What to Expect When Traveling in Tokyo

Photo by Brittany Butters

Photo by Brittany Butters

Traveling throughout Japan can be an incredibly exciting, yet very stressful experience. So here are some tips to make maneuvering around in Tokyo a little more enjoyable and worry free!

1) The Trains:

Now once you arrive at the airport in Tokyo and get your luggage you will have to exit the airport.  Here is the part most people don't know, you won't be right in the heart of Tokyo. So you will have to buy a train ticket on one of the trains that takes you into the city, even if you are taking the bullet train, also known in Japanese as the shinkansen (新幹線). My personal favorite was the N'EX, which is short for Narita Express.  Once you have gone through customs you will pop out right in front of the desk that supplies the tickets for N'EX and you're all set.  The people who help supply the tickets at the counter have always spoken English to me regardless if I reply to them in Japanese.  So there should be no worries about communication in this particular case.

(Side note: Close to where you buy your ticket for the N'EX train there is also a currency exchange counter.  I would exchange your cash here since it is going to be much harder to do so outside of the airport.)

"There will be English everywhere" they said.  "It will be easy, don't worry" they said... WRONG!  Once you make it into Tokyo the most difficult part is the trains. They were so confusing!  Now once you were inside the train station there was a good amount of English.  However, before getting inside the train station you had to pick a place to go in order to select your train ticket (obviously).  Now this is the hard part, everything is in Kanji.  At times there was no English anywhere on the map which made it insanely difficult to figure out which ticket to purchase.  Now I can't say this for every train station, but a good majority of them won't always have English assistance.  So don't expect for Japan to always accommodate you, be sure to map out where you are going and figure out the corresponding train station's Kanji so you can save yourself the hassle.

2) Katakana:

Katakana Chart

Katakana Chart

Now another thing that may not be so easy, but is extremely helpful, is to know a little Japanese.  Now I am not talking about a lot, but just some basic phrases AND the Katakana syllabary.  A good portion of menu items, names of places/people and other random things are written in Katakana.  Now Katakana is much easier to learn since you have less than 100 symbols for that particular syllabary.  I'm telling you just study the Katakana symbols a few minutes a day for about two weeks and you should be golden.  Whereas learning Kanji will take years and years of practice since there are thousands of them and many different readings for each one.  Ughhh, 漢字はめんどうくさいな!(For those of you who don't know Japanese, that says "Kanji is a pain in the butt!").  If you can't muster up the strength and/or time to study a bit then you will most likely be playing a game of charades throughout your visit since most Japanese can only speak very basic English phrases, if they can speak any at all.  Lots of pointing and nodding will be had, but don't worry popular tourist destinations will be used to it. Good luck!   頑張って!

3) Credit Cards:

Make sure to inform your credit card companies that you are traveling outside the U.S. to Japan so you don't get stuck over there with no money, because we all know that would be unfortunate.  Also, know this, Japan is a cash society!  Most transactions are done in cash and I'm serious about this.  You will be surprised how little places actually let you pay with debit cards.  So if at all possible get Japanese yen before heading over there or make it to the nearest ATM and pull out cash right when you get to Japan.  Trust me you don't want a ton of withdrawal fees for using ATM's in Japan.  Lastly, there is a currency exchange booth in the Narita, Tokyo airport as well as in many international airport terminals if you bring in physical cash currency.

4) Lack of Internet:

Now another pretty vital thing to know is that you most likely won't be able to find WiFi anywhere.  I mean yes, you can find it, but it is a serious pain to get.  Also once you find a place that has WiFi, most likely it will not be free or very fast.  So be prepared if you are trying to meet people to make plans to meet them at the airport right when you get there or find a place ahead of time.  Also give yourself ample time to figure out where you are going if you set up a time to meet.  Tokyo can be very busy and sometimes extremely hard to navigate!


Solution to lack of internet accessibility and how to keep in contact with people when abroad is in my previous post! Link below or click here



 If you have any questions or comments, you know what to do...