The west side of Itabashi is a long 2-lane highway running north to east. Head south from here and you’ll end up in Ikebukuro.
If you head out to the west side of Itabashi you can get a nice neighborhood walk through residential backstreets, and along a nice brick footpath which will lead you out to a major 2-lane highway which leads south to Ikebukuro.
To get here from the west side square, follow the way we describe in Part 2 to the Yorkmart grocery, head south, cross the train tracks, and make an immediate right down the first street on your right:
On the right side of this street is a long footpath which winds for several blocks, and then turns left:
As you come to the end of this first part, be on the lookout for a turn to the left in the path shown here:
You’ll pass this apartment complex, and the now-abandoned Ruhe Coffee Shop:
On the way, you’ll also cross many side streets such as this:
And more small houses such as this:
As you pass this chomé sign, you’ll know you’re getting close:
As you come to this part of the path, with lots of trees, you’re getting near the end. At the end of the path, there will be a big red Eneos gas station sign on the right. At this point, turn left.
Along the way you’ll see many stop signs, which in Japan are red triangles:
As you turn left, Don Quijote discount store will be on your left. There is also a nice bicycle shop and golf shop right next to it:
Don Quijote discount store in Itabashi – look for the crazed penguin.
The madness that is Don Quijote.
In Don Quijote, you can even get a Press Sand Maker for a mere $15 USD.
Past Don Quijote, if you follow this highway and head south, you will arrive in Ikebukuro.But be careful – it’s very easy to get lost on backstreets and wind up on the other side of town in no time.
Well, that’s it for this 3-part guide to Itabashi. We hope you’ve found this guide useful – and we hope you will enjoy your trip to Itabashi.
Akihabara (or simply Akiba as it is known by locals), aside from being one of Tokyo’s biggest electronics areas, is also a great place to explore and walk around. There’s tons to do here.
Since we’ve lived there many times, and have deep knowledge of the area and its attractions, we’ve put togther this superguide to help you get around.
First, the layout + streets, then shopping, electronics, attractions, and lodging.
On Sundays, from noon – 4PM, the streets in Akihabara are closed to vehicles, making it a walker’s paradise.
Take the Yamanote Line or Keihin-Tohoku Line to JR Akihabara Station. There are 3 main exits, described below.
JR Akihabara Station is fairly well laid out in the shape of a “+” sign. As far as Japanese train stations go, it’s easy to navigate. There are only 3 main exits: the Showa-Dori exit @ the east which drops you outside Yodobashii camera on the east side, the Central Exit which drops you into a small square near the Gundam Cafe and office buildings such as UDX to the west side, and the Electric Town Exit which dumps you out into an alley to the southwest of the station filled with various electronics stores and restuarants. There is one more small exit in the Uniqlo building on the southeast corner of the station. The upscale Washington Hotel is just east of this exit across the street. Yodobashii Akiba is just a block north of this exit also. Note that the Electric Town exit is a bit misnamed – you might expect it would drop you near Yodobashii or Bic Camera, or onto Chuo Dori but it doesn’t – it drops you to the south of the station in a back alley. For Chuo Dori use the central exit, then head a block or two west.
When you exit the platform, you’ll come down the stairs on the right. Follow the yellow signs to any of the 3 major exits.
The Showa Dori Exit to the east of the station. Go west (back) through this exit, and head right inside to get to the food shop passage which leads to the Central Exit near Yodobashii.
Head back throught the exit shown above, then veer right slightly to get to the food passage. There are also more restaurants in the atré complex on the way.Just to the left of this photo there is a small bank of 300¥ coin lockers, but they are almost always full.
The food passage between the Showa Dori and Central exits.
Entrance to food passage just outside west exit of Yodobashii Camera.
Akihabara Station. Up is north. The large building on the right with the green roof is Yodobashii Akiba. Just left of that is the Central Exit. At the lower left (southwest) corner of the station is the Electric Town exit. On the north side of that where the large ramp is is the UDX building and post office. Chuo Dori is on the left of the image. 2 stops north on the Yamanote Line is Ueno.
Central Exit.Facing south.atré department store complex is on the left.Excelsior Cafe is just to the right behind the stairs.
Facing north from the Central Exit. UDX buidling is on the left. Post office is on the left side of this building on the ground floor. There is also a small paid bicycle parking area to the right behind the stairs to the pedestrian overpass. Excelsior Cafe is just to the left side behind the bus. If you walk down through the street where the green tracks overpass is on the right side, you’ll come out at Yodobashii Camera, and beyond that, Showa Dori to the east.If you turn left at the UDX building 1 block, you’ll find Bic Camera, and Chuo Dori where all the big stores are.Gundam Cafe and Square Enix Cafe are just to the right out of frame. The French Toast Factory is also here, near the Gundam Cafe.
Bic Camera, just to the west of the UDX building shown above. Chuo Dori is just to the left (west) of this image.This photo was taken from the approximate vantage point of the Excelsior Cafe just outside the Central Exit.Note that in Japan in the fall + winter it gets dark early – this photo was taken around 2PM in the afternoon in Nov.
Just to the right (east) of Bic Camera is the UDX bldg. shown here, and just south of that where this photo was taken, is the Excelsior Cafe which is quite large and nice with indoor + outdoor seating.Also on this side of the courtyard, just to the left (west) is the Moco Cafe, and a secret bank of 200¥ coin lockers, which are almost never occupied. We’ll discuss both later below.
Around the station there are 2 main streets: Chuo Dori, which is the main electronics shopping street to the west of the station, and Showa-Dori immediately to the east of the station. Showa-Dori is a main traffic road which runs all the way to Ueno 2 miles to the north, and all the way to Tokyo Station several miles to the south. Both roads run north to south and parallel to each other. In fact, you can easily walk north to Ueno in a few minutes on Showa-Dori. Side streets running east-west connect the two north-south streets, so it’s easy to cut over to either quickly.
Showa Dori facing north.Note the Metro track overhead.
Showa Dori facing NE.
It’s fairly easy to navigate around the station by walking the East-West streets between Chuo Dori and Showa Dori. There is also a street-level passage between the Showa Dori JR exit and the Central JR exit through the station. This passage is lined with small food shops such as a Marion Crepes and Jack in the Donuts, among others. At the Central Exit side you have the entrance to Yodobashii Akiba electronics store. The entire area around the station of interest is only about 4-5 square blocks, although you can venture much further than that on foot, if you like.
At the south end of Chuo Dori, past the shopping area, and over a bridge across from the huge Big Apple pachinko parlor is the Old Manseibashi Station area and mAAch eCute shopping area, which we’ll talk about below.
There are 3 main lines in the station: the Yamanote Line, which rings central Tokyo, the Keihin-Tohoku Line which runs to the north out of Tokyo, and the Chuo-Sobu Line which runs east-west. For most stops on the east side of the city you’ll use the Yamanote line. Ueno is 2 stops to the north, Kanda, Nihonbashi, Tokyo Station, and Yurakucho Station (Ginza) a few stops to the south, in that order.
A note about station signage in Japan: “Exit” means a physical exit from a station, and “Gate” means a payment gate where you use a ticket or electronic IC card to exit the station. When you buy a paper ticket you pay in advance and use the ticket to exit the gate at the destination station. When you use an IC card, you swipe the card when you enter a station gate for departure, but the funds are actually deducted when you swipe it again at the destination station’s gate. All but the smallest Japan stations have more than one exit. Usually gates and exits are synonymous, but not always. Some stations can be confusing because to get to one line you have to pass entirely through another line’s area in the same station (such as at Tamieke-Sanno station). Some of the huge stations have miles of underground tunnels and dozens of exits to take you to different parts of the local area. Some stations (many in fact, in Tokyo) combine several different systems such as JR, Metro Subway, and Toei Subway lines. You’ll see the small box-shaped entrances to these on the streets in many places besides the main station entrances.
When you get off the train, immediately look for the large yellow panels on a wall or signs mentioned above which list what is at each exit. Usually the exits are numbered. There will be additional smaller yeallow signs throughout most stations pointing the direction to most exits, but still – it’s easy to get lost or turned around if you’re not al ready familiar with a given station.
Yamanote line (green), left, and Keihin-Tohoku line (blue), right. Entrance to the Chuo-Sobu line (yellow) is downstairs near the Electric Town Exit and has an escalator up to the platform.
Electric Town exit.
Heading east from Electric Town Exit. Showa Dori is straight ahead. There’s a NewDays conbini (convenience store) on the left, and the next shop up is a great Becker’s hamburger place combined with a Pronto Cafe.There is also a SofMap store just at the end of the street.If you turn north coming out of the Electric Town exit instead of east as shown here, there is also a small Yamada Denki LABI which is great.
Aside from electronics, and anime, there are a lot of great hobby shops in the area. If you’re looking for models or trains, by far the 2 best shops in Akihabara are Yodobashii Camera and TamTam (35°42’11.08″ N 139°46’17.71″ E) at the north end of Chuo Dori. (As a footnote, the huge Don Quijote and SofMap are just 2 blocks south of TamTam on opposite sides of the street).
The model floor in Yodobashii is incredible. They have the largest selection of high-quality Tamiya models we’ve ever seen anywhere in Japan.
On the north end of Chuo Dori on the west side of the street, just north of the Don Quijote is the TamTam hobby shop. The 4th + 5th floors have all kinds of plastic models and trains, including a good selection of Tamiya models also. Suehirocho Station (G14) on the Metro is just across the street to the south.
This video shows inside TamTam and the unbelievable selection of models:
As a footnote, less than half a block south of TamTam there is a nice MOS Burger.
