Tokyo is wonderful, amazing, and enormous place. And with the world’s largest city population sharing the world’s second largest metropolitan area, things are done a bit differently here. Roughly 3.64 million people pass through Shinjuku Station daily, and some railway stations even hire pushers called Oshiya that help squeeze people onto insanely crowed trains during rush hour. Vending machines can be found on every corner and sell everything from cold soda to hot coffee and fresh eggs to used panties (yes used.. it’s true). Let’s visit Tokyo!
Visiting Tokyo? Here’s What To Do.
Walk around this magical city and take note: There are 13.62 million people that live and work here. Yet there is no noise, and dispite a lack of visible rubbish bins, there is not a speck of litter on the ground. Pedestrians walk with their heads buried in their phones, yet even the accidental shoulder bump in non-existant. Magical indeed. With over 5,000 square miles to cover, Tokyo could provide a lifetime of new expeiences. Our shortlist?
Be A Part of the Movement: Shibuya Crossing
Have you ever seen hundreds of people crossing an intersection at once, all day, everyday, every time the lights turn red? Whelp.. Here it is! Located just outside the Shibuya subway station is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. Do not miss this stunning display of organized chaos, just make sure you keep your head up!
Party in 2071: Robot Bar
Easily one of the craziest and most entertaining things we’ve ever seen. Think overly theatrical cabaret meets neon-tinged, drum heavy electronic music. Located in the Shinjuku neighborhood, this touristy and slightly overpriced attraction is like nothing else in the world.
Have A View From Above: Tokyo Tower
Located in the southern Shiba-koen district, this orange Eiffel-like Tower soars 1,092 feet into the sky. Head up 819 feet to the observation deck for amazing views of the city below. **Note: There is a taller, more popular structure called the Tokyo Skytree, but the Tokyo Tower has shorter lines and provides views of the entire city, including the Skytree.
The World’s Freshest Sushi? Tsukiji Market
This world’s largest wholesale fish and seafood market is located in the high-end shopping district of Ginza. If you’re looking for tasty treats from the sea, then this is your place. Go early (like 3am early) to ‘catch’ the live tuna auction.
Noble Grounds: Imperial Palace
Full disclosure, we visited the palace at night so it was closed for the day. However, even without entering the famously stunning inner gardens, we were able to take in the aura of nobility from a distance and were not completely disappointed.
A Dose of Culture: Sumo
Japan’s national sport, Sumo wrestling, is an ancient traditional wrestling dance of the rikishi (wrestler). We highly recommend catching a match while you’re in town. The surprisingly lovable rikishi use full contact to push or lift the other out of the dohyo (wrestling ring). It’s amazing! Check out this audio recording from our lucky visit.
Getting to Tokyo
Trains throughout Japan are a great option; you’ll avoid lines at the airport, enjoy beautiful scenery, and they can be very comfortable. If you plan on doing a lot of traveling through Japan, it’s a good idea to look into the Japan Rail Pass. Just make sure to buy passes online before arriving, as they are not available for purchase in Japan!
If arriving in Tokyo via by air you will land at one of two airports. Narita International is located 37 miles east of city center, and Tokyo International (aka Haneda) is located about 9 miles south of the city center. Reasonable flights can be found from Hong Kong for $57, London for $285, and Los Angeles for $400 with our favorite flight search site, Skyscanner.
Tokyo Flight Deals
Buses are not our favorite mode of travel.. The seats are generally cramped, the ride is bumpy, and departure/arrival times can be unpredictable. Generally bus travel is less expensive but take much longer than trains. The ride from Kyoto costs under $50 but takes 9 hours.
Airport to Tokyo City Center
From Tokyo International Airport (Haneda Airport)
For roughly $12, you can take a 60-minute bus ride to the city center. You will find clearly marked ticket machines at all arrival terminals (look for orange). The ticket will indicate which bus stop to look for.
You’ll find the taxi stand just outside on the first floor. For $48 – $62, you can get to the city center in about 30 minutes. **note that rates increase about 20% between 10pm and 5am.
Take the Tokyo Monorail (blue) or Keikyu Railways (red) to the JR (Japan Railway) station in just 15 minutes, with fares ranging from $4.00 to $4.70. The Blue line costs slightly more, but both will take you close to the city center where you can transfer to your destination.
From Narita International Airport
For roughly $30 you can take a 90 minute bus ride to the city center. You will find the clearly marked Airport Limousine counter (look for orange) just outside of customs and immigration.
