I say “when in Tokyo” because aside from Tokyo, I haven’t lived in any of the cities or prefectures of Japan. Everything I will write here is based on personal experiences and some are opinions or ideas of my Japanese friends. They are the most basic reminders to help you get through your visit.
Recently, I have seen and I have heard of people I know who were in Tokyo, who are now here in Tokyo or who will be in Tokyo anytime soon. So I thought that it will be helpful if I can share some of the things that they have to know to enjoy their stay here.
- Your credit is good, but cash is better. Yup, as modern as Tokyo is, there are still certain establishments that do not accept credit cards. Usually, the smaller shops, like the traditional ramen shops, only accept cash because they make use of the vending machine-like method of ordering food. You drop your money in this machine, press the button of your order, then a small paper will come out and you give this to the people in the counter. The paper has your order written on it. So in short, you pay in cash as you order. If you don’t see these machines near the entrance, there is a possibility that the restaurant or the food stall you entered into will take credit. So before eating out or before buying those precious souvenirs, it will be a good idea to first ask if they accept credit cards. If they do, they often accept VISA, Mastercard, AMEX, or JCB. If the cards you have are not the same as the ones mentioned, please don’t hesitate to ask those who are in charge.
- Tips are not necessary. When you eat out, you don’t leave any tips on the table. One time, I was eating with my kids at a restaurant in Roppongi and the foreigners on a table close to ours left some cash before they headed towards the door. The waitress who was about to clean up their table saw the money and she chased them outside just to give it back. So to avoid the embarrassment of being chased down by waiters or waitresses, it’s better to just keep that yen in your wallet.
- They have slow lanes and fast lanes in escalators. When using the escalator, it is not a good idea to occupy the entire space you are on, not unless you want to experience being yelled at or being pushed by people who seem like their lives depended on how fast they get through those flight of moving stairs. It is pretty simple actually—the left side is for those who have all the time in the world at that moment and the right side is for those who seem like they are running for their lives.
- There are unspoken rules by the door. The rule of thumb: when entering a door and someone is coming out, you will have to wait outside before going in. This is especially true at the stations— bus and train stations alike. When the door opens, you will have to let everyone out first before you go in.
- Being loud inside the train or the bus is a big NO! When inside the train or the bus, people should be talking quietly. I admit, I sleep inside these public transport everyday when going to and from work…and honestly, I appreciate the peace and quiet. Also, and please remember this, no one is allowed to talk (except for emergencies) or chat on the phone while inside the bus or the train…oh yes, especially in the bus! I learned this unspoken rule the hard way when one day, I did just that: I was inside the bus and I was on the phone. I was whispering through the mic of my earphone so I know that I wasn’t being loud. But then obviously, the driver heard me in spite of the silence because, while using the mini microphone attached to him, he announced for everyone in the bus to know that talking on the phone is not allowed. He even called my attention by saying “Okyaku-sama! Okyaku-sama!” (Ms. Customer! Ms. Customer!). When I looked up, he was looking straight at me on the rear-view mirror. Just imagine my embarrassment!
- It is very safe. You can walk along the streets in the middle of the night without the fear of being mugged…just the fear of seeing something supernatural like a woman in white and with long black hair. Remember Sadako from The Ring and Kayako from The Grudge?
- Tokyo doesn’t have a 24-hour train. Tokyo may be a very busy city but the trains (or the people working at the stations) need some rest as well, right? Usually, the last trains run between 11:30 pm to 1:00 am. You can always hail a taxi, of course. But it will be very expensive. I know someone who didn’t catch the last train because of work and had to walk 4 hours from Tokyo to Saitama…whew!
For now, these are all that I can think of. If I missed something, just drop me a note then I can include them in my next post.