So you’re going to TGS? Good for you! It’s really fun! In fact, it’s so fun and hectic you forget to do things like eat or go to the bathroom (I knew I had forgot something when I finally got home at 11 p.m. that one night). If it’s your first time going to TGS, chances are you’re already involved in the industry. So you probably already have some game-related contacts. But if you're like me, the lone writer from a not-so-sizeable Internet publication, that might not be the case.
Unless you’re from a large media outlet, chances are that at least part of the funding for your trip is coming out of your own pocket. For me, this meant the cheaper my travel arrangements, the better. I had the advantage of already being in Japan from a study abroad trip, so all I had to do was purchase my shinkansen (Japan’s super-speedy bullet train) ticket from Nagoya to Tokyo. That alone is a 2-3 hour trip depending on which shinkansen you take. I signed up for the “Puratto Kodama Economy Plan” (http://www.jrtours.co.jp/kodama/nagoya.html), which puts you on the slowest shinkansen for a discounted price. However, this is only slow because it makes stops at *all* stations on the route, not because the train’s actual speed is slower. You can get first class for $90 (one-way), and that’s quite a deal.
Unfortunately, I have no advice on plane tickets aside from make sure you get a flight with as few connections as possible and avoid the suspiciously cheap fares you might find on the web. Having fewer connections helps eliminate the possibility of missing a flight or having a flight cancelled, and that will ensure you get there on time. And although I’m typically as frugal as they come with travel arrangements (I’m not kidding, I would probably camp out somewhere if that were an option), the $800 flights you might come across online should be avoided. They tend to be unreliable, and if you’re making a big jump to Japan, you really need reliability. A $1,000 one-way ticket to Japan was about right.
Obviously, that’s how you get there. It’s a whole different ball game when you actually get there, of course. Tokyo has a lot of really cool areas to hang out in. A lot of the publications I talked to were either staying in the hotel by Makuhari Messe, TGS’s venue, or Shibuya, a trendy, younger area filled with shops and bars and all kinds of nightlife fun (yes, this is the Shibuya featured in The World Ends With You and everything down to the Mayoi/Moai statue exists). However, the fun and interesting tourist areas are all at least an hour away from Makuhari Messe by train, and train/subway is the only way to travel in Tokyo. So if you’re okay with leaving an hour-and-a-half before you actually want to be at TGS (I give an hour for travel and about 30 minutes for getting lost and confused, which will happen if you’ve never been to Tokyo before), I would opt for a place in an area of Tokyo you would like to be able hang out in. Though it’s possible things will be so hectic you won’t even get to see much of anything else until the public days.
I opted for a place that was closer to Makuhari Messe, or rather Kahim-Makuhari station, which is the station closest to Makuhari Messe (don’t confuse this with Makuhari station; Kahim-Makuhari station is definitely the one you want). My ryokan was only a 30 minute ride by train and it worked out well. A long train ride isn’t bad because it gives you time to collect your thoughts and plan your day, provided you can keep track of your thoughts while sardined in with the morning commute. Watch out for—or at the very least be prepared for—commuting hours because the trains are packed wall-to-wall with people. Mass transportation at its finest. The first time I got on the over-crowded evening trains, I was sure I had packed myself as far and as snugly into the crowd as I could, but then a wall of Japanese wedged me further and further into the train, shoving me onto other passenger. However, if you get lost at the station, there are Japanese who will take time out of their busy schedule to help you find your way, as well as helpful station employees.
Now, before you start looking for lodgings, it’s easiest if you decide what type of lodgings you want. That way, you’re looking at a narrower selection, because there are a lot of places to stay in Tokyo. But no matter where you stay, make sure your place is at most five minutes walking distance within a train or subway station. Any longer of a walk gets tedious, especially if you’re hauling luggage or trying to get somewhere quickly. Try staying close to central Tokyo. There’s a train line called the Yamanote Line that makes a big circle around central Tokyo and it can take you anywhere in the area in a very timely manner. Another side note; most of the trains stop running at midnight, so make sure you’re either home or near home by then because taxis are incredibly expensive. It’s about $7 just to get in one and then the meter skyrockets from there.
