A brief visit to Hachioji Castle Ruins

Today I visited Hachioji Castle Ruins and toured around the lower parts of the park.  It was already late in the day so I didn’t get to check out the stuff further up the mountain.  I will definitely be coming back here in the future to look around a bit more.  I’ll post a few pictures from today’s trip over the next couple of days.  Not going to do big photo dumps here like I have been doing, I want to have enough photos to last a few posts going forward.  So until the next post.  

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Crowded Tokyo Spaces

Personal space in crowded areas.

One thing that a lot of people comment on when they come to Tokyo is the concept of personal space.  While the less busy parts of Tokyo certainly won’t present any challenges, its the more busy spaces like rush hour on major trains and stations, and the busy travel times of the year that can pose some challenges for the uninitiated.

First you should get used to people in Tokyo essentially cutting you off when walking.  Tokyo is a busy place, and there are a lot of people in a hurry to go places.  Some will step quickly in front of you in a crowd if they sense there is an opening to be had to get them to their destination faster.  Generally traffic sticks to the left, and some stations even have floor guides indicating which side of the hall people should be walking (it can change depending on the station).  But also keep in mind that there are people who will walk on whatever side they wish.

Second you should get used to bicycles going past you without ringing their bell.  There are a lot of bicycles in Tokyo.  They can be found on both the road and sidewalk.  In a whole week, I only ever heard a bicycle bell once.  Another thing that may come as a surprise back home, is that people wearing bicycle helmets is almost unheard of.

If you are here during the new years and want to visit shrines and temples, know that it will be extremely crowded. Often the police help with crowd control.  Pay very attention for children.  I have walked around several places where children, like back home, don’t think about people tripping over them.  They will start, stop, dart, turn a hard 90 without even looking to see if anyone is coming.  This can make it particularly tricky in places where it is crowded, and they are below your field of vision (think about those 2 foot nothing 4 to 5 year olds who have the tendency to run even when its a couple of feet.

Lastly with this in mind treat walking like any other activity requiring attention. Pay constant attention for obstacles that may need special consideration.  Also get used to be bumped every now and than. Some foreigners say you will quickly get over apologizing to everyone you bump into in Tokyo.  Me I recommend doing whatever you yourself are comfortable doing.  A quick “gomenasai” or “sumimasen” doesn’t take any time. Just make it quick and keep walking.  Stopping to apologize could really cause you more issues as a lot of spaces are crowded and people around you expect the flow to keep moving.

If you have experience in Japan with busy streets, or any tips for handling busy and crowded spaces feel free to share them in the comments below.

5 Tips for Arriving in Japan

After coming to Japan a few times, I am starting to get a feel for how to make arrival fairly pain free.  There are a few things you can do before hand that will reduce the number of headaches you will experience upon arrival.

The first general tip is as follows:

1. READ ONLINE REVIEWS OF WHERE YOU ARE STAYING!

Pay particular attention to critical complaints about the premises.  A lot of times these complaints arise from people not doing their homework.  For example do they allow couples to stay in a room designed for a single occupant.  Are their additional charges for having an extra person with you or late checkout.  Find this out before placing your reservation to prevent a lot of headache, and save yourself from any bad experiences.  Remember that we tend to remember bad experiences more strongly than good or mediocre ones.

After finding a hotel or hostel and reading the reviews.  If you find one that appears to be satisfactory to what you are looking for, place your reservation and make note of any special instructions like deposits and amounts to be paid before arriving and at arrival.  After this make note of the following points:

2. Have a copy of your hotel/hostel booking both in print and on your mobile device (if you have one).

Having a copy of this will smooth your checkin process.  Not only that, your booking will often contain the address so that you can ask for directions if you get lost.  It is important to note a lot of hotels do keep records of online bookings, but there are some who don’t.  The first time I arrived in Japan, I made the foolish assumption that they would have my booking there.  They didn’t and they charged current pricing for the rooms, as opposed to what was listed at the time of our reservation.

3. Do a neighborhood search on google maps.

It is important that you know what the area looks like and have a general idea of the roads.  Use Google Street View if it is available to get an idea what your hotel/hostel looks like from the outside, and any other remarkable features around the neighborhood that might help when you arrive.  Do keep in mind that especially in Tokyo, neighborhoods can change really quickly, so it might not be exactly as it was at the time the Google car captured the area.

4. Know which train station your hotel/hostel is close to.

Once again use Google maps to get a list of public transit routes from your airport to the place you are staying.  Print this out if it is available.  DO NOT rely on there being free wi-fi anywhere.  If you don’t have a printer, either print to pdf (available in many browsers), or copy it to a word document and save a copy of this document to a mobile device like a phone or ipod touch.  If you are really lucky, the hotel will provide the trains, stations, and transfer points for you on their website. Which brings me to point number 4

5. Check online to see if your hotel/hostel has a website.

These places post many great tips about getting to the hotel, and what is in the surrounding area.  Bookmark this, and make particular note of their instructions on how to get to their hotel, if they have any.

There are many other tips people have that have made their checkin experience easier.  Feel free to leave your tips in the comments below.