The Vrnts's definitive city guide to Tokyo helps you plan the perfect trip with information on travel, hotels, restaurants, activities and clubs across the city. In this first chapter we'll have a look at main turistic attractions, in the next one we'll focus instead on suggestions about clubs, restaurants and where to sleep.
When to go: Spring and autumn are the best times to visit: spring has cherry blossoms; autumn has arts events. Mid-June to mid-July is the rainy season; August is hot and humid, but is also the month for summer festivals. Visas are generally not required for stays of up to 90 days.
How to get there: Tokyo has two international airports. Narita Airport, in neighbouring Chiba Prefecture, is the primary gateway to Tokyo; most budget flights end up here. Haneda Airport, closer to the city centre, is now seeing an increasing number of international flights; this is also where most domestic flights arrive. Flying into Haneda means quicker and cheaper access to central Tokyo. Both airports have smooth, hassle-free entry procedures, and are connected to the city centre by public transport.
Prices: Tokyo is not expensive as everyone says, it obviously depends on your lifestyle and habits but average daily cost for tourists is about 10.000¥ (80€). Here some example:
- Food - 500/1500¥ for lunch, 1000/4000¥ for dinner
- Transportation - Daily Ticket for Subway 600¥, Taxi around 2500¥
- Sleep - Bed in shared dorm 3000¥, hostels and air bnb 6000¥, apartment and four star hotels 20.000¥
- Clubs entrance - Around 4000¥
- Museums - Around 1000¥
by Monocle Travel Guides
Getting around Tokyo: Efficient, clean and virtually crime-free, Tokyo's public transport system is the envy of the world. Of most use to travellers is the train and subway system, which is easy to navigate thanks to English signage.
- Subway - The quickest and easiest way to get around central Tokyo. Runs 5am to midnight.
- Train - Japan Rail (JR) Yamanote (loop) and Chūō-Sōbu (central) lines service major stations. Runs from 5am to midnight.
- Taxi - The only transport option that runs all night; unless you’re stuck, taxis only make economical sense for groups of four, you can choose Uber as an alternative but prices are similar.
- Cycling - A fun way to get around, though traffic can be intense. Rentals available; some hostels and ryokan lend bicycles.
- Walking - Subway stations are close in the city centre; save cash by walking if you only need to go one stop.
Things to know before the departure:
“Cash or credit cards?”
Transfer cash to Yen before arriving in Japan. It is largely a cash-based society, so most places will not accept your credit card. So have at least 2,000¥ in your wallet in case you get lost or unexpected events. If do you find yourself strapped for yen, most convenience stores have international ATMs, just expect a charge.
“Do I need to speak a little bit of Japanese?”
It’s quite an hard question, let’s say Yes. Generally subway and train stations employees speak english but most people in Tokyo doesn’t speak it, especially the over 30s years old one. So consider to learn some very essential word, it will be very useful and really appreciated from a Japanese person. Main expressions used are “Arigatou Gozaimasu” (Thanks you!), “Sumimasen” (Excuse me), “…wa doko desu ka?” (Where is…?), “Konnichiwa” (Good morning), “Konbanwa” (Good evening), “Hai” (Yes, the word “no” is not really used in Japanese as it sounds a little bit unpleasant), so “Watashi wa doko desu ka” means “Where am I?”.
“I’m scared of earthquakes”
Yes, they do happen, pretty damn often, and there’s absolutely no danger! There is a national service on phones that tells you about happening earthquakes, if it’s quite strong everybody stops doing what are they doing but after one minute everything comes back at what was doing before. The Japanese architecture is absolutely phenomenal, engineered in such a way that every building moves very slowly, together with the earth underneath. Think about the sad tragedy of the Japanese Tsunami. Not many people realise that before that an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude occurred, which didn’t directly cause any destructions.
“How can stay connected on my smartphone?”
Basically Japan has its own frequency, therefore a local SIM card on an European/American phone can be quite troublesome. So solutions are buying a Japanese sim card (you can order it and receive it in your country before the trip o collect it at airport, about 15€) or rent a Wi-Fi hotspot and collect it at airport when you arrive (it costs about 50€ a week but you can connect more devices).
“Never leave tips”
Unlike other countries, in Japan tips are considered very offensive, so make sure you remember this for your trip. You’ll get a lot of help from local people, but they will never expect anything in return, helping others is just cultural.
“What are all the buttons on Japanese toilets?”
Every house and most restaurants will have luxury toilets in Japan, if you just can’t resist a mysterious button, there’s one you must know among the thousands that Japanese “toire” have, and it looks like this: 止 This tiny button will save you from certain embarrassment if you find your toilet spraying water and playing music, because 止 stops every function and restores order to your bathroom.
“Why Are Some People Wearing Surgical Masks?”
This may be the first thing you notice on your visit. There’s no disease going around. The Japanese wear surgical masks to avoid colds and other bacteria, but usually they’re worn if a person is already sick and wants to protect others. If you have a cold or catch one in Japan, be respectful and wear a mask as you travel. You can purchase them in any grocery or convenience store at 100¥.
