Saturday, December 17, 2016

Quick Guide for Japan: Money, Phones, and Hotels

Planning a trip within Japan can be exhausting and overwhelming even for me, so for someone who has absolutely no clue about traveling, it can be very daunting. How much money do I need? Where do I stay? Can I use my phone? No one wants to be caught unprepared while traveling, leading to an, "I wish I had known this" or "I should've done that" moment. There is a lot to learn about Japan and it's impossible to get everything out of a single trip, and because you're trying to have the best experience possible, you probably don't want to waste time worrying about basic things like money and communication. Here’s a quick guide addressing some basic concerns about going to Japan:

Q: How can I contact people after I’ve arrived in Japan?


When smartphones hadn’t yet become the norm, all you had to do was look for a green payphone—their color indicated that they were capable of making international phone calls. Now you probably only have to use those in an absolute emergency because pretty much everyone has a smartphone or a wi-fi capable device.

So can you use your phone? You’ll have to ask your service provider and then find out the charges for roaming. It doesn’t hurt to just use your phone to make a quick phone call, but if you intend on using a lot of data (which you probably will for navigation and looking things up), I highly recommend renting a “pocket wi-fi” device. Not only can you connect your smartphone to it (though you won’t be able to make calls or text messages), but you can connect other devices like your laptop or a handheld game system.

If you have an unlocked phone, you can also rent a SIM card, though if I recall correctly, you won’t be able to make phone calls or send text messages. Alternatively you can try to connect through Facebook Messenger, Skype, or another app.

Q: Hotels are expensive, but I want make sure I’m staying in a safe, clean space. How do I find a place for my budget?


Sites like Booking.com and Expedia are excellent sites to look for places to stay, whether you’re going for a 5-star hotel or a capsule hotel. In many cases you have the option to pay on arrival with a free cancellation policy before a certain date, so if you change your itinerary there’s no risk.

I highly advise that you book early, especially if your stay falls on a weekend and also during high travel seasons (late March/April, first week of May, August, and towards the end of the year). If you're okay with dorm-style accommodations (bunk beds in a large room) those are usually easier to get and cost less, and hopefully you won’t have to deal with someone snoring or making too much noise when entering and leaving the room. But if you absolutely need your privacy, start searching early, at least three to four months in advance to be safe, and earlier if you're traveling during a high season period.

And don’t forget to read reviews! Places with at 80% high ratings are ideal. Keep in mind that just because one person had a particular experience may not mean you’ll have the same, but it’s more comforting to know that a majority enjoyed the place you’ve chosen.

Q: I’ve saved money. How do I access it while I'm in Japan?


Japan still uses cash more often than cards, although credit cards are becoming more popular these days. Before leaving, talk to your bank/credit card company to let them know you are traveling overseas so that they can expect to see some overseas transactions and not think they’re suspicious. Also find out what your daily and monthly withdrawal limits are, which will help you budget your cash.

You may want to bring some cash or traveler's checks with you to be exchanged at the airport; I'd say about $500 is a safe amount for the first few days. If for some reason you forget to exchange your money at the airport, hotels and certain banks can exchange it for you, and popular shopping areas like Harajuku have some exchange centers, though I'm not sure the rates are very good.

To get cash from your bank account, the most popular methods are the ATMs at a 7-11 convenience store or a Seven Bank (run by the same company as 7-11), or using an ATM at a post Office. Withdraw large amounts at a time to avoid repeat ATM withdrawal fees. If you have an account with Citibank, they actually have branches in Japan, although not many so you’ll have to look up their locations.

As I said before, more and more stores in Japan are accepting credit cards. But I like to just avoid the embarrassment and inconvenience for the cashier by just having cash.

Q: The Tokyo rail map is so confusing!!! How do I figure out where to go?!


Hyperdia is a well-known site for navigating throughout all of Japan, although sometimes they don’t provide the BEST routes and they don’t have a free smartphone app (I use a Japanese one called Norikae Annai). Navigation apps can give you the scheduled departure and arrival times and even tell you which platform you need to go to to board the train. If you need to get somewhere by a certain time, I advise that you check the route you need to take the night before and then leave ahead of schedule. Plan well and be alert, and then you can do things like travel from Kobe to Hiroshima and then trek all the way back to Tokyo the next day to pick your friend up from the airport like I did over the summer 😉

I also highly recommend checking routes before you even get to Japan! Hyperdia provides the estimated cost for a trip, and if you’re not careful you may end up spending a significant amount of money that you didn’t anticipate. You can also get an idea of how much your travel costs will total so you can determine whether or not you can save money by getting a Japan Rail Pass, which will grant you unlimited rides on JR-operated routes during a limited period of time after the pass is activated.

