Tokyo MEGA Tourist Guide & Itineraries (2019 Spring Edition)

     
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. We may receive a small compensation for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. Please read our full disclosure for more info.

Tokyo is one of the top 10 most visited cities in the world [1], and it’s not hard to see why. It may sound cliché, but there indeed is something for everyone here. The city mixes the ultra-modern with traditional; where temples, shrines, and castles sit amongst towering skyscrapers and neon lights.

Even if you prefer small towns over large cities, you should still give Tokyo a chance; it just feels different than any city we’ve ever visited. And, despite it being a sprawling mega-city, it has an intimacy not felt in other cities. Everyone here sort of lives within their own little bubble, which seems to give you the illusion of privacy even while pressed into the overcrowded JR Yamanote Line at rush hour.

So we hope to give you a glimpse into what to expect during your visit to this fantastic city and help you to better prepare for your stay. But, be warned, once you come to visit her streets, you’ll find yourself returning to her again and again.


Shibazakura

You can now book Fuji Shibazakura & Tulip Festival Tour from Tokyo.

Best time to go: During the first or second week of May.


Brief History

Once a tiny fishing village situated on the banks of the Sumida River, Edo became the seat of Imperial power and was renamed ‘Tokyo’ in the 1800s. Since then the area has seen major disasters, both natural and manmade, in both the Great Kanto Earthquake and World War II bombings, but has risen from both to become an economic powerhouse and trendsetter for the rest of the world.


What you’ll see in our “Tokyo Guide?”

Our guide is geared towards first-time travelers to Tokyo, but we believe that it can help you no matter how many times you’ve been here. Because whether it’s you’re a first-timer or not, there’s always a “first-time experience” for everyone each time you come here.

As an example, if you’re a foreign resident who’s been living in Tokyo for several years, you probably don’t need to know how to greet someone in Japan properly, but you may find the information about buying Ghibli Museum tickets or how to watch a Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo useful.

Lastly, while we’ll certainly hit the standard highlights (e.g., Disneyland, Tokyo Skytree, etc.) we try and give lesser known options as well, such as Yanaka, Sanrio Puroland for families, a day-trip to Mt. Fuji or Fuji-Q Highlands for thrill seekers, or a local bar which might not appear on TripAdvisor. In short, we want to give you the tools and knowledge needed to make your time in Tokyo unforgettable.


Why trust us?

Sightsee & Sushi Family at a Hammock Cafe near Mt Fuji

Tokyo is very fast-changing.

Thankfully, we live in Japan, near Tokyo, so our guide is updated regularly.

If you’ve read a Tokyo travel guide blog which is over a year old, there’s a good chance that some of the information there is no longer accurate, and a great chance that there are new attractions to see and do which could be missed.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s continue to the guide!


‘Tokyo’ is not an actual city

Tokyo Metropolis
Outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku.

Most people think of Tokyo as the capital “city” of Japan, but that’s not strictly true.

Tokyo City merged with Tokyo Prefecture in 1943 and became officially known as Tokyo Metropolis which now makes up the 47 prefectures in Japan.

We mention this to clear up any confusion when talking about places like Shinjuku, Shibuya, etc.

Those places simply make up the greater whole, which is ‘Tokyo’.


Average daily expenses in Tokyo

Tokyo is as expensive or cheap as you choose to make it. But Japan is actually cheaper in many ways than most other 1st world nations. But it can also be incredibly expensive–if you’re not careful.

Budget or not, prepare to spend between ¥15,000-¥25,000 per day in Tokyo. That should cover your accommodation, train or bus transportation, a restaurant, and occasional treats like desserts or street food. If you plan on shopping for clothes or souvenirs, then add at least another ¥10,000 to your budget for that day.

Current exchange rate: 112 JPY = 1 USD (or about 89 USD for 10,000 JPY).

Food and drinks

Food & Drinks in Tokyo
Chicken katsu curry and rice.

To give you an idea of the huge price fluctuations in Tokyo, dining at a restaurant such as an izakaya (restaurant bar) can set you back ¥2,000-¥4,000 per person.

Compare that to dining at family restaurant chains like Jonathan’s, Saizeriya, or Cafe Gusto, where you can get a decent meal for around ¥400-¥1,500.

Convenience stores are even better since you can get a bento lunch from ¥300-¥600, and these bentos are actually better than the food at some restaurants.

Want to grab a beer?

If you’re in an expensive area like Roppongi, then prepare to spend a ridiculous ¥900-1,200 per beer, or you could go to a cheaper area, such as Ebisu, and find it as low as ¥350.

So, be sure to take all of this into account if you’re budgeting for your trip. Perhaps add in a few bento lunches here and there to allow for some lavish dinners and drinks.

Accommodations

The thing to remember about accommodation prices in Japan (not just in Tokyo) is the closer it is to a train station, the more expensive it will be. So if you find a cheap one that’s close to a station, then it’s probably tiny and minimalistic.

Hotels and other types of accommodations in Japan typically range from ¥3,000-¥15,000 per night for budget accommodations and ¥15,000-¥50,000 per night for deluxe and traditional Japanese accommodations.

Japanese tours and cultural activities

There is an abundance of travel booking websites across the internet; so it can be a bit overwhelming at times to find the best deals while traveling. And, as we discussed above, Tokyo can be pretty pricey.

So we tend to use websites specializing in Japanese tours and experiences, such as Voyagin, Klook, JAPANiCAN, and Veltra, as they usually partner with Japanese travel agencies that don’t have English websites to buy from. So, as a result of that partnership, they offer discounted prices as part of the promotion.

Sightsee & Sushi Thinks: In our experience, we’ve found that sightseeing in Tokyo is cheaper than Kyoto. That’s because, in Kyoto, nearly every attraction has an entrance fee.

What to wear

Japanese women like to wear skirts even in winter.
Japanese women like to wear skirts even in winter.

The Japanese don’t really dress all that dissimilarly to westerners. So, as long as you dress appropriately for the season, then you should be fine. That said, there are a few differences that you may want to take note of. The most significant difference is in the way women dress.

Japanese women prefer to wear skirts and heels far more than their western counterparts (regardless of weather) but are more conservative when it comes to tops, instead choosing more revealing bottoms in the form of shorts and high skirts.

As for men, you’re unlikely to see many Japanese men walking around in shorts outside of the beach here.

It’s also not too out of the ordinary to see people walking around in kimonos here; particularly older women. Though nowadays, even the Japanese tend to do it more as an experience than an actual fashion choice.


What essentials to bring

We have a far more in-depth article describing essentials for first-time travelers, and we highly recommend taking a look. But the basics can be broken down into a few key things:

  • Portable Wi-Fi or Japanese Data SIM Card.
  • Comfortable slip-on walking shoes.
  • Cash.
  • An external power bank for electronics.
Pack light! Japanese trains and buses are not designed to store oversized luggage. You’ll also be walking a lot when getting in and out of the airport. So pack light and use a backpack if possible. We have a great article here on what to really pack for your Japan trip.

Our Portable Wi-Fi Recommendations

Portable Wi-Fi options in Tokyo
Did you know that we tested 2 popular portable Wi-Fi rental companies in Japan?

Well, it turns out they’re all the same as they all use the same network–Softbank, and all of them have the option to pick them up from Narita or Haneda airport. So just get the portable Wi-Fi plan that best suits your needs.

For your convenience, here’s the summary of our speed test and reliability report:

  • For speed and heavy usage*: We recommend PuPuRu Wi-Fi (starting at ¥1,000 per day excl. shipping fee). Update: PuPuRu Wi-Fi is currently at ¥500 per day, as a promo.
  • For light and casual usage: We recommend Ninja Wi-Fi (starting at ¥680 per day excl. shipping fee).
  • For long-term use and price value: We recommend booking it through Veltra as they have 11 to 30-day options at a discounted price. Take note, that Veltra’s uses Ninja Wi-Fi.

