Curtiejoe, I have to say I felt more like a foreigner in Tokyo than I did anywhere in the world. It's one of those places you just have to suck it up and realize you stick out like a sore thumb no matter what you do! Not that the people are not friendly and hospitable, they absolutely are, but there are customs and nuances that we will never figure out. We tend to dress well when traveling, especially when shopping in designer-store-ridden areas like Ginza, so that wasn't the issue. I just remember our first night in Tokyo, we arrived exhausted in the evening just at dinner time. We dropped our baggage in the hotel and ventured out to a nearby street absolutely lined with nice-looking restaurants. However, each and every little restaurant was packed with locals, the signs were in Japanese, and we couldn't figure out where to go. We finally settled on one of the more approachable looking restaurants (which was not at all full), entered the front door, and the hostess seemed to tell us to leave! I read later that some restaurants won't cater to tourists. I don't know if that was the case or we were gun-shy and misunderstood what the hostess said, but between the jet-lag and the confusion we were afraid of approaching any other restaurants for fear of being rejected yet again. We ended up grabbing some snacks at a 7-eleven and collapsing back at the hotel. We ultimately figured out better how to find comfortable restaurants and ate some fabulous meals, but we tended to shy away from the more upscale restaurants in non-touristed areas. The hotel we first stayed at was in Akasaka, a very business-oriented neighborhood that has some nice hotels but isn't really an area that caters to tourists.
In order to have your airfare paid, you must be hired by a large company in Japan and it is unlikely that you would have this perk for only a four month contract.It might be easier to get a job in China but, again, a four month contract wouldn't merit airfare.However, note that it is difficult for older people to get teaching jobs, especially in Japan and Korea. Again, China might be easier. This seems odd since the elderly supposedly are held in high esteem in these countries. I applied to several large companies for teaching jobs in Japan and Korea and was always turned down because I was over 40.
If you are looking for accommodation with a teaching job, be sure to inspect it before accepting. You might find four walls with only a sink in the kitchen..You might be expected to supply all other appliances, cupboards, etc. Housing in Japan is very expensive so if your wife picks up a job along the way, be sure accommodation for both of you is included. The English language newspapers in Japan will sometimes list teaching jobs with companies.
The public transit system in Japan is good and extensive. Remember to hold onto your transit ticket until you get to your destination. It must be surrendered there.
Do not rely on The Last Samurai for impressions of modern Japan. The beautiful countryside shown in the movie is there...but far from the cities. There is unattractive urban sprawl around the major cities. Do a lot of reading to discover where the special places are. I lived in Japan in the mid 1960s... and have gone back twice recently. The change, especially in Kyoto, was extreme. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the reluctance of the Japanese to say "No" directly. You might think you have reached agreement but unless the answer is "Hai" (yes) you should not count on it. Jackie H-F
I just replied to your first message and then read your reply to a response. The large hotels in Tokyo are EXPENSIVE!! Go to Expedia, Travelocity, etc. to get over the first shock. Go in to look at the lobbies if curious ..but check prices before you decide to have a drink or cup of coffee. If you don't need, or can't afford, luxury, check out the business hotels. They are basic and small but clean. Also, the side streets have many small food shops. There are often plastic replicas of food in the restaurant window so you can point if all else fails. Prices are displayed, as well.
Traditional ryokan are usually even more expensive than the hotels but are well worth an occasional splurge since the experience is like no other. Be sure to leave your shoes at the entrance, use the slippers provided, leave them outside your room, put them on again when going to the toilet or bath, leave them outside the toiletdoor again. It is very bad form to wear anything other than the toilet slippers in the toilet room. Don't tip the staff...it is not expected and will cause embarrassment..
Wash and rinse BEFORE getting into a Japanese bath. The bath is to relax, soothe, heal...not for cleaning. A yukata (long cotton robe) will be provided for each of you. Wear it to meals after your bath. Cross it left over right....the opposite is used for funerals. If you can't sit gracefully on the tatami floor, consider bringing long (silk) underwear to maintain your modesty..
Cab drivers open the back door from a mechanism inside the cab.... don't open it yourself. Again, don't tip.
If you have specific questions, please ask. Also, there was reference to Ethiopia in another message. Did you ask it? I have travelled in Ethiopia so can perhaps help. Jackie H-F
Hi jhoffman, just came across your post and it's been awhile but thought I'd jump in. Just so we're not scaring any value travelers away from Tokyo/Japan, let's do this: check out a top hotel in Tokyo such as the Ritz Carlton or Park Hyatt. Now, check out a similar top hotel in New York, Paris, London, Moscow or Berlin. Things look a little better, don't they? Japan is the most expensive of the Asian countries (other than Hong Kong or Singapore) but everything's relative. Tokyo now is a bargain compared to the Tokyo of 5 or 10 years ago. The nice hotels are fantastic and in fact pretty good value. The mid-range hotels are nice enough. You can find good bargains in food if you know where to look. Transportation is cheap and so, so easy. I wouldn't be too afraid to visit Japan due to the cost: you are much worse off in many other parts of the world these days.
