Arriving in Japan and stepping out into Tokyo is absolutely exhilarating, but it can also feel like you’re entering an alien world! Someone told me that that Japan was the place on earth where as a westerner they most felt like a foreigner and to be honest, I can see why.
Tokyo is different in many ways. Not only is the spoken and written language completely foreign to the point where you can’t even begin to try and pronounce what you’re reading, but there are also different customs, manners and ways of doing things that can also thrust you into a feeling of complete and utter confusion!
In fact, I don’t feel like I was fully prepared for how different Tokyo was going to be from when I’ve travelled before, and I especially don’t feel like there’s enough blogs out there discussing it either. To be honest though, it’s probably been my favourite city in the whole world to visit because of it’s amazing energy, beautiful buildings and incredibly cool people.
So to make sure you can hit the ground running, here are 5 tips I wish i’d received before going to Tokyo and ones I think you’ll find really useful.
1. Don’t expect people to speak to English.
Even when they do, it’s very limited and not at all like countries such as Thailand or Europe where most people working in tourist spots speak pretty much fluent English. I literally thought that in Tokyo of all places, being such a touristic capital city that most people would have at least some knowledge of English, but alas…
Tip: Take a phrase book that you can point at words to – this is particularly useful in restaurants, hotels, the subway and taxis.
2. Cash machines and card machines are everywhere but not all of them accept cards from issuers outside of Japan.
This is literally the most frustrating thing EVER! We tried countless cash points only to get rejected from them and having no money to get by on. It turns out that only certain machines accept western cards e.g at the post offices.
Tip: Make sure to exchange Japanese Yen in cash before your trip and don’t expect to be able to use your card like you do at home.
Even travel cards aren’t accepted so beware!
3. Tokyo is big – so plan ahead!
If you want to fit a lot in, plan your day in advance and do stuff in neighbouring districts together – otherwise you could find yourself spending too much time sat on the subway rather than experiencing all the exciting things that Tokyo has to offer.
There are lots of districts with completely different things to do, for example Harajuku is the quirky fun distract and Ginza is the 5th avenue type shopping district.
Tip: Shinjuku is an experience but I wouldn’t recommend staying there – higher prices and lots of hassle from people trying to sell you things and get you into their bars.
4. Beware of cover charges
Tokyo is a capital city and therefore can be quite expensive, but what can really hurt the budget are the cover charges at certain bars and restaurants, which are pretty much exclusively for tourists. Cover charges can range from 500 to 1000 yen (£3.50-£7 approx).
Tip: Some places, such as the Golden Gai charge covers but there are many other areas with small bars that do not. Have one drink in the famous ones, then head to other side streets to avoid the covers.
5. Head to Shibuya Crossing at night.
The Shibuya crossing is one of the busiest areas in Tokyo, with thousands of people using it every day. What’s cool about this crossing, is that all cars stop at once and pedestrians from every angle and road cross together.
If you sit at one of the coffee shops on the first floor overlooking the crossing, you can get a really great view of it but at night the whole square is even more eclectic with all the neon advertisements and screens glowing with energy.
Tip: Take a tripod for your camera so you can capture some awesome photos with a slow shutter speed.
You probably need at least 3 days in Tokyo to experience as much as you want to without feeling rushed. We sadly only had 48 hours in the city and jet lag made it even more difficult to really make the most of our time. All in all, Tokyo is a cool, clean and very safe city that’s full of lovely people who always want to help you.
Tokyo is also completely bonkers – in the best possible way so go with an open mind and lots of space on your camera’s memory card.
One more thing… (WIFI and Data For Your Mobile Phone)
If you plan on taking a portable WIFI, be warned that they do not work with Japanese sim cards. We tested 3 sim cards in ours and none of them worked, however luckily I had my phone unlocked so we were able to use Data with that. We bought the sim card from a Lumi store in Shiodome costing 2800 yen for 200mb of data per day for 15 days. You can tether from this sim card too!
There’s plenty of free WIFI available around the country however, so if you don’t have an unlocked phone then don’t worry – you’ll find lots of places to connect.
Watch my Tokyo Vlog here: