Not many stores accept credit cards - I found nearly every store I shopped in accepted credit cards. The only places that didn't were small eateries. Having said that, just remember that you will be charged a fee by your bank for purchasing in a foreign currency. Take some cash as well of course. If you live in Australia, you will get a better exchange rate at home before you leave.
Tokyo is an expensive city - I did not think Tokyo was expensive at all. Most things were comparable to Australian prices, but many things were cheaper as well. Eating out is really cheap. We ate at cafes for breakfast, as hotel meals are always expensive. Eateries are everywhere, so you will never go hungry. Also, you can always buys snacks at vending machines. Convenience stores are plentiful too, and they sell some quite nice food, such as sushi and some lovely desserts. I found a nice meal dinning out was actually cheaper compared to Australia.
Magazines and books are cheap. I love Japanese magazines, but to buy online costs 3 times as much. Some women's magazines only cost 650 yen and they usually come with a very nice free gift, such as a bag or cosmetics.
The cost of clothes varies, but expect to pay the same as Australian fashion stores. Uniqlo and Gap had fashion for all the family at inexpensive prices. We bought alot of clothes there. Quality makeup like Shiseido costs alot less than here, and there are many unique Japanese cosmetic brands you will have never seen before. The range of cosmetics is enormous.
Beautiful Japanese fabric is also inexpensive, and the range is so much more than on the internet. Beads, especially Swarovski crystals were very reasonable, and the variety was mind boggling. Beautiful Japanese paper was also very cheap. Craft items were cheaper and much nicer than in Australia. I bought alot of craft items!
Transport is very cheap if you use the railways. Train services are extensive, and trains come every 4 minutes on some lines. We never had to use a taxi, as the train system was so fantastic to use. Peak hour was the same as Australia. We caught a bus from Narita Airport directly to our hotel.
Our hotel, the Tokyu Excel in Shibuya was very reasonable, considering it was only metres from the famous Shibuya crossing and right next to the Shibuya train station. Our room was quite spacious for a family of 4. Search on the net to compare prices on different booking websites. We used Hotel Travel.com There are lots of cheap accommodation options, if you need to economise though.
Then there are always the 100 yen stores, where a bargin can always be found.
My husband bought a cymbal for his drum kit, and it was maybe half the price compared to Australia. Musos will definitely love Tokyo.
And don't forget the impeccable service you will receive in shops and eateries. You can't put a price on that!
It is difficult to use the train system.
We found it quite easy to navigate the train system. It does pay to do some research on the net before hand. Google your destination on maps, and locate the nearest train station. Then Google the station and you should be able to find which line it is on. There are many different lines and several different train companies, but all signs are in English also, and each train line is colour coded. The most common line in Tokyo is the Yamanote line, which is colour coded green. To purchase a ticket, simply use a ticket machine, which is also in English. It has a touch screen, so select how many passengers, and whether they are adults or children. If you don't know how much the fare is to your destination, just purchase the cheapest ticket, and this will get you through the gate and onto the train. When you reach your destination station, find a fare adjustment machine and insert your ticket. The machine will tell you whether you need to add any more money to top up your ticket so that you can exit the station. Really, once you have used the railways once, you will have the hang of it straight away.
And of course, the Japanese railway system runs like clockwork. It can be crowded at peak hour, but no more so than Sydney or Melbourne. And all the passengers alight and disembark in a very orderly fashion. Any by the way, the train stations have some fabulous shopping too!
The Japanese eat mainly sushi.
The Japanese do love their sushi, but they also love many other cuisines. The variety of food is enormous. There are lots of French patisseries and bakeries, with so many delectable offerings and good coffee. You can always get sanwiches and rolls if you are travelling with children. There are lots of chainstore cafes such as Starbucks and Excellsior. There are lots of yummy noodle and rice eateries, which are very economical. The Tokyu Food Show in the basement of the Tokyu Department store which we frequented, had stalls of every type of food ever invented. Lots of Japanese, but other Asian food as well. There were also stalls selling roasted vegetables and yakatori. The depachika food basements in department stores are fantastic. You can buy your meal and then take it back to your hotel and relax. Convenience stores such as 7 Eleven, sell reasonable food, and we usually bought a dessert there each night. Vending machines are literally everywhere, so you can always get a snack or drink on the run. Then there is always McDonalds and KFC if you are desperate, but why would you eat there when there are so many other tantalising options? Really, there were eateries and take aways everywhere. Most food places stay open until 10 or 11pm, but usually only accept cash. YUM YUM YUM
It is difficult to find international ATMs
This is also untrue. International ATMs can be found at: Citibank, 7 Eleven and post offices.
Once again, do some research on the internet, and get addresses and maps of these ATMs and take the print outs with you. I did a print out of each town I planned to visit. Every town has at least one of these. Just remember you will be charged a fee to withdraw cash in a foreign currency.
Your mobile phone won't work in Japan.
I can only speak for my particular mobile phone, but I had no problems using my Australian phone. I am with Telstra 3G with international roaming. The only thing to remember is the prefixes. To call my husband in Japan on his Australian mobile, I needed to add the prefix +61 and then drop the first digit of his phone number. Or, I could also add the prefix 001161 and then his phone number as normal. The 61 prefix denotes an Australian phone number, even though the phone was being used in Japan. To call home to Australia, I could use the same prefixes. We just put our international phone number directly into our address books to avoid confusion. So you do not need to rent a Japanese phone at all.
FACTS AND REALITIES THROUGH THE EYES OF A TOURIST
Not many Japanese speak English. I found this to be true. Do a little research before you leave, and write down translations for common phrases that you would use, such as "Good Morning", "Thank you", "How much does this cost?" (I used that one alot!)
I had 3 pages of common phrases, and I had never spoken Japanese in my life, but everyone seemed to understand me. I also took a little phrase book and this was quite useful, as I could then just point to phrases and not have to speak them. You would be surprised at how fast you can pick up a language in just a week, but when English is not spoken, then you have to learn fast. Not many signs are in English either, so I printed out all of my desired destinations, and if I got lost, I could then show the print out to ask for directions. Japanese are very helpful, and will go out of their way to get you to your destination. Also, it's alot of fun to learn another language, and it's amazing how far hand guestures can get you. We are all from the same global village after all.
Japanese people are all polite. This is definitely true. I never once encountered bad service or rude people. The Japanese have impecable manners and everything is done with a certain etiquette. You will experience the same high service at a high end store or a 7 Eleven. Meeting such beautiful people was definitely the highlight of my trip.
Japanese love to wrap things. I have to say, that the Japanese aren't exactly ecologically conscious when it comes to shopping. No one seemed to use the ugly old green supermarket bags as we do in Australia. Every purchase, whether it be cheap or expensive, is wrapped to perfection in beautiful paper with stickers and then usually placed in an expensive cardboard bag with more stickers. I didn't like to say not to wrap my purchases, as the shop assistants did it with such care and pride. Many many of my purchases were gifts, so it saved me the effort. And I also kept most of the beautiful bags to reuse as gift bags, as they were too nice to throw out. Our purchases from Peach John lingerie store were wrapped in tissue paper with stickers, then placed in a lovely carrier bag with a fragrant peach scented sachet! Wow! One purchase of some cakes to take back to the hotel, were placed in a cardboard box with an ice pack, then wrapped in plastic before being placed in a carrier bag. They just think of everything. So keep your shopping bags as nice souvenirs or reuse them.