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Guide to Entering and Surviving Japan and Tokyo

When I arrived in Japan eight years ago, I was an idiot. I still am, but I've become a slightly more sophisticated idiot, which means I tend to make more complicated mistakes.

Let me explain that: I know how to use an ATM, but I still manage to forget my Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ internet banking password, and then I have to go to the bank, provide fingerprints, a DNA monster and a sworn affidavit from Sadakazu Tanigaki¹ that I may be a criminal from Africa, but I'm relatively harmless. NB relatively.

Anyway, when I arrived in Tokyo for the first time, I confidently assured The Hero that he wouldn't have to fetch me at the airport, since I was a seasoned war zones traveler. It should be added that he was a salaryman at the time, and the end of the universe itself is no excuse for a salaryman to neglect his work duties.

I caught the Narita Express to Tokyo Station, and then … I lost it. "It" being myself, my self-assurance, my independence, my sense of direction. Tokyo Station was a labyrinth, and the flood of humanity overwhelmed me. I pulled my suitcase into a corner, sat on it and stared. I was petrified. It took me an hour to get out of the station.

That station isn't a war zone! It's Cocytos!²

What I should have had, but didn't, because he was a newbie himself at that time, was Hinomaple's e-book Guide to Entering and Surviving Japan and Tokyo.

You should get that book if you ever travel to Japan. Heck, get it even if you live here. You're guaranteed to discover a few new things.

Now, before I continue: Dru, who manages Hinomaple, is a friend, so this review isn't neutral; as a matter of fact, I was biased against him when I started reading his book. When I review a friend's work, I tend to be more critical, since friends have a moral duty to tell you to stop acting like a jackass.

Dru, however, is not a jackass. He does have a strange interest in F1 cars, but that's another story for another day. He knows Tokyo well enough to arrange guided tours, he's familiar with its unfamiliar but fascinating places, and he knows the tricks of the trade.

Added bonus: he loves the shitamachi and has an encyclopedic insight into sake bars.

This isn't Dru's photo and it doesn't come from his book, but I don't know
how to copy photos from PDF files. It's an arbitrary photo of Sensō-ji.

His e-book does what printed guidebooks don't do: it provides with photos very clear, very logical, very simple guidelines about all those things that bedevil a tourist's daily life: how do I buy a train ticket, what do I do with taxis with self-opening doors and drivers who can't speak English, how do I open a coin locker?! (I didn't know how. Did you?)

Other useful tips about things that sound arbitrary but baffled me when I arrived: 
  • You need to return your own dirty dishes in many restaurants; waiters don't collect them.
  • Women, don’t forget to tie up your hair before you enter an onsen. (Dru, what were you doing in the women's onsen?)
  • This is what every single button on Japan's Space Station toilets actually do. Illustrations! Push this button and Noah's flood will ensue. Is there one tourist in Japan who has NOT pushed the wrong button at least once, with excruciatingly embarrassing consequences?
  • Wi-Fi is scarce! Tip: Starbucks has free Wi-Fi and you can sign up prior to your arrival at the following link:

See? You get real information that actually really helps you, as opposed to a guidebook that tells you the Japanese phrase for booking a hotel room with two extra camp beds for you dogs and a cute yukata for your cat.

Another arbitrary roof. Ru loves roofs.

I don't know who did the book's layout – I don't think Dru's talents stretch that far – but kudos to whoever did it. It's just like the text: clean, simple, logical, easy to understand, enough white space.

Despite my scepticism about e-books, I think an e-book is perfect for tourists. You don't have to lug along a heavy book that’s inevitably outdated, and our mobile phones have become our fifth limb, so … it works.

I received my copy about 10 minutes after I ordered it online, but that could've been because Dru knows I have an AK-47. You may have to wait 11 minutes.

Congratulations, Dru! You done good.

If you want to read more about this book and how to order it, follow this link.

A captive audience!

1) He's Japan's Minister of Justice.
2) Cocytus is the ninth and lowest circle of the Underworld in Inferno, the first cantica of Dante's Divine Comedy.

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