30 Things You Have to Know Before Coming to Tokyo

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Adventurers and tourists from all over the world come to Tokyo, and it has become one of the most popular destinations. But it is a huge metropolis and you must prepare before you go there, because there is probably a lot you don’t know about it. If you don’t want to experience a major culture shock, then you should read this.

1. Always Book Ahead

You must not forget that you are going to one of the most populated cities in the world and that hotels and hostels in and around Tokyo can get really packed especially on weekends. You shouldn’t wait until the last moment to get reservations! If you do that, you might have to spend days in a capsule hotel before you find a proper room in one of the ‘normal’ hotels. Make your plans early and make sure you have a room in a proper room in a nice hotel or hostel and in a safe part of the city.

2. Take Your Passport with You

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You have to take your passport with you all the time and wherever you go. You simply have to have it on you, or else some authorities might take you to the police station.  It is considered a crime in Japan if you don’t have it on you. If any authorities happen to stop you for any reason, you must show your passport to them. You should also know that Japanese police are allowed to stop you for any reason, and at any time, but it does not happen very often.

3. Take a Train

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It is not such a good idea to rent a car in Tokyo; it means spending a lot more money, and you have to be ready to drive in heavy traffic. For tourists it is best to take a train. There is a wonderful train network in Japan and you can choose different tickets. They may seem expensive, but you should know that once you buy your ticket, you get unlimited access to the national railways and you can even travel from one city to the other, and explore the rest of Japan, too.

4. Remember: You Look Weird

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You might not like this, but it is simply like that. To them everything about you looks funny; your hair, bags, things that you wear. There are thousands of other tourists and visitors, but still you stick out. You will be taller or bigger, or you will just wear strange clothes. If you are a blonde, you are like a magnet to Japanese eyes. Just get used to it and mind your own business.

5. You Keep Hearing “Irasshaimase”

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Once you are in Tokyo and you start going to different places and sightseeing, you will keep hearing one word all the time. Whether you walk into the hotel, or you enter one of their famous izakayas (restaurants), or a boutique, they all say the same thing: “Irasshaimase”. It is actually a polite way to say welcome to you, and you should not make any response to it, even though it might instinctively make you say ‘thank’ you or ‘hello’. A friendly bow is quite enough.

6. Beware Not to Be Rude

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If you do not want to stick out more than you do, just because you look different, than you should obey some Japanese rules and try to blend in. You may just not be ready for the extremely polite Japanese society, and you must prepare if you do not want to look stupid. It means, for example, that you make a quiet sneeze, do not blow your nose, do not talk on your phone in crowded places, obey traffic signs, don’t eat and walk at the same time. It is especially important to follow all the rules when on crowded trains. Japanese also consider bare feet very dirty, and since there are places you can enter only if you take off your shoes, it is good to have a nice clean pair of socks in your bag.

7. Bow to Greet People

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You have definitely heard how bowing is important in Japan. It is good to bow when you meet someone; it is a sign of respect. However, the bow is more than you may think. Its duration and inclination say a lot more, than just what you say when you meet people in your country. For example, you make a quick 30-degree bow when you meet your friend’s friends. If you are addressing someone superior or an authority, you make a slow 70-degree bow and you must look at the ground.  Of course, since you are a foreigner, do not worry a lot: in case you do it wrong, they will not openly judge you!

8. Not Everything Is As Expensive As You Hear

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You have probably heard stories about how Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Actually, it is not like that, don’t let them scare you! If you look more carefully, you will find restaurants and grocery stores, as well as hotels and hostels that are even cheaper than in some of those European cities popular with tourists. Tokyo’s public transport has some great rates for visitors, too. The truth is that it is more expensive for its residents than for tourists.

9. Don’t Be Scared of Japanese Toilets

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As it is all over Japan, Tokyo too has toilets everywhere and it is not difficult to find them. They are all extremely clean and well equipped. Some of them might seem very impressive to you and they can be quite luxurious. Some might look like unusual spaceships with various equipment, buttons and functions, and they even play music. It might look scary at first, you may not know which button to press, but after a while, you get used to this extravagance.

