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GGF17 10-12 May, 2006 in Tokyo Japan

Getting Around

General Directions:

by Satoshi Matsuoka,@ Tokyo Inst. Technology/NII

When you arrive at the NARITA airport, NEVER TAKE A TAXI, as it will cost over $200 US. The definitive way to get to Tokyo - Yuurakucho - Shinbashi area is to use the JR Narita Express, and get off at Tokyo Station, and then taka a local train, a taxi, or simply walk. I also recommend NOT to take a shuttle bus, since NARITA express is much more convenience and wont get you stuck in the rushhour traffic.

As it was in my older guide, Narita Express is one of the two train company lines (JR and Keisei co.) that leave adjacent to each other from the underground stations at the Narita airport, both Terminals 1 and 2. The other line is Keisei Skyliner, which is cheaper and will make more sense if you are going to North of Tokyo, but not in this cae. There are various local, non-express trains that are much cheaper but unless you have been to Japan several times and know the Tokyo geography let's leave them out unless you are adventurous.

The first stop for the Narita Express is Tokyo Station, about a 50-55 minute ride. It arrives at the underground platform of Tokyo Station, 4 levels deep (very deep). BTW, most of the trains at Tokyo St., including the Shinkansen, leave from above ground-level platforms, so in most cases you have to find your way up to make your connection.

For details see: Narita express arrives at the Sobu line platforms shown at the bottom.

For JR train maps

Once you get off, if you are staying at Yaesu Fujiya, find your way towards the surface and walk to the hotel (outside of the top Yaesu Central Exit). It will be a fairly long walk from the platform (about 15-20 min), but you cant shortcut it much with a taxi since you will be making your way cutting through a huge station, and getting to a taxi stand is already a 5-10 min walk unless you know your way.

If you are staying near Yuurakucho/Ginza, take the option 2 below.

If you are staying near Shinbashi/Shiodome, there are two options:

Option 1 (recommended). The Southbound JR Yokosuka line leaves from the same level as the Narita express, and it's next stop is Shinbashi. One caveat is that there are two platforms / 4 tracks, and sometimes it leaves from a track on the other one so you have to climb up one level and come down again. This is a good strategy in any case since the # of lines of display on signboard on the platform is fairly limited, whereas if you go up one level there is a more comprehensive one. Or, you can ask a station master walking around in their uniforms.

At Shinbashi a few minutes later you will again arrive at a similar underground platform. Go up the escalators, and find your way towards Shiodome; there will be bunch of signs there. If it is not raining it may be easier to head to the surface and look for a Skyscraper cluster and what seemingly is an elevator walkway leading to them. Also, you could stick to the underground corridor which also is fairly easy as there will be lots of maps once you get to the corridors.

Option 2. From the Narita Express platform climb up a series of escalators to arrive at one of the three main concourses. The Southbound Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku lines are platforms 5 and 6 (towards Shinagawa). It will take about 5 mins to reach there. Hop on either of them and the next stop about 800meter away is Yuurakucho, and Shinbashi is a stop after that. During midday around 10:00-15:00 Keihin Tohoku becomes an express and will not stop at Yuurakucho or Shinbashi. Look at the electronic signboard and also the side marking on the train and if it has the red express mark dont ride on that. In case you end up in Hamamatsucho I have already outlined below for Villa Fontaine.

At Shinbashi, if you are heading towards Shiodome, there are two staircases. Climb down the staircase with a train connection sign to pink (Asakusa-line) subway and Yuri-Kamome (Skytrain) and Shiodome. If you see an orange (Ginza line) it is the wrong one. Again, if it is not raining, it may be easier to stay above ground by re-climing the escalators to the Yuri-Kamome (skytrain) corridors then going underground and possibly losing the sense of your directions (although there are lots of signs, and huge number of people walking around so you could ask).

For Dai-ichi Hotel the situation is opposite. It is fairly a short walk from the Shinbashi station thru a busy shopping/nightlife district, which will seem like a different world c.f. Shiodome which is clean and futuristic.

