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What Not To Do In Tokyo: The Top Five Tourist Mistakes

Where: Tokyo, Japan
March 31, 2010 at 9:40 AM | by | ()

The infamous "Shibuya Scramble" intersection

It's a must on every traveler's list: Tokyo. The capital city of Japan can be as equally confusing as it is magical, and the key is knowing some basics and we're here to help with that. To supplement our own knowledge of the city, we consulted with our friend Keiko, who grew up in Tokyo, and our friend Jared, who just returned with cautionary tales from his first trip there. We've covered the five absolute worst mistakes in our mind, but we know there are a score more.

So without further ado, here is the Jaunted guide of What Not To Do In Tokyo: The Top 5 Tourist Mistakes.

5. DON'T stop in the middle of the famous "Shibuya Scramble" intersection
It's like the Times Square of Tokyo, except is way busier. This intersection puts people up against traffic to see who can move the fastest, and usually the sheer mass of people win. One of the biggest, busiest Starbucks locations in the world is here, and if you dare stop while crossing the street, you can say goodbye to your latte. If you pause for a photo, the continuous flow of pedestrians will either involuntarily keep you moving along or you'll be so jostled that not a single photo will turn out quite right. Just keep moving along. See the intersection from above here

The Harajuku Rockabilly Club in Yoyogi Park

4. DON'T expect the streets to be crawling with kids dressed in Cosplay or as Gothic Lolitas
Manga and FRUiTS Magazine may be awesome reads, but you won't find the Tokyo youth going to work or the grocery store dressed as their favorite fantasy character, or sporting a full baby doll look. Just like with any regular fashion trend, styles change, and so you may be disappointed to see less Lolitas in Shibuya. Costumes are mainly a weekend fascination, particularly on Sunday on Omotesandō Street and the surrounding area. We'd recommend checking out the Harajuku Rockabilly Club, which hangs out and dances in Yoyogi Park. It's like everything that Grease tried to be: the biggest bouffant hairdos, the baddest leather jackets and the bounciest poodle skirts on the girls.

3. DON'T waste your time and money going up Tokyo Tower
It is not as romantic as Paris' Eiffel Tower, and although it was a big date spot in the 1980s, it's just a tourist trap now. Instead, you'd do better to head to "Tokyo City View," the Observation Deck in the Mori Building in Roppongi Hills, which has a Sky Deck (and heliport!) for a completely open-air 360-degree panorama of Tokyo that takes you higher than Tokyo Tower's 820-foot viewing platform. Plus, if you go here you'll get Tokyo Tower in your photos (example here) and be able to spy the national symbol of Mount Fuji on a clear day. [Tokyo City View]

Mmm! California rolls. Or not.

2. DON'T order California Rolls, Philadelphia Rolls or any other "American sushi"
Sure, Japan is full of sushi, but that doesn't mean that the menus will mimic the ones at your local takeout joint back in the States. The popular California roll doesn't exist in Japan because it was invented in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo neighborhood in the 1970s, and others—like the Philadelphia Roll, Spider Roll and Rainbow Roll—are American inventions. That said, if you've been to good Japanese restaurants often enough, you should recognize at least a few things on the menus in both countries. Extra tidbit: learn the difference between sushi and sashimi.

1. DON'T think of Tokyo as super expensive and out of your budget
Unless you're staying at a 5-star hotel, airfare should be the single biggest expense of your trip. That said, Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the entire world right now, so the misconception is that Tokyo is full of pricey fine dining. Backpackers already know this, but the average traveler should be open to it as well: the awesomeness of Japanese street food. Tokyo locals are natural foodies and proud of this, so they'll be happy to tell where you may be able to find the best ramen, oden (fish cake stew), yakitori (japanese kebab), okonomiyaki (japanese pancake) and more. And this doesn't just go for food; use common sense and be aware of the exchange rate and, when in doubt, do as the locals do.

What are your Tokyo DOs and DON'Ts? Have you done any of the above and loved or regretted it? Let us know in the comments!

Related Stories:
· What NOT to Do in London: The Top 5 Tourist Mistakes [Jaunted]
· What NOT to Do in Paris: The Top 5 Tourist Mistakes [Jaunted]
· What NOT to Do in Venice: The Top 5 Tourist Mistakes [Jaunted]
· Tokyo Travel news [Jaunted]

[Photos: Wikimedia, louisemakesstuff, rakka]

Archived Comments:

I agree-Tokyo doesn't have to be expensive!

I had a great time about eight years ago "backpacking" through the urban core of Japan (Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima), and most definitely did not break the bank doing so. In addition to the massive amounts of cheap food available, there are plenty of relatively inexpensive places to sleep as well (as a caveat, I did crash at a friend's flat while in Tokyo/Yokohama), in addition to the big expensive chains (Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, etc.) that can be expensive anywhere in the world.

The most expensive place I've ever been is Scandinavia--while beautiful and definitely worth a visit, you will easily drop $30+ a night for a hostel bed in a shared dorm!

Tokyo is awesome

We went to Tokyo several months back, and I agree with most of this post. It's easy to find delicious cheap eats all around the city, and it's not too difficult finding reasonable accommodations, as long as you don't mind a small room. I will say, though, that we really enjoyed the Tokyo Tower, and am glad we did it. There are several spots in the city to find a great view, and each one of them is different, so why not try as many as possible? Best view I saw of the city was from the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku - the New York Bar from Lost in Translation. It was amazing!


If you plan to do extensive traveling through the country, pick up a Japan RailPass which is ONLY sold outside of Japan and valid for tourists. This gets you unlimited use of the JR system including some of the bullet trains (sadly, not on the fastest shinkansen). We bought one and the pass paid for itself on a trip to Kyoto alone on a bullet train. Buy an exchange order outside of Japan, bring it to one of the listed JR stations, get the pass...and just flash it everytime you enter the station. Details here: http://www.japanrailpass.net It's ONLY good if you're doing extensive travel outside of Tokyo, otherwise, just bring cash and buy tickets as you need them.


