Tips for Traveling to Tokyo:
Things to Know Before You Go
by Daniel | Last Updated November 29th, 2019
On average 28 million people travel to Tokyo every year. Tokyo is one of the most visited destinations because of its diversity and unique character.
If you're thinking of traveling to Tokyo or are getting ready to leave, there are few things you should know before setting foot in Japan. These tips range from etiquette to common tips every traveler should know, no matter where they go.
For our tips on traveling to Tokyo keep reading below.
1. Don't Assume Everyone Knows English When Traveling to Tokyo
This is one of the biggest things any traveler should know when going anywhere abroad, even to Tokyo. You shouldn't assume that everyone in the city knows English.
Yes, English is one of the most popular languages in the world and it's known as the international language of business, but it doesn't mean everyone knows English. You are traveling to another country, someone's home, you should respect it and try to learn a few words and terms in Japanese before going.
Knowing the following phrases can be helpful:
Oishii (oh-ee-she)- Delicious
Konichiwa (kohn-ee-chee-wah)- Hello
Arigato (a-ri-ga-to)- Thank you
eigo ga hanasemasu ka? (ego ga han-ah-sem-ah-ska)- Do you speak English?
When you travel and try to speak in the language of the city you're in, people will be thankful.
First of all, it will show that you're interested in learning about their culture. The second thing it will express is that you don't expect them to know English. The third thing is that no one will be angry with you for attempting their language and etiquette.
2. Study The Public Transit System
When you get to a new city or place it can be overwhelming. One of the ways to help you feel less overwhelmed when traveling to Tokyo for the first time is to study the public transit lines before hopping on the plane.
Any public transit you're not used to can appear to be complex and confusing. That's why you should map out routes and figure when it's best to take the subway or bus to get to your destination.
Studying the lines and different routes beforehand will help you to become comfortable with the system. This makes it easier to understand your first time riding it.
3. Keep Important Names Written in Japanese
It would be horrible if you got lost in Tokyo and couldn't remember the name of your hotel to ask for help. That's why we recommend writing important places like your hotel and sightseeing destinations on paper.
It's a good idea to write these names in Japanese too so anyone can help you with directions. If you're unsure of your penmanship, ask the hotel's desk assistant. They should be able to adjust your Japanese if need be.
So if you do get lost, you just have to flag someone down and show them the paper or note on your phone. From there they should be able to give you directions. If you're unsure of where they are pointing, just pull up a map on your phone so they can give you visual directions.
4. Wear Slip-on Shoes
Being mindful of the footwear you bring to Japan is one of the top tips for traveling to Tokyo. This is because you will be taking them on and off constantly.
In hotel rooms, you will be expected to take off your shoes. In upscale restaurants and traditional attractions, you will be required to remove your shoes.
So to save you the headache of tieing and untieing your shoes, make sure to wear ones that can slip on and off easily. They don't have to be slippers, but any shoe that works best for you.
On top of bringing shoes that can slip easily on and off, you should also bring a few pairs of socks. Since you will be taking your shoes off and walking in socks they will get dirty fast. If you're wearing sandals and don't want to put socks on just put them in your bag.
5. Buy Studio Ghibli Tickets Before Your Trip
Studio Ghibli is one of the most sought out attractions for any Tokyo vacation. The production studio has created animated films that have captivated the whole world, so there's no surprise that to get tickets to the Studio Ghibli museum you'll have to buy in advance.
Make sure you buy tickets online months before your trip is this is a must-see destination. Keep in mind that in summer months it will be more booked.
6. Bring a Gift
In Japan, there is a practice known as omiyage or gift-giving. This is a normal thing in Japan and you may be expected to participate.
If you're traveling for a formal meeting or staying in someone's home, you should gift them an omiyage. This gift can be anything from your home country such as candy, magnets, or stuffed animals. If you bump into a stranger that helps you out, let's say the guy that gave you directions above, you can give them an omiyage to show your appreciation.
7. Be Mindful When Using Public Transit
A lot of people use public transit in Japan, thousands in Tokyo alone. It's a common understanding that passengers will be respectful of others on board, and this goes for you too.
Don't eat on the train, this can be seen as rude unless the train offers food. No one leaves their trash on the train, and you shouldn't either.
Talking on your cell phone on the train is considered rude and disruptive. You should wait until you're off the train to place or take a call.