There are three types of lodgings I considered:
Hotel: The lowest price for a hotel is usually around $80/night. Also, Japanese hotels charge per person, rather than per room. So if you find a room for $80, that means it’s $80 per night for one person. The charge is usually close to double if you want to have an additional person to stay in the room. This is also typically true at ryokans and sometimes hostels, but just make sure you check the fine print and look closely at how the hotel will be charging you the rate they’re advertising. I ruled hotels out quickly because the average $100-$120/night was too much for a mere ryuugakusei (foreign exchange student).
Ryokan: A ryokan is a Japanese-style hotel. The ryokan’s website will usually tell you exactly how much “Japanese-style” the ryokan has, like if they are “public” or Japanese-style baths, or Japanese-style toilets, or Japanese-style rooms or bedding. If the idea of a public bath (public is usually limited to the people staying at the ryokan) or Japanese-style toilet (porcelain hole in the ground) freaks you out, I wouldn’t recommend the ryokan. But they’re typically cheaper than hotels and the room I had at my ryokan was surprisingly spacious, especially for Tokyo where space is a hot commodity. My ryokan was $60/night and I noticed that was a pretty typical price. It should be noted that most ryokans and hostels will only accept cash as payment, so make sure you plan accordingly for that. I love the Japanese bedding they provide in ryokans (and often in the hostels, too). The futon mattress they provide is really comfortable and I’m finding that I’m wanting more and more to take these Japanese comforters back with me to the States. Don’t be surprised if you get a bean pillow though. Some people love them (me!); some people hate them. These pillows are filled with hollowed out beans, and way firmer than anything in America. Bean pillows actually feel like rocks, but they’re very easy to mold to fit your head…so they’re like comfy rocks (or something). Also, you’ll be expected to take off your shoes and wear a pair of the guest shoes around the ryokan in typical Japanese fashion.
Hostel: Add an “s” to hotel and you get about half the price and a quarter of the personal space you usually would. But, contrary to what EuroTrip might have you think, hostels aren’t bad. In fact, I met a German games magazine writer at the hostel I stayed at on my first night in Tokyo, and saw him a few times throughout TGS. Anyway, some hostels do offer single rooms, but the majority of them are dormitory-style, so make sure you’re comfortable with sharing a room with strangers. Hostels provide you with a small locker to store your valuables. Like ryokans, a lot of the amenities can be Japanese-style, so make sure you research the place a bit before you book it. The hostels I stayed at, the Hotel Sumidagawa and Ace Inn Shinjuku (I really recommend the Ace Inn as far as location; literally a minute away from a very convenient subway station), were cleanly and the staff was very friendly. Hostels will let you keep your luggage at the hostel before or after you check in and out for a bit, but they’ll request you take your valuables with you (so they’re not liable if someone steals your stuff). Hostels are usually about $30-$40/night, which is very reasonable, especially because that’s not much more expensive than a capsule hotel and gives you considerably more space.
Obviously, these aren’t the only places to sleep in Japan, you can also check out a…
Capsule hotel: Not recommended for a stint like TGS. There’s even less space to keep your stuff and very few capsule hotels even allow women to stay there (because there’s usually a public bath at the capsule hotel). Plus you have to sleep in a box.
A friend’s house: This is a great time to have a trustworthy friend in Tokyo!
This is a good link for looking for lodgings in Japan:
Japan National Tourist Organization: http://www.jnto.go.jp/a-search/search/search_form.php
Awesome. Now you know how you’re getting there and where you’re staying. Another very important piece of advice is to print out a *COLOR* version of the Tokyo rail map. The color version is much more legible and helpful than grayscale, especially when you’re trying to figure out where the orange line you need to transfer to is. Also, look at your train routes ahead of time so you know how much time it’ll take you to get to your next destination and what stations you need to get on, off or transfer at. This website is possibly the most-handy tool for planning your train routes, the Train Route Finder by Jorudan Co., Ltd: http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/
And, congratulations, by now you should have most or all of your arrangements figured out.