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Tokyo Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Tokyo Travel Guide

Tokyo, Japan is one of the most beautiful, energizing cities you will ever visit in the world. It is full of diverse experiences, where tradition and innovation seamlessly coexist. You can visit century-old shrines to neon-lit skyscrapers. The cityscape of Tokyo is iconic, and seemingly never ending when you gaze out at the top of the Tokyo Tower. You’ll be surrounded by cutting edge technology like the high speed bullet trains and the most incredible sushi and steak you will ever eat. Below is the Tokyo travel guide, filled with everything you need to know before visiting Tokyo.

Tokyo Quick Links

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I travel to Tokyo?

There are many reasons why you should travel to Tokyo. If you are planning a trip to Japan, Tokyo is a great city to add to your trip. Tokyo offers a unique blend of traditional charm and modern innovation.

Tokyo has a rich cultural heritage. Popular places to visit include the Imperial Palace, Senso-ji Temple and Meiji Shrine. The culture is also very communal. It is a very safe, clean, considerate country to visit. There are no street trash cans, yet the streets stay clean because everyone carries their trash to throw it out at home.

At the same time, you are surrounded by cutting edge technology in Tokyo. The local and bullet trains are on time to the minute, even the toilets are high tech in Tokyo. Don’t mistake the high tech for low personal hospitality though. In Tokyo, you will experience the most polite, thoughtful hospitality you have ever experienced. Especially in the hotels, you will notice such a strong culture of hospitality and politeness.

The culinary scene in Tokyo is one of the top culinary experiences you’ll ever have. It’s not just the best sushi and ramen you’ll ever have either, which you can find at the Tsukiji Fish Market and at ramen fast food chains like Ichiran. The wagyu steak is out of this world and the best you’ll ever have. The fruit is the most flavorful you’ll ever eat, especially the strawberries and melons. Even the food selection at 7-11 is incredible.

If you’re not a foodie, there are plenty of other experiences for you that are highly rated in Tokyo. For example, for fans of anime, manga, and pop culture is a paradise in the Akihabara neighborhood in Tokyo. There is also lots of great shopping in the Ginza, Harajuku neighborhoods and Takeshita street.

Depending on what time of year you go, you can also experience the incredible Cherry Blossom season.

How to Get to Tokyo

The easiest way to get to Tokyo is by flying or by taking the bullet train from another city in Japan. There are two international airports in Tokyo: Haneda and Narita. Haneda is closer to the city, but both have trains that can bring you to your destination in Tokyo. Narita Airport is about 60 kilometers east of central Tokyo but is well connected to the city by trains such as the Narita Express, Keisei Skyliner and buses. It takes approximately 60-90 minutes to get to Tokyo station.

Haneda airport is much closer to the city center, only about 20 kilometers away. You can easily reach central Tokyo from the Haneda airport by train, bus or taxi.

The bullet train is very easy to take to Tokyo. Several cities connected to Tokyo by the bullet train include Kyoto, Osaka and Hakone.

What US cities have direct flights to Tokyo, Japan?

There are many US cities that have direct flights to Tokyo including Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA), Chicago (ORD), Dallas/ Fort Worth (DFW), New York (JFK), Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW) and Honolulu (HNL).

What cities in Asia have direct flights to Tokyo, Japan?

There are many cities in Asia that have direct flights to Tokyo, Japan including Seoul (ICN), Beijing (PEK), Shanghai (PVG), Hong Kong (HKG), Taipei (TPE), Bangkok (BKK) and Singapore (SIN).

What do I need to know before going to Tokyo?

Japan is a very different country, so there is a lot to know about Japan before you go. Understanding all of this will help make your travel to Japan and travel in Japan much easier.

Getting into Tokyo from Abroad

  • Before you go, check what paperwork is required to enter. Their covid entry requirements lasted much longer than other nations.
  • Japan has a lot of restrictions on medicines you can bring in, including medicine legal in the United States like Nyquil. If you need to bring medicine with you check here at least a month ahead of time so you can get the necessary paperwork to bring the medicine with you.
  • Do US citizens need a visa for Japan? If you’re staying for less than 90 days and traveling with a US Passport, a visa is not required.
  • Make sure you always carry your passport as it is illegal to not carry it, and that your passport is valid at least 6 months beyond your planned departure date to not run into any issues getting into or out of Japan.
  • Immigration may ask you for proof of a return airline ticket and for proof of a hotel / other accommodation

Language & Translation

  • The official language is Japanese and while English is taught in school, not everyone is fluent. It’s helpful to learn a few basic Japanese phrases and install Google translate on your phone.
  • Google Translate is necessary, you can point your phone at a picture / sign / menu and it’ll immediately translate it. Also helpful to tell taxis where you are going.

