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Meiji Temple, Tokyo

Things You Need to Know Before Travelling to Tokyo

by Tsvete Popp

This post is part of the series Japan

Other posts in this series:

  1. Must Visit Places in Tokyo for First Time Visitors
  2. Interesting Facts About Tokyo You Probably Didn’t Know ~ Japan
  3. Things You Need to Know Before Travelling to Tokyo (Current)

Planning your trip to Tokyo can be overwhelming and if it is not – you are probably not doing it right! Tokyo is such a huge city with a limitless variety of shopping, dining, and cultural sites to experience so it is a good idea to plan and book in advance! There are so many incredible things to do here that even some months won’t be enough to fully explore the city! There’s a lot of etiquettes you need to know too! Having said that – the first hours in Tokyo won’t feel like a holiday! Take your time and make your research if you want to enjoy and rock the city of Tokyo!

 

Tokyo Tower and Zojoji Temple

Tokyo Tower and Zojoji Temple

 

1. If you can fly into Haneda Airport instead to Narita Airport – do it! We were lucky to fly from Frankfurt to Haneda Airport but the chances to land at Narita International Airport when coming from another country are bigger!

 

The problem is that transportation to central Tokyo will take around 1.5 hours or more because Narita is in Chiba prefecture and not in Tokyo! On the other hand, Haneda airport is located only 30 km from downtown Tokyo and it only takes about 30 minutes by subway and will cost ca ¥ 600.

 

The Subway System in Tokyo is confusing

The Subway System in Tokyo is confusing

 

2. You don’t really need Japan Rail Pass if you visit primarily Tokyo! The JR Pass is only useful if you are doing some long-distance travel in Japan.

 

3. What you need instead is a SUICA card! Suica is the best prepaid card that allows the travel by train, subway, and bus not only in Tokyo but also around Japan. You can use your Suica for small purchases in convenience stores, vending machines, some small restaurants or for shopping at the Airport too!

 

Tokyo has the most extensive network of train and subway line so travelling around Tokyo with Suica is much easier than buying a single ticket each time! Believe me – buying a ticket from a ticket vending machine is not the easiest thing to do while there! Another tip: you can buy tickets or recharge your Suica only with cash! No credit or debit cards are accepted!

 

We bought our Suica card upon arrival at Haneda Airport. You have to pay a 500 yen deposit which you can get back when you are leaving Japan. Good to know is that you will get your deposit back only if you bring your Suica card to the same place where you bought it!

 

Suica Card

Suica Card

 

4. Choose (REALLY!) wisely where you want to stay! No matter what you do, stay near a metro station … And if you stay near a station of Oedo Line (the magenta line) you will be getting much faster around Tokyo! The Oedo line is the second-longest railway tunnel in Japan and the most crowded line in Tokyo, which is completely underground.

 

The best neighbourhoods to stay as a tourist in Tokyo are Shinjuku, Ginza, Shibuya and Asakusa. We chose to stay in Shinjuku in APA Hotel Higashi Shinjuku Kabukicho Nishi – a great starting point if you want to see a lot while in Tokyo!

 

 

5. In Japan you will need a lot of Internet for navigating, translating and booking online! Free wifi is not abundant in Japan, so consider purchasing a sim card. Buying a sim card is not that easy as in other countries I’ve been travelling to, but when you get the idea of it, everything works really fine!

 

So how it works: you have to pre-order your sim card before your arriving in Tokyo! You have to place an online order at least 3 days prior to your pick up or arrival date! I can totally recommend buying the Sacura Mobile Prepaid card – the pick up was uncomplicated and the network was always great! Sakura Mobile has pick-up available at Narita, Haneda and Kansai International Airport. You have to return your sim card before going back home!

 

Statue of Liberty, Tokyo

Statue of Liberty

 
Skyline in Toyko
 

6. Cash is the King! While Tokyo is probably one of the most modern cities in the world, the credit card is not widely accepted! You will need cash for anything you want to buy… Many larger stores or malls accept credit cards, but many smaller shops and restaurant still do not accept card payments. You cannot even buy a subway ticket if you don’t have some cash!

So, you always have to carry some cash with you no matter where you go in Japan!

 

Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

Must Visit Places in Tokyo for First Time Visitors

This post is part of the series Japan Other posts in this series: Must Visit…

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7. Finding some ATMs that accept foreign cards is not the easiest thing either … You can find currency exchanges at the airports and throughout the city. The best way anyway is to find an ATM that works! The best withdraws around Tokyo and Japan are these from 7-Eleven! They always worked well for us!

 
Going out at night in Tokyo
 

8. Tokyo is insanely expensive even for somebody that lives in one of the most expensive regions of Austria! Going out for dinner or having a simple lunch could easily cost about 70 € for two persons.  The good news is – there are a million convenience stores in Tokyo, and they all have surprisingly tasty stuff when it comes to food and drinks!

 

Sensoji Temple Tokyo

Sensoji Temple

 

9. Take some delicious food from the convenience store but take a seat when you eat it! Eating while walking is considered rude in Japan!