Just to the south of Yodobashii is Akihabara Park. It’s a small concrete park with stores and shops on both sides. It also has free WiFi. There’s a really good Key’s Cafe here, and across the park from that is a great little surplus electornics store which has nice little USB battery banks for $10.
Akihabara Park south of Yodobashii. Key’s Cafe is in the brown building on the right. There is also a small bike locker here.Just to the right out of frame is Showa Dori.
Aside from the usual maid cafes, there are several intereting ones to visit. There’s Key’s Cafe mentioned above, a Café Veloce out on Showa Dori Avenue, which is sort of a throwback to the 1950’s, there’s Café Moco (shown below), which is smaller and privately owned + is just south of the Bic Camera mentioned above, there’s also SAO Cafe (link below), Gundam Café, Square Enix Café, and others. There is a Tully’s Coffee in the UDX bldg – and Tully’s usually has free WiFi and free power plugs if you need a charge. There’s also a great trainspotting porch behind Tully’s up a small staricase to the left:
There are also a few other cafés on the food floors at the top of Yodobashii Camera.
Café Moco is just to the west of the Excelsior Café. Just to the left (south) of this photo is a secret bank of coin lockers costing only 200¥-400¥. They are keyed, so you have to not lose the key, but are good and cheap nonetheless.
Gundam Café, just across from Café Moco. The now defunct AKB48 Café is the brick bldg. just to the right. Yodobashii Camera is behind the tracks overhead.JR Central Exit to Akihabara Station is to the right (south), out of frame.
Gundam Café and Square Enix Café are right next to each other on the east side of the square by the Central JR Exit. There was an AKB48 Café here also, but it closed in Nov. 2019, just around the initial time of this writing. The Excelsior Café mentioned above is quite good + has lots of seating. Excelsior, Café Moco, Gundam, and Square Enix are all within a block of each other in the same courtyard. The maid cafés tend to be more out on Chuo Dori Ave, and side streets near the Electric Town exit.
Velocé cafés tend to be very good, and have lots of cheap food + drinks such as 290¥ coffee (cohee in Japanese), and 350¥ hot dogs. Velocé is a chain all around Japan, and is similar to Dotour shops, except that Velocé cafes seem to have more smokers, on average, for some reason, if that bothers you. Maybe it’s the 1950’s vibe. There is a Doutour in the area, but it’s a little further south via Showa Dori in Kanda, the next station to the south. Both chains are great, but on average we like the Dotour shops just a little bit more.
SAO cafe is a bit on the expensive side with 600¥ shakes + 1000¥ sundaes. Good nonetheless. Square Enix café has fantastic huge burgers in the 1000¥-1400¥ range which are worth it once in a while.
There are loads of cafés all over the area in fact, and we’ve just scratched the surface here.
There are many good currency exchange shops in Akiba. But the 2 best ones are on the east side of Showa Dori, just across from and south of the JR East Exit. If you come out of the east exit and cross at the light shown at the top of this article, you’ll see the Noodle Stand Kourakuen:
Or at night:
If you turn right at this shop, on your left you’ll see a small alley with an Urgent Care sign next to it (a green cross). Just below that you’ll see a currency exchange:
This one is great. If you continue south on Showa Dori on the same side of the street, you’ll come across another one a few blocks down – it’s another little hole-in-the-wall shop, but is also very good. Both of these charge around 2%-4% as of this writing, depending on currency. Don’t exchange large amounts of currency at the airport – they charge outrageous fees.
Showa Dori, south of the 2nd currency exchange shop.
The biggest electronics parts store in the area is called Tokyo Radio Department Store. They have just about everything including raw network cable. There are other smaller electronics parts stores in the area – including the one mentioned above across from Key’s Coffee.
Don Quijote (Donki as locals call it) is a famous discount electronics chain all over Japan. These stores have just about everything, including, usually, a cheap food floor. There are actually some good deals on food. You can get a 1 liter healthy vegetable drink consisting of 26 vegetables, or a 1 liter bottle of UCC black coffee for around 78¥. They also have cheap snacks in various forms. They also have good prepacked meals for under 500¥. You can take them home, microwave them, and chow down. The Akihabara Don Quijote is on Chuo Dori, right across from the big SofMap tower store. Their food selection seems to be a bit less than other stores such as the Ginza one or Ikebukuro one, but is good nonetheless. Don Quijotes are a bit of a crazy mashup of electronics and supermarkets. They have just about everything. The stores are usualy cramped, with tiny aisles and products strewn everywhere. Quite amusing. Still worth a look, though. They even have cheap luggage. Don Quijote Akihabara is at 35°42’02.69″ N 139°46’18.23″ E.
Don Quiojte on Chuo Dori.
Cheap snacks around 128¥ @ Don Quijote.
Don Quijote stores are crammed with merchandise.
Hands down the cheapest and most healthy grovery store in the area is an Aeon supermarket 5 or 6 blocks north of the station on the east side of Showa Dori. It’s on a corner and is in a tan bldg. They have the above-mentioned vegetable drinks for under 100¥ and lots of fresh produce for salads. And a variety of other products, including liquor and beer. As you walk north on Showa Dori, you’ll discover all kinds of other shops such as clothes, bikes, furniture, household goods. The shops on this street are a little more upscale comapred to the rough-and-tumble shops in the central area. Also on this street is the YKK zipper company HQ – which is known the world over for high-quality zippers.
Beleive it or not, there are a few shops in Akiba where you can buy name-brand high-end racing road bikes for up to 50% off retail. There are some incredible deals here, such as this $600 Bianchi road bike:
Arcades + Video Games+ Super Potato
Akiba abounds with arcades, game shops, and retro reuse stores. Chief among the retro game stores is Super Potato – a 3-floor extravaganza of old arcade machines, old consoles for sale, and old game titles. It’s a bit hidden and hard to find, but close to Chuo Dori. It’s located at 35°41’57.79″ N 139°46’17.17″ E, 1 block southwest from the main Bic Camera building, west of the UDX building.
There is no sign in English on the store’s entrance shown below:
Either go up the stairs at the end, or take the small elevator to floors 3-5:
Even Japanese pop stars Yuzu have visited Super Potato.
Just down the street from that is another retro store which also has video games + models – Yellow Submarine.
Akiba Kart is a go-cart racing service where you can rent to ride go-carts around Tokyo. Keep in mind though, there is considerable traffic in Tokyo and the experience can be a bit hair-raising for the uninitiated.
Akiba is a huge magnet for trading card collectors and there are lots of card stores in the area. Probably the biggest is Card World Akiba – it’s 1 block off Chuo Dori towards the south at the end of an alley shown here:
Manseibashi Station + mAAch eCute
Akiba’s hidden gem is Manseibashi Station – an abandoned train station turned mall. The station was built in 1912, was renovated in 1925, 1938, and 1946 – but was then abandoned when Tokyo Station was built to the south in 1914. It sat empty + unused from 1948-2006, when it was renovated and reopened as a shopping mall. Manseibashi was one of the first train stations built in Japan. The JR lines, however still run across the top of the station north to south. The east side features Manseibashi Bridge, and a picturesque river which runs parallel to the station. You can reach the station by walking south on Chuo Dori from the central area to Manseibashi Bridge.
Ueno (1910), Manseibashi (1912), and Tokyo Station (1914) were all built around the same time. When the station was renovated in 1938, Shimbashi Station south of Tokyo Station was also built, connecting the entire east side of the city. All but Manseibashi are still in use today for transit.
On the 2nd floor of the station, via a small elevator on the northwest side is a small museum with a diorama of the entire area as it looked in 1912. The larger original brick building (also shown on this site) which was to the west of the station, and had a remarkable resemblance to the Maruonuchi side of Tokyo station was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and was torn down. You can see what that part of the station looked like below. Definitely worth a look. Watch for the signs on the west outside wall of the station for the elevator, and both stairwells.
At the south end of the station is mAAch eCute – a chain of stores. Actually the stores run throughout the station but the eCute entrance is at the south end. Enter from Manseibashi bridge at the eCute sign, and walk in. The inside is a tunnel of stores with small concrete overhead arches on both sides. You can walk inside the entire length of the station and shop as you go.
The station is one of Akiba’s best-kept secrets and is well worth a stop to look around.
mAACH eCute Store Guide.The entrance is shown on the left.
Hotels, Hostels, + Lodging
There are some nice hotels and hostels in Akiba. The aforementioned Washington Hotel next to the Uniqlo near the station is very nice – altough a bit expensive. As for hostels, there is a First Cabin and a And Hostel just a few blocks from the Showa Dori exit. The First Cabin is just a few blocks north of the AndAnd Hostel.
There are 2 nice APA hotels in Akihabara, and one of them, APA Hotel Akihabara Ekimae, is literally 2 blocks right in front of the east exist to the JR station. Their rates are reasonable, at around $70/night or less depending on the time of year. The other APA is APA Hotel Akihabara-Eki Denkigaiguchi, (literally “Electric Street Exit”) and is around the same price, although it is a few blocks to the northwest of the station and is not quite as convenient as the one mentioned above. Note that APA Akihabara Ekimae, First Cabin Akihabara, and And Hostel (mentioned below) are all within a few blocks of each other. All are quite nice.
Also of note is the fact that about a mile or so even further to the northwest is another APA – APA Ochanomizu Ekikita. In fact, if you head west from TamTam hobby, right near Suehirocho Station, it’s less than 2 blocks. This APA has several advantages: 1) It’s really close to Akihabara, 2) it’s less than .6 miles south of Ueno, and the Skyliner Station to Narita Airport, 3) it’s also really close to the WATERRAS area just south of Ochanomizu, and from there, south into Otemachi, and the main area around Tokyo Station, 4) it’s also just a mile or so east of the Tokyo Dome/Korakuen Station area. All of this means if you stay at the APA in Ochanomizu, you can jump off to Akihabara, Nihonbashi, Otemachi, Tokyo Station, Tokyo Dome, Ueno, or Okachimachi all in less than 1 hours’ walk. This makes it a cheap + ideal location to stay at in the east side of Tokyo. And of course, once you’re on the JR Yamanote line from Akihabara, or Suehirocho Metro Station, you can get just about anywhere you want in central Tokyo fast.
First Cabin usually tends to be more upscale, and in our experince is very good – you get a deluxe tube, with a sliding door, a nice bed, outlets, A/C control, and a TV in each tube. It’s very clean + upscale. They also have a lounge where you can relax, watch TV, read, work, or just hang out. Our only real complaint against First Cabin is that the cabin area lacks real ventilation and if the hostel is crowded, it can get quite stuffy at night. It needs a window to open, which it lacks. Other than this, First Cabin is usually a good deal. They are relatively inexpensive considering what you get for the money. The one in Akiba is just north east of the station, so it’s very convenient.
And Hostel is just a few blocks south, and also just a few blocks east of the station. Remember the side alley where the money exchnage mentioned above was? If you go 1 block south of that and turn left, you’ll be on a small side street. Head east a few blocks on this street and keep a lookout to the right for And Hostel. It’s just a few blocks to the right. When you see it, hang a right and head over.
There is also a very nice And Hostel in Asakusa as well.
Keep a lookout to the right for the hostel down a side street.Shown here at the end.
A newly-opened luxury hostel called GLANSIT is on the east side of Chuo Dori. Around $72 bucks a night.
There are also quite a good number of great bars and restaurants in the area on the side streets.
If you’re tired and in need of a rest, go east from the hostel until you hit a dead end, turn north (left) for 2 blocks, then left again, back towards the station and you’ll come upon Izumi Park. This is a popular park for families with kids, but there are several benches here as well and you can just sit and hang out for a while if you like.
Secret Cheap Coin Lockers
Just to the left (south) of Café Moco mentioned above is a small bank of secret cheap coin lockers (also mentioned above). These range from 200¥ to 400¥ for 12 hours and are quite good, although the are keyed and don’t yet support IC cards. There is another tiny inexpensive bank just inside the Showa Dori exit, but there aren’t many there, and they are almost always full. These lockers are designed for you to drop your stuff while shopping to pick up when you leave, but we’ve actually used them to store luggage overnight when moving from one area of the city to another. Just be aware if you leave contents in them overnight, you’ll have to pay an additional fee (via coin) to get your belongings out. You can also use them to temporarily store luggage when leaving the country or going to an airport if you have lots of luggage and can’t carry it all – if you need to make more than one trip.
There are a few nice affordable co-working spaces in Akiba too. Best among these is Lifork on the 4th floor of the UDX bldg. They have a variety of shared offices, and even retail. Some of the small 2-person offices are as low as $900 USD/mo, which is incredible – considering this is Tokyo – and the UDX bldg. is right across from the JR Akihabara Station, which makes it incredibly convenient. Near Suehirocho Station (above), is 1/3 Work Life, which is also good. They also offer business mailboxes. Rates are below $450 USD/mo. Another one in the area is Rampart. It’s right across the street from Shosen Book next to Showa Dori. They also have door’ed meeting rooms. Regus is another option, although quite a bit more expensive. BIZcomfort is another option in the area, although there is no staff at all here. All you get is a 24-hour keycard.
Just aross from the Akiba UNI-QLO store, in the block west of the Washington Hotel is a visitor center and a free Wi-Fi hotspot shown below:
One potentially disturbing aspect of modern Akihabara to some is that the area is becoming less focused on electronics and more on anime. Akihabara was once known mostly for electronics. While Yodobashi/Bic/Sofmap are still around, they are facing growing competition from Amazon and other online retailers, which is cutting into business. There are still lots of electronic shops in the area, but the trend seems to be more towards anime today. Electronics shopping seems to have moved more to the Shinjuku and Ikebuluro areas on the west side of the city.
Anyway, that’s it. Have fun exploring + finding stuff in Akihabara. It’s a fairly small area – if you spend an entire day or two there, you can easily see it all.
From the south tip of Ueno Park, head south on the west sidewalk and cut down a side alley on the right to get onto the sidewalk sourrounding Shinobazu Pond.
Head left (south) around the pond.
As the sidewalk turns around to the south, look for the entrance on the left. There’s a streetlight on your left. The entrance to the side street is shown on Google Earth below. The top in this case is south:
Turn left out of the pond area, and cross the street. The entrance to the hidden street is straight ahead, and is shown here on the right (you’ll be entering from the left side of the frame).
Especially at night, this street is interesting.
If you go 2 blocks south on this street, you’ll end up on the 2nd busiest street on the east side of Ueno Station. There is also a big Don Quijote discount store on that street shown here:
This Don Quijote also has cheap food: $.78 1 liter mixed vegetable drinks, and $.78 1 liter UCC Coffee. And some cheap snacks. Can’t go wrong.
As a footnote, if you turn to the right when you come out of the pond area instead of going straight @ the light, you’ll find a lot of good hotels on the south side of the street as you head east – including a women’s-only hostel – the Centurion Ladies’ Hostel, shown here:
As an interesting historical footnote, Shinobazu Pond was a strategic security point during the Tokugawa Shogunate, and a temple was built there to serve as a north guardpost to help defend the Imperial Palace. The site was also of historical significance in the Boshin War in the mid-1800’s.
Stockholm Roast in Omotesando. Seating is on the roof.
There are several Mr. Donuts in Ikebukero. This newer one is southwest of JR Ikebukero Station. There is a similar one just a few blocks to the north on the northwest side of the station.
There is also a much older Mr. Donut on a backstreet in Ikebukero to the east of the JR station.
Another typical Japanese cafe.
Another must-see café in Ikebukuro is Coffee Valley east of JR Ikebukero Station and only an 8 min walk southwest from Maruonuchi
A typical Starbucks in Ikebukero. There are half a dozen of them spread out all over the area.
Vending Machine Cohee in Japan
The other side of coffee in Japan are the micro-sized vending machine canned coffees. Brands such as Boss and Wonda (part of Asahi) are very popular. But by western standards, the cans are miniscule. There are some larger canned coffees in conbini stores – including Boss and others, which are a bit more. Some conbinis also sell heated coffee in aluminum cans for around ¥100. Just walk in + buy one – they are heated on the shelves where they sit.
Wonda canned coffee from a vending machine.There are seemingly endless brands + varieties in vending machines in Japan.
Heated BOSS canned coffee on a conbini store shelf.
Larger Fire brand canned coffee from a vending machine.
McDonald’s (‘MacuDo’s) coffee served in a tiny paper cup in Japan.
There are also machines that serve hot coffee in a paper cup.
If you like milk in your coffee, Meiji brand is quite good from a conbini for around ¥100.
Conbini also sell various brands of slightly larger coffees such as lattes in sealed paper cups with plastic lids + a straw for around ¥100. There are various brands – even Starbucks. There are even matcha-lattes – green tea lattes, which are actually very good.
How to do coffee cheap in Japan
If you’re looking to save $ in Japan, there are ways to get your coffee + save $.
One way is to buy a bag of pre-made coffee in discount or drug stores. Drip-On by Key Coffee is one such brand. The bags are sort of like tea bags in the west – you open a plastic packet, remove the bag, unfold it, place it on a cup, then pour in hot water. A pack of 10-15 of these bags can be bought for around $5 – or about $.50 per cup. While not quite as good as fresh coffee or vending coffee, they are still good, and can save lot of ¥.
You can find little electric boiler pots at discount stores such as Don Quijote for as low as $20. These pots are amazing + can boil an entire pot of water in under 60 seconds. Many hotels have them. The little power button on the handle snaps off as soon as the water boils.
But so far the ultimate cheap way to do coffee in Japan we’ve found is to buy a large paper carton of coffee at one of the discount stores such as Don Quijote for around ¥100 or less. You can add milk, or drink it black. One small carton yields about 2-3 full cups. If you want to be ultra-cheap you can add 1/2 cup of water, then microwave it – and get about 3 cups out of a carton – around $.30/cup. Some vending machines also have 2X-sized plastic bottles of black coffee for around $1.30.
Now that you’ve got your bike parked (or took the train and walked) it’s time to head to Tokyo Dome City. From the bike park mentioned in Part I, head south on foot, and at the next light hang a left. This puts you onto a sidewalk which has an entrance to the Tokyo Dome City courtyard.
Shops (the LaQua area) are on the right, including a great nana’s green tea on the 2nd floor on your left, and the ticket booth in a few yards ahead on the right. There’s also a Baskin Robbins nearby as well as a host of other shops. nana’s green tea is known for their huge matcha green tea sundaes.
You can buy an individual attraction ticket, or a pass for around $40. There’s a roller coaster, ferris wheel, and water ride. After purchasing your ticket(s), keep heading south for the stairs or elevator to the rides. Some are up on the 4th + 5th floors.
You can walk the shopping + food levels before or after the rides. Most of them are on the left.
Shopping + food levels.
nana’s green tea is on the 2nd floor.
The Big O ferris wheel is on the 5th floor.
After you’ve enjoyed the rides + shops, head further south on the 2nd flood and you’ll come to Tokyo Dome Stadium. There are more shops + food here, including a brand new Shake Shack burger place. There’s also a ballaprk store.
Tokyo Dome Hotel is right across the street.
Keep walking, and eventually you’ll come to an overpass walkway. There’s a Denny’s and even a First Cabin capsule hotel, shown on the right below.
Look to your left on the walkway and you’ll see the MeetsPort shopping mall.
This is where things get interesting. If you exit the walkway down to the street, you’ll see Suidobashi Station right in front of you. Walk past it, then hang a left onto Suidobashi Blvd.
This gets more into the business district, but there are endless restaurants + shops on Suidobashi Blvd. as well.
There’s also a small coin locker behind the station where you can stash your stuff – if you can find a empty one.
The side streets and the alleyways.
There are endless fascinating restaurants such as Cheese Meets Meat on Suidobashi Blvd.
There’s also the ubiquitous MOS Burger a few blocks down.
You can easily walk 5 miles down Suidobashi Blvd. and not get bored.
Also – behind Suidobashi Station there is another massive hidden bike parking area.
Circle back to Suidobashi Station and your journey is complete – well, almost.
Climb up onto the pedestrian walkway next to Suidobashi Station for a bird’s eye view. Including another great restaurant: No Noodles, No Life.
One last stop you may want to make on your way home: another mega Don Quijote discount store right across the street to the northeast of Tokyo Dome City.
Tokyo Dome City from the southeast. The Hub British pub is shown on the corner.
Despite what you may think Japan actually has some pretty awesome grocery stores. And their prices are pretty reasonable – in some cases less than the US.
And their products and fresh foods seem to be of higher quality.
There are several large chains – Life, YorkMart, Marutetsu, and others.
Don’t confuse these stores with conbini – convenience stores – such as Lawson, Family Mart, and 7-11, which many Japanese live out of for food.
Japanese are not big on buying huge carts of food and storing it – most Japanese will stop on the way home from work and get something for a day or two. Their refrigerators are much smaller too – even full sized ones can be as small as 1/4 the size of a US fridge.
There are some good deals in grocery stores – fresh seafood abounds. So do vegetables. Prices are about the same as the US – sometimes lower.
Portions are smaller, but not by much – and seem to be much fresher.
Unlike in US stores, in general you checkout, then bag your own groceries out of your basket on a small side counter deisgned for that purpose.
There is also a general drug-food chain of smaller stored called Welcia which sometimes has some good discount deals on food and snackes. If you’re in the mood for something like a box of butter cookies, you might able to find them at Welcia for $1.
The Japanese discount store Don Quijote also has a food section – some stores have a better selection than others. You can find some good deals here for ¥100 or under a few dollars. It pays to look around.
7-11 even sells food with English labels on them in most J groceries.In this case a large piece of smoked salmon for under $3. Very cheap + good.
Coffee + tea at a large Don Quijote.
Corn Dogs on sale on @ YorkMart.Not the healthiest – but cheap. 3 for under $2.
Cruise 0n up on your bike, and load up on good cheap groceries @ YorkMart.
Huge Don Quijote in downtown Ikebukuro – second bldg. from right. If you can stand the 7 floors of stairs + incredibly narrow aisles, you can find some deals.
“Ekimae” in Japanese means “In front of the station”.
Yogurt for around $1 in Don Quijote – yes, it’s possible to eat really cheap – and well – in Japan.
Sardines in Don Quijote.
Tiny cheese @ Don Quiojte for under a $1.
A minituare jar of hachi mitsu (honey) in Don Quijote for under $1. Perfect for sweetening coffee without using sugar.
You can even find dessert for under $1 in Don Quiojte.
Having said all that, hands down the very best food shopping in Tokyo is at MEGA Don Quijote in Shibuya. It’s just up the hill from Shibuya 109 on the north side. Just cross the street to the right at the 109 entrance and head northwest up the hill. MEGA Don Quiojte is just a few blocks up on the right. Head to B1 level for the best selection of good, cheap food you can find in Tokyo. There are great deals in their meat section if you’re a meat lover. Plenty of other good deals too. Watch for sales. Shopping here is a great way to eat cheap in Tokyo.
MEGA Don Quijote in Shibuya, Japan.
Loads of great meals cheap.
High-quality fresh produce cheap too.
Bag of bean sprouts – ¥28
Some pretty high quality meat for low prices too.
Even a cheesecake with milk from Hokkaido.
Also – if you like good burgers, just down the street 2 blocks is one of the best MOS Burgers in Japan.
7 SURPRISES WHEN YOU FIRST VISIT A JAPANESE SUPERMARKET
Walking long distances take a long time. Trains are crowded + expensive.
If you’re in a hurry to get somewhere quickly, having a bicycle can save you time and frustration while getting around in Japan.
This guide tells you everything you need to know.
Unfortunately Japan – unlike many other modern countries – has yet to build good widespread bike lanes, even in Tokyo. This is surprising given the number of people who ride bikes here. Some areas in central Tokyo, such as around Tokyo Domedo have good bike lanes – but they are often blocked by deliveries so you must still be careful.
Everyone from housewives with kids, to octogenarians can be seen riding bikes. Many Japanese rely on their bikes to get to grocery stores, to commute to and from work, and just to get around.
The streets in Japan are very narrow, sometimes hilly, and everyone is always in a hurry. Riding a bike in Japan can be a real hazard. You’ll have to be extra careful at intersections and crosswalks – both so you don’t get hit by a vehicle, and so you don’t collide with pedestrians.
Bikes are everywhere in Japan.
Here are the basics of how to buy + ride a bike in Japan:
Buying a bicycle in Japan.
Do’s + dont’s of riding safely.
Taking your bike on trains in Japan.
Buying a bicycle in Japan
Bike shops abound in Japan. But you can also buy bikes at depato (department stores), including low end depato’s such as AEON, and Don Quiojte.
There are smaller higher-end shops such as Y’s Road and Cycle Base Asahi, but be prepared to pay more. If you’re looking for high end bikes, check out dealers in Japan, or higher end shops. There’s a huge Y’s Road shop 2 blocks east of the main Ikebukuro JR Train station in Tokyo.
One of the best shops in Tokyo is Cycle Olympic. They have a great new shop which just opened called Free Power – located in Kokubunji western Tokyo.
Cheap generic bikes can be bought in Japan anywhere from $125 – $200 + up. These are really low end bikes – some have Shimano shifters + sprockets, but they’re usually low end equipment. Most sub-$200 bikes in Japan are for very basic getting around. There are also generic unisex $125 bikes at discount stores. For just puttering around, these will work. If you’re after a high end bike, go to one of the specialty or dealer shops.
Legally, when residents of Japan buy a bike at a bike shop, they’re required to fill out a small registration form which contains a small registration sticker which gets affixed to the front top or neck of the frame of the bicycle. If you’re a short term visitor to Japan (under 3 months), this requirement is often waived by the shop selling you the bike. However, consider in this case if some legality later arises between you and a resident party, it could cause you trouble. Also, the lack of a registration sticker on your bike will almost certainly mean you will never see it again if it’s stolen. The police won’t even listen to you if you didn’t have the registration sticker to begin with. So, for temporary visitors, proceed with a purchase at your own risk. The best way to mitigate theft risk is to make sure you lock your bike, and park it in a designated bike parking lot (more on this below).
However, bike theft is much more rare in Japan than in western countries. Only very high end bikes are usually targeted in Japan, and even then theft is rare. People simply don’t steal bikes here. It’s common to see peoples’ bikes parked out front of their houses, with no locks whatsoever.
Most Japanese bikes today come with an ingenious locking mechanism on the rear wheel called a Gorin Lock. This device is permanently affixed to the frame and contains a sliding ring which you slide into the spokes of the rear wheel when you park – which makes the wheel impossible to turn. With the lock engaged, no one can ride off with your bike. The only downside is the lock is secured with a key, which you must keep on you at all times. If you lose your key, you’ll have to cut the lock off, which won’t be easy.
A Gorin Lock.
Do’s + dont’s of riding safely
There are a lot of bikes on the streets of Japan – and, as we mentioned, few good bike lanes. Unless signs state otherwise, you may ride your bike on sidewalks – as most locals do. Just be sure to not ride too fast, endanger people, or cause pedestrian problems.
It is extremely important to be extra careful at intersections. Many of Japan’s streets are tiny and have blind corners. Micro-sized motor vehicles often shoot out of nowhere with little warning. Many backstreet intersections have no stop or yield signs. You take your life in your hands if you don’t use proper caution when crossing intersections. We mean it. In many ways, this makes riding a bike in Japan much more dangerous than in the west.
Always honor all road signs. This site has a list of Japanese roads signs for motor vehicles, but the same applies to cyclists.
Also always remember to ride on the left – as motor vehicles do in Japan. Even on sidewalks try to always ride on the left.
Be polite to other riders + pedestrians. Be considerate. When in doubt, yield the right of way.
You can ride on streets, which means you won’t have to deal with as many pedestrians, but be aware that without bike lanes, you must be eternally vigilant. No one is going to watch out for you or see you,. No one. You have to be aware at all times of the situation + be ready to take evasive action in an instant. Not doing so could cost you your life.
In Japan many deliveries are made by small trucks on main roads. If you decide to ride on the street, you’ll have to deal with these + navigate around them – which creates another hazard. Keep in mind that if you swerve left in front of a parked truck at the curb, as you re-emerge and swerve back right, it’s highly likely that the flow of traffic behind you will not see you – or even know you’re there. This is an incredibly dangerous situation in heavy traffic. You may want to invest in some bike mirrors – but even then you’re going to have to be extremely careful. Always assume every vehicle around you may not see you – and plan accordingly.
Japan’s tiny backstreets present a hazard for all cyclists.In this case motor vehicles are banned, but they’re not always. Small streets like this can leave cyclists totally blind to oncoming traffic.
Bicycle parking (like auto parking) in Japan can be problematic. You usually can’t just lock your bike up anywhere and walk away. In fact, there are many signs along most streets telling you so. If you ignore them, your bike may be impounded by the police, and you’ll have to go retrieve it, which in huge cities might be a huge headache.