Getting Around Japan

  • Foreigners are able to buy a discounted Japan Rail Pass who are visiting Japan under “temporary visitor” status. If you purchase on the Japan Rail Pass official site, you are able to reserve trains ahead of time online. This pass is most useful if you are using the bullet train multiple times. It’s best to calculate if it’s cheaper to buy the JR Pass or to buy individual tickets before you buy it.
  • The green car (business class) with the JR Pass is better as you can reserve seats ahead of time and the seats are roomy and comfortable.
  • If you have checked luggage and you are taking the bullet train you’ll want to reserve the seats that come with large baggage storage. They are at the back of the car. If your bags are acarry-on, they can go up top over the seats and you can reserve any seat.
  • Apple Maps gives better directions than Google Maps.
  • It is very easy to take the train within the cities and also the bullet train to get to other cities.
  • When taking the train, pay attention to the recommended exits in Maps, the train stations span many city blocks and it is directing you to the closest exit to your location.
  • Make sure you get on the right train! They trains are very prompt and the bullet trains have different lines on the same track. If you get on even 3 minutes early, you may get on the wrong train.
  • The Tokyo train cards are called Pasmo and Suica – they both work. You can get a train card at any train station but you need cash.
  • Pay very close attention to times to go to things. For example, “go early” for fish market meant 5:30AM, but “go early” to a specific shrine meant go at 10AM. And, many areas are closed on random days

WiFi & Electricity

  • WiFi is widely available in the cities and many hotels provide free WiFi.
  • Consider renting a portable WiFi device as you’ll use WiFi frequently for translation on your phone and directions. You’ll need constant connectivity when traveling in Japan.
  • Japan uses type A and type B sockets, with a standard voltage of 100V and a frequency of 50/60Hz. I like this power adaptor best as it includes power adaptors for all countries compactly.

Cash and Credit

  • The official currency is the Japanese Yen (JPY). The Yen only has full amounts i.e. no 1.50, only 1.00. The change is a full yen or greater.
  • While credit cards are accepted in many places, some markets and smaller establishments only accept cash so it’s best to have some cash on you. Reloading Passmo in the train station also required cash.
  • Getting cash before you get to Japan is easier and cheaper, and one less thing to do when you arrive in Japan.
  • You can also exchange currency in the airport but it’ll be cheaper through your local bank

Shopping in Tokyo

  • There is a lot of great shopping in Tokyo. There are many unique things you’ll want to buy that you can only find in Tokyo.
  • Pack an extra bag or save room in your suitcase for the stuff you buy.
  • It is not customary to bargain and negotiate in Japan.

Cultural Etiquette

  • Tokyo places high importance on etiquette so it’s important to understand the basics before coming to Tokyo as it’s important to be respectful.
  • Bowing is a common form of greeting and shows respect in Tokyo.
  • Some establishments and temples will ask you to remove your shoes before coming in. Many of them provide bags or a space to leave your shoes.
  • Forming orderly queues is a common practice in Tokyo– you’ll see this often waiting for the train.
  • In Japan, tattoos are often associated with organized crime, and many hot springs (onsens) have policies restricting entry for individuals with tattoos or require they be covered by stickers that they provide.
  • Be aware of places that have restrictions on photography – especially in temples and shrines.
  • Japan places great important on respecting elders.

Tipping Culture in Tokyo

Good news if you think tipping has gotten out of control in the US. Tipping is not a common practice in Japan, and actually is often considered inappropriate in many situations. It is best to not tip in Japan and if you want to show gratitude they have a concept called omotenashi. Instead of tipping, you can express gratitude through small gifts or tokens of appreciation. This could be something like bringing a popular candy from home and gifting it to them.

Additionally, a simple and polite “arigatou” (thank you) is always well received.

How many days should I spend in Tokyo?

