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To reiterate, Shinjuku station is huge; it feels more like a mini city than it does a station. With multiple hidden pathways, many floors and levels, and an extortionate amount of people. And with the increased size comes an increased chance of getting lost.
However, the station compensates for the amount of time you’ll spend walking around the “Shinjuku labyrinth” with a plethora of clothing shops, restaurants and convenience stores. Ultimately Shinjuku station is a confusing, disorienting station that acts as a rite of passage for any first time visitor to Tokyo, with the sheer size and the amount of things to do within the station alone being something to marvel over. The Wifi is also free and pretty damn fast.
Trains in Tokyo are great. They’re almost always on time, there are plenty of them and they’re air conditioned!* (*This may not be that surprising to some, but I come from London where trains are rarely on time and only a select few have air conditioning)
The most challenging aspect of the Tokyo metro is transferring to different train lines. There is no singular train line company in Tokyo, which makes transferring a relay of exiting and entering at a variety of ticket gates. Thankfully, this is usually indicated well and quite easy to do, however, at each point a new ticket has to be purchased, making a relatively simple journey quite tedious. Pro tip, purchase a railcard (either a Suica or Pasmo card).
If you are interested in Japan or Japanese culture you have probably already been exposed to countless articles or videos about the crazy amount of vending machines, and here I am throwing my two cents in. Vending machines are everywhere, can confirm, and they are a blessing. I’m also yet to come across a vending machine that is not working
The vending machines also don’t regurgitate the same products. Granted, there are a few products that crop up in the majority of the machines, like cola, but for the most part they are fairly diverse. Tokyo will have a vending machine for everything and anything, and I urge you to try them! Some of the weirder products, like canned bread, is actually really good, and the umbrella vending machine has saved many a commuter when caught off guard by a sudden downpour.
One of the things I was most apprehensive about during my time in Tokyo was ordering food. My nerves and apprehension about ordering in a foreign country with basic language skills was forcing me into an involuntary fast. So, I took the plunge and ordered a McDonalds and was shocked (and relieved) by how simple the transaction was. A simple “kore-onegaishimasu” (this please) and a point was all that was needed, and from there the sky was the limit.
As much as I would like to believe my outstanding Japanese language skills and charisma is the reason why I pulled through in this scenario, the reality is that Japanese staff and workers are incredibly attentive and nice. Their main job is to ensure that you, the customer, is happy and satisfied, which means they will provide helpful guidelines for any struggling tourists.
There is a lot to do in Tokyo and unless you plan on moving there, there is a strong chance that you will not visit every landmark or uncover all of its hidden gems. Walking, rather than utilising public transport, I found enabled for a more engaging experience of Tokyo, and an opportunity to stumble upon things that may not have been on my itinerary. The only downside is that in certain areas of Tokyo, the footpaths and roads can be quite difficult to walk on.
Before embarking on your walk though, decide on your route in advance. Set a goal or pinpoint a general area which you want to explore before you run free into the wild. Setting goals beforehand can help you establish how much you want to explore whilst also factoring in your own limits.
Try to not rely on the trains. They are incredibly efficient but they can be fairly expensive and you can potentially miss out on an extortionate amount of culture and experience between stations.