 

Akihabara in Tokyo

Akihabara in Tokyo

 

10. Another no-go in Tokyo is looking  (and smelling) like a backpacker from Southeast Asia! The Japanese dress up more than in most other cultures I’ve been travelling to. So it is a matter of respect to be clean and smell good while in Japan (and not only!).

 

Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

Sensoji Temple

 

11.  There are no trash cans on the streets of Tokyo. And with “no” I really mean NO trash cans! It is a good idea to have your own zipper storage bag for collecting your trash during the day and have it in your backpack till you find some trash cans (e.g. in convenience stores, train platforms, etc.).

 

 

12. Tokyo is much more than just the weird stuff like the Robot Show, Cat and Made Cafes, or everything that you will find in Harajuku district! There are plenty of Shrines, Temples, Museum and Historical places you can visit too!

 
Meiji Temple, Tokyo

13. If you are staying in a private apartment or house, bring an Omiyage with you! Omiyage is a small gift from your home country that can be a postcard, a candy, or a magnet. Gift-giving is the norm in Japan!

 

14. Be quiet on the train! Be always quiet! If you are travelling with somebody do not talk loud to each other. You should also avoid phone calls on the train!

 
Be always quiet while in Japan
 

15. Avoid Taxis … Except you want to spend a fortune on the ride! For example, a taxi from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyos could cost more than 150 €!

 

16. Sometimes, the best things are free! And Japan has many of them! A good example is the Metropolitan Government Building where you can enjoy some of the most spectacular panoramic views of Tokyo for free. Metropolitan Government Building (Tocho) was in a walkable distance from our hotel, that why we managed to visit it after a long day of exploring the city! From 45th floor you will be able to enjoy the views from Yokohama in the south, Chiba in the northeast and way out west to Mount Fuji! You haven’t really seen Tokyo if you haven’t seen it from here.

 

View from Metropolitan Government Building in Tokyo

View from Metropolitan Government Building

 
View from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

View from Metropolitan Government Building

 

17. Shibuya Crossing is famous for being the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world! Tokyo’s urban area is home to more than 38 million people, of which sometimes 2.500 are passing through Shibuya Crossing at once! One of the main reasons why this crossing is so busy is its close proximity to the Shibuya Station – the third busiest transportation spot in Tokyo!

 

Shibuya Crossing is also known as the “Times Square” of Tokyo due to the huge LED signs and billboards located all over this place. The traffic lights change at every 2nd-minute cycle when hundreds, and sometimes thousands are crossing the street! The scene is a definition of organized chaos in the middle of a major business hub in Tokyo! Therefore Shibuya has become one of the most iconic landmarks of the city!

 

Probably the best view over the buzzing crossing is from the second floor of Starbucks located in the Q-front building – take a coffee and enjoy the spectacle!

 

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo

Shibuya Crossing

Mario Kart, Tokyo

Mario Kart

 

18. Keep your hotel name and address written in Japanese with you at all times!

 

19. Food stores, restaurants and convenience stores discount some dishes later in the day (after 19:00)!

 

Traditional Ramen restaurant in Tokyo

Traditional Ramen restaurant

 

20. If you are trying on clothes you have to put your shoes off before entering the fitting room and put some weird stuff on your head (no makeup on the clothes!).

 

Trying on clothes in Japan will be like

Trying on clothes in Japan will be like…

 

21. Tap water is safe to drink! You will find freshwater everywhere in Tokyo and Japan and the restaurants do serve freshwater (and sometimes even tea) for free!

22. Wear your most comfortable shoes –  you will be walking a lot!

 

Akihabara, Tokyo

Interesting Facts About Tokyo You Probably Didn’t Know ~ Japan

This post is part of the series Japan Other posts in this series: Must Visit…

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23. The Golden Gai is the best place in Shinjuku if you want to go out at night and feel the spirit of real Tokyo. Golden Gai is an area with 6 small alleys lined with more than two hundred bantam bars! The alleys are so narrow that if you stretch your hands you’ll probably touch the buildings at both sides! Most of the bars are bars at the street level and some of them are so tiny that only 2 or 3 people can sit inside at the same time!

 

Wedding at Meiji Temple, Tokyo

Wedding at Meiji Temple

Wedding at Meiji Temple, Tokyo

Wedding at Meiji Temple

 

24. Many restaurants and bars allow smoking and vaping inside! There’s no national law that prevents smoking indoors.

 

Shinjuku, Tokyo

Shinjuku

 

25. Learn some basic Japanese! Believe me, you will need it.

 
[konnichiwa] = Hello
[hai] = Yes
[ie] = No
[arigato gozaimasu] = Thank you
[kudasai] = Please
[sumimasen] = Excuse me
[eigo ga hanasemasuka?] = Can you speak English?
[WiFi arimasuka?] = Do you have WiFi?
[eigo no menu wa arimasuka?] = Do you have an English menu?
 

