Hello! I absolutely love your blog so far. I am planning a trip in August for one month to Japan (first time). I was curious about the Saico (Saica?) pass you mentioned. I'm arriving in Narita but leaving from Haneda. Is the pass still a good idea? I'm having a lot of trouble figuring out the best way to go about picking my transportation pass. I'm not visiting very many cities (Tokyo, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Toyota and then back to Tokyo). Any suggestion would be great! :D thanks again! <3

Hi, sorry this reply is so late (actually there’s no timestamp so I’m not sure when you sent). If you still need info: Suica (or PASMO) is definitely good to get, but the Suica NEX deal (round-trip from and back to Narita) has been discontinued.

I’ve used PASMO both times, though I’ve only traveled to Tokyo and Kyoto. PASMO is endlessly useful in Tokyo, but I didn’t use Kyoto’s trains very much — they just weren’t as convenient. I highly recommend renting a bike in Kyoto, and use the buses to get to temples (this can be confusing; you will probably get lost!)

Unfortunately I can’t give advice about the other cities, except that you will need to purchase separate high-speed rail tickets to get to them. I believe there is a tourist deal for visiting various cities, but you’ll need to Google that as I don’t remember the name.

FREE Wi-Fi in Tokyo

Wi-Fi / WiFi is fairly ubiquitous, although some options require you to sign up ahead of time.

Also, bring your phone charger out. Between checking your map (works better with WiFi ON, even if you’re not connected to a network) taking photos, and trying to find WiFi, your battery will die. Thankfully you can look for outlets near the street, then squat-n-charge for a bit.

That said, some great, free options:

  1. Starbucks
    Requires sign-up ahead of time.

  2. 7-Eleven
    Requires sign-up ahead of time.

    In Japanese, so make sure you have a Translation tool in your browser.

  3. JR East
    Works at/near any JR station! Connect to it in your WiFi menu, open your browser, and try loading any site — JR East’s sign-in page will load. Tap English at the top right, agree to their terms, and enter your email.

    Considering how many millions are in the stations daily, it works surprisingly well.

The Best Tools & Apps for (Travel) iPhoneography

As I quoted in a prior post about travel apps, “the best camera is the one you that’s with you.”

You may be tempted to bring your DSLR to Tokyo, and I definitely recommend it! However, mobile cameras have improved dramatically over the years. Given how many great tools exist to help you take beautiful, professional-looking photos with just a phone, it’s a good opportunity to travel lighter.

This tools in this list are my favorites, and they may vary from others’ preferences. However, I’ll explain why I chose each item, below, and you can decide for yourself.

  1. 8x or 12x Telephoto Lens Attachment
    The photos are from Photojojo andGizmodo, where this kit costs upwards of $35. However, you can get the same on eBay for ~$12. (And yes it is actually the same — they’re Chinese-made, plastic lenses.)

    You can google image search 8x telephoto lens for iPhone to see how it actually photographs. Although you won’t get a clear picture like you would with a real telephoto lens, it is fantastic for far-away shots. The edge-warping/fading is pretty subtle and gives the shots a charming, analogue feel.

    It comes with a tripod (semi-optional; explained below), a lens wiper, and a plain, black case that the lens screws into. You might want to Deco the case! (But make sure you sand it, first — otherwise your deco won’t hold).

    The lens itself is the only extra thing you need to carry on you (if your put the case on your phone), and it’s perfectly-sized for a small bag or pocket.

    I know some people say you should ask for a photo, but let’s be honest: street photographers often want candid shots (not smile-and-pose), and telephoto lenses are a great way to get them.

  2. Une Bobine
    ~$20 on Amazon.

    Telephoto lenses usually require a tripod for stability, and the iPhone version is no exception. But don’t overload yourself with iPhone accessories! Une Bobine kills two birds with one stone: it’s a phone charger and tripod.

    It requires a little gravitational understanding and common sense to get this thing to actually hold your phone up, but it does the job well. Also, it’s easy to coil flat to fit inside a bag, or even (carefully) around a bag strap).

  3. Wide / Macro Lens
    I got mine from Photojojo ($20) because it came with a cute & useful phone-strap pouch, but that’s no longer available. You can likely source the lens from eBay for a lower cost.

