Deano’s answer to: “What are some tips for a 15 day trip to Japan?”

If you have 15 days in Japan, I would highly recommend mixing in a few “overly tourist trappy” destinations – in Japan, these tend to have such an overpowering atmosphere of being genuine that it achieves its own level of cute (beyond kawaii!):

  • Ninja – Restaurant with a Ninja theme… If you lived in Tokyo, you’d never allow yourself to go (expat or native), so as the visitor, asking a local friend/host to go there is a rare chance for both of you. 😉 –

  • Absolut Icebar – Er, a vodka bar constructed wholly from ice. By appointment only, but excellent for setting (or breaking) the mood on a night out in Ginza –…

  • Tokyo Tower – world’s tallest iron structure, very impressive views of Tokyo (and even the surrounding region on a clear day/evening). In a quiet central part of the city, filled with quite expensive, interesting restaurants for every taste. Makes a good pre/post dining stop, especially on a date. I’m still shocked at how few Tokyo residents I’ve met have been to the top. Help them experience their own city in a whole new light –…

  • Kakegawa Kacho-en – this one is a true oddity, a “hands-on exotic bird sanctuary” in the countryside between Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan. If you’re headed to the latter city, make this a “must stop” if you have time… Being shrouded in conures, head-pecked by toucans, or given high-five by a penguin(!) has never been more fun. Oh yeah, and a pretty decent array of flowers and plant species, to boot. Follow-up with a huge chicken-based meal when you get to Nagoya (one of their specialties) for fullest effect –…

  • Yunessun Hot Springs Resort – In Hakone, Japan… Beyond your traditional hot spring, with all manner of novelty baths that are the “real deal” – steaming milk and coffee pools, even a red wine bath! Family friendly, including a small waterslide/park for the kids while mom and dad take in the iodine “float pool”, or perhaps the “Roman Bath” – where huge schools of tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet. Tickles. Unfortunately, currently marked as closed, post-quake… But keep an eye on this one, and help revitalize the region if they reopen during your trip! Hakone, in general, is pretty great as a “quick trip” destination from Tokyo – even day trips are possible, and there are a ton of hokey-but-interesting attractions, including gondola and pirate ship rides –

  • Kyoto – Beautiful, epic, and a combination of tourist trap and national shrine… But forget all that for the moment, and focus on getting yourself a rickshaw ride through the old city and temples! Waaaaay overpriced, but beyond worth every dime! Bond with your ‘driver’, be treated like royalty by all you pass by, and see more amazing sites in an hour (recommended length) than most people get to in a day’s wandering. Especially recommended for “reluctant walkers”, but anyone will enjoy it immensely –…

As for more general tips, try the following for best effect:

  • Pick a good guidebook – I tend to favor Lonely Planet Japan, but being able to read up in advance, do followup googling, and pick out a few spots to check out “on your own” will make your a smarter, more confident traveller. Also, lessens the chances of being confused by the “simpler stuff” – changing money, western/japanese toilets, getting to/from the airport, etc.
  • Shop for clothing in Shibuya – hilarity will ensue!
  • Eat a Japanese pizza – makes you appreciate the stuff back home!
  • Eat at McDonalds, at least once – be amazed by “the way it’s supposed to taste”, when created by workers who actually care about doing a good job!
  • Stay in a capsule hotel – I’ve yet to find a comparable experience anywhere in the world…
  • Onsen, Onsen, Onsen – must do at least one, if possible as part of an overnight stay in a traditional hotel.
  • Eat at a traditional Izakaya – let the small plates and big bottles stack to the ceiling. Yohhhhhhhhsh!
  • Take pictures in Akihabara – Giant robots, costumed cuties, more electronic goods per square inch than a Borg Vessel, and, of course, Maid Cafés. These are the pictures that won’t put your friends to sleep when you get home. Do try to get both yourself and whatever it is you’re snapping in the shot, for fullest effect.
  • Eat a meal purchased entirely from a convenience store – great way to buy food for a longer train ride, even the final one out to the airport. Japanese conbini are just such a different experience, give it a shot!
  • Drink something hot from a vending machine – Hot cocoa, coffee, or even a nice can of Cheese Soup! Makes you wish we didn’t have so many damned lawyers in the US, I tell ya… These bad boys exist every ten feet or so throughout the country – just press the red buttons, instead of the blue ones, and you’re good to go!
  • Watch the commercials – Japanese TV may at times be an acquired taste, even if you understand the language… But the commercials tend to be far more interesting than what an American would be used to. Case in point:…Mameshiba are little “bean dogs”… And I’m fairly certain they aren’t really advertising anything other than their own awesomeness. 😉

Hopefully that’s enough to get you started! And just remember to treat everyone with respect, but to feel free to make obvious first-timer/foreigner mistakes without shame… You’ll usually remember whatever lesson you learn, or tip you receive far better than if you had held back on the act/question… Don’t be shy!