Reading all the posts on Japan and Vietnam with great interest- lots of great info! My husband & I will be having our very belated honeymoon in Asia in March, which includes 4 nights in Tokyo (based at the Intercon). I would love to have 6 months to spend in Japan just to EAT!, but, alas,I will have only 4 nights! If you only have time for a few totally fabulous meals and experiences, what would you do? My husband is a chef at our Historic Inn in WV & I am a bit of a 'foodie' (I could happily live on sushi...); we collect art/craft/ceramics/textiles...
I went to Tokyo May 2006. 2 days in Tokyo, 5 days in Hakodate, 1 day in Tokyo, 2 days in Kyoto, 1 day in Hiroshima and then 4 days in Tokyo. So far, Tokyo is my favorite city in the world.
I didn't find Tokyo very expensive. I am sure you can find expensive hotels and restaurants, but you do have an option. We stayed at Mercure Ginza, a 4-star hotel in the heart of Tokyos most expensive places. I think we only payed about 100 Gbp a room inlc. breakfast for two. A bottle of water, at the airport, was about 0,5 Gbp, not expensive at all.
Eating in Tokyo is easy. There are lots of restaurants, both Japanese and international. Unfortunately I don't remember the places we ate, but we had both French, Italian, Japanese and Spanish food, and everything was delicious. Normally I am very "fuzzy" when eating abroad (and yes, I had some difficulties in India, but that's another story... :-)) , in Japan I ate everywhere. Even at the market!
It is very easy to take the tube in Tokyo and I highly recommend it as the traffic is heavy. Just be aware that you can not take the tube to Narita airport. Or you can, but the reseptionist told us it would take hours....
I would highly recommend to bring some Japanese Yen. They take credit-card everywhere, but I found it difficult to find cash-machines with English language. Even at the airport in Hakodate there were no English cash-machine!
Read your post on Tokio with great interest. Glad you found relatively inexpensive for hotels and eating places. I'm sure that what you say about being able to find expensive hotels and restaurants is quite true for virtually all major cities around the world. But, it's good to know that there are always options wherever one goes abroad. Thanks also for your excellent suggestions about riding the tube in Tokyo and about bringing some Japanese cash with you. BTW, I think you mean "fussy" which means particular, careful, fastidious and choosy, rather than "fuzzy" which means blurred or indistinct.
Curt, thank you for helping me in the right direction (fuzzy vs. fussy)!
Elisse: If you are going to travel within Japan I can recommend you to buy the "Japan Railpass". We didn't think about it, but found it to be expensive to travel within Japan. To get an airticket to/from Hakodate was a nightmare, even for the travel agency we used, and it was expensive too. I am not sure about it, but I think somebody told me that if you travel more than four times with the shinkansen, you will save money on buying the "Japan Railpass".
Haha, as you can understand I really fell in love with Japan. It is absolutly my favorite country over all countries. I never felt "lost" like a lot of people do when first time in Tokyo. I just want to go back and hope that we one day will be able to move to Japan for a year or two.
No-Backpacker: I can understand why you love Tokyo so much after reading your post about India. They are like night and day in terms of cleanliness and organization! Tokyo is clean, neat, so easy to get around and, yes, has wonderful food! I have to say depending on what part of town you stay in some of the nicer restaurants can be a little overwhelming for English-speaking tourists. Our first hotel in Tokyo was the Akasaka Prince, in a more business-oriented and less-touristed part of town and our first couple nights we had to try a few different restaurants before we were allowed in! I think tourists aren't allowed in some restaurants. At any rate, whenever we did finally settle into a restaurant the food was phenomenal. We later stayed in the (wonderful) Park Hyatt in Shinjuku where dining options were less intimidating.
Elisse, here are some food recommendations for Tokyo:
1) You must(!) have a (very-early) sushi breakfast at the Tsujiki Fish Market. This is excellent for your first morning to town when you will likely be jet-lagged and unable to sleep late anyway (assuming you are traveling first to Japan from the US). There are loads of tiny little sushi restaurants huddled around the inside of the huge and busy market. After taking a tour of the market (and be careful, it is slippery and there are forklifts everywhere with little concern for tourists!) slip inside one of the little restaurants and have the freshest sushi of your life.
2) I don't have specific restaurants to recommend, but try one of each of the following types of restaurants during your time in Japan: 1) A yakitori stand, 2) A noodle restaurant, 3) tempura chain restaurant - Japanese fast food!, 4) A kaiseke (formal Japanese) meal
3) For a familiarly "western" upscale meal and one of the best steaks of your life, visit New York Grill at Park Hyatt Tokyo. Located on the top floor with phenomenal views, this is an excellent location for a very memorable and romantic urban meal.