Getting around Japan and more specifically Tokyo is easy and hard at the same time. There are no street names, no numbers and to save space everything is stacked up. Meaning the restaurant you’re looking for might be on the fourth floor of a building and apart from a small sign by the entrance it’s not visible. But it is made easy by a pocket WiFi. I cannot recommend it enough, I believe you would miss out on a lot without one. Even if getting “lost” is also part of the discovery (we stumbled upon great things) you need a rough idea of your direction. And in gigantic areas like Shinjuku it can be a nightmare to find your way if you don’t know where you are heading. The good thing is that most Airbnb (which we always use) provide them, it works as your WiFi at home too and you can just take it everywhere outside with you. If you’re not staying in an Airbnb and your hotel doesn’t offer the service you can rent one at the airport. And then google map will be your new best friend.
The underground system in Tokyo reflects the size of the city. It’s massive. And it can get a little confusing, lines are not all operated by the same companies, tickets are not necessarily valid everywhere and you pay a different price depending what journey you are making. Sometimes you’ll turn up to a smaller station and it’s all in kanji… That’s where google map will come in handy because beyond telling you which lines to use it will give you the price of the journey. Then you just need to go to a machine and select the price you want to pay. Make sure you hold on to your ticket, you will need it to get out. If you have a JR Pass, you can do it this way if you need to use a non JR line and it’ll be the easiest and cheapest method. If you are only staying in Tokyo and don’t have a JR pass, you can get a Suica card for ¥500 – which would the equivalent to an Oyster card in London – put some money on it and just touch it in and out at the stations. It won’t make you save money, there are no discounts, but it will save you some time.
The trains themselves are extremely spacious, well compared to tiny curved ones in London, clean and air-conditioned. They have women only carriages but it is only valid during rush hour, specific times will be written on the doors. In case of doubts just follow the crowd! Japanese people are extremely polite and respectful but when it comes to commuting, its everyone for themselves. They more or less queue before boarding, but if it is busy expect to get pushed and squished a bit. But it is never aggressive or personal, it’s just the way you have to do things when thousands of people are commuting. I loved having a discrete session of people watching, a lot of them will be reading or sleeping. And don’t worry about missing your stop, there are screens above every door which let you know where you are and how long until the next station and you also have a tannoy announcement before entering the station in Japanese and English.
Is getting a pocket WiFi was worth it? Yes. Very much so.