General Tokyo &
Maps & Guidebooks
Tokyo is hot in August. And humid. Oh, and it's really hot. Did I mention some humidity, too? With the convention now towards the end of August, it should be a bit better, but still, be warned. Any of you who have traveled in Asia in the summer will understand this; it's similar to some of the worst heat waves we have in the Eastern and Southern US in the summer.
The toughest part is just how relentless the heat can be there - it may not cool down much, even at night. If you are usually strongly affected by heat and/or humidity, be prepared. It is not uncommon to find yourself much more tired than usual, grumpier than usual, etc. Add some jetlag to that, and it's not a pretty picture. This means that you must be prepared to try and take care of yourself, physically - know when to say "no, I'm tired, I'm heading home," remember to drink a lot of fluids, and generally set your expectations a little lower than usual when planning activities.
On days when we have wandered around Tokyo on past trips, shopping and sightseeing, about the comfortable maximum was one activity in the morning (trek to one store; or go to a single area and wander around), followed by lunch, followed by one more activity, and then back to the hotel for a nap, a shower, and then dinner. The days we tried to do multiple stops in an afternoon resulted in a gaggle of really hot, sweaty and tired folk, and some pretty frayed tempers. If you're in exceedingly good shape, and have a high heat tolerance, then go for it. Me, I'm for the nap in the afternoon.)
It rains a moderate amount in August, so a small umbrella might not hurt. You may just want to buy one there, instead of bringing one along - Japanese umbrellas can be marvels of good workmanship, and clever design, often folding up into impossibly tiny packages.
Obviously, with the high heat and humidity, light and cool clothing is recommended. The Japanese are themselves fairly conservative dressers. Men usually wear slacks and shirts; the younger ones wear T-shirt and jeans, and shorts are becoming more common. Women wear skirts and blouses or slacks and blouses. Shorts should not be over 5" above knee, if considered. Scanty sleeveless blouses, tank tops, and midriff exposed tops are seldom seen. We've got a bit more leeway, being foreigners, but you'll avoid standing out too much if you dress a bit more conservatively than you might at a resort in the US.
I'd recommend clothing made with some of the modern, quick-dry fabrics. Look for pants made of Tencel, which dry very quickly, and are quite comfortable. Sporting goods stores also carry a variety of nylon and similar fabric cargo-pant style pants that are very comfortable. I also recommend any warm-weather clothing, especially shirts, made by Columbia (also carried by places like LL Bean, EMS and REI). They often make a kind of textured-weave hot weather fabric that not only keeps you cool, but doesn't show wrinkles, a major added bonus for travel clothing. Quick-dry fabrics also mean that you can hand-wash and drip dry stuff easily, and won't need to do major loads of laundry.
If you are the type that burns easily or are sensitive about getting a suntan you should probably bring some sort of protection for your head. The summer sun in Tokyo can be very hot and bright, so don't forget your sunglasses, too! Sunblock is probably a good idea for anyone really sun-sensitive, as well.
As for shoes: as with any trip where you expect to be trekking around a bit, you should have some comfortable, broken-in shoes. You will be expected to take your shoes off before entering a "private area" such as toilets (though not public toilets at, say a train station), your room, someone's house, etc. (Not necessary at the Tanteidan convention site.) Because you will be changing in and out of your shoes frequently on some days, I would suggest that you wear something that you can get in and out of easily. If it takes you a long time to tie your shoes, leave them home! Wearing sandals with socks is perfectly acceptable in Japan, many people do this. There may be some downpours so be prepared and carry a spare pair of socks if you're wearing sandals and the socks become heavily soiled during the day. Since people will be seeing your socks, generally, leave the ones with holes at home, too. Also, anywhere you'll be stepping on tatami mats, you should not even wear slippers, only socks or bare feet.
And some more detail about slippers, "toilet slippers" and stuff: at a Japanese inn or traditional restaurant, or any place with interior hallways and tatami-matted areas, etc., there will be hallway slippers, and special slippers that you are supposed to wear only in the toilets. (I am not making this up.) The drill, therefore, goes like this: when you go from outside of the building to inside (there is usually an area where you'll be taking a step up, and there will be tons of communal slippers for people to step into, a hint that you de-shoe here) you step out of your street shoes, and into the slippers. Slippers are then fine on wooden-floored areas, interior hallways, etc. Before you step onto a tatami mat, you should take off the hall slippers. When you leave the tatami area, you put the hall slippers back on. If you head to the restroom, at the door you step out of your hall slippers, and into the toilet slippers. When you leave the toilet, you step out of the toilet slippers, back into the hall slippers, and go from there. Sounds a bit intricate, but it's really quite consistent: there are "outside" or potentially dirty spaces (the toilet is included in this); inside, clean spaces; and tatami mats. Outside is fine for shoes (or toilet slippers); inside is slippers or socks; tatami are always socks or bare feet.
(An aside on my own theory of why these customs evolved, anyway: Japan was a heavily agrarian society for most of its history. The majority of the population was involved in agriculture, and lived outside of urban areas. Lacking large herds of domestic animals, and therefore a ready source of manure for enriching the fields, the Japanese used human manure as fertilizer, a not-uncommon practice throughout Asia. Also, the traditional Japanese toilet is a squat-toilet, evolved from a simple hole-in-the-ground style outhouse.
All this meant that everyone's feet were potentially really dirty, and not in a healthy way. Thus all outside footwear was confined to outside, and you were careful to get yourself clean before coming inside. And tatami mats, being woven of a kind of grass, are not that abrasion-resistant, so it makes sense to only have bare feet or socks when walking on them.
This left a residual feeling, even in modern Japan, that "outside stuff" is dirty and should be left there; feet are mildly suspect, and, in fact, you shouldn't sit so your feet are pointing at someone really obviously, and shoving the soles of your feet in someone's direction is a bit rude; and the whole slipper drill. Just a generation or so ago, even, you wouldn't even mention or talk about socks, much the way Westerners wouldn't talk about underwear.)
Tanteidan Guide Home
copyright 2014 Anne R. LaVin