The capital of Japan is the epicentre of everything in Japan. Nothing can be boring in this megacity!
Exchange Rates, Credit Cards & ATMs
Please be aware of the exchange rate, which has been extremely volatile and is expected to continue to be so. Credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere but it is still a common practice to ask for a signature rather than typing in a PIN. ATM are everywhere and safe to use, but always be alert as in any large city. Many convenience stores like 7Eleven have ATM machines inside their stores as do the lower ground levels in your hotels.
Tipping & Tax
Tipping is not at all a Japanese custom. There is no tipping in Japan unless you are really pleased with the service. 5% VAT will be added to your bill when you pay.
Health & Safety
For the Police dial 110, for an Ambulance & Fire dial 119. Japanese engineering and architecture are on a world-class level. All hotel and department staff, police, emergency services and the public transport employees are well trained for all sorts of emergencies. The emergency route and street guide of Tokyo is available from many bookshops. Your hotel concierge will assist you and answer any safety queries you may have. Even though, Tokyo is a safe and a very clean city, please do not forget to be alert, especially women and if our walking on the streets during the evening. As in any large city, common sense and safety precautions should prevail.
If you have any existing medical conditions, are on medication or suffer from allergies, please write them down along with any other vital information, so it’s available for the hospital staff and the emergency services. They may understand the written information better. Quite often, medicines are available in different names and in different sizes or doses in Japan. Also only limited types and amounts of medicines are available at a pharmacy.
And by the way tap water is safe to drink!
Many restaurants have a separate smoking and non-smoking areas; however, it is not as strict as in the UK and Europe. The airports and the public buildings offer designated smoking areas inside or outside their buildings. Most public transport and taxis are non-smoking. Some boroughs in Tokyo have introduced new laws and you may be cautioned or fined if seen smoking outside on pavements. You’ve been warned!
The squatting style is very traditional, however, European style toilets are more popular these days, so don't worry. Unfortunately, Japanese high-tech warm toilets still may confuse many visitors. There are so many buttons and options! The only thing you need is 'Flush', which should be well marked and quite often written in English. If you are unsure, take a look when you are in the department stores or your hotel. Most female toilets are friendly for mothers with children and babies.
Mobile Phone & Wi-Fi
Welcome to the mobile paradise! Narita International Airport has many rental desks, and some of them like Softbank may offer a Japanese Smartphone (Android) in English and other European languages. It may be expensive, but can be quite fun to try Japanese mobile Apps! Please be aware though that there are mobile-free zones on public transport. You are kindly requested to put your mobile on silent if in these mobile-free zones. Unfortunately, as Tokyo has very advanced mobile service, Wi-Fi is not widely available. Hotels are generally fine, but outside, please look out for 'Wi-Fi' sign or a sign with SoftBank's white dog with Wi-Fi.
Food & Drink
Ingredients including eggs, wheat and nuts are well indicated in Japanese, but not in English. Vegan food is uncommon, but you can try tofu restaurants and shops. The food halls in department stores are a gourmet wonderland and strongly recommended. They also have fresh fruits juice stands for your vitamin top up! Bars are normally open from 6pm until midnight (or 4am). Japanese beers are normally super chilled and served in bins or cans. Bars can be smoker friendly, so check or talk to the bartender if you are a non-smoker. An invoice will be brought to each table which you will need to take to pay at a till. No one comes to take your payment at the table in Japan.
Narita International Airport is approximately 36 miles (60km) from the city centre. The airport has a very informative English website. Express trains (Skyliner and Narita Express) and airport limousine buses connect the airport to the key train stations and hotels in the city centre. Both trains and buses are well maintained and economical. The express trains take about 40-50 minutes to the city centre. If you are carrying a lot of luggage this is not such a good option. Limousine buses take 60-90 minutes or more depending on the traffic. There are luggage delivery services available between the airport and your chosen destination.
Taxis are good. There are fixed fare taxis available from specific taxi ranks at the airport. Alternatively, there are standard taxis, which are licensed and you just pay by the meter. It is rare to see unlicensed taxis, but please take taxis from the designated taxi ranks, and there should be airport staff for any assistance. A helicopter service is available for those who prefer privacy and comfort. It connects between the airport and Ark Hills Heliport in Roppongi in just 20 minutes. The fare includes chauffeur service between the heliport and one pick up/drop off point. Please check Mori Building City Air Service (MCAS) for more information.
Haneda Airport is about 20-30 minutes from the city centre. It is essentially for domestic flights, but since the opening of the new international terminal in 2010, there are some direct flights between Haneda and the UK & Europe, the USA and Asia. Trains, monorails, airport limousine buses and fixed rate and standard taxis are available.
The new international terminal is quite entertaining. Edo Market and Edo Koji on the 4th Floor has restaurants and shops dedicated to Japanese culture and food. Planetarium Starry Café has a planetarium on 5th Floor!
The shops in both airports often sell airport original or exclusive items. Narita International Airport offers workshops such as the Japanese calligraphy and ukiyoe while waiting for boarding.
Originally from Nagasaki, Shiho Ichinose is a London based fashion and travel writer
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