be improving in even just the short while I've been aware of it.

Since I will be busy over the next few days with BIFHSGO's 22nd annual family history conference here in Ottawa (Follow #BIFHSGOcon on twitter), I may not get to publish the other prep posts I have in mind. But you will be able to follow our Tokyo adventures on Twitter @elle_dee_see in real time!


Yes, the Asterisks Mean Something
* Although, admittedly, there was a significant chance I wasn't going to be able to go right up until the last minute before booking. I would have been almost devastated to send hubby alone and he would have cried, too, because he doesn't like to fly and has never been anywhere outside of North America (although we mustn't speak of such matters).

** I'm certainly not as outgoing and brave and worldly as my beautiful cousin Jen whose twitter and travels you can follow HERE.

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