Are you planning to visit Japan? Follow these tips for traveling to Tokyo and enjoy your stay in the capital where there is much to see and do
Tokyo is a big city, which can be intimidating. Even before arriving, since when planning a trip to the Japanese capital, there are so many options, where to stay? What to visit? How much time to spend? How to make the best use of time? In this article, we are going to give you ten tips for traveling to Tokyo, especially if it will be your first trip.
- Tip 1: Decide how much time you will spend in Tokyo
- Tip 2: decide which neighborhoods you are going to visit
- Tip 3: Take advantage of the metro and train system
- Tip 4: Set realistic goals for each day
- Tip 5: book your accommodation at a strategic point
- Tip 6: Go ready to start a collection
- Tip 7: Always stay connected
- Tip 8: If you have more time, use Tokyo as a base to see more places
- Tip 9: Don’t forget the stores
- Tip 10: eat everything!
Tip 1: Decide how much time you will spend in Tokyo
It is one of the first things that must be decided, when making an itinerary through Japan, to know how much time we will dedicate to this city. But Tokyo is not like any other capital, to which we could normally dedicate two or three days. Although I have to admit that on our first trip to Tokyo we dedicated three full days to it and that’s why I can say first hand that it wasn’t enough.
In Tokyo, you have to think that the least we should dedicate to it is one week. Of course, if you have less time, oh well… But ideally, a week is the starting base.
Tip 2: decide which neighborhoods you are going to visit
The neighborhoods of Tokyo are several and very diverse, most likely the time will not be enough for you to know them all. One of the tips for traveling to Tokyo is to know in advance which ones we want to see (or at least have an idea). So, here is a brief description of each one:
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It is one of my favorites, it is a neighborhood where you can breathe something of “old Tokyo”, besides that, here is the Senso-Ji Temple, the most visited in the city. You also have to keep in mind that it is a very touristy neighborhood.
The so-called “electronics city” illuminates the night with its bright neon signs, there are shops for everything related to the most modern and technological items. Manga and anime fans will also be happy, as all kinds of items are related to their favorite characters: toys, figures, books, stickers, dresses, wigs, really anything. Also, please keep in mind that this is the neighborhood of maid cafés.
The neighborhood of sumo wrestlers, to see a sumo match you have to go to the Ryogoku Kokugikan and you shouldn’t leave without trying the chanko-nabe, one of the favorite dishes of the sumotoris.
You can visit the old Tsukiji fish market, of which the outer market remains, since the inner market, where tuna and other wholesale fish auctions were held, moved to the Toyosu neighborhood.
As soon as you arrive at the Ueno station, you begin to see references to pandas, and it is that in addition to the famous Ueno zoo, its huge park is one of the green lungs of the city. For many, this neighborhood is a suitable option to stay.
The neighborhood of luxury shops.
A neighborhood of large skyscrapers, financial district, something like the City of London. Here we have the huge Tokyo station and the green area where we can find the Imperial Palace.
A fairly modern neighborhood where you can admire the creations of the architects who have given free rein to their imagination. In it, we can visit the Mori Tower or Roppongi Hills, and since we are close, we must not miss the Tokyo Tower.
This is the meeting place for young Tokyoites, they usually hang out at the Hachiko statue. There are many clubs and discos to go out to, as well as cafés, Internet where you can sleep (yes, it sounds weird, but yes). Also, in terms of shopping, this is an excellent neighborhood, with its fashionable shopping centers such as Shibuya 109.
You have to go to Takeshita-dori street to understand the charm of this neighborhood, but be careful if you go on a Sunday, as it will be full, and it will be difficult to walk.
Another neighborhood where the windows of luxury stores will make us dream. To distinguish it from Ginza, it must be said that the atmosphere here is more pop and youthful.
A place where skyscrapers abound, along with shopping malls and neon lights. It has the great Shinjuku station, which you will surely pass several times. You can visit the Tokyo City Hall Observation Deck for free.
It has shopping centers, shops of all kinds and video game rooms. For me this neighborhood has a bit of Akihabara, Shibuya and Shinjuku combined, which is why it is my favorite place to spend a day of shopping.
This place was “stolen” from the sea, here we can see a huge Gundam in one of the huge shopping malls in the neighborhood. Just for the fact of seeing the feat of building on the sea is worth visiting.
Tip 3: Take advantage of the metro and train system
Wherever we are, we must always have the nearby Yamanote subway or train stops located. You always have to have Google Maps at hand, it has been very useful for us to be able to take the best metro combination.
The subway operates from 5:30 AM to 12:15 AM
Everything is well indicated, and any advertisement in Japanese letters will appear right after in Latin letters, so don’t be scared if you see it in Japanese.
If you want additional information about the Tokyo subway, we offer you this guide: How to find your way around the Tokyo subway?
What is the difference between Metro and Train?
Keep in mind that there is not a single company that operates the trains and subways in Tokyo, the main lines are the following:
We call trains those operated by Japan Railways (JR), we have the JR Yamanote (green), Sobu (yellow), Chuo (orange), Keihin Tohoku (blue) and Saikyo (turquoise) lines.
As for the subway, there are nine lines, which are distinguished by a circle and a letter: Ginza (G in orange), Chiyoda (C in dark green), Marunouchi (M in red), Hanzomon (Z in purple), Hibiya ( H in grey), Tozai (T in turquoise), Nanboku (N in green), Yurakucho (Y in yellow) and a new line of Yurakucho in red.
