Updated: Jan 31, 2019
Tokyo is by far one of my favorite places in the world. It's my number one stop any time I travel to Asia. After having visited three times, I've decided to compile a list of tips that will help you get around and make your trip as smooth as possible.
1. How to properly handle cash and credit card transactions.
This is one of the top things anyone visiting Japan should know, in order to avoid looking silly. At any register at stores, markets, etc, the cashier will tell you your total and then push forward a little tray. Your money or card goes in that tray, which you then push back to the cashier. Never hand them any money or cards directly.
2. How to get around.
Taxis are extremely expensive in Tokyo. Take the metro instead. It is easy to understand and it takes you everywhere you need to go. Make sure to download the Google maps app beforehand. If you simply put in your current location and where you want to go, it'll tell you exactly what train to take, journey time, and cost! You can get a metro card at any train station or convenience store. All signs and announcements in metro stations and trains are in Japanese and English. Be warned the subways get extremely crowded during rush hour...I'm sure you've seen videos.
3. Everyone speaks English.
Okay, not everyone, but most people you'd talk to do. At least enough to understand what you're looking for. And if they don't, you can always use the pointing method to order whatever you're trying to order. The Japanese are very polite and I've never been mistreated for not speaking their language.
4. Vending machines are everywhere.
Seriously! Malls, outside stores, outside restaurants, and just randomly on the street. What do these machines sell? EVERYTHING! From the usual sodas and snacks, to coffee, toys, and even ramen....YUP! To be fair, I did not see a machine that made me ramen. What I did see were a few restaurants that had a machine right outside. I was super confused when I first saw it, but I put my detective skills to work and quickly realized how the whole thing worked: You order and pay for your meal from a machine (usually with pictures) right outside of the restaurant. The machine then prints out a little ticket. You walk into the restaurant and put your ticket on the counter or table. The chef then comes up and grabs it, and gives you your food. You don't need to say a word. It's amazing.
5. You can use your metro card for a lot more than just the metro.
Yep! You can use those cute little metro cards to pay at these vending machines mentioned above, as well as many convenience stores. It's way better than walking around with a bunch of cash.
6. Hotels are usually tiny.
Be ready for this - I really mean tiny. There's usually barely any room to put your luggage, and the showers are made for hobbits. Luckily, I am a very small human, but my husband who is normal sized had a bit of a hard time. Of course, if you're willing to splurge, you can stay are regular hotels. But if you're on a budget like me, this is likely what you will get.
I always stay here because of the price, but also it's literally two steps from a metro station, and there are plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and mall nearby. And for all my fellow nerds out there: It is down the street from the Square Enix HQ!!!!!!
7. Narita has THE BEST airport food ever.
I was amazed the first time I was at Narita Airport. The food court has so much delicious food, and the prices were not bad. You can get ramen, soba, sushi, katsu and a bunch of other stuff for under $12.
8. Don't go down to the basement level at most shops.
This is an important one, especially if you are traveling with children. Most comic book and video stores (and some other shops) have a basement level - and it's all porn! There's not usually anyone there to tell you either, you just have to find out for yourself. You have been warned.
9. Convenience stores rock!
Asia had the BEST convenience stores in the world, and Japan is no exception. Just go to any 7-11 or any other brand convenience store and see for yourself. They have delicious snacks, and pre-made meals that are actually really damn good, and really really cheap. Also, if you're a coffee lover, these stores have a ton of different bottled and canned coffee to pick from.
If you go into a 7-11, make sure you try the teriyaki octopus snacks and the onigiris!
10. What Kushikatsu is and how to eat it.
Okay - I live in Los Angeles and we have a pretty huge Japanese influence here. I am no stranger to Japanese food. But I have to admit I had never heard of Kushikatsu. So last time I was there, my friend takes me to this little restaurant and we sit at the counter. He orders a bunch of stuff, and when the waiter shows up with the plate, I am in awe! It's literally just a bunch of delicious things on sticks, covered in batter and deep fried to a crispy golden brown. Anything from meats, fish, vegetables (taro!), and even RICE CAKES (tteokboki). Yes - battered and deep fried rice cakes. This is not for the faint of heart, or those with high cholesterol.
There is a dipping sauce for all this stuff, but it is communal - they have a big bucket of it at each table, and you dip your skewer in ONCE, and then eat it. For all of you usual double dippers out there (including me), don't do it!
As I'm finishing this post I am realizing there are still so many more things I want to share about this wonderful city, so maybe there will be another post coming shortly. In the meantime, I hope these tips help you make the most of your trip to Tokyo!
Have you been to Tokyo? Do you have a trip planned? Do you agree with these tips? Tell me in the comments.