10 Tips for Your First Trip to Tokyo

by Michael Satterfield

Tokyo is an amazing city, unlike anywhere you have ever been to, yet somehow familiar. Many sites like to focus on the kitschy outlandish parts of a visit to Tokyo, but the city is far more than just Manga, Robot Burlesque, and Mariokart tours. Tokyo is a city of art, food, history, and should be on every traveler's list.

Here are my top tips for your future adventure in Tokyo.

Give Yourself at Least 10 Days:

Tokyo is a big city with a lot to offer, while more than a week may sound like a long time to spend in one destination, you have to remember that if you are coming from the Americas or Europe the jetlag will take at least a full day to adjust to. I have spent months in Tokyo and still have a lot to see, you don't need to worry about getting bored in Tokyo.

Sort out your data plan or Wi-Fi service before you go: 

Depending on your carrier service in Japan may be included, while others may charge you as much as $10 a day for basic data service with a cap. Since I am usually on the road to work I need internet data for both my phone and laptop and sometimes smaller hotels or AirBnbs don't have internet service. The cost can be between $8-$10 a day, but since it is your own personal hotspot you can run multiple devices off it. You can also pick up a local SIM card for your phone with data for a little less, but many of them do have data caps.

Also if you are planning to unwind and watch Hulu or Netflix once you get back to your room, be sure you have a VPN so you can set your location as the USA, otherwise most of your streaming services won't work.

Plan on using Public Transportation: 

Tokyo has by far the best public transportation system I have ever used, not only is the system interconnected allowing you to use one rechargeable card for buses, rail, and subways, but it is inexpensive. While you can pick up maps and guide books, just make sure you have Google Maps on your phone and select the "public transportation" option, it makes getting around the city simple, even for a first-timer.

Remember to practice good etiquette, keep your phone on silent and don't take calls while on a bus or train. Also eating, drinking, and smoking are not allowed on local trains. It should go without saying, but be sure to give up your seat to the elderly, disables, expecting mothers, or families with young children. Also, be on the lookout for female-only train cars, which are usually marked with a pink sign on the platform, if you do end up in the wrong car, make your way to the next car via the side doors. On top of being chastised for annoying the locals and not being polite, you can be cited for not following the posted rules on trains and buses.

One quick note about escalators: If you plan on stopping and riding the escalator stand to the right side, allowing people who wish to walk to pass by on the left.


English is fairly common in Japan, however, a good translation app can come in handy. Tokyo has also increased signage in English over the last several years in preparation for the Olympic games making navigation much easier. Be sure to learn a few basic phrases in Japanese like greetings and expressions of gratitude, a little effort goes a long way.

A good phrase to know is: Eigo o hanashimasu ka? / Do you speak English?

Eating & Drinking: 

In Tokyo, it is very rare to see people walking along the street eating or drinking. You will need to be prepared to slow down and enjoy your snack or drink. It is not uncommon for convenience stores like 7-Eleven or Lawsons to have a small seating area where you can enjoy your food and beverage before moving on.

If eating at a restaurant don't rest your chopsticks on your bowl or plate, it is considered rude. Instead, use the copy stick rest or wrapper. Slurping isn't out of the ordinary when eating noodles, in fact, it signals how much you are enjoying the food, just don't get carried away. If you are dining with friends from Japan, the person who extended the invitation should be picking up the tab, also you don't need to leave a tip in most cases.


Tokyo is a big city and while it is easy to get around on public transportation you don't want to book a hotel outside the core districts. For your first trip, you want to be in the heart of the city so look for accommodations in Shinjuku, Ginza/Hibiya, Shibuya, or Roppongi. Be sure if you are looking at an Airbnb make sure that they are licensed as since 2018 Japan has cracked down on illegal listings. Nothing would ruin your trip faster than having to scramble to find a new place to stay. Also for the full experience, you should at least spend one night in a capsule hotel, just to say you did.

Don't Forget to Pack:

Tokyo does have seasons so make sure you are packing for the appropriate weather, but beyond the basics like comfortable shoes and your camera, make sure to bring power adaptors since your US-spec plugs won't work in all outlets.

Public Restrooms:

Public toilets are common in Tokyo and I have yet to run into one that was especially dirty, however, not all of them will have a Western-style toilet or toilet paper, so prepare accordingly. Most department stores, supermarkets, book stores, most convenience stores, and train stations will have nice public restrooms available.


Cash is still King in Japan, while it may seem strange that a technologically advanced country like Japan isn't boasting the latest in payment technology, many stores, restaurants, and vending machines only accept cash. I always like to land with some cash when I travel abroad, but if you need to pull out some yen once you have arrived in Japan 7-Eleven stores and Post Offices offer ATMs with English menus. While some of the larger banks do offer ATMs in English it can be hit or miss. The minimum transaction is $100 but these machines accept Visa, Plus, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express, and JCB cards.

If you do end up using your credit card for a transaction and there is an option to pay in your home currency, don't. The bank will give you a better exchange rate for paying in Japanese Yen.

In Japan tipping isn't required at restaurants and leaving behind your change can be seen as rude, in most cases, your change will be presented to you on a small tray, simply take it and put it away. Counting change is considered rude and implies that you believe you are being cheated.

How to Dress:

Dressing in Tokyo is more formal than in the USA, while tee shirts and jeans are acceptable for some activities, be sure to pack a few collard shirts, dark denim, I always bring a tie and a sports coat, just in case. You will be walking a lot so make sure your shoes are not just comfortable, but also bring a few pairs so you can rotate them. Also, remember you will be taking your shoes off often so be sure your socks look nice as well.