    Both lenses take awesome photos. The Wide is great for photographing small-but-not-macro objects with a narrow depth-of-field effect. If you get a similar phone-strap for this tiny lens, it’s super-easy to bring along and doesn’t require an extra case. (You can also double-up and stick the Wide / Macro’s magnetic attachment ring to your telephoto case! It works perfectly and doesn’t create extra vignetting).

    Check out Photojojo’s page to see more photographs taken the macro & wide lens, as well as the #photojojomacro and #photojojowideangle tags on Flickr and Instagram.

  4. ProCamera 7
    $2.99
    . As discussed in a prior post, this is my favorite camera app for multiple reasons, including functionality and interface design.

  5. Snapseed
    Free! Also reviewed in the Travel App post, Snapseed is an invaluable photo editor with a huge range of editing options, so your photos won’t look like every other canned-filter-instapic.

  6. LINE Camera
    Free!
    And a third (and last!) that’s also from the Travel App list — LINE Camera is great for editing, but even better for ridiculous, Purikura-style effects, makeup, frames, and stickers.

  7. Big Lens
    $99
    . For those times you want to fake or enhance a DOF effect. Used sparingly and appropriately, this app can actually produce some great imagery. It has a nice filter set, as well. I’ve compared a few DOF apps, and this one was my favorite, by far.

  8. Adobe Photoshop Express
    Free! A very light version of photoshop’s capabilities, but good for more simple/traditional editing (white balance, etc.). It’s great as a supplement to Snapseed.

  9. FaceTune
    $
    2.99. Although I’m not a fan of the filter set/options in this app, it is surprisingly good at doing what it says it does: portrait editing (and other, non-facial adjustments, too). I was definitely skeptical going in — it reminded me of those 90’s photo-editing effects that let you squeegee your face into a spiral for some reason — but the tools in this app are actually capable of subtle effects. Not sure if it’s completely worth $3 (unless you’re very vain ;D), but recommending it anyway since it’s a great re-touching app.

  10. Moldiv
    Free! For collaging photos together and creating dyptichs. It has a lovely interface, lots of options, and thousands of glowing reviews.

  11. Flickr
    Free!
    If you got this far in the post, you can probably tell I’m not an Instagrammer. (Although there’s some nice photos on Instagram and it’s a good way to share, it’s a bit too gimmicky for me.) Call me a photo-snob, but I prefer Flickr for many reasons — most of all because I don’t want to be confined to a goddamn square for every photo.

    In addition to including most of the usual Flickr functions,  app allows you to upload photos right from your phone, which is awesome.

Cute vs Kawaii:

Compare the two Google image searches above.

  • Top: “cute”
  • Bottom: “kawaii”

In general, I do not use the term “kawaii” when speaking English — cute works just fine. However, I use it profusely on this blog, for the reason that words have connotations, and “kawaii” conjures different mental imagery than “cute”.

Kawaii is cute, but with a Japanese Aesthetic sense applied. Cute is not always kawaii.

reliquatory:

JAPANESE AESTHETICS

(with pictures. how nice.)

I had a hell of a time trying to choose images for this post. Firefox even crashed. T_T Mostly staying away from clothing in favor of considering the interplay of colors, textures, patterns, arrangements, etc. — applying all that to a sense in “fashion”, design, art, or anything else comes after.

I’ve been interested in the Japanese aesthetic sense (both new and old) since I can remember. Every culture has its folk styles, but the Japanese always stood out. Where most other cultures have an abundance of saturation, bells, flowers, stripes, pom poms — you name it — in their ancient/ ceremonial / traditional garb and arts, suddenly, there’s Japan: holding back. Being somehow stark, serene, and muted, even when many different and busy patterns are layered together. “Why and how?” I’ve wondered. (Though, I won’t try to go into that question right now; that’s at least a history lesson in itself.)

These Japanese aesthetic choices underpin some wonderful design, art, clothing, and even music. Even if — or maybe especially if — subconsciously. The key, in general, is BALANCE. All of the following terms can be tied back to that single idea. Certainly one can always argue that aesthetics are subjective, but balance is everywhere in nature’s systems — that’s undeniable.

