DEFINITELY one of my favorite cities in Asia, Tokyo is the most populated city in the world (NYC is # 9) and it’s vibrant colors, food and culture will suck you in and make you never want to leave!
Looking For Another City In Japan? Check Out My Blog Posts from Osaka, Kyoto, Niseko and Sapporo!
When To Go To Tokyo:
The BEST times to visit the great country of Japan are March-May (spring) or October-December (fall). We visited in February and it was COLD, but still absolutely beautiful with snow covered shrines and warm cozy bars. There also were far less tourists because it was the off season, which is always a win.
How To Get Around Japan:
Japan Rail (JR) PASS
This is a MUST purchase if you’re planning to travel all over Japan. It MUST be purchased prior to arriving in Japan and expires in 7, 14 or 21 (your choice) days from the date of activation upon arrival in the country. The JR Pass can be activated at any JR office, located at all major train stations throughout the large cities.
There are different regions of passes, but I suggest to get the N-Pass (Nationwide), which worked well for the 14 days and multiple cities we explored. The cost ranges from $200USD-$500. Be SURE to reserve your seats on long journeys on the bullet trains (Kyoto to Tokyo, Tokyo to Sapporo) ahead of time at the JR stations at no additional cost. There is no need to do this for short distances.
From Kyoto to Tokyo, the JR Bullet Train will take 2hr45min. Be SURE to stay awake! If it’s a clear day, you’ll get EXCELLENT views of Mount Fuji (sit on the left side of the train car)!
DO NOT be misled, just because you have a JR pass, it doesn’t mean you won’t have to purchase local subway transport in cities. There are special JR lines that go around the cities, but if sometimes you’ll need to purchase a subway card or individual ticket to get around. When you book your accommodation, I’d suggest ensuring it’s walkable to a JR line for more convenince. Each subway ride costs about $1.85USD/one way (ouch).
Bring GOOD walking shoes, as you’ll be walking more here than you ever had in your life! Our average distance per day was 8 miles, with some days reaching 12 miles. If you’re going in the cold months, be SURE you’re wearing warm shoes. I wore Converses in February and my feet were numb after 1 hour of being outside.
Taxis in Japan are SUPER expensive! Each taxi driver wears a suit and tie, if that tells you anything! They all use meters, so it’s very safe and legit, but costly: for a 3.5 mile ride, we paid $20USD. Needless to say, we only took a taxi one time.
Where To Stay In Tokyo:
The best neighborhoods of the city to stay in, which are nearby all of the main attractions, are Shibuya or Shinjuku. Airbnb is the cheapest option in Japan, although the rooms are small. I HIGHLY recommend our Airbnb in Shinjuku, as it was centrally located between all attractions and it included a kitchenette for cooking meals some days, which saved a lot of money. $74USD/night
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What To Do In Tokyo:
There is NO shortage of things to do in this great city. I’ve had friends visit and just eat their ways through the city and others who have visited every single site. We did a combination of both and I suggest you do this same if this is your first time!
Modeled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Tokyo Tower stands 13 meters taller at 333 meters and is definitely a must see at night! It’s a 10-minute walk from the following stations-Onarimon Station (Mita Subway Line), Akabanebashi Station (Oedo Subway Line), Kamiyacho Station (Hibiya Subway Line). The cost of entry is $900 Yen ($8.50USD).
Tokyo Skytree is the tallest tower in the world, standing at 634 meters (2,080 ft). Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit because of the long wait times, but it’s a must see if you have time to spare! Factor weather in for visibility. It’s located at Tokyo Skytree Station (Tobu Isesaki Line) and Oshiage Station (Asakusa, Hanzomon and Keisei Oshiage Lines). Cost of entry is about 2,000 Yen ($19USD).
Also called ‘the scramble’ or the ‘Times Square’ of Tokyo, Shibuya Crossing is a MUST SEE, with nearly 2,500 people crossing at one time during rush hour and 1,000,000 people per day! TIP: There’s a Starbucks on the second floor that’s perfect for taking photos, videos and time lapses of the crossing, if you’re lucky enough to get a front row seat! Tip: see the crossing at both day and night.
