In my previous post, I talked about the Top 5 Things to Do Before Going to Tokyo. In this post, I want to dig deeper and share the 15 things you need to know before going to Tokyo. Yes, there’s a difference. And I hope for my readers in all walks of life of varied interests, you’ll find my tips useful for your next Tokyo trip.
15 Practical Tips Before Going to Tokyo
1. DON’T TIP
Almost all restaurants in Tokyo already include a service charge in your bill, therefore you don’t need to leave change when you settle your check. It’s rude to tip in Tokyo, and that should be a relief to you because that means more savings for your pocket money. I was extremely happy to dine in Tokyo. It was the best customer service I ever experienced, anywhere in the city, and lately here in Manila, I have been forgetting leaving tips too, because I got so used to it.
2. STAY ON YOUR LEFT
In escalators, crossing pedestrian walks, always stay on your left side, when in Tokyo. If you ride the opposite direction, the locals might get confused!
3. BOW, BECAUSE ITS A SIGN OF RESPECT
Learn how to bow. Japanese people are so, very nice that I always find myself embarrassed for my absent-mindedness and lack of manners simply because I got so used to it here in Manila. I love that I learned how to respect them and bow, because I was thankful for the impeccable services they rendered, especially in restaurants. On the other hand, as a sign of respect, I use two hands whenever I hand them something, as it is part of my Asian roots too. It’s the least I can do.
4. PAY YOUR CHECK AT THE CASHIER
Before I went to Tokyo, I always wondered if it was rude to call the waiters whenever I would finish my meal. Turns out, they leave your checks at your table so you can take your time enjoying the meal, and pay once you’re done. I am in love with this system of payment, wishing our country would adapt something similar. It’s such a drag waiting for servers to hand you your bill and eons before they swipe your credit card. Make sure you get your change. You’ll be mistaken for leaving tip.
5. HAVE YOUR PASSPORT WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES
It is a crime walking around Tokyo, most of all, Japan, without bringing your passport with you at all times. If you’re stopped by authorities for an unknown reason, you have to present an identification card to them, which is your passport.
6. DON’T EAT WHILE WALKING
It’s rude to eat street food while walking, except if you’re bringing Iced latte or a cup of coffee. You’ll be tempted especially along Takeshita Dori at Harajuku, but stay put or everyone else will be staring at you.
7. EAT SUSHI WITH YOUR HANDS
When in Tokyo, you shouldn’t miss eating sushi. And you can definitely eat with your bare hands, simply because it will taste more delicious. I’ve had the opportunity of dining at 3 Michelin Star sushi restaurant, Sushi Yoshitake, and it was the first time I learned how to eat sushi with my hands. I compared it using chopsticks and using my hands, and with my bare hands, the sushi tastes even better.
You’ll be given a small towelette for wiping your hands. Just press the towelette with your thumb and pointing finger before and after eating sushi.
8. WHERE TO GET THE CHEAPEST FOOD
The cheapest packed bento lunch can be found in depachika, or food-to-go market stalls that are usually located at the basement of department stores. They can cost around 300 to 400 yen depending on the food you prefer, and I tell you, it’s the cheapest there is.
9. DON’T BRING AN UMBRELLA
Or frankly put, if you have an umbrella with you because its the summer in Tokyo or if it’s raining that day, keep a close eye at your umbrella, or someone might steal it. You might bring with you wads of cash, but Tokyo has quite a low crime rate, and your umbrella will have the higher chance of being stolen versus your cash.
10. DEPARTMENT STORE VS. DRUG STORE
Department stores are where you can buy luxury cosmetics, designer clothing, bags, shoes and accessories. It will be hard to buy food or diet supplements at Department Stores, save for Tokyu Hands where it’s literally the IKEA of Tokyo, from furnitures to crafts to beauty products. If you’re splurging in Tokyo for beauty products, which are usually cheaper than buying it here in Manila, it’s best to head for Drugstores. No, not our usually connotation for a drug store. Sundrug is the most common drugstore chain in Tokyo and in Shinjuku and Shibuya, its scattered around the ward. Here, you can buy facial masks, collagen, placenta, gluthathione – just about any beauty product that you’re crazy about! And they’re cheap. Really, really cheap.
