ようこそ Yokoso (Welcome)!
If this is your first trip to Japan, I hope these tips will help your journey go a little smoother. Some tips are for specific events or locations, others are generic. These are all from my personal notes over the past few years of traveling from the US to Japan and what I’ve experienced along the way.
GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR FIRST TRIP TO JAPAN:
- Pack good slip-on shoes that are comfortable to walk in and don’t forget the socks. Many temples, shrines, older buildings, and any shop or teahouse with a tatami mat floor will likely require that you remove your shoes. No matter what time of year it is, you will want socks to wear while you are shoeless. Pack a pair of light socks in your purse or backpack for day trips in the summer heat and wear good quality socks without holes for winter warmth.
- 7-11 is great for cash ATMs… and of course, snacks. There are many combini (convenience stores) in Japan, but my favorite for easy access to international ATMs is 7-11. You can access this information on their English site here. Forget something simple like shampoo, bandaids, toothpaste, or a comb? Of course they have those, but they have so many other wonderful items, too! There are an abundance of good food and beverage options available at reasonable prices, so you can stock up along your journey.
- Try the food, even if it looks really weird. Japanese food is more than California sushi rolls, I promise. Start your very first day in Japan with a cup of tea, bowl of miso soup, and some rice to settle your stomach after a long flight, then save room for more exotic fare later. Onigiri are delicious triangles of rice wrapped in nori (roasted seaweed) stuffed with fish, pickled plums, or vegetables. Consider these a quick and easy “sandwich” replacement if you need some sustenance in a hurry. We make them at home all the time!
- Kiosk vending machines are wonderfully convenient. Hot and cold beverages are available on almost every street corner at a reasonable price, so keep a pocketful of coins handy. You are expected to either drink right near the kiosk (on a train platform, for example) or take the drink with you. Finding trash cans in the wild is rare, so either finish your drink by the kiosk and toss the can in the recycle bin there, or take it with you (which can be very messy).
SPECIFIC TIPS FOR QUILTERS:
This list will continue to evolve, so it is my no means comprehensive at this time. I learn so many new tips with every trip! This list is geared for those joining me on trips to Japan with Opulent Quilt Journeys.
Great International Tokyo Quilt Festival
Video above from my 2017 trip
- Typically scheduled for the last week in January, you’ll have to check this website well into August to see the actual dates for the next show.
- The Tokyo Dome Hotel is conveniently steps away from the venue, but there are other hotels a block or two from there, as well. When you book a hotel in Japan, be aware that they still have smoking rooms and entire smoking floors, so take care what sort of room you book. Many hotels cater to business travelers and have laundry facilities on site so you can pack light and do laundry every few days.
- Give yourself at least two days to see the show. It’s huge. I work as a vendor and/or teacher at several of the largest shows in the US and this is entirely on par with the biggest and best we have here. The venue is a baseball stadium, well-lit and climate controlled, with food and refreshments available to eat in the bleachers. Sit down for a light bento (boxed) lunch and watch the show from the nose-bleed seats!
- Look for kofu – vintage fabrics. There will be an entire section of vendors at the show who specialize in vintage fabrics, clothing, and interesting artifacts. Pace yourself, look at everything once and then go back to shop. My weakness is for little cellophane bags of colorful kimono fabrics and cotton kofu for crafts, usually priced around ¥500-1200 ($5-12 US). These make nice gifts for friends back home, if you’re willing to part with them. I just hoard them.
- With thousands of people attending the show on any given day, it may be difficult to get the shot you want. Be patient. I was able to shoot all three quilts shown here without people in the frames over about 10 minutes. Crowds ebb and flow, just wait. By the way, “WA” means traditional. These quilts were made using vintage indigo fabrics, or kofu as noted above.
- Carry plenty of cash and know what it’s worth. Most Japanese vendors will assume you don’t speak Japanese unless you look Japanese, so they will show you prices on a calculator, especially at checkout. These same vendors also are not likely to take credit cards, so make sure you are familiar with the currency you are carrying.