Japan Cellular Phone Survival Guide for Foreign Visitors

by Satoshi Matsuoka,@ Tokyo Inst. Technology/NII May 4, 2006

1. Preface

The agonizing days of cellular phone isolation for Japan are now over. With the 3G W-CDMA (UMTS GSM2) technology developed by the Japanese mega-carrier NTT Docomo having to become successor to the global GSM (2G) service, it is now possible to roam in Japan if you have a 3G phone. Even if you don’t, you could just buy or rent a 3G handset at the airport, and stick in your personal SIM card, and you get your familiar voice and SMS services; simple, right? Well maybe not so, because the roaming charges could be outrageous beyond anyone’s imagination, and/or if you are a cellular user in the US, you may not own a SIM-based phone. Moreover, some of the tricks that people use w.r.t. preparid SIM cards may not work in Japan. OTOH, there are alternative tricks that will make your cellular life extremely cost-effective, nearly or sometimes even beyond your home cellular bills. Given several such boundary conditions, getting the best deal in using a cellular phone for foreign visitors still remains a little tricky with various choices. Here are some of the latest info assembled, with various help from friends such as Phil Papadopoulos @ San Diego Supercomputing Center, and Charlie Catlett @ Argonne National Labs. So, if you are one of the lucky few who have unlimited phone accounts paid by your institution, already own a 3G handset, and your friends don’t care about their phone bills either because either they are very rich or they always call you from work, you need not read on. However, if you don’t qualify in the above arena, this document may be of a little help.

2. General Knowledge of the Japanese Cellular Phone System

Japan currently has 3 major cellular phone carriers: NTT Docomo, AU, and Vodafone (which just got bought out by a new venture IT conglomerate Softbank) So. There are smaller carriers such as Willcom that uses a totally different small-cell technology, but they are only relevant for a small set of friends in Taiwan and Thailand, so they will not be covered here. All the carriers now heavily sport 3G technology as their mainline service, while the 2G services that had been secluded Japan from other international standards in the case of NTT Docomo and Vodafone, are practically gone, except to support legacy users. The plethora of services as well as the capabilities offered by the phone are still leading the world, although countries such as Korea are catching up pretty fast. Now, there are two types of 3G services being offered, W-CDMA UMTS (GSM2) and CDMA 2000 1x . The former is being offered by NTT Docomo and Vodafone, while the latter by another carrier AU which is a subsidiary of KDDI. The two systems are not compatible (of course you could phone across them). To roam in Japan, you need a 3G handset of either type, plus roaming agreement between your carrier and the corresponding carrier in Japan. The easiest way is of course to check with your carrier, typically on a web page. It will also list the roaming charge. If you don’t own such a terminal, you will have to rent a SIM-unlocked 3G handset, typically when you arrive at an airport in Japan (Japanese 2G handsets did not support SIM cards). Another option of course is to rent a Japanese cellular phone at the airport, 2G or 3G. This may be sometimes advantageous, because roaming charges could be quite outrageous, and also for all Japanese phones, all incoming calls are free, domestic or international. The latter allows for interesting combinations of tactics to possibly really lower your cellular phone bill while in Japan, especially when you make frequent trips here.. It has its demerits, however, as will also be described. Below is another good link FYI. It is a little outdated (e.g., NDD Docomo now sells 5 models that are dual W-CDMA / GSM handsets. Also, the reception of UMTS on the NTT Docomo network seems to have improved with the new FOMA network.

