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    40 essential things to know before visiting Tokyo

    By Emiko

    July 20, 2023

    40 essential things to know before visiting Tokyo

    Hi there, I'm Emiko! If you're reading this, chances are you're just as fascinated with this city as I am. And why wouldn't you be? It's Tokyo! There's nothing quite like it. Over the past 30 years, I've called this city my home, and let me tell you, it never gets old.

    From the towering skyscrapers to the bustling markets, from the meticulous beauty of a tea ceremony to the neon lights of Akihabara, Tokyo is a city that knows how to keep you on your toes. So whether you're here for the sushi, the sakura, or the sumo, this city is ready to welcome you with open arms.

    And no, I'm not here to guide you on Tokyo tours, but I am here to spill the beans on everything Tokyo, the kind of stuff they don't always tell you in the guidebooks. This article, packed with 40 essential things to know before you visit, will be your compass, helping you navigate the city like a local and have an unforgettable experience.

    So buckle up, grab a notepad, and get ready for an insider’s journey through the captivating streets of Tokyo. The city of your dreams is just a few scrolls away. Can you feel the excitement? Let's dive in!

    General Information

    1. Japan is a safe country

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    Japan is one of the safest places you can visit. Seriously, the crime rate here is low, and that includes the buzzing metropolis of Tokyo. No need to constantly check over your shoulder. It's an aspect of this country that never fails to impress travelers, and it's something that will add a layer of comfort to your trip. So as you pack your bags, know that you're about to embark on a journey in a country where safety is as dependable as the sunrise. It’s just one of the countless reasons to love Japan!

    2. Learn a few words in Japanese

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    Learning just a few Japanese phrases can be a real game-changer on your trip. The locals, whether in Tokyo or any corner of this enchanting country, locals love it when travelers make an effort to speak their language. The magic lies in the mutual exchange - you're soaking up a new culture and at the same time, leaving an impression on the Japanese people. And when you manage to say "arigatou" (thank you) or "sumimasen" (excuse me) at just the right moment, the spark in their eyes is pure gold.

    3. Climate variations in Tokyo

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    Tokyo's climate is a grab bag of surprises! Spring brings blooming cherry blossoms, summer glows with festival lanterns, autumn turns leaves into vibrant art, and winter lightly dusts the city with snow. Yet, Tokyo's weather isn't one-size-fits-all. In this city and beyond, different areas can have vastly different climates. So, a piece of advice for travelers: give the weather forecast a quick glance before you pack. Your trip across Japan, from the heart of Tokyo to the furthest reaches of the country, will be that much smoother.

    4. No tipping system

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    Alright, here's an interesting fact that may have you raising an eyebrow: there's no tipping system in Tokyo! Or in the whole country of Japan for that matter. If you're a tourist strolling through Tokyo, or if you've taken a detour off the beaten path, when you sit down for a drink or a meal at any restaurant, the cost you see is the cost you pay. No need to whip out your calculator app or worry about offending anyone. It's just how the culture here works, and locals, as well as Japanese people throughout the country, aren't expecting any extras.

    Cultural tips and etiquette

    5. Respect the rules of etiquette in public spaces

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    In Tokyo, and indeed across Japan, respecting the rules of etiquette in public spaces is key. Whether you're walking around the neon-lit streets of Tokyo, or enjoying a delicious drink in a countryside cafe, keep in mind that certain practices are considered rude. Take eating while walking, for instance. It's generally a no-go in Japanese culture. Locals and tourists alike are expected to follow these norms. But don't fret, it's not a daunting task! Just watch how the Japanese people around you navigate these rules and follow suit. It's all part of the rich tapestry of cultural experiences that make Tokyo one-of-a-kind. So, on your trip to Japan, remember to respect the etiquette - it's just one of the many ways to immerse yourself in the local culture.

