FAQ: Going to Japan
Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck-Tick Buck!
I will add more questions and answers to this section as needed. If you have a question or suggestion for something you think I should add, email me. This is not intended to be a comprehensive travel guide—rather, it’s merely a place where I address some concerns I’ve heard again and again specifically from people traveling to Japan from overseas for concerts. For more general information about concerts in Japan, check out my Japanese Concert Guide. If you have more detailed and specific questions, email me, but please read the whole guide carefully first.
Questions are listed below. Scroll down to read the answers to each question, or hit ctrl+f plus the number of the question you're interested in to find it even faster.
1. I want to go to Japan to see Buck-Tick, but I’ve never been to Japan before. When do you suggest I go?
3. I want to go to Japan for the next Buck-Tick tour, but I’ve never heard of any of the cities on the tour except for Tokyo, and I’m too lazy to look at a map. Is it okay if I just go to the shows in Tokyo?
5 . I’ve heard Tokyo taxis are very expensive. Is this true?
7. What is an IC card and why do I need one?
9. Should I book a hotel near the venue of the concert I’m attending?
11. Should I be worried about muggers and pickpockets?
13. Are there age limits for Japanese concerts and nightclubs?
15. Is there English signage in train stations, etc.?
17. Can I use my credit or debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM?
19. How can I get access to wireless internet?
20. Is it true that there are no public trash cans in Japan?
21. Why do I have to take off my shoes?
22. Where can I find a public toilet in Japan, and do I have to pay?
23. Why are there pairs of slippers in the toilet?
Q1. I want to go to Japan to see Buck-Tick, but I’ve never been to Japan before. When do you suggest I go?
A. If you’re traveling all the way to Japan for the first time in order to see Buck-Tick, I would recommend that you wait for a time when you'll be able to attend more than one show. I’ve met a lot of overseas fans over the years, and for most people, one show is not enough! Ideally, come at a time when you can make it to two or three shows, at least. Also, consider carefully: would you rather see a hall tour, or a standing tour? If what you want is to see the band members up close, then you should wait for the standing tour, as you likely won’t get the chance on the hall tour.
Q2. Is it worth traveling from overseas just for the Day In Question?
A. That depends on your priorities, but in general, I’d say no, since in all likelihood you’ll be very far away from the band members and even if there’s a Day In Question mini-tour, there probably won’t be very many tour dates and you might not get a chance to attend all of them, anyway. If you want to see the band up close, and/or see them multiple times, wait for a hall tour or live house tour.
Then again, the Day In Question is a big, exciting spectacle and the set lists are usually very interesting, so if you can make peace with the fact that the band members will appear to be the size of ants, it might be worth it after all.
In summary: if time and money aren’t an issue and you think you’ll be able to make it back to Japan again sometime in the near future, then sure, go for it—come to Japan just for the DIQ. But if you think this is the only trip you’ll be able to manage in a long while, I would say, hold on and wait for a real tour. You won’t regret it.
Q3. I want to go to Japan for the next Buck-Tick tour, but I’ve never heard of any of the cities on the tour except for Tokyo, and I’m too lazy to look at a map. Is it okay if I just go to the shows in Tokyo?
A. If you’re too lazy to look at a map, you have no business traveling to Japan at all! Furthermore, tickets to shows in Tokyo tend to sell out a lot faster than tickets to shows in other cities, so I strongly encourage you to consider attending tour dates outside of Tokyo, instead. Tokyo is a great city, for sure, but it’s only a tiny piece of Japan. Especially if you’re visiting Japan for the first time, I strongly urge you to visit some other cities besides Tokyo, or visit some rural areas, as Japan’s natural beauty is just as impressive as its cultural history. Beyond that, there really isn’t much cultural history left in Tokyo, due to the fact that most of the city was burned and bombed to ruins during WWII. If you want to see some stunning ancient temples, etc., make the trip to Kyoto, which is the heart of Japanese culture and tradition. There are also many other fantastic places to visit besides Kyoto…do some research and pick out some interesting destinations! You won’t regret it. The website www.japan-guide.com is a great place to start looking up various cities and sightseeing destinations.
Q4. Can you give me some advice on things I should do in Japan, besides seeing Buck-Tick?
