After spending a week in Tokyo, we are here to guide you to travel through Japan’s capital without getting overwhelmed. I use the word “overwhelm” because Tokyo is crazy yet calm. It has a charm of organised chaos, which is hard to find elsewhere.
So this guide helps you plan your Tokyo vacation better and rejoice to the fullest.
Tokyo Travel Restrictions COVID-19: Tokyo has been open for fully vaccinated tourists since October 11 2022. You need to fill in some forms and produce documents to enter Japan. Check their official website for the latest update.
- Why Visit?
- How many days to spend
- Best time to visit
- Getting to Tokyo
- Tokyo Transportation?
- Tokyo trip cost
- Things to avoid in Tokyo
- Neighbourhoods for tourists to stay in Tokyo
- Best things to do
Why should I travel to Tokyo?
When you look at the Tokyo map, you see a humungous mass of buildings by the bay. Of course, being the world’s busiest city, you don’t think of a green forest here. But expect the unexpected here – There are hundreds of skyscraper buildings in Tokyo. Yet, there exist many gardens here. The country’s highest percentage of youth live here. So they party hard but in quiet and quaint shrines everywhere.
A quintessential Japanese small town is always an hour’s train ride from Tokyo – Hence, introverts and extroverts can find little space in Japan’s capital city.
It is easy to be lost and overwhelmed in the world’s largest city.
But Tokyo’s excellent public transport and kind people don’t leave you stranded clueless on the street. Many parts of Tokyo and their lifestyle may remind tourists of NYC or Chicago. Yet, Tokyo stays true to Japan without letting its heritage go.
My Ambivalence thoughts on Tokyo
Honestly, the first three days in Tokyo were overwhelming – Everything was fast-paced. It was tough to grasp anything. There were too many things to see and do in Tokyo. That time felt like we were both part of a circus where we kept hopping from one ring to the other.
Slowly, we observed and learnt to pace ourselves with Tokyo. And we learned the art of choosing experiences that suits us in Tokyo. So that “Why did I come to Tokyo” feeling got superseded with “What if we move to Tokyo forever?”
What is the main problem in Tokyo?
The population density and the need for everything to happen with a snap of the finger is the problem of Tokyo. Like us, many want to shift to Tokyo; because life here is convenient. Since the 1920s, many Japanese abandoned their hometowns and migrated to Tokyo to settle forever. So Japan’s government is luring its citizens with a huge amount of money to move out of Tokyo.
Is Tokyo the best place to travel to in Japan or should I go somewhere else?
Tokyo is like Indian Thai meals. There are many things on my plate. You savour different sabzis and have the main course in a larger portion to end it well with Payasam. Though I love Kyoto more than Tokyo, I would never skip Tokyo because it is the epitome of modern Japan.
Keep the first two days to analyse what Tokyo is and what you like out of zillions of things in the city. Then, research a bit and pace yourselves. Come out of the pressure to do everything on that “100 Things to do in Tokyo” list. You don’t need to travel at the speed of Tokyo people. Take it slow, observe and meander – You will love it.
How many days is enough for Tokyo?
A day or two for Tokyo is a bad idea. Because those two days will be gone in figuring out what Tokyo is. A traveller from Canada at Asakusabashi metro station whom we met regretted spending only two days in Tokyo and ended up seeing a zoo and museum! When you hear zoo and museum, it feels easily doable in one day – especially with such an efficient public transport system. But Tokyo doesn’t work that way!
Is 7 days too long in Tokyo?
It is never long enough in Tokyo. We spent 7 days in Tokyo and still not did many things that we wanted to do. It is never long enough in Tokyo. We spent 7 days in Tokyo and still only did a few things out of the many other things we wanted to experience.
Because there are too many distractions en route! We spent almost an hour at Tokyo central station underground playing Gatcha-Gatcha. The vending machines are all over and can easily distract you. Sometimes, a small exhibit or big shops in the underground station undergrounds captivate you so much that you lose track of time.
If you are on a monthly trip to Japan, keep 10 days to Tokyo. Anything beyond this may get overwhelming. It is better to split those 10 days into two parts and return for the second half later. If it is your 10 days Japan trip, spend 3 days to Tokyo.
What is the best month to visit Tokyo?
October to December 2nd week is the best time to visit Tokyo. The autumn foliage lines the street, and expenses favour your bank balance. Winter illumination and Christmas markets make the place merrier.
You will likely drown in the crowd if you travel to Tokyo during the most beautiful and famous season, Sakura, from mid-March to April. There will be an unimaginable amount of mass tourism adventuring the city, and you will spend the most time standing in line. If you feel witnessing Cherry blossom is worth looting your bank balance and you don’t mind bursting your physical bubble space – travel to Tokyo in Sakura season to join other zillions of tourists.
Avoid June to September due to rainfall and high humid temperatures.
How to get to Tokyo?
There is no international train connectivity to Japan. There are cruises from Singapore to Tokyo. But, expensive, and I am never a fan of cruising. So reaching Tokyo from a foreign land is possible only by air. Otherwise, bullet trains and highway buses connect to Tokyo very well.