"Japanese kebab", such a harmless sounding description. They serve it in our local Japanese restaurant in London, and it's exactly as described - "marinaded chicken on skewers" so when we saw it on the menu our first night in Tokyo, well, we figured, should be familiar. In Japan, it is still chicken, and still on skewers.. it's which parts of the chicken that may give you pause for thought. Thigh (fine), neck (greasy but ok), liver (ok if you like that sort of thing), heart (chewy. very chewy.), gizzard (more offal than I can handle). Finally there was a skewer with chicken meatballs - made of G*d only knows what, given the bits that had already been eaten - and a bowl of chicken broth (can there have been anything of the poor chicken left at that point?) Aside from that, Tokyo is awesome - but forget trying to find Roman menus outside of Roppongi and the big international hotels, either spend a few weeks learning kana before you go, or get used to point-and-order. Not even MacD's has a roman menu.. for those who have travelled in France, Italy, Spain etc., this is a bigger barrier than you might appreciate. With those languages, even if you can't speak much or any, you can at least read and say the words (and look them up in a dictionary). For Japanese, that just isn't the case.

Never Been...But...

Can I still wear a Hello Kitty T-shirt? I am thinking that's probably a tourist don't.

Demystifying Tokyo

I have wanted to visit Tokyo for some time now, but as incredibly fascinating as I find it, it also intimidates me. These tips are definitely helpful in getting me started at figuring out Tokyo from afar, so thanks! -Karina www.TaraAndKarinaGoOut.com


do people really go to Japan expecting to see numerous people walking around in cosplay? i mean i see it sometimes. and i also see these idiots obsessed with japan walking around focused on such superficial things about japan, but their misconceptions about japan can't be that bad can they? http://www.borderbreaker.com

thanks for the tips!

I definitely want to go to Tokyo soon - as soon as I finalize my travel health insurance! A lot of these tips seem pretty basic - sushi or the clothes. But thanks for including the info about the Tokyo View and also the park to visit! I'm also trying to figure out some really great spots that are less tourist-y to visit or great restaurants to check out. Those of you that have been - let me know!! Any recommendations are welcome :)


Tokyo is the capital of Japan. Its a beautiful place to visit. There are many exciting and entertaining places where you can do whatever you want. So everyone should visit this for sure. pneumonia shot

Follow the order

Follow the order of the things and do not expect that people will talk to each other or smile at the subway. Don't miss Disneylando and the baked sweet potato from a street vendor. auto insurance quotes

Crazy town.

What are the greasers doing in Tokyo. Looks like someone tried to recreate the Ousiders. moving pods

Tokyo everybody wants to travel

I never would have considered to look at things in that light. This is going to make my life a whole lot easier. <a href="http://www.carinsurancequotes.org.za">car insurance quotes</a>

Not too expensive

I also heard the rumours that Tokyo is the most expensive place on Earth. But my purse says different. I have lived a few places on Earth and the living costs are not specially high in Tokyo. Tokyo CAN be expensive, especially if you buy imported goods such as another poster said, but it does not have to be so. Youth hostels cost anywhere from 2500 yen to over 7000 yen per night. Then, breakfast and lunces are available for about 400 ~ 500 yen. If you walk everywhere and do not enter any attractions or purchase any souvenirs, $80 a day might be enough to get by. Otherwhise, you will need at least $100 per day.


I just registered to say THANK YOU! I am going to Tokyo with my girlfriend next month and this will save me a lot of headaches. Although I am sad that Tokyo Tower isn't what it used to be. Why is it a tourist trap now? I really wanted to go there. <a href="http://www.squidoo.com/pioneeravhp4200dvd">Pioneer AVH-P4200DVD</a>


there was a skewer with chicken meatballs - made of G*d only knows what, given the bits that had already been eaten - and a bowl of chicken broth (can there have been anything of the poor chicken left at that point?) Aside from that, Tokyo is awesome - but forget trying to find Roman menus outside of Roppongi and the big international hotels, either spend a few weeks learning kana before you go, or get used to point-and-order.[url=http://e-stavkovekancelarie.com]stavkove kancelarie[/url]

Tokyo Tower

This is the first time that I've read of discouraging tourists from Tokyo Tower. I've always wanted to visit one of Japan's famous landmarks and it's kind of disappointing that it's not that impressive as the Eiffel Tower. car insurance - http://www.howmuchiscarinsurancex.com

JR 3 days pass

I'm traveling in Japan at the moment and have been here for 2 weeks. Food is expensive as compared to other countries in Asia, its just like in Singapore though. When you are coming for a short visit in Japan the best way to get a chance to ride on the Shinkansen is to buy the JR 3 days pass. 1st day I managed to go to Mount Fuji Station and see the mountain closely, you have to take the local train though (all covered by the pass). 2nd day I took the Shinkansen to a ski resort and on 3rd day I went to Nikko. Its worth buying the pass coz you really save a lot. As for the 100yen stores (Daiso) its worth going coz thats where you find goods really cheap especially if you need extra socks/ caps/ gloves/ souvenirs.

Like it

Planning my next trip to Tokyo

Shibuya is not infamous, it's one of its kind. But yes it's madness :). Why say no to Tokyo Tower? It's a good place to visit if you are not afraid of heights. I have not been to Mori Building, the photos by Masayuki Takaku are excellent, added that for my next trip to Tokyo. And yes I love Tokyo street food, it's delicious. Whenever I go to a new city, I do eat the street food as that's always the tastier one.