tokyo travel tips

postcard bought in Tokyo

from a postcard bought in Tokyo

Before I put together my giant post on Tokyo craft shopping (and yes, there are photos!) I decided to post just a few general tips from my experience as a Tokyo first-timer.

  • Tokyo residents are extremely friendly and helpful – even if you don’t speak Japanese, lots of smiles and nodding will get you far.
  • Tokyo train stations are enormous labyrinths, but generally well sign-posted.  Plan in advance which exit you need to take from the station, and don’t detour from the yellow signs pointing you there.  Even if you have to walk for miles through a shopping centre first, make sure you take the right exit.  It will save much confusion in the long run.
  • I was very worried about catching the JR at morning peak time with my heavy backpack, as I made my way back to Narita airport.  I needn’t have worried – although the crowds are massive, it’s nothing like the London Underground!  Even at rush hour I found that people are still respectful, and the platforms even have markings on them so you know where to neatly form a queue.
  • If you’re in Tokyo for more than a few days, it’s worthwhile getting a good map of the city, especially one that includes the Chome and block numbers.  For the uninitiated, Tokyo addresses don’t use street names, but rather numbers that relate to the district, area of the district (Chome) and specific building.  I used the Streetwise Tokyo Map which was OK, but only covers are few key tourist areas (and didn’t include Ikebukuro, where I was staying).
  • Despite this, it’s a surprisingly easy city to navigate.  I have no sense of direction at all, and managed to never get lost (although I did sometimes stumble across things by surprise).

Tokyo subway map. Try to get a good English map from your hotel.

Tokyo subway map. Try to get a good English map from your hotel, and stick with the JR as much as possible.

  • Make sure you have enough cash on you, as Japanese bank ATMs don’t accept foreign cards.  If you need cash, you’ll need to find an ATM run by the Post Office or 7-11.  Luckily there was a Japan Post Office ATM near my hotel, but I never would have found it from the street, as it was hidden up a concrete stairwell and behind a closed door.  They’re also not open 24 hours, and I discovered that the nearest was open from 9am to 7pm on weekends.
  • Wear comfy shoes.  The sheer scale of the city means that you will be doing lots of walking, and there seem to be very few places to sit down, unless you go in to a cafe.
  • There are doughnut stores everywhere.  It’s pointless even trying to resist.
  • I can highly recommend department store foodhalls.  Pick a department store (any one, all the ones that I tried were great), head down to the basement, and fill your belly.  You’ll be able to watch chefs at work preparing delicious dumplings, okonomiyaki, and pastries.  The only difficulty is finding somewhere to sit to eat your goodies.
  • The first time you unwittingly sit down on a heated toilet seat will in fact come as quite a shock.  I giggled for quite some time.

Next post: my guide to craft shopping in Tokyo.