Q: I speak little to no Japanese. Will I be okay finding my way around?


Lots of signs in train stations and around landmarks have English written on them, and popular tourist spots may carry English brochures. But as far as Japanese people who speak English, you may not be able to find too many depending on where you go, so I recommend that you at least study the basics. Even if you can’t speak in long sentences, it really helps if you know the word of what it is you need, or at least have a picture. I’ve witnessed too many foreigners in Japan speaking English and sales reps looking clueless, and while Japan is trying to catch up, I think anyone in any country really appreciates it when you try to learn their native language.


If you have any other questions about traveling to Japan and traveling IN Japan, feel free to message me through Facebook, Twitter, or leave a comment below!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Should Cosplayers Get Paid?

While explaining to my mom about why I don't care to model anymore (that is another story for another time), I went on to talk to her about the fact that the vast majority of cosplayers don't get paid to do what they do.


More and more people have found a way to sell themselves to a cosplayer, including other cosplayers (a well-known cosplayer has a fabric and pattern collection, for example). Photographers have found ways to pay for their trips to conventions by offering their services. JoAnn Fabrics has a "cosplay fabric section" (whatever that means, I look around the entire store to find what I want) and these materials are much more expensive just because they're unique and the word "cosplay" is attached to them. Wig shops have established a reputation of having quality wigs for cosplay--if you're in the USA, chances are you have bought an Arda wig or know someone who bought a wig from them. There's even luggage designed for cosplayers to carry their props and even use as a makeup table.

And then there's ways that people make money off of cosplayers without the cosplayers spending a single dime. Online articles about cosplayers that get views and potential ad revenue. Video interviews that get views on YouTube. Photos that are just blatantly stolen and reposted without permission, getting even more views.

There's long been an idea that all a cosplayer wants--and all they should want--is to have fun and maybe get some publicity. Dont get me wrong--there is absolutely nothing wrong with a cosplayer only wanting to enjoy their hobby.  But in a world where everyone wants to get paid to do what they love, at what point do cosplayers get to do the same?

One trend I've noticed is that, whenever a "famous" cosplayer gets the spotlight as being a cosplayer who gets paid for what they do, it's met with a lot of sneers and eyerolls, and I've noticed a lot of them coming from other cosplayers:

"Cosplay should be about having fun."
"Why should they be getting paid when there's so many others who work just as hard and have just as good or even better costumes?"
"They're not a 'real' cosplayer, they're just a babe booth."
"It's just because they have a nice body; the public doesn't care about 'normal' cosplayers."

Some of these complaints, while poorly worded (and possibly rooted in jealousy and frustration), are quite legitimate. But on the contrary, is it possible that this strong attitude pushes cosplayers into a corner, and forces them to humble themselves even while so many people freely benefit from what they have to offer?

Did you know that, in Japan, there is often an extra fee that cosplayers have to pay in order to cosplay? That fee actually covers usage of the changing room and luggage storage, but get this: In almost all popular Japanese events, you are not allowed to arrive in costume. So unless you're wearing a super casual costume that can pass for a regular appearance, you have no choice but to either be sneaky about how you get into costume, or pay up.

But take into consideration another tidbit: In some Japanese cosplay events, such as "Tonari de Cos" which takes place during Comiket weekend in a separate venue, cosplayers have to pay a fee, but the fee for photographers is higher. When the event is about cosplay, and the cosplayers are the main attraction, doesn't it sound fair that the people who want to see them should have to pay some sort of admission fee?

Many people will be quick to point out that some famous cosplayers are "professional" cosplayers. Whether or not they get paid to actually cosplay (or if they actually get paid for what they do around cosplay, such as YouTube videos and photobooks) is not what I'm focusing on, although there have been heated debates about that. My question is, other than the "enjoyment" and "publicity," do cosplayers deserve other incentives?

