Things to Know Before You Go to Tokyo, Japan

Stepping into the Japanese capital without the tell-tale signs of being a tourist begins with embracing the city’s rhythm and its hidden codes. Let’s find out a few things to know before you go to Tokyo to blend in.

Houses and buildings in Tokyo, Japan with Mount Fuji as the backdrop
Houses and buildings in Tokyo, Japan with Mount Fuji as the backdrop

Tokyo is a bustling city that stretches over 2,194 square kilometers, making it a pivotal cultural hub that marries the ancient with the ultramodern. Originally known as Edo (before being renamed Tokyo ‘Eastern Capital’ in 1868), it has grown from a modest fishing village into one of the world’s most populous and dynamic cities. 

Home to over 37 million people, today’s Tokyo boasts a rich tapestry of history, evident in its preserved temples and gardens amidst skyscrapers and neon lights. Yet still, it also boasts the most modern of tech being a city where you can find vending machines that dispense everything from hot coffee to umbrellas, reflecting a culture that values convenience and innovation. 

This guide talks about the things to know before you go to Tokyo that will definitely help you appreciate the depth of the city’s true identity. With that, allow Casai to guide you into a more authentic and respectful experience this lovely metropolis really has to offer.

The Best Time to Visit Tokyo

It’s safe to say that the kaleidoscope of Tokyo’s seasons offers distinctly different experiences. Previous visitors would know. So, ahead of booking that flight, make sure to take note of these things to know before you go to Tokyo:

In Spring (March to May), you’ll see the city in bloom, not only with the famed cherry blossoms but also with a palpable sense of renewal that springs all around. The climate is marked by pleasant weather, the surroundings alive with outdoor festivities. This period is truly perfect for picnics under sakura trees in parks like Ueno and Shinjuku Gyoen, where the floral spectacle creates a painterly backdrop.

Meanwhile, Autumn (September to November) counters with its own color explosion, as ginkgo and maple trees turn the city into a canvas of fiery hues. Of course, the weather is equally agreeable, with clear skies and cooler temperatures that are ideal for enjoying outdoor markets and the historic Edo period gardens in their full glory.

Come Summer (June to August), the city brings not only more vibrant festivals and fireworks, but also heat and humidity that eventually welcome the rainy season in June and July. Still, it’s a time of lively energy, with events like the Sumida River Fireworks and the lively Bon Odori festivals providing a culture burst that stamps Japan as a true tourism hotspot.

And if you’re willing to brave the chill, winter (December to February) is less crowded and offers crisp, clear days, with occasional snow adding a serene beauty to the cityscape. The winter illumination events transform Tokyo into a dazzling wonderland, making it a magical time to visit.

A road in Tokyo, Japan with cars and pedestrians at night
A road in Tokyo, Japan with cars and pedestrians at night

Getting Around The City

Getting around the city is probably one of the most important things to know before you go to Tokyo. The good news is the city’s reputation for efficient public transportation is well-earned. With a comprehensive network of trains, subways, and buses, navigating Tokyo is surprisingly manageable. 

The JR Yamanote Line serves as the city’s arterial loop, connecting major districts and attractions. Consider purchasing a Pasmo or Suica card, reloadable smart cards that simplify fares across most transit options. On the other hand, for exploring areas not covered by rail, buses and taxis can fill the gaps, though taxis, while convenient, can be a bit costly.

Now, to truly embrace Tokyo’s rhythm, walking between destinations when feasible is highly recommended. After all, Tokyo is also one of the safest cities in the world. Many of Tokyo’s districts are also more compact than they appear on a map, so exploring the city by foot can reveal hidden gems not visible from train carriages. If you’re tasked for longer distances and time is of the essence, the Shinkansen (bullet train) offers quick trips to surrounding regions, providing an easy way to include day trips in your itinerary.

For a unique view of the city, consider a river cruise on the Sumida River, which presents a serene perspective of Tokyo’s majestic skyline. Meanwhile, renting a bicycle can also be an enjoyable alternative to explore the city, blending in with the local pace of life and discovering Tokyo’s charm at your own speed.

With thoughtful planning and an understanding of Tokyo’s many transportation systems, getting around becomes part of the adventure, offering insights into the daily rhythms and cultural nuances of this dynamic city.

Things to Know Before You Go to Tokyo: Must-Visit Attractions, Where To Eat, and More

Everyone knows that Tokyo offers an exciting blend of activities that cater to every interest. From historical sites to culinary adventures, the diversity is staggering. Having said that, here are some of the important things to know before you pack your bags and go to Tokyo: 

We recommend kicking off your journey in Asakusa with the venerable Senso-ji Temple. Then, pivot to the futuristic vibes of Odaiba, which showcases innovation and entertainment with its rainbow bridge and digital art museums. As you go North, the Tokyo Skytree and Meiji Jingu Shrine will greet you with contrasting views of the city from above and the tranquility of nature below. Both, however, truly encapsulates the city’s dynamic essence.

If you’re a foodie, we’re pretty sure you also know that Tokyo is one of the best food cities in the world. Tokyo’s culinary landscape alone is truly a feast for the senses— from the fresh catches at Tsukiji Market to the cozy ramen shops that dot the city. You may want to go the extra mile and participate in a sushi-making class to learn the art of Japanese cuisine while you’re at it.