    6. Take off your shoes

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    Now here's a fun fact about Tokyo, and all of Japan really, that often surprises travelers: it's time to take off your shoes! In Japanese culture, it's considered good manners to remove your footwear when entering homes, and even some traditional restaurants, hotels as well as some shrines and temples. Locals expect it and tourists quickly adopt it, turning it into a reflex. It might seem unusual if you're from a country where shoes stay on, but here in Tokyo, it's just another day. So, as you walk around this intriguing city and beyond, be ready to slip off those sneakers at a moment's notice.

    7. Mind the escalator etiquette

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    In Tokyo, even escalators come with a set of unspoken rules! The city's fast-paced vibe doesn't stop when people step onto an escalator. Throughout Japan, you'll notice folks conscientiously standing to one side, leaving the other side clear for those in a rush. While it's not deemed as rude to forget, blending in with this custom is always a good idea. It's one of those simple yet fascinating things that both locals and tourists pick up on.

    8. Tattoo restrictions

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    Got a few tattoos and excited about your upcoming trip to Tokyo? There's something you might find interesting! While Tokyo, the buzzing hub of Japan, is an exciting blend of the old and new, some traditional aspects still hold sway. Among them is the cultural perception of tattoos. In certain traditional settings like onsen (hot springs) or gyms, showing off tattoos might be frowned upon. But hey, don't worry! While this might hold true for locals, Tokyo is generally more relaxed about tourists with tattoos. You might just need to cover them up in a few places. It's just one of the many fascinating ways Tokyo keeps its culture alive.

    9. Bowing

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    Lacing up your walking shoes for your Tokyo trip? There's an art to greeting locals you'll want to master: bowing. Yep, in the heart of Japan, a bow isn't just a bend at the waist. It's a language all on its own. But don't sweat it, travelers! Although it's a major part of the culture in Japan, locals absolutely do not expect tourists to perfect it. It's the thought that counts, really. If you give it a go, you might just catch a delighted surprise on the faces of the Japanese people you meet.

    10. Onsen etiquette


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    In Tokyo, an onsen dip is not just a bath, it's a cherished tradition! While soaking in the relaxing hot springs, remember it's a shared space. Respecting others' tranquility is a biggie - keep the volume low and be aware of your actions. Arriving earlier not only allows you to unwind at a leisurely pace but also ensures you're not disrupting any locals' routines.

    11. Chopstick etiquette

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    From top-tier sushi restaurants to vending machine snacks, Tokyo is a wonderland of gastronomic delights! Now, here's the deal: when navigating the culinary landscape, especially the art of sushi and ramen slurping, your chopstick skills could be a game-changer. Avoid 'tsukitate-bashi' (piercing your food with chopsticks) or 'watashi-bashi' (resting them across your bowl) - they're considered a bit of a faux pas. Use separate small plates for shared meals, rather than passing food chopstick-to-chopstick. Most restaurants in the city, whether they're serving raw fish or delightful bowls of ramen, appreciate diners who respect the local customs

    12. Recycling

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    Oh, Tokyo takes recycling to another level! It's practically an art form there. Imagine a symphony of different colored bins, each awaiting a particular kind of waste material. From plastic bottles and cans to cardboard and glass, everything has its place. And the best part? It's not a dreaded chore. Rather, it's seen as a shared responsibility, an integral part of day-to-day living in this bustling metropolis. So, when you're roaming the streets of Tokyo, indulging in scrumptious street food or sipping from a vending machine beverage, remember to follow the local norm and sort your waste. It's a simple act that not only keeps the city clean but also contributes to a larger global cause!

    13. Remember your mobile phone manners

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    In Tokyo, let's dial down on mobile manners! This city pulses with technological rhythm, but the soundtrack is surprisingly low volume when it comes to phone etiquette. You see, in Tokyo, it's common courtesy to keep phone interactions hushed and private. So whether you're navigating through a busy marketplace or tucked away in a quiet corner of a serene garden, it's all about enjoying the city's vibrant energy without becoming the unwanted center of attention. Even on public transit, you'll notice that ringing phones and loud conversations are a rare occurrence. Instead, you'll find folks engrossed in quiet texting or reading, ensuring their digital life doesn't invade real-world tranquility.