A. Sightseeing really comes down to personal preference, but I’ve lived here for years and done a good bit of traveling, so if you have any specific questions, feel free to email me. However, please do your preliminary research first. A little careful research will add a lot to the enjoyment of your holiday. There are all kinds of guidebooks out there, but I recommend the Time Out and Eyewitness Guides. Beware of Lonely Planet as it can be laughably inaccurate with regard to sightseeing destinations. For basic research and info on transportation, I recommend starting with www.japan-guide.com, which has a very good overview of all the major sightseeing spots in Japan, along with detailed directions for how to get there.
Q5 . I’ve heard Tokyo taxis are very expensive. Is this true?
A. Yes! Tokyo taxis are ridiculously expensive…don’t take a taxi unless you absolutely have to, especially not for long distances. You will seriously regret it when you see the bill. Beyond this, many taxi drivers don’t actually know how to get you where you’re going unless you can give them some directions, which you probably won't be able to do if you're a foreign tourist who doesn't know the city and doesn't speak Japanese. Even if you have an address printed in kanji, that's often not enough (and if the address isn't printed in kanji, forget about it!) Tokyo is a gigantic maze of a city and it can be very, very hard to find your way around, even if you’ve lived here for years.
Q6. What is the best way to get around in Japan?
A. Depends on where you're going, but for the most part, trains are the best way to travel. Japan has a truly stupendous rail network, and the trains are fast, clean, and nearly always run on time. All metropolitan areas have light rail and/or subway systems, and there is also a long-distance network of bullet trains and other express trains that travel between cities. If you're planning on traveling extensively around Japan during a short time period, you can apply for a special pass called a JR pass, which allows for nearly unlimited use of major long-distance train arteries at a deep discount. The JR pass is only available to foreign tourists, but to get one, you must apply through a travel agency in your home country BEFORE you leave for Japan. However, before you spring for a JR pass, make sure to plan your itinerary and calculate your expenses to see if it will be worth it. The JR pass offers huge savings on long-distance travel, but if you won't be traveling very much, you may not need one.
In addition to trains, Japan has a truly excellent domestic air network. If you're traveling long distances throughout the country, in some cases, flying may be a lot cheaper and faster than taking the train, so look into it.
There is also an extensive network of buses, including local city buses and long-distance buses. However, navigating buses can be very difficult if you don't speak/read Japanese, because usually English information is not available for bus lines. If you plan on using buses in Japan, make sure you look up all the information carefully beforehand. The website www.japan-guide.com is a great place to start.
Q7. What is an IC card and why do I need one?
A. An IC card is a commuter train pass, and if you'll be taking the train a lot, I HIGHLY recommend you get one, especially if you don't have a JR pass. There are a lot of different IC cards with different names depending on the city of issue -Tokyo's card is called a Suica card, but cards in other cities have other names. However, the system is integrated throughout the country, so even if you originally bought your card in Tokyo, you can also use it in Osaka, etc. IC cards are available at special offices in major train stations throughout the country, and cost 500 yen each (though you can get your 500 yen back if you return the card when you're done using it at the end of your trip.) How the IC card works: you stick it into the slot at an automatic ticket machine at any train station (English menus are available), select how much money you want to add, and insert your cash. To ride the train, simply tap the card on the sensor at the ticket gate when you enter the station and again when you exit at your destination. The fare for your trip will be deducted automatically.
Train fares in Japan are charged by distance, but they are very reasonable. Tokyo in particular is a HUGE city, so if you look at the table of train fares and think it looks more expensive that train fares in your home city, bear in mind that the reason for that is that Tokyo is probably ten or fifteen times as big as your home city.
So, why do you need an IC card? IC cards are important, because if you don't have one, you have to buy paper tickets instead...but the paper ticket system is REALLY confusing for foreigners. No, I mean really. The array of rail lines, especially in the Tokyo and Osaka areas, is dizzying, and different rail lines are run by different railway companies, which means that buying paper tickets for transfers between lines is a headache and a half if you don't read Japanese and you're unfamiliar with the terrain. However, with an IC card, you don't have to worry about anything besides making sure there's enough money on your card to get you where you're going - all of the hassle of transferring lines is handled automatically.
Q8. Is it true that the trains stop running at midnight?
A. Yes. All trains stop running sometime between 11PM and 1AM (the specific time depends on the train), so be careful that you don’t get stranded out at night without a way to get home! Train service resumes around 5AM. Why do they do this? I don’t know. Is it a pain in the ass? Yes. But there’s no use crying about it.
Q9. Should I book a hotel near the venue of the concert I’m attending?
