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 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!