This answer originally appeared on Quora: What are some tips for a 15 day trip to Japan?

Deano’s answer to: “Is visiting Japan safe?”

A quick look at one of several radiation/disaster effect maps of Japan shows that the key areas to worry about are all North/Northeast of Tokyo. A wedding South of Tokyo would likely source the majority of its foodstuffs and other supplies from Southern-side sources, and of course the stigma of using foods and components from the affected Fukushima region will likely ensure that it is the case.

Overall, visiting Japan is safe as ever, perhaps in some ways more expensive, and even now still a bit harder to get from point A to B than it used to be, depending on where you’re going. Outside Tokyo, especially to the South, things should be fairly “pre-tsunami” normal… But depending on the date of the wedding itself, the monsoon season, or the near-tropical summer clime might aggravate your experience a bit, or even cause direct safety issues (flooding, heat exhaustion, etc).

Long story short: if you can go, go. It’ll be safe, and you’ll be in one of the most amazing countries to visit as a tourist, for a once in a lifetime event with friends. What could be better?

This answer originally appeared on Quora: Is visiting Japan safe?

Deano’s answer to: “What is the best place to sleep in Tokyo?”

Shin. Ju. Ku. Nowhere better to hang your hat. Shinjuku! Let’s go!

  • Huge station.
  • Buses and Trains direct to/from the airport(s).
  • Yamanote line will take you to at least half the places you’re determined to go, and is very easy to get the hang of, compared to the myriad subway lines.
  • That said, the subway lines will get you to the “other half” of your travel destinations very quickly.
  • Vast selection of little shops, medium chains, and full-on department stores.
  • Mind-bogglingly awesome nightlife in some of the neighborhoods, including the infamous Kabuki-cho.

As for accommodation… I recommend the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku:

As you can see, it’s clean, modern (only 4 years old!), and welcomes foreign guests with open arms and reasonable prices (no, no, REALLY).

Rooms are on the smaller side, but include internet access, and even Wifi (still not common enough in Japanese hotels):

For best results, make sure to pack your own Ethernet cable!

Location-wise, you can’t really do better in Shinjuku – it’s a quick walk up the street to the central shopping areas and department stores, and just across the street from Shinjuku station itself:

That said, it’s still somehow tucked just far enough back from the main thoroughfares that it has a very quiet/peaceful ambiance while you’re in the lobby/your room.

It even has it’s own fairly swanky bar, if you’re too tired to venture out:

For those who really miss home, there’s even a 24 hour McDonald’s 100 meters from the front door, when “cultural exposure” starts to overwhelm:

I realize I may have a different idea of what “best” means for this question… But unless you want to luxuriate in your hotel room rather than see Tokyo and all it has to offer, you really can’t go wrong with staying at the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku.

Disclaimer – I’m pretty sure no hotel would ever hire me, but I definitely don’t work at or get kickbacks from the Sunroute. 😉 But, you know, tips appreciated!

This answer originally appeared on Quora: What is the best place to sleep in Tokyo?

Deano’s answer to: “What’s the best place to eat in Tokyo?”

Given all the sushi and Japanese-cuisine-related answers, a different perspective:

The Japanese are notoriously good at taking American cultural artifacts, and then making them so much better than we do over here, it’s nearly shameful.

To that end, I would say that the best place to eat in Tokyo is at one of Tokyo’s many burger-focused eateries… After you’ve indulged in sushi, and all other “traditionally Japanese” foods, after you’ve tried some interesting spins on French and Italian cuisines/fusions, there’s really nothing like a nice solid “Hamubaaaaaaaagu” to reset the palate, and ready you for further exploration:

Not exactly a traditional American presentation… But after a nice long walk through some temples, nothing quite hits the spot like a couple artery-clogging cheeseburger patties – perfect medium rare, still sizzling on a metal plate. Honestly? It’s really hard to get stuff this good stateside. Japan wins again!