10. Don’t Look for the Trash Bins

clean streets
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First time visitors are very surprised when they realize how clean this enormous city is. You might find it unusual too, but there are no waste bins around. How can it be? This may be a bit strange for other people, but Japanese take their rubbish with them. They simply don’t make any. They just don’t walk, eat and drink at the same time, as Westerners do, so there is no need for any bins. Don’t forget, local people take good care about their environment, and you should follow their rules, too.

11. Buy a Tenugui

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You will notice that most toilets do not have hand dryers or paper towels. You will also notice that most Japanese have their own towels they call ‘tenugui’. They keep their tenugui in their bags. That is one more thing you will notice: they all have bags, from briefcases, purses and backpacks to reusable shopping bags. You can buy your tenugui at souvenir shops and they usually have lovely patterns and colors. They are even popular as gifts there are special patterns for children, men or women. Choose your own tenugui!

12. Pay for the Wireless Hotspot

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As you know, different countries all over the world have different cellular frequencies and Japan has its own, so you might have trouble with your SIM card on an American or European phone. The best option is to rent a personal Wi-Fi hotspot and you can get it the moment you get to the airport. You can rent if for as long as you stay in Tokyo and it works perfectly well. You can even connect more devices to it, so it can be your movable office especially if you are on a business trip.

13. A Huge Suitcases Might Be a Problem

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If you are one of those travelers who bring huge bags when traveling, and never stop buying souvenirs and fill the spare bag after just a short shopping, you may have a problem because public transportation is not designed for such large bags. So if you do not want to find yourself with a heavy bag trying to fit on the train, use the parcel delivery services that will take your bags to another hotel, or another city. These services are available at convenience stores and larger subway stations. And the front desks in hotels arrange them for you.

14. There Are Quiet Places Everywhere

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You might think that when you come to Tokyo, you will see the crowds everywhere you look. The place is too crowded and really hectic, but tourists are often surprised to find so many quiet and peaceful places all over the city, even between the high office buildings. There are beautiful serene temples or great parks where you can go to when you get tired of all the noise and crowd. They are a true oasis in this huge city.

15. Take Enough Cash with You

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You can use your credit cards in most hotels, some big department stores and some of the restaurants in Tokyo, but most of the time you will need cash. The best thing to do is change money at the airport; or you can do it in one of the post offices with ATMs. You will notice that they have many coins, and quite often they just come in handy.

16. Don’t Tip

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You must be extremely careful about this, because tipping is not expected in Japan; actually it is considered an insult, and Japanese expect politeness and respect at all times. If you ever try doing it and they refuse your tip, don’t get offended by that. This is how it is in their country; the cost of their services is already included in the price.

17. Eating in a Restaurant

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When you go to a restaurant and order your meal, you will get a wet napkin or cloth before you get your meal. Be careful, you should not use it after your meal; use it to clean your hands before eating. If you use it during the meal, they find it uncivilized – you have just cleaned all the germs with it before the meal!

18. When You Walk, Just Walk

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This is something you should be extremely careful about when you come to Tokyo. They care about walking as much as about driving. You cannot eat or drink, or smoke while you walk. You can’t even talk on your phone. They don’t take you to the police station because of that, but it is simply something they don’t do. Sometimes you can even hear announcements in the English language from loud speakers, in a park for example, reminding you of the rule!

19. If You Feel Like a Cup of Coffee

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Don’t think that you only have to drink tea when you go to Tokyo. If you are among one of those who need a daily dose of coffee, don’t panic. You will find many Starbucks there. In case you find it too expensive, you have other options. There are vending machines all around the city, just head for one and enjoy a nice cup of your favorite drink. You can also find a good choice of hot or cold coffee in their grocery and convenience stores.

20. Can You Afford a Proper Meal in Tokyo?

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If you are coming from a larger European or American city, you will definitely not be shocked by the prices of food in Tokyo. If not, you will still find many fine choices to fit your budget. The grocery and convenience stores offer a variety of very well prepared meals. If the food needs heating, they will gladly do that for you. You can find a nice selection of prepared food at train station markets, and trains are the only places where you can see people eating. Remember to bring your napkin with you!

