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Things to know

Things to know about Tokyo


Talk

It's possible for English speakers to navigate their way around Tokyo without speaking any Japanese. Signs at subway and train stations include the station names in romaji(Romanized characters), and larger stations often have signs in Chinese and Korean as well. Though most people under the age of 40 have learnt English in school, proficiency is generally poor, and most locals would not know more than a few basic words and phrases. Some restaurants may have English menus, but it does not necessarily mean that the staff will speak much English. Reading and writing comes much better though, and many people can understand a great deal of written English without actually knowing how to speak it. That being said, staff at the main hotels and tourist attractions generally speak an acceptable level of English. While it is possible to get by with only English, it will nevertheless make your trip much smoother if you can learn some basic Japanese.


Culture

Tokyo is vast: it's best thought of not as a single city, but a constellation of cities that have grown together. Tokyo's districts vary wildly by character, from the electronic blare of Akihabara to the Imperial gardens and shrines of Chiyoda, from the hyperactive youth culture mecca of Shibuya to the pottery shops and temple markets of Asakusa. If you don't like what you see, hop on the train and head to the next station, and you will find something entirely different.

The sheer size and frenetic pace of Tokyo can intimidate the first-time visitor. Much of the city is a jungle of concrete and wires, with a mass of neon and blaring loudspeakers. At rush hour, crowds jostle in packed trains and masses of humanity sweep through enormous and bewilderingly complex stations. Don't get too hung up on ticking tourist sights off your list: for most visitors, the biggest part of the Tokyo experience is just wandering around at random and absorbing the vibe, poking your head into shops selling weird and wonderful things, sampling restaurants where you can't recognize a single thing on the menu (or on your plate), and finding unexpected oases of calm in the tranquil grounds of a neighbourhood Shinto shrine. It's all perfectly safe, and the locals will go to sometimes extraordinary lengths to help you if you just ask.


Expenses

The cost of living in Tokyo is not as astronomical as it once was. Deflation and market pressures have helped to make costs in Tokyo comparable to most other large cities in the developed world. Visitors from San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago,London, Paris, Sydney, Toronto and Dublin will not find it any more expensive than back home. Travellers should budget a similar amount of money for their stay in Tokyo as they would for any other great city in Europe, North America or Australia. Locals will know the bargains, but experienced cheapskates from anywhere in the world can get by with a little ingenuity. Tokyo is one of the most popular places to live in Japan. Rent for a single's apartment could range from USD500 to USD1,000 a month. Tokyo is so overwhelmingly crowded that many people live in apartments no bigger than 16 square meters (175 square feet).

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