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Tokyo has to be one of the most up-to-the-minute capital cities on the planet. Glittering office towers stretch skywards carrying huge neon signs flashing graphics. The streets buzz with people. The shops are crammed with the most advanced electrical goods, and the restaurants range from the ultra-sophisticated, serving amazing sushi, to eat-as-you-go noodle and sake bars. This is a fascinating city; alive to every form of artistic, cultural and popular entertainment imaginable.
Apart from being the largest city in Japan, Tokyo is also considered as one of the most populous metropolitan centres in the world. I have to be honest, getting off the Shinkansen (bullet train) for the first time I felt as though I was stepping into what can only be described as a Zoo at feeding time; Tokyo rush hour is so unbelievably busy and can only really be understood once it has been experienced. Because of Tokyo’s immense land area as well as its huge population, the city offers almost everything in terms of tourist attractions, activities, restaurants and events.
The diversity of Tokyo as a city is phenomenal, modernity is overflowing but the traditional part of the city is preserved.
A week may be enough to enjoy the best features of the city; it’ll definitely take longer if you really want to experience Tokyo. Here are some travel guides/tips for your visit to the great city of Tokyo.
What to Expect
Language: Most people in Tokyo speak limited English, but with the 2020 Olympics coming up, more English signs will be popping up around the city.
Travel: If you are planning on using the subway a lot get a pasmo card (like an oyster card) for 500 yen. This saves time and money when getting on the subway. If you are planning on taking many JR trains or Shinkansen’s it’s best to invest in a Japan Rail Pass (honestly, this will save you SO much money once you are there!).
Internet Access: Free public Wi-Fi isn’t common in Tokyo. Save yourself some time and cash by getting a sky roam device before you go (which I did not do).
Masks: If you are ill or have hay fever it’s best to buy a cheap pack of masks from a nearby tax free shop and wear one- this saves the stares or, in my case, a Japanese man on the train giving me one of his masks after I sneezed twice in a row.
Currency: Tokyo uses the Japanese Yen. Around £7.50 equates to 1000 Japanese yen.
Cash and Cards: Many smaller spots don’t accept cards, so it’s good to have cash on you. 7-Eleven and FamilyMart are always sure spots to find an ATM.
Sanitation: Rubbish bins are incredibly rare. Japanese women stash a baggie in their handbag to hold onto garbage until they get home. Be sure to keep a few extra tissues in your bag too for non-Western-style toilets (squatters)
What to do in Tokyo
Sumo Match: In Tokyo Sumo Matches occur for three weeks each year. If you are lucky enough to go to Japan whilst a sumo tournament is going on, I would HIGHLY recommend it. Do not buy tickets in advance as these are way too pricey. On the day you want to go, get to the Sumo wrestling stadium (Ryogoku) at about 6am to queue up for a ticket. Matches start at around 8:20am and go until 4pm (you are allowed one re-entry).
Hedgehog café: The Hedgehog and Bunny café is located a 4 minute walk away from Roppongi Hills. It is a separate cost for the cafes so choose which animal you prefer – I went for hedgehogs. You can pay for half an hour or more and you get to sit with the hedgehogs and stroke and hold them!
Mori Art Museum and Tokyo City View: Mori Art Museum is located in Roppongi Hills and is probably the most incredible art museum I have been to in a long time. Indian artist, N.S Harsha boasts an array of vibrant paintings, sculptures and thought- provoking rooms. Combine this with the Tokyo City View (in the same place) and you have yourself a perfect day out.
Karaoke: You’ve got to belt out at least a few tunes while you are in Japan. It is the birthplace of karaoke after all!
Visit Shibuya Crossing: No trip to Tokyo is complete without joining the sea of people in the busiest intersection in the world. Luckily (or unluckily), my hostel was a 10 minute walk away.
Robot Restaurant: Make a reservation before you go and come prepared for the greatest and trippiest show on the planet.
Explore the Harajuku district: Another must-see, Harajuku is the perfect spot for people watching and taking in modern, young Japanese culture. Get your nails done and wander around Takeshita street.
Design Festa: My cousin lives in Japan in Nara. She met me in Tokyo on my last day and showed me this awesome art exhibition/ festival. Located in Tokyo’s modern and snazzy venue the East Side Gallery, this was a perfect end to my stay. If you are lucky enough to be in Tokyo when the Design Festa is on you won’t regret it. You can buy tickets on the door for only 1000 yen.
Where to eat in Tokyo
Tsujiki Fish Market: Arrive at six in the morning for the freshest sushi on the planet.
Sushi: Pretty much anywhere in Tokyo has mouth-watering sushi. Check out the Standing Sushi Bar locations.
Crepes in Harajuku: Harajuku are renowned for their crepes- they have them almost every 5 steps when going through Harajuku-With over 30 crepe combinations they are definitely worth a try.
Ramen Marutama Ryogoku Honten: If you happen to be around this area- this place is fast and delicious with a warming atmosphere.
Anywhere in Shibuya: It’s hard to get a seat, so plan your visit. There is an absolutely dizzying array of foodie hot spots.
What to do outside Tokyo
Lake Ashi (Hakone) – Hakone is about a 2 hour drive or a 30 minute bullet train from Tokyo. Hakone is home to one of Japan’s largest lakes and you also have the opportunity to take a cable car up to the mountains to see a picturesque view of it all.
Mt. Fuji – Due to the weather and the altitude of Mount Fuji, people can only climb it during two months of the year: July and August. Regardless, I would have preferred to be driven up their anyway. Anyone can drive or catch the bus up to Mt Fuji’s 5th station which is 2,300 meters above sea level.
Nikkō – Nikkō is also home to one of Japan’s biggest and, in my opinion, most beautiful lakes – Lake Chuzenji. It also has one of Japan’s largest waterfalls and an immense collection of hot springs. Make sure you do some research before you go as some hot springs are open to hotel guests only. Also – the shrines here are pretty cool!
Where to stay
The best places to stay are either in Shibuya or Shinjuku as their stations have links to places all across Tokyo. I stayed in Wise Owl hostels Shibuya, about a 14 minute walk from Shibuya station. For a solo traveller, I wouldn’t recommend this place to people looking to socialise as the set out of the rooms makes it difficult to see who is actually there to talk to. However, the facilities are pristine, the staff are approachable, friendly, and speak very good English, and it wasn’t expensive at all.
Rent an Airbnb
Luxury: The Peninsula or Shangri-La Tokyo
Mid- Range: Tokyo Stay or Sakura Fleur Aoyama
Budget hostels: Kaisu hostel, The Prime Pod Ginza, Nadeshiko hotel Shibuya, Bedgasm and NUI.
For more on Japan:
Asia Japan Travel blog Asia best sushi in the world City view hedgehog cafe Japan Kegon falls Lake Ashi Lake Chuzenji Mori art museum Mt Fuji Nikkō Robot Resturant Roppongi hills Sumo tokyo travel travel guide Tsujiki fish market
Student Journalist, Creative Writer, Poet, Traveller, Eco Warrior