Tokyo travel guide
Tokyo is a whole other world. Japan has opened its door after the second world war. Before that, it was a closed society. I had a chance to spend 4 months in Tokyo for my internship and I loved Japan. Japanese people are very kind. Probably it comes from their culture. There is always something to do in Tokyo. If you are a foodie, hardcore clubber, or a geek. I assure you won’t be disappointed. In this comprehensive Tokyo guide, you will find the locations you shouldn’t miss, money-saving travel tips, things to know and avoid.
Japan has its own unique culture and even a small thing may offend them. To not have an unpleasant experience and learn a little bit of Japanese culture, make sure to check these major differences between Japanese and western culture.
Another important fact about Japan is that it is in an earthquake region and be mentally ready to experience an earthquake. It is common. I have experienced one above 6.0 and I was in shock because I focused more on the fun part of Japan and did not even consider it. No matter what, stay in the building and do not jump off the window. Funnily enough, I saw this on the news that a person who lives on the first floor jumped over a window and hurt himself during an earthquake! Their houses are safer than outside.
Special tips for Tokyo
-Electric plugs are different double-check with your country and bring a converter.
–DO NOT drink at Kabukicho, Red Light District of Tokyo where you will be massively charged. There are people inviting you inside the restaurant/ bars. That’s a common thing in Japan but make sure they are not leading you to a hostess club. You can also check these common travel scams for travelers.
-During rush hours, there are women-only cars at the metro to prevent sexual harassment.
-If you want to visit other major cities, you can get a JRpass
-Traffic is running on the left side. Stay on the right side of the escalator. (They are triggered by this)
-Metro is complicated. You pay by the distance (no flat rate). But if you don’t want to deal with that you can get a day ticket for affordable price. Or you can buy the IC card from metro stations and pre-load it (PASMO/SUICA). I explain details under transport in Tokyo section.
Tokyo travel guide: Major attractions in Tokyo
Well, it is hard to bring it down to 5. Make sure to check other things as there are loads of interesting things to do/see in Tokyo. But here is my top 5.
Tokyo travel guide: Typical costs
Unlike my other guides, it is really hard to estimate the cost in Tokyo. It is not like Europe where you visit an art museum that had renaissance pieces. It is not predictable. Because in Tokyo, you pay for the experience. That doesn’t mean that there is no museum etc. If you want to keep it low-key, you can only visit shrines and temples which are free to see and hang around the popular areas/parks which I mentioned in this guide. This will cost you 0$. For eating, 7-Eleven and Family Mart will be your best friend. In fact, I like their bento (lunch boxes) or curry rice.
Another budget saving tip is finding 100 yen shops which are distributed throughout the city. You can find various stuff there (e.g. umbrella for sudden rain).
You can stay in capsule hotels which are slightly cheaper than normal hotels. Don’t expect anything fancy. You will just have a plug to charge your phone.
However, I highly recommend you to add some unforgettable memories by visiting theme cafes or other paid activities.
Tokyo travel guide: When to visit
Sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan can create beautiful movie-like scenes that are hard to forget. Sakura festival is the signal of the beginning of spring. It is such a big deal in Japanese culture even forecasts precisely estimate the beginning of bloom for each region.
This season, however, depends on the region. In the south (also include Tokyo), you expect to see them from mid-March to late March/beginning of April. If you are in North (Sapporo), then It is little shifted to late April/ beginning of May.
Generally, weather in may June and October is warm making it the best time to visit. Avoid August and September as there are rainy seasons. You are guaranteed to soak in a wet in these times.
Tokyo travel guide: Transport
You are looking at one of the most complicated city transport systems in the world. It looks like there is another Tokyo underground. But do not worry. I will break it down for you.
Let’s start with the airports. Tokyo has 2 airports. Haneda and Narita. Haneda is the one closer to the city. But thanks to the developed transport system in Japan, getting to the city center is no problem at all.
There are 2 situations here. First one, you have a JR pass and with that, you want to visit other major cities in Japan by bullet train. Because with JRpass you can also use JR lines for free in Tokyo.