I’d also like to put in a good word for Sekai-no-Yamachan, an izakaya-style restaurant that specializes in really really great tebasaki chicken wings.

(Photo Courtesy of:…)

Ideally, you’d want to visit the headquarters in Nagoya, but the Tokyo wings are nearly as good, and highly addictive. If you consider a rollicking good booze and bar-food-fueled night out with friends a key component of a great meal, Yamachan should definitely go somewhere on your list. For those with cashflow issues, it’s also fairly inexpensive.

What’s the best place to eat in Tokyo?

Deano’s answer to: “What is it like to work as a ‘pusher’ in Tokyo’s subway system?”

A lot, I suppose, like being a Normal Station Attendant or Train Conductor, 90% of the time. There is no “Dedicated Train Pusher” job title on either the Tokyo metropolitan train or subway systems… At least, not anymore(†)!

Train stuffing is a comparatively rare occurrence that happens only during the confluence of two factors:

  • Too many people in the station waiting for trains and, somewhat paradoxically,
  • Too many trains

Walk with me here a minute, and it’ll make more sense. In a single day, the Yamanote line (most famous for the train stuffing effect, and pictured in the Question above) serves 3.5 million riders at 29 stations – by comparison, the entire NYC subway system serves 5 million a day across 26 lines and 468 stations(*).

(Yamanote Line Map courtesy of:… )

Most days, most lines, and most times of day, the Yamanote runs a varying number of trains, which tend to come every 5 minutes or so, maybe as many as 10-12 minutes apart at extreme off peak hours.

During the rush hours, however, trains run on a VERY tight schedule, coming every 2-3 minutes – That’s 24 trains per hour going in one direction, 48 both ways! (red arrows below indicate 7am and 8am commute hours):

(full table @…)

“No problem,” you say, “if they come that often, I’ll just wait for the next one when the first gets too full for comfort”.

Well, my friend, you’re not alone. About 10% of all riders feel the same way. Seeing as that means each train is “comfortably full”, and the trains come every 2 minutes, then after 20 minutes you’ve already got an entire train’s worth of excess riders, waiting for the trains to not be full. Expand that out to the entire rush hour period, and you’re talking more like 3-5 extra train-loads of people, just standing around on the platform.

Adding 3 trains an hour to a schedule that has trains stopping into the station EVERY OTHER MINUTE is… Shall we say… a bit unrealistic, and one might even suggest, incredibly unsafe.

Instead, Japan Rail opts for the only other logical solution: train stuffing. People are crushed together, it’s terribly uncomfortable, and even the pervs hate it, because they can’t even be sure they aren’t squeezing man-boobs by mistake. Every ride, you hear about a couple people fainting from the heat/lack of oxygen (yeah, you’re literally pressed up to the point where someone’s coat can suffocate you if you aren’t on the taller side).

Still, you get enough of those 10%ers aboard, and the platform overflow can remain at reasonable levels, which helps prevent:

  • people accidentally bumping fellow passengers onto the tracks,
  • fire hazards and emergency evacuation issues,
  • a fertile hunting ground for pickpockets.

Pictures just don’t cover it, you really need to see these guys in action, to fully understand the issue (video from the Seibu Line shown here depicts ‘suburban’ commuters headed into Tokyo in the morning – the trains don’t run as often as the Yamanote, and as you can see, there is a little more enthusiasm about everyone getting aboard):

These stalwart JR Conductors and Station Attendants do what they must to ensure the safety and security of both their passengers they work for, and the stations they work in. 
And like I said, they do this usually for no more than 60-90 minute bursts, and because of the nature of their job/shift/station rotation, likely have to perform the “pusher” role no more than 2-3 times per week. Given all that, it’s probably fairly easy to just “grin and bear it”, rather than suffering any trauma, stigma, or becoming sadistically addicted to the practice.

(* I’m not this smart, but Wikipedia is:…)

(† On further study, it seems that in the past, there was a distinct position, called “Passenger Arrangement Staff”, filled by part timers and students, but that this role has been integrated with general station attendant/conductor duties… More here, from that brainy Wikipedia:…

What is it like to work as a “pusher” in Tokyo’s subway system?