Shibuya is a HUGE shopping district and you’ll notice that as soon as you get off the train station. There are countless amounts of malls and shops and an endless amount of restaurants. For shopaholics, the two largest malls are Shibuya 109 Women, which is opposite the square of Shibuya 109 Men. Be sure to stop and take a pic with the Hachiko Dog Statue, and read up on the famous dog and the loyalty he had to his owner.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji Fish Market is the world’s largest fish market that sells more than five million pounds of seafood, worth approx $28 million USD/day! If you want to eat the FRESHEST most amazing sushi and sashimi you’ve ever had in your life, then Tsukiji Fish Market (outdoor)is a MUST! I’m still drooling over the memory. Do note, you can get up at 2am and wait in line to maybe get lucky enough to see the fish auctions at the indoor market, but it’s limited to 120 people per day. It’s located at Tsukiji Shijo Station (Oedo Subway Line) or a 15-minute walk from JR Shimbashi Station.
Meji Shrine is dedicated to the first emperor of Modern Japan, Emperor Meji. it’s located at Harajuku Station (JR Yamanote Line), Meiji-jingu-mae Station (Chiyoda & Fukutoshin Subway Lines). Entry is free, which is awesome!
One of the city’s largest parks, Yoyogi Park is a great place to have a picnic lunch or go on a run/walk after visiting Meji Shrine.
Takeshita Dori Street
Takeshita Dori Street is a great place to shop for the latest trends, people watch and eat CREPES! Be SURE to stop at the REAL Santa Monica Crepes as there are many others nearby…it’s totally worth the wait! It’s located at Harajuku Station (JR Yamanote Line), just one station north of Shibuya and two stations south of Shinjuku.
Omotesando is tree-lined street (less than 1 mile long) full of stores, boutiques, cafes and restaurants that are more high end than Takeshita Dori Street. It’s located at Omotesando Station Omotesandō Station (Chiyoda Line).
Senso-Ji Temple (Asakusa Kannon Temple)
A beautiful, ancient Buddhist Temple, Sensoji Temple has long streets full of food and souvenir shops leading up to the temple. Entry is free (yay!) and it’s located at Asakusa Station (Ginza, Asakusa and Tobu Lines).
Tokyo Imperial Palace is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. Do note that the palace itself is not open to the public, only the East Gardens. You can reserve a free tour of the grounds (10am & 1:30pm), but need to book far in advance-be sure to get the English Audio Guide at the victors center. Entry is free and it’s located just a 10 minute walk from Tokyo Station.
The Rainbow Bridge is a GREAT place for an evening stroll while taking in the views of the beautifully lit, two story, suspension bridge. You can cross the bridge on foot (bicycles not permitted) or take a boat tour via Tokyo Waterbus. The Rainbow Bridge is located at Shibaura-futo Station (Yurikamome Line)-Tokyo Side, Odaiba Kaihinkoen Station-Odaiba Side.
MariCAR is a MUST do while in Tokyo (I feel like I say this for every attraction haha), but you NEED TO HAVE have an international drivers license (not a regular drivers license from the USA) PRIOR to entering Japan in order to be able to do it (and sadly, we didn’t know this, so we missed out). Imagine dressing up like your favorite characters from Mario Brothers and driving around the streets of Tokyo in go karts…EPIC! It costs $6,000-$8,000 YEN (depending on location) ($55-$75USD) and includes costume, fuel, go cart, and accident insurance (although you should always have travel insurance).
If you’re an electronics freak, Akihabara is THE district to stop in for some shopping, with it’s never-ending stores all filled to the brim to satisfy the tech nerd in you! It’s located on the JR Sobu Line (yellow) at Akihabara station.
