The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Japan (for Beginners)

Whether you’re an avid manga reader, or lover of Japanese culture, or just fascinated about Japanese technology, there is always something mystifying and beautiful about Japan that draws millions of tourists in the past decade.

Today, I’m thrilled to share one of my three favorite cultures encountered while traveling: Japan. This is a three part series response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge, so please check out the rest of my responses!

The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Japan for Beginners

Who is this Guide For? 

This guide is for anyone and everyone to peruse. Though, I am writing it specifically for:

  • People who have general knowledge of Japan and want to catch a glimpse of the magnificent country in 3 weeks.
  • People who like cool technology and want to see it in person.
  • People who like anime, but want to know what real life Japanese culture is like.
  • People who like adventures, because really is one big adventure.

When to Go

The timing of going to Japan is very important as it could change your itinerary completely. Japan is a very versatile country. On top of a million reasons to visit the country, here some highlights of seasonal activities in Japan.

  • Winter for the hot springs and skiing/snowboarding.
  • Spring for the famous and beautiful Cherry Blossoms.
  • Summer for the fireworks and climbing Mt. Fuji.
  • Autumn for the beautiful foliage amidst Japanese culture.

Japanese Festivals (Matsuri) occur year round, entailing large parades, floats, food, traditional clothing, and costumes. Each shrine has its own local festival, so you will encounter one unique to the location you are visit.

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Transportation

Japan is mostly accessible by plane, where tickets are typically quite expensive to buy, unless you could find the cheap off season ticket deal. Throughout the year, there are various Japan flight deals from theflightdeal.com, as little as $600 for a roundtrip ticket!

Once you’re in the country, there are railway systems everywhere. Tokyo Metro is the subway system of Tokyo, taking you anywhere you need with in 30 minutes. Be mindful of the time though, because unlike NYC subways, this one is not open 24/7. These are much more economical than taking a taxi, as those could run you a hundred dollars. We had to take the taxi on hour first night in Japan because our flight had arrived too late and the metro had closed.wp-image-1577289470

If you want to catch a good glimpse of Japan in a short amount of time, I highly recommend purchasing the Japan Rail (JR) Pass, which was by far the most expensive thing we bought (about $200/pass). However, it is entirely worth it to ride a bullet train (on my bucket list) and cruise through the country within hours. They also have an option for regional passes, which are more economical. 

Luckily, through Couchsurfing, we met our good friend Keisuke, who had a car and showed us around Yokohama for a couple of days.

Biking is a great way to explore the streets of Japan, especially while exploring architecture in the rural areas. Imagine riding around Kyoto on a beautiful afternoon by beautiful temples in the Autumn. /sigh

Useful Things to Bring

If you’re traveling with backpack, check out my comprehensive guide to what to pack! However, I just want to reiterate the importance of bringing:

  • Smartphone, with pre-installed:
    • Google Translate
    • Google Maps

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Walking down the streets of Tokyo, there are minimal amounts of English in writing or speaking. We heavily relied on our translation apps, including when we interacted with our Couchsurf friend.

Accommodations

Generally, accommodations in Japan are cheaper than the United States, but only by a smidge.

Airbnbs

For those who aren’t familiar with this site, it is a fantastic accommodation option for travelers to stay with hosts (though still like a hotel, because all bedding and linen are provided). We used Airbnb throughout our travel in Japan. Without knowing language or pricing in Japan, Airbnb provided us an authentic, cheap, and no nonsense stay with our hosts. Do get $40 off your first stay with Airbnb through our referral link here!

Capsule Hotel

Sleeping in a Japanese Capsule Hotel is exactly as it sounds, and has always been on my bucket list. I finally had my chance! Surprisingly, it not as cheap as you would expect, pricing around $30 to $50 per capsule. It features exciting amenities of a tiny door with blinds, a tiny TV, and a tiny desk to eat on!

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Manga Kissa

Have you slept in a manga book store before? It’s actually quite common in Japan! The pads in our private cubby makes a great bed for tired souls. This was our chance to take a break from wandering, and sit, read manga, cruise the internet, and sleep.