Tokyo Skytree in Asakusa

Tokyo Skytree in Asakusa

 

26. Pack your best socks – you will have to remove your shoes the whole time!

 

27.  Some small restaurants and bars have a “seat charge”!

 

28. People in Tokyo walk on the left-hand side. There are exceptions in some metro stations though, so always check the signs!

 

29. You will have to wear slip-on shoes in traditional restaurants, some attractions and in your hotel room! In the hotel room, you will find even two pairs of slip-on shoes – one for the room and one for the bathroom!

 

30. Do not wear your shoes or slippers on the traditional Japanese tatami mats!

 

31. Do not use the subway at rush hours! You will be squeeze into the cabin by people called “Oshiya”. Oshiya are employed “Pushers” in some of Tokyo’s railway stations. They are hired to literally push the passengers onto crowded trains during rush hours.

 

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower

 

31. Japan frequently has some small earthquakes – especially in Tokyo we noticed these every single day!

 

32. Tokyo subway maps ARE confusing and often in Japanese (only!). Be sure to double-check before hopping on the train and take some time to study the rail system several days before arriving!

 
Meiji Temple, Tokyo

33. Tokyo is one of the biggest and most interesting cities in the whole world! There is so much to do and see here, so it is important to have a plan and even itinerary before you arrive.

 

Tokyo can be also very traditional

Tokyo can be also very traditional

 

34. Enjoy the incredible wonder of Japanese Totos! But: be prepared and watch some youtube videos on how to use the electronic toilets! You will be overwhelmed by the bunch of buttons you have to “operate” while being in the toilet … and every TOTO is only in Japanese!

 

Toto is a smart toilet with many functions, including a heated seat, water sprays for front and posterior wash with adjustable position, temperature and water strength, noisemaker, and even air-drying!

 

 

35. When you want to visit an attraction while in Tokyo, check for opening hours TWICE! For example – Tokyo’s Imperial Palace is mostly closed to the public. You can visit some open to the public special areas on the Emperor’s birthday and New Year only!

 
Meiji Temple, Tokyo
 

36. It is not only accepted but also expected to slurp your noodles while in a restaurant! It is a sign that you are actually enjoying your food!

 

Ramen

Ramen

Ramen

Ramen

 

37. During the whole stay in Japan we saw no forks at all! If you cannot use chopsticks properly, you will have to learn it while in Japan!

 

38. There is no doubt – Tokyo is expensive! Bu the good news is that tipping is not a common practice and people may even get offended if you to tip!

 

39. Tokyo is a shopping paradise and a tax-heaven! As a tourist, you can take advantage of tax-free shopping over 5000 yen. Only a passport is required when shopping tax-free.

 

Ginza, Tokyo

Ginza

High End Shopping, Ginza, Tokyo

High End Shopping, Ginza,

 

40. Visit teamLabs and book in advance! TeamLab is the first Digital Art Museum in the World, and I as a digital junkie couldn’t resist visiting it. TeamLab Borderless is not just a museum for digital art – it is a result of endless creativity! The highly interactive museum is the outcome of some hard-working mathematicians, architects,  programmers, engineers, animators and musicians.

 

TeamLab Borderless uses more than 500 computers and projectors divided into five distinct zones: Borderless World, Athletics Forest, Future Park, Forest of Lamps and EN Tea House. All the artworks in all 5 districts are computer-generated in real-time. Almost anything here is tangible, but a combination of colourful projected images and vibrant sounds.

 

teamLab in Tokyo

teamLab

teamLab in Tokyo

teamLab

teamLab in Tokyo

teamLab

 

41. During lunchtime, you will see people waiting in line in front of restaurants! And you will be waiting too … so if you don’t want to spend 30 min waiting in a line in order to get your lunch, be there half an hour earlier (11:30)!

 

Waiting for the very first Ramen in Japan

Waiting for the very first Ramen in Japan

 

42. Many restaurants like ramen shop do have ticket machines where you have to order your food. These vending machines are 99% in Japanese – good luck in ordering your food! First, you will have put in money in the vending machine. Then you select what do you want to eat. Take your ticket and wait to be seated.

 

Ramen Vending Machine

Ramen Vending Machine

Ramen restaurant i

Ramen restaurant i

 

43. The best Apps for Tokyo are Google Maps, Google Translator, HyperDia, and Japan Navitime.


 

Japan Accommodation:

 
Ready to visit Japan? Start looking for your Japan accommodation now while it’s fresh in your mind.
 
Want stylish accommodation in Japan you can afford?. Find the cheapest prices for the best accommodations possible:

 

Japan Flights:

 
If you are flying to Japan it is beneficial to use a flight comparison site to find the cheapest flights. I recommend and use Kiwi.com.
 
Click here to compare and book cheap flights to Japan
 

Rental Car in Japan

 
Rentalcars.com searches all the big car rental companies in Japan and finds the best price for you. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car in Japan and around the World.
 

Japan Tours

 
If you are the type of person who prefers joining a tour, there are all kinds of guided tours around Japan including Mount Fuji.
 


 
Enjoy the day!
 
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*This post contains Affiliate Links. I only recommend high-quality items and services I am confident about. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

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