Unless you work in Japan + use your bike to get to + from work, parking willy-nilly out front of buildings is generally discouraged. Instead you need to find an authorized bike parking lot. Most Japanese train stations have them out front of the station. There are also metropolitan lots with paid or free parking. Prices are generally pretty reasonable – ¥100 for 6-10 hours. So around a buck a day. Unless you need to use a paid lot every day, it’s probably worth it.
Some central metro areas such as Ikebukuro + Shinjuku have large paid lots. You can Google around to find them.
Some rail station lots have automated parking ticket machines, and some have attendants. Some have coin-operated locks on each space. Some have coin-operated slots on the honor system – you pay for the time you use, but there is no lock on the bike slot – you have to bring your own locks or not use them at all.
To lock your bike at paid lots, you usually roll your bike up into a metal slot until it locks. You then note down the number of the slot, and go to an automated machine and pay. The machine will give you a ticket. When you are ready to retrieve your bike you punch in the number of your slot, or in some lots insert your ticket, pay any extra due, if required, and the machine will remotely unlock the slot so you can roll your bike out. Do not just walk up to these slots and lock your bike to them. It’s highly likely your bike will be removed by the lot owner if you do.
Honor system bike racks in Narita City.
Most Japanese rail stations have bike racks out front. Most are usually full.
Fully automated bike lot with payment machine.
Taking your bike on trains in Japan
In general, bicycles are not allowed on normal commuter trains around Japan: there just isn’t any space. If you attempt such, you’ll likely be asked to leave the train by a conductor. The one exception is the Narita Express to/from the airport, but even on that train, you’ll have to store your bike somehow at the end of a car in the luggage storage area, which is usually already cramped. Your best bet is not to. If you must, then take it apart in advance and store it in a bike box or Rinko Bag and then load it onto the train. A much better option however, is to disassmeble it, then ship it in a box ahead of you. Japan’s trains are just too crowded to accomodate a bicycle.
Japan’s NTT Docomo has started a bike sharing service in limited areas of Tokyo. You can read more about it on DoCoMo’s Bike Sharing Websites. They also have iOS + Android bike sharing map apps.
Page may take a while to load – there are lots of photos.
So you want to go to Japan.
We’re not surprised.
Japan is an awesome country.
But it can be daunting for first-timers.
If it’s your first time, there are a few things you need to know. This page shows you how in one place.
Helpful references are provided at the end.
We’ll discuss different aspects of visiting Japan, and some tips + pitfalls most first time travellers to Japan are unaware of. With careful planning your trip can go much more smoothly. Without planning, it’s easy to have a problem in Japan. You want to avoid that.
So let’s begin.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Getting to Japan – passports, visas, customs, and length of stay.
What to bring, how much to bring, and packing tips.
Navigating the major airports in Japan.
Money in Japan – currency exchange, and money transfer options.
Booking info + websites.
Transportation – how to get around in Japan as easily + cheaply as possible.
Food + dining in Japan.
Accomodation options – hotels, hostels, and capsules.
Phones, computers, and WiFi.
How to make the long trip easier, and more comfortable.
Sightseeing – things to do.
Other tips + tricks.
Getting to Japan
To get to Japan you need either your home country’s valid passport accepted by Japan, or else a visitor’s visa. Many western countries passports are accepted by Japan. If you are from one of these countries, such as US or UK, you may stay for up to 90 days on your passport. Longer stays, or people from other countries are required to apply for a visitor’s visa with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism within the Japanese government. The Japanese gov’t also operates the Japan National Travel Organizaton (JNTO) which is also an excellent resource on entry into Japan. So get your passport in order, or file for a visa before you go. You must show either at immigration at the airport or else you’ll be deported and sent home.
What to bring, how much to bring, and packing tips
If you are going to Japan from the west, the flight will be long. From Asia it is much shorter. If the trip is a long one, you’ll need to pack light. Some flights from the west coast of the US can take 16 hours or more. From UK or EU, even longer. The last thing you want is to have to drag a lot of heavy luggage all that way. It will really slow you down. If you must bring a lot of stuff to Japan, we recommend packing all the heavy items into one small rollable suitcase, and then packing other lightweight items into a laptop bag, and or a backpack. Backpacks are much easier to carry. Frame packs take the weight off your back and put it on your hips where it won’t feel as heavy. The downside to backpacks is they don’t have locks.
Another hack to shorten the trip: if you have time + money to spare, break the trip up into multiple shorter flights. The flight from San Francisco to Tokyo is a grueling 16 hours. You can shorten that to 10 hours by first flying to Seattle, staying over 1 night, then flying from Seattle to Tokyo, which is 10 hours. Even better (and more expensive) would be to fly from San Francisco to Seattle, stay over, then fly from Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska, stay over, then from Anchorage to Tokyo. To save fuel by utilizing the earth’s rotation, most airlines don’t fly from the west across the Pacific Ocean as you might expect – instead they fly a parabolic arc north, up past Canada, Alaska, then down from Alaska to Tokyo. This saves fuel + time by flying over the part of the earth that rotates the fastest – near the Arctic Circle where the earth’s circumference is shorter. Taking multi-hop steps will cost more – but if you can’t stand long plane rides, one of these options is a good way to break up the long flights.
Consider shipping a box full of light items ahead of you to the hotel via FedEx 2nd day air. It’s worth the cost not to have to drag heavy items with you. Just be sure to check what items are prohibited by Customs in Japan before you ship. Prohibited items will be confiscated and destroyed by Customs. Surprisingly, Japan has very strict rules on importing meat products, and raw fruits and nuts. Most western packaged food is fine. Use common sense.
An even better way is to just buy clothes in Japan when you arrive. Tokyo is the fashion capital of the world and good cheap clothes are everywhere. Clothes are actually really heavy, and it may be worth it just to bring 2 changes of minimal light clothes with you, then buy everything else when you arrive. Most hotels in Japan have coin laundries for washing clothes.
Bringing knives, and medicines into Japan can also be problematic. And they’re real serious about it. Even western meds such as Benedryll and cough syrup are considered narcotics by the Japanese gov’t and can land you in a Japanese prison if you bring them into the countryin your luggage.Firearms + ammunition of all kinds are absolutely banned. If you bring them into the country, you’ll be arrested + thrown in a Japanese prison immediately. Don’t even think about it.
Japan is also strict about quarantining sick people entering the country. In fact, as you pass through customs, your temperature will automatically be taken by remote controlwithout your consent as you pass through. If you have even a cold, or fever, or worse, when you arrive, you might be placed in quarantine. Again, they’re real serious about it.
Also be aware that Japan is a country of climate extremes and can be extremely cold in winter, and extremely hot + humid in summer. Spring and fall tend to be shorter and more mild due to Japan’s northern latitude. Pack appropriately.
Navigating the major airports in Japan
Japan’s major airports are: Narita (east of Tokyo), Haneda (in the south end of Tokyo, near the bay), and Kansai International, in Osaka Bay. Their symbols are NRT, HND, and KIX, respectively. Narita is actually far outside Tokyo. You will need to take the Japan Railways Narita Express (NE’X), a slower train, or a bus into Tokyo from Narita International Airport. See this site for ticket info. Haneda has recently be modernized to add more flights, but it can still get congested at times. The big advantage to flying in to Haneda is the trip into the city is shorter.
If you are flying into KIX, there is an excellent train at that airport called RAPIT (that’s the correct spelling), which shoots you directly into central downtown Osaka stations such as Namba, or the newly remodeled Osaka Station.
For Tokyo the pros and cons of each airport in a nutshell are:
Narita – farther from the city, takes 40 minutes to get into Tokyo, even using the NE’X, but it’s also bigger, and less congested.
Haneda – at the south end of the city. It’s more congested, and smaller but is much shorter to get into downtown Tokyo than from Narita.
Kansai International – Fly into KIX if you want to go to Osaka or Kyoto. You can catch local trains from downtown Osaka to Kyoto which take about 35 minutes and are cheap. If you want to go into downtown Osaka from KIX, just get on the RAPIT at KIX, then get off at Namba or Umeda stations, and you’re there. There’s also a great Osaka Station guide.
Once you arrive at Narita, you’ll need to collect your luggage, get through immigration, then Customs, then Quarantine. If you make it through all 3, you’re home free. Narita International can be really confusing. There aren’t a lot of signs, and it’s easy to get lost. So here’s the quick guide to navigating Narita:
When you land, exit the gate, turn left, unless you’re connecting to another international flight – in which case turn right. Follow the signs to “Domestic Arrivals”. You’ll go down several long corridors + people movers, then have to walk some more. Once you get to immigration, get in line. When you reach the front, an agent will direct you to fill out a simple immigration form with basic personal info. You then present this form + your passport or visa to another agent who will clear you. Once you get through that step, go down one level to collect your baggage if any. Watch the screens for the baggage carousel number for your flight. You might want to get a free baggage cart near the carousels if you have a lot of luggage.
Once through that, you’ll have to fill out another form for Customs. The forms are in tiny boxes at the end of the baggage carousels and they are not clearly marked. Usually you’ll just be asked if you’re bringing any prohibited or restricted items into Japan – or more than $10,000 USD in cash. Fill out the form, and hand it to a Customs agent. Once you’re cleared, proceeed directly ahead to the exit. It’s not clearly marked either, but it’s straight ahead. This brings you out into the main airport lobby. Turn right + walk down the concourse and you’ll find an Information Desk right next to a small coffee shop. You can ask agents there anything you like.
There are a few things you may want to do before proceeding to transportation: you probably will want to exchange some of your own currency into Japanese Yen (¥) at any one of the several currency exchanges there. Just be aware their rates are not the best and there are other places in Tokyo which have better rates, such as Sakura Exchange offices. We’ll talk more about currency exchange below.
