Japan’s sprawling capital is a vast, frenetic place and one of the most surreal urban spaces on earth. The fascination is partially due to its mix of tradition and ahead of its time modernity. The city is clean, public transport is efficient and there are lots to do in this metropolis: eating the most amazing sushi, bar crawling with the after-work crowd, hitting the karaoke parlors or visiting ancient temples. Here are 10 things to know before traveling to Tokyo.
The Tokyo subway system is a network managed by 3 different companies. The Pasmo or Suica cards are pay-as- you-go cards that allow the visitors to use the entire network in Tokyo – subway and buses – on a touch and go basis. It requires a deposit of around US$5 per card and you can get it as soon as you land in Japan. Any remaining top-up that has not been used is refundable – hand back the card at any subway ticket office before you leave to receive the refund.
Walk on the Left
To the left, to the left – in a city of over 35 million people, some order is necessary. On wide sidewalks walk on left hand side, and when crossing streets wait for the pedestrian traffic lights to open to you. Everyone is very respectful of the rules. Yet, on escalators stand on the left and walk on the right.
Meaning: “Welcome”. You will hear this one word a lot – it is a polite way to greet guests on their way in and out of establishments. A little bow and a smile from you will be extremely appreciated by your hosts.
Always Follow the Signs
Japanese people are very respectful and organized on their daily lives, even during down time. From museums and street fairs to megastores and subway stations, follow the signs and you won’t get lost. Although getting lost in Tokyo is not actually a bad idea either.
Smoking is Allowed Indoors
Yes, that’s right! Although allowed in enclosed spaces, smoking is not allowed in most open public spaces and sidewalks – so no walking and smoking or you risk it being stopped by a street patrol. Look out for the smoking stations, just like bus stops, or smoking permitted areas – sign stenciled on the sidewalk – so you can have your cigarette outdoors or head to the nearest bar and order a cold Japanese beer to go with your cigarette.
Considered the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world – in the always-hectic Shibuya neighborhood – crossing is an experience. Get ready to face the sheer amount of people, doing the same crossing as you are at the same time, all very orderly beneath the apparent chaos.
Don’t Miss Yoyogi Park on a Sunday
One of the main green lungs in Tokyo, Yoyogi Park on a Sunday is a parade of families, design-dressed young folks and the different tribes of the city. Meet some Harajuku girls, dance with the dozens of Elvis impersonators or watch the samurai apprentices practicing some kick ass moves. There are plenty of beautiful gardens, temples to chill in and a delicious food market.
Quiet and Quaint
Tokyo holds little secret gems of quietness amongst its frenetic urban joint. Our favorite is the wonderful pre-war neighborhood of Yanaka – full of winding alleys, small shops, wooden houses, cafes and arts & crafts supply stores – it feels like an old Japanese town. The area is also famous for its rice cracker stores and the charmingly well fed wondering cats. Quiet and super pretty to visit.
Japanese Streets are Unmarked
Well, and in there lies their charm. As in most of Japan, the streets in Tokyo are unmarked, so wonder off the main hubs and one is bound to find some local street art project happening, a tiny unforgettable café, quirky architecture and rickety ancient temples and spaces.
Japan Rail Pass
For foreign visitors to Japan there is the great option of having an all-in- one ticket to use the whole network system of subway and trains in Tokyo and beyond – the Japan Rail Pass. It includes the bullet train, should one wish to escape the metropolis. The pass must be purchased outside Japan from registered offices. You can by a pass valid for 7, 14 or 21 days – with extremely discounted prices for non-resident foreigners.