What are the 2 main international airports of Tokyo?
- Narita airport: They say it is located in Greater Tokyo. But it would be apt to call it the airport outside Tokyo because it is 70+km from Tokyo central! So if you land in Narita, consider you are yet to reach Tokyo.
- Haneda airport – This airport has three terminals, out of which 1st two are domestic, and Terminal 3 caters to an international flights.
Is Haneda closer to Tokyo than Narita?
Yes. Located 25km from Tokyo central, I recommend arriving at Haneda if you have a choice.
How to get from Tokyo Haneda Airport to the city?
Heads Up– Book your flight tickets to Tokyo so that you are at the airport by 9.30PM.
The immigration line may be longer and will take up to 1.5hr to clear! And no other public transportation operates in Tokyo between 12 midnight and 5.30AM. So you are compelled to take an expensive taxi from airport if you arrive late like us.
There are three ways to get to any part of Tokyo from Haneda airport.
- Monorail – Tokyo Monorail for Hamamatsucho takes you to Hamamatsucho station. You can change to other metro lines to reach your area from here. The monorail station is located inside the airport, and you don’t have to step outside to catch the train.
- Keikyu Line –This train line serves both Tokyo and Yokohama. The train stops only at Shinagawa in Tokyo for you to transfer to your respective area’s metro line.
- Limousine Bus – Slower and easiest way to get to Tokyo is by this bus. The word Limousine may sound like an expensive option to get to Tokyo. Still, it is just a giant bus that would cost about 1000-2000 yen, depending on your drop-off destination. Mind that they cater to major tourist spots areas and main stations only.
What is the cheapest way to travel around Tokyo?
Tokyo’s public transport is the best in the world, with a strong network of trains, subways and buses. They go crisscrossing all over the city. So getting from point A to B in Tokyo is never a problem.
Buses aren’t that convenient for tourists. We never had to take one, and they are slower compared to the train.
Tokyo has three train systems (Tokyo Metro, Toei Subways & JR lines.
They’re interlinked, so you don’t have to worry much about this.
How do people travel around Tokyo?
Hold your breath, bring in a cup of coffee and concentrate as much as you would if you were in an anatomy class now.
Is it easy to use the Metro in Tokyo?
Yes – if only you read ahead and learn these simple things carefully. Once you know it, everything in Tokyo becomes easy!
Things to know while using trains in Tokyo
- Bullet trains aren’t really intracity commuters. So forget Shinkansen as a mode of transportation within Tokyo.
- Tokyo trains may be crowded many times – But don’t worry. The chaos in Tokyo is organised. Japanese are clean freaks, considerate of others and stay 100% silent on public transport. So taking crowded trains in Tokyo isn’t a headache.
- These trains are always on time as specified on their timetable.
- Almost every line’s train usually arrives every 5 to 10 minutes – So don’t sweat it if you miss a metro train in Tokyo.
How do people travel around Tokyo?
All train and subway lines are clearly colour coded. Even the seat colours of respective trains are different.
- Once you arrive at the station, you see multiple exits named B1 / B2/ B7. Keep your eyes open and observe the signboards. 99% of the time, the gate numbers will have the respective nearest tourist attraction written below them.
- The signboards are in both Japanese and English.
- When confused, show your destination on google Maps to station managers, and they will gladly help you! Or even a Japanese person on their way to work stops by to help a muddled soul standing at a busy station to get to the right line’s exact platform.
What is so confusing about taking trains in Tokyo.
Download the map in pdf here
Three types of trains stitch the gigantic city of Tokyo.
- JR Line, Metro and Toei Subway lines
- Each of these is interconnected. So you don’t have to worry about it. All three have exclusive designated platforms.
- Usually, Toei and Metro run underground. Their stations are located together in the same station at different levels.
- While JR lines may / may not always be underground. And their station is usually located a few minutes from Tokyo/Toei station. So keep your eyes open and observe for direction signs.
Use the Jorudan Transit planner to check the train lines.
- They are the best and easy to use because they specify price and transfer, including waiting time. Make sure you go through the app demo that appears as soon as you download the app.
- Check for the symbols displayed on the Jorudan app before heading towards any platform. They have different characters for bullet trains, subways and surface trains.
On the first day, when we had to get to Shibuya from Asakusabasi, we saw just the platform number instead of checking if it was a surface train or a subway. So we ended up waiting for a Subway train on the surface platform without realising our trains were passing below!
How do you pay for Metro in Tokyo?
The Tokyo subway pass is available for 24/48/72 hrs. It includes Toei and Metro lines. But JR lines aren’t covered under this pass. Many times, you may have to take the combination of JR Lines with Toei or Metro. If you are ok with waiting for Toei or Metro only and not using JR lines at all, go ahead for a Subway pass. Otherwise, we recommend you buy an IC card. Read here to know how and what IC card to buy in Japan.
Is Tokyo cheap for tourists?
Tokyo constantly remains one of the top 10 most expensive cities. It is not a pocket-friendly city for budget travellers. But there are ways to reduce costs if you plan well in advance.
How much will a trip to Tokyo cost?
