20 Things to Know Before Coming to Tokyo

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Source: Noriko YAMAMOTO

Tokyo is the largest city in and the capital of Japan. It is located in the Kanto region on the island of Honshu. It is a huge tourist destination and Tripadvisor has ranked it number 1 in “helpfulness”, “nightlife”, “cleanliness”, and a number of other travel accolades. It is such a popular area, but you should check out these 20 things to know before traveling to Tokyo!

1. What is Tokyo

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Most foreigners think of a city when they think of Tokyo. However, Tokyo is actually one of the 47 prefectures of Japan. For those of you not familiar with a prefecture, it is somewhat similar to a state in the US. Tokyo can then be divided into wards and then into subdistricts. There are approximately 23 wards in Tokyo, which correlates to cities.

2. Arrival

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Save yourself some money after arriving in Tokyo by taking the Narita Express rather than a taxi. Usually, taking a taxi from the airport into town can rack up close to more than a hundred dollars. However, a train ticket will only be about $16 and Tokyo has a great train and transit system that you can rely on.

3. Getting Around Tokyo

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Visitors should know that Tokyo can be very hard to navigate since many streets do not have names. Addresses are instead written in coded numbers so be sure to buy a guide book to help you in your travels. However, rest assured that Tokyo is an incredibly safe city and that even 6 year olds can be seen riding buses home alone.

4. Don’t Tip

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Great service and hospitality in Japan is a cultural things called omotenashi. Therefore, tipping is not expected for any kinds of service like taxis and hair salons. In fact, most people will not accept the tip and they will be returned if you decide to leave any. Howver, there are some cases when a restaurant will include a service charge.

5. Pedestrians stay to the left


Source: Dick Thomas Johnson

Even though Tokyo is hugely populated city, even the pedestrians walk in an orderly fashion. It is well known that everyone waits to cross before the light changes and that walkers will walk on the left on sidewalks. The only exception is on escalators where people will stand on the left and walk on the right.

6. Subway Etiquette

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Japan is a country known for its politeness and hospitality. There are even rules to follow on the subway. Don’t call anyone on your cell phone on the subway, it is usually considered rude. If you have to have a conversation with someone, speak softly so other people will not be bothered. The rules will be announced via the subway intercom so people do not forget.

7. Bare Feet

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If you visit someone in Tokyo, be sure that you are wearing some kind of socks when you take off your shoes. There are many palaces and teahouses in the Tokyo area that will consider bare feet to be rude and unclean. You don’t want to miss out on a great attraction because you forget this rule!

8. Carry Cash

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While most places in Tokyo, like department stores, hotels, and restaurants will take credit cards, much of what you will need for regular errands require cash. Those of you traveling will definitely need cash for the subway and the bus so be fore to make some withdrawals after getting into Tokyo.

9. Harajuku

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Harajuku is one of best known places in Japan as a mecca for young, eclectic fun. It is a center for Tokyo teen fashion and even many international retailers like H&M and Forever21 are now placed in the area. For younger visitors, be sure to check out all the fun gift shops and fashion boutiques.

10. Tokyo Tower


Source: Kentaro Ohno

The Tokyo Tower is the second tallest tower in all of Japan. It is a communications tower that was inspired by the French Eiffel Tower. It is a popular tourist destination as more than 150 million people have been to the tower since it opened in 1958. It has an observation deck on the top floor where you can have some great views of Tokyo.

11. Starbucks Obsession

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There are many Starbucks stores in Tokyo. In total, there are probably 259 stores across the city. The Starbucks at Shibuya Crossing has the highest generated revenue of any of the Starbucks. This particular store is so busy that it is maybe the second best Starbucks in the World, with the other being the one in the UK airport.

12. Golden Gai District

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For those of you looking for a great bar, look no further than the Golden Gai district in Shinjuku. This is one of the most famous drinking areas in Tokyo and has more than 257 bars open in the area. You might even meet a famous face as Quentin Tarantino is known to frequent the area with his friends.

13. The Most Expensive Restaurant

Tokyo is home to one of the most expensive restaurants in the world. The restaurant called Aragawa is a steakhouse which specializes in Kobe beef. Just a piece of the beef will cost each person 35,000 yen! If you have deep pockets and want to try something extremely luxurious try out this restaurant.

14. The Oldest Restaurant

Aside from the most expensive restaurant, Tokyo also has one of the oldest restaurants in the world. Komagata Dozeu has been in the same location since 1801 and has survived earthquakes, bombings, and wars! It is as much a historical relic as it is a restaurant.

15. Curse of Roppongi Hills

There are some superstitions that Tokyo holds and one of them is that Roppongi Hills is cursed. One of the reasons is because the building’s address has three sixes and it looks somewhat like a grave stone. However, this is perhaps just an urban legend and has no real basis in facts.

16. Tokyo Lights

One of the more romantic superstitions in Tokyo is that your love will last a longer time if you watch the Tokyo Tower light turn off with your significant other. So those of you in a new relationship, come to see the lights turn off for a very romantic moment!

17. Train Stations

 Tokyo has one of the most extensive railway systems. There are 503 stations all across 23 wards in Tokyo. The oldest station is in Harajuku, which has been there since 1906. Shinjuku Station is the busiest station in the world and back in 2007, it was clocked in at serving more than 3 million people a day.

18. Mount Fuji Visibility

Mount Fuji is one of the most famous mountains in the world. However, many people in Tokyo have never seen it. While it is easily seen from Tokyo, Fuji can only be seen about 79 days of the year. So if you happen to see the Mountain, consider yourself very lucky!

19. Tsukiji Fish Market

Those of you familiar with “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” should know about the Tsukiji Fish Market. It is the world’s largest and busiest market and is a popular tourist destination. Visitors must get up and go at 5am so you need to be an early riser to experience this unique place. There are some days when the market is not open to the public so be sure to call ahead!

20. Sumo

If you find yourself in Tokyo in January, May or September, you might be able to catch a sumo wrestling match. There are grand tournaments during these months and you might not ever get another chance to see such an interesting spectacle of strength. Just remember that there are no photos allowed and to be quiet and respectful during matches.

Tokyo is a bustling city with a lot to offer travelers. Whether you are interested in the fast paced city life or looking for a more historical attraction, this is a wonderful place to visit and now you know some of the customs!

Have a good trip and travel.

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Asia, Japan, Kanto Region, Tokyo Prefecture