Under what circumstances is it acceptable for a cosplayer to request payment for cosplaying? Are photographers and guests entitled to photos of cosplayers? Should conventions create benefits and rewards for people who "register" to cosplay, and what qualifications should be set in order to be eligible for those rewards? With all of the money that cosplayers spend, is there any way of getting some of that back?

 If you have any thoughts, leave a comment! I'd like to hear what the cosplay community thinks!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Tweeting your Congressman



If you REALLY REALLY don't believe in allowing Trump to take office, don't just sign that little petition on Change.org. I can tell it has good intentions and from what I've read, even Trump agreed that the Electoral College is a problematic and imperfect system. But I read the letter that was going to be sent to the Electoral College and I could see that it wasn't enough. The petition itself isn't convincing enough either.


Find another way to reach the Electoral College, specifically the Electors chosen by your state, and include all of the recent developments thus far (why you think Pence as leader of the transition team is a bad idea, why you believe having a GOP controlled government will have a negative impact on the country, how Trump's election has led to an increase in hate crimes and enabled bigotry, etc.). Don't just say "Trump is gonna take away same-sex marriage!!" or "Trump is a racist xenophobe!!" Because people have been saying those things for months and it didn't matter. Talk about the economy. Talk about the environment. Talk about the dangers of letting someone who can't control his words online, speak to and about other world leaders. A really big number on a single online petition might sound effective and hopeful, but what would even be more effective is a really big number of actual letters and phone calls and e-mails. 



Also be open to the idea that, even if you don't have the person you want in office, that doesn't mean it's hopeless.



I read an article written following the election on reaching out to Congress. I'll be brief about my criticism of social media and media in general--it's filled with lies. Everywhere. People are so quick to believe everything they read without looking at the shady URL underneath or researching the background of that "news" source. We became way too engaged in Twitter wars and hashtags and the comments section of every think-piece that we failed to realize that none of that mattered. Your fellow citizen that you disagree with isn't going to magically change anything. Look to the people who are in charge: Congress.



The article mentions an e-mail or a snail mail letter, but before you send either of those, PLEASE consider the phone call first. Talking to another human being is more effective than a bunch of words that may just be glazed over and then set aside or deleted or thrown away.



 



Don't waste your time tweeting at Congress members--or do, but also find other ways to reach out to them. Many of these people don't have time to manage their own social media accounts and have people do it for them, so they don't hear anything and it just gets absorbed by their staffers instead.



 




 



For years many of us have been led to believe that the Internet and social media will do everything for us because of the feel-good stories about hashtags and remarks about how many views or retweets or Likes something has. The harsh reality is that the power of social media has been abused and overused. Everyone loves a 90s throwback these days, how about a 90s throwback to how we used to communicate?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

It's mind boggling to me.

You have guns.


You have training.


You have bulletproof vests.


And batons.


And tasers.


And pepper spray.


You can call for backup.


And yet, you are threatened by a black man who is already pinned down by you and another officer.


And you aim your gun at a black man sitting in a car, with his girlfriend next to him and a child in the backseat.


Not only do you shoot, you shoot repeatedly.


He's bleeding.


He's dying.


But your gun stays pointed at him.


Who are you protecting really?


Are you really protecting the public?


Because Alton Sterling and Philando Castle WAS the public.


And now they're dead.


You can't say this isn't a race issue. Maybe you can say it's not JUST a race issue, in which case you'd be right. It's also an issue of injustice, of a corrupt system of law enforcement.


But when the NRA chooses to stay silent on the death of a black man with a permit to carry a gun...


...when racists make up lies and investigate the backgrounds of these men to try and justify their deaths...


...when a white boy is fed Burger King after shooting up a black church while a black woman is prohibited from food and a phone call after her boyfriend has been shot while complying with police...


...it is most definitely a race issue.


"He shouldn't have reached for his wallet..."


"He shouldn't have resisted arrest..."


"He should've complied with police..."


"He had a criminal background..."


"Black people shoot other black people every day..."


"Not all officers are bad..."


"All lives matter..."


I will not accept your baseless and untimely justifications.


And to those who stay silent on these tragedies, we know who you are. You cannot hide.


You can go ahead and stay silent, but I will not.