packing panic


So it's slowly dawning on me that we leave for Tokyo in three days Ack!

I can't put off the packing decisions any longer, obviously. Time to start picking out suitcases and deciding what to put in them.

Those of you who've been to Tokyo and/or Shanghai...any tips on things that I must bring with me? Things that would be difficult or impossible to acquire there if I forgot them? Things that would make our lives significantly easier on the incredibly long plane trip from Detroit to Tokyo, or after we arrive?

I did a self-serving thing in my graduate web design class this quarter, and had their group project be a travel guide to Tokyo and Shangai. Some of the groups provided some useful "pre-flight checklist" material, which is great. But I also want to tap into the amazing groupmind of readers on this site. I know some of you have travelled to these countries before, and I'd love to have the benefit of your hindsight as I'm making plans...


Money. Lots and lots of money. :)

Seriously, I can think of very little you can get in Rochester that won't be available in Tokyo--it will just be smaller and more expensive. Bring all the clothes you expect to wear--you won't be able to buy there. (That may be obvious, but I like to travel *very* light.) How long are you there, anyway?

Someone I know just asked what to do for a couple of weeks in Japan. This is what I sent him, FWIW:

Personally, my favorite thing to do would be to get lost in the old part (or any part) of Tokyo. You learn a lot by not knowing where you are, and Tokyo is a particularly easy city to get lost in.

There are the prototypical "a la Japanese" things: Shibuya's Love Hotel Hill, etc.. I prefer the department stores and shops in Shibuya to those in Shinjuku, but either are good, touristy stop-offs. Sundays at Harajuku (followed by lunch in Aoyama) are pretty much de rigeur. Be sure to do Shinjuku station at rush hour :). Shinjuku is a great place to find food, and play pachinko (i.e., they won't be shocked by 1st time foreign players). Tsukiji fish market is a justifiable tourist trap. Sumo is outrageously expensive, but worth a shot. At the very least, you can hang out in the village near Kokugikan stadium, see a bunch of rikishi hanging out, and pick up some chanko-nabe. Akihabara ("electronic city") is worth wandering around. There's lots of electronics you can't get in the States, and there *are* deals if you look carefully, but probably not on what you want (cheaper in NYC). Good for window shopping, at least. If you are on that side of the Yamanote line anyway, might as well check out Ameyoko, the street market by Okachimachi station (up from Ueno). Nice place to find strange food/little things for souvenirs. Maybe check out O-daiba (the shopping island :), though I haven't been.

Museums, of course. Rikugien and Hamarikyu are both very cool gardens in Tokyo. I vastly prefer Kenrokuen in Kanazawa (it's amazing), but unless you are out that direction, it's a long trip from Tokyo. Actually, there is the "Ninja Temple" there too--I've forgotten the real name, everyone calls it the ninjadera. It's a bit cheesy, but fun.

Museums, of course.

Sensoji (if not headed for Kyoto, I guess). If stuck in in Tokyo area, Kamakura is certainly worth the day trip. It's a fun hike up into the hills. Be sure to launder some cash for luck. Neat trip, I think. Yokohama is also nice, but I don't know that it's worth the day trip... We mostly went to Yokohama when we wanted to get away from Japan (shop for American food, hit Subway, etc.).

Onsen are a must. If money is no object, stay at Ryuguden or Naraya (a bit less expensive?) for a night or two in Hakone (look for the "Romance Car" out of Shinjuku--pony up the extra few bucks for the front seats--clear day gets you some of the most amazing shots of Fuji you'll see), or head up to Nikko (stay at Hana no Yado Matsuya). There are cheaper hotels in both places. And go to the larger public onsen: the hotel onsen aren't nearly the same experience. Say "hi" to Odawara--my old home--while passing through :). The castle is OK, and a fairly short walk from the station, if you stop off on the way to Hakone (you have to change trains there).

Go to Kyoto. It's amazing. Just do the circuit. My favorites were Kiyomizu, and Nijo-jo, but there is plenty to do. Be sure to walk around the temples. Some can be some serious hiking up hills, but it's worth it. Don't get stuck on a tour bus or something--it's a great walking city (as are several in Kansai), and people are generally very friendly and chatty. The tourism office has maps with walking tours, or go with a group. I'd prefer alone, because there are some neat detours worth taking down alleys, etc. Summer is best, because so much happens on the river, but spring is good too. Go in for the shabu-shabu at one of the places over the river--expensive, but worth it. My favorite place was (I think!) just north of Shichijo-dori bridge. Could have been one of the bridges to the north or south of there. If that's the right bridge, on the west side there is (was!) a Haagen Daaz, and their are a number of restaurants along the bank to the north. To the south, there was a strip club, and a little hole-in-the-wall tempura place, which may or may not still be there. I had one of the most amazing meals I've ever had anywhere at that place. You'll know it because it has a big oar propped up next to the door.