    Tokyo's public transportation

    14. Get your JR rail pass BEFORE arriving in Japan

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    Here's a golden tip for you: get your Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) before you land in Japan. That's right! This magical ticket is your key to seamless travel across the whole city and even the entire country. You'll zip between a train station, bullet train, or subway faster than you can say 'sushi'! Not just Tokyo, but it allows access to those thrilling bullet trains, letting you explore beyond the city boundaries. Just imagine hopping on and off the trains with your trusty JR Pass and not worrying about having enough Japanese Yen on hand every time. This small upfront cost can save a heap of money and time during your adventure, making your next trip more about soaking in the culture and less about navigating the public transport.

    15. Bullet train luggage reservation


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    Here's a nifty tip for those with a love for travel and adventure! When you're visiting Tokyo, and you're ready to board the famed bullet trains, remember to reserve space for your luggage. These trains can become surprisingly crowded, and finding a spot for your suitcase might prove a challenge if not reserved in advance. Your journey through the sprawling city of Tokyo, and indeed across Japan, should be seamless and comfortable. So, before you race off to your next exciting location, reserve that luggage space. It's a small step that can make a big difference in your trip. Whether you're a wide-eyed tourist or a seasoned traveler, this is a piece of local culture that might surprise you.

    16. Public transport punctuality

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    Let's talk about public transportation in Japan! It's a marvel of punctuality that leaves many tourists in awe. From Tokyo's city center to the farthest corners of Japan, the train and subway services run like clockwork. In fact, the timing is so precise that if you don't arrive earlier at the train station, you might find yourself even a minute late, waving goodbye to your ride as it leaves. Not to worry, though, as another one is likely just around the corner. This culture of punctuality extends from the people to the city's public transport, and it's part of what makes a trip to Tokyo so unique.

    17. Female-only train carriages

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    While navigating the Tokyo train system, you may stumble upon a cultural practice that might be new to you: female-only train carriages. Tokyo is one city that exemplifies Japan's commitment to providing a comfortable experience for everyone during their subway travels, extending to offering these exclusive spaces for female passengers. This peculiarity is a testament to the Japanese culture's respect for personal space and safety. If you're a lady, take advantage of this while using your Japan Rail Pass.

    18. Be careful when you take a train during rush hour in Japan

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    Travelers, brace yourselves for an invigorating part of Tokyo life: taking a train during rush hour. The city's impeccable punctuality extends to its public transportation, making the Japan Rail Pass a valuable tool for your trip. However, as the clock strikes the peak hours, you might find yourself part of a crowd that's equally committed to punctuality. These bustling moments in Tokyo's train stations are a snapshot of the city's energetic vibe. But remember, while the sight of packed trains might surprise you, it's considered rude to push or shove. So, enjoy the seamless travel experience but be prepared to give space when needed and respect the local culture. It's all part of Tokyo's charm, a city that beautifully balances the rush of urban life with an unwavering commitment to etiquette and respect.

    19. Trains/metros are not 24 hours

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    Tokyo, the city that constantly bustles with energy, surprisingly hits the brakes when it comes to its trains and metros. Yes, you heard that right! Despite the city's vibrant nightlife and 24-hour appeal, the train stations don't run round-the-clock. So, while your JR pass provides a seamless travel experience throughout your trip, be sure to check the operating hours. Most services wrap up around midnight and resume early morning, so plan your adventures accordingly. A quick tip for late-night explorers: keep an eye on the clock and some Japanese yen handy for a cab ride back.