A. Don’t bother. A lot of concert venues aren’t located in convenient sightseeing areas, so rather than booking a hotel near the venue, I recommend booking a hotel in a centrally located area with a lot of train lines. Japanese concerts start early, and they start on time, so they’re always over well before the trains stop running. You’ll be able to get home.
Q10. Is it safe to for young women to travel alone in Japan?
A. Yes, Japan is very safe, even for young solo female travelers, even at night. Just do your research in advance, make sure you know where you are going (which trains to take, etc.), let someone know where you're going and give an emergency contact number, and keep your wits about you at all times - don't get lost in smartphone games, and don't blast loud music in your headphones while walking around alone at night - pay attention to your surroundings! Harassment is quite rare, but based on the accounts of people close to me, it seems that when it does happen, it's usually directed against people who look like easy targets (oblivious, asleep, too drunk to resist, etc.) I'm absolutely not trying to be a victim-blamer here, but if you're planning on traveling alone, you need to be prepared to take responsibility for your own safety, which means remaining observant and alert to your circumstances. When you can't count on traveling companions to watch out for you, you have to watch out for yourself.
However, for the most part, there's little likelihood of real danger if you stay alert and use common sense. If you visit entertainment districts like Shinjuku’s Kabukicho at night, it’s possible that hustlers will shout obscene comments at you, but that’s about as dangerous as it gets, most of the time. Don't make eye contact with them and keep walking. Of course, Japan is still a country like any other, full of human beings, and some human beings are unscrupulous assholes…but if you maintain a healthy suspicion of strangers, you should be okay. The vast majority of people are not creeps or predators.
In the unlikely event that you are sexually harassed on a train, shout "CHIKAN!" ("pervert!") as loudly as you can, and people will probably come and help you. Sexual harassment on trains is a serious crime and if the police catch the guy, he'll be punished.
Q11. Should I be worried about muggers and pickpockets?
A. Pickpocketing and mugging are very uncommon in Japan, so I wouldn’t bother worrying. At the same time, use common sense and don’t leave your bags unattended.
Q12. What is the drinking age in Japan?
A. The drinking age in Japan is twenty, but mostly, people don’t care and won’t card you. Drink responsibly.
Q13. Are there age limits for Japanese concerts and nightclubs?
A. Most evening rock concerts are all ages, however, you must be three years old or older to attend a Buck-Tick show. As for nightclubs, anyone under the age of 18 is prohibited from entering nightclubs or other events that are open past midnight. If you’re planning on going to an event that starts at midnight or runs past midnight (and there are a lot of them), be sure you have your passport on you, as the venue staff are required by law to check ID no matter how old you look, and they can be very strict about it.
Q14. Do people in Japan speak English?
A. Not really. Japanese people are required to take several years of English classes in public school, but English education in Japan isn't very effective, so most Japanese people reach adulthood without being able to speak any English beyond basic phrases. Some people do speak excellent English, but they're in the minority. Therefore, I strongly urge you to learn a few basic Japanese phrases before your trip. Also, most Japanese people are friendly and helpful even if they don't know a word of English, so if you remain pleasant and patient, you should be able to communicate eventually using basic sign language if you have to. Japanese people do not respond well to aggression and rudeness. Try to remain calm and polite at all times, no matter how frustrated you may be.
Q15. Is there English signage in train stations, etc.?
A. Yes, mostly. In rural areas there is less English signage, but most important signs in major urban areas are written in both English and Japanese. Many chain restaurants also have English menus, though the translations are often laughably bad.
Q16. Can I pay for things with my credit card?
A. Not necessarily. Japan is still a heavily cash-oriented society, and most shops and restaurants do not accept cards. Traveler's cheques are also not widely used, so be prepared and carry a lot of cash yen on you. As pickpockets and muggings are rare, it is highly unlikely that you will be robbed if you exercise common-sense precautions. Most Japanese people carry several hundred dollars'/euro's worth of cash on them at a given time. As for things you CAN use your card for, credit cards are usually accepted at hotels and for purchase of bullet train tickets, etc. ...though be sure to call your credit card company before you travel to let them know you'll be in Japan, so they don't block your card as an anti-fraud measure!
Q17. Can I use my credit or debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM?
