The Practicalities of Traveling in Japan

A few people have been interested in some of the practical aspects of
traveling in Japan. I'll note a few here, and try to answer any
additional questions posed in the comments.

The first thing to know is that credit cards are far less accepted in
Japan than in the US. Major hotels and some places that see a lot of
foreigners will take them, but it is safer to assume they cannot be

The non-use of credit cards means that you need cash - Japanese yen.
And in Japan, most ATMs are not connected to the major American
networks. Fortunately, however, 7-11 (yes, that 7-11) comes to the
rescue. In any 7-11 in Japan-and there are a lot of 7-11s around-there
is an ATM that has English menus and a connection to the US ATM
networks. Interestingly enough, there are no fees to take out money
this way, and you get what seems to be the official exchange rate. So
that has been quite easy and convenient.

Part of our Japan trip planning was to get iPhones, in large part due
to their ability to be used in Japan. Generally speaking, we've found
that all has worked seamlessly. The Japanese wireless phone network
is far far superior to the US network, especially AT&T's-I've seen
nothing but full-strength 3g signal since we got off the plane in
Tokyo. Internet access on the iPhone works great--again better than
home. For dialing back to the US, we simply use the iPhone address
book - it figures out the international codes for you. And Sarah and
I can call each other's phones just as if we were home. Dialing to a
Japanese number is a little more complex, but works fine.

I should also add that the Maps application on the iPhone is a huge
benefit - I wonder how we ever traveled without it. In your hand you
have a map that you can zoom in and out of, with your exact location
identified as a dot. You can drop 'pins' on various locations (like
your hotel) and always get directons to the pins from wherever you
are. Invaluable. An added benefit in Japan is that Google helpfully
locates convenience stores (especially 7-11) and McDonalds on the
maps, as well as subway and train stations -- and even hotels and bus
stops, if you zoom in that far.

The downside of the iPhone for traveling is that AT&T gouges you
monstrously for the international data plans. But at least at this
point, I'm thinking they could charge twice as much and I'd still pay
it - though I'd grumble.

Obviously, the Japanese train system is legendary for its speed, but
it is also very user-friendly and inexpensive as well. Trains leave
RIGHT on time, arrive RIGHT on time, and are much more clearly marked
(in English as well as Japanese) than in the US. As a regular user of
Amtrak's fancy Acela trains, I can report that there is just no
comparison to the Japanese system. I can only imagine the horror that
a Japanese tourist must experience when trying to navigate Amtrak.

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