Onward!

The following will all be excerpts from Wiki; simply to supply a list to read, learn about, consider, keep, reference, etc:

Shinto-Buddhism

Shinto is considered to be at the fountain-head of Japanese culture. With its emphasis on the wholeness of nature and character in ethics, and its celebration of the landscape, it sets the tone for Japanese aesthetics. Nevertheless, Japanese aesthetic ideals are most heavily influenced by Japanese Buddhism. In the Buddhist tradition, all things are considered as either evolving from or dissolving into nothingness. This "nothingness" is not empty space. It is rather a space of potentiality. If the seas represent potential then each thing is like a wave arising from it and returning to it. There are no permanent waves. There are no perfect waves. At no point is a wave complete, even at its peak. Nature is seen as a dynamic whole that is to be admired and appreciated.

Wabi-sabi (佗寂)

represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin?), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō?), the other two being suffering (苦 ku?) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū?).



Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.

In Zen philosophy there are seven aesthetic principles for achieving Wabi-Sabi:


Fukinsei: asymmetry, irregularity; Kanso: simplicity; Koko: basic, weathered; Shizen: without pretense, natural; Yugen: subtly profound grace, not obvious; Datsuzoku: unbounded by convention, free; Seijaku: tranquility.

Miyabi (雅)

is one of the oldest of the traditional Japanese aesthetic ideals … the word is usually translated as “elegance,” “refinement,” or “courtliness” and sometimes refers to a “heart-breaker”.

Shibui (渋い) (adjective), shibumi (渋み) (noun), or shibusa (渋さ) (noun)

refer to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty.

Shibusa includes the following essential qualities.

  1. Shibui objects appear to be simple overall but they include subtle details, such as textures, that balance simplicity with complexity.
  2. This balance of simplicity and complexity ensures that one does not tire of a shibui object but constantly finds new meanings and enriched beauty that cause its aesthetic value to grow over the years.
  3. Shibusa is not to be confused with wabi or sabi. Though many wabi or sabi objects are shibui, not all shibui objects are wabi or sabi. Wabi or sabi objects can be more severe and sometimes exaggerate intentional imperfections to such an extent that they can appear to be artificial. Shibui objects are not necessarily imperfect or asymmetrical, though they can include these qualities.
  4. Shibusa walks a fine line between contrasting aesthetic concepts such as elegant and rough or spontaneous and restrained.

Iki (いき, often written 粋)

… generally used in Japanese culture to describe qualities that are aesthetically appealing and when applied to a person, what they do, or have, constitutes a high compliment. Iki is not found in nature.

Iki is an expression of simplicity, sophistication, spontaneity, and originality. It is ephemeral, romantic, straightforward, measured, audacious, smart, and unselfconscious.



Iki is not overly refined, pretentious, complicated, showy, slick, coquettish, or, generally, cute. At the same time, iki may exhibit any of those traits in a smart, direct, and unabashed manner.

Jo-ha-kyū (序破急)

a concept of modulation and movement applied in a wide variety of traditional Japanese arts. Roughly translated to “beginning, break, rapid”, it essentially means that all actions or efforts should begin slowly, speed up, and then end swiftly.

This concept is applied to elements of the Japanese tea ceremony, to kendō and other martial arts, to dramatic structure in the traditional theatre, and to the traditional collaborative linked verse forms renga and renku

Yūgen (幽玄?)

The exact translation of the word depends on the context. In the Chinese philosophical texts the term was taken from, yūgen meant “dim”, “deep" or "mysterious”. In the criticism of Japanese waka poetry, it was used to describe the subtle profundity of things that are only vaguely suggested by the poems …

[It is a portal to appreciation of subtleties in this world — ethereal experiences that can only be described artfully]

Yūgen is said to mean “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering”.

Geidō

refers to the various traditional Japanese arts disciplines: Noh (theater), kadō (Japanese flower arrangement), shodō (Japanese calligraphy), Sadō (Japanese tea ceremony), and yakimono (Japanese pottery). All of these disciplines carry an ethical and aesthetic connotation and teach an appreciation of the process of creation.