11. KEEP YOUR WORD, BECAUSE THEY HAVE WORD OF HONOR
One thing I admired most about Japanese people, is that they have word of honor. I planned beforehand when I was leaving for Narita airport, and I made a reservation at Cerulean Tokyu Tower Hotel at Shibuya for a Limousine Bus ride. I wasn’t required to make any deposits, although I wanted to, just to secure my reservation. The following day I was worried that the hotel staff might forget, but then she kept her word, and to my surprise they were waiting for me even though I wasn’t a guest at their hotel. Bottomline, they keep their word, and so should you.
12. JAPANESE PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS ON TIME
Be on time. I was late for my RyuGin appointment for 30 minutes and they were already calling my hotel’s front desk. I got a bit late due to my shopping sidetrips, and I was so embarrassed afterwards. Frankly, they were expecting me on the dot. I realized that now. Trains arrive exactly as the time they are really really scheduled. If they are scheduled to arrive 6:05pm, trains will indeed arrive on the platform at 6:05pm. Buses are never a second late, but arrive even earlier than expected. I admire their punctuality, and how I wish our country can also have the same kind of discipline.
13. HAVE YOUR HOTEL CONCIERGE MAKE A RESTAURANT RESERVATION FOR YOU
If you plan to wine and dine at Michelin star restaurants in Tokyo, which I hope you would take the opportunity, have your hotel concierge make a reservation for you. Restaurants won’t accept your reservation if you are a tourist. And on several restaurants, especially Sukiyabashi Jiro, they’ll ask you to personally hand deposit in cash before you can secure a reservation. Yes, that’s how hard it is. I recommend you plan ahead of time before you dive in, because if you cancel (and that’s a sign of a lack of word of honor), you’ll be charged a hefty amount of money for a fee. You have to understand that their ingredients are fresh and they plan ahead of time too. So any no-shows or cancellation will cost them money too.
14. HOTELS HAVE SMALLER ROOMS
If you’re not renting a space in Airbnb, you should know that Tokyo’s hotels have smaller than usual rooms, normally for 1-2 person occupancy only. Unless you’re a solo traveller, Tokyo’s rooms will be quite a problem if you’re a large group or a family. Again, it’s best to plan ahead. Rooms are charged on a per person basis, not on a per room basis, so if you plan to sneak a third person in a room for two, you might not be allowed and will ask you to pay a fee first.
15. NEVER RIDE A TAXI
Not because it’s not safe, in fact, taxi cabs in Tokyo are quite safe. Except, they count your fare like crazy! An average taxi ride from the Narita Airport to the city center would cost you at least $300, excluding the traffic. In comparison, if you take the Narita Express or NEX from Narita Airport to Tokyo, that would cost you roughly $30 only. I highly suggest you study the train system of Tokyo so you can save and be more practical. I’ve written some tips in my article Top 5 Things to Do Before Going to Tokyo so you might want to check it out. If worst case happens, stay away from the black taxi and ride the yellow ones. They are much cheaper in fare.
There you have it, the 15 Practical Tips Before Going to Tokyo. It’s quite clear I have a pure admiration for their culture and work ethics, and how I wish we can all adapt the similar “continuous improvement” idealism that they are well-known for. My trip to Tokyo has changed the way I think about things and I hope one day I can also work the same way they do.
Traveling to Tokyo? Here are some recommended articles for you:
From Hanami to Watering Holes, Here’s How to Spend 24 Hours in Shinjuku
Ultimate Guide to the Best Pocket Wifi Rental in Japan
Spend 7 Days of Summer in Tokyo
Things to Do Before Going to Tokyo (And Avoid Getting Lost)
15 Practical Tips Before Going to Tokyo
Where to Eat at Narita International Airport