3. The Ultimate Selection: To Roam or Not to Roam

Aside from having a 3G handset or not, if you roam you will pay the roaming charge. The trouble is that roaming charges could be very expensive. For example, with the US operator Cingular (AT&T Wireless), the roaming charge is pretty outrageous at $2.25/min, send or receive. By subscribing to “Cingular World Traveler” at $5.99/month, you could lower it to $1.69/min, but still pretty expensive. This is somewhat higher than the roaming charge in Europe, e.g. Germany, at $1.25 and $0.99 respectively (still very expensive tho). You will want to check with your local carrier, but as a general principle roaming of any form is expensive. Some people use alternative, prepaid SIM cards to lower the cost. This strategy does not really work in Japan, as 1) There are no prepaid SIM cards (only prepaid phones), and foreign “great deal” prepaid SIM cards from countries such as Estonia (being sold at sites like will likely not work in Japan due to lack of carrier roaming agreements. Another option is to actually rent a Japanese phone with a domestic Japanese number. The call rates are typically 80-100 yens/minute for domestic, and 250-300 yens for overseas. Moreover, as mentioned above incoming calls are free, i.e., only the caller pays. Thus, if you have a international calling card with an access number in Japan, the overall average charge could be substantially lower than that of roaming. Yet another similar strategy if you frequent Japan is to buy a prepaid cellular phone, and employ a similar strategy. You don’t have to pay the daily rental fee, the call rates (especially foreign outgoing ones) are lower, and you may obtain more services such as email/SMS depending on the carrier. SMS is not exactly supported, but currently the Vodafone’s “Short Mail” service is seemingly interoperable with SMS, and as a last resort “Long Mail” service is Internet Mail capable. AU does not offer inter-carrier email service. Non-carrier rental services will depend on the company. Another advantage of Vodafone rental is that you can precharge your phone online, while AU you cannot, and have to obtain a charge card from an AU shop or at a convenience store. One note is that, all rental handsets you could get at the airport will be English-capable, but some prepaid ones (or the monthly contract phones below) may not be. Check on the web page or ask the local store to make sure that yours will support the “English mode”. Confusing as there is simply too much variety? Well, here is an algorithm to select the best choice for you, as shown in Figure 1 below. BTW, comments based on your experiences are most welcome here.

4. Techniques to lower your cost

As mentioned, “cheap” prepaid SIM cards do not seem to work here in Japan. If you frequently come to Japan, then it may be worthwhile just to get a Japanese phone contract. Some handsets go for 1 yen (+3000 yen activation charge), and monthly basic charge may be low as 3000 yens or so. Technically you need an official Japanese ID with an address in Japan but mentions that some small independent shops that are abundant by the zillions in the Akihabara-Yurakucho area may sell you one with your passport only (large electronics shops such as Bic Camera in front of TIF will likely not). Monthly charges can be paid with a credit card. An alternative is to have a friend or a affiliate that will obtain the phone locally in Japan on your behalf. The benefit of this plan is that you get the FULL advanced 3G services offered here on the latest handsets, such as digital TV broadcast, music downloads, 3 million pixel cameras, GPS pedestrian and automobile navigation, full web browsing, etc. Another strategy in non-roaming situation was suggested by Phil Papadopolous to combine Skype callin and call forwarding with a Japanese phone to significantly reduce the overall cost. To summarize Phil’s messages:
I'm trying something right now (set up this morning) -- Skype-in +forwarding to a regular phone. My skype-in number is (Phil’s US Skypein Phone #). This gets forwarded right now to my domestic cell (Phil’s US Cellular #) at 1.7 cents/minute. If you rent a Japanese phone at Narita (or if you get a prepaid Japanese phone), you can set up Skype to forward to that number. Once I forward to my Japanese Cell phone, folks can call my Skype-in number and get forwarded to me fairly inexpensively. The overall rates will be: outgoing on AU: 100 Yens/Minute (about 90 cents at today's exchange---note with AU prepaid domestic and international outgoing calls cost the same, while with rentals you may want to use your calling card), while incoming is free. Hence when somebody calls you via forwarding from Skype you personally pay the skype-out rate to a Japanese mobile phone which is .12 Euro/min (about 15 cents/min), while the folks calling you will pay the long distance domestic charge to your Skypein number. I don't think there is a cheaper way to call a Japanese Cell phone from the US, and you don’t have to give out the changed Japanese number every time :-).
Notice this does not work well for roaming as incoming calls are not free and in fact could be as expensive as the outgoing.