The Tokyo Metro lines are distinguished by this logo:
Additionally, there are four lines operated by the metropolitan government. These are known as Toei lines and are: Mita (I in blue), Asakusa (A in pink-orange), Oedo (E in dark pink) and Shinjuku (S in green). They are distinguished by this logo:
There are also private lines, but they will rarely be used, with exceptions, for example: the Yurikamome line that leads to Odaiba, and it is difficult to avoid it. It is more expensive than the normal metro, but oh well…
Don’t forget the SUICA card
One of the tips for traveling to Tokyo that will allow you to avoid buying tickets every time you take the metro or train, is to get a SUICA card as soon as you arrive at the airport, if possible. The card costs 2,000 yen, which already comes with a 1,500 recharge to use, which means that what you pay is 500 yen, which is a deposit that can be recovered at the end of your stay. I have to say that we kept the suica cards from our first trip to Tokyo in 2013, and we were able to use them even in 2023 on our last stay in the capital.
In addition, they can be used to pay in establishments that have the logo of the card, which is this:
When you enter the metro you have to swipe the card so that it knows where you started your trip, when you leave you have to swipe it again and the price and what has been deducted from the card will appear there. If you do not use the card, what will have to be passed are the metro tickets that have been previously purchased at the station machines.
To recharge Suica cards, it is done in those same vending machines.
Sometimes the metro will be empty, as in the photo above, but other times it will be packed to the brim. You have to stay calm and follow the rules of education: stand in line, don’t step on others, let them out before entering and everything should be fine.
Tip 4: Set realistic goals for each day
This is subjective advice, but after hating myself, multiple times, for planning unrealistic things while in Tokyo, I’d rather say so. Because if I compare a visit plan made during our first trip regarding the last one, after having been to the city several times, it really is very different.
On my first trip, for example, there were days when I intended to visit various neighborhoods, or places in different neighborhoods, and although sometimes it was possible to do so, the truth is that going to the race was not so enjoyable. The other thing is that if an eventuality happens, or you just want to stay longer in one place or see something else, the whole plan falls apart.
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That’s why now I prefer to set myself realistic goals, for example: if I have the goal of visiting temples (and collecting goshuin) I focus on one neighborhood like I did on the tour of the seven gods of Asakusa. Even if you intend to visit several neighborhoods in one day, try to keep them close. The metro is excellent and connects almost everything, but the time factor is always important.
I know it’s hard to give up seeing something, but you have to think that it’s better to see one thing well than three rushing. That is why you have to be very aware of which neighborhoods you want to visit. And also be prepared for something unexpected to catch your eye and make you deviate from the path, you have to spare time for that too because believe me: in Tokyo there will be many things that will make you deviate from your path.
Tip 5: book your accommodation at a strategic point
Regardless of the neighborhood in which you choose to stay, the most important thing is that it is a well-connected place. Preferably close to a metro station.
In our case, the neighborhood we like to stay in is Asakusa. I don’t know how to explain the reason, but I like to see Kaminarimon Gate every day when I come and go, and I am near the JR train and subway station.
In many big cities in Japan, but especially in Tokyo, you have to keep one thing in mind: hotel rooms are tiny compared to what we can see in other countries. You have to consider this. There is also the option of booking accommodation such as Airbnb, in these you can be in an apartment and get an idea of the arrangement of Tokyo houses.
Tip 6: Go ready to start a collection
You may want to collect the bills, these are in Japanese and make you want to keep them, or the tickets of the places you visit, until then, we continue in the classic, but in Tokyo there will be some collections that you may want to start and that you had not done before.
In JR train stations there are places where you can put a stamp, they are like this:
I have not managed to collect them all together yet, but it is a collection that makes me want to complete. In several places, there will be stamps, so they make you would like to collect. One piece of advice is to take a nice notebook where you collect them. This advice applies to other cities in Japan in the sense that stamps will be available. Not necessarily on the subway, that will depend on the city.
If you want to collect the goshuin, seals and calligraphy from the temples, you have to buy a special book that is sold in the temples, we will tell you more about our journey to collect temple seals here.
Tip 7: Always stay connected
In Tokyo, it is convenient to always have access to the internet, to begin with, to be able to consult Google Maps, to locate oneself. In some places, you have to connect to have access to discount coupons at that moment, for example: in a restaurant, they gave us some key rings if we left a review right away (since we were happy with the service, well, we did).
You have to know that in many places, such as stores, malls, hotels, we will have Internet available. But in other places no.
You can contract either a pocket Wi-Fi, a device that gives you internet as long as you have it turned on and works for all the phones that connect, the downside of this method is that people must always be together. The other option is to buy SIM cards, one for each phone.
If you would like to buy the SIM card, but receive it at your hotel in Tokyo, you can hire it in advance.
Tip 8: If you have more time, use Tokyo as a base to see more places
In addition to exploring Tokyo, from there you have the opportunity to make round trips on the same day to see other places. For example, you can go to Yokohama to eat in the succulent ramen museum, to Kamakura or Nikko to explore their temples or even go to the area of the five lakes to get closer to Mount Fuji. Thanks to regional trains and shinkansen, there are many possibilities.
Tip 9: Don’t forget the stores
Even if you don’t intend to go on a “shopping” trip, don’t rule out that something in the different stores in Tokyo will catch your eye. From anime characters, costumes, clothing, accessories, food replicas (yes, you read that right), figurines, chopsticks, food boxes, and much more.
Tip 10: eat everything!
This advice obviously applies to all of Japan. But even more in Tokyo, do not limit yourself, try everything, and it is that being the capital, there are so many options within reach. In many of the restaurants, the food is modeled as seen in the second photo, this helps with the language barrier, so you can literally see what a dish will look like.
Take advantage of that sushi bar where the dishes rotate, so you can have what you want without having to order and fight for it. Japanese food is fantastic, so don’t limit yourself!
I hope these tips for traveling to Tokyo help you plan an unforgettable trip to the capital of Japan.
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