Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan
I had a unique opportunity to visit Tokyo for work and during my free time I made sure to spend every minute exploring. I was amazed by this city and although I had seen a lot I wanted more.
I spent a few days on my own getting that solo travel experience that I’ve always wanted and felt 100% safe at all times. Japan has some of the lowest crime rates in the world and therefore makes it a great destination for all travelers especially those traveling solo.
Major International Airports
Narita (Greater Tokyo area) - expect an hour bus or taxi ride from the airport to Tokyo area hotels. I recommend travel by a bus shuttle versus a taxi. In most cases, it will only cost you about 1/4 of what you would pay for a taxi. You can find out if stops are made at or near your hotel of choice here. There are several other companies to choose from. This just happened to be the one I used.
Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe areas) - this airport serves areas in the South-West part of the country.
Helpful Apps To Download
Live Japan – Use this app for recommendations on where to eat, what to do, where to shop, learn of the different areas within Japan and so much more. More here.
Tokyo Metro - The subways are honestly the best way to get around. You will more than likely take the subway at some point during your visit. The subway system is reliable and convenient. Make sure to download this app to help you get around. More here.
Imiwa – Unless you are fluent in Japanese, you might want to download a language app. I suggest learning the basics. Hi, Bye, Cheers, Thank You. This will get you by. If you are looking for more, an app like Imiwa is super helpful. More here.
Know Before You Go
Not that you’ll be sitting on the public toilets but, all of the toilets (even the ones you find at the subway station) have heated seats you might need a manual to figure out how to flush. You’ll get use to it.
Not all places accept credit/debit cards. Always make sure to have some cash on hand.
If you get lost keep in mind that most Japanese people do not speak English but I found that even those who do not will try to understand and help you as much as they can.
No tipping is necessary here. Even if you try, most people will not accept.
You will need to take your shoes off at some restaurants to eat.
There are vending machines everywhere! Over 5 million! You can buy anything from water, beer, and snake to umbrellas, toys and even hot meals from the most unique ones. At first, i found this to be strange but it’s quite convenient and found myself at the machines at least once per day to grab water while I was on-the-go.
If you are planning to visit a spa or hot spring here and you have tattoos you might not be allowed to do so. Notify staff beforehand and find out their policy. Tattoos have a long history here. They use to be linked to criminals and Japanese mafia. While it is not illegal to have tattoos some still feel strongly against them. To learn more on the history and to find tattoo-friendly facilities see here.
Transportation services are reliable and always on time.
There are a lot of indoor smoking areas. You will find these at the airport and subways.
Japan has four seasons. Late Spring and late Autumn are best in terms of weather. Cherry blossom season is also ideal.
Not as expensive as I thought it would be. 1 USD = 109 JPY
Taxi’s can get expensive. Uber is available. Try to travel by subway when possible.
Manners are everything. Familiarize yourself with the basics like, bowing when greeting.
Put your money on the tray provided by the cashier and not in their hand.
What To Do
Tokyo Tower – an Eiffel Tower inspired observation tower. You can buy tickets when you arrive or in advance here.
Skytree Tower –The tallest building in Japan and another observation tower.
Shibuya – popular shopping and entertainment area. Here you’ll find shops like H&M, Zara, Bershka, Forever21 and so much more. You’ll also find plenty of eateries when you need to take a break from shopping. Also, don’t forget to snap a photo with Hachiko statue. Tokoyo’s most famous dog.
Shibuya Crossing – one of the busiest intersections in the world. It has a scrabble-like crossing and when the light turns green for the pedestrians to walk you better move quickly!
Harajuku – every fashionista needs to hit the famed Takeshita Street in Harajuku. Here you’ll come across a colorful street full of art, shops, sweets like you wouldn’t believe, and has a fashion scene unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It can get very crowded here especially on weekends. Try to plan your visit for earlier in the day rather than later. Not too early though as one of the reasons to visit here is to people watch as well. If you can, get your photo taken at the popular Japanese photo booths known as Purikura. They are not your average photo booths and have special effects to enhance your photos. These are very popular amongst high school girls.
