The One Piece of Advice You Should Know but No One will Tell You About Tokyo

At least once a week, I get an email: “I’m coming to Japan for the first time, do you have any recommendations?” I tell everyone the same thing, so I decided to post on my blogs (I can also just point people here in the future #lazy).

Hope this helps!

Dear friend,

Think of Tokyo like NYC… times 10. There are so many things to do, places to eat, areas to shop, must-sees, it will take about five lifetimes to see all of Tokyo. For sight-seeing recommendations, just Google “things to do in Tokyo”, compare-contrast lists and find destinations that are right for you. Pick an objective (ex: I want to shop. I want to eat. I want to see landmarks. I want to see art exhibitions. I want to wander with no plan but want a list of a few must-sees. I want to do it all!) and build your trip centered around what you really want to do. TimeOut Tokyo is a wonderful resource — it’s also in English :) Ex: for coffee shops, I love this list and another one (in Japanese — just Google the bigger, bold font on the left hand side above the photo, as it is the name of the coffee shop with ‘Tokyo’ in English, so you’ll get English results). For art shows / events, there is always something going on, so looking up what’s happening a few days before you are planning to go, is the way to do it. Of course TimeOut but this is also another good resource:  http://enjp.blouinartinfo.com/events

For places to eat, Foursquare is a great resource. I follow a bunch of Foursquare lists to discover new restaurants. I kid you not, I can dine out every day for the rest of my life and still not even cover 1/4 of the restaurants in Tokyo — restaurants here are never-ending and all delicious. Foursquare lists are accessible on your computer here: https://foursquare.com/lists. Two example lists: https://foursquare.com/casioisac/list/michelin-guide-tokyo-ミシュラン東京-2012- and https://foursquare.com/khimming/list/tokyo-fine-restaurants

Japan — especially Tokyo — is many things. Magical, wonderful, whimsical, amazing, beautiful, etc., etc. The one thing it is not, is an English speaking country. Sounds mean, but it’s the truth.

So I came up with a 10 second rule: if you stop and ask a Japanese person for directions, and the Japanese person cannot get a few English words out within the first 10 seconds, just thank them and walk away.

If you are feeling really adventurous, keep this phrase handy: “Eigo wakarimasuka” (Do you speak / understand English?). That phrase prepares Japanese people to receive and respond in English. Even if the person says “yes English ok”, the 10 second rule still applies. 10 seconds, no English = don’t walk — RUN.

It may sound rude, but no one will outright tell you that one can waste a lot of time trying to communicate. And please, don’t feel bad. Japanese people will not be offended if you move on to someone else. Conversely, they will be happy you relieved them of their duty to help a person in need.

Trust me on this — I’m Japanese ;)

[UPDATE] Wi-Fi / SIM situation
Ugh, how can I forget to include this? Public Wi-Fi, what a nightmare!
As advanced of a country Japan is and as connected as we all are, public Wi-Fi is an absolute disaster. I came in April, expecting to be able to connect to something right off the bat, but every so-called public Wi-Fi requires creating an account, what the hell. I don’t really care about registering, but what I do care about, is how I was unable to register because I had no Internet. Because I have no Internet access, I can’t sign-up for an account but without an account, I can’t get Internet — total chicken-egg problem. It was so annoying. Also, registering for accounts is usually in all Japanese so unless you are Japanese. Or read Japanese. You are basically assed-out.

I recommend everyone to rent a SIM at the airport (Narita or Haneda, I’m assuming). Softbank has rental SIM booths there and the rates are super reasonable. The rental service is available only to visitors, so it’s super inconvenient to rent a SIM once you are in a city. There’s actually only one office in all of Tokyo, in some random office building that you won’t be able to find or access (because of security)…unless you are Japanese.

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Marissa Mayer II

Two Marissa Mayer posts in a row (!!)
From one of — if not the best — tech piece I have ever read, I was astounded to find it on Business Insider. I mean. Let’s be real, they normally publish border-line gossip.

A few excerpts — first, a tid-bit from her time at Google:

In the end, it proved to be an advantage for Mayer that empathy doesn’t come naturally to her. It forced her to be intentional about figuring out what users want and how they behave.

She came up with two clever methods of relating.

Mayer at the height of her power at Google.

The first is that she would recreate the technological circumstances of her users in her own life. Mayer went without broadband for years in her home, refusing to install it until it was also installed in the majority of American homes. She carried an iPhone at Google, which makes Android phones, because so did most mobile Web users.

Mayer’s second method was to lean on data. She would track, survey, and measure every user interaction with Google products, and then use that data to design and re-design.

Then, on her meeting with the execs and employees at Y! when she took the chair:

Many of these people were meeting Mayer for the first time, and they expected to sit across from the woman they’d read about in so many fluffy profiles and had seen on TV or on stage at conferences — someone who was charismatic and warm; personal.

That was not what they got.

[…]One by one, they walked in and sat down at a table across from Mayer. Then, she launched into questions. She asked: “Where did you get your education?” “Where are you from?” “What do you do here?” And so on.

As Yahoo executives answered, Mayer took notes on their answers with pen on paper, hardly looking up.

“There was no time for short conversation or human emotions. It was very boom, boom, boom.

“Most people walked away from that meeting saying, ‘Holy shit.’”

[…]

For the people who were making Yahoo’s products at the time, the meetings were even more intense.

A designer or a top product manager would sit down and Mayer would assault them with a series of questions.

“How was that researched?”

“What was the research methodology?”

“How did you back that up?”

On gender issues:

Young, powerful, rich, and brilliant, Mayer is a role model for millions of women. And yet, unlike Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, Mayer resists calling herself a feminist.

[…]

Mayer says that she is not a “feminist.” She says she is “blind to gender.”

I hope one day, to be half the woman she is.
Read the entire thing here. It’s incredible (warning: really, really, really long.)