By the way, in Japan, they call it “pocket Wi-Fi.”

 eConnectPuPuRu Wi-FiNinja Wi-Fi
Pocket Wi-Fi 501HW
501HW
Pocket Wi-Fi 501HW
501HW
Pocket Wi-Fi 303ZT
303ZT
NetworkSoftbankSoftbankSoftbank
Plans and prices1GB/day: ¥980 per day

50GB: ¥5,080 per day

25GB: ¥3,350 per day

View all their plans here.
Unlimited: ¥500 per dayUnlimited: ¥7,000 for 10-30 days
Taxes and fees8% + ¥790 shipping8% + ¥1,000 shipping-
Simultaneous connectionsUp to 10 devices.Up to 10 devices.Up to 5 devices.

Our Travel SIM Card Recommendations

If you have an unlocked phone, you’ll save more by getting a 4G prepaid data SIM card. Just insert the SIM card in your phone, follow the instructions to set it up, then poof!

The downside to this option is that Japanese prepaid data SIM cards don’t allow for tethering to other devices; so you can’t connect your laptop or tablet to it.

Here’s our data SIM card recommendations:

  1. For short-term use (less than 30 days): 4G Data SIM through Klook. It’s affordable and easy to set up.
  2. For long-term use (more than 30 days): Sakura Mobile. English-speaking staff, affordable, and easy to set up.

Quick comparison chart:

 KlookSakura Mobile
DoCoMo Travel SIM through Klook
DoCoMo Travel SIM through Klook
DoCoMo Travel SIM through Sakura Mobile
DoCoMo Travel SIM through Sakura Mobile
Plans1G: ¥1,050 for 6 days

3G: ¥1,600 for 8 days

Unlimited: ¥2,400 for 8 days
5G: ¥3,980 per month

20GB: ¥6,680 per month
NetworkNTT DoCoMoNTT DoCoMo

Narita vs Haneda Airport

Flying into Tokyo you have two options: Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND).

Narita is Japan’s major international hub, handling around 50% of the international travelers [2], and is the most likely point of entry for you. However, a lot of travelers don’t know that Narita Airport is actually in Chiba Prefecture, which is next to Tokyo Metropolis Prefecture, and a lot farther from the city than Haneda. So getting to Tokyo from Narita Airport can be a lot more complicated than you would think.

Because of that, we recommend flying into Haneda if at all possible, as the travel to Tokyo is both shorter and cheaper (30 minutes vs. 100 minutes).


From Narita Airport to Tokyo

Use any of the options below to get out of Narita Airport and use the same to return.

Fastest

Fare: ¥2,470 one-way
Travel time: 41 minutes

The fastest is to take the Keisei Skyliner from Narita Terminal 1 or 2 towards Keisei-Ueno[*] and it will take you straight to Ueno Station in just 41 minutes. This option costs around ¥2,470 one way. For those of you arriving at Terminal 3, you’ll first need to walk to terminal 2. This option is great if your hotel is near Ueno Station.

If your hotel is not in Ueno, then using the Keisei Skyliner might not be a great option because of the multiple train transfers, particularly if you are traveling with large and heavy luggage (we’ll get to a great solution to this problem shortly).

[*] Keisei-Ueno Station is separate from Ueno Station (which is a JR Station), but you can walk between them via underground or above ground paths. Don’t mistake Keisei Skyliner with the other Keisei trains such as Access Express or Rapid Limited Express which are much slower than the Keisei Skyliner.

Cheapest

Fare: ¥900 one-way
Travel time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

If your hotel is near Tokyo Station or Ginza Station, your best option (which also happens to be the cheapest and least amount of hassle) is to take the Keisei Bus Tokyo Shuttle. A one-way bus from Narita Airport to Tokyo or Ginza Station, which only costs ¥900 and takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. This bus is also convenient if you have large luggage because it has designated storage space.

Tickets for this bus can be purchased directly from the Keisei website, but be aware, their website is not the most user-friendly and runs on an unsecured server. Alternatively, buying tickets via Voyagin is both easier and safer, but you’ll have to pay an extra ¥500 for the convenience. Since it’s a long ride, make sure to use the restroom before leaving as there is no toilet inside the bus and there are no stops. If your hotel is not near Tokyo or Ginza Station, then you need to take the train.


Convenient

Fare: ¥3,100 one-way
Travel time: 1 hour and 55 minutes or more depending on the traffic and number of stops.

Now, if either Ueno or Tokyo Station isn’t your destination after arriving in Narita Airport, the Airport Limousine Bus is your next option. It’s a bit more expensive at ¥3,100 for adults or ¥1,550 for children. Tickets for this bus can be purchased inside the airport, but buying them online is discounted at 27% (from ¥3,100 to ¥2,800).

Unlike the cheap Keisei Bus, the Airport Limousine is equipped with a toilet and free Wi-Fi. The Airport Limousine Bus stops at most major areas in Tokyo: Ikebukuro, Ginza, Ebisu, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Kichijoji, Shinjuku, Roppongi and Akasaka, Shiodome, so if your hotel is near to any of those stations, this is your best option.

Alternatively, the Airport Limousine bus is also best if you want a direct trip to your hotel, assuming your hotel is on the list of Airport limousine bus stops (check if its stops at your hotel here).


Narita Express (N’EX)

Fare: ¥3,020 for Tokyo Station; or ¥3,190 for Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro Stations.
Travel time: 1 hour and 20 minutes to Shinjuku Station.

Another fast and easy but more expensive option (if you buy one-way tickets) is the ever-popular Narita Express (N’EX). A one-way ticket starts from ¥3,020, but the roundtrip ticket is only ¥4,000. The roundtrip ticket has a 14-days validity period, so Narita Express works well if you’re visiting Tokyo for 14 days or less, and both arriving and departing from Narita airport. You can only buy tickets at the airport counter.

The Narita Express (N’EX) will take you directly to the following stations: Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Yokohama.

If you have JR Pass, this is the train you’ll want to use since JR pass does not work with the Keisei Skyliner or Airport Limousine Buses.

Private or Shared Shuttle

Now, if you have money to blow and just can’t be bothered to wait for the above options, you can always rent a private or shared shuttle service to get you where you want to go. It’s the most expensive option (short of taking a private taxi) at a little over ¥6,100, but might be for you if you want less hassle after a long flight.


From Haneda Airport

Transportation from Haneda has lots of options. In fact, you just have to use your internet and Google Maps or HyperDia to board the correct train going to your destination or hotel. Since Haneda Airport is near, expect to be in Tokyo center in less than 20 minutes. That’s why we always prefer flying into Haneda. But to give you an idea, here are some of the available options:

Cheapest

Fare: ¥550 for Shinagawa Station
Travel time: 30 minutes

Board the Keikyu-Kuko Line train from the international terminal towards Keisei-Takasago and ride until Shinagawa Station. From Shinagawa Station board the JR Yamanote Line to take you to your destination in Tokyo. This option is the cheapest costs from ¥550 and only takes 30 minutes, but, as before, offers limited space for luggage.

Convenient

Fare: ¥1,350 for Shinagawa
Travel time: 20 minutes

Just like with Narita, Haneda offers Airport Limousine Bus service to major stations like Shinjuku, and even a direct stop at hotels listed on their bus stops. It’s also much cheaper at ¥1,350 and takes half the time to get there. Tickets can be purchased inside the Haneda International Terminal (your arrival terminal) near the bus stop. Just buy your ticket and hop aboard. For less hassle, you can also buy it online.


