Research for this trip has been three-fold for me: there is of course the actual visitation of Japan, the ‘ins and outs’ of arriving, getting around, et al as well as things to see and do; Tokyo Disney; and the culture of Japan itself, just so I don’t come off as completely ignorant.
The first and last of those three seem to meld quite a bit in the typical travel guide to Tokyo, so it makes things a tad easier, the only question being which travel guides to choose. What’s important to me most in a travel guide is its age/relevancy. In some cases, guidebooks a couple of years old may suffice, but I tend to seek comfort in newer books. As a rule of thumb, I give nine months or so of outdated information before a guidebook hits the shelf, as it’s just plain unavoidable when you consider the editing and publishing aspects. And, even if it is slightly out of date, a guidebook published in 2012 is presumably more current than one published in 2010.
Or so one might think/hope. One of the first titles I purchased was Lonely Planet’s Tokyo City Guide. It seemed like a no-brainer because its publication date was September 2012, so it just had to be current, right? Everything seemed on the up and up, although I found the mention of there no longer being giant pandas at the Ueno Park Zoo to be disconcerting. Sure enough, while there was a period of time where the zoos had no pandas, other research indicates they are in possession of a pair now. To fast forward a bit, I had also highlighted one recommended attraction to put on my visit wish list, only to have to remove it after finding no other evidence that the place existed any longer. Sadly, the online accompaniment to the book seems to be equally out of date.
Though I consider that particular guide to be a bust, I did find two books that I absolutely adored. The first is Frommer’s Tokyo by Beth Reiber. This book more than satisfied both my requirements for travel guides, providing plenty of background on the Japanese culture as well as places to visit. The other book is primarily just on the cultural side, but it was one I had spotted in a book store. It’s called A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony by Hector Garcia. It’s full of information about the Japanese and their culture as related to a westerner who relocated there. The only issue is that the Kindle version doesn’t seem to translate well with all the photos that are in it.
The nice thing about the Kindle books, though, is I can highlight sections as I read them on the iPad and then reference my highlights on the PC version of Kindle, which made for easier planning when it came to finding things I want to do in Tokyo.
I also turned to apps like Triposo Japan but I don’t mind saying that it’s absolute garbage, nothing more than a bunch of wiki articles strung together. At the very least, you might think that an app that lists sites to visit would allow you to flag/bookmark them for later reference, but this app is so bad, you can’t even do that.
Aside from the books and apps, I spent a great deal of time going through every single category of things to do on TripAdvisor.com. It’s a wealth of information, with many things rated by others, but suffers from glitches such as not using actual page numbers, but relying on AJAX instead. Basically if you walk away for a few minutes, your session is reset and you need to start again from the top of the list and there’s no easy way to jump ahead several pages. It was awkward and tiresome to use, but it provided me with a few items that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
I’ve also began reading the Japan forum on the site and have found lots of good information there. Others have also been very quick to respond to any questions I have had as well.
So with all that, I believe I came up with a solid list of about 50 things I want to do in Tokyo. Some of them are very insignificant timewise such as checking out a Chopsticks shop, so it’s not as bad as it may seem, though I still will have trouble fitting much of it in, no doubt.
Even then, there have been things since that I have learned of that I’ve added to the list (or want to). One is a concept Disney Store designed to appeal to adult women. Another is the D1 Tokyo Drift contest, though based on 2012 prices, it’s a tad expensive (roughly $70) and an all-day event, so fitting it in will be very tough.