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Avoiding Getting Lost in Tokyo

Avoiding Getting Lost in Tokyo

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Old Jan 6, 15, 1:26 pm
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Avoiding Getting Lost in Tokyo

I am heading to Tokyo in less than 2 weeks. It will be my first time in Japan.

I like to explore new cities on foot, so I purchased a street map of Tokyo (Borch), but I am very confused. Most of the streets appear to have no names. Only the major avenues do.
I searched for some info online, and I read that blocks in Tokyo have numbers; streets do not.

The problem is that my map does not even show the numbers of the blocks! It would have been helpful to have this information handy, as it would serve as a rough guide for where I am if I get lost.

I guess my questions are:

(A) Can I find my way around Tokyo by sticking to the major avenues that have names?

(B) Do these major avenues have street signs that are written in Roman characters, or are they in Japanese?
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Old Jan 6, 15, 1:44 pm
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You'll miss a lot if you only stick to streets with names. And a map without block numbers is pretty much useless in Tokyo.

Do you have a smartphone? Rent a mobile WiFi hotspot (there's a separate thread on that) and use the GPS to find your way around.

Last edited by Calcifer; Jan 6, 15 at 2:25 pm
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Old Jan 6, 15, 2:26 pm
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Originally Posted by Calcifer View Post
You'll miss a lot if you only stick to streets with names.

Do you have a smartphone? Rent a mobile WiFi hotspot (there's a separate thread on that) and use the GPS to find your wat around.
Unfortunately, I don't have a SmartPhone. It would have been helpful to have a real-time map, such as Google Maps.
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Old Jan 6, 15, 2:53 pm
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There are lots of ways to rent a smartphone in Japan- you can pick it up at the airport or at your hotel. Here is a service I used: http://www.globaladvancedcomm.com/index.html
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Old Jan 6, 15, 4:12 pm
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Smartphone rental is a good way to go for real time maps. If you must have a paper map, this one has block numbers and old major attractions should still be correct on there. http://www.amazon.com/Tokyo-City-Atl.../dp/1568364458

Having said that, even with a smartphone with data connection, and visiting every few years, I consider getting lost only once to count as a victory. Usually heading down an incorrect subway exit or perhaps on the wrong train. It isn't a usually problem as you can generally get off the train, go to the other platform, and backtrack for free.

Just take your time and print out the hotel map in Japanese and English so you can always make it "home" if the batteries die. If you are trying to visit a particular restaurant, check the route via Google Street View and also be sure to look up. Restaurants aren't always on the ground floor.

Should you get utterly lost, "Koban" is a police box and in most neighborhoods. They can help with directions.
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Old Jan 6, 15, 4:18 pm
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Originally Posted by freecia View Post
Smartphone rental is a good way to go for real time maps. If you must have a paper map, this one has block numbers and old major attractions should still be correct on there. http://www.amazon.com/Tokyo-City-Atl.../dp/1568364458

Having said that, even with a smartphone with data connection, and visiting every few years, I consider getting lost only once to count as a victory. Usually heading down an incorrect subway exit or perhaps on the wrong train. It isn't a usually problem as you can generally get off the train, go to the other platform, and backtrack for free.

Just take your time and print out the hotel map in Japanese and English so you can always make it "home" if the batteries die. If you are trying to visit a particular restaurant, check the route via Google Street View and also be sure to look up. Restaurants aren't always on the ground floor.

Should you get utterly lost, "Koban" is a police box and in most neighborhoods. They can help with directions.
Thanks for the helpful tips.
If I rent a Smartphone in Tokyo, will the controls be in Japanese or English?
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Old Jan 6, 15, 4:20 pm
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Originally Posted by Pureboy View Post
There are lots of ways to rent a smartphone in Japan- you can pick it up at the airport or at your hotel. Here is a service I used: http://www.globaladvancedcomm.com/index.html
Thanks, will check it out.

By the way, do store owners at the airport speak some English? I'm wondering how I would even make this transaction if I can't communicate with them.

Last edited by joer1212; Jan 6, 15 at 4:38 pm
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Old Jan 6, 15, 6:29 pm
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Originally Posted by joer1212 View Post
By the way, do store owners at the airport speak some English?
Most mobile shop clerks at Narita and Haneda do speak some English and offer online reservations in English so you could just show them a printout of your reservation. Android can be set to English language, even if it is a Japanese phone meant for the domestic market.

A tip on Google Maps - plot out your main attraction points and star them in Google Maps ahead of time, from your home computer. Then on the Android/iPhone, sign into the same Google account you used with Google Maps. You'll see the starred locations appear on the smartphone's Google Maps app, too. I find this a lot easier than trying to input it in Japanese or the English translation while on the go. Copy in Japanese, paste to https://www.google.com/maps (my language default is English) also works.

Last edited by freecia; Jan 6, 15 at 6:41 pm
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Old Jan 6, 15, 7:14 pm
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When I first came to Japan we didn't have fancy smartphones or googlemaps.

You should be able to find most major sites, train stations have huge maps of the areas near the exits. Police boxes (kobans) also have maps of the areas posted on the side of them as well.