21. Get the Unique Red-Stamp Book

temple book
Source: Graham Stanley

This might be a good idea as a nice gift for someone you love. When you come to Tokyo, buy your own Goshuin notebook and take it to each temple or shrine you visit. Monks will stamp your book with big symbolic and quite beautiful stamps unique to the specific shrine or temple. If there are no monks in temples, they have some tables with stamps waiting for you to stamp them in your book.  The book is like a folded scroll. When you unfold it at the end of your journey, you can see all the stamped pages at one time.

22. You Cannot Smoke Everywhere

no smoking
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Smoking laws in Tokyo are quite strict and people really follow them. You can find designated smoking areas anywhere you go, but smoking outside them is found extremely insolent and disrespectful. The street patrols or security will stop you the moment you light up. There is no walking and smoking. Find a small homey restaurant or bar, they are usually smoker friendly. Some bullet trains have smoking cars, so you can enjoy your cigarette on your way to another attraction.

23. You Must Always Order

order a drink
Source: Naotake Murayama

Now, you know that when you go to a bar with your friends you must not leave any tips. You should also be careful about another important issue; you must all order your drinks. Going to a bar or restaurant and not ordering anything to drink is considered disrespectful. If you go to a bar where people drink a lot, you must do it, too. Like it or not.

24. Tattoos Are Not Welcome

People in Japan usually associate tattoos with criminals and gangsters. That’s why people who have tattoos are not welcome at all. People often exile and ban them from different places, especially pools, hot springs and saunas. So, if you have a tattoo, be careful. You should cover it up somehow, or else you may not be allowed to enter the attraction you want.

25. Always Walk on the Right Side of the Road

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As one of the most densely inhabited cities in the whole world, and with a huge number of tourists visiting it, people in Tokyo simply have to be organized and practical. That is why you have to walk on the left when you get there. Don’t get confused. Picture yourself in the middle of the enormous crowd of people waiting to cross the street. Just follow the rule and everything will be OK. There is one catch – on escalators, people walk on the right!

26. Buy a Bag

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Throughout Japan, in Tokyo too, you can never see anyone without a bag. Everyone has one. When we say everyone, it literally means everyone – women, men, even children. You will look even weirder if you do not have one. Where do you keep your lunch and your tenugui!? So buy one, the moment you come to Tokyo. It can be a kind of a backpack, or a briefcase, a purse or even a reusable shopping bag.  There is one more rule: if your bag is a little bit big, don’t forget to put it between your feet when on a train!

27. Visit Teahouses

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If you have never tried green tea, coming to Tokyo is a great opportunity for that. There are green Matcha tea restaurants, all over the city. Once you try it, you will wish everything to be of the same flavor. You can try some ice-creams, cakes, or Starbucks latte with the same flavor. Remember, it is not all about the taste, this tea is a wonderful source of different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. You will definitely want to have it back home, too.

28. Fashion Is Important


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Did you know that the world’s fashion capital is actually in Tokyo? It is a very interesting and colorful area called Harajuku and it is well-known for the unique street fashion. You must visit it when you come to Tokyo. You will have a feeling of being on an enormous outdoor catwalk. Teenagers are especially interesting and their fashion culture is the most extreme. They usually come on Sundays and attract so many tourists with cameras!

29. Bentos Are a Must Try


Bentos might become your favorite when you come to Tokyo. They are actually amazingly cute boxes with some take-away food in them, and you can find them anywhere, but especially at airports and train stations. There is rice, meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables; anything you will like to eat during the day. But it is not all, when you open the box, you find that the food has a shape of an anime character and it looks great! It tastes great, too

30. Take Care about Your Coins

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Most Westerners are used to tossing their change into their bags or telling the popular sentence “keep the change” at the cashier’s. If you do that with coins in Tokyo, you might lose a lot of your money. Before traveling to Tokyo, learn more about exchange value and Japanese currency. There is a 100 Yen coin and 100 Japanese Yen is worth about $1! That is why you should be careful with your coins as you are with the paper money.

There are so many things you should know before you go to Tokyo, so when you plan your trip, one of the first things you should do is to read this article again, and find out about some of the helpful tips. They might make your stay there more pleasant and comfortable.

Have a good trip and travel! 

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Asia, Japan, Kanto Region, Tokyo Prefecture