For more of an upscale experience, be sure to visit Ginza, with it’s endless shopping, dining, art galleries, night clubs, restaurants and cafes. It’s located at Ginza Station (Hibiya, Marunouchi, Ginza Lines) and Yurakucho Station (JR Yamanote, JR Keihin-Tohoku, Yurakucho Subway Lines).
Day Trip To Mount Fuji
You’re rolling the dice when it comes to taking a day trip to Mount Fuji, as it’s only visible 180 days per year due to the clouds. It’s best to hire a guided tour that takes you to the 5th Station (2,300m elevation), a cruise on Lake Ashi and a ride on Komagatake Ropeway (views of Hakone National Park). Cost for the tour is around $133USD per person and the tour lasts about 12 hours.
Where To Eat In Tokyo:
There is no shortage of food in this great city. In fact, many people just come to Tokyo to eat their way through the city! The food here was my favorite part of all!
Arigato Tokyo Food Tour
The Arigato Japan Food Tour was one of the highlights of our time in Japan. It is such a great company to connect you with Tokyo, especially if you’re new to the food in Japan and want to learn more about the culture and cuisine. We choose the Shibuya Walking Food Tour, which included Yakitori, Kobe/Wagyu Beef Skewers, Osaka Takoyaki, Onomomiyaki, 7 Kinds of Sushi at a Stand Up Sushi Bar, and Taiyaki! Tours last about 3 hours and cost $125USD per person. Be SURE to tip your guide!
Santa Monica Crepes
Santa Monica Crepes has an endless amount of mouthwatering crepes to choose from. You MUST eat here while visiting this great city. It’s located at Harajuku (Takeshita Dori Street).
No trip to Japan is complete without eating at Japan’s iconic fast food restaurant, Yoshinoya. You can find them all over the city. For the beef bowl, salad and soup, it’ll cost you $6.50USD and it’ll be served super fast!
Uogashi Nihon-Ichi Standing Sushi Bar
For the BEST, fastest, and most affordable sushi in the city, the Standing Sushi Bar is your spot! We loved it so much, we ate here twice in three days! They have multiple locations all over the city, but there is one located in Shibuya, nearby Shibuya 109 Women, with friendly staff.
A trip to Tokyo is NOT complete without picking up some Tokyo Banana treats at the airport (they’re difficult to find in the city itself). Buy one box for yourself and take home one to all your family and friends! A Tokyo Banana is like a banana-filled twinkie, but a whole lot more delicious. Beware, though, they are MASSIVELY addicting, so you may want to get a two whole boxes just for yourself. Do note, they expire after 10 days, as they’re made with fresh ingredients and no preservatives
Things To Note:
A money changer is located at Shibuya Crossing at Muzuho Bank (just nearby Starbucks at the ground level).
Small Bills are a MUST! Be sure to always have notes of $1,000 Yen or less.
Wifi isn’t easy to get around the city, so be sure to reserve an accommodation that provides pocket wifi.
Map out where you’re going to eat prior to arriving at your sites for the day. Sometimes we’d get stuck searching for a while and ending up with only Japanese menus in restaurants, which was a bit challenging, but all part of the fun.
Many of the train stations don’t have lifts (elevators), so if you have heavy luggage, it’s a LONG journey up/down multiple flights of stairs. Pack light!
Many restaurants add a cover charge of 300-500 Yen ($3-5USD) per person while dining in and there’s no way around it.
When making payment anywhere in Japan, never hand your money directly to the cashier, as there are trays provided for handling these items so hands are not touched between cashier and payee.
Because Tokyo has the largest population in the world, space is limited and the size of a one bedroom apartment is no more than 15 square meters (170 square feet).
Tokyo Disneyland was Disney’s first park located outside the USA.
Shinjuku Station is the world’s busiest rail station, according to the Guniess Book of World Records, with an average of 3.64 million people passing through daily.
There are over 100 universities and colleges in Tokyo, awarding it the world’s highest concentration of higher learning institutions.
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XOXO The Traveling Blondie
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