You might also want to buy a phone SIM card to use in a GSM phone in Japan, if you have one. Western CDMA phones won’t work in Japan. Up until a few years ago, voice + data SIM cards for GSM phones were available, but due to crime by internationa, drug dealers in Japan, there is now only one Japan SIM card vendor which offers both voice and data to foreign travellers; a company called Mobal. See this article for a comparison of all foreign SIM card vendors in Japan. Another good article on SIM cards for foreigners in Japan is here. A US company called UltraMobile also offers an international SIM card for GSM phones at very low rates.
There are also luggage forwarding services in Narita International. For around $20 per item, you can have your luggage forwarded to your hotel. These are at the far right end of the concourse as you exit Customs. Luggage forwarding can save you a lot of struggle if you have multiple heavy items. Many hotels in Japan also offer luggage forwarding for an additional fee. There are also luggage storage places such as Yamato Transport and railway station coin lockers where you can temporarily store your luggage. More on that below.
You may want to take advantage of these services before you leave the airport.
All connections to trains out of Narita are down in the basement. The entry is near the Information Desk mentioned above. And this is clearly marked. Just take the escalator down. You may have to walk down several additional flights of stairs, so be prepared. If you have lots of heavy luggage, it will be a chore. We’ll cover trains in depth below.
If you want to take a taxi out of Narita, walk out any one of the front doors in the main concourse. But be warned a taxi ride from Narita into Tokyo will set you back $200 -$300.
There are also many good buses out of Narita to Tokyo. In fact, busses are the cheapest way to get to Tokyo – many of them are around or under $10. But it will take about 2 hours vs. 40 mins on NE’X. Search on Google for Narita bus companies.
Money in Japan – currency exchange, and money transfer options
There are a few tricks for currency exchange when going to Japan.
First off, the #1 thing you need to know is: airport currency exchanges are a total ripoff. Some American travellers report close to 30% fees at some major US airports. Don’t even think of paying more than 3%-5%.
You’ll need to change a little but of money into Yen (¥) before you go – just to be safe in case you need to take a taxi, buy food, get train passes, and other small incidentals.
But for the most part, you’ll want to exchange most of your currency in Japan. If you take more than $10,000 USD into Japan, you’ll also need to fill out a Customs form on the plane, or at immigration in Japan.
Japan is a cash society, and credit cards and debit cards are not accepted in many places. So, while in Japan you’ll need to carry lots of Yen. For currency exchange, here are your options, in order from least desirable to most desirable:
Airport Exchange Counters – in both countries. In general these are too expensive so you’ll want to limit the amount you exchange at airports.
Your bank at home before you leave – you can order foreign currency from your local bank before you leave, which may take a few days – so plan in advance. This is also not a good option since most US banks will charge you around 10%.
ATMs – some Japanese ATMs accept foregin bank cards and debit cards. Visa is the most accepted in Japan. But not all Japanese ATMs will accept foreign cards. Check with your bank first to see if they work in Japan. In general business debit cards are your best bet for ATMs in Japan. Both Bank of America and Charles Schwab offer US ATM business cards which work at many ATMs in Japan. So consider opening a business bank acct. in the US and get an ATM or debit card attached to it well before you go. The easiest ATMs to use in Japan that work with US cards are 7-11 (called 7′ and i’) in Japan, SMBC banks, and Japan Post post offices. You can actually walk into most Japan Post offices, slide your card in, and withdraw cash. Many hotels and hospitals in Japan also offer ATMs in their lobbies. Different ATMs and banks will change different fees for withdrawls. As of this writing Bank of America charges 3% per amount withdrawn. 7-11 ATMs in Japan also charge 3%. By far the best deal is Charles Schwab, which charges no fees whatsoever for overseas withdraws. You can read more about 7-11 ATMs in Japan here.
Online currency exchange – online services for currency exchange have popped up, but by far, the best one is Transferwise. PayPal also offers instant money exchange, but to remove your money as cash in Japan, you must first have a Japanese bank account in that country. There are other exchanges such as OFX, which are also very good. If you are sending cash to someone else in Japan, there is also always Western Union. The big advantage of WU is the recipient can pick up the money at at WU counter in Japan with just an ID.
Local currency exchanges – there are several small hole-in-the wall offices in Japan which specialize in exchanging currencies. For direct exchange, these are by far the best value. Some of them, such as Sakura Exchange do direct conversion with no fees. You won’t get exactly the market rate, but you’ll get close – and you won’t pay 3% either. In many of these exchanges, you’ll pay as little as 1% for exchange. Most of the exchanges in Tokyo have English-speaking Japanese staff, but we have also heard reports that sometimes the exchanges are staffed by foreign workers who have reportedly tried to rip customers off on occasion. So be careful. You will need to do the math yourself when you do the exchange. The offices can be a bit hard to find. Sakura Exchange has several offices in Tokyo near train stations, so you’ll need to map them on Google Earth to find the one you want. The easiest one by far is just 2 blocks north of Shibuya Station in Shibuya.
So what do we recommend? By far the best deal is a zero fee debit or ATM card from Charles Schwab. Just keep in mind withdraws from overseas ATMs will likely be limited to $1000 per withdraw. The second best deal are the local currency exchanges in Tokyo. We recommend Sakura Exchange. The other huge advantage to using a local exchange is there generally is no limit on the amount you can exchange at a time – walk in, drop a big stack of cash, and they will exchange it on the spot – you walk out with a big pile of local currency. Just remember to exchange a few hundred dollars for incidentals at home or at the airport before you leave so you have a little bit of Yen when you arrive in Japan.
We’ll come right out and say that most of the US booking sites are lousy: hard to use, confusing, poorly designed, and limited on payment options. Everyone goes to sites such as Expedia.com or Booking.com, but hands down, the very best booking site online is agoda.com. Agoda has a simple, easy interface, lets you set all options for booking such a smoking/non-smoking, free breakfast, cancellation, and other options right on each property’s page. It even lets you book a reservation for someone else using your credit card. It also offers options for pay now, pay later, or even pay at the property on arrival. Since Japan is a cash society, this is an awesome choice. It also shows you which reservations can be cancelled, and the date up to which you can cancel. Using agoda.com will make setting your trip up a thousand times easier. Just a few clicks, set your options, reserve. All your booking info is also stored in the site, so you can log in from anywhere later + view your entire itinerary. It’s awesome.
Transportation – how to get around in Japan as easily + cheaply as possible
In Japan there are 4 basic modes of transportation:
By far trains are the most commonly used – trains are usually packed, especially in urban centers. Try to avoid rush hour if you use the trains.
However, a lot of people cycle in Japan too – including ypoung housewives with small children and very old people. It’s not uncommon to see people over 70 or 80 riding bikes here. People cycle everywhere. The 1 big downside to cycling in Japan is the parking (see below).
People also walk everywhere – which is perhaps one reason the Japanese are so healthy and have long life expectancies. If you plan to come to Japan, you’d better be prepared to walk – a lot. Like 5-10 miles a day a lot. And up and down train station stairs – a lot. Walking here daily will get you in shape fast.
For trains you have several options:
Buy paper tickets at stations.
Buy + reload IC cards such as Suica or Passmo and use them at station turnstiles.
Here’s a short tutorial on dealing with the rail systems. Once you get used to it, it’s easy.
There are several different systems: JR (Japan Rail), Tokyo Metro (Subway), Toei Subway, and Keisei Railways. There are a few other minor ones as well. For the most part you’ll use JR and Metro.
If you order one of the rail paases online, you will be mailed a voucher, which you pick up at your hotel or at one of the JR service centers in Japan – such as the main one in Shinjuku or Ikebukuro. You can also exchange your voucher for the rail pass at the airport when you arrive.
Despite what people may tell you it is possible to buy a rail pass once you are in Japan – at the JR Ikebukuro service center, for instance. But you must buy it in person, show your foreign passport, and not be a Japanese citizen in order to make the purchase.
If you plan to use the trains a lot, a rail pass may be the way to go as it allows yout to save ¥ by breezing through ticket turnstyles at stations.
If you plan to use the trains only a litle, then a Suica or Passmo card may be better. Suica and Passmo are electronic (IC) cards. You buy one at most JR stations, add money to it, then pass it over a sensor on turnstiles in stations as you enter and exit. Your fare is automatically deducted for each trip. When your card runs out of $, you can add more by using a Fare Adjustment Machine at most JR stations. If you go to exit a turnstile, and your card doesn’t have enough ¥ left on it, don’t panic, just turn around and go to the nearest Fare Adjustment Machine, insert your IC card, press the English on-screen button, then the button for adding fare, then press the Confirm onscreen button – your IC card will be ejected from the machine with more ¥ added to it. You can then go through the turnstile again by passing your card over the IC reader.
You can also use Suica and Passmo cards at many stores and post offices to pay for things. IC cards make the train system much easier to use.
When using trains at rush hour or at crowded stations, be ready for a lot of people, and be ready to be packed into a train with lots of other people. When lining up for a train at a packed stations, there’s only one way to deal with the rush: make sure you are first in line or near first in line for the next train. The worst thing you want is to be in the middle of a long line as you’kll usually end up in the center of a car with people packed around you on all sides. Making sure you are near the front of the line when the doors open means you will enter the train first, and get your choice of where to stand (or sit if seats are available).
In rare cases, be ready for emergency brakes to be used which could send you flying. With millions of people riding Japan’s trains daily, Human Damage Incidents (suicides, jumpers, peopple being pushed on tracks, people falling onto tracks) are not uncommon and you’ll likely encounter one before long.