Tips for a Smoother Arrival

1. Consider using TA-Q-BIN.

Yamato Transport (known for their Black Cat logo) that has TA-Q-BIN service
Me, fresh from the bed, dropping off a package at Yamato Transport that does TA-Q-BIN.

We mentioned earlier that traveling with large luggage can be a hassle on Japan’s public transportation systems, let alone when confronted with stairs or a 15-minute wait for the only elevator. Enter TA-Q-BIN!

Boy oh boy were we late to the party on this one. It’s embarrassing to admit, but we must have suffered lugging around huge rolling suitcases for about 9-years, while traveling to and from Japan, before we learned why every Japanese traveler was lined up in front of the Yamato Transport counters (famous for their black cat logo) upon arriving at the airport. Turns out, they were picking-up or dropping-off their luggage!

What is TA-Q-BIN? TA-Q-BIN is a next-day delivery service which allows you to forward your luggage to your hotel, or to the airport; though same-day delivery is sometimes available. This leaves you hands-free and hassle-free to travel to between them. Yamato Transport is the genius company behind this service.

So if you want to experience the convenience of luggage-free travel in Japan, just find a TA-Q-BIN counter inside the airport. Or if you’re already check-in in your hotel, talk to your hotel’s reception, they’ll give you more information. You’ll know it by their “black cat” logo. Just make sure you have everything you need in your day pack before dropping it off at the TA-Q-BIN counter.

The price depends on the size of the luggage, but ranges between ¥1,555-¥2,678 per bag. The cost of convenience.

2. Consider these luggage storage options.

If you can’t or don’t want to use the TA-Q-BIN service, but still want to sightsee during your first and last days in Tokyo without lugging around large bags or suitcases, then there are luggage storage options available for you.

For those of you staying in a hotel, this is simple as most will hold your luggage until you can check-in. However, if you’re staying at an Airbnb or hostel, chances are you won’t be able to leave your luggage there.

  • Coin Lockers. Coin lockers are everywhere but can always be found at train stations. They come in Small (¥300), Medium (¥400), and Large size (¥500-¥800), though the per day prices may vary. Unfortunately, large wheeled suitcases won’t fit inside these lockers, and this is why we always recommend traveling light.
  • Leave your luggage at the Voyagin Office in Shibuya. A rate of ¥1,000 per day per item and there’s no size restriction. Their prices may change, and if it’s during the off-season, it can drop to ¥500 per day. So make sure to check the price here.

3. Get some yens before leaving the airport.

Despite being a very high-tech nation, Japan still relies heavily on cash for transactions. And this is doubly true in the old quarters of Tokyo and rural areas of Japan. Your best bet is to exchange your currency at the airport or to pull out money from ATMs.

  • Currency Exchange. Located in each airport terminal and usually have short lines. The exchange rate is sitting at 112 JPY for 1 USD (or about 89 USD for 10,000 JPY). There are also many currency exchange stalls around Akihabara, Shinjuku, and Shibuya Stations, but their exchange fees are usually pretty high.
  • Airport ATMs. ATMs are easy to find in the airport. Your card should be fine if the ATM has a Visa, Plus, MasterCard, Cirrus, American Express, Discover, Diner’s Club, or Union Pay symbols on it.
To prevent account freeze, let your bank know about your Japan travel before you leave.

When is the best time to visit

The answer to this question ultimately comes down to you and what you’re looking to do while visiting Tokyo. Personally, our favorite time of year has always been autumn, and that’s especially true for Japan.

We suggest avoiding travel to Japan during most Japanese holidays because of overcrowded attractions, long lines at restaurants, and traffic. So we’ve included important holidays and significant national events to take note of for your travel dates.

Spring (March – May)

Cherry Blossoms in Chidorigafuchi, Tokyo
Cherry Blossoms in Chidorigafuchi, Tokyo

The average temperature in Japan during spring is between 5-21 °C (41-70 °F), with pretty chilly mornings and nights.

Pros:

  • Often considered the most beautiful time of the year, as Japan is surrounded by pink hues from the cherry blossoms.
  • Pleasant weather.

Cons:

  • Most touristy time, expect lots of crowds.
  • Expensive hotels.
  • Rainy season starts in the beginning of May.
  • Golden Week. All the major attractions will be absolutely packed!

Notable spring events and holidays in 2019:

  • Grand Sumo Tournament in Ryogoku, Tokyo: May 12-26, 2019. GET TICKETS HERE.
  • Golden Week: April 29-May 6, 2019.

Summer (June – August)

View from Mt Fuji 5th Station
Stock photo: Climbing Mt. Fuji. View from Mt. Fuji 5th Station.

The average temperature in Japan during the summer is between 18-29 °C (64-84 °F).

Pros:

  • Off-season, hotels and other accommodations are cheaper.
  • Mt. Fuji climbing season.
  • Lots of greens.
  • Lots of opportunities for hiking around Tokyo.

Cons:

  • Humidity is awful. Even my wife (who’s from the Philippines) is quick to find shelter in the nearest air-conditioned space.
  • Typhoon season.

Notable summer holidays in 2019:

  • Sea Day: July 15, 2019.
  • Mountain Day: August 11, 2019.

Autumn (September – November)

Gingko trees line up in Marunouchi near Tokyo Station
Gingko trees line up in Marunouchi near Tokyo Station

Autumn in Tokyo has an average temperature of 9-26 °C (48-79 °F). Autumn the second most popular time for tourism in Japan.

Pros:

  • Leaves are changing to golden hues.
  • Lots of local festivals.
  • A more pleasant season for hiking many mountains surrounding Tokyo.
  • Oh, and don’t forget to visit Shinjuku and Roppongi for Halloween, it’s wild!

Cons:

  • Is there a con here? Oh yea, lots of holidays! Prepare to be mixed with the Tokyo crowds.
  • In our opinion, you might want to leave Tokyo for Kyoto or other mountainous regions during this season. Being a metropolis, Tokyo isn’t particularly stunning in the autumn.

Notable autumn events and holidays in 2019:

  • Grand Sumo Tournament in Ryogoku, Tokyo: September 8-22. GET TICKETS HERE.
  • Respect for the Aged Day: September 16
  • Autumn Equinox: September 23
  • Health and Sports Day: October 14
  • Enthronement Ceremony Day: October 22
  • Culture Day: November 3-4
  • Labor Thanksgiving Day: November 23

Winter (December – February)

Snow-capped Mt. Fuji in winter
Snow-capped Mt. Fuji in winter

The average temperature in Japan during winter is between 2-11 °C (36-52 °F). For those of you interested in Tokyo nightlife, New Year is a night to remember. Note that the Japanese celebrate Christmas here by buying KFC chicken of all things (no, I’m not kidding), but it’s not an official holiday.

Pros:

  • Great visibility of Mt. Fuji as skies are almost always clear.
  • Lots of skiing opportunities near Tokyo.
  • Less touristy and cheaper hotels.
  • Lots of beautiful nightly illuminations.

Cons:

  • Very dry season. Expect to wake up with a sore dry throat.
  • If visiting Disneyland and DisneySea, it can be very packed on New Year.

Notable winter holidays in 2020:

  • New Year’s Day : January 1
  • Coming of Age Day: January 13
  • National Foundation Day: February 11
  • Emperor’s Birthday: February 23
  • Emperor’s Birthday observed: February 24

Where to Stay

Honestly, this all depends on your itinerary and budget. As a general rule, the further away from the major cities you stay, the cheaper it will be. That said, the further you stay away from your daily activities, the more expensive it will be to travel to them. So you really need to find the right balance.

Guide to choosing a hotel (checklist):

  • Is it near a train station?
  • Is it near a convenience store or a drugstore?
  • If you’re carrying a large luggage or babies in strollers, does the hotel and train station near it have elevators?