Ensō (円相)

[means] “circle”. A concept strongly associated with Zen. It symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void; it can also symbolize the Japanese aesthetic itself. As an “expression of the moment” it is often considered a form of minimalist expressionist art.

Kawaii (可愛い)

… since the 1970s, “cuteness” or “kawaii” (literally, “loveable”) has become a prominent aesthetic of Japanese popular culture.

Tomoyuki Sugiyama (杉山奉文), author of “Cool Japan”, believes that "cuteness" is rooted in Japan’s harmony-loving culture … [and] claims cute fashion in Japan can be traced back to the Edo Period with the popularity of netsuke.

Original Meaning:
The original definition of kawaii came from Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji where it referred to pitiable qualities.  During the Shogunate period under the ideology of neo-Confucianism, women came to be included under the term kawaii as the perception of women being animalistic was replaced with the conception of women as docile.

Modern Origins:
The rise of cuteness in Japanese culture emerged in the 1970s as part of a new style of writing. Many teenage girls began to write laterally using mechanical pencils. These pencils produced very fine lines, as opposed to traditional Japanese writing that varied in thickness and was vertical. Also, the girls would write in big, round characters and they added little pictures to their writing, such as hearts, stars, smiley faces, and letters of the Latin alphabet.

These pictures would be inserted randomly and made the writing very hard to read. As a result, this writing style caused a lot of controversy and was banned in many schools. During the 1980s, however, this new “cute” writing was adopted by magazines and comics and was put onto packaging and advertising.

From 1984 to 1986, Kazuma Yamane (山根一眞) studied the development of cute handwriting, which he called Anomalous Female Teenage Handwriting, in depth. This type of cute Japanese handwriting has also been called: marui ji (丸い字?), meaning “round writing”, koneko ji (小猫字?), meaning “kitten writing”, manga ji (漫画字?), meaning “comic writing”, and burikko ji (鰤子字?), meaning “fake-child writing”. Although it was commonly thought that the writing style was something that teenagers had picked up from comics, he found that teenagers had come up with the style themselves, as part of an underground movement.

fin.

Illustrated guide to Japanese Currency: Yen via Various Japanese Culture

Yes, let’s cunt until ten.

Japanis still a cash society for the most part, so:

  1. It’s better (and very safe) to carry cash. Plus, there may be a fee for foreign transactions with debit (and especially) credit cards.

  2. Credit Card is pronounced: Kurejito Kardo (learn how to say this with the Free Human Japanese app, available for most platforms). Most large/chain stores accept them; you can simply ask, “Kurejito Kardo, OK?”. This means they take debit, also:

    Using a Debit card is recommended — your bank will likely charge a small % for each transaction, but depending on their Foreign ATM Withdrawal policies, it may amount to less than if you had taken out cash.

  3. Exchange currency at the airport (in Japan, not local) or at konbini or post offices (POs are everywhere and foreigner-friendly, but do have odd hours).

  4. BRING (or buy a totally kawaii) COIN PURSE: you’re going to be carrying lots of coins around.

  5. Japanese cash is easy to differentiate. The bills are a different size, large to small, from greatest to least amount. All Yen has Western numbers on it, except the 5Y coin (the gold-ish one with the hole).

  6. It’s easy to estimate equivalence rate: 100 JPY ~= $1.00. Just move the decimal —› (right) 2x to figure out the dollar to yen, but remember you’re probably spending a little more due to actual exchange rates.

More Advice, from Trip Advisor:

There are three ways to obtain yen in Japan for approximately 1% cost.

The first way is to exchange travelers checks …

The second way to obtain yen for a 1% fee is via a post office ATM, using a Visa Delta/Cirrus/Plus card. They are often accessible in a foyer even when the Post Office is closed. …

The third way is to find a JUSCO store (big grocery and department store all in one). There are several money exchange machines (dollars to yen) just inside on the first floor. You get the going rate for yen and yall you have to do is feed your dollars in and yen comes out. You can change anything from $20 up.

Credit cards are accepted at major hotels and larger restaurants. Small business hotels and small restaurants generally do not accept credit cards. The credit card company will charge a fee on your bill for foreign exchange (usually 1-3%), and there may be a surcharge from the retailer/hotel to pay by credit card - ask first.

