This is a quick list to help you get by:
When you get to the Tokyo Airport, go to the tourist information desk and buy a PASMO card. This is a public transportation card (but can also be used to pay at certain stores if you run out of cash). It is the most important thing to have in Tokyo!
The metro can sometimes be overwhelming, but just remember that the Japanese have engineered everything to work perfectly, and it usually does. There is a method to the madness.
Make sure you have international data on your phone, or plan to buy a wifi pass (it’s basically a wifi hotspot you carry around with your phone) at the airport.
Tokyo is extremely safe. People will leave bikes unlocked, bags out, doors open. Young school children ride the metro alone when going to and from school. It’s wild.
Take out money from ATMs in 7-11 or FamilyMart – Japanese bank ATMs do not read Western cards, so you will have to go to 7-11. They are everywhere in Tokyo.
Always have cash on you. Most places do not have card machines. Handy tip: 10,000 yen is roughly $100.
Also 7-11 will almost always have a public bathroom which is super helpful since 7-11s are ubiquitous in Japan. (I found FamilyMart was hit or miss with the public bathrooms)
95% of toilets have heated seats and bidets. They are truly revolutionary and (mostly) clean in even the dingiest of places.
Driving is on the left side (think London) – same with walking, people often walk on the left side and those walking towards you will walk on the right side
When walking, keep an eye out because a lot of people stare at their phones and they will run into you if you’re walking on the wrong side
Same goes with escalators – if you don’t want to walk up or down the escalator, stand on the left side (in USA it is on the right)
Google Maps is your friend. It is highly accurate and can get you anywhere you need to go! By car, metro or by foot.
English is on most signs, whether in the metro or on the streets.
However, some restaurants only write their names in Kanji (Japanese lettering), so you will sometimes have to check the Kanji in Google Maps against the restaurant sign on the street.
Prepare to bow to everyone (and be bowed at)
The Japanese will almost always try to help you, even if they do not speak English.
Menus in restaurants are sometimes not in English, and sometimes the staff don’t speak English (they will try to help regardless) – definitely have your phone nearby with Google Translate installed in case you get into any language situations.
“Arigato!” (Thanks) and “Konichiwa” (Hello) and “Kanpai!” (Cheers) were our commonly used words, but it’s good to learn some simple phrases to make your lives easier (“Toilet?” is completely understood)
Think of Tokyo as a vertical city. Want to go to a restaurant? It is often not on the first floor. (There are also many bars and restaurants in the basements too and it’s perfectly legit.)
If you want to get into ultra popular restaurants, have your hotel book a reservation. This is standard practice and they will do it for you!
There is sometimes racism against foreigners. It’s rare, but they might bar you from coming into a bar or restaurant because they want to hang out with their friends who are regulars (there are sometimes signs up that say: MEMBERS ONLY)
If possible, wear slip-on shoes (or shoes without shoelaces). At the very least, do not wear big boots that are a pain to take on or off. You will be taking off your shoes frequently.
If you plan to travel outside of Tokyo (to say, Kyoto or any other city beyond Tokyo city limits), definitely look into the Japan Rail (JR) Pass. This gives you unlimited travel on the Shinkansen bullet train for 7 or 14 days. You can also buy individual Shinkansen tickets.
Highly recommend checking the price of JR Pass and individual tickets before committing to one or the other.
The cheapest Shinkansen tickets are unreserved seats (there are reserved and green compartment seats on the higher end). Keep in mind when boarding your bullet train that unreserved seats are only the first three cars at the front of the train.
October 26, 2020