Japan receives roughly 30 million international tourists annually, making it one of the most visited nations in the world. A good portion of that lot spends a bit of time in Tokyo, mostly to take in the country's unique culture, food scene, nightlife, and the 2020 Summer Olympics starting in July.
And with a population of just more than nine million, Tokyo has no shortage of attractions to draw visitors, with very few spots declared off-limits. But for all the wonders that the city has to offer the curious vacationer, a few caveats are in order, mostly for reasons related to safety and economics.
For instance, a few places in the city wouldn't even qualify as points of interest and some of those can be downright dangerous. Then there are other Tokyo districts that have quite a large number of expensive venues, although you can find equivalents with the same amenities to suit your budget. After all, because of its size, Tokyo has a wide range of options for everyone.
If you're considering a vacation to Tokyo, take a look at what you'd best avoid, ensuring your stay in the capital of the Land of the Rising Sun is a pleasant one.
Areas like Kabukicho are red-lighted for a reason
Pretty well every Tokyo district is safe in the daytime, but after hours, it's a different story. Ranking high as ground zero for potentially dangerous locations is an area like Kabukicho, where adult-oriented venues swing into gear in the event. Definitely not family-friendly, Kabukicho is also a notorious hangout for the Yakuza, Japan's powerful equivalent to the Mafia.
Other parts of town include the crowded neighborhood of Ikebukuro and another part of town called Shibuya, which features a row of accommodations the locals call "love hotel hill." And while there isn't much of a red-light presence in lower-income districts Gotanda and Ueno, crime is rampant in those areas, also recognized as havens for gangs.
Despite the nightlife vibrancy that dominates other spots like Roppongi and Shin Okubo, the after-hours scene can get rowdy, with violence often breaking out once excessive partying gets out of control.
Touristy streets like Takeshita will cost you an arm and a leg
Pretty much every city ranking prominently on the world's must-see visitor's list has its share of tourist traps and Tokyo is no exception. Located in the neighborhood of Harajuku, a prime hub for the city's fashionista set, Takeshita Street draws in millions of minions annually to gawk at local hipster culture and fork over mondo yen for overpriced goods.
Not only do those items have ridiculously high markups, but they're also not likely to be much different than what you'd expect back home. That comes with the territory on a street that thrives on crass commercialism as evidenced by storefronts with GAP and McDonald's logos. Besides, the offbeat hip culture has long since moved on, finding refuge off the main drag in Ura-Hara, where far more original and authentic threads and wares can be discovered.
High-altitude sky bars come with higher prices as well
One of the most novel ways to nosh and swill after hours is at a few sky bars, the most popular ones being to get a picturesque aerial view of the urban setting. The most popular ones are the Tokyo Tower and the recently-built Skytree, which also come with sky-high prices. In particular, access to Skytree's observation deck nearly 1,500 feet above sea level, is roughly $10 while getting a table in the dining room is double that fee. As for what's on the menu... ka-ching!
For those who don't like panoramic views with panoramic prices, alternative include some skyscraper hotels such as the Bellovista in the Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel, the Sky Lounge in the Prince Park Tower Hotel and the Rooftop Bar in the Andaz Hotel. Other more family-friendly options include Sky Circus, Tokyo City View and if you can endure the line-ups a free view from a deck in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Some Japanese venues still don't allow foreigners
First, let it be said that the Japanese are very accommodating and exceedingly polite to tourists. Despite those dispositions, a spirit of nationalist discrimination still exists in the country, even after the federal government introduced a law in 2016 to curb racism and hate speech.
It's an attitude that is thankfully marginal, according to a Justice Ministry survey that polled more than 4,500 restaurants. Less than 250 establishments claimed they allowed only Japanese citizens on their premises, meaning the likelihood that an international visitor will face discrimination in a bar or restaurant is decidedly small.
If you face such a situation, the best thing you can do is politely leave. It should be noted that most of these restaurants are located in rather seedy parts of Tokyo where visiting isn't encouraged anyway.
Don't get too close to a nearby nuclear power plant
In 2011, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant sustained severe damage from a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that occurred in the Pacific just east of Japan. The incident, in which 20,000 people lost their lives, was declared the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Thanks to massive remedial measures, Tokyo, less than two hours away, is considered a safe site with acceptable radiation levels according to the World Health Association. Group tours continue to take place near the facility, where spectators might be able to catch a glimpse of the nuclear decontamination technology at work. However, visitors are repeatedly warned to stay more than a mile away from the plant, where radiation levels are still dangerous.