Second, you don’t have a JR pass.
If you landed at Haneda airport and you have a JRpass, you can directly take Tokyo monorail for free. Get off at Hamamatsucho (last stop) and change it to another line whatever close to your hotel.
If you don’t have a JRpass, you can take the Keikyu Railway for 300 yen. I suggest you buy the combined ticket (Airport+ 24h metro) for 1080 Yen. 48h and 72h options cost 1480 yen and 1780 yen respectively. You can check and compare different options.
Taxis are not necessary here as they are expensive (7000+ yen).
If you landed at Narita Airport and you have a JRpass, you can use Narita express train for free (remember to reserve a seat in advance).
If you don’t have a JRpass, you have different options. You will need to transfer to another metro line depends on your hotel. Narita express JR Sobu, Keisei Skyliner, Keisei limited express. The duration of travel and prices are different. Duration: 60 -120min Price: 1300-3000 Yen. It is a matter of budget. You can get detail information here.
Now that you reached Tokyo. Let’s continue with using the web-like metros.
Metro lines are run by 2 company Tokyo Subway and Toei Subway. As I mentioned earlier, you pay for the distance in Tokyo meaning that there is no standard fare. You can see the cost in the machines. There are offices near the gates where you can get some help if you feel overwhelmed.
My recommendations would be that if you are planning to stay up to 3 days, you can get daily tickets and you don’t have to worry about the line and the cost. 72h option costs 1500 Yen. It is cheaper than in Europe.
If you are planning to stay more than 3 days, you should get a chargeable IC card (PASMO/ Suica) and pre-load the amount you want and use it hassle-free.
Tokyo travel guide: More things to see and do
After you are done with the popular attractions you can continue with these:
Hang out at Akihabara
If you want to see the geeky side of Japan, you need to visit Akihabara. It’s heaven for electronic lovers. In some shops, you can have tax-free items as well. There are a lot of cafes in this region as well.
See life-sized Gundam Statue
Gundam was created in 1979 and quickly became a hit in Japan. In front of DiverCity Tokyo, you can see this big statue and you can find almost everything about Gundam in this place. It can be particularly interesting for families with kids. Sometimes, there are small food vendors nearby where you can enjoy some street food.
I couldn’t pass theme cafes in Tokyo in my guide. Japanese people are known for being hardworking. But little about how they have fun is shown to the rest of the world. Are you into robots? ninjas? maids? Or vampires? There is something for everybody in Tokyo. Experience at least one of these theme cafes in Tokyo.
Hachiko is a dog that was taken as a pet by professor Ueno. He accompanied him everyday commute and met him on the way back until the day the professor had a heart attack. Since then Hachiko waited for him every day at the same place and died while waiting for him. Remainings of Hachiko were cremated and the ashes placed nearby its master’s grave. Since then Hachiko represents loyalty and has a huge place in Japanese culture. You can find its statue just at the exit of Shibuya Station where he waited for him every day. It’s a popular meeting spot among locals.
Drop by one of the Taito Game stations and release the kid inside of you
Playing arcade games are not just for kids. Don’t be surprised when you see many adults in suits playing Mario or other simulation games. Also perfect for families with kids.
Red light district of Tokyo
Kabukicho can be entertaining but can also be frustrating depends on which places you have visited. It is one of the shady places in Tokyo. Love hotels and prostitution are very common and mostly controlled by Yakuza (Japanese mobs). There are people in front of the izakayas or hostess clubs/bars inviting you inside where you will be OVERcharged. I don’t recommend drinking here unless you know what you are doing.
I don’t think it is unique to Tokyo but if you have kids and more days in Tokyo it can be a good activity. It is 15min away from Tokyo (Maihama station)
Rickshaws refer to a human-powered carriage. You can find them around tourist attractions (e.g. Asakusa, Sensoji Temple) I personally don’t like the idea of carrying someone like that. Besides it is not cheap (2000-3000 yen per person for 10 min ride.) You might get a discount if you are a pair. Maybe you can rent a kimono and feel like you are in medieval times?