    Food and dining experiences

    20. Try local street food

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    Tokyo, a city filled to the brim with cultural gems, also boasts a street food scene that's a thrilling journey for your taste buds. Imagine wandering through a city, the aromatic wafts of simmering ramen broth guiding your steps towards the nearest food stall. And there you find it - the city’s finest, nestled in the hustle and bustle, serving up small plates of sheer joy. From sizzling yakitori skewers to the freshest sushi, the food here is more than just a meal, it's an experience. Bite into succulent raw fish, slurp down rich ramen, or savor a soothing cup of green tea. If your trip to Japan is one for the senses, Tokyo's street food scene promises to serve you the greatest feast. And for those craving an upscale dining experience, a plethora of Michelin-starred restaurants are also within your reach.

    21. Try Japanese fast food

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    If you associate fast food strictly with burgers and fries, Tokyo will dramatically shift your perspective. This metropolis showcases its unique spin on fast food, featuring an enticing variety of Japanese fare rooted in tradition. Wander through the buzzing streets, and you'll find numerous eateries inviting you to eat, each offering savory quick bites that will tantalize your taste buds. Picture yourself savoring the most tender sushi, expertly prepared right before your eyes within minutes, or indulging in Tokyo's distinct ramen delicacies at a local joint, every bowl brimming with umami and depth of flavor. Following your meal, why not complement your food with a traditional Japanese beverage? With an array of animal cafes to choose from, Tokyo is a trove of culinary surprises, reinforcing the idea that eating here is an unmatched gastronomical adventure.

    22. When you go to an Izakaya (bar), expect a table charge

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    Envision yourself meandering through Tokyo, a blend of historical allure and cutting-edge vibrancy. As dusk descends, you decide to dive into the unique experience of Japanese izakayas. An izakaya is not merely a bar, but a lively hub where locals and tourists alike converge to relax after a busy day. Here, they eat their favorite Japanese food, sip cherished drinks, and indulge in amiable chatter. Tokyo is one place where such an engaging social dining scene thrives. Just bear in mind, when you enter this captivating domain, paying a table charge is expected. This minor expense is a part of the izakaya experience, a norm in many restaurants throughout this extraordinary metropolis. So eat, drink, and be merry in this inviting social scene that Tokyo offers.

    23. Nomihoudai system

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    For vegans planning a trip to Tokyo, prepare for a bit of a challenge. Though the city is renowned worldwide for its culinary scene, it is heavily dominated by seafood and meat, particularly at top-tier sushi restaurants and Michelin-starred eateries. Vegan options, while they do exist, are not as widely available. It's worth doing a little homework before your visit to find those tucked-away establishments catering to plant-based diets. Despite the initial hurdles, don't be too daunted; remember, part of the thrill of travel is navigating and embracing the local culture, and Tokyo is no different.

    Technology and connectivity

    25. Embrace tech

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    In Tokyo, tech isn't just present; it's woven into the fabric of daily life. So, get ready to embrace a high-tech lifestyle, especially in the dining scene, where most restaurants have swapped out traditional menus for tablets. This means you'll be choosing your sushi, ramen, or green tea with a tap or a swipe. And let's not forget about Japan's famously high-tech toilets, present even in the most modest establishments. You might be surprised by the array of buttons and functions, but that's all part of the Tokyo experience. This tech immersion might require some getting used to, but it's a unique and engaging way to navigate the city that could become the highlight of your trip.

    26. Get connected

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    Tokyo, the high-tech capital of the world, has all the internet connectivity you'll need, but sometimes, there's no match for the convenience of personal Wi-Fi. A top tip for the savvy traveler in Japan is to consider renting a pocket Wi-Fi for uninterrupted and convenient internet access. They're not overly pricey and could end up saving you quite a bit of yen in the long run. A pocket Wi-Fi ensures you're never out of touch, and you might be pleasantly surprised at just how handy it comes in for planning on the go during your trip.