If you really need to get somewhere specific, I recommend printing out the address and the name of the place in Japanese rather than a Romanized version, so you can show it to a regular person on the street if you get really lost. I wouldn't worry too much about the numbering system in Tokyo (I sure don't pay attention to it much and I live there!) Just study the maps ahead of time, navigate using streetsmarts and using main landmarks (train stations, sightseeing spots) as your point of reference.
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Old Jan 6, 15, 7:46 pm
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Originally Posted by freecia View Post
Most mobile shop clerks at Narita and Haneda do speak some English and offer online reservations in English so you could just show them a printout of your reservation. Android can be set to English language, even if it is a Japanese phone meant for the domestic market.

A tip on Google Maps - plot out your main attraction points and star them in Google Maps ahead of time, from your home computer. Then on the Android/iPhone, sign into the same Google account you used with Google Maps. You'll see the starred locations appear on the smartphone's Google Maps app, too. I find this a lot easier than trying to input it in Japanese or the English translation while on the go. Copy in Japanese, paste to https://www.google.com/maps (my language default is English) also works.
Thanks. All the shortcuts I can take will be greatly beneficial to me, as my time is relatively limited.
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Old Jan 6, 15, 7:49 pm
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Originally Posted by railroadtycoon View Post
When I first came to Japan we didn't have fancy smartphones or googlemaps.

You should be able to find most major sites, train stations have huge maps of the areas near the exits. Police boxes (kobans) also have maps of the areas posted on the side of them as well.

If you really need to get somewhere specific, I recommend printing out the address and the name of the place in Japanese rather than a Romanized version, so you can show it to a regular person on the street if you get really lost. I wouldn't worry too much about the numbering system in Tokyo (I sure don't pay attention to it much and I live there!) Just study the maps ahead of time, navigate using streetsmarts and using main landmarks (train stations, sightseeing spots) as your point of reference.
Could I also navigate using the labeled main streets as a reference point? It seems easier that way when using my paper map.
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Old Jan 6, 15, 8:20 pm
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My experience

If you are obviously American/non Japanese, if you stand on a street corner looking confused even for a minute or two, someone will come up to you in excellent English and offer to help you.

Seriously, I wouldn't worry--especially in major cities.

Even better is to have printed out your destination in Japanese on a little piece of paper and show it to someone.

We found people so helpful, it almost got annoying In a good way.
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Old Jan 6, 15, 10:13 pm
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Never mind the smartphone, especially if you're not used to having one.

There are several English-language maps and atlases of Tokyo that are not available outside Japan but are readily available in bookstores in Tokyo.

Actually, this one, available from Amazon, looks good:

http://www.amazon.com/Tokyo-Walks-Wo...der_B00ATLB0DG

It contains neighborhood maps and narrative descriptions of the sights.

Don't worry too much about the lack of street names or addresses. In real life, people navigate by landmarks. They go to the nearest train or subway station and work from there. Advertisements for businesses typically contain an inset map showing how to get there from the nearest transit stop. Anyone who lives in Japan for any length of time becomes skilled at drawing maps.

Furthermore, everyone gets lost in Tokyo. It doesn't matter if they were born and grew up there; they can still get lost. Fortunately, Tokyo is one of the world's safest cities, and if you are obviously a foreign tourist, Japanese people will tend to think of you as a guest in their "home" and treat you kindly.

If nothing else, they can give you directions to the nearest train or subway station, and once you are in the station, there will be at least one map of the system in English.

Getting lost can actually be rather fun, because you can meet interesting people and see unexpected sights.
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Old Jan 6, 15, 10:31 pm
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Originally Posted by gretchendz View Post
If you are obviously American/non Japanese, if you stand on a street corner looking confused even for a minute or two, someone will come up to you in excellent English and offer to help you.

Seriously, I wouldn't worry--especially in major cities.

Even better is to have printed out your destination in Japanese on a little piece of paper and show it to someone.

We found people so helpful, it almost got annoying In a good way.
Interesting comment. I've never had someone offer to help me, in fact, the exact opposite. I find most Japanese to be shy and unlikely to proactively offer help, but that's just my experience.

To the OP, I rely heavily on my hotel concierge to print maps and provide the necessary instructions to help me navigate to any new destinations. Once you get the hang of the public transportation system, the "chome" system and the fact that maps are really often quite helpful in Tokyo, you'll be pretty well off, even without a smartphone.

That said, investing in one pays huge dividends in Tokyo and elsewhere for navigation, among other purposes.
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Old Jan 7, 15, 1:54 am
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Getting lost in Tokyo is part of the experience.

As others have pointed out, there are plenty of maps in street corners and they are very useful after you realize that typically up means direction where your nose points when looking at the map rather than north. Also locals are usually very helpful but often there is a considerable language barrier. Subway and train stations are usually quite good reference points. Subway map that has English names in one side and Japanese in other side is very useful if you are totally lost and no one seems to speak English. Just point a Japanese name of a station you think is nearby and the person helping you can at least point a direction to go. It also helps in inside bigger stations if you don't find a correct platform as you can point where you want to go.

Smartphone with map is naturally helpful but one can survive without. Just reserve some extra time for getting at least little bit lost once in a while and take it as an experience.
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