Meiji Jingu Shrine – probably Tokyo’s most famous shrine. It is centrally located in Shibuya and just around the corner from Harajuku subway station. You’ll walk about 10 minutes into a forest like area to reach the shrine. You’ll feel as though you are far away from the city here. Once you reach the shrine, you can pray, write out a wish, or draw your Omikuji fortune.
Mori Digital Art Museum – Unlike anything I’ve ever seen or experience before. This is the world’s first digital only art museum. It is immersive and interactive. I highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance and avoiding weekends if possible. They have a digital tea house En Tea House that is not to be missed. The Forest of Resonating Lamps (picture above) is very popular and wait times can exceed well over 1 hour on weekends. Buy tickets here. Accessible by the U-line Amoi Station (U10)
Robot Restaurants – so I debated whether or not to visit this place myself. I wish I did just because it’s still on many “Top 10” list. I chose not to because I was travelling alone most of the trip and didn’t think it would be much fun to do on my own. If you are not, I suggest you check it out. You can read more about this unique over the top dining experience here.
Roppongi Hills – this area is known for its nightlife. You’ll find plenty of places to eat, shop, drink, and party. Warning: Tokyo has plenty of odd or unique themed bars. I would suggest doing a quick search on where to go, rather than popping into random bars unless you are up for it. More on this area here.
Ginza – if you are looking for high-end shopping, Ginza has you covered. You’ll find a selection of exclusive Japan departments stores like Matsuya Ginza, Ginza Mitsukoshi among many others.
Omotesando Avenue – if Ginza is not enough for you stop here to find every high end designer store you can think of. Fendi, Gucci, Celine, Louis Vuitton and so on….
Imperial Palace – in this park-like area you will find the primary residence of Japan. It was very busy when I visited as not only was it was Golden Week but Japan had just welcomed a new emperor (Nuruhito) who acceded the throne on May 1st which attracted both locals and tourists.
Disney Sea – if you are a fan of amusement parks and Disney then you can’t miss the chance to visit DisneySea as it is unique to Japan and, you guessed it, is sea themed. You can also visit DisneyLand. The parks are located almost 30-45 minutes outside of Tokyo by taxi or subway. Purchase tickets here.
Where To Stay
What you plan on doing in Tokyo will ultimately determine where you’d want to stay. For me, I decided to stay in Roppongi, which is a lively entertainment area so I wouldn’t have to travel far to get back to my hotel if I decided to be out late.
Roppongi Hills Area - known for it’s nighttime attractions. Has a good mix of things to do from shopping and dining nearby.
Again, Roppongi is known for its nightlife and is where I stayed. I highly recommend this area as it was close to everything I could possibly need. There are shops and restaurants everywhere you turn. There is also a main subway station in this area making it convenient to travel from and to other parts of Tokyo.
Hotel and Residence Hotel S starts at 109 USD per night.
This quiet boutique hotel was perfect for my stay. My room was on the small side but clean. I stayed in the double deluxe room – four cube. I would only suggest staying here if you plan on booking one of their premium or experience rooms. They offer some of the nicest Japanese style rooms. See here for room lists. I think you can find better standard rooms in the area. Hotel location cannot be beat as it is just a 5-minute walk from the main strip in Roppongi. The staff was so helpful and friendly when I needed directions to get around.
Grand Hyatt Tokyo - if you’re looking for luxury, this hotel is a great choice. You can see more here. Rates start at about 400 USD per night.
Ana Intercontinental Tokyo another luxury hotel option with reasonable rates starting at 205 USD per night .
Shibuya Area - one of Tokyo’s busiest area. Major shopping district and business center.
Hotel Koe - This is a super cute hotel. Rates start at 238 USD per night. See more here.
Trunk Hotel – this is by far my favorite choice on this list. I love this modern yet traditional Japanese style hotel. Depending on which dates you visit you can score a standard room for about 246 USD per night. Book this as far in advance as possible because it is a popular choice.
Ginza Area - Upscale shopping and entertainment area. Considered to be luxurious and wealthy area. If staying here expect to pay a little more here.
Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza Premier starts at 195 USD per night. Here.
Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel starts at 165 USD per night. Here.
Conrad Tokyo Hotel starts at 438 USD per night. Here.