The number one piece of advice: go to "events." If there is a festival (Hinamatsuri?) get there and participate fully! I'm sure the hotels or tourist centers can hook you up, if you don't have Japanese contacts. Japan does festivals well. Also, might want to check out TokyoQ:

Well, I'm an expert on intercontinental flights with kids. Have you checked yet to see whether they've got seatback video and nintendo in Economy Class? Many airlines do, but not all, and it makes a HUGE difference, especially for kids. If there's no seatback stuff, consider bringing a gameboy, a portable DVD-player, something like that. And of course books, quiet activities.

Ask Lane whether he'd like a kids' meal. Most airlines offer baby meals, toddlers meals (obviously he won't want that) and also kids' meals for 4-12 year olds or something like that - on intercontinental flights, not domestic. The kids' meal is kind of the same as the adult meal except it has regular chocolate that kids like (mars bars and snickers and stuff) instead of that fancy liqueur filled chocolate that adults seem to like. And there are likely to be you know, something with fries instead of noodles and teriyaki chicken. And they hand out the kids' meals before the regular meals, at the same time as they hand out the vegetarian, halal, vegan, kosher etc meals. Actually, I often order vegetarian meals myself though I'm not a vegetarian - I find they're often better than the regular meals.

Bring those silly-looking inflatable cushions that go round your necks. And masks for your eyes. Yes, it looks stupid but they really do help you sleep. And sleep is REALLY important on those long haul flights.

When I've flown with Aurora I've found that it really helps us both if I set up a bedtime routine as close as possible to at home. So afterone of the meals we'll go brush our teeth, then we'll read a story back in our seats and we'll say good night and try to sleep. She usually does sleep, while I sort of half sleep - but both of us are happier for her, at least, being kind of rested. And the quiet time's important for the grown up as well. It gets really, really exhausting having an alert small child demanding your attention for 24 straight hours. Lane's bigger and more able to entertain himself so that's not such an issue, but it is SO much better to arrive at least somewhat rested than completely sleepless.

Where are you transitting? If you fly through Singapore (maybe you'll go the other way?) and you have a few hours there's a transit hotel that's reasonable where you can get a bed for a few hours while you recharge your computer batteries. Lying down is wonderful. You can get a shower there too which feels pretty damn good. That can set you up for less jetlag.

Remember to bring the correct power adaptors!! They're often harder to find when you get there than you'd think - all the adaptors in teh country you arrive in are for people flying OUT of the country. Apple's international kit is great for the powerbook.

Bring a bottle of water each for the flight. And face and hand cream and lip balm. You get dehydrated and your skin dries out on the plane. Some airlines bring you a glass of water every hour but some don't, and it's nice to just have your own in the pocket of the seat in front of you. Walking up to the galley at the back of the aircraft and asking the flight attendants to refill your bottle (they're happy to) is a good excuse to move your legs, too. Moving and drinking lots of water is important to prevent deep vein thrombosis.

OK, that's about it. Apart from the obvious: bring quiet things Lane likes to do. And that you like to do.

Ah - when in Tokyo, play some of the street arcade games. There are game machines in the strangest places and they're so cool- when I was there a drumming game was all the rage, so you stood there beating drum sticks on a plastic drum trying to match the rhythm on the screen. I imagine something else will be cool now.

You're going to have a WONDERFUL time!

two things that i like when i go intercontinental are: Peelu Dental Gum, which makes my mouth feel clean without having to brush my teeth after every meal and No Jet Lag Pills, which probably do nothing, but i figure if i can suspend disbelief of being 30000ft in the air moving several hundred miles per hour, i can believe they do something. I get both at the natural food and vitamin store.

In re-reading, it seems I am extraordinarily concerned with money. I'm not sure what the deal was there. That's not my normal mode.

