try! Swift is a conference I attended a while ago, held in Tokyo Japan for a second time now. From the name you probably already guessed that it's about Swift language, which is mostly used for developing applications for Apple devices. Now I'm going to disappoint you and not blog about the conference itself, but more of the journey which turned out to be challenging. These tips are mostly to myself for future reference, and hopefully they will help others who are planning a similar trip. I'm briefly going to cover some practical topics, such as money, internet, and apps.
Money, more specifically cash
Starting with this topic since I found this information quite vital. I was under the impression that Tokyo was a city full of advanced tech, and they would certainly accept credit cards at least most of the time. I was wrong. Only the largest shops and restaurants accepted credit cards, and even they often had a minimum purchase limit for using a credit card. Anywhere else, you have to deal with cash. I recommend to get cash no later than at the airport, because it's not so easy to find ATMs which allow usage of international credit cards.
Internet, that sweet thing
Luckily, I already noticed before leaving Finland that you can't store offline maps for Japan, at least not on Google Maps, Here WeGo or Apple Maps. Despite this, there are several apps available which offer offline tourist maps for the Tokyo area. More on those when covering apps later in this post. I checked my operator's data roaming charges and decided that it was way cheaper to buy a prepaid SIM card. I bought mine at the airport from NTT Mobile, but there are plenty of options. The easiest ones to get are sold from a vending machine. You can get a suitable package for your needs (7 or 14 nights, micro, nano SIM etc.). Your operator roaming charges may vary quite a bit, so I at least suggest to check them out before using data roaming, unless you’re rolling in money.
The most useful app on this trip for me was Google Translate (iOS, Android). Especially the feature where you can track your surroundings on a live view while the app shows you every text it finds translated to your language. Many times there are places and situations where all the text you see is written in Japanese characters only. Most of the restaurants we visited during our trip had an English menu to offer when asked, but not all of them. In the rare cases where there wasn’t, the app becomes handy – unless you are so adventurous that you specifically want to order possibly lethal Blowfish (Fugu). Another handy app is Travel Japan Wi-Fi (iOS, Android). It allows you to connect to numerous free Wi-Fi networks offered around in restaurants, coffee shops and malls. For free offline maps, there are a few tourist apps, such as CityMaps2Go (iOS, Android) and Tokyo Travel Guide (iOS, Android) by Ulmon.
As much as I have tried to move from physical media to the digital, there is one book I would sincerely recommend, Japan at a Glance. It gives a nice overview of the culture, food, celebrations, history and many more areas of knowledge about Japan. You can also learn some of the most needed phrases and gestures for your trip, or even learn how to read Katakana characters, which are mostly used in transcription of foreign words into Japanese, or when writing loan words. Local people like it very much when they notice visitors have made some effort to learn something about their language and culture.
As a final tip, if you’re approaching Japan from the west, sleep as much as you can on your way there. Because of the time difference, the first day there will be a long and tiring one. If coming from the east, you could try stay awake as long as you can. Oh, and if you have a camera, or even a decent camera in your mobile phone, don’t forget to bring it with you – there are plenty of great views to photograph in Tokyo!