Tokyo is an exciting, fast-paced city that offers visitors endless things to see and do. With its mix of historical sites, pop culture attractions, and world-class cuisine, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with options when planning your Tokyo itinerary. However, there are a few common mistakes travelers often make that can put a damper on your trip. This article will go in-depth on advice from frequent Japan visitors on what to skip while in Tokyo to help make the most of your visit.
Be Wary of Scams Targeting Tourists
Sadly, Tokyo has its fair share of scammers trying to take advantage of visitors, especially in major tourist areas. Here are some common Tokyo travel scams to watch out for:
Beware of Touts Trying to Lure You In
One of the most frequently mentioned scams involves touts trying to get you to visit a specific bar, restaurant, or other establishment. You may be approached, often by African immigrants, who will tell you about a great little place nearby and try persuading you to go with them. However, these touted spots are aimed at fleecing tourists out of lots of money through unscrupulous practices.
Once inside, you’ll likely find extremely high prices for drinks and food. Some places even have hidden fees that get tacked onto your bill. The staff may be pushy about trying to get you to spend more money too. Worse yet, some bars filled with touts have been linked to threats, blackmail, and assault when customers try to dispute the outrageous charges.
To avoid this, firmly say no if a tout on the street tries getting you to go somewhere, no matter how enticing they make it sound. This advice is especially pertinent in the Roppongi and Kabukicho areas, where touting activity is heavy. Simply keep walking and don’t engage with them. Going with a tout almost never leads to a positive experience for tourists.
Don’t Be Fooled by Fake Monks
Another scam involves people dressed up in Buddhist monk clothing who approach you asking for donations. No matter how spiritual and mystical they appear, do not give them any money. These “monks” are just scammers preying on tourist generosity and cultural naivety.
Real monks do not go around soliciting donations on the street in Japan. Buddhism promotes being unobtrusive, so monks begging from strangers contradicts their principles. Furthermore, genuine monks have no need to ask random people for money, as their temple provides for them through alms given by devout Buddhists.
If someone dressed as a monk approaches you for money, just say you don’t have any cash on you and keep walking. Do not hand anything over, as it only encourages them to continue scamming newly-arrived visitors.
Think Twice About Maid Cafes
Maid cafes are a cultural experience unique to Japan that many tourists want to try. At these cafes, waitresses dress up in cute “maid” outfits and treat customers with an exaggerated deference. However, frequent Japan travelers often advise avoiding maid cafes for a few reasons.
First, maid cafes are mostly aimed at lonely men rather than tourists. The maids give special attention to customers in order to get them to spend more money. As a foreigner, you’ll likely get subpar service, as the maids focus on Japanese male regulars.
Secondly, many maid cafe workers are exploited, especially if underage. They often work long hours for poor pay and no benefits. Some shadier maid cafes even serve as gateways for drawing vulnerable young women into illegal sex work. Supporting these cafes enables mistreatment.
Finally, maid cafes promote the objectification of women for commercial purposes. The overly cutesy maid act encourages the idea that women should behave subserviently to please men. Most foreigners feel deeply uncomfortable at maid cafes once they experience the creepy vibes first-hand.
Choose Transportation Wisely
Navigating a megacity like Tokyo can be challenging for visitors. Here are some tips on getting around efficiently without wasting money:
Don’t Take Taxis From the Airport
Many tourists arriving at Narita or Haneda opt to take a taxi to their hotel, unaware of how insanely expensive airport taxi fares are. The 60-90 minute ride from Narita to central Tokyo can cost ¥25,000 or more. Even a short taxi ride from Haneda to a hotel in the city center will set you back ¥5000 or more.
Instead, take public transportation like the train or airport bus. The Narita Express train takes around an hour to Tokyo Station for under ¥3000 one-way. Haneda has convenient train and bus links that cost a fraction of a cab. You’ll avoid taxi scams too – some unscrupulous drivers take unsuspecting tourists on long, circuitous routes to rack up the meter.
If you must take a taxi, agree on a flat fare beforehand to avoid getting ripped off. But ultimately, Tokyo’s excellent public transit makes cabs unnecessary in most cases. Plus hauling luggage on crowded trains and buses is challenging.
Don’t Commute During Rush Hour
Tokyo residents rely heavily on public transportation. This means trains and buses get packed during rush hour, when millions are commuting to work or school. You’ll want to avoid taking trains between 7-9am and 5-7pm if possible, as you’ll be uncomfortably squeezed in with suited salarymen and students.