Certainly the first time I want to Japan, when I was 19, I had very little money and very much fun. I have a feeling that the focus on the cash came from some of the folks who came to visit us while my wife and I were living there and couldn't get over how much McDonalds costs or the idea of spending $100 for a mellon. It's easy, though, to avoid this: don't eat at McDonalds or buy mellon :). Like anywhere, if you do the things the locals do, the expense is not so bad, and the experience is all the richer.

I'd second the idea of going to Kyoto if you can, its a wonderful place and quite foreigner friendly - some of the signs are not in kanji.

Nara is another wonderful place to visit, it is an old town, and used to be the seat of the emporer. Fabulous gardens and buildings.

Visiting one of the old castles was one of the highlights of my trip there. The design and the beauty were breathtaking.

I stayed with a local japanese person in their house while I was there. The thing I missed most was cow's milk - we couldn't find it anywhere, and plain soy was hard to find. The best she could find was green tea flavoured soy! Reiko tended to have salad and fried stuff for breakfast, I have a lifetime of cereal behind me, and I couldn't eat a japanese breakfast. (It would actually return on me if I had to ride on the trains! Very embarrassing). If I went again I would take UHT milk. But as you are going to Tokyo, and not to a country town, it probably won't be a problem for you.

I went to Hiroshima. It is a Long Way from Tokyo, but is an intensely emotional experience going to the Peace Park.

Japan is wonderfully foreign, even the light switches were different from here in New Zealand, and the people are friendly and helpful and polite. And great fun! You should have a good time!

We'll be staying with friends in Tokyo, so there will be a lot of living like the locals. Probably won't hit Kyoto on this trip, but Kamakura is a strong possibility--need to follow up tomorrow with a former student who lives there and offered us his services as a tour guide. :) (Kotaro, are you reading this?)

Thanks for the good suggestions--especially the kid-friendly ideas, Jill. Will go buy some of those light-blocking masks tomorrow. I think we have the pillows already--one inflatable, one buckwheat.

Too much to do. Not enough time. <sigh>

Berlitz tiny pocket phrasebook, business cards, camera, batteries and memory

I've never been to Japan but I recently took a trip to the Middle East (12 hour flight). Having my laptop with me was a great way to pass the time. Also, I took a small toiletries bag for things like a toothbrush, lip balm, lotion, etc. I highly advise against wearing contacts during the flight.

Regarding laptops, you may need a new power cable (not just the plug adaptor). The power cable that came with my laptop doesn't support 220 volts so I had to buy a new one for the trip. I found some useful items at this site:

Have fun!

I just got back from China in March with our daughter. Changing money in China is easy, it can be done at your hotel's front desk. The exchange rate is fixed. I was really amazed at the American food available in China's main cities. Things go better with Coke for me and I never had a problem finding it. Snacks as well.

Drinking the water--don't. Buy bottled water for cold water. The hotel should supply you with hot water, either via a teapot in the room or on demand (and it does come fast). Room service was very cheap and inexpensive, for a week in Heifei it was $100 (some dinners, lunches and internet) and in Guangzhou it was $125. Laundry on the other hand....we stayed in American chain hotels and the level of service is much better, there are so many people who need jobs there that places are overstaffed, not understaffed.

Have a great time!

What to pack? As a guy of many many trips to SE Asia (about 15 or so to China alone) I have the following thoughts. Don't worry about packing for "every" little thing or expected event. Remember that you can actually buy that pair of socks, extra undies or whatever over there! Always always always have 200-500 cash that you don't touch but tuck away on your person or luggage (could delve into a long story of me stuck in Belize with no cash money but I digress). Be sure to make duplicates (certified copies preferred) of your travel docs. Pack them seperately from your carry on. A bit late now, but I always had duplicate credit cards that I could activate (cash machine once ate my high limit card in China and did not have another credit card with high enough limit to pay for my room! Books on tape or CD sometimes are nice to pass the time. You don't need the light on and it will help you get to sleep. Ohh, almost forgot get some of those cool "picture" translators. You just point to what you want/trying to say and it works like a charm.

I agree with the wise victor very very much. Tripple copies, at least 1 at home with friends in case they need to mail/fax/phone.

And i bet joisan has access to some form of skinlikeadhesive polymer so you can forget about the money and still carry it on your person.

Anyway, ive had so much vicarious fun just reading the above posts !!!

I'm preparing, Liz. Nothing is necessary for the site trip except winter clothes. About 40-50F daytime and we'll be walking around outside, mostly.

Hope you all enjoy the flight.

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