We will have a more in-depth article about the best areas to stay in Tokyo. But to summarize, here’s our rundown:

For families traveling with kids:

  • Roppongi and Akasaka areas. These areas have family-friendly shopping complexes such as Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown. Your kids will also enjoy Robot Park, the Mori Art Museum, and numerous family-friendly cafes and restaurants.
  • Tokyo and Marunouchi areas. Your kids will enjoy running around the East Gardens of Imperial Palace, Marunouchi Brick Square, and KITTE shopping malls. The downside is that, hotel prices are limited to upscale market such as Courtyard by Marriott, Four Seasons Hotel, and Shangri-La Hotel. There’s also a direct train from Tokyo Station to Tokyo Disneyland (Maihama Station).

For those interested in historical and cultural aspects of Tokyo:

  • Asakusa and Ueno areas. Hotel prices are a bit more reasonable here than in other areas. As a result, most backpackers and budget travelers stay around here.

For those seeking nightlife:

  • Shinjuku and Kabukicho area. A hub of bars, clubs, and entertainment.
  • Ikebukuro area. Less touristy and much cheaper than the more popular hotspots.

For shoppers and fashionistas:

  • Shibuya area. Most hotels here are actually located a ways away from the train station. The added walk won’t be much of a bother though, because Shibuya is always a feast for the eyes.
  • Ginza, Shimbashi, Shiodome area. Luxury and high-end fashion stores are all centered around here.

For people interested in architecture:

  • Odaiba. Odaiba alone has a ton of incredible engineering achievements to admire. The downside is the location is not ideal for sightseeing throughout western Tokyo, as Odaiba is located on the far east side of Tokyo, making travel to and from your hotel a hassle.
Sightsee & Sushi Tip: We suggest staying somewhere along the JR Yamanote loop. It’s the best train line to travel between all of Tokyo’s major districts. In addition, all stations have elevators access (except Shin-Okubo Station which only has stairs).

Search Using Our Map



Booking.com

Or Search Using Our Deals Finder



Booking.com


Types of accommodations in Tokyo

1. Major Hotels.

Known hotel groups such as Hyatt, Marriott, and The Ritz-Carlton fit into this section, and, of course, you know the price for hotels such as these. If you can afford it, these will almost always be your best bet.

For families, you might find the Japanese hotel rooms a bit cramped, so staying at one of these western hotels might be a better option. That said, be sure to book far enough ahead of time to get discounted rooms.

2. Business hotel.

Toyoko Inn, Hotel MyStays, and APA Hotel are all examples of business hotels. For budget travelers willing to sacrifice some in-room amenities, you have a few options.

Toyoko Inn is a favorite business hotel that’s generally inexpensive and simple, while the APA hotel chain is an affordable option popular with many tourists in Tokyo, but keep in mind that most of their locations are a bit inconvenient.

3. Capsule hotel.

9H Capsule Hotel in Narita Airport
Ada at 9H Capsule Hotel in Narita Airport.

These are often not designed with foreigners in mind so you may not fit into them, or, you could be very cramped.

Capsule hotels cater to overworked (or overdrunk) salarymen who miss the last train. This is why foreigners are not generally welcome at most capsule hotels, especially when it’s located right near the bars and nightclubs.

An exception to this is the 9H ninehours capsule hotel in Narita airport, built for international travelers, so their capsules are actually quite spacious.

4. Spa hotel.

Oh, how we love spa hotels. These are our favorite type of accommodation by far, especially when you’re traveling with a toddler! They provide the ultimate form of relaxation after a long day of sightseeing, and you always leave feeling spoiled. We are partial to staying at the Dormy Inn chain of spa hotel throughout Japan.

5. Love hotel.

Typically charged by the hour, these hotels aren’t designed for overnight stays. Most of the hotels are themed and offer a variety of… amenities for their customers.

These hotels are actually quite respectable in Japanese society and provide an escape for many Japanese couples still living with their families; which is still quite common here. They are best for couples traveling in a group who want some time alone, or for people just looking for a little fun.

6. Ryokan.

At a ryokan outside Tokyo, with the traditional kaiseki multi-course Japanese dinner.
At a ryokan outside Tokyo, with the traditional kaiseki (multi-course Japanese dinner).

A true Ryokan is rare in Tokyo because this type of accommodation is usually offered in rural onsen (hot spring) towns in Japan. If you happen to spot one in Tokyo, expect to be ridiculously expensive.

You also get a traditional kaiseki meals served with perfection. Best for those who want to experience authentic Japanese style experience.

7. Minshuku.

Japan’s version of a bed & breakfast where you share the house with your host, so privacy might be an issue. Best for travelers who wants to connect with a Japanese host.

8. Airbnb apartments.

Airbnb accommodations in Tokyo are usually in what they call a “mansion” building (small apartments). Airbnb prices in Tokyo vary greatly according to its location. We’ve tended to stay away from Airbnbs since having our kid, because they’re always located out of the way and trying to keep our daughter from breaking everything in the room is a hassle.

If you’re new to Airbnb, you can sign-up using my link to get $45 of Airbnb credit which you can instantly use for your first stay.

9. Hostels.

Exactly as you would expect, bunk beds and privacy issues. Best for solo travelers.

A word about Airbnb in Japan:

Airbnb is a popular option nowadays, but we don’t generally recommend it for Tokyo, as the prices are actually higher than hotels. Even worse, Airbnb Japan has a strict rule, effective as of June 15, 2018 [3], Airbnb hosts are now required [by law] to check you in; yes, like a hotel check-in. Like a hotel, they need to record your name, nationality, address, and occupation (for some reason), and a copy of your passport. If you live in Japan, just show an ID that was issued in Japan. We would only recommend Airbnb if you’re a large family or traveling in a large group, then Airbnb can be a great way to save.


Our favorite hotel chain in Japan: Dormy Inn

If you were to ask what us for our favorite hotel, it’s gotta be Dormy Inn. We don’t care about the area or train line, we only care about finding a Dormy Inn, wherever it is located.

Disclosure: We’re not sponsored by Dormy Inn, we honestly just like it this much and want to see it succeed.

Why do we prefer staying at Dormy Inn?

  • The amenities are outstanding! Featuring an in-hotel onsen (hot spring bath) with sauna. This is a must for us since we travel with a toddler. And it helps us a ton to relax after a long day of exploration.
  • Free ramen at night. My favorite part.
  • One free beer for each adult. Also my favorite part.
  • Great breakfast. It’s actually pretty hard to find a good breakfast in Japan, so we always opt for breakfast with our rooms.
  • They have most comfortable pillows and beds we’ve ever slept on (in hotels). Believe it or not, this is the only hotel we’ve managed to get a full night’s sleep in; that includes our daughter.
  • Super blackout curtains. I genuinely have a difficult time knowing if it’s morning or not.
  • The front desk staff is always very helpful. Though they don’t always have english speakers.
  • Parking. This isn’t a given for each branch, but, more often than not, they either offer parking at their facility, or are partnered with a nearby parking lot; which is super helpful for us.

Earthquakes

Japan is situated in a volcanic zone within the Pacific Ring of Fire, so expect many low-intensity earthquakes to occur during your stay. You get used to them after a while, but I remember my first experience with them left me a bit shaken (pun intended).

To be better prepared in the event of a severe earthquake, you can refer to this guide designed for foreign residents: https://www.tokyo-icc.jp/guide_eng/kinkyu/05.html


Understanding Tokyo’s Transportation System

Trains and subways

Trains are the primary mode of transportation in Tokyo for sightseeing–it is extensive, clean, safe, and on time. Signs are in both English and Japanese and some Chinese and Korean too. There are several railway companies that operate in Tokyo which extends to neighboring prefectures:

  • JR East Lines.
  • Tokyo Metro and Toei subway systems.
  • Private railways (Odakyu and Yurikamome).

