Here's a crash course in how to make your time in Tokyo more pleasant, manageable, and stress-free.
Tokyo is big, busy, and there are lots of things to do and see. If you’re headed there for the first time, knowing some tips and tricks ahead of time will make the trip so much smoother, allowing you to stay stress-free kawaii. (✿◠‿◠)
Get a Pasmo Card
Pricing out an individual subway or bus trip in Tokyo can feel like an SAT question, but you can avoid all of that with a Pasmo or Suica card. Load up a Pasmo card so you can tap and go on all trains, buses, cabs, most vending machines, and even 7/11s.
Eat at 7/11
A far cry from a US gas station, 7/11 in Tokyo is the place to snag cheap and yummy bento boxes, rice balls, coffee, and beer for an on-the-go snack.
Shop at Vending Machines
From water to crazy canned espresso drinks to beer and sake, you can find all sorts of beverages in Japanese vending machines. There’s no need to slow your roll–just grab and go. However, be aware of signs prohibiting eating or drinking; you are not allowed to eat or drink on trains or at shrines, for example.
Skip Shinjuku Station at Rush Hour
Shinjuku Station serves more people per day than any other major transportation hub (about 3.6 million per day). It can be an exhilarating experience, but if you would rather not get carried away in a sea of people, it can save you a headache to simply get off one stop before or after Shinjuku. The walk between stations in the Shinjuku area is never more than 10 minutes or so.
The most efficient mode of transport in Tokyo is the rail system and no matter what you have planned, you’ll end up walking a lot. Leave your heels or dress shoes at home and opt for your most comfortable walking or running shoes. While Tokyo is a very stylish city, you will often see high fashion outfits paired with sneakers.
Bring Your Own Internet
You won’t find much free internet at hotels or cafes in Japan, but you can rent a cell phone-sized internet hub to take with you everywhere you go. Pupuru is a great option and it costs about $10 a day. It’s worth it and you need it.
Make Your Own Maps
Forget trying to decipher the metro maps and timetables. Using your portable wi-fi, you can lean on Google Maps to do the heavy lifting. It will tell you which train to get on and even which platform or track to wait at. Be aware that it isn’t always perfect, but it will get you in the general block of where you want to go.
Check out the Department Store Basements
Department store basements are brimming with food stands boasting some of the most beautiful and expensive fruit in the world. Even if you aren’t prepared to spend $100 on a pear, you should at least go check out what all the fuss is about.
Use the Escalator Properly
In Japan, you stand on the left side of the escalator and walk on the right. Following the rules of pedestrian traffic is especially important in Tokyo, as it’s such a dense city and there are many unspoken rules. Try to pay attention to what everyone else is doing and follow suit.
Find the Right ATM
Many ATMs in Japan won’t take an American credit or debit card. You can, however, always be sure that your card will work at a 7/11 ATM. Keep an eye out–there are 7/11 ATMs on almost every block.
Tokyo is a city that wakes up late. Most businesses, including coffee shops, don’t open until around 10 a.m. Breakfast is less of an event, with most locals eating breakfast in their homes before heading out for the day.
Stay out Late
Tokyo comes alive at night! Saddle up to an izakaya counter for a night of grilled meats and overflowing glasses of sake. Be careful, drinking culture in Tokyo can be extreme, so pace yourself and drink lots of water.
Avoid Rush Hour
Avoid trains between 8-9 a.m.; they can become so packed that white-gloved employees stationed on the platform have to physically push people onto the train in order to allow the doors to close. The end of the workday, from 5-6 p.m., can also be very busy, but it’s not as bad as the morning rush.
Forget using Uber or Lyft. If you don’t want to walk or take the subway, a cab will be much less expensive than a rideshare app. Cabs can be found everywhere and are always nice and clean.
INSIDER TIPDoors will open automatically for you, so no need to keep pulling that handle.
Take Care of Your Trash
Trash cans are few and far between in Tokyo. It is best to have a plastic shopping bag inside your daypack or purse to keep your trash in until you come across a public trash can (or just throw it away when you are back at your hotel). Tokyo is amazingly clean and littering is strictly forbidden, so don’t do it, and make sure to sort out your recycling.