Following is a collection of thoughts and observations, some amusing, some informational, of which I made note while in Tokyo and that I hope better prepare others for their visit.
The city is enormous and very spread out. We walked 15 miles the first day and nine on the second. This is worth keeping in mind when selecting the neighborhood in which you will stay. We stayed in Asakusa, and while I felt like it was out of the way, I’m not sure any neighborhood would feel central. You’ll likely want to visit areas all over the city and find yourself quite far from your home base regardless of where it is.
It is not as expensive as you think. (At least right now, for Americans.) We were repeatedly pleasantly surprised by the cost of our meals. As mentioned in another post, we had a delicious Italian lunch where our pasta dishes were $5 each. That said, we did experience a few eyebrow-raising moments – like when we paid $27 per ticket to see a movie!
Be prepared to carry your garbage. Tokyo, and in fact all of Japan, is unbelievably clean. Perhaps aimed at ensuring it remains so, there are virtually no public trashcans anywhere – not on the sidewalks or even in many bathrooms. The platforms of major train stations were a consistent exception.
You’ll never know on which side to walk. The Japanese drive on the left side of the road. In other similar countries, such as England, pedestrian rules mimic those of the road. For example, whereas in the U.S. we typically walk to the right when going up or down stairs or walking down the sidewalk, it’s the opposite in London. The same is true in Japan…only when it’s not. Directional arrows on stairs and walkways in the subways constantly change sides, and there seemed to be no consistent manner in which people walked or rode bikes along the street. As a result, we often felt flustered and in the way.
Don’t sweat public transit. Tokyo has a mind-blowing number of rail operators and transit systems. Don’t worry: it’s not necessary to figure it all out. As long as you know what line you want to take and the station names, you’ll be fine. Signage is clear and abundant.
Convenience stores FTW. Family Marts and 7-11s are everywhere, and they actually have great snack food and bento options. From rice balls to pork buns and lunch boxes, they’re great in a pinch or just a midday pick-me-up.