You’re in one of the greatest cities on earth; a place where you can get school supplies from a vending machine, where you can pay somebody to pat you on the head for 20 minutes, where you can find Michael Jackson masks – in black or white.
But sometimes, things that might be commonplace back home seem to be completely missing from the 24-hour commerce fest that is Tokyo. Here’s a list of things you might need but can’t find, and most important, where to find them.
#1 I really need to Instagram this picture of a dog on a skateboard but I can’t find free Wi-Fi anywhere.
The image of Japan as a futuristic state governed by robots is actually quite different from the reality where Soviet era fax machines are still de rigueur, so finding a place with free Wi-Fi can be a challenge. Starbucks and McDonalds both offer it but you have to sign-up beforehand to get a username and password, a process that, er, needs the internet.
Tokyo metro is now here to meet your social media needs – just go to a marked area and sign up to the metro free Wi-Fi service. It lasts 15 minutes but you can sign on as many times as you like.
#2 I have abnormally large elbows but this café table is too small for me to fit them on.
A lot of cafe tables in Japan seem to be built for tiny-elbowed gremlins but there are places where you can bask in the luxurious spaciousness like Mojo in Kagurazaka, the Tower Records Café on the 2F in Shibuya, or if you’re a Danish designer with a ponytail, the Creative Lounge MOV in the Hikarie building where you can rent large work desks.
#3 I’ve commandeered three tiny tables in this café for my coffee, elbows and laptop but there’s no place for me to plug it in.
Snooping around the room, lifting up people’s shopping bags and crawling on your hands and knees probably isn’t a socially acceptable look but finding a plug socket can require some serious investigative skills. Some McDonald’s restaurants have plug sockets, and I’ve seen one Excelsior café that had them at the counter seats. Sometimes, though, it’s a case of unplugging the air conditioner and hoping no one notices.
#4 I got sweaty from the plug socket investigation so I bought Japanese deodorant but it was about as effective as rubbing kraft cheese under my armpits.
Two words: Cost Co (or is that one word?). You can also order home brands online via Amazon Japan or do what many expats do and ask your friends to send you the stuff in bulk from home. SurvivinginJapan has a great blog post on this sweaty conundrum.
#5 I spent all my money on deodorant, it’s 11pm and slapping my card against the ATM won’t work.
Arbitrary opening hours, ATMs only in your prefecture; if you run out of cash in Japan you’ve entered into a game of banking roulette which may or may not end with you having enough money to get home. Shinsei bank have 24 hour ATMs and their cash card can be used in most, if not all, ATMs. They also provide internet banking in English and you don’t even have to enter a branch to open an account as it can all be done by post.
#6 I sold my shoes for money and now I need a new pair.
If you have bigger than average feet, having to shove your toes into ‘model’ (calling it that doesn’t make it any better) size instruments of torture isn’t ideal so if you’re really in a pinch (gettit?!) the best place to look is at a second hand store – there are plenty in Harajuku, or one of the big overseas brands like H&M or Forever21. You can also order online from stores like 912Shop that specialize in larger sized shoes.
#7 I’ve had a stressful day searching for stuff and need painkillers.
The one time I bought painkillers in Japan I felt like I was chewing on little bits of chalk until I had to resort to putting my head in the fridge at intervals to make the pain go away. You can find regular ibuprofen in drug stores (try Matsumoto Kiyoshi, Kokumin or Sundrug) and you’re also allowed to have Advil sent over. Other products, like Codeine, are only allowed in Japan with a prescription – check the enthralling Ministry of Health page for more information.
What do you need but can’t find in Tokyo? Do you know where to find it? Comment below!