JR East Lines. There are many JR East Lines within Tokyo metro, but you’ll probably use the JR Yamanote line the most.

This train makes one big loop around Tokyo and stops at every major station on a very consistent basis in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. This means you can never actually board the wrong train as each will eventually go to all of the same stations, but boarding the wrong direction could add a LOT of unneeded time to your trip.

We recommend staying at a hotel along the JR Yamanote Line if you have the JR Pass, to get the most bang for your pass.
JR Yamanote Line
By Araisyohei and drawn by Araisyohei and uploaded to english wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Yamanote Line

Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway. JR Pass cannot be used in these lines. So if you’re navigating these subway systems, we recommend getting a prepaid PASMO or Suica IC Card. That way, you don’t have to get tickets from the machine every time you ride the train. You can pre-purchase your Suica IC Card through Voyagin.

A lot of blogs and websites say that navigating the Tokyo subway systems is complicated, but that’s not true. All you have to do is download the Tokyo Subway Navigation app (Google Play | Apple Store) and it will give you an easy-to-understand route to take you to your desired destination.

This was the exact app I used when I cherry blossom hopped in Tokyo last spring. It saved me a great deal of time by giving me very precise directions, and is more accurate than Google Maps (which is good for JR Lines and Private railways). Tokyo Metro and Toei subways now offer free Wi-Fi for tourists in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Tokyo Metro Subway Lines
Tokyo Metro Subway Lines. Only the Tozai and Fukutoshin Line have Rapid and Express Service.
Toei Subway Lines
Toei Subway Lines: Asakusa Line, Mita Line, Shinjuku Line, Oedo Line. Toei’s Oedo Line is the deepest subway line in Japan at 48 meters underground.

Private Lines. Odakyu Line starts in Shinjuku Station, and is the gateway to the Kanagawa Prefecture; where you’ll find Hakone, Kamakura and Enoshima. Yurikamome Line on the other hand is the gateway to Odaiba (a man-made island), and is the only train that crosses the Rainbow Bridge.

Odakyu Line at Shinjuku Station
Odakyu Line at Shinjuku Station

Bus

As a tourist in Tokyo, the chances of you getting on a bus in Tokyo is pretty slim, as the train is always more convenient for getting around. From my experience, I’ve only ridden a bus in Tokyo once because the train line that I was supposed to take was down. You may experience this at some point, but the chances are pretty slim. Buses accept cash, PASMO, or SUICA cards for payment.

Taxis and Uber

For those of you accustomed to Uber, GrabTaxi, or some other app-related transportation, don’t expect to use this in Tokyo. Uber does exist here but is actually far more expensive than just taking a taxi. I don’t really recommend using taxis to get around either. That’s because the typical starting price is between ¥400-¥700 and ¥80-¥90 per 300 meters traveled. For my American readers out there, 300 meters is just under 1000 feet or 0.18 miles. And all this is before you have to deal with the language barrier.

Accessibility Guide

For great resources about Tokyo’s accessibility:


Fares and Tickets

IC Cards

My first suggestion for those of you without JR Passes is to purchase either a PASMO or SUICA IC card from almost any ticket vendor at the train station. The primary purpose of IC Cards is to avoid having to get tickets from a ticket machine every time you ride a train–so you can just swipe and go. These cards can be charged (using cash) at ticket machines in the train stations. They can be used to pay for buses and taxis too, and even used to pay for most vending machines and convenience stores if you feel like carrying less cash.

PASMO vs SUICA: Although sold by different companies, they are operate the same way and can be used at all trains and buses in Tokyo. The only difference is that, with SUICA, you can charge your card via an app on your phone.

Day passes

As the name suggests, it’s unlimited use for the day you purchase them for.

An example of these day passes would be the Tokyo Metro 24-hour ticket (¥600) and the Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway 1-day ticket (¥900).

Odakyu also has day passes, called Freepass, and there are many of them here.

The JR Yamanote line also has day pass called Tokyo 1-Day Ticket, and it covers the JR East lines, Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines for ¥1,590.

Sightsee & Sushi Tip: Calculate the train costs of your itinerary that day and compare the costs against the price of the unlimited ticket to see if it’s worth it (the Tokyo Subway Navigation app shows the cost of routes). I’ve purchased both Tokyo Metro 24-hour ticket and the Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway 1-day ticket in the past and I can say that they’re worth it but my itinerary was packed (and tiring).

Should I buy a JR Pass?

If you’re only traveling to Tokyo, then NO, you don’t need it. Japan is addicting. Visit once, and you’ll find yourself coming back for more. This is why, in my opinion, getting a JR Pass isn’t really a great option, particularly if you plan on returning.

JR Pass is useful for visiting multiple destinations across Japan. But it forces you to “squeeze” everything in within the days your pass is valid.


Our (Practical) Tokyo Itineraries

Our best tip is to keep yourself to one area each day to reduce any wasted travel time. Fortunately for you, our itinerary is based on this principle.

How many days should I stay in Tokyo?

We like to suggest 7 days as it gives you enough time to see much of Tokyo and its surrounding areas. For those who opt for the JR Pass, try and fit as much as you can into 3 days to cover the important highlights.

How to use our itinerary

We have 7 itineraries to choose from, but free to mix and combine them according to your preference. For example, if you have 3 days in Tokyo, then you can combine 3 itinerary options. If you only have 1 day in Tokyo, then choose 1 itinerary option out of the 7.

After reading the itineraries, refer to our “Tokyo Neighborhoods: At a Glance” section for complete details on how to get to the top sights and attractions by the nearest train station.

More importantly, for a smoother and successful Tokyo travel experience, take note of the pre-arranged or pre-trip expenses.  And if you’re looking for day trips outside Tokyo, here’s our top 15 destinations outside Tokyo.


Itinerary Option 1: The Typical First-Timer

Takeshita Street in Harajuku
Takeshita Street in Harajuku.

Duration: 5-7 hours

Areas covered: Western Tokyo

Pre-trip expenses:

Tokyo Sights:

  • Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park.
  • Takeshita Street and Cat Street.
  • Kawaii Monster Cafe.
  • Omotesando Hills.
  • Shibuya Scramble Crossing and Hachiko Square.

Itinerary Option 2: Tokyo’s Mix of Old and New

First time in Asakusa
First time in Asakusa

Duration: 6-8 hours

Areas covered: Northern Tokyo

Pre-trip expenses:

Trip notes: It’s up to you how long you want to wear the kimono. Just be sure to return it by the shop’s designated time. If you want convenience, you may return it right after your done with your Asakusa sightseeing.

Tokyo Sights:

  • Kimono rental in Asakusa + Senso-ji Temple.
  • Ueno Park or Ameyoko shopping street.
  • Akihabara Go-Kart at night OR Tokyo Skytree at night.

Itinerary Option 3: Of Fish and Digital Art

Giant Gundam in Diver City mall in Odaiba
Giant Gundam in Diver City mall in Odaiba.

Duration: 6-8 hours

Areas covered: Odaiba

Pre-trip expenses:

Tokyo Sights:

  • Toyosu Fish Market.
  • MORI Building Digital Art Museum for teamLab borderless.
  • Odaiba.

Itinerary Option 4: Loosen Up in Tokyo

Outside Tokyo Station
Outside Tokyo Station

Duration: 5-7 hours

Areas covered: Central Tokyo

Pre-trip expenses: None

Tokyo Sights:

  • East Gardens of Imperial Palace.
  • Tokyo Station’s Underground Ramen Street.
  • Ginza and/or Roppongi at night.

