Home About Projects

Advice for Visitors to Japan

Joe Heitzeberg
September 07, 2009

I spent nearly 2 years living in Japan, both deep in the countryside working on a farm and in the heart of Tokyo working in an R&D lab. Beside that, I studied Japanese at the graduate level and worked in the mobile software arena for a few years. Someday I’ll write about the experiences I had during those times.

Recently my friends Brendan and the very pregnant Ellie visited Japan so I put together this quick write up of recommendations and things to do. Enjoy!

I recommend avoiding the Hilton’s, Hyatt’s and other western hotels and going with a local hotel where you can save a little money and enjoy a “quirky” local experience.
These are all centrally located in a good area (i.e. a few blocks walk to a JR and you’ll be able to zip off to anywhere)


I actually stayed for a month in the Yoko Hotel and it was awesome….totally cheesy local experience and free wifi internet.

Looks like they all have english pages you can book from. Let me know which you choose and I can find a local good restaurant from a local guide site.

Yakiniku in Tokyo For totally awesome “local” food, have some Yakiniku from any of the vendors under the train tracks near Yurakuchou.
Go to Yurakucho station — 有楽町 and ask for the yakiniku places (焼き肉)

Show this to someone once you get to the station and they’ll point the way:

Tsukiji Fish Market (築地)
Tsukiji is the name of the location within Tokyo as well as the market’s name.
This is a great place to go our your first day in Tokyo, because it’s best to go early (7am) and you’ll be jet-lagged anyway.
You’ll see every kind of fish imaginable and many strange things. There are simple and cheap restaurants lining the place serving excellent food and (of course) fresh fish.

Unlike Pike Place, this is not a tourist place nor a retail outlet — just a wholesaler’s market — so watch out for forklifts!

T** raditional Japanese knives**
While in the market, check out some traditional knives at a store called “Aritsugu”. They are located on the outer perimeter of Tsukiji market.
I’ve been there once and its awesome to see steel knives for every possible cut of a fish imaginable, including huge ones.

Location (show this to anyone at the market and they’ll direct you)

“Houchou” is the word for knife. In Japanese, this is 包丁

If you don’t mind, I would love to get a knife in the approx $150 ~ $200 range.
Show them this: 商品番号 us011 and say “Kono You na Knife oh Kaitai” meaning “i want to buy a knife like this”.  このようなナイフを解体です。
That is the item number of a general purpose kitchen knife that’s 10,300 yen (~$110)

I just want a general purpose knife that can be used for slicing sashimi or chopping veggies.

Also, it is a good idea to get a wooden cover for it, called: 鞘 or “Saya” — about $15.

鎌倉 = “Kamakura”.
This day trip outside of Tokyo is highly recommended as a way to see some traditional Japan and historic temples.
Some of the sites you can see

Hokoku-ji Temple — 報国寺 — temple & site of an amazing bamboo forest/garden
Get off at Kamakura sta. on the JR line or Enoden line, and take a Keikyu bus to Jomyoji

Kotoku-in Temple - 高徳院 - giant Buddha statue (second largest in Japan)
Get off at Enoden Hase sta.

Say “Daibutsu wa doko” to ask for directions. 高徳院の大仏の方に行きたい。

There are tons of other temples, but each is a short local train ride away…depends how much time you have but I recommend the above.

Veggie Meal Prepped by Monks
Something I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the chance….精進料理 or “Shyoujin Ryori” — a veggetarian multi-course meal prepared by monks.
It must be arranged in advance. Think lots of very carefully prepared incredibly fresh veggie dishes with amazing presentation.
Here is a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKbDWv0W-8o

There is a temple where you can experience this amazing meal.
Name of the temple: 光明寺 — “Kou Myou Ji”
Location: 鎌倉市材木座6−17−19  (Kamakura City, Zai Muku Za, number 6-17-19)
Phone: 0467(22)0603
How to get there:

This temple was established in the year 1175.

- must reserve in advance
- may be cash only payment!
- 5000 yen per meal, drinks not included
- arrive at the temple 15 minute before your reservation
- your meal will be 1.5 hours


Place to Stay

Traditional Inn = 旅館 = “Ryokan”

The selection of traditional inns in Kamakura is more limited than I thought. I recommend that you don’t miss out on the experience of staying in a traditional inn at least once.

Surprisingly there are not a lot of Ryokan in Kamakura and the few that I researched online didn’t have any openings. Better to experience this in Kyoto ($$!) or to take another separate day trip to Hakone, an area known for lots of hotsprings and hotspring spa Ryokan’s.

Helpful Phrases

Sorry, I am pregnant. Gomen nasai. Watashi wa ninshin shite imas. Yoroshiku oney gaishimas.
Say this to get attention and special treatment.

I’m fine (but….) Daijyoubu desu kedo.
Say this after you’ve generated lots and lots of attention from the “i’m pregnant routine”…use puppy dog eyes when you say this.

Because I’m pregnant, I won’t eat raw foods. Ninshin des kara, nama na tabemono wa tabemasen.
Say this if you are worried about eating raw things.

Where is the supermarket around here? kono hen no suuupaaa maaakettoo wa doko des ka?
They have awesome cheap food in supermarkets. And free samples.

uploads/joeh/1658104218/DALL·E 2022-07-17 17.34.34 - _Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan_, watercolor.png

Ready for more?

Check out other posts from this blog.

View all »