Your Tokyo trip cost depends not only on your style of travelling. But also the time of the year you visit. Mind that Tokyo will swallow the major chunk of your Japan trip cost as it is the most expensive city in Japan.
As a mid-range flashpacker, this is what we spent in Tokyo on December 1 week.
Approximately we spent 40000 yen/per day for two people, including breakfast at a convenience store, meals at local restaurants, public transportation, entry fees and experiences like Sumo stable tour.
Can I vacation in Tokyo without spending a lot of money?
You can lower your Tokyo Travel cost if you follow certain things as we did –
- Have breakfast with coffee at a convenience store.
- Many hotels keep gift coupons for certain restaurants. Pick and use those cards.
- Don’t buy JR Pass just for Tokyo. Purchase passes wisely.
- Book a capsule hotel if you are travelling alone.
- If you are travelling in a group of two or more, choose business hotels outside the tourist interest area.
- Plan your day area-wise. For example, we had our Sumo stable visit near Oshiage station, which is closer to Asakusa. So combining places in and around Oshiagae and Asakusa on the same day saves you a lot of money on transportation.
Don’t visit temples that require you to pay entry fees – Keep temple visits to Kyoto.
- Look for high-rise buildings like the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building that let you to their 45th-floor terrace for free to have an amazing aerial view instead of paying 3000 yen at Tokyo tower or Skytree.
- Forget hiring a taxi – Use public transport only.
- Come back to your room before 12 – Tokyo public transportation operates from 5.30 AM – Midnight 12. Post 12, it is only the expensive taxis that cost 800 yen/km
What should I avoid in Tokyo?
- Avoid Gatcha Gatcha, Taito station and Pachinko slots – These fun gambling arcades can suck your fortune easily.
- Don’t go to the maid’s cafe! Before choosing, check the prices for other themed restaurants like Dogs or hedgehog Cafe.
- The famous & expensive robot cafe in Tokyo isn’t really where robots serve you food. It is just a random dance show with flashy lights!
- Shop in places that offer tax-free shopping.
- Avoid travelling in Tokyo post 12 midnight- Tokyo is super safe. But their public transport stops after 12 and resumes at 5.30AM. So any ride between that time needs you to take a private taxi that costs you 800 yen/km.
- Don’t try to match the speed of Tokyo people. Pick your pace and enjoy.
How should I prepare for a trip to Tokyo?
Don’t try to match the speed of Tokyo people. Pick your pace and enjoy. Pack well for the weather – Winter in Tokyo can be as chilly as 4C. Or 30c in summer.
What is the best part of Tokyo to stay in?
Most tourists choose Shinjuku, the Tokyo Station Area, Ginza/Hibiya, Shibuya or Roppongi. They are the tourist hotspot famous for nightlife lovers and shoppers. They offer tons of options for restaurants. Hence super expensive.
If it is better to stay in Shinjuku or Shibuya?
Neither! These areas are a great fit if you are ok with spending more on accommodation! The prices here are way higher than in other regions.
Is Airbnb allowed in Tokyo?
Airbnb is legal in Tokyo. But in recent years, Air BnB accommodation has been gaining negative feedback from local residents, and tourists face problems. So it applies to Tokyo too! Being an ex-fan of Air BnB, I don’t recommend you to book rooms through this though they make it sound “Authentic experience with Locals.”
What is the cheapest way to stay in Tokyo?
The most economical way to stay in Tokyo is to choose neighbourhoods away from tourist spots and closer to train stations. Don’t worry about station noise – Tokyo cleverly takes care of peaceful nights. Train connectivity is so good that it is super easy to reach any destination. You can travel a 14km journey in less than 30 minutes.
So the areas you can consider to get affordable yet comfortable areas are
Neither historical nor overloaded with nightlife. It is a perfect area to stay on a budget amidst local communities and great food joints. Nine hours of Akasaka sleep lab is excellent. It works out super economical for solo travellers to sleep in a capsule hotel. We recommend 9hr sleep lab at Akasaka – Capsule hotel as we had a nice experience here.
A fantastic quiet neighbourhood 13km away from Shibuya and 1km from Akihabara is where we stayed. There are many hostels and budget hotels here. Local bakeries are open early in the morning. There are only a few bars in the area, and they remain open post-12. Hostel Mystays at Asakusabashi was a comfortable stay for five nights.
- Kagurazaka – A former geisha district with a French twist.
- Shinagawa – Most working ex-pats and foreign students stay here.
- Nihoombashi – The oldest area of Tokyo is home to century-old bakers and many guesthouses.
What to do in Tokyo
Be prepared to be amazed, shocked, wowed, surprised and overwhelmed – Tokyo is huge, and there is a lot to experience here.
There is history hiding behind a sexy skyscraper silhouette. The city caters to gamblers and shopaholics. A tech and e-junk freak can lose their minds in giant electronic stores. The heritage and cultural shows, performance arts, and artists come beside the robots. In Tokyo, you can never sleep hungry because their food option stretches to infinity for non-vegetarians. Hence this long list of Awesome Things to do in Tokyo is penned down in a separate post.
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