Due to the distance between the Narita Airport and city center, we do not recommend the 40 mile, $200 taxi ride.
Choose between the JR Narita Express, JR Sobu Line, Keisei Skyliner, Keisei Limited Express, and Keisei/Keikyr Narita-Haneda Limited Express. Prices and times range from $10 and 75 minutes on the Keisei Limited Express line to $28 for a 40 minutes on the Keisei Skyliner.
Getting around in Tokyo
Uber is available in Tokyo but we do not recommend it for two reasons: 1. The Metro is quite possibly the best in the wrld, and is very well-connected throughout the city and; 2. Taxi’s are readily available and cost less than Uber. Tokyo’s taxi’s are clean, and the drivers are friendly and honest.
Walkscore.com gives Tokyo a score of 98, calling it a “Walker’s Paradise”. We also found this to be true. Walking around Tokyo is highly recommended.
Public transport in Tokyo is very user friendly. With two subways operating 13 color-coded lines(the 4-line “Toei Subway” and the 9-line Tokyo Metro), you’ll be very well-connected in the city. Find touch screen ticketing machines with easy to follow English instructions at each station. Fares are determined by distance traveled but will generally cost around $2 USD. **Be sure to hold on to your ticket, you’ll need it to exit the terminal. Also, you may need to visit the fare adjustment machine if you mistakenly enter incorrect information when purchasing the ticket.
Where To Stay in Tokyo
Tokyo offers a wide range of hotels. High-end hotels like Shangri-La Hotel or The Ritz-Carlton run about $490 a night, while reasonably priced hotels like Best Western or Sakura Hotel Hatagaya go for about $60 a night. We recommend shopping Agoda.com, the most competitive resource when searching for hotels in Tokyo.
Tokyo Hotel Deals
With just over 80 hostels available in Tokyo, you will likely find one that suits your needs. For lower rates, you might want to plan in advance. Prices generally range from $20-$40 a night for a dorm room, while private rooms cost a bit more at about $70-$90 per night. Hostelworld is our recommended resource when searching for hostels in Tokyo.
Tokyo Hostel Deals
We love Airbnb! From private rooms to entire homes, there are plenty of choices when visiting Tokyo. If you’re a first-timer with Airbnb, use this coupon and enjoy $35 off of your stay.
Choosing a neighborhood is an important part of trip planning that should not be overlooked! Tokyo is a gigantic city with 23 central wards, each sub-divided into their own, unique districts. While our general recommendation is to stay closer to the city center, here are some of the best areas worth considering when deciding where to stay in Tokyo.
Home of the Marunouchi and Akihabara Districts. Although neighbors, these two districts are very different. Manrunouchi is considered the central commercial and financial district of Tokyo and is also home to the Imperial palace. Akihabara is a shopping district for anime, video games, and Japanese comics.
Within this ward is the luxurious district of Ginza. For comparison purposes, think New York’s Fifth Avenue. Filled with high-end shopping and Michelin-starred restaurants, this is where you will also find the amazing Tsukiji fish market.
Home to the world’s busiest railway station, Shinjuku Station, you’re likely to pass through this station during your time in Tokyo. Here you’ll find everything from Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden to Tokyo’s red-light district, as well as museums, opera halls, and universities. Our favorite: Robot Bar!
Business all day and party all night! Find the diverse district of Roppongi in this central ward. By day you’ll find many Embassys, company headquarters, and fancy hotels. By night enjoy many night clubs, bars, and cabarets.
This western ward of Tokyo includes (in our opinion) the best districts in town:
Shibuya, Ebisu, and Harajuku. Shibuya is known for the pedestrian scramble at Hachiko square, neon lights, and department stores. Harajuku is known for Japanese street fashion, teen culture, and a song by Gwen Stefani. Lastly, Ebisu is known for it’s high concentration of bars, cafes, and restaurants, and is our recommended district to call home for your stay.
Tokyo Travel Tips:
Tokyo Travel Tips: Money
Japan’s national currency is the Yen, and is currently exchanging at 102.17JPY to $1USD. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATM machines are readily available.
Tokyo Travel Tips: Tipping
In Japan tipping is not expected, and some even consider it rude. If you must tip, do so in Yen and leave it in an envelope.
Tokyo travel tips: Insurance
Traveling through Tokyo is exciting and safe, but you never know when some good travel insurance could come in handy. World Nomads offers the best coverage in the business, is affordable, and is quick to act should something go wrong. For more info, check out our recent World Nomads blog post.