Tokyo, Japan – Destination Overview
Tokyo, the nation’s capital and home to upwards of 13 million people, is an eclectic mix of old meets new. Some of the world’s most modern – and futuristic – buildings have sprung up in the bustling districts of Shibuya and Shinjuku. Japan’s ancient shrines and feudal castles create a sharp contrast to these high-rises. Japan’s population is also an interesting mix of old and new ideas as well. On one hand, the majority of the citizens hold to traditional, conservative ideology. But events like the crazy Pikachu Outbreak in Yokohama show off the fun, creative side of Japan!
Japan offers a 90-day visa-free stay to nationals of the UK, USA, Australia, Mexico, and many more countries. Visit the government’s website to learn more about visa requirements before visiting Japan.
Best time to visit Tokyo
While it could be argued that Tokyo is a great year-round vacation destination, there are two seasons that stand out.
Spring (Late March – early April) – Tokyo has a spectacular cherry blossom season. A springtime trip to Japan’s capital is a great chance to see the blossoms. Spring in Tokyo is nice and cool. A great time to visit as it is sandwiched between Tokyo’s cold winter and humid summer.
Autumn (September – November) – Autumn in Tokyo is alive with vibrant fall colors. By now the weather has cooled down and the trees have started to display their red and gold banners. If you want to get some sun in Japan and not bake, Autumn is the best time to visit Japan.
Tokyo: City tips
Check your flight reservation to see whether you are flying into Narita or Haneda International Airport. Most international flights land at Narita but it’s best to check first to avoid future confusion.
Get connected! Narita Airport offers complimentary WIFI to all guests. Just connect to “FreeWi-Fi-Narita” and you are good to go!
Once in the city, you should pick up a Passmo card. This prepaid IC card is used to access the Tokyo metro system. If you are only in Tokyo for a few days, you can consider purchasing a 1/2/3 day pass. The cost of these cards and other info are located on the Tokyo metro webpage.
Tokyo is an international city and many signs will be displayed in both Japanese and English. This is convenient, but you should still consider familiarizing yourself with some basic Japanese phrases. A quick list of important Japanese phrases can be found here.
Be aware of the local customs. Many local restaurants will ask you to remove your shoes when you enter the building. Slippers will be provided, however, so you don’t need to worry about trapezing around the restaurant barefoot.
Getting a hotel in Tokyo
To be honest the is no ‘best place to stay in Tokyo’ as each district has different features and attractions that will appeal to different people. My favorite places to stay are in the Shinjuku and Shibuya districts. Both of these areas are well known for their shopping and proximity to public transportation.
Check out the hotel options below for more information and current hotel prices.
Top Tokyo attractions
There is no shortage of things to do and see in a sprawling metro like Tokyo. In addition to a bustling food scene, Tokyo has a rich history and culture to appeal to tourists. Here are some of the top picks:
If you love traditional Japanese architecture, then you will certainly enjoy a trip to Tokyo’s Asakusa District. Asakusa, also known as the Temple District, is home to the famous Senso-Ji Temple. This 7th century Buddhist Temple is the highlight of many Tokyo tours.
Check out the sakura blossoms. Japan is famous for its cherry trees – and when they blossom it is truly spectacular. There are actually many places to see cherry blossoms in Japan. Just make sure you plan your trip at the right time! The blossoms only last for a short time in the spring so it’s best to book accommodation in advance – prices tend to go up due to the increase in tourism.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – This garden, which dates back hundreds of years is as remarkable as it is massive! The land was first turned into a garden in 1772 – it was destroyed during WWII bombings and was rebuilt to mirror its pre-war beauty. This is a great place to go with your family. A day reading or walking in the park will help you relax after busy days touring the city. Admission to the park is reasonably priced at 200 JPY for adults and only 50 JPY for kids.
Head to the fashionable Roppongi district if you’re interested in experiencing modern Japan. Roppongi is the center for art and nightlife in Japan. It’s towering buildings and neon lights create a real feeling of excitement.
What to eat in Tokyo
Tokyo is a great place for those looking to taste authentic Japanese cuisine. Some of the best sushi shops in the world reside in Japan’s capital.
If you only want the best – Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten is one of Tokyo’s shining gems. This 3-star Micheline restaurant was given the spotlight in the movie Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. The bragging rights of having eaten at the world’s best sushi restaurant means you will need to wiggle your way into a reservation, which is notoriously hard in this 10-seat diner, and have $300+ to spare.
Not interested in paying a month’s rent for sushi? A filling bowl of soul-warming ramen is a more affordable choice. Ichiran is a popular ramen shop that has a very Japanese feel. When you enter the shop you will need to place your order and pay at a vending machine. After ordering, you will be taken to a private booth and asked how you want your noodles cooked. View more about Ichiran here.
After your meal, scout around for a shop selling red bean cakes, one of Japan’s signature desserts. These fish-shaped cakes have a light sweetness that combines well with the hot red bean filling.
What to bring to Tokyo
A packing list for Tokyo is going to vary from season to season. If you travel in the winter, bring jackets and mittens to fight the cold. Summer is going to require shorts and light clothes to combat Tokyo’s high humidity. It should be noted that Japan is quite conservative when compared to western countries – it’s best to avoid bringing clothes that are too revealing.
Extra pairs of clean socks are a must for all visitors. It’s customary to remove your shoes when entering homes and restaurants – there is nothing more embarrassing than taking off your shoes and revealing smelly old socks!
An electric converter will be needed if you have 3-pronged plugs. Phone chargers and others with 2-prongs should still work just fine, although they will be drawing less power. Bringing an adapter will help make sure all your devices are fully charged during your visit to Japan.
Best places to visit in Tokyo
If you visit during climbing season (July-August) you can make the climb up to the top of Mount Fuji. This iconic symbol of Japan is famed for its beauty. In winter Fuji is off-limits to climbers but does provide a stunning snow-capped view to tourists and photographers willing to make a day trip out of the city.
Tsukiji Fish Market
The crowded Tsukiji Fish Market is often called a ‘tourist trap’ as it draws thousands of tourists to its glistening goods. Regardless of its reputation, it is a must-visit for anyone headed to Tokyo. Experiencing this part of Japanese culture shows the great importance and value placed on fish in Japanese society.
Tokyo City Tours
Taking a tour of Japan’s most crowded metropolis is quite the undertaking. If you have limited time, try to make it to the Meiji Shrine, Imperial Palace Plaza, and Senso-Ji. These three landmarks are some of the most iconic in Tokyo.
We hope you have a great trip to Japan’s bustling capital. It’s a massive city with a lot of history and culture. As a tourist, Japan is a place that never gets boring. There is always something to see or do – from food to nature to temples.
Let us know what you think about travel to Tokyo and this Tokyo City Travel Guide. Feel free to share your travel experiences in the comment section. We read every comment and love hearing from others!