Tokyo travel tips, day 3 (part 1): Buddhist goddess and panic at the hot springs

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“Onsen ni ikmasu ka?” (which is very mangled Japanese that might mean along the lines of “As for the bath, is it going?”

There’s no need to be so tortured in the translation (and it’s wrong anyway). That just translates as “Are you going to the onsen?”


The ticket machines at Japanese rail stations will present instructions in English, but they don’t tell you how much a ticket to your destination is.

Find an English map of the rail line, find your stop and it’ll tell you the cost. In Tokyo at least the English maps are liberally spread around the train stations.

I feel like some of the machines let you select the target station to determine the price, and display both in Kanji and English? I don’t recall exactly from my last trip. I feel like it’s got to be the case, because my Kanji reading ain’t what it used to be, and I didn’t rely too heavily on the English line map.

Buying a prepaid data SIM gets you Google Maps, which helps massively as well.


It’s also much easier/nicer/convenient to put the equivalent of $50 onto a SUICA card and just tap in and out of each station with no need to calculate your fare. Bonus: you can buy snacks at the conbini with your card.


Agreed. I didn’t go with that option since my stay was so short, and figured there was no cash-out option. For reference, is there really no cash out option for the card?

no, there’s no cash out option for a Suica, but that’s what the souvenir shop at the airport is for-- you blow out whatever is left on your card and then make up the balance with cash or a credit card on your way out of the country.


SUICA/PASMO are 100% key in Tokyo! Absolutely. Does only the Japanese version of the latest iPhone support SUICA/PASMO, or do American-sold ones support it as well? That would be SO slick to use next time I’m there, I’ve been waiting for us Americans to catch up to what Japan has had with SUICA/PASMO for YEARS! Heck, they’ve even had it built into phones for what, like 8+ years?

Thank you! Did I actually ask the van driver the correct question?

And I mean, you can always use it when you go back… :slight_smile:

I’ve been twice, and definitely want to get back every handful of years for as long as I can. A spectacular place for a vacation/trip!

And Mark, thank you for this series. I KNOW the next time I go, I’ll look it up to help with itinerary planning. :slight_smile:

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Yes, you got it right. The magic phrase is “_______ kudasai”. Hakone Onsen kudasai. Densha kudasai. Sushi kudasai. Sake kudasai.


I cannot recommend enough the Tokyo subway app, called (shockingly) “tokyosubway” - it tells you which trains to take, how long the trip should take, and the cost, and all in English. So easy!

Google Maps and Google Translate were very useful for me, since my wife who speaks a fair amount of Japanese was not always with me. As for data, I lucked out having joined Google Fi phone service before going to Japan - I didn’t need to buy a data SIM - still $10/GB, same as at home.


I couldn’t find an app called “tokyosubway” exactly. There are many with similar names. I got one called “tokyo subway navigation” which seems like it might be the one you are talking about. However, it doesn’t appear to include JR rail trains. It has English (and other languages) and it works off-line. Is this the right one? Is there a good app that combines (besides Hyperdia, which I already have). Thanks.

@markfrauenfelder, thanks for this series. My son really wants to take a trip to Japan, but I find it daunting. It’s a big help to read things like this.


If you’re in Japan for a while (a few weeks) it’s worth renting a ‘pocket wifi’ - a portable router (~US$4/day) - since the’re cell phone routers you need to check out if the cell service for a particular router is good in the areas you’re travelling in (Tokyo will be OK for all of them)

You can arrange to pick them up at the airport, they’ll give you a pre-paid return envelope to pop them in when you leave


Oh goodness, yes. It’s an amazingly good deal.

Local prepaid SIM + Google Maps is all you’ll need to get around this immense and lovely city. Also, note that those SUICA, PASMO, ICOCA etc cards are locally refunded only so if you fly in Osaka and get an ICOCA card, it will still be usable and refillable in Tokyo BUT you can’t give it back at the Tokyo airports and get the 500yen deposit when you leave as it’s a Kansai region card (and can be returned only around Osaka, Kyoto etc). Oh well, 500yen is nothing and you’ll use it again when you’ll visit 2-3 years later. Because one time in Japan is never enough.

Pretty sure only the Japanese iPhone 7 and up work for Suica or Apple Pay here due to Japan having it’s own NFC standard

I remember feeling that way but by now I get through there on auto pilot

Basically yes

Ah, Tokyo. The city where a subway map is indistinguishable from a metabolic map. Including what appears to be the TCA cycle!


@frauenfelder Hey, Mark. Just a head’s up: the link to the tag series in the opening paragraph has a typo; it links to the ntokyo-travel-tips tag instead. :slight_smile:

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It’s “tokyosubway” on Google Play and “Tokyo Subway Navigation for Tourists” on the Apple App Store. I am not an expert, but it appears to me that the JR rail lines are on the map, but are not integrated into the routing. In other words, you could use the map to plan your trip on nearby JR Rail stops, but the app functions are really only useful between subway stops.