Watch Sumo wrestling
Sumo wrestling is in the top 3 when the topic is Japan as it is an important part of the culture. There are several tournaments throughout the year and you might be able to catch one if you are lucky.
If not, you can watch their daily training at sumo stables.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
It is a park where you can capture beautiful shots, especially during the cherry blossom season. There is a small fee for entrance. (200 yen)
How many places are in the world where you can feel like in a zombie invasion? Well, the Shibuya crosswalk is one of those places. Especially during rush hours. You can be in it or you can go to observatory at Magnet by Shibuya109 where you can chill out in the chaos. (Admission costs 1000Yen)
Tokyo National Museum
If you like Japanese swords, armors, calligraphy you should visit Tokyo National Museum. It is possible to find pieces from the 11-12th century. It is one of the history-richest museums in Japan.
Miyazaki Hayao’s Studio Ghibli is one of Japan’s most famous animation studios. They have produced many animation films with worldwide distribution such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. If you want to visit this place you must buy tickets in advance. There is no ticket sale at the gate.
Hang out at Ginza district
Ginza is famous for shopping, dining and entertainment. It is featuring numerous department stores, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, night clubs and cafes.
Tokyo travel guide: Eating / drinking in Tokyo
In this part of the Tokyo guide, I explain the foods and drinks you should try.
Foods to try in Tokyo
Sushi: In the Edo period, it was sold in food stalls. Every place I have been to in Tokyo serves nice sushi so you can feel free to choose the place based on your budget. You won’t be disappointed.
Ramen: Easy to chew noodles are served with some green vegetables in a soup. You can find Ramen shops in the backstreets of the metro stations. I can recommend Ramen Yamaguchi, Ichiran Ramen.
Soba: Noodles made by buckwheat and usually served with dip sauce. Not difficult to find you can even find them in 7-Eleven.
Yakitori: Skewered chickens. Sometimes comes with a sauce. I think it is more like a side dish. Izakaya’s (Japanese gastropubs) serve good yakitori.
Gyoza: Japanese dumplings (fried or steamed) filled with ground meat or vegetable. Harajuku Gyoza Lou offers affordable yet delicious Gyoza.
Onigiri: Triangle shape stuffed rice. It can contain cucumber, chicken, salmon (my favorite). I use to have it as a mid-day snack. It is cheap and you can find them in convenient stores.
Takoyaki: Ball-shaped diced octopus as an appetizer. If you come across a food stall that sells Takoyaki, you can buy one or two skewers and continue walking.
Wagyu Beef: Japanese Wagyu beef is graded A-C and 1-5 (A and 5 are the best and the most expensive) depending on their intermuscular fat distribution. You don’t have to go to Kobe for a nice steak. I recommend Shima Steak for this experience. There are 8 seats inside so you might have to wait for a little but its worth.
If you don’t know already, fruits are luxury in Japan. People take fruits when they want to visit someone whom they like. You can check out Nishimura fruits. Don’t be surprised when you see interesting shaped fruits and their prices.
Drinks in Tokyo
Sake: Japanese rice wine but also refers to the alcoholic beverage in Japan. It can be served warm or cold. There are many different types of sake so it shouldn’t be difficult to find the one according to your taste. Cheaper sake usually served warm in glass whereas expensive ones poured into small cups (sakazuki).
Shochu is another popular Japanese distilled liquor usually from barley, sweet potato, rice, or sugar cane. It contains ~25% alcohol by the volume so it is weaker than a whiskey. It is not difficult to find in Tokyo.
If you are a tea lover, you should try Oolong Hai, a drink made by shochu. Oolong tea might even dominate the taste. Also popular at izakayas.
Whiskey Highball is a combination of whiskey and carbonated water. You can get them in most of the izakayas.
In this comprehensive Tokyo guide, I showed major tourist attractions, getting around in the city, typical costs of visiting city and shared money saving tips. If you have a specific question, feel free to ask me.
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