Meanwhile, you can also immerse yourself in local tradition through a tea ceremony. Most of these ceremonies reveal the meticulous beauty and culture surrounding this age-old ritual. But for anyone wishing to catch a glimpse into the future, consider exploring Tokyo’s entertainment scene by visiting a virtual reality café or a high-tech game center. And for a taste of contemporary flair, the fashion-forward streets of Harajuku showcase the youthful spirit of Tokyo, with every shop and café offering something uniquely fascinating.

Related article: Guide To Exploring Tokyo’s Hidden Gems

A hotel room in Tokyo with a view of the skyline
A hotel room in Tokyo with a view of the skyline | Photo credit: Bellustar Tokyo

Where To Stay in Tokyo

Now that you know how Tokyo epitomizes the melding of the past, present, and future, it’s time to dive into how the city provides lodging experiences that are as diverse as its districts. Shinjuku, pulsating with its neon-lit nightlife and endless entertainment options, is perfect for those looking to dive into Tokyo’s vibrant heart. Here, luxury hotels are just a stone’s throw from some of the city’s most iconic spots.

Moving on to the elegance of Ginza, this district offers sophistication and luxury, with accommodations that range from high-end hotels to exclusive boutique lodgings. It’s an ideal choice for those who appreciate fine dining, upscale shopping, and the arts, all within walking distance.

For a more traditional stay, consider a ryokan in areas like Asakusa or the serene outskirts of Tokyo. These Japanese-style inns provide a cultural immersion, offering tatami floors, futon beds, and often, onsen (hot spring) facilities.

And since we’ve mentioned Tokyo is for everyone, budget travelers are also spoilt for choice with every visit. The city is surrounded by hostels and capsule hotels offering clean, efficient accommodations without breaking the bank. The districts of Ikebukuro and Ueno are great for economical stays, offering easy access to attractions without sacrificing convenience or comfort.

Essential Tips: Things to Know Before You Go to Tokyo

Of course, navigating Tokyo with savvy flair also requires a blend of street smarts and cultural insight. 

Here are some insider tips to keep you ahead of the tourist curve:

Bow Like a Pro. Master the art of the bow; it’s your handshake here. The deeper the bow, the deeper the respect (for real).

Shoe Shuffle. Slip off those shoes when entering homes and certain traditional spots. Socks with holes? Big fashion faux pas.

Phrase It Right. “Arigatou” (thanks) and “Sumimasen” (excuse me) are your verbal passports. Use them liberally.

Embrace the ‘Silent’ Journey. Public transport is a library on wheels. Silence is golden, and phone chats are out.

Eat Like a Local. Say “Itadakimasu” before eating; it’s the “bon appétit” of Japan. Vending machine meals? We promise you, they’re surprisingly good!

Drink the Tap. Tokyo’s tap water is crystal. Save your yen and the planet.

Convenience Store Cuisine. Konbini (convenience stores) are culinary treasure chests. Late-night sushi? Check.

Respect the Queue. Tokyo runs on orderly lines, from trains to ramen shops. Queue up like you were born to do it.

Feeling Lost? Look Up. Street signs and names are often sky-high on buildings, not at street level.

Onsen Etiquette. Tattoos can be a no-go. Check before you strip.

These bite-sized insights are your secret arsenal for navigating Tokyo with ease, blending in with the locals, and maybe, just maybe, avoiding those tourist faux pas that give the game away. Welcome to Tokyo, where respect meets reverence, and every corner turns into an adventure.

A quiet street in Tokyo lined with cherry blossom trees
A quiet street in Tokyo lined with cherry blossom trees

Explore Tokyo Like A Pro with This City Knows

Diving into the heart of Tokyo is like navigating a vast sea of stories, each wave revealing a hidden treasure or a secret alleyway where history and modernity dance in perfect harmony. 

And us here at This City Knows understands that the true magic of Tokyo lies in its details— the whispered greetings in the temples, the meticulous preparation of sushi, and the vibrant energy of its night markets. It’s in these moments that Tokyo reveals itself, inviting you to engage fully and move beyond the role of an observer to become a part of its ever-unfolding story.

So as you navigate Tokyo, let curiosity and respect guide your steps. Embrace the city’s rhythm, its flavors, and its people. The stories you’ll collect are as much about the places you visit as they are about the introspective journey you undertake, discovering as much about yourself as the city around you.

And because each journey is enriched by shared stories, we encourage you to drop your own discoveries and insights in the comments below. These will help shape the collective narrative, offering future travelers a roadmap to exploring Tokyo like a pro.

Indeed, Tokyo is more than a city; it’s a world unto itself, full of endless discoveries and moments of wonder. With This City Knows as your guide, you’re not just visiting Tokyo; you’re experiencing it in all its depth and vibrancy, leaving you with memories that resonate long after your journey concludes. 

So, step forward, explore with confidence, and let Tokyo unfold before you in all its intricate beauty.

Katie
Author: Katie

Katie is all about hitting the road solo, always on the lookout for spots the internet hasn't fully discovered yet. She’s the one turning left when the map says right, hunting for those genuine, "you had to be there" moments. With a style that's as engaging as a late-night chat by the hostel fire, her stories aren't just about places, but the raw, unfiltered joy of exploring them on your own terms.

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