There are a bunch of things you need to know about Tokyo before you visit and I’ve rounded them up to 10 key points to make it super easy.
Japan has been on my Bucket List ever since I first watched an episode of Astroboy as a kid. It always seemed so surreal and quirky, yet full of such amazing tradition and customs. Somehow, I convinced our family that this should be our next holiday destination and we found ourselves travelling to Tokyo over Easter. Japan was everything I thought it would be but so much different as well. But what were my thoughts on Tokyo? Well, luckily for you I have rounded up the things you need to know about Tokyo before you visit.
It is quiet
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Tokyo was the world’s first megacity. With 23 wards (they’re all city size) and a population that has bubbled over 13 million people, you would expect it to be a very noisy place. The quietness actually surprised me. Catch a train during peak hour (yes, we made that mistake!) and you’ll be jam packed into a silent carriage. No body talks. Obviously you’ll hear normal signs of life like breathing, coughing and the like, but otherwise…. no talking. A quick look around and you’ll note that most Japanese ae listening to their devices It is a little eerie. Even in the streets people are quiet. Think of the city like a library: you can hear the everyday noises around you, but everyone whispers.
It’s super safe.
I’ve never visited any other place where I have felt as safe as I did in Tokyo. On my very first morning I headed off to buy T an early morning coffee and was surprised to see two girls enter the cafe, put their phone on the table and bags on the chair and move out of site of their table to peruse the cake offerings. They didn’t even second guess this behaviour or even look around to see if there was any shady people in store. They didn’t have to. In Tokyo the likelihood of being robbed is very low.
You Can Buy Almost Everything From a Vending Machine
There is no ignoring the proliferation of vending machines in Japan. Go for a walk in any part of Tokyo and you’re more than likely to see one within a minute or two. They are everywhere! Whilst the most common sell soft drinks, coffee in a can and water; you can find them selling hot noodles, pizza, toys, charms, toasted sandwiches and yes, underwear.
This one is totally unexpected, right? Yes, Japan is a cash society. Many shops don’t except card. Gosh, DisneySea rejected my Mastercard! If you are heading to Tokyo, make sure you track the conversion rates and jump on the YEN when it’s high. I tried to to always have money on me. Luckily, all 7-Eleven’s have ATMS that accept Australian cards so I could take more cash out as I needed it. Do a little research, you may find that your bank has a great Travel Card which offers a great exchange rate and low fees.
They Run On Time
The Japanese have a reputation for being on time. Always. I thought this might be an exaggeration but soon learned that it’s not. Our shuttle driver was booked to leave the RIHGA Royal Hotel at 9.30 and he would literally wait, bus full until the second hand clicked over to the time! The trains we were waiting for arrived at the exact time that Google Maps told us it would. The rumours are true, the Japanese are sticklers for staying on time.
The Toilets Are So Hi-Tech You Need A Manual
Our hotel toilets became our kid’s afternoon activity. As soon as we rushed home from a day out adventuring, they would run into our room and head for the toilet to squeal and laugh at the many functions it had. It warmed their butt; it shot water upwards; you could adjust the water temperature; and, sometimes it offered a deodoriser for those smelly moments. Heading to public toilet offered most of these options too with the addition of a “privacy” button which plays serene musical sounds to drone out any self-made noises made by your body. Hmm….interesting!
I’ve become quite accustomed to Australia’s rigid smoking laws and have forgotten what life was like before cigarettes were banned from restaurants. I was taken back in time when we headed out for our first meal. There was a haze of smoke – people smoke in restaurants! Not all, some have realised how unhealthy this is but some haven’t. When booking a hotel, make sure you request non-smoking too or you may find yourself in a smoking room which still holds the aroma of old tobacco. However, you won’t see anyone walking around smoking. Just like eating, the etiquette is to stop in the one place to smoke.
The Japanese are extremely polite. They will go out of their way to help you, to follow cultural etiquette and to make sure you are comfortable. Taxi drivers are courteous, jumping out of their cars super quick to take your bags and pack them. On one occasion we asked for directions from a doorman at a business, he was unsure which way to send us, so we thanked him and moved on. Five minutes later he tapped T’s shoulder, and gave us a hand drawn map explaining where we needed to go. We were amazed. A young man in the back streets of Harajuku noticed we were unsure which restaurant to go to so he took out his phone and read some reviews before directing us to the better rated one (which was incredible). In Japan, this behaviour is called Omotenashi which means “to entertain guests wholeheartedly“. There’s nothing comparable in Sydney!
Tokyo is clean. In almost every green space, gardeners and cleaners are busy taking care of the grounds, sweeping falling leaves and making sure everything is in place. Walk along a street and you are likely at some point to see a shop owner sweeping the sidewalk in front of their business. In train stations, cleaners are visible. The bathrooms are pristine. You will never see someone drop a piece of rubbish. On one occasion we saw someone drop a piece of rubbish out of their pocket on accident and someone pick it up and chase them so they could take it back. Yes, people in Tokyo are clean.
Focus on Spirituality Rather Than Religion
We visited a plethora of shrines and temples in Japan. To be honest, I couldn’t get enough. They are just so interesting. From my observations it appears that the Japanese enjoy ritual. Buddhism and Shintoism seem to be interwoven too. But whilst they go through the motions, it is really about the motion, the moment, being there, being present. There’s no talking to a higher power or praying. This fascinated me. It appears religion plays no part in day to day life, yet spirituality is prevalent.
Planning a trip to Japan? Visit our Japan archives to read all about our adventures there.