Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tips for Packing: During Your Stay (and Takkyuubin)

A few months ago I wrote a post about packing before going overseas (specifically Japan). You can click here to read that entry. In this post, I will write a few things to consider while staying overseas, whether it's for a few weeks or a few months. But first I'll explain about the takkyuubin (宅急便), the handy service in Japan for delivering everything from small packages to large suitcases.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I did not have my luggage the first night I stayed in Japan. Fortunately I packed a change of clothes for orientation in my carry-on that I brought with me. But where exactly was my luggage?

My luggage was in transit through takkyuubin. After arriving at the airport, I went to the takkyuubin kiosk and my friend who met me there helped me fill the form out with my name and address. Because I had a friend with me, we could have taken our suitcases all the way back to my dorm, but we wanted to make sure we had time to get there before the front desk closed for the night. A couple of heavy suitcases would have slowed us down. We were also able to eat once we got to Ikebukuro station, and didn't have those suitcases in the restaurant with us.

My stuff arrived pretty quickly. By the time I got back from orientation the next day, my suitcases were right there in the lobby. The great thing about takkyuubin is that it's pretty fast, but you should still send your things at least 3 days in advance, or a week to be safe. You can also use takkyuubin to send your luggage to the airport or a different hotel. Just make sure that you have whatever you need in the several days that you won't have everything available.

Now I know many people don't even think about packing in the middle of their overseas stay, but it's good to consider. I'll list a few tips:

1. If you're staying for a short time and only need one suitcase, take an extra if you're planning to do a lot of shopping. Air travel fees are changing all the time in this economy, so I don't know if they still allow up to two pieces of luggage without a fee, but as long as the fee is cheaper than actually sending a package, you should go ahead and take that extra suitcase. If you're only staying for a few weeks and have a Space Bag, you may not even need the extra suitcase.

2. If you're staying for a few months up to a year, pack and send things as early as possible. This can apply to seasonal clothes, gifts for family, and anything you buy that you don't need until you get back. If you send things early, you save yourself the trouble of having to pack it all up at the last minute. You'll also be able to send everything by ship (which takes about two months) and save money compared to sending it by air or express. I had boxes that I had been packing for months, and once I filled them up they were ready to send a few days before I came back home in August. They were mostly CDs and winter clothes, so I sent them by ship and received them around September.

3. I'm not sure if I said this in my first post, but have a couple of extra Space Bags. Take them with you when you leave or order some while you're overseas. Not only will a few extra help in case the old and worn ones in your suitcase become damaged, but they're great when packing out-of-season clothing in boxes to send home.

4. Carefully consider what you buy. Before you buy something large and/or heavy, think about how you will send it home. I know Japan can be really exciting for the otaku and fashion junkie, but try not to spend all your money on things simply because it's "something you can't get at home." No matter how much you buy, when you leave Japan there are and always will be things that you won't have. And there are some things that will still be there if you are ever able to go back.

5. When buying essentials for your living space, shop at the 100 yen shop FIRST. They sell the cheapest items, so if you have to leave things behind, you won't think it was a waste. If you're in the Tokyo area, two of the biggest shops I've been to are the Daiso (ダイソー) on Takeshita Street in Harajuku and CAN・DO (キャン・ドウ) in Shinjuku, located in the building attached to Seibu-Shinjuku Station. You can go here to view Daiso locations all over Japan. However, not all 100 yen shops are the same size. Try to see what you can find at your nearest 100 yen shop, and then you can try the bigger ones.

That's all I have for now. The next part I write will be about packing up before leaving, which I've already gone into a little bit in this post. Hope you find this to be useful :) Click here if you missed my first post about packing before the trip.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to Buy Concert Tickets Online in Japan, Part 1 (Registration)

Finally, I'm writing a guide to explain how to register and purchase tickets on Ticket Pia. Ticket Pia is one of the many online services to purchase tickets to concerts, musicals, and other events in Japan. What I love about ordering things in Japan is that credit card is not always required (although that is what I used to buy my tickets). You can have the tickets mailed to you (as I did) but you can also pick them up at selected convenience stores.