As of this post, Japan is busy renovating many of its train stations in preparations for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. This means new facilities, but it also means if you’re there during renovation, you may be inconvenienced by construction.
Most of the new stations will have full handicapped access, escalators, and elevators, IC card terminals, and kiosks. Even many of the more remote new stations will have more restaurants and shops right in the stations themselves, to make things more convenient.
There are big express trains that run from the airports – especially NE’X and Keisei Skyliner from Narita International. In Osaka/Kobe the RAPIT train runs to and from Kansai International Airport (KIX) which sits out on a man-made island in Osaka Bay. (There is also a great luggage forwarding service at the Keisei Skyliner Ueno station which will forward your bags in either direction for $9/bag).
An unfortunate human-related accident has caused a delay on the Tobu Tojo Line.
Itabashi‘s beautiful brand new renovated JR station.
A Toei Subway station in Sugamo.
JR Itabashi Station at night.
See the huge links section at the end for complete rail info.
Cycling in Japan has not yet caught up with the rest of the world, but is still popular. New bike lanes are being built, but there are still far too few of them given the huge size of Japanese cities. Many people ride bikes on sidewalks, or simply brave traffic on city streets. Be careful on backstreets as many Japanese will fly thoruhg intersections on their bikes at full speed without stopping. If you’re not careful at intersections, you could collide with another cyclist.
Most bikes in Japan require a small registration sticker on them so that if they are stolen, they can be tracked. If you buy a bike in Japan, you’ll need to work out registration with the bike shop and the local police.
The one crazy thing in Japan about bikes is that in most cases it’s illegal to just park them anywhere. Instead you have to park them in designated paid bike parking lots. In most cases you’ll have to feed a bike parking machine twice a day ranging anywhere from $1 to $6. Most are around $2/day. If you don’t park your bike in a designated lot, and just lock it up anywhere, it may be impounded by the police. Not a good idea.
The bike parking lots are a bit crazy – the machines are usually in Japanese only, and at first don’t appear to work consistently. Usually you roll your bike up on a rack at a lot, you’ll hear a click, then you pay. To pay, in most cases, you enter your slot number, then press a button, then enter the amount shown on the display. There’s also a button for a receipt if you wish. The weird thing is some lots allow free parking for the first few hours, so even if you try to put ¥ in initally, the machine will tell you you’ve already paid – but in Japanese on the display. In these cases it’s only later (like 6 hours later) that you’re required to pay again. This cann confuse the hell out of you. If you’re not sure after locking your bike in the rack, and you don’t read Japanese, try to ask a local what the machine is telling you. In most cases it’s telling you you’ve already paid (i.e. that it’s free for the first X number of hours). You’ll need to come back in 6 hours to see if you need to pay again. It may take some time to get used to the machines.
Other types of bike parking racks have a box + slot for coins on each rack itself – along with a long thick wire cable used to secure the bike. These machines you feed coins into directly and are harder to use.
Food + dining in Japan
Myths abound about how expensive it is to eat in Japan. This is not entirely true.
Yes, top good restaurants might cost a pretty penny – a good meal at a good upscale restaurant might cost $60-$100 USD.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well for less in Japan.
There are some surprisingly good supermarkets in Japan with fresh food cheap. In general, the quality of supermarket food in Japan seems to be higher than in the west. Many supermarkets hold midnight sales to clear out excess inventory at dirt-cheap prices. If you take advantage of these sales, you can eat cheap.
There are also conbini (convenience stores) which have good prices. In Japan, most conbibi food is fresher and of higher quality than in the US. You can get fresh great conbini sandwhiches for $1.50, drinks for $1-$3, and even cheap snacks. Some conbini have cheap pre-cooked meals in small plastic containers which only need to be microwaved. These typically are a full entire meal and only cost $4-$6.
Some conbini are built into train stations, such as this Kinokuniya mixed-use store@ Shinjuku Station.
There are also discount chains such as Don Quiojte, Can Do, and others which often have sales on good food cheap.
Tokyo and other major Japanese cities also have many good less expensive restaurants – great burger places abound, and there are all kinds of restaurants all over big cities in Japan with an endless variety of good stuff to eat. A really great burger in Japan will cost you $10-$14 but are well worth it, on occasion.
There are even some vending machines which sell hot + cold soups and sandwhiches right out of the machines.
So, sit back and enjoy the list of inexpensive foods in Japan.
We review a few foods with photos below.
There is a huge variety of snacks in Japan. You can buy them at conbini, and supermarkets, but the best place is at discount stores such as Don Quijote, Can Do, SEIYU, and others. Discount places have snacks as low as $1.50 each. Some are good, some are not so good.
Conbini snacks such as these for around $1 abound in Japan. Not the healthiest, but cheap and quick nontheless.
There are some crazy (and good) snacks in Japan. From Don Quijote to supermarkets, to conbini, you can find some strange, wacky, and tasty snacks in Japan, such as:
Lots of cheap snacks @ Don Qijote such as:
Even chocolate covered potato chips.
Conbini (convenience stores) have a wide variety of good cheap food. In general conbini sandwiches are fresher and more natural than those in the west. You can get good salad/egg/cheese/ham conbini sandwiches for under $2.00 in most conbini in Japan.
You can also get a wide variety of drinks + bottled coffee in conbini too.
The cheapest possible breakfast in Japan is a $1.00 bottle of coffee + a $1.28 Tamagoyaki (fried egg) pack from Lawson. $2.28 for breakfast is hard to beat.
Consider the breakfast shown below: $1.00 for coffee, $1.28 for milk, $1.75 for 3 slices of ham, and $2.00 for a 4-pack of croissants from Aeon supermarket. Total: $6. If you cut the croissants out, $4. A very cheap meal. For desert we threw in a $1.25 chocolate donut as well.
Good sandwhiches abound – many for under $3.50 USD.
3-pack of sliced ham – $1.50
You can get large yogurt containers for $1.50-$1.78 at most convenience stores and discount stores. Meiji seems to be the best brand, but there are others, Meiji brand is shown here:
Both conbini and grocery stores in Japan have a wide variety of good drinks. In general soft drinks and sodas are better than in the west – containing less sugar and more natural juices. Water and milk are also around $1.00-$1.25 each.There are endless varietes of coffee, shown on the center right, here.
Incredibly, you can get 1 liter, 26-vegetable drinks for $1.78 @ Don Quijote, SEIYU, and other discount stores. Aeon supermarkets also sell them. They contain a blended mixture of 26 different vegetables – nothing else. They’re an incredibly quick, cheap, healthy way to eat. Just buy 2 + chug them down. $3.25 USD for an entire meal. They’re incredibly healthy + good for you. If you do this once a day, for dinner or lunch you can save up to $7-$10 a day/per meal. That’s $300/month. If you stay in Japan a few months on vacation, you can save $600 this way – just on this one thing alone. Well worth it.
Mixed 26-veg. drink from Aeon – $1.78 US
There are a wide variety of great grocery stores in Japan – YorkMart, Life, SEIYU, Japan Meat, and others. All are excellent with very fresh food. Many are not that expensive. SEIYU seems to be the best discount store. SEIYU and Japan Meat can often be found in the basements of department stores right near train stations. We like the ones just outside Kinshicho Station – in PARCO‘s and OIOI‘s (pronounced “Marui”) basements.
Don Quijote also has small packages of folded paper towels for $1 – perfect for your backpack or bag.
Entrance to SEIYU, in the basement of the PARCO Kinshicho dept. store. There is also an entrance to the Kinshicho Metro Subway station in the basement. To get here, exit Kinshicho south or west exit, head south to the PARCO, take the escalator down.
More cheap, good yogurt – $1.25 for one pint @ SEIYU.
Another midnight sale. Not the healthiest – but cheap – around $1.50 for 3 corn dogs. Purchased @ YorkMart.
Japan, and Tokyo in particular, have lots of great burger places. Brozer’s on the top floor of the Takashimaya Annex Bldg. 2 blocks east of Tokyo Station has great burgers and other sandwiches for around $10. Definitely worth a trip.
Numerous good smaller burger places abound – such as Darcy’s hidden in the backstereets of Ikebukuro.
Don Quijote has both bottled, carton-ed, and ground coffee for very good prices. A 1 liter carton of black coffee will set you back a mere $.75 USD – an incredible deal. If your hotel or hostel has a fridge in it, you can make one of these stretch 2 days – $.37/day for coffee, not $7 for one cup at a café.
You can get a small jar of honey to use in coffee as a sugar substitute for under $2:
Both groceries + discount stores have some good canned food cheap – fish, ham, chicken. $1.50-$4.00 depending on brand and quality.
Amazingly, 7-11 sells very high quality packaged fish in most supermarkets in Japan. $2.75 gets you a nice fresh package of salmon. A great way to save $.
Since Japan is a seafood nation, most groceries have vast amounts of freshly-caught fish for very low prices. Look around most stores to find good deals on fresh fish.
Most 1st-time visitors to Japan are shocked to discover that the Japanese, despite their good health, and diminutive size are voracious eaters. This is because Japan is a pedestrian society. The average Japanese walks 5-10 miles daily. Up the station stairs, down the station stairs, through train station tunnels miles long, walking everywhere. As a tourist, you will quickly realize after walking all day you want to eat everything in sight.
As a reward, they eat, and eat well. Food is everywhere in big cities in Japan, in vast quantities. Japan has “food parlors” – a throwback to 1950’s-style fine dining. There are restaurants for just about everything. Most dept. stores have food palaces in their basements or on their top floors. All are generally pretty good. There are even entire buildings of 12 floors or more dedicated to food and restaurants – the DAIMARU food palace at Tokyo Station and others. Forget Paris or Italy – you want to eat – Japan is the place to be.
When it comes to food, in Japan, they don’t mess around.
