Three weeks ago, we took a couples trip to Asia. In total, we all were gone about two weeks and visited tons of places. Our trip was full of adventures, new memories, and a whole lot of learning.
While you’ll be able to learn about the highlights of the activities we did while in Tokyo, it’s important to know that there will be some differences that you’ll have to adjust to if you chose to go to Japan as well. Keep reading to find out which eight things you should definitely know before visiting Tokyo.
Obviously when you’re in another country, there’s a high chance that they don’t speak the same language you do. In Japan, most people do speak English—but somewhat limited. Communicating with locals isn’t impossible, but be sure to just be patient and appreciate their help in trying to communicate with you.
The people that we ran into that didn’t speak much English were kind enough to either try to explain things more clearly, or led us to someone that could help us.
In particular, on our first afternoon in Tokyo, we were trying to figure out how to use the subway system. A kind stranger walked us through the station and led us to a ticket machine. The machine in particular only accepted Japanese currency, so she also showed us a ticket counter we could go to that did accept credit card.
Which lets us to our next topic at hand…
In Tokyo, they use the Japanese Yen as their currency. While each exchange rate does differ, you can expect one US dollar to be about 111 yen. I exchanged some cash for yen in our hotel and the rate seemed to be pretty good, but surprisingly, the best exchange rate we found was in an arcade off a local street in Tokyo.
Exchanging even just $20 to yen before taking the subway system will help you out tremendously. I did this before leaving our hotel and it ended up saving us from having to wait in line at the ticket counter at the station. Plus, using the Japanese yen gave me more of an authentic-feeling experience when traveling like the locals.
Before you leave your country, make aware that your card may have a fee for international purchases. I have the Capital One Venture card (I got it to use specifically for traveling), and did not have any issues with fees. It’s just something to be aware of before you leave!
I’ll talk more about having a tour guide in Friday’s post, but once again, having a tour guide is so worth it. Not only do you have someone that knows how to get around the city with you, but they also show you spots where locals go that you might have not been able to find on your own. I highly recommend having a tour guide for part of the trip—we had ours with us for only a few hours and our experience with him was incredible.
As far as getting around Tokyo goes, the subway system will be your best friend. Most things are walkable, but the big attractions aren’t, so taking the subway will be a huge help. It’s inexpensive, convenient, and very quick. The subway system looks overwhelming as ever when you first look at the map, but once you know which route your taking, it’s super easy. We were able to navigate quickly through by day two in Tokyo.
Before leaving for our trip, we watched YouTube videos of Tokyo’s packed subway cars, but in person, we only encountered it one time—the rest were pretty roomy.
However, there are two times I wouldn’t recommend using the subway system for: arriving and leaving Tokyo. Trying to navigate through the subway and get your luggage up the stairs seems like it would be a nightmare. Instead, we took the airport shuttle to and from our hotel. It was a big air-conditioned bus. They put our luggage in the bottom of the shuttle for us, and off we went to the airport. Ours was about an hour and a half ride away, so we were thankful for being able to get a little shut eye on the ride, rather than staying alert and awake on the subway.
As 6 Americans that don’t speak English, we also found Uber as a huge help in getting around. Though most Uber rides did take 20+ minutes to get to us, and more expensive than at home, we were incredibly thankful. The streets in Tokyo aren’t easy for non-Japanese speaking people to say. The streets aren’t anything easy like “Maple Avenue” or “Countryside Road.” They’re in Japanese. So unless you know how to speak Japanese or know the name of the exact place you’re going, I recommend taking the subway or using Uber.
Taxis are also very common in Japan, but there were two problems we had with them. The first was the language barrier; the second was the availability. We went out on a Friday night and were trying to hail a taxi for literally 20 minutes. They were all full. When we did get one, we couldn’t communicate with our driver on where we were trying to go. Luckily, our hotel gave us a slip of paper with the hotel name and address on it. I remembered I had it in my purse, so I gave it to the driver. Without the paper, we probably wouldn’t have gotten back as easily.
The bottom line is, always carry your hotel name and address with you, and take the subway as much as you can.
The locals—and everyone in general—in Tokyo were so genuinely nice. Even when we were on the plane, we were so cared about and always checked up on. In Tokyo, the locals were always kind enough to help us and were so polite. Everyone smiled and seemed happy that we were around. Everyone in our group felt safe and none of us came across anything dangerous during our trip.
With a city that is so developed and tech-savvy, you’d think that wi-fi would be all over the city. However, it only kind of is. If a place does have wi-fi, it’s usually not free. If they do have it, it’s usually an open network and not secure.
So what does that mean?
Basically you have to choose between paying for a secure network, try to ask a local for the password, possibly compromising your information on an open network, or just not being able to use wi-fi.
The only time I used wi-fi was at the hotel, or at the museum we went to. This wasn’t the end of the world though. I still used SnapChat and updated my Instagram story; I just would “retry” the upload once I got back into wi-fi at the hotel.
An important thing to note about using the internet in Tokyo: you have to change the language setting on the computer or on your phone. For instance, with Expedia (who my boyfriend had tons of problems with throughout our trip), when I logged in on my phone, there were no trip details, but once I scrolled down and changed the site to the US one, all of my details were available. This is just something to keep in mind before you panic because nothing looks right.
When you arrive at your hotel, be sure to join their rewards program if you haven’t joined already. Usually you’ll get free wi-fi access for a certain number of devices.
As someone who drinks coffee on a daily basis, I just want to warn some of my other coffee lovers out there that the coffee seems different than what we’re used to in America. In my opinion, the coffee was very weak, but when you're in a different country, even drinks such as coffee are going to taste different. We even went to Starbucks and it tasted a bit different. My boyfriend explained that it’s probably because in America they give us more caffeine in our coffee than most places in the world. I don’t know if that’s the real reason, but it made perfect sense to me.
Either that, or we were so jet lagged that no amount of caffeine was helping.
Tokyo was a very clean place. But the weird part? There were rarely any garbage cans around. You could walk for 15 minutes and not even see a single garbage can, and I’m not even exaggerating.
We asked our tour guide how the city could be so clean without having the garbage cans around, and he explained that it’s a peer-pressure thing. Everyone wants the city to be clean, so no one is going to throw their trash on the ground because they don’t want to be judged by their peers or dirty their own city.
If it was up to me, I would add in a couple trash cans, but I’m very impressed at how respectful people are of their home at the same time.
Overall, Tokyo was such an awesome place to visit! I’m so grateful for being able to have the opportunity to visit and see that part of Asia with some really amazing people. If you have the chance to go to Tokyo, definitely take it!