Itinerary Option 5: Kamakura, A Day Trip from Tokyo

Kamakura's Big Buddha
The Great Buddha of Kamakura

Duration: 5-7 hours

Areas covered: Kamakura

Pre-trip expenses: Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass (¥1,470) bought at Shinjuku Station.

Trip notes: Exploring Kamakura can feel like a hike because train station is far from the main attractions. So remember to wear comfortable shoes and stay well-hydrated.

About Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass: Even though this pass also covers Enoshima, we recommend that you explore the Kamakura areas only. It also difficult to do Kamakura + Enoshima in a day as they’re quite far from each other. Don’t worry, the Freepass it’s still worth it just for Kamakura.

Kamakura Sights:

  • Great Buddha of Kamakura.
  • Komachi Dori and Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū Shrine.
  • Shinjuku at night.

Itinerary Option 6: Off-The-Grid Tokyo

Mt. Fuji view from Lake Kawaguchiko
Stock photo of Mt. Fuji view from Lake Kawaguchiko

Duration: 7-9 hours

Areas covered: Mt. Fuji & its surrounding areas

Pre-trip expenses:

Top Sights:


Itinerary Option 7: Whole Day Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea

First time in Tokyo Disneyland
First time in Tokyo Disneyland

Duration: 7-9 hours

Pre-trip expenses:

Top Sights:

  • (Choose DisneySea if you’re all adults).

Tokyo Neighborhoods: At a Glance

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll be organizing this section by “area” and the notable landmarks and attractions in it.

We don’t want to bombard you with Japanese address terms like wards, districts, -ku, etc., as it’ll just be confusing. We believe that as you explore Tokyo, you’ll naturally pick up on how the areas are organized.

Our suggested method for sightseeing in Tokyo is simple: Focus on areas, not attractions. Again, our suggested itineraries above is based on this method. By doing this you’ll avoid wasting precious time by bouncing around the many different districts of Tokyo.

NorthernWesternCentralOdaiba
Akihabara is listed twice because it actually sits between the north and central areas. So feel free to include Akihabara to your either north or central itinerary.

  • Sensoji Temple in Asakusa

  • Ueno Park

  • Tokyo Skytree

  • Akihabara Electric Town


  • Shinjuku and Kabukicho

  • Harajuku and Shibuya

  • Roppongi Hills


  • Akihabara Electric Town

  • Imperial Palace

  • Ginza

  • Tsukiji Fish Market



  • New Toyosu Fish Market (Tsukiji auction moved here)

  • Palette Town

  • Giant Gundam in DiverCity

  • Statue of Liberty Replica

  • Rainbow Bridge

  • teamLab borderless


Northern Area

Sensoji Temple grounds

The Sensoji Temple in Asakusa
The Sensoji Temple in Asakusa

One of the most iconic places in Japan, Sensoji Temple is what most foreigners think of when they picture Japanese temples. The gigantic Kaminarimon Gate is the first thing you’ll see before entering the Sensoji temple grounds, as locals and tourists alike flock to get a selfie.

Continuing on, you’ll be greeted by a long shopping street called Nakamise-dori selling souvenirs, kimonos, and tasty snacks, all the way to the second gate of the ground, Hozo-mon Gate.

You’ll find a large incense burner is in the middle surrounded by devotees puffing the smoke all over themselves, as it’s believed to give good health.

And last but not least, the Main Hall of the Sensoji Temple and the five-storey pagoda; a sight not to be missed!

Nearest Station: Asakusa
Admission: Free

Ueno Park and Zoo Gardens

Ueno Zoo's Panda
Ueno Zoo is the oldest zoo in Japan, and with panda.

Ueno Park is huge. It’s undoubtedly one of the largest public parks we’ve ever been to, and it definitely has the most to do within it. The park is a day trip by itself if you visit all the museums and temples within it, and Japan’s oldest and best-known zoo (due to its Giant Panda’s), Ueno Zoo, is also here.

In fact, you can find the following attractions within the park: Tosho-gu Shrine, The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo National Museum, Shitamachi Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum Central Building, The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, and Tokyo National Museum of Nature and Science. So you’ll not be short of activities here. It also gets absolutely packed during Cherry Blossom season.

Nearest Station: Ueno
Admission Price: Free to enter the park.

Ameya-Yokochō (Ameyoko)

Ameya-Yokochō
Ameya-Yokochō with our sleepy daughter.

Ameyoko used to be a black market for consumable goods, such as alcohol and cigarettes. Nowadays, its atmosphere still feels like it because of the bargain foreign brands here like Nike, Chanel, and Korean cosmetics.

But the Ameyoko of old is a thing of the past, and all the items sold here are (mostly) legit, contrary to what most tourists believe. You can find practically anything here, from fresh produce to shoes, to US Navy jackets; making Ameyoko a great escape from everyday department stores!

Nearest Station: Ueno

Yanaka Ginza

Yanaka Ginza
Yanaka Ginza

Yanaka is one of the few districts in Tokyo that survived both the Great Kanto Earthquake and World War II bombings. So if you want to experience that “downtown Edo” feeling, you’ll find it here in this stubborn old shopping street.

In keeping with its “old town” theme, the shops lining the streets here are locally owned and offer a little bit of everything. What we like best about Yanaka is that it seems to have its own distinct personality that you don’t get in other areas of Tokyo.

While visiting here be sure to take a stroll through Yanaka cemetery, as it’s a local favorite and a must-see during cherry blossom season.

Nearest Station: Nippori


Western Area

Harajuku District

Crepes in Harajuku
Crepes in Harajuku

Best known for its famous Takeshita Dori street, Harajuku is a hotspot for teenage culture in Japan. But Harajuku isn’t just for teenagers, it’s also well known for Yoyogi Park, Meiji Shrine, Cat Street, a ridiculous amount of crepe shops, vintage clothing, and Omotesando. We suggest visiting on a weekday to avoid being trampled by the swarms of teenage girls looking for clothes.

Nearest Station: Harajuku Station

Shibuya

Lost in Shibuya
Lost in Shibuya with our friend Mica.

The most popular meeting point for locals, Shibuya is the trendy place often setting trends which take off across Japan.

Speaking of meeting points, you can’t come to Shibuya without visiting the most loyal dog to have ever lived, Hachiko, located by the iconic Shibuya Scramble Crossing. This is also the city’s primary shopping sector, which is quickly demonstrated by the fact that nearly every building is covered in advertisements.

Nearest Station: Shibuya

Shinjuku

The famous landmark in Kabukicho TOHO IMAX and Godzilla in Hotel Gracery
The famous landmark in Kabukicho TOHO IMAX and Godzilla in Hotel Gracery.

Part entertainment/red light district (East side) and part government and office area (West side), we like to describe Shinjuku as being the “mullet” of Tokyo (business in the front, party in the back). Shinjuku is where many foreigners and overworked salarymen spend much of their time.

East Shinjuku is where you’ll find Kabukicho; home of pubs, hostess bars, restaurants, karaoke, Toho IMAX, and a vast number of pachinko parlors. This is also where you’ll find the infamous Robot Restaurant and Golden Gai.

On the west side, you’ll see the iconic Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, which is a 50-storey educational facility. While you’re on the west side Shinjuku, don’t forget to enter the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, as the South Observatory Deck has recently reopened and provides excellent panoramic views of Tokyo, and, if you’re lucky, Mt. Fuji–best of all its free to enter.

Nearest Station: Shinjuku Station

Roppongi

Mori Art Museum in Roppongi
Mori Art Museum in Roppongi

Roponggi is Tokyo’s expats playground at night. However, during the daytime, families with kids will enjoy the Roppongi Hills shopping complex itself and enter the Mori Art Museum Sky Deck, or visit the nearby outdoor playground called Robot Park or Sakurazaka Park.

Nearest Station: Roppongi Station.