    27. Take advantage of vending machines

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    In Tokyo, you'll soon discover that the city's vibrant charm extends even to its vending machines. These colorful, twinkling machines aren't just a novelty; they're a handy snack solution for tourists on-the-go. From quick bites and drinks to surprising finds, these machines are generously scattered throughout the city, from convenience stores to big department stores, offering you a delightful pick-me-up whenever you need one.

    Money Matters

    28. The importance of cash in Tokyo

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    For the Japanese, dealing in yen bills is more than just an economic transaction - it's part of the traditional ethos that values tangible transactions. So, while credit cards might be accepted at the bigger establishments, many of the city's intriguing, smaller venues, like local sushi bars, family-run restaurants, and even certain train stations, firmly stick to cash. Tourists often find this surprising, but embracing this cash-based approach is all part of the authentic Tokyo experience.

    29. ATMs and where to find them

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    Hunting for ATMs in Tokyo might seem like a treasure quest, given that very few Japanese ATMs work with international cards. But fear not, the city won't let you wander clueless. Here's the twist - the ubiquitous convenience stores like Family Mart aren't just for picking up snacks or drinks. They're also your go-to spots for ATMs! These ATMs are user-friendly, often multilingual, and operate around the clock. While the majority of local ATMs may pose a challenge for foreigners, you can always rely on the ones found in the post offices or 7-Elevens scattered throughout the city. So, whether you're on a shopping spree in Tokyo or about to relish some lip-smacking street food, make sure you've got yen in your pocket, courtesy of these conveniently located ATMs.

    30. Pasmo card

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    Just when you thought Tokyo couldn't get more convenient, let's talk about the Pasmo card. This little ticket to freedom is essential in Tokyo, especially if you're planning to crisscross this pulsating city using the subway or trains. Not only can you use it for your metro rides, but it also covers buses and even some taxis! You can pick up this versatile card at any train station or convenience store, and even some hotels offer them to tourists. Beyond transport, the Pasmo card can also be used for quick payments at various restaurants and vending machines across the city.


    31. Visit the 100 Yen Shop

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    Every trip to Tokyo should include a fun spree to a 100-yen shop! These shops are a must-visit for their quirky variety of items, and, as the name suggests, everything is just 100 Japanese yen! This is where you'll find everyday essentials, unexpected treasures, and quirky souvenirs, all offering fantastic value for money. Get ready to be surprised with what you might discover - from cute stationery, kitchenware, and toys to a plethora of Japanese snacks. Just remember to carry cash, as these shops are all about coins.

    32. Familiarizing yourself with Japanese convenience stores (konbini)

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    "Konbini" or convenience stores in Tokyo are something else! Akin to miniature wonderlands, they open a window into Japan's unique culture. With an array of Japanese food ready to eat, these stores will leave you spoilt for choice. You'll find everything from onigiri (rice balls) to bento boxes, from fresh pastries to an impressive array of drinks. Konbini are not just a pit stop, they are an essential part of the city's daily life. So while you're in Tokyo, make sure to swing by one of these stores, pick up a snack or a full meal, and immerse yourself in this quintessentially Japanese experience!

    33. Familiarizing yourself with traditional crafts and souvenirs

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    If you're someone who loves to bring back a piece of your journey with you, Tokyo is the city for your inner souvenir hunter! Japan's capital is renowned for its traditional crafts that beautifully blend centuries-old techniques with modern aesthetics. As you walk through the city, you'll find stores brimming with unique souvenirs, from ornate kimonos to handcrafted wooden dolls, from vibrant origami paper to artisanal tea sets. Not to forget, even convenience stores here stock a range of souvenirs, so you're never too far from that perfect keepsake. Just remember to have enough cash on hand, as many traditional craft stores prefer cash payments.


    34. Use the Takkyubin service

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    Got your hands full with shopping bags or suitcases? Say hello to Takkyubin service, a popular door-to-door delivery service in Japan that's going to be your best friend. Here's why: whether you're hopping between hotels or simply want to shop till you drop without lugging things around, Takkyubin will whisk your baggage from one location to another with minimal fuss. It's not just fast and reliable but also affordable, making it a firm favorite among both locals and visitors.