Before I go on, READ THIS FIRST:

If there is a specific event that you wish to attend, make sure you register for an account days BEFORE tickets go on sale. You don't want to get stuck registering at the last minute, only for the event to be sold out by the time you finish signing up.
Services like Ticket Pia and Lawson Ticket are entirely in Japanese, so if you don't have the least bit of Japanese language ability, I suggest that you get some. (Otherwise, why be in Japan in the first place?) If you have a Japanese friend to help you, then you don't need this guide. But if you're like me and have to figure things out on your own, read on.

Things you will need:
A Japanese address
A Japanese phone number
An input method for typing in Japanese (if you don't have it set up already, click here to enable it for Mac OS X and here for Windows)

Rikaichan (A pop-up dictionary extension for Firefox. It helps in case there is something you can't read).

First, the main page, which is here (URL: The top of the page will look something like this (click to see full size):

Click the link that's circled (that's the member registration link) and it will lead you to a page like this:

Chances are you're a fresh new visitor to the site, so click the orange button in the green box. The next page is just the Terms of Use, so go ahead and click the orange button there as well. Then comes the fun part:

The registration form. I've had issues with Japanese registration forms, because they can be very picky about how they want you to type in your information. Fortunately, Pia is a little easier to deal with. Look to the right of each text field and it will tell you in parentheses how the text should be typed. Japanese text comes in full- and half-width sizes, which is what these parenthetical references are describing. I don't know about Windows, but in OS X Kotoeri automatically adjusts to the required input, so you shouldn't have to manually convert to a different character width.

If you do not have a Japanese name (or any name that uses Chinese characters), you can type your name in Katakana in both the お名前 and フリガナ fields. Remember that last name comes before first name.

The address section might be a little tricky depending on your address. If you don't plan to have your tickets mailed to you, you can leave out a few things in the ビル・マンション名 section until it lets you go to the next page. (For example, when I was in Japan I lived in a building called J-DREAM 富士見台. For this step-by-step I had trouble with that field so I left out the J-DREAM part.) For the phone number, hopefully you have a Japanese cell phone, but if not you can try using the phone number of the building located at the address you're using. I've never had Ticket Pia call me so I don't think it's a big deal.

Next is the payment information. By default, "Don't choose a payment method" is selected, so you can leave it alone until you're ready to make a purchase. If you want to choose right away, you can choose between the convenience store/bank option or credit card. You can always change this later.

You can enter in some alternate e-mail addresses if you want. At the bottom is the confirmation code of course. If something goes wrong with your registration you'll need to type this and your chosen password again along with making any necessary corrections to the form. Once everything goes through, you'll arrive at the confirmation page. If the information is correct, click the orange button on the right. If you need to make changes, click the center button. The grey button on the left is to abort and return to the main page.

While writing this up I didn't submit my sample registration, so I don't remember if anything else comes up. Check your e-mail for the registration confirmation, and from there you should be ready to go. Log in to your account and start searching for events. You can search for events by artist, so you can view all of the upcoming lives that artist or band has scheduled. Be sure to check the location of those lives, so you don't end up having to take a Shinkansen across the country (or not go at all).

I left quite a few things unexplained, which is why I advise you to learn Japanese so that you can figure things out for yourself :) If you have any specific questions, you can leave a comment.

Part 2 will include tips and information for when you're ready to buy tickets. I can't really tell you how to get the best seats, but I can explain a few things about how to get tickets before they run out.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Random Lessons about Japan

1. The pronunciation of the first 'a' in 'manga' is NOT as in 'mango'.

2. Talking on your cell phone while on a train in Japan is considered rude. (But if you're a gaijin and very discreet about it and keep the conversation very short, it's okay, lol.)

3. Just because McDonald's is an American fast food place does NOT mean you can state your order in English while in Japan and expect the employees to understand you.

4. In Japan, convenience stores really ARE convenient. You can buy food and alcohol, pay bills, make photocopies and purchase concert tickets all in one place. They're also a good shelter in Kabukicho while you're waiting on a host to meet you for karaoke after they finish work.

5. And speaking of shelter, if you ever miss the last train home while in a place like Shibuya or Shinjuku, look for a place to sleep at McDonald's. They're open all night and at least you won't go hungry.