Central Areas

Imperial Palace and East Gardens of Imperial Palace

Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace is the official residence of the Imperial Family. The inner grounds of Imperial Palace are closed the public, people live there after all. They open it twice a year, January 2nd and February 23rd (the newest crowned Emperor’s Birthday).

The East Gardens, however, are open to the public year round, except Mondays, Fridays, and national holidays.

Nearest Stations: Otemachi, Takebashi, Sakuradamon, and Nijubashimae.
Admission: Free

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara with cousin.
Selfie shot in Akihabara.

The “otaku” capital of Japan, Akihabara, or Akiba for short, features all the things your geeky heart could ask for. Anime, manga, video games, electronics, maid cafes, the Gundam Cafe, adult goods, and so much more; Akiba is a must-see for all Tokyo Travelers.

Nearest Station: Akihabara

Ginza

The famous clock building of Ginza--Ginza Wako, a subsidiary of Seiko.
Stock photo: The famous clock building of Ginza–Ginza Wako, a subsidiary of Seiko.

A popular shopping district in Tokyo, Ginza is filled with upscale department stores, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and the famous Kabuki-za theater. While definitely a pricey place to shop, the streets of Ginza still make for a great experience to add to your trip.

Nearest Station: Ginza

Old Tsukiji Fish Market

Sushi Zanmai in Tsukiji
Sushi Zanmai in Tsukiji

Although the famous wholesale fish auction site (the inner market) has moved to the Toyosu Market (Odaiba), the outer Tsukiji Market is still booming and still has plenty to see and eat. While historically catering to professional chefs and restaurants, the market has shifted towards ordinary customers and amateur chefs.

Nearest Station: Tsukijishijo


Odaiba Area

Palette Town

Getting ready to enter Venus Fort and Toyota Mega Web.
Getting ready to enter Venus Fort and Toyota Mega Web.

Not to be confused with the hometown of Ash Ketchum, Palette Town is a massive shopping complex, and a great place for families looking for kid-friendly shopping areas. The main shopping area is Venus Fort with an interior made to resemble classical marble architecture –kind of like Caesars Palace in Vegas– filled with restaurants, shops, and even a casino. Japan’s largest ferris wheel is also here, along with the Toyota Mega Web, which showcases all of Toyota’s cars; both new and old. The psychedelic MORI Building Digital Art Museum which features teamLab borderless is also here.

Nearest Station: Aomi

Fuji Television

Fuji Television Building
Fuji Television Building

One of the most interesting looking buildings in Japan, the Fuji TV building boasts an amazing view from the “Big Ball” observation deck. If that wasn’t enough, you can also explore the colorful sets of popular Japanese talk and news shows.

Nearest Station: Daiba

DiverCity Mall

The Giant Gundam
The Giant Gundam

Another large shopping center in Tokyo, DiverCity was built with the concept of “theatrical city space.” Easily identified by the life-sized Gundam standing guard outside. What sets DiverCity apart from other shopping centers (you know, besides the giant Gundam) is that it also offers a fantastic VR experience in hexaRide.

Nearest Station: Daiba

Oedo-Onsen-Monogatari

Photo from Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 4.0

Looking to experience a traditional Japanese hot-spring without leaving Tokyo? Then this is the place for you. Offering both outdoor and indoor baths, a steam room, sauna, massage, spa, restaurant, foot baths, and much more. The facility is designed to look like a traditional Edo-period onsen and marketplace, and offers yukatas for you to wear during your visit. If you can get over your fear of bathing naked with strangers, then there is absolutely no better way to relax in Tokyo.

Nearest Station: Telecom Center

Toyosu Fish Market (tuna auction moved here)

The new home for the old Tsukiji wholesale fish market, you can’t find fresher sushi without being on the boat. Unlike the old market, the public can no longer walk amongst the wholesale market during the auction, but instead, look down on it from a windowed balcony. So, while the old-timey feel has been replaced by sterile modern buildings, the move is actually an overall good when you think about food safety. Other than the auction, the new market offers many of the same food stalls (over 40) that existed in Tsukiji, and hundreds of shops, and a fruit and vegetable market. You can also go up to the roof of the building for a great view of Tokyo Bay.

Nearest Station: Shijomae


Side Trips from Tokyo

We have two dedicated articles to help you choose a destination beyond Tokyo:


“Extra” Special Things To Do in Tokyo

1. Explore Tokyo by Go-Kart while dressed as your favorite character.

Go-Karting Asakusa
37% Off when booked with Voyagin. Photo courtesy of Voyagin.

2. Watch the crazy and canny Robot Restaurant show in Kabukicho, Shinjuku.

Robot Restaurant Show
Robot Restaurant show

3. Dine-in at the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku.

Kawaii Monster Cafe
Photo courtesy of Voyagin.

4. Duel with a Sumo wrestler (and eat what they eat).

Duel with a Sumo
Photo courtesy of Voyagin.

5. Maid Cafe experience in Akihabara…

Wife's Maid Cafe experience with her friend. It was... awkward
Wife’s Maid Cafe experience with her friend. It was… awkward

6. Kimono rental and dress-up experience in Asakusa.

With the Kimono Girls in Asakusa
With the Kimono Girls in Asakusa

7. Watch a Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo.

Watch Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo
Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo is held twice a year–January and May only. Photo courtesy of Voyagin.

8. Experience Japanese tea ceremony called “sadou.”

Tea Ceremony Experience
Photo courtesy of Voyagin.

9. Tokyo Bay night cruise with dinner onboard.

Cruising Tokyo
Cruising the Sumida River.

10. Watch MANGEKYO Performance by DRUM TAO.

MANGEKYO TOKYO
Photo courtesy of MANGEKYO.

11. Night Tour of Shinjuku and Kabukicho with bar experience.

Night Tour of Shinjuku and Kabukicho with bar experience
Piss alley.

12. Eat a fugu (pufferfish) meal plan in Asakusa.

Pufferfish
Image courtesy of Tiger Puffer Fish Restaurant Geunpin.

13. Hidden Izakaya and Pub Crawl Tour with a local.

Izakayas with a local

14. Ghibli Museum appreciation bus tour.

Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo

15. Tokyo for babies?!

Tokyo with kids

We have a great resource dedicated to families traveling in Tokyo with their babies.


What to Eat

Ah food, my favorite subject. And if you’re a foodie like me, then Tokyo will be a treat (pun intended). This list is just a small taste (also intended) of what is available, and when in doubt, choose the restaurant that’s in the small back alley. Seriously, it’s almost always the best option.

While there’s plenty of traditional Japanese cuisine here (obviously), don’t limit yourself to it alone. Indian, Chinese, Brazilian, American, British, it’s all here, so go wild!

How to use this food guide: Just type the recommended places on Google Maps for directions.

1. Ramen

Hakata Gensuke Ramen Fukuoka

Believe it or not, this iconic Japanese dish is actually originally from China.

Ramen is without a doubt my favorite food in Japan, and for those of you who hear that and start thinking about those cheap packages of Top Ramen, clear your mind of that abomination and get ready for one of the most filling and delicious experiences of your foodie life!

Ramen generally comes in a few different variations, including shoyu (soy sauce); shio (salt); miso (fermented soybeans); tonkatsu (pork); tsukemen (dipping noodles), and is complemented with toppings such as boiled eggs, fish cake, and nori (seaweed). And don’t forget to order some gyoza (fried dumplings) to go with it!

Even the famous Cup Noodles that you see everywhere are 1000% times better here, with tons of unique flavors and ingredients. So don’t forget to give them a try as well!

Our ramen recommendations:

  • Ichiran.
  • Kosyu Ichiba.
  • Tokyo Ramen Tower in Odaiba.
  • Tokyo Ramen Street in Tokyo Station.
  • Tokyo Underground Ramen in Ikebukuro Station.