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Where to Go

Tokyo

Tokyo is the capital of Japan. One of the the most populated urban areas in the world, and a giant hub for technology, business, travel, culture, foods, weirdness, and much more. Tokyo is made up of several large districts with its own character.

  • Akihabara– electronic, anime, video games center.
  • Shibuya– temples, culture, foods. Don’t forget to check out the Shibuya Crossing (just a really busy pedestrian crossing that looks like a giant ant colony collision from above)
Kyoto-Osaka-Nara

Do visit the Kyoto-Osaka-Nara for the rich, authentic culture and traditions. The temples are beautiful and palaces magnanimous.

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Hiroshima

We were touched by the remnants of the Hiroshima bombing during World War II. Such a sad history for such a beautiful city. We were taken through a heart throbbing journey of recovery. History class lecture is nothing like being in the city itself.

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Things to Do

  • Check out the Tokyo Tower! It’s essentially a version of the Eiffel Tower, except it’s 13 meter taller!
Explore Culture and Temples

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  • Asakusa Temples – this area features a variety of beautiful temples. Traditional foods and souvenir items are bountiful here as well!

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Explore strange, but cool things in Japan
  • Cup Noodle Museum – We made our own cup noodles!!! I’ve been a huge fan of Ramen since my youth. Now, I finally made my own unique label and packaging (and eating it!), standing in front of the wall of ramen– feels amazing.

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  • Robot Restaurant – possibly the craziest dinner show I’ve ever been to. Our tickets were $40/person (includes dinner and drinks). No regrets, because this gave me just the experience of Japan that I expected. See my post on our adventures at the Robot Restaurant here!

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  • Vending Machines – Ramen vending machine? Yes, please!

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  • Who wants a black burger?

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  • Using the Toilet is an adventure in itself. No English to indicate whether or not there’s going to be water splashed up my butt. Awesome.
Feed your nerdy interests:
  • Ghibli Museum (anime fan) – Upon going to Japan, I knew I had to visit Studio Ghibli. I’m a huge fan of the animated films and their soundtracks. The studio is as amazing as I imagined!! Don’t forget to order your tickets early, as they are booked out veryyyy far back. <3 Let me know when you go!

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  • Manga Kissa – Rows on rows on rows of manga! *drools*

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  • Pokemon Center – My favorite starter Pokemon, Torchick!

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  • Hop on the Hogwarts Express at Harry Potter World!!!

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Feed your love for cute things:
  • Hello, Kitty!

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  • Maid Cafe

What to Eat

Great Tea Kit Kats – 258 yens ($2.30 dollars), whereas in the US could run up to $6/bag. If you’ve never heard of this, it may sound a little weird to you, but they are so delicious.

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Sushi – What’s Japan without Sushi? Even though we’re vegetarian, there were awesome options for us on the Sushi belt! 

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Soba Noodles, Ramen, and Tempura

Dango (Sweet Japanese Dumplings)- if you’ve seen Clannad, you’ll know what I’m talking about. wp-image-86198478

Onigiri (Rice balls) – sold across all 7/11, possibly one of  my favorite Japanese foods, it is so delicious. A perfect snack with all the ingredients I love.

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Fun Culture Facts

  • Walking and eating is frowned upon. We ate our home-cooked meal out of a grocery bag on the sidewalk.
  • Tokyo Metro rush hour in Japan is BAD, even comparable to NYC rush hour subway. The trains are so cramped! The best way to step into the cart is by facing the other direction and stepping in, so that no awkward looks pass as you shove yourself into the crowd. Very professional.

While there is an endless amount of things I could write about Japan, I would love to hear any questions, stories, and comments you all have! I would happy to write more or clarify, and especially to hear your thoughts! 

Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

These awesome people are also doing the challenge!!! Click to see their stories!

 

Watch Broadway Shows for Less than $40 in New York City

What are my plans tonight? Oh, nothing, just going to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

What are my plans tonight? Oh, nothing, just going to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.


… Sorry, everyone. I’m really not that stuck up, I promise. I assume this is why a lot of people hate Broadway, thinking it’s where rich people go to lavishly spend all their money away. Well, I’m not rich. Not even close.