// Algorithm for deciding to Roam or Rent

If you have a contract with a SIM card 

Procedure Decide_roam()
	family_charge = international_calling_charge(your country, Japan)
	roam_charge = roam_send_charge(your carrier, Japan)
+ roam_recv_charge(your carrier, Japan)
+ family_charge
	If NOT (you own a 3G handset)
roam_charge = roam_charge + 3G rental_charge
	rental_charge = Japanese_handset_rental_charge
		+ domestic_rental_send_charge  //receive is free
		+ intl_calling_card_charge //incl. access charge
+ family_charge
	prepaid_charge = Japanese_prepaid_handset_charge
		+ domestic_prepaid_send_charge //receive is free
		+ intl_calling_card_charge  //incl. access charge
+ family_charge

If you absolutely need to be contact contacted via your phone number
		Then Roam();
Else If your business is paying for the roam charge
and family_charge is small thus roam_charge < tolerance
Then Roam();
Else If you expect infrequent calls and thus roam_charge < tolerance
	Then Roam();
Else If roam_charge < rental_charge
	Then Roam();
Else if prepaid_charge comparable to rental_charge 
and you frequently come to Japan
Then Get_Japanese_Prepaid_Phone();
End Procedure;

Figure 1: Algorithm for deciding whether to roam or rent a phone in Japan

Places to eat

by Satoshi Matsuoka,@ Tokyo Inst. Technology/NII

There are zillions of restaurants to eat around the Ginza/Yurakucho/Shibashi/Shiodome area.

has a fairly good guide, including around TIF and Shiodome.

TIF has so many good and quick restaurants around esp. for lunch, I suggest people go outside to dine.

Shiodome info below

For folks staying @ Villa Fontaine looking for inexpensive dining, Pedi Shiodome 2nd floor (next building), Caretta Shiodome B2F, as well as Shiodome Center building B1F, 1F, and 2F offer a variety of food courts and restaurants. If you dont drink alcohol expect budget of 1000-1500 yen for a reasonable dinner. If you want to venture to the west side of Shibashi station then there are zillions of small down-to-earth Japanese food places, also applicable to folks staying in the Shinbashi area.

If you really want to go really economical, but want to dine Japanese, visit the Oo-toya restaurant on the 2nd floor of the Pedi Shiodome building. There you could get a whole dinner menu for 700 yens or so, in a pleasant atmosphere. Many of the office workers dine there and is very clean. I sometimes take my family there when we need to dine quickly. Another recommendation is Katsukura @ B2F of Caretta, where they serve good Japanese-style pork cutlette dish for less than 1000 yens. There are also other very good ones. Most economical restaurants have menu pictures and/or samples outside, so you could wander around and pick & choose easily. If they dont then chances are they are expensive.

If you want to go upscale, climb to the top floor restaurants of any of the skyscrapers. The food and the view would be superb; expect 1000-2000 for lunch deals, but 5000-10,000 yens for dinner. I frequent the Caretta (the red turtle) building where my favorite Japanese noodle Kaiseki restaurant "Issa-an" is on the 46F, but others are also quite recommended.

Of course there are also convenience stores with good bento boxes for about 500 yens, as well as the McDonalds, Subways, and Stabucks. The last thing you could do is to starve in the general area.

Things to see and do

GPS Waypoints of Interest

by Charlie Catlett

(label, lat, lon, comment)

JP-VILLA, 35.6623, 139.7600, Hotel Villa Fontaine
JP-TIF, 35.6766, 139.7643, Tokyo International Forum
JP-TOKSTN, 35.6819, 139.7661, Tokyo Station
JP-NRT, 35.7642, 140.3851, Narita Airport Terminal 1

Do's and Don'ts


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