Another important thing to remember when riding public transit in Tokyo is that everyone is quite. It's the general etiquette of riding public transit in Japan. If you need to talk use a low indoor voice so you don't disrupt the other passengers.
8. Have Cash on You
You don't want to go to pay for food or a souvenir and have your card be declined, with no way for you to get money. There are two ways for you to avoid this embarrassing and horrible situation, have cash on you and tell your creditor you're traveling.
Before you leave your country, it's not a bad idea to go to your local bank and exchange money. Even places like AAA will exchange currency for you without a fee.
It's best to have cash on you in case your credit card gets shut down. Plus everywhere takes cash and some places may not take cards.
The second way to avoid this to let your credit card company know you're traveling. You should provide them with a rough idea of where you will be and on which dates so they know where your transactions will be coming from to protect you from fraud.
It's also good to know that the only ATMs you will see in Tokyo are at 7-11. Since ATMs are few and far between, it's an even better idea to carry cash and to keep large amounts locked in your hotel room.
9. Make Sure You Have Somewhere to Put Your Trash
In 1995 Japan got rid of public trash cans after an attack in one of the subways where a bomb was placed in a public trash can and went off. With this said, if you're traveling around the city and have some trash, you need to wait until you're at your hotel to dispose of it.
While you're exploring you don't have to carry the trash in your hand. Place a small baggie within your bag or backpack to keep trash. This is something you will see the locals doing frequently.
10. Venture Off the Road Most Traveled
When traveling to Tokyo you can fill your trip with landmarks and tourist spots. If this doesn't seem like the trip you want, plan to go to local events and places that are unknown to tourists.
The best way to find out what's happening in your area and to find new places to venture is to follow local publications. Most publications can be translated into English thanks to your web browser.
These news outlets will let you know what events are happening and when. They will even have spotlights on unknown places that you can check out.
11. Pack Fashionably
It's no secret that Tokyo loves fashion. Even those who don't work or live in Harajuku dress their best when out in public.
To fit in with everyone in the city, pack your best clothes. We aren't saying you have to wear a tux whenever you go out, but everyone makes sure they look nice and is presentable even if they are leaving the house for a few minutes.
Women in Tokyo love to layer. If you're a girl it's not a bad idea to pack a cardigan or two that you can layer with multiple outfits.
Guys can bring nice button-downs and shirts to wear out and about. Jeans are okay as long as they look nice.
12. No Tips Please
American travelers are always faced with the dilemma of tipping. Since the United States expects diners to tip their servers, it may be assumed this is done everywhere else.
We are here to tell you that the rest of the world thinks it's unusual that we tip. This is because the 'tip' is usually included within the bill.
Tokyo is no different, their tips are included within the bill. With this said, if you try to tip your waiter it may be seen as offensive because it's not a customary thing.
Skip the misunderstanding and embarrassment, don't tip your waiters.
13. Don't Panic While Shopping
Shopping is a must in Japan, but it's very different than in the United States. When you walk into a shop you will immediately be greeted. This is because it's polite and the owners want you to feel welcomed in their store.
After this, an associate may follow you around and pretty close. They aren't doing this because they think you're shoplifting, They are doing this to help if you need assistance. If you do need help, then they are right there.
So when shopping in Tokyo don't feel as if you're public enemy number one when an associate follows you. Keep calm and if you need help just ask.
14. Be Ready to Unplug
Tokyo may seem like one of the most tech-savvy cities in the world, but that's a stereotype that isn't 100 percent true. Some businesses in Tokyo still use fax machines as their preferred method of communication and wi-fi isn't guaranteed.
If you're someone who can't live without the internet then it's a good idea to get a pocket wi-fi device. It's also a good thing to remember that not a lot of places offer free wi-fi or wi-fi at all.
Usually, those who live in Tokyo access the internet through their phone's 4G. Since most people in Japan have phones that can access 4G then wi-fi isn't needed.
Get Ready to Go to Tokyo
We have provided you with the best tips for traveling to Tokyo. From travel tips that will help you avoid a disaster like carrying cash at all times, to Japenese etiquette on trains and dining. You now know how to prepare for your trip to Tokyo and what will be expected of you.
For more information on traveling abroad and more travel tips, be sure to check out our website here.
Welcome to LuggageGuru!
My name is Daniel and I am a full-time world traveler and constantly on the move.