Of all things I could be doing, I never thought I would become an avid Broadway-goer. I have always loved musicals like Grease, Phantom of the Opera,Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, all Disney movies, and most recently, La La Land, but I have never been much of a theater-goer. But really, if the system allows me to see world class Broadway shows for cheap, I can’t say no… Part of me doesn’t want to write about this as it only increases competition, but I feel like it would also ignite bad karma.

We’ve all heard of Broadway before on TV shows, movies, media, etc. Broadway is a famous street that runs down New York City, known for its theatrical performances. It is one of the top tourist attractions of all time. The Broadway theater district runs from around the 42nd to the 57th street, where the famous Times Square draws millions of visitors from all over the world every day.

While Broadway shows typically range around $100-$500, we buy them at $20-$40 per ticket.

  • In the past five months, we have gone to over fifteen Broadway show tickets consisting of several Tony Award-winning & nominee musicals and other fantastic plays and off-broadway productions:
    • Hamilton ($200- face value)
    • Dear Evan Hansen ($200- face value)
    • Lion King ($30)
    • The Book of Mormon ($50)
    • Phantom of the Opera ($28)
    • Chicago ($37)
    • Kinky Boots ($42)
    • Cats ($40)
    • Sunset Boulevard ($55)
    • School of Rock ($37)
    • Miss Saigon ($39)
    • Present Laughter ($42)
    • Aladdin ($30)
    • Six Degrees of Separation ($32)
    • Avenue Q
    • In Transit
    • Arthur Miller’s The Price
    • And counting…

We did it, you can do it too.


Scoring these cheap tickets takes strategy, patience, research, and here is the secret (by order of preference):

Digital Lottery

Enter daily on each Broadway show’s site for a chance to win tickets.

  • This method is the holy grail of winning lottery tickets.  Most Broadway shows offer the option on their home page to sign up for digital lottery. We use Broadway for Broke People for the list of all the shows, their sites, lottery time, show location, and cost. The site doesn’t have everything and some information may be delayed, but is the source of a majority of our lottery wins. Since we live in New York, there is literally nothing to lose. Our best times of winning are week nights and matinee shows.

General Rush/Student Rush Only/Last Minute Purchases

Come to the box office when they open (generally around 10AM), and buy their first 30 tickets at rush prices (usually around $30-$40).

  • With popular shows, people will line up 1-2 hours earlier than box office open time. With not-so-popular shows, they may still have rush tickets available throughout the day. Personally, I’m not an early riser and usually not motivated enough to come to the box office at their opening time, but I have walked up to the box office an hour before showtime to ask for general rush tickets before. We purchased awesome seats to Miss Saigon using this method.
  • Student Rush Tickets, as the name suggests, are rush tickets only available to students. I keep my student card in my backpack at all times in case I ever feel like doing it.
  • Last minute purchases are super badass. You stroll up to the window at the very last minute and tell them that you’re only willing to pay for the show at their rush prices (even if their rush tickets are all out). The representative at the window will try to sell you the ticket at face value price, but you will stand strong. If the curtains open in the next minute, sure enough, they would rather sell you the seat for $30 than leave it empty. We bought our awesome Chicago tickets with this method.

In Person Lottery

  • This was the lottery system before digital lotteries took over. There is a 30 minute window, 2 hours before showtime, where you can put in your name to enter for a chance to win cheap tickets. These tickets are a little bit cheaper than digital lottery and requires you to be present at the time of drawing (exactly 2 hours before showtime). Wicked does daily in person lotteries, to which hundreds of people enter in. We haven’t won one yet, but hopefully, will sometime soon. 😉
    • [UPDATE!] I wrote this post earlier today, and we won lottery tickets to Wicked! The experience of entering lottery in person is so exhilarating- a feeling not so evident in winning/losing digital lotteries. I anticipated the winning so much, I felt that I was on top of the world! I was the 2nd person chosen for the winners. We paid $30/ticket in cash and went with it. It was a fabulous show, and well worth the money.

Standing Room Only (SRO)

Exactly as it sounds, you will be standing for the entire show. I’m not much of a stander, so I wouldn’t ever do this. The only one we have tried to do this one for is the famous Hamilton (which can cost over $1000 for a good seat). We came really close to getting the tickets, but not good enough.

