Children

Japan is perfectly safe for those traveling with children — it is decidedly family-oriented. Many museums, attractions, and some forms of transportation offer reduced prices for children 6 – 11 years old. Those under six are generally admitted free of charge. Hotels often offer babysitting services, but these can be expensive. Some larger department stores have playgrounds.

The proliferation of Western fast food chains will aid in feeding finicky eaters. We noted that the orange juice at McDonald’s was a terrific bargain. Most restaurants have plastic food displays available. This allows families with children to make determinations about the food before sitting down at a table.

Please note that all U.S. citizens are required to carry a valid passport for identification purposes.

Trains

For comfort and speed, you can’t beat the JR Narita Express, also known as N’EX) leaving from Narita for Tokyo Station, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Yokohama. The ride costs approximately ¥2890; if you have a validated JR Rail Pass (validation is done the main lobby of Narita), there is no additional cost to ride N’EX. Seats must be reserved in advance.

There are also JR slower trains into the city, also taking you to Tokyo Station. While we love trains, travelers without a passing fluency in Japanese might find it more comfortable to utilize the bus option, saving the train for their return trip. If you’re the adventurous sort, it wouldn’t hurt to learn the names of the stations preceding your final stop because the crowded trains can get noisy, and you might not hear the station announcements.

If you’re staying in the Ueno area, the private Keisei line runs from Narita to Keisei-Ueno Station.

Once you’ve arrived at the station closest to your hotel, you can walk, take a taxi, or connect to other trains.

If you’re taking the train from another city to Tokyo, chances are you will end up at Tokyo Station. You can connect to other lines from here. If you haven’t already exchanged your voucher for a JR Rail Pass, you can do so at Tokyo Station. A Rail Pass makes traveling by train throughout Tokyo easy and convenient; we would caution that there are  private lines which are not part of the JR system.

Taxis

Taxis are the most expensive method for traveling around the city, especially from the airport to your hotel (approximately ¥20,000), and, because of heavy traffic, not necessarily the quickest. Taxis can also be small, which can cause problems for travelers with large amounts of luggage. The advantage of a taxi is that you will be taken directly to your hotel. After a long flight, this might be worth the large cash outlay.

Taxis from Haneda Airport run closer to ¥6,000.

Buses

There are two options for buses out of Narita. The Airport Limousine Bus (counter in the main lobby). Limousine Buses leave hourly and tend to make stops at all the major hotels. The price is approximately ¥2500 – 3500 (depending on destination). The buses make stops at all the major hotels; if yours is not one of the scheduled stops, a good option is to take the bus to the hotel closest to where you’re staying and then to take a cab the rest of the way.

The Airport Shuttle to the Tokyo City Air Terminal (TCAT) also has a counter in the main lobby of Narita. While this bus departs more often, it doesn’t stop at the major hotels. You will need to utilize other transportation from TCAT to your hotel.

If you choose to arrive via taxi to your hotel, you might consider the bus for your trip back. Your hotel’s concierge can assist in making travel arrangements.

Japanese Love Hotels

(also known as Fashion or Couples Hotels)

Japan caters to the high-end traveler, with luxury hotels that put your average Motel 6 to shame. On the other end of the spectrum, you have your no-frills capsule hotels — a place to sleep, bathe, peruse vending machines, not much more. Then there are the love hotels, which we’ve learned offer more than you’d expect (though they offer that, too).

Renting rooms by the hour, partial day, or longer is not a new concept, yet, like all things Japanese, the execution is a little less sleazy, a little more socially acceptable. Probably you won’t want to tell your parents where you’ve been, but in a country (or city, in the case of places like Tokyo) where space is at a premium and not everyone has moved out of Mom’s house, love hotels offer a chance for togetherness.

While we’ve heard rumors of travelers using love hotels as cheap alternatives to other lodging, do not be under any illusions: these hotels cater to sexual trysts. Sex toys and condoms are available in vending machines, mirrors line the ceilings, bathtubs are built for two (more along the lines of Japanese two, but two, nonetheless), some cater to specific sexual pecadilloes. The rooms are chosen and paid for with the anonymity of the guest in mind. Many don’t even take credit cards.

Ranging from functional to funky (the first link below reviews a place that features “Cowntry & Westarn” themed room), the hotels are identified by excessive neon and often unintentionally funny names (Seeds, anyone?). Rooms are chosen from a pictorial menu and amenities vary from establishment to establishment. If you’re seeking a novel experience, be forewarned that Saturday nights are crowded.

Of course, if you’re seeking an out-of-the-ordinary experience, it might not be as easy as you’d expect:

The love hotel is changing though, and the news isn’t all good. They’ve gone upscale, lost some of their sleazy associations and the decors have become more tasteful but the bad news is that in an effort to clean up their image, they got rid of a lot of the exciting theme rooms. Although they still exist, its getting harder and harder to find places with bumper cars and disco lights. (“Love Hotels: Where Have All The Mirrors Gone?”)

Cleaning up the image of the hotels isn’t just for the rooms, either. Love hotels are known by softer euphemisms like “fashion hotels”, “theme hotels”, or even “couples hotels”. Publications detail hotels designed to appeal to women (hey, never let it be said that feminism is dead!). The hotels remain identifiable, of course, by their pricing structure, which is usually three tiers.

Tourists and other travelers have been known to use love hotels as short-term, inexpensive lodging, and from a pricing perspective, love hotels can’t be beat. A quick glance at available room styles will help you decide if you’ve made the right choice. We’ve heard rumors that same sex couples aren’t readily welcomed in many love hotels, though sometimes two women together can slip through.

Capsule Hotels

Japanese capsule hotels, designed for short-term stays, offer little more than a bed. If you’re looking for comfort and space, you’ve come to the wrong place. The target market for the hotels are businessmen who can’t get home. Some amenities, such as vending machines, lockers, and communal bathrooms, are available. Capsule hotels are extremely economical.

A small bed (maybe about six feet in length) fills the capsule. Though is generally sufficient room to sit up and read, this is not a good choice for the claustrophobic. There may be space for a few personal items, but the shelves are shallow, so don’t count on storing things much bigger than your iPod and cell phone. Many capsules have televisions, which can include adult pay channels. Capsules are stacked, reminiscent of bunk beds, and offer screens for privacy.

Many hotels have rules regarding guests (men and women are often in separate areas, if women are allowed at all). Pictures help Western travelers understand the rules of the hotel. Do not expect a quiet’s night sleep, as sound insulation is minimal. Think drunk businessmen who have missed the last train home. Or women at a slumber party.

Yakitori

Yakitori, chicken grilled on skewers (the less adventurous type should take care in ordering — yakitori chefs pride themselves on using every available part of the chicken), is the fast food of Japanese cuisine. The skewered chicken is lightly dipped in barbecue sauce and grilled. Some restaurants may also grill various vegetables. Cold beer is the traditional beverage consumed with yakitori.

Yakitori-ya are usually identified by red paper lanterns hanging outside. Like classic diners, they are frequented more for the food than the atmosphere. Depending on the style of the chef, sauces range from sweet to salty to spicy. Higher end restaurants might have exotic meats on the menu.