SHIBUYA Shibuya (渋谷) often refers to the popular shopping and entertainment area found around Shibuya Station. In this regard, Shibuya is one of Tokyo's most colorful and busy districts, packed with shopping, dining and nightclubs serving swarms of visitors that come to the district everyday. Shibuya is a center for youth fashion and culture, and its streets are the birthplace to many of Japan's fashion and entertainment trends. Over a dozen major department store branches can be found around the area catering to all types of shoppers. A prominent landmark of Shibuya is the large intersection in front of the station's Hachiko Exit, named after the loyal dog Hachiko, that waited for his master every day in front of Shibuya Station, and continued to do so for years even after his master had passed away. The intersection is heavily decorated by neon advertisements and giant video screens and gets flooded by pedestrians each time the crossing light turns green, making it a popular photo and movie filming spot. Don’t forget to have a look at “Center Gai”, the birthplace of many Japanese fashion trends, Center Gai is a busy pedestrian zone in the heart of Shibuya lined by stores, boutiques and game centers. Talking about malls and shopping have look at Shibuya 109, a trend setting fashion complex for young women and an icon of the Shibuya district with more than one hundred boutiques on ten floors, Shibuya Mark City, Parco, Tokyu Hands and Marui.
SHINJUKU Shinjuku (新宿) Station is the world's busiest railway station, handling more than two million passengers every day. It is served by about a dozen railway and subway lines, including the JR Yamanote Line. Shinjuku is also one of Tokyo's major stops for long-distance highway buses. A large bus terminal, named Busta Shinjuku, is conveniently located on top of the railway station. West of the station is Shinjuku's skyscraper district, home to many of Tokyo's tallest buildings, including several premier hotels and the twin towers of the Metropolitan Government Office, whose observation decks are open to the public for free. Northeast of the station lies Kabukicho, Japan's largest and wildest red light district, while department stores, subterranean malls and electronic shops surround Shinjuku Station on all four sides, including the redeveloped Southern Terrace.
HARAJUKU Harajuku (原宿) is between Shinjuku and Shibuya on the Yamanote Line. It is the center of Japan's most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles, but also offers shopping for adults and some historic sights. The focal point of Harajuku's teenage culture is Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands and fast food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens. Just south of Takeshita Dori and over twice its length is Omotesando, a broad, tree lined avenue sometimes referred to as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees. Here you can find famous brand name shops, cafes and restaurants for a more adult clientele. The stylish Omotesando Hills complex was opened in 2006 and targets fashion conscious urbanites in their 30s and 40s, while Kiddy Land has hundreds of unique toys for kids of all ages. Harajuku is not only about teenage culture and shopping. Meiji Jingu, one of Tokyo's major shrines, is located just west of the railway tracks in a large green oasis shared with the spacious Yoyogi Park. Beautiful ukiyo-e paintings are exhibited in the small Ota Memorial Museum of Art, and the Nezu Museum has an impressive collection of various Asian art as well as a traditional Japanese garden.
AKIHABARA Akihabara (秋葉原), also called Akiba after a former local shrine, is a district in central Tokyo that is famous for its many electronics shops. In more recent years, Akihabara has gained recognition as the center of Japan's otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are now dispersed among the electronic stores in the district. On Sundays, Chuo Dori, the main street through the district, is closed to car traffic from 13:00 to 18:00. Akihabara has been undergoing major redevelopment over the years, including the renovation and expansion of Akihabara Station and the construction of new buildings in its proximity. Among these newly opened buildings were a huge Yodobashi electronics store and the Akihabara Crossfield, a business complex with the aim of promoting Akihabara as a center for global electronics technology and trade.
TOKYO SKYTREE The Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー) is a television broadcasting tower and landmark of Tokyo. It is the centerpiece of the Tokyo Skytree Town in the Sumida City Ward, not far away from Asakusa. With a height of 634 meters (634 can be read as "Musashi", a historic name of the Tokyo Region), it is the tallest structure in Japan and the second tallest in the world at the time of its completion. A large shopping complex with aquarium is located at its base. The highlight of the Tokyo Skytree is its two observation decks which offer spectacular views out over Tokyo. The two enclosed decks are located at heights of 350 and 450 meters respectively, making them the highest observation decks in Japan and some of the highest in the world. Tembo Deck, the lower of the two decks is 350 meters high and spans three levels with great views from all of its floors. The top floor features tall, broad windows that offer some of the best 360 degree panoramic views of the city. The middle floor has a souvenir shop and the Musashi Sky Restaurant, which serves French-Japanese fusion cuisine, while the lowest floor features a cafe and some glass panels on the ground from where you can look all the way down to the base of the tower.
TOKYO IMPERIAL PALACE The current Imperial Palace (皇居, Kōkyo) is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo Station. It is the residence of Japan's Imperial Family. Edo Castle used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 until 1867. In 1868, the shogunate was overthrown, and the country's capital and Imperial Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. In 1888 construction of a new Imperial Palace was completed. The palace was once destroyed during World War Two, and rebuilt in the same style, afterwards. From Kokyo Gaien, the large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, visitors can view the Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds. The stone bridge in front is called Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge) for its looks. The bridge in the back was formerly a wooden bridge with two levels, from which the name Nijubashi (Double Bridge) is derived. The inner grounds of the palace are generally not open to the public. Only on January 2 (New Year's Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor's Birthday), visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial Family, who make several public appearances on a balcony. Adjacent to the inner grounds of the palace are the Imperial Palace East Gardens which are open to the public throughout the year.
by Monocle Travel Guides
So, are you going to plan your trip to Tokyo? Let us know in the comments below and don't forget about next chapter of this guide about clubs, restaurants and where to sleep!