In Japan you can pig out like a native and never gain weight.
Surprisingly, Japan loves deserts + sweets. They can do this without getting fat because they walk 10-15 miles on average per day. Japan is full of an abundance of deserts everywhere you turn. From cheap sweets like the Hokkaido Cream Roll shown below to higher end cakes + cookies in packages, to all kinds of deluxe food parlors, pancake shops, and dessert palaces, which we will discuss next.
Dessert + Fruit Parlors
There are even fruit and desert-only parlors in Japan, such as Takano Fruit Parlourin Shinjuku shown below.
Takano Fruit Parlor, Shinjuku
Heaping plates of all kinds of deserts.
A pancake craze has hit Japan big time. There are big pancake restaurants everywhere and their number keeps growing. The most famous of these is Happy Pancake – one in Ikebukuro, Omotesando, and Ginza. A new one has recently opened in Hong Kong as well. Well worth a trip. Around $10-$15 for just about every variety of pancake you can imagine. There are plenty of other smaller ones as well, such as Flippers, shown below. Happy Pancake Ikebukuro is just a few blocks east of the east exit @ JR Ikebukuro Station.
Flippers – a very popular pancake palace in Omotesando, Tokyo. The Japanese love their pancakes.So much so they will wait in line for them.
Rainbow Pancake in the food court @ ODAKYU dept. store in Shinjuku.
Window of a pancake palace in TOBU dept. store, Ikebukuro.If you want pancakes, Tokyo is the place.
Many dept. stores in Japan have food basements – huge floors where vendors sell both meals and desserts. Many of these Deepichika also have gift vendors which sell packaged gifts. TOBU, Isetan, PARCO, OIOI (Marui), Matsuyakaza, and SEIBU are just a few. There is also a huge Keio dept. store + food basement just outside the west side of Shinjuku Station, which is very good.
Food basement, Mitsukoshi @ Nihonbashi
Giant cookies the size of pies in the food basement of Keio Shinjuku.
Many hotels in Tokyo also run elaborate seasonal-themed dessert buffets on their restaurant floors, such as this one:
Cafes abound in Japan. You might say they are even more popular than in the US. Much more. There are small independent cafes and larger chains. The larger chains are:
We won’t go into rankings, but let’s just say in our opinion we like Doutor and Excelsior Cafe best with Tully’s a close 3rd. Cafe Crie is IOHO not that great – the food tends to be of lesser quality. Tully’s has charge ports and AC outlets in almost every store. Cafe Veloce is sort of a throwback to the 1950’s style diner. Its only drawback is it tends to have more smokers. Doutor is hands down the best for food value/price. You can get great hot dogs and small sandwhiches for under $3 along with coffee for around $2.50 – half what the big chains cost. Definitely worth a look. There are also all kinds of great cafes around Tokyo Station, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and other city areas. Here are a few photos of some of the cafes:
Doutor Menu with all kinds of inexpensive sandwhiches and drinks.
Doutor Lettuce Hot Dog and coffee – around $5.
A Doutour on the right, in Iidabashi.
2 Mister Donuts in Ikebukuro. In fact there are 3 Mister Donuts in Ikebukuro. There is also a very nice one in Akabane, and other areas in Tokyo.
Speaking of Ikebukuro – there is also this Tully’s in the now popular Q Front east of the station.
Oimeda’s Coffee, Ikebukuro
Roasted Cofee Laboratory in the Esola mall south of Ikebukuro Station.
Legendary Coffee Valley is one of the best coffee shops in all of Tokyo hands down – and it has a nice 2nd floor seating area. Don’t miss it just southeast of Ikebukuro Station.
If you walk 1 mile south from Ikebukuro Station, you will find the Rocket Cafe on the west side of Meiji Dori. It also has a nice 2nd floor seating area. A must-visit.As a footnote if you walk far enough south from here you will eventually hit Waseda University about 2 miles to the south.
Excelsior Cafe, Akihabara.
Cafe Legato and Sunday Coffee in Shibuya.
Legendary Junk Cafe, Shibuya – now closed.
Other restaurants + food malls
Many other restaurants, bakeries, and food malls abound, such as this food hall just west of the Shinjuku NTT HQ (aka “The Bubble Building”):
Bakeries abound everywhere – especially in train stations, such as this one – Little Mermaid Café in Komagome Station.
There are several accomodation options in Japan – luxury hotels, resorts, ski places, Ryokan inns, smaller hotels, budget business hotels, and hostels.
We review just business hotels + hostels since they tend to be cheaper.
By far, the very best value in Japan when it comes to hotels is the APA Hotels chain. There are hundreds of these all over Japan, and they are very reasonably priced. They are designed for business travellers, and have great rooms and service, although the hotel rooms tend to be smaller. Don’t let that deter you though – this chain of hotels is a great value for the money – some as low as $65/night USD, with far better accomodations than a similarly priced cheap Motel 6 in the US. Most of them have 4K TV, a fridge in the room, and power outlets + bathroom amenities. Most also have tiny desks in the rooms to work on. In fact, APA is an acronym for Always Pleasant Amenities – and they’re not joking. These are fine hotels. Well worth a look. There is even an APA just 1 train stop from Narita International Airport. If you want to avoid jet lag and want to crash on arrival, you can check in here for a few nights to recover, then move on to Tokyo on the Keisei Line which has a station in Narita City just a few blocks from the hotel. An easy way to make a long trip a bit easier.
Hostels are a cheap way to stay in Japan – some as low as $25-$35/night but you pay in terms of inconveneince and discomfort. Some are capsule hostels, such as And Hostel in Akihabara and Sumida – which we highly recommend. First Cabin is an upscale larger modern luxury “tube hostel” similar to capsule hotels – but the rooms are larger, cleaner, more modern, and have a large TV. These are very clean first class hostels when you can sleep cheap. There is also one of these near the Sumida River in east Tokyo south of Sky Tree.
The downside to hostels and capsules are the noise, lack of room AC control on a per-room basis, cramped quarters, and no where to stand up (although First Cabin also offers larger rooms which do have some floor space and a large table). The air in these places also tends to get a little stuffy. There are several First Cabins all over Tokyo – there is even one right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Akasaka near the central gov’t that is worth a look. Beware however that First Cabin requires all residents to check out daily from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM for daily cleaning. No exceptions. All rooms also include a small lock box in which you can store valuables when you leave.
Most First Cabins have shared bathrooms, which are very upscale and clean. Floors are separated by gender – mens’s floors and ladies’ floors.
Outside of First Cabin we like And Hostel – as mentioned – in Akihabara, Sumida, and a few other locations. While not quite as upscale as First Cabin, they’re pretty good – clean, well ordered, and they also have the good sense to open floor windows to draft stuffy air outside. They have a lounge where you can sit on a sofa, and tables for work. Some of them have a kitchen you can use. These are pretty reasonable at $40-$50/night. Worth a look.
There are also a variety of smaller, older, privately-run capsule hotels – these vary in quality and price. Search Agoda for reviews + reservations.
Most hotel/hostel staff in Japan are very helpful – much more so than in the US – and many speak English as well. If you have any trouble or need something, most will be more than willing to help.
APA Komagome, east Tokyo. “Ekimae” means “At the station” or “In front of the station”.
Our APA room desk – loaded with loot from Don Quijote discount food store – including 3, 1-liter bottles of UCC Cofee.The big yogurt container with the blue lid is around $1. Good stuff cheap.
Inside First Cabin – like something from a 1970’s sci-fi movie.
Inside a First Cabin standard room.
First Cabin bathroom hallway.
First Cabin Atogoyama – near Shimbashi. Most First Cabins tend to be down side streets in residential neighboorhoods, but there are exceptions, such as in Akasaka.
Inside And Hostel, Akihabara. You get a plywood tube with a matress, and a pull curtain for privacy. The room also has power outlets and a light – but no TV, unlike First Cabin.The plywood walls help deaden sound, which makes And Hostel much better than most.
Phones, computers, WiFi
Much has been written about using phones + WiFi in Japan.
We will try to keep this subject brief. It’s pretty simple.
For phones, your best bet is to bring a phone from you home country which offers an affordable fixed monthly plan with unlimited roaming. Such plans in the US include UltraMobile and T-Mobile. UltraMobile offers a fixed $19/mo international roaming plan which allows you to use any western GSM phone in Japan. Up until 2016 foreigners could buy a Japanese phone in Japan, but this has now been disallowed by the Japanese gov’t over terrorism concerns. If you absolutely must have a Japanese phone, have an associate or company buy one for you there for you to use. Note that prepaid is not big in Japan and you’ll have to have the company pay the bill for you as well.
As for WiFi there are plenty of options – you can buy small roaming WiFi boxes at most electronic stores in Japan such as Bic Camera – you pay a fixed fee per month (usually $40-$70) and the little box piggypacks on the local cell network. There are various vendors such as eConnect Japan and others. Speeds can range from fast to slow, depending on service, and bandwidth. Most electronic stores are eager to sell/rent these boxes to foreigners and will be more than happy to help explain the services and features in both Japanese and English.
However, today, most hotels and many department stores in Japan now offer free WiFi. Some municipalities do – such as at a public hotspot shown below. Check each city’s website before you go. These are easy to use and usually require just an accept on a web page, or a free email registration. To use them, just get in range of the public WiFi signal and log in.
Computers in general, and laptops in particular are generally cheaper in Japan than the rest of the world – except perhaps for the high end modles. Good cheap laptops by Acer or Asus can be had in most electronic stores for $400-$700. Make sure you ask for one with an English keyboard if you don’t speak Japanese as most models in Japan have Japanese. Some models have both on the same keyboard.
A free WiFi spot in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.Just stand nearby + log in.