The ideal duration of your stay in Tokyo depends on your interests, budget and how much time you want to explore other cities and areas in Japan. Tokyo is a massive city, and each area of Tokyo offers different experiences. In this Tokyo travel guide, here are general guidelines on how to decide how many days to spend in Tokyo:

One Night in Tokyo

If you only have the opportunity to spend one night in Tokyo because of work travel or a layover, one night is better than nothing! It’s hard to recommend the absolute top thing to do and top thing to eat as peoples preferences are so different so look over the best things to do in Tokyo and best restaurants in Tokyo and pick your top choices.

Long Weekend in Tokyo

If you’re on a tight schedule and only have a long weekend to spend in Tokyo, you can still experience some of the cities highlights in 3 days. Focus on some of the must-see attractions like Tokyo Tower, Tsukiji fish market, Asakusa (Senso-ji Temple, Shibuya Crossing, and a few neighborhoods like Ginza and Shinjuku. For meals, try to eat ramen, a steak dinner and a sushi meal all at least once.

Standard Visit of 4-7 Days in Tokyo

Most people spend at least 4-7 days in Tokyo when they go to Tokyo for the first time. This enables you to explore a wider range of neighborhoods and really experience all of the top things to do and best foods in Tokyo.

Longer than a Week in Tokyo

If you don’t feel like moving hotels often, Tokyo also serves as a great base for day trips to places like Hakone, Nikki, Kamakura and Mount Fuji.Bottom of Form

Best time of year to visit Tokyo

The best time of year to visit Tokyo depends on your preferences, the experiences you are seeking and the regions you plan to visit. The most popular time to visit is during Cherry Blossom season in the spring.

Spring (March to May) Cherry Blossom Season

Cherry Blossom Season in the spring is the most popular time to visit Tokyo, especially late March to early April. The exact timing of the cherry blossoms blooming varies every year. Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen are the most popular spots in Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms. Cherry Blossom Season is also the most expensive time to visit Tokyo as hotel prices are much higher. It’s also very important to book accommodations, activities, restaurants and transport early because of the amount of tourists visiting during this time. The temperatures are generally comfortable this time of year, though it is best to still bring a jacket.

Summer (June to August)

Summers in Tokyo can be hot and humid, with temperatures often exceeding 86°F. In the summer, there are festivals such as Tanabata (Star Festival) in July and various fireworks shows. Sometimes there is occasional heavy rainfall.

Autumn (September to November)

Autumn is another popular time to visit Tokyo. There is beautiful fall foliage and the weather is generally mild, making it comfortable to walk outdoors and sightsee. Crowds tend to be smaller compared to Cherry Blossom Season.

Winter (December to February)

Winter is a great time to visit Japan, especially if you enjoy skiing. Though you’ll have to travel outside of Tokyo to ski, you can enjoy a festive time with holiday lights and decorations in December in Tokyo. You can expect the winter to be relatively mild while you’re in Tokyo.

New Years tends to bring larger crowds and higher prices.

What is Tokyo famous for?

Tokyo is the capital of Japan and is famous for a wide range of attractions, experiences and culture. Tokyo is one of the largest and most vibrant cities in the world. Here are some of the things that Japan is particularly renowned for:

Cherry Blossom Season

  • Tokyo is famous for its cherry blossom (Sakura) season, which is in the spring. One of the best places to see the cherry blossoms in the spring is at Uneo Park in Tokyo.
  • During cherry blossom season, many cafes and restaurants have cherry blossom specials like cherry blossom coffee.

Skyscrapers and Modern Architecture

  • Tokyo’s vast skyscrapers go beyond what the eye can see – there is a massive amount of skyscrapers and modern architecture in Tokyo. Some of the best places to really see how large Tokyo is are going to the Tokyo Skytree or Tokyo Tower and looking at Tokyo from the top.

Cuisine

  • Japan, including Tokyo, is known for the best sushi you’ll ever have. They offer sushi pieces you can’t find on menus in other countries. The best tuna we had in Tokyo was at the Tsukiji Fish Market.
  • Ramen is another staple in Japan. There are ramen shops that are fast food chains all the way to Michelin star ramen. Even the ramen shop chains like Ichiran are some of the best ramen you’ll ever eat.
  • When you go to Japan, you cannot miss having a steak dinner or two. It’s unlike any steak dinner you’ve eaten anywhere else.
  • Lastly, the fruit. The fruit, especially strawberries and melons are so flavorful in Japan.