2. Sushi

SushiProbably the only food more iconic to Japan than ramen, sushi needs little explanation. But as simple as raw fish on rice may seem, real Japanese sushi is nothing like what you might have had before.

That’s because most sushi chefs spend decades apprenticing to learn the art of sushi making.

Sushi in Japan comes in a few varieties. There are the sushi rolls, which most of you are probably familiar with and probably picture when you hear the term ‘Sushi.’

Then there is nigiri, which is the most common form of sushi in Japan; fish on top of the rice. There’s also gunkan, temaki, and sashimi (raw fish alone) to name a few, but all have one thing in common; they’re delicious. Except for natto…yuck.

Our sushi recommendations:

  • Sukiyabashi Jiro. Restaurant of the second son to the famous sushi chef Jiro. Also VERY expensive, but incredible sushi. Reserve for Sushi Jiro here.
  • Sushizanmai. We love their branches in Tsukiji market and near Roppongi Station. Very kid-friendly too!
  • Uogashi Nihon-Ichi. A standing sushi bar in Shinjuku. Click here for directions.

For travelers on a budget you can still have great sushi!

  • Genki Sushi.
  • Sushi Roll.
  • Katsumidori Seibu Shibuya.

3. Curry

CurryI know what you’re thinking. “Curry? In Japan?” Well, believe it or not, curry is one of the most popular foods in Japan, and, in fact, most stores have entire aisles dedicated to nothing but curry. So, yeah, we’re going to talk about curry.

So you’ve got a few choices when it comes to curry here; Indian, Nepalese, Thai, and Japanese. Each has its own thing which makes it unique, and each has fanatics willing to claim theirs is superior. But in the world of food, they’re all great in their own ways.

Our curry recommendations:

4. Yakiniku

YakinikuEver wanted to cook your food at your table for yourself? Well, that’s what you’re going to do if you happen into a Japanese barbeque.

You may have seen something similar to this in your own country, but with the chefs cooking the food at your table. Not so here!

In Japan, you’re an adult! If you can do your own taxes, then by god, you can cook your own meat!

There are two kinds of Yakiniku restaurants here; a flat-rate all you can eat, or pay for what you eat. I prefer the former, but the latter tends to have higher quality meat. Whichever you choose, have fun, and don’t burn yourself.

Recommendations:

  • Yakiniku Kobe-ya
  • Gyu-kaku
  • Rokkasen
  • Beast Yakiniku

5. Fast Food

Don’t skip ahead just yet; hear me out. The term “fast food” tends to scare off most foodies as greasy burgers and limp fries. And while Japan certainly has plenty of chains we’re familiar with, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC (which are all slightly different than their western counterparts), this is also a society that doesn’t skimp on quality when it comes to food.

Some of the places listed here aren’t your traditional idea of fast food, but are delicious nonetheless.

Recommendations:

  • Yoshinoya
  • Wendy’s First Kitchen
  • Mos Burger
  • Sukiya
  • Fatburger

6. Any Convenience Store

Though we’re partial to Ministop for desserts and 7-Eleven for bentos.

7. Everything Else

If I were to give a long write-up for EVERY kind of food available in Tokyo, this article would be a thousand pages long, and worse, I’d run out of witty remarks and friendly banter! So to speed things up a bit, I’m just going to post a few of my favorite restaurants here, regardless of the type of food it serves.

Recommendations:

  • The Warrior Celt; a bar, but one with the best fish and chips I’ve had in Japan
  • Devilcraft
  • Rize Mize
  • Sizzler (Yes, Sizzler. Stop judging me!)
  • El Pato
  • Tenfusa Tempura

Basic Tokyo Tips

Escalator Courtesy

You’re going to use escalators a lot during your time in Tokyo, so avoid getting dirty looks by standing on the left side to allow people to walk up the escalators on the right; this also applies to moving sidewalks. For those of you visiting Kyoto during your trip, this rule is reversed, so stand on the right.

No tipping!

In fact, leaving a tip could be considered rude. Plus, the staff will probably chase you down to return your money.

Cover your cough.

When you get here, you’re going to inevitably see people walking around in surgical masks. No, these are not super dedicated doctors rushing to their next patient. The Japanese wear these masks for a few reasons.

First and foremost, if they are sick, they will wear it to prevent others from getting sick. Second, to prevent themselves from getting sick from people who should be wearing a mask but aren’t. And third, is to help filter some of the pollen and other irritating particles floating in the air.

So, should you get sick in Japan the polite thing to do is to wear one of these masks; you can buy them in any convenience store.

Shop at a Don Quijote store.

Whether you’re looking for tasty snacks or souvenirs, this store has it all, and at considerably lower prices than you’ll find elsewhere. Plus, if you show them your passport, it’s Tax-Free!

Looking for a cheap dinner?

Go to a convenience store! Look, I know convenience stores often have a terrible reputation for mediocre food and food-related illnesses, but Japan has stepped the convenience store game up.

Sandwiches, boxed lunches (bento), ramen, and even sushi (yes, actually good sushi!) can all be found at these stores. So consider this as an alternative to an expensive restaurant to save money.

Public consumption of alcohol is normal.

And there’s no arbitrary time where purchasing alcohol suddenly becomes illegal. Alcohol isn’t stigmatized here like it is in western cultures. So don’t be surprised to see people drinking beer in a park or seeing beer on the McDonald’s menu. It’s just part of the culture.

Don’t stick your chopsticks into the rice.

By that I mean when you place your chopsticks down to speak, set them on top of the bowl rather than into the rice. It’s EXTREMELY disrespectful as it’s reserved as a funeral symbol.

Don’t shake hands, unless the other party offers it first.

If shaking hands is the normal greeting in your culture, then save it for when you return there. Bowing is still the standard greeting of Japan. And, since you’re the gaijin (foreigner), etiquette dictates that you bow deeper than the local; though no one would fault you for not doing so.

So as a general rule just bow, bending at the waist, about 45 degrees, and DO NOT maintain eye contact; that’s just weird.


Helpful Japanese Phrases

A little effort can go a long way. Here are some useful words and phrases to get you through your time here:

  • sumimasen (excuse me)
  • gomennasai (sorry)
  • arigatou gozaimasu (thank you)
  • For shopping: ikura desu ka? (how much?)
  • At restaurants: ijou desu (I’m done ordering)
  • Eigo wa dekimasu ka? (can you speak English?)

Shopping Tips

Sizing

If you’re planning on shopping here, clothes here run MUCH smaller than western brands. And the brands that might actually fit a westerner are vastly more expensive.

For example, if you’re size Medium (M) in the U.S., then you might be a size Large (L) in Japan.

Also, there’s no Petite or Big and Tall sizing here (outside of pricey specialty stores).

On Women’s Clothing

“I’m not sure if I will feel bad (or good) about this shopping tip, but a note for my fellow curvy women. You might have a hard time shopping for clothes here for your body type. Most Japanese women are perfectly slim and have narrow hips. So don’t be surprised if you try on their clothing and end up looking bulky.”

~ Ada Wilkinson


And EVERYTHING you need to know…

We have great resources here about covering EVERYTHING you need to know before visiting Japan:


References

[1] Mastercard’s 2018 Global Destination Cities Index [Press release]. (2018, September 25). Retrieved April 12, 2019, from https://newsroom.mastercard.com/press-releases/big-cities-big-business-bangkok-london-and-paris-lead-the-way-in-mastercards-2018-global-destination-cities-index/

[2] Narita International Airport – MLIT Japan. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2019, from http://www.mlit.go.jp/koku/15_hf_000032.html

[3] What should I know about booking a home in Japan? (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2019, from https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/2274/what-should-i-know-about-booking-a-home-in-japan



Leave a Comment