Today Tix phone app

Awonderful resource for buying cheap tickets as well. Their prices are only a smidge more expensive than lottery tickets, and guarantees you a seat immediately. Today Tix also offers lottery chances exclusive to their app.

  • Because Today Tix already gives you seat sections to choose from, the cheapest areas are usually rear mezzanine (alll the way back), I think that lottery and rush tickets gives you a better seating option.
  • You also have an option to sign up to popular digital lotteries on there, with and increased chance of winning if you share on your social media sites!

Cancellation Line 

Finally, we’ve done a total of two cancellation line tickets, for Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen- valued at $400 to $1000 per ticket. These shows are typically booked out for months in advance.

  • By sitting in line until the show starts, you get a chance of buying the ticket at face value (cheaper than they could be, but not that cheap). 
  • CONS: This is my least favorite method of securing tickets, because there is no security. You might be sitting 7+ hours for nothing. I’ve met people who have waited 12+ hours in the day to see it.
  • PROS: If you only have one day to see the show and can dedicate an entire day to see it, then go for it. These are amazing shows and completely worth seeing. 

General advice that will help you score tickets:

  • Enter for digital tickets every day. Rain or shine. I can’t stress this point enough. You can’t win if you don’t play!
  • We visit Broadway for Broke People religiously for an easy access to the list of all the shows that have digital lotteries, the cost, the location, and where they will be.
  • Keep weather in mind. The more miserable it is, the better your chances are to get tickets.
  • We’ve bought last minute cancellation tickets through Craigslist before. It’s super sketchy with all the cheap tickets going around, but if they’re offering to meet you at the theater and wait for you to go in, it’s probably legit

That’s all folks, thanks for reading!! Best of luck in your Broadway adventures (and please, please let me know if my post ever helped you)!!! 

Practical Things to Know About Moving from a Small Town to New York City

This is a message to those who wish to move to the city, but are scared of the dreaded unknown. This is a message to parents or friends who have loved ones wanting to move to city and are afraid for them.

Everything will be okay. 

When I decided to move to New York City, I have been discouraged extensively by my family. It’s expensive, I couldn’t make it. It’s dangerous. People are cunning and untrustworthy. It’s too far from home and family. The list goes on. I have lived in small mountain towns for most of my life. For the past 10 years, I dreamt of seeing the world and living the city life. I wanted to try new things and make a change on my own. Family duties and education had tied me to these mountains for longer than I would have liked. I moved to New York without friends or family there. I moved without a job paved out or plans. My biggest fear is that if I don’t do it now, then I would never do it. 


Now, living in the Big Apple for almost a year, I can say a few things about the city- things I learned, things I wish I knew, and things I want to say to encourage people to make the big step.

Yes, it is expensive, but there are ways to cut the costs. This is perhaps the biggest obstacle for most people who choose not to move to NYC. To be honest, I was quite scared myself. With a few lifestyle changes, we learned to live well in this expensive city. Between my boyfriend and I, we spend about $1000-$1500 a month on everything. We lived in Manhattan and Staten Island in our time in New York.

We don’t buy furniture. All of our furniture have been given to us for free. We have brought home 50″ TVs, mirrors, beds (with bedbug covering), tables, chairs, shelves, printers, you name it. Free stuff are given every hour of every day. People in New York live lavishly and constantly move; we are always able to find people who want to make sure their things are going to good use. Our top three resources are Craigslist, Freecycle, and the curb. 😉 

Check out my posts on free things to do in NYC: Food and Music Festival in Brooklyn and Medieval Festival in NYC

Check out how I supplement income by working from home: Earn $18-30/Hour Working from Home & On the Road

Prepare for culture shock. Coming from a small mountain town in North Carolina, I have always been a minority. The two most exotic cuisines are Mexican foods and Chinese foods. New York City is a wonderfully cultured city. Here, in just one short subway ride, I see people from all walks of life.

Your apartment will be twice the price for half the size. For about $1000/month, we share an apartment with three other people. Our apartment had one small kitchen, living room, and bathroom. We had a 12×12 room with a narrow hallway. Luckily, there are ways to minimize furniture space through wonderful inventions.

Check out cool compact bunk beds storage furniture here!