Being crammed into crowded train cars with massive luggage is extremely inconvenient. Rush hour train crowds can also make navigating stations like Shinjuku and Shibuya, which have complex layouts, very stressful. Orient yourself and commute during off-peak times instead.
However, if you must travel during rush hour, choose express trains versus local lines when possible. The increased cost is worth it for more space and seating. Avoid train cars marked for women and children as well, unless permitted.
Research Transportation Costs Upfront
Tokyo’s public transportation network is top-notch, but it comes with a price. Failing to research common transit costs beforehand often leaves tourists with nasty sticker shock. For example, a single ride on many central subway lines costs ¥170-210, with distances costing ¥300 or more. Buses cost ¥210. Express trains tack on surcharges. It adds up quick.
To save money, get a Suica or Pasmo rechargeable IC card for 20% discounts on fares versus paper tickets. These cards can be used across all train and bus lines, are returnable as a deposit, and provide detailed trip records.
Also consider purchasing a metro pass if you’ll be sightseeing a lot. Passes can vastly reduce transportation costs, especially if traveling beyond the central city zones. For instance, the Tokyo Subway Ticket gives unlimited metro rides for 24/48/72 hours for around ¥800-1200.
Don’t Fall for Tourist Traps
Every big city has tourist traps designed to part visitors from their money. Tokyo has quite a few attractions that may seem amazing in photos or descriptions, but are disappointing in real life. Here are top spots that veteran Japan travelers say are overrated and skippable:
Don’t Bother With the Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace in central Tokyo may seem like an obvious must-see. However, travelers say touring the palace grounds is frankly pretty dull. The interiors of the palace are not open to the public, so all you see is the impressive exterior moat and stone walls.
The free walking tours only allow you to see tiny section of the massive grounds. Tours are in Japanese only and feel very rushed and regimented. Go to the East Gardens instead for unrestricted access to a beautiful part of the outer palace park.
Don’t Pay for City Views
Splurging on a city view seems tempting, but is unnecessary with Tokyo’s free high-rise observatories. Instead of expensive sky decks like Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower, go to the Mori Art Museum or Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Both offer amazing panoramic vistas at no cost.
The metropolitan government building in particular has been called the best free viewpoint in Tokyo. Visit during daylight and at night to see sprawling Tokyo lit up. Paired with Shinjuku’s high-rise lights, it’s an unforgettable sight.
Eat & Drink Wisely
In a city with over 160,000 restaurants, deciding where to dine in Tokyo is tricky. Follow this Tokyo food advice to avoid disappointments:
Seek Out Quality Sushi
Don’t waste money on cheap conveyor belt sushi chains. Quality sushi restaurants may look expensive, but are worthwhile for fresh seafood and refined service. Budget ¥5000-15,000 per person for an unforgettable sushi experience, or try takeout sushi from department store basements.
Research sushi etiquette too, as customs like not over-soy saucing or leaving fish pieces behind are taken seriously.
Avoid Questionable Animal Cafes
Animal cafes are popular tourist attractions, but some have questionable ethics. Owls are nocturnal and stressed by crowds and noise. Cafes that let customers hold owls for photos should be avoided. Opt for responsible cat, rabbit, or dog cafes instead to get your animal fix without supporting exploitation.
Don’t Get Food Poisoning
Street food stalls, conveyor belt sushi, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants sometimes cut corners on food safety. Stick to hot cooked foods and reputable vendors to avoid getting sick. Signs of a dodgy place include lack of refrigeration, raw seafood sitting out, and staff without gloves.
Skip the Weird Novelty Foods
Japanese cuisine has some acquired tastes that seem tempting for adventurous eaters. However, treats like cod sperm sacs, raw horse meat, and live shrimp tempt fate for many tourists unaccustomed to exotic fare.
Don’t feel pressured to eat strange foods that don’t appeal just because it sounds cool. Stick to your comfort zone food-wise so you don’t spend your trip doubled over a toilet.
Things Not to Do While Visiting Tokyo
Tokyo offers endless worthwhile experiences for visitors of all interests. Avoiding common tourist scams, transportation pitfalls, overpriced attractions, and food risks will maximize your time in the city.
Do thorough research on the best Tokyo has to offer for your travel style so you don’t waste time and money on subpar options. With some savvy planning, you’ll be set up for an unforgettable trip in this amazing metropolis!