Living in Tokyo – culture shock and surprises

Although I studied the Japanese language and culture at school before coming to Japan, when I actually arrived in the country there were still many things that I found surprising or that I wasn’t prepared for.

Check it out in our blog today!

Public Transportation and Getting Around

The first thing that comes to mind is how impressive public transportation is, even in the more remote areas of the country. You can get almost anywhere on a railway!


Tokyo subway network  looks very much like spider web to me


The first time I went to Japan as a student, I was shuttled from Narita Airport to Tokyo, where I caught up on some sleep at a hostel before heading to the middle of the countryside the next day.

Back then in 2011, an airplane was the best way to get there but now with the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, it’s possible to get there from Tokyo by high-speed rail in under 3 hours! This is incredible for a 400 km journey.

The “Shinkansen” bullet train will get you anywhere in no time!



©East Japan Railway Company



For your information, in Australia, the 286 km journey between Sydney and Canberra takes almost 5 hours by train.

If you plan to travel to a few different cities while in Japan, definitely consider looking into the different available JR Passes to save money and time. These cover local trains, limited express and shinkansen (bullet trains) across a number of areas depending on the pass chosen. The shinkansen is by far the most convenient way to travel across the country and it is very affordable with the JR pass.

Read more FAQ about JR pass 

Adding to this, as a person coming from a country with a physically large area, I was amazed at how close everything is in Japan.

For example, someone who chooses to visit Uluru (Ayers Rock) may be shocked to find that it is 455 km from the nearest town, Alice Springs. This is comparable to the distance between Tokyo and Osaka, a route which passes through a number of huge cities.


Eating Out vs Cooking

If you are staying in a hotel, you don’t really have a choice but to eat out or buy pre-made food. If you are staying somewhere with cooking facilities, you may be thinking of cooking some of your own meals.

However, particularly in Tokyo and other larger cities, eating out can be the same price or even cheaper than cooking.


This simple udon noodle only costs 150 yen


Although snacks and other pre-made food (conbini bentos, anyone?) can be cheap and be enough to fill you up for 500 yen (4.50 USD, 6 AUD), fresh fruit, vegetables and meat can be quite expensive.

Unless you really enjoy cooking or want to make something you can’t find at the shops, cooking at home may not be the better choice, budget wise.

Fruit and vegetable are often sold in unit e.g. one apple, one cucumber, one potato etc.


220 yen for one apple
58 yen for cucumber
onions and potatoes mostly sell in kg in my country
This might be a little extreme but it’s true.. one little tomato for 44 yen. Imagine you have a bowl of salad with 5 tomatoes, how much will it cost you?


Even at casual restaurants such as Genki Sushi and Ootoya you can eat a delicious and healthy Japanese meal for 800-900 yen (7-8 USD, 10-11 AUD).


hakata tonkotsu 1.JPG
This bowl of ramen is 500 yen with free noodle refill.


Noodles such as Chinese-style ramen or the more traditional Japanese soba or udon, can fill up a hungry traveler from 500 yen! There are also meals such as gyuudon (rice bowl topped with marinated beef) from as little as 350 yen. Don’t be afraid to ask for oo-mori (large serving) if you’re a big eater. Some places even charge the same price for the regular size and bigger sizes.


Shoes and the division between “clean” and “dirty” floors

Although I very much enjoyed how convenient everything is, there were some things that I found hard to adjust to.

A big thing I noticed is the idea that any surface that shoes touch is considered to be “dirty”. In Australia, there are many families who take their shoes off when entering theirs or someone else’s home, but in Japan this is taken to a whole new level.

For example, in schools and even a doctor’s office I went to, it was required to change into slippers when entering. This allows the floor inside to be kept clean. Even in changing rooms at clothing stores you are expected to take off your shoes! I had no idea about this the first time I entered a changing room so I was about to go in shoes and all, until the flustered shop attendant had to stop me.


shoes off in the changing room


A good rule of thumb is to watch what others around you are doing – I made it a habit to always look at someone’s feet when following them into a building or different kind of room. Also take notice if there are shoes left at the entrance, or slippers left out.

This brings me to another point. Of course as a foreigner people will understand if you do so and it might not be considered rude, but if you want to fit in with the locals, you should avoid putting your bag on the floor at a cafe or train station, etc. People tend to keep their belongings on their laps or place it on an empty chair next to them.

Because of this, in some restaurants and bars you might actually see a basket under the table or your chair to put your handbag or backpack in! This is for your peace of mind so you don’t have to sling your handbag over the back of your chair or take up an extra seat.



A final thing that I noticed was the amazing ability of Japanese people to be perfectly on time and on schedule.

This applies not only to business meetings, but even casual meet ups with friends! Often when two people meet up, they both arrive before the meeting time. There is no such thing as “fashionably late” here – even 5 minutes late is worth an apology.


Remember, be on time!


Important : If you make a booking at a restaurant or beauty service during your stay in Japan, be careful to arrive several minutes before the scheduled time to avoid losing your spot. If you are going to be late, it’s best if you call to let them know in advance. 

Although this was difficult for me to adjust to at first, when coming back to Australia briefly, I had a bit of reverse culture shock when my family kept me waiting for 20 minutes past our intended meeting time!


I have so far really enjoyed my time in Japan and although some parts of the culture were hard to adjust to, these small things are part of what makes it a unique place and an interesting place to travel.


Blog by : Rachel

Edit&Photos : Christine + MONTHLY


*** All photos and texts copyright to tictokyo blog unless otherwise noted. Copy or reproduction is not allowed without written permission. ***



3 thoughts on “Living in Tokyo – culture shock and surprises

    1. You are quite right… I came to Japan for the first time about 10 years ago and the price wasn’t much different then, about 200-300 yen.

      Comparing with fresh fruit or vegetable, I think eggs are considered cheap.


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