A. Don't bank on it! (get it?) Most Japanese ATMs do not accept foreign cards! However, in most cases, a credit or debit card can be used for cash withdrawals at the Japan Post Bank (JP Bank or Yuucho Ginko in Japanese, found at all post offices, and also commonly found in train stations), or at Seven Bank, which has ATMs in 7-11 convenience stores and other places. Most ATMs have English options, and the Japan Post ATMs offer services in several languages, including Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese.
Be aware that many ATMS close after a certain hour, so make sure you do your cash withdrawals during the day. Also, check beforehand with your bank to make sure you don't have any cash withdrawal limits. Make sure to bring ample cash with you to begin with, just in case.
Q18. Can I use my credit card to buy tour goods at a Buck-Tick show?
A. Recently, this has become possible, but the line for credit card payment is really long and moves very slowly, so I recommend paying cash instead. It's a lot faster.
Q19. How can I get access to wireless internet?
A. Wireless hotspots are still uncommon in Japan, so take care! Although all Starbucks Coffee shops have free wireless internet included in the price of coffee, and Starbucks is a very common chain in Japan, when you're out and about, going into a Starbucks to check your email may be inconvenient. Also, to my knowledge, in order to use Starbucks wireless, you must be registered with Starbucks Japan before you travel.
For a more convenient wireless service, I recommend renting a portable wireless dongle (lol, dongle, lol). A long-time NGS friend used this service on her recent trip to Japan and recommended it highly. You can also use the service to rent phones and SIM cards.
Q20. Is it true that there are no public trash cans in Japan?
A. Not entirely, but there are many fewer public trash cans in Japan than in many other countries. In general, in Japan, you should expect to carry your trash with you throughout the day and throw it away at home. Foreigners in Japan whine and whine about this, but really, it's not that big a deal. If you're excessively squeamish about putting trash in your bag, you can always bring a plastic bag with you and wrap your trash in that, instead. Or alternatively, you can always find a convenience store and throw your trash away there. Most convenience stores have public trash cans, as do most train stations, and many shopping malls.
Q21. Why do I have to take off my shoes?
A. In many situations in Japan, for cleanliness reasons, shoes are not worn inside buildings - this is true for people's homes, schools, certain bars and restaurants, certain hotels, temples, and sometimes offices as well. There's no need to worry that you'll accidentally leave your shoes on by mistake - in almost every situation where you're expected to take your shoes off, it will be quite obvious what to do. For one thing, there will usually be a locker or cubby where you can stow your shoes while you're in the building. While inside the building, you will be presented with a pair of indoor slippers. Walking in these can take some getting used to, as they can be quite slippery on carpeting, so be careful! Also, make sure to never wear your indoor slippers on entrance hall floors, outside balconies, or on tatami mats.
Q22. Where can I find a public toilet in Japan, and do I have to pay?
A. Train stations are usually equipped with toilets that are available for use if you pay a train fare. Shopping centers and department stores also have clean, free public toilets, and so do many convenience stores and public parks (though park toilets can be dirty.) Paid public toilets in Japan are almost nonexistent. Most public toilets are free. Therefore, be polite and clean up after yourself, leaving the toilet clean for the next person to use.
Regarding public toilets, be aware that in some cases, toilet paper may not be available, so it's wise to bring a small packet of tissues with you, just in case. Tissue packets are often handed out on street corners as part of promotional stunts, so tissues should be easy to come by.
Also, be aware that many public toilets in Japan are Japanese-style squat toilets called washiki. To use a washiki toilet, squat over the bowl facing the hood, holding onto a handrail if necessary (most of them have handrails.) Most washiki and Western-style toilets have handle or push-button flush, or they flush automatically, but in some cases, the toilet flush may be electronic. If you can't find a flush button anywhere, look for a small white control panel on the wall of the stall. The flush button should be on the top of the box, a button marked [小]. Some toilets may have a hand-sensor flush function. If this is the case, it should be obvious. Simply hold your hand over the sensor for a second or two, until the water starts running.
Q23. Why are there pairs of slippers in the toilet?
A. Inside slippers are not worn into the toilet. Before entering the toilet, step out of your slippers and leave them at the door, while stepping into the dedicated pair of toilet slippers inside the toilet door. Toilet slippers are worn in the toilet and nowhere else. Be sure not to walk out of the toilet while still wearing the toilet slippers, or people will think you're drunk even if you aren't.
Q24. Where are the fabled underwear vending machines?
A. If you ever find one, please tell me where it is, as I need to tell Acchan-chan to go to there.