Efficient and Safe Public Transportation

  • Tokyo is famous for it’s efficient and safe pubic transportation. Trains are very prompt and orderly. The bullet trains also can take you at high speeds from Tokyo to cities like Kyoto and Osaka.
  • You’ll also notice when you go to the bathroom that even the toilets are high tech in Tokyo. 

Pop Culture

  • Tokyo is the epicenter of pop culture including anime and manga.
  • Akihabara, a neighborhood in Tokyo, is most famous for it’s anime culture.
  • Shibuya crossing is an iconic location which is featured in numerous films.

Natural Beauty

  • Tokyo has many lush parks and gardens including Shinjuku Gyoen, Yoyogi Park and the gardens at the Imperial Palace.

Sports

  • Sumo wrestling is a Japanese sport with a history dating back centuries. Six tournaments are held every year including three in Tokyo (January, May and September). Each tournament lasts 15 days.
  • It’s also popular to see a baseball game in Tokyo, with the season beginning in April and ending in a championship held in October.

Historic Temples and Shrines

  • Tokyo has historic temples and shrines including Asakusa’s Senso-ji Temple and the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya.
  • The Imperial Palace is also a popular place to visit in Tokyo.

What are the best things to do in Tokyo

There are so many incredible things to do when you’re in Tokyo, it’s hard to summarize them all in a paragraph. So, we’ve created an in depth list for the best things to do in Tokyo.

Some of the most popular things to do in Tokyo are to experience Cherry Blossom Season in Uneo Park, visit the Senso-ji Temple and Meiji Shrine, visit the Imperial Palace, and go shopping in places like Ginza, Harajuku and Takeshita street. Most visitors go to either Tokyo Skytree or Tokyo Tower but not both. TeamLab borderless has a very cool art immersive experience.

While you’re in Tokyo, prepare to eat non stop as the food is incredible. A top cuisine highlight is to go to Tsukiji Fish Market which has great sushi, and also great waygu, smoothies and fruit. Even getting food at 7-11 and getting food in the train stations are great experiences.

Is Tokyo Safe?

Tokyo is considered a very safe destination for travelers. Tokyo has a low crime rate and is known for its safety, cleanliness and strong sense of public order. As you’re walking around, you’ll notice many small signs of this such as nobody locks up their bike. They leave their bike there, and no one takes it. If you happen to lose something, there is a good chance it will be turned over to the local authorities or lost and found. The culture places a high value on honesty, and it is a very respectful society.

The public transportation is also known to be incredibly reliable, punctual and safe.

If you do need emergency services, the emergency number in Japan is 110 for police, fire and ambulance services.

Japan is prone to earthquakes, though the last major earthquake in Tokyo was around 100 years ago when the Great Kanto Earthquake left the city in ruins. As a result, many buildings in Tokyo boast state of the art seismic anti-vibration systems. There was also an earthquake in 2011 in Roppongi, so since many buildings and Japanese people also stock emergency supplies. Most buildings and public spaces have clear earthquake safety instructions.

What is the best area to stay in Tokyo?

When you start to plan your trip to Tokyo, it is a bit overwhelming to figure out what area to stay in Tokyo because Tokyo is so big. The best area to stay really depends on your interests, your budget and the type of experience you’re looking for. Since Tokyo is so big, we go into more depth here on the best areas to stay in Tokyo.

How to save money traveling in Tokyo

Traveling in Tokyo can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. It is possible to only take public transportation using your Pasmo or Suica card and Japan Rail Pass, and never need to pay for taxis because their public transportation is so extensive. Using public transportation is one of the easiest ways to save money, especially as the trains are so clean, extensive and efficient.

Accommodations range from budget friendly accommodations like hostels or capsule hotels all the way to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Staying in less touristy areas can also help reduce your accommodation costs. Major US chains like Marriott and Hyatt are in Japan and you can save money by using points for your stays. Avoiding Cherry Blossom Season will also save you money as accommodations prices are highest during Cherry Blossom Season.

You can save on meals by getting food at 7-11 (yes, this is a great option and you should check out 7-11 even if you’re not trying to save money on food). The ramen restaurants like Ichiran are incredible cheap yet amazing. Eating at Tsukiji Fish Market instead of an omakase will also save you a lot of money, while still enabling you to enjoy the best sushi ever. There are even incredible markets within many of the train station, and especially the main train stations like Tokyo Station.

There are also plenty of incredible free, or lost cost attractions like Uneo Park, Imperial Palace, and Shibuya Crossing.

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