Narita Airport: Currency Exchange & JR Suica Tickets

JR Ticket Vendors: you will likely want to get JR’s Suica & NEX deal to save a bit on transportation.

(Please note: You can only get Suica+NEX from a JR EAST Travel Service Center or regular JR Ticket Office, but not from the ticket machines — only from the vendors.)

•••

Currency Exchange: Updated rates at Narita are shown Here. There’s also a calculator. (Those rates are for traveler’s checks. Subtract 3% for cash.)

Compare with Google’s currency exchange calculator

You should exchange cash at Narita (or Haneda) airport — although 7-11s and post offices are ubiquitous (the best places to get Yen for foreigners (that may no longer be the case for 7-11's 7 Bank), and easily found on Pocket Earth!), the fees get pretty expensive.

Consider: Your bank’s possible foreign ATM fee AND an international transaction % AND the ATM’s fee (~200 Yen). For example, with my bank, I lose ~$10 if I exchange $100.

Since Narita’s Currency Exchange counter only charges a small % fee (negligible even, if the exchange rate is good), it’s actually the best place to exchange. Plus, it’s safe to carry cash around in Japan, so you’d do well to take a lot.

dont recommend exchanging at your local airport. At mine, the rate was -10%.

•••

Pocket Earth
's Narita map
has an outline of the airport and contains all of the bathrooms, but you’ll want to supplement with a PDF or image, to find the train ticket & currency booths nearest you.

True to Japanese form, the PDF terminal guide is an adorable, colorful clusterfuck of information — there’s even helpful phrases on the last page! Use an app like GoodReader to save the PDF to your phone.

I debated posting about Yanaka’s “Kinji"… it’s one of my favorite shops and is somewhat "secret". I don’t even know how I found it. It’s not terribly hidden, but you do have to wander.

They carry traditional-Japanese-style accessories along with these weird & wonderful little dolls called “maru”.

Photos via Kinji and Takasumi.

Photography via Miraikan (access & Google Maps), Takanayo, and Alone in Japan.

If you love science and technology, and have a bit of time to spare, definitely go to Miraikan: The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

It’s an interesting experience. I particularly liked learning about the many technologies that have actually been implemented in Japan. (For example, the electricity for the entrance gates in Tokyo’s metro is generated by foot-traffic.)

Tip:

For anything you want to see in Tokyo, besides just plotting it on a map, make sure you know the floor number.

Unlike many other cities, the best stuff in Tokyo is often to be found off street-level. Or rather, not found, if you don’t know where to go.

Sure, you can come to Tokyo blindly, but it’s a good bet that you won’t see much out of the ordinary and obvious unless you do a little research and plotting.

Artwork by Stanley Lau (Artgerm)
Photography via Kineda

Street Fighter Arcades in Tokyo – Big Box Taito Station Guide

…there’s nothing like the feeling of in person head-to-head competition – something that internet gaming will never be able to replace. Japan has had an advantage for years over U.S. players with Street Fighter games consistently being released in their arcades months before the U.S. could get their hands on a copy. Combine this with a place to consistently train and level up against the best competition, and you can see why Japanese players like Daigo are virtually unbeatable.

On any given night in Tokyo, you’ll find large groups of top ranked national players at one of the few arcades left. Most [of the top players] play at Big Box Taito Station arcade located in Takadanobaba, Tokyo off the JR Yamamote 1 line.

Once you arrive at Takadanobaba station, take the Waseda exit and Big Box will be directly to your right – the large blue building is definitely hard to miss.

Taito Station is located on the 6th floor of Big Box.

If you want to keep track of your Street Fighter IV battle stats, be sure to pick up a gamers card (400 yen) that will keep track of your progress and also records any costumes and colors you’ve unlocked. It’ll work in any official Street Fighter cabinet in Japan.

Now prepared to be beasted on by locals with techniques and strategies much different than you’re used to back home — Yes, even the girls are good so don’t underestimate them by their looks!

Takanobada is located between Shinjuku and Ikebukuro.
Google Maps