    35. Understanding the concept of capsule hotels and unique accommodations

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    When it comes to unique accommodations, Japan truly stands out, and the concept of capsule hotels is at the forefront of this novelty. Imagine this: sleeping in your own private pod, with all the essentials neatly packed into a compact, futuristic space. It's not just about the space-saving, budget-friendly factor. These capsule hotels are a nod to Japan's innovative spirit, encapsulating both efficiency and style. And it doesn't stop there! From robot-staffed hotels to old-world ryokans and funky manga cafes, Japan's variety of accommodations truly is a reflection of its harmonious blend of tradition and innovation. It's an experience like no other!

    36. Learning about traditional Japanese arts and performances

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    Delve into the cultural heart of Japan by immersing yourself in the country's traditional arts and performances. With a rich tapestry that spans from the compelling drama of Kabuki to the mesmerizing precision of the tea ceremony, Japan's traditional arts are an enriching spectacle not to be missed. Whether it's the minimalistic beauty of the Ikebana flower arrangement or the captivating wit of a Rakugo storyteller's performance, each form offers a unique insight into the nation's timeless heritage. However, as these events often follow specific schedules, it's advised to check their timings before embarking on your Tokyo trip. That way, you'll ensure that your visit coincides with these fascinating showcases of cultural grandeur, helping you truly step into the living, breathing art of Japan.

    37. Checking the schedule for festivals and events in Tokyo

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    If you're planning a trip to Tokyo, be sure to check the schedule for local festivals and events. Tokyo, the bustling heart of Japan, is always alive with vibrant events, from the traditional to the contemporary. You could find yourself under a shower of cherry blossom petals at a Hanami party or amid the electric energy of a summer Bon Odori festival. Or, join the locals in a captivating Matsuri, each one a colorful fusion of music, dance, and costumes, where age-old traditions blend seamlessly with Tokyo's modern pulse. Keeping an eye on the city's events calendar means you won't miss out on these unique, immersive experiences that truly bring the spirit of Tokyo to life.

    38. Discovering hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path attractions

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    When you're exploring Tokyo, don't be afraid to venture off the well-worn path of typical tourist attractions. This city, like a treasure chest, holds countless hidden gems waiting for the curious traveler. Meander through quiet, lantern-lit alleys and stumble upon a cozy izakaya serving up authentic yakitori. Wander beyond the shopping streets, and you might find an artisanal shop crafting Edo Kiriko cut glass, a centuries-old craft. Look out for those humble neighborhood shrines and parks that offer tranquility amidst the urban hustle. In Tokyo, the off-the-beaten-path attractions are often those that leave the deepest impressions and provide a closer look at the city's soul.

    39. Prepare for crowded places

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    Expect a bit of a squeeze when you're navigating Tokyo, a city famed for its bustling energy. Crowded trains are just a part of the daily rhythm here, and there's something exhilarating about being swept up in the tide of commuters during rush hour. It's not just about getting from point A to point B; it's about the journey and the people you're sharing space with. It's all part of the Tokyo experience – an up-close introduction to its vibrant city life. So, while it may feel overwhelming at first, it's an adventure that can end up being quite fun if taken in stride.

    40. Explore Tokyo's neighborhoods

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    Unleash your inner explorer as you wander through Tokyo's diverse neighborhoods, each boasting its unique charm. From the historic alleys of Asakusa, brimming with traditional temples, to the trendy streets of Shibuya, pulsating with youthful energy, there's a whole cityscape waiting to be discovered. Maybe you'll find yourself drawn to the stylish boutiques of Harajuku or the peaceful serenity of Daikanyama. Each area offers a unique slice of Tokyo life, so put on your comfiest shoes and set out on your urban adventure.

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