It was much more expensive than our apartment in North Carolina, but we loved the area. Walking around the area, we can find food from all around the world. People were friendly and positive energy was in the air. Of course, the further from the city, the cheaper the apartment gets. You can easily find $500-600 apartments in the Bronx, Morningside Heights (north Manhattan), Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.

Public transportation is the best transportation. This is a huge change from where I lived. Instead of relying on a car to get me places, I learned to use the intricate subway system of the city. I love it. I can walk, bike, ride the subway/bus/ferry anywhere I choose. We purchased a CitiBike annual membership for $160, and it became one of our favorite free things to do together.

It’s fast and people are motivated. Either move fast or get out of my way. New York is truly the place to go to get things done. People here have places to be and things to do. It doesn’t mean that they’re rude, it’s just the lifestyle and culture of the place. I have never felt so alive and pumping with productivity as being in the city. While apartment searching, most of the roommates requirement listed “must have a job, cannot be a couch potato.” 

I have never gone negative with my finances while living here. The atmosphere and constant get things done attitude had inspired me to try so many different things. At one point, I had started to work three jobs at a time, not because I needed to, but because I wanted to try all these new things at once.

It’s a hub of constant activity and diversity. From the food, to the streets, to the clothes, to the people, New York has it all. The city is the ultimate place to experience new things. There are so many things to do. So many things to look at. Christmastime is a sight to behold. Halls decked with beautiful light and music shows. Fifth avenue bustles with shoppers and tourists. People laughing and smiling. Ice skating (please don’t go to Rockefeller) is amazingly romantic.

There are a million ways to meet people. Meetup, Couchsurfing, and Eventbrite are great resources for meeting and networking with people. From nerdy game nights to exercise groups to a party night out, they have it all.

Convenience, convenience, convenience! 

Dirt cheap international flights are a subway ride away. I subscribe to the The Flight Deal newsletter, which features daily dirt cheap flights from the biggest cities in the United States to all locations around the world. I have seen tickets to Europe as cheap as $100 dollars round trip! New York is the home to extensive interstate bus systems. For travels 5-20 hours away, I like to take an overnight bus as it is much cheaper than a plane ticket. For a five day getaway, we took a bus to Montreal, Canada for only $50!

Internet speeds are superior than the mountains. With little to nonexistent internet in the mountains, New York City is a wonderful heaven of free WiFi. All over New York are LinkNYC network that provides free google maps access, internet browsing, phone calls, and a phone/tablet charging station.

East Harlem has a wonderful network of stores nearby that made our stay heavenly. Just a few blocks walking offers parks, cheap grocery stores, laundromat, subway station, CitiBike racks, Indian cuisine buffets, karaoke bars, and more.

All things nature are man-made. With an area of about 460 square miles, New York City is home to over 30 parks, and of course, the famous Central Park. However, unless you go to upstate NYC, don’t expect to find any beautiful national parks and nature preserves. New Yorkers love to wind down at local parks after work by taking their pets out for runs, spend family time, or sit and read outside.

In contrast, NYC is home to the most impressive architectures. Some of my favorites places to admire beautiful architecture are:

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Brooklyn Promenade View of Manhattan
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Brooklyn Promenade Sunset View
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Brooklyn Bridge
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Times Square
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High Line

It was a combination of all these things that made me fall in love with the city during our first visit. There is nowhere quite like the energy of New York.


It was never our plan to stay in New York City permanently. Though there is a heartache to think that we will not be biking the beautiful Hudson River Greenway a month or a year from now, we both know that New York is not where we will will grow old. There is always a charm in the small town where I grew up. Each sunset over the Appalachian mountains, each beautiful autumn changing color, the fact that everyone knows everyone else, the hospitality and true friendships are endearing to me.

So, what’s next?

New York will always be a special place to me. It is here that I had truly become independent, and I had come out a better person. I’ve learned so much from the city. I’ve learned to speak better, to work efficiently, to think on my feet, to opened my mind and eyes, to get lost and explore. I have gained the experience I had set out to find. I can feel that it is time to set on to another adventure. We’re hoping to go to a few more Broadway shows and museums, then return home for some time to visit family. In the next year, we hope to pick up and start backpacking Asia.


Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment and some love. <3