My Tokyo Guide
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Updated: February 10, 2021
Bathing in sento public baths and onsen hot springs is an integral part of the Japanese lifestyle and you should definitely take the opportunity to take a dip in real Japanese culture. Unless stated otherwise, swimsuits are not allowed when bathing publicly. And for deep cultural reasons, some facilities refuse entry for people with tattoos. Drinking alcohol before soaking may lead to physical sickness so it should be avoided.
Being aware of bathing fundamentals will help you avoid any awkward misunderstandings and enable you a smooth and stress-free bathing experience.
Take a shower before entering the bath—everyone has to use the same water after all. And don't jump straight in. Ease into the bath tub slowly. Lastly, tie-up long hair and keep towels out of the water.
For details, see “TOKYO SENTO -public bath” for more information about public baths in Tokyo.
While rules are relatively relaxed when worshipping at shrines and temples, take note of the following etiquette pointers to embrace the full cultural experience.
At the shrine, the center of the sando pathway leading up to the shrine is technically reserved for the enshrined deity, make a point to walk either side of it. After rinsing your hands and mouth with the purifying water near the entrance to the main compound, make your way to the main hall. Bow lightly, ring the bells, place a a small monetary offering in the box, bow twice, clap twice, and bow once more to complete the ritual.
After entering through the main gate of the temple, bow toward the hondo main hall where the deity is enshrined. If a water basin is there, rinse your hands and mouth with the purifying water. Climb the steps, place your hands together and pray silently. Note that you shouldn't clap at a temple―this rite is reserved for Shinto shrines. Place a small monetary offering in the box and bow lightly before leaving. Bow toward the hondo main hall once again before exiting the main gate and leaving the compound.
Tokyo's cafes and restaurants have varying policies on smoking. Some establishments allow smoking, while others completely forbid it. There are also establishments with designated smoking and non-smoking areas.
Both national and local authorities have been strengthening measures against secondhand smoke. From April 2020 onward, in principle, smoking will be prohibited at dining establishments in Tokyo. However, smoking and the use of heated tobacco products will still be allowed in designated rooms (if any).
Regarding smoking in public, different cities have varying policies on smoking on the streets and in parks. Please be sure to smoke only in areas where doing so is permitted.
Tokyo's stations are immaculately organized in a way that matches its peerless train system. The entrance to each door of each train carriage is marked out on the platform, so wait in line in one of the designated waiting zones. For your own safety, keep behind the yellow line. Tokyo's trains can get very busy, so if you are carrying luggage or backpacks, try to keep them out of other people's way, as much as possible. Expect some pushing and shoving when getting on and off the crowded trains, but bear in mind that this is not aggressive behavior, just the product of daily life in a metropolis.
Priority seats, courtesy seats or silver seats on buses and trains are designated for passengers who are elderly, have a disability, illness, or injury, are pregnant, or are traveling with infants.
Japan Railway (JR) and private railway lines generally have women-only cars. They are usually either the first or last car of trains during the morning and evening rush hour, although the schedule and location may vary by company and line.
Renting a bicycle is a fun and interesting way to explore the city and the number of rental options is growing. To make your ride safe and enjoyable, know the basics: keep to the left side of the road and be careful of suddenly stopping taxis and bicyclists who don't share the same road awareness as you.
When using your mobile phone, use the same common sense and social awareness that you would use at home or traveling anywhere else in the world. Avoid speaking on the phone on public transportation, and be aware of what's going on around you when walking through the city. Turn any mobile devices off when you are near the priority seats on the train.