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10 Tips While Traveling in Tokyo

by Donna David

Upright chopsticks in a bowl of rice are what the Japanese offer to the dead. Upright chopsticks in a bowl of rice are what the Japanese offer to the dead.

So you've decided to visit Tokyo for your next vacation. Tokyo is a vibrant, energetic city that can leave you exhilarated or completely disoriented with indecipherable signs, millions of people jamming the streets, and buildings standing so close to one another that they are almost glued together. Here's how to help you keep calm and enjoy your trip.

1. Before you leave your hotel, don't spray on perfume and skip slathering on your coconut lotion. Japanese people don't like perfume and heavily scented products to the point where perfume is actually banned in some offices and schools. Not wearing it is a sign of respect for other people's space, since it's crowded everywhere. If they all did, imagine riding a Sephora store to work everyday?

2. If you are heading out really early to see the sights, take a taxi for a pleasant start to your day. If you decide to brave the trains, be prepared to be pushed inside by the train staff - but this being the land of politeness, they will do so wearing pristine white gloves. That nice touch ends there, as your body will be contorted in ways you didn't think was possible.


3. When walking, stay on the left side. You will only be a salmon swimming upstream if you stay on the right.

4. Stand on the left side of the escalator if you intend to stay still. Leave the right side free of obstruction for people who want to run up in a hurry. (And besides, you're on vacation, take it easy. Don't move, but just make sure you're on the left.)

5. If you are lost, ask, even if you don't speak Japanese. Most Japanese know enough English to point you to the right direction and if they don't, 9 times out of 10 they will take you there themselves.

The Tokyo Sky Tree at night. The Tokyo Sky Tree at night.

6. When eating out, do like the natives do. Do slurp your soup - no one will think your parents didn't raise you right. And however tempting it may be to spear your chopsticks into that fluffy bowl of rice, don't. Upright chopsticks in a bowl of rice are what the Japanese offer to the dead.

7. Do not tip. Japan does not have a culture of tipping, and you will only embarrass your waiter if you insist. Service in Japan is impeccable, even without tipping. Besides, you'll get to save your money for those cool anime shirts, cute Hello Kitty phone cases or yummy green tea KitKats.

8. If you are dining with Japanese acquaintances, don't pour your own drink. Yes, you went sightseeing all day and yes you just want to sit down and take that first refreshing gulp but you can't until someone else pours your green tea or beer for you. It's considered rude to pour your own drink. Prevent this scenario by gulping down drinks from vending machines that are everywhere before you meet your friends. And while looking for a drink, you might just come upon an interesting vending machine that spews out bananas or umbrellas. Take a pic and Instagram it.

9. Those golden arches might be calling your name when you're hankering for a bite but don't listen. Go inside a karaoke place instead. You can order food to be brought to your booth and release all of the day's tension by singing your favorites away. It sure beats nursing a hot fudge sundae any day.

10. Traveling alone? Go ahead and ask the person nearest you to take your picture. There is absolutely no need to worry that the shutterbug will run away with your camera. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, but it could also be that everyone already has a camera in this photo-mad nation anyway.

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