With the Olympic Games rescheduled to July 2021, there is plenty of time to plan your trip to Tokyo. Tokyo is a fast paced, hectic city which may seem overwhelming at first. However, the Japanese people are the most friendly and helpful I have met. You only have to give the slight indication of uncertainty and they will quickly offer their help.
This guide has been prepared to help make your experience here less hectic so that you can fully enjoy your journey.
Arriving and Getting Around
The main international airport most flights land at is Narita Airport. Getting into the city can be by bus, train, taxi or transfer service. Public transport is always the most cost effective option and operates regularly to and from the airport.
Tokyo has a wide transport network so you are spoiled for choice. The metro is the most popular mode of transport used and it is recommended you buy a day pass which gives you unlimited travel all day. A 24 hour metro pass starts at 800 yen. Choose the Yamanote circular line for access to the main attractions such as the Tokyo Tower, Imperial Palace, Shibuya and Shinjuku.
If you are staying longer, you can invest in a Suica card which not only can be topped up for use on public transport, but you can use it at selected stores to purchase items. If you do to use all your credit, hold onto it for you next visit. They last for 10 years before expiring, so it can be used again on your next visit.
Depending on your reasons for visiting Tokyo, will depend on the area you choose to stay in. I stayed in Asakusa which has more of a local feel and accommodation is reasonably priced. If you are staying longer than a week, perhaps choose an apartment where you can cook and create your own meals.
There is no doubt the food in Japan is delicious, but that sushi habit you developed at home can prove quite expensive in Tokyo.
However, you can find affordable places to indulge your sushi tastebuds at one of the following sushi restaurant chains:
- Ganso Zushi has branches across Tokyo where sushi plates stat from 108 yen
- Genki Sushi is in the heart of bustling Shibuya where sushi plates also start from 108 yen
- Katsu Midori is a sushi train conveyor belt restaurant where you select your dishes as they pass by with plates costing between 100-200 yen. You can also order other dishes such as tempura, fried chicken and soups from the IPad on your table.
For something a little different, try your hand at making your own pancakes at Abab Monja in Taito City, Ueno. Located on the third floor, you order your ingredients and they are delivered ready for you to cook on the hot plate in front of you.
For coffee and cakes with a prickly friend, check out the Hedgehog Cafe in Asakusa. After a busy morning of sightseeing, stop off for morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea and be joined by a cute baby hedgehog. Each table has a glass playpen for the hedgehog to play in while you enjoy your coffee. You can even hold the hedgehog which fits nicely in your hand. At first they may look prickly, but are actually quite soft if held correctly.
Supermarkets and local grocery shops are plentiful in Tokyo, and it is the best way to truly experience Japanese food culture. Not only is it cheaper to make your own meals, but checking out the range of groceries unfamiliar to you is a learning experience. While there are many products you may not have tried at home, there will be many that are similar.
Things to do
Cross the busiest intersection in the heart of Shibuya outside the busiest train station in Tokyo. Notice how the locals do this automatically without bumping into each other like visitors frequently do. There is almost an art to crossing the street. The best place to view this activity is from the Starbuck’s across the street where you can sit and watch the difference between locals and visitors. As you sip your coffee try and imagine the movies Lost in Translation, Fast and the Furious and Tokyo Drift which were filmed there.
The Golden Poo Building
An unlikely landmark on the Sumida River in the Asakusa district when you emerge from the metro station. The Asahi Super Dry Beer Hall is a talking point for tourists who look up at the tadpole shape flame perched on top of the building. The Japanese refer to it affectionately as the golden poo building. In reality, it is the headquarters of the Asahi Beer Company and the gold tadpole represents their passionate heart for their product. Inside on the first floor you can visit the museum and learn about the company’s history, their product and vision of environmental sustainability.
Step off the river cruise boat and enter through the garden gates at the mouth of the Sumida River. Be sure to ask for a combined cruise and garden ticket when you board otherwise you will have to pay extra upon arrival. The gardens opened on 1 April 1946 following the Kanto earthquake and the aftermath of World War II. Landscaped gardens cover approximately 250,000 square metres of black pines, Japanese apricot trees, Chinese nettle trees and cherry trees which bloom shades of pink, red and white in Spring.
Imperial Palace and Gardens
Once known as Edo Castle the palace is surrounded by stone walls and moat inside on a large green parkland. Located in central Tokyo, it is home to the Japanese royal family. The palace grounds are only open twice a year to the public; 2 January for the New year’s Greeting and 23 February to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday. Outside of these times you must book a 75 minute guided tour through the Imperial Household Agency, which does not include the buildings. However, the gardens around the palace are free to visit, but they do get crowded, especially during special events and cherry blossom season.
A book lovers paradise located in Jimbocho where you can walk street to street of never ending bookstores. From Jimbocho train station take the A6 exit which brings you into the heart of the antique bookstores. Most are located near the Jimbocho intersection where Yasukuni-dori street crosses Hakusan-dori street. While many books are in Japanese, you will find the occasional one in English. I came across a Beatrix Potter antique book amongst the Japanese titles. While Jimbocho is considered the area to find antique books, there are a number of new stores selling current titles. Once you finish browsing, stop off in one of these new bookstores for a cup of tea and Japanese pastry where you can soak up the bookworm atmosphere.
Learn about Japan”s most popular heroes at this free museum in Ryogoku. Get there early as there is always a line that winds around the building. Once inside you will learn about the history of the Sumo as being more than a sport, but a lifestyle. If you want to watch a live Sumo match, it is best to book online before you leave home as tickets sell out months in advance.
Shopping in Ginza
The hub of high end, big brand stores and entertainment and the most expensive area of Tokyo for store owners. Indulge in some tax free shopping at the Tokyu Plaza with 14 floors of shops, restaurants and rooftop viewing deck. If you love stationery, stop in at Itoya; Japan’s best stationery store for paper, pens and paints all housed within a tall, modern bright building with relaxation spaces to chill out in.
Japan’s famous theatre is perfect for a night of Japanese traditional and modern plays and concerts. While single tickets can be purchased on the day from the box office in the arcade below, it is best to book tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. Ticket prices vary between 2000 and. 22,000 yen depending on the performance.
Senso-Ji is the oldest temple in Tokyo built in 628 AD and symbol of the Asakusa district. Walk the gauntlet of about ninety shop stalls to reach the famous Kaminarimon Gate with a giant hanging lantern. At the temple entrance, remove your shoes and step inside where you will see many of the locals praying or meditating.
Walking the streets of Tokyo turns up a range of entertaining street performers. The two main places to find pop up buskers are outside Shinjuku station and Shibuya station.
Japanese Tea Houses
A trip to Japan is not complete without experiencing a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The Nakajimacho No Ochaya Teahouse located in the centre of Hamarikyu Gardens, opened in 1704, hosts the Grand Tea Ceremony each October. Visitors can visit throughout the year for morning or afternoon tea. To visit the teahouse you will need to purchase a ticket to the gardens (300 yen). A tea sitting overlooking the lake will cost 720 yen. The closest metro station is Shiodome and take exit 19 to the gardens. After your tea sitting, take a peaceful stroll through the landscaped gardens.