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First time in Tokyo? Here’s what you need to know

With a population of over 9 million, the world’s busiest crossing and talking vending machines, your first time in Tokyo can be a little overwhelming. So, before you go, have a read of our bite-sized Tokyo guide. We answer everything from “how can I get around the city?” to “where can I buy square watermelons?” …yes we said square.

Where should I stay in Tokyo?

With over 1000 neighbourhoods, choosing where to stay in Tokyo can be daunting for a first-time traveller. We recommend staying in either the Shinjuku or Ginza districts. Both offer a vibrant atmosphere and are well connected. Shinjuku is a popular area to stay as it is connected to Tokyo’s main circular train line, the JR Yamanote Line. You can easily hop between great restaurants, quirky shops and pretty parks. And for a glamorous evening, head to the timeless alley of Golden Gai for little bars reminiscent of the 1950s.

How can I get around the city?

The best way to explore Tokyo is by train or subway. With approximately 8.7 million daily riders, this city knows how to make an efficient subway system. When you arrive in Tokyo, be sure to purchase a Pasmo or Suica card. Two separate names but they do exactly the same thing. Pasmo cards are sold at any ticket vending machine at a Tokyo subway station, whereas Suica cards are only available at JR EAST stations. Costing 1000 yen (500 yen for deposit, 500 yen credit), top up as you go and the city is yours to discover.

What should I eat in Tokyo?

Square watermelons of course! Designed with a compact Japanese refrigerator in mind. These square fruits are stackable, easier to store and thus, easier to ship. But how do they become square? While still on the vine, a square, tempered glass box is placed around the watermelon. As it grows bigger, the watermelon assumes the shape of the box. Considered a luxury item in Japanese culture, you’ll find them in fancy fruit emporiums like Shibuya Nishimura Fruits Parlor. You may need to add a watermelon buffer to your budget, as these unusually shaped fruits will set you back about $100 (more than $800 if bought abroad).

If box-like fruit isn’t your thing, take a bite out of some of these delicious dishes… fresh sushi from Ginza restaurant, yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) from local’s favourite Doromamire and of course, ramen from the Ramen Museum.

What should I do in Tokyo?

As the world’s most populated metropolitan area, Tokyo certainly packs a punch. Head out for the day and explore the kooky fashion hot spot of Harajuku or whisk yourself back to old-world Japan and wind down the ramshackle streets of Yanaka Ginza. Get in touch with your zen at the Sensō-ji temple, home to a Shinto shrine or square up to sumo in Ryogōk and enter a “stable” for a glimpse at their early-morning training regime.

Discover the best of Tokyo on Trafalgar’s Splendours of Japan.

How should I behave in Japan?

Before you head to Tokyo for the first time, brush up on your manners. Why? Japanese customs are sacred, with many originating thousands of years ago. Here are three tips you need to know before you go…

1. Don’t eat on the street, it’s impolite. Streets and subways are considered dirty. When you buy a drink or food from a vending machine, you should eat it there and discard your rubbish in the bin provided.

2. Don’t leave your chopsticks standing upright in your food. This is a Japanese taboo. At funerals, a bowl of rice is left with two chopsticks standing vertically in the centre. It reminds Japanese people of death and is considered bad luck.

3. Slurp as much as you like. Slurping your noodles loudly is a good thing. This tells the chef you enjoyed their cooking. However, it is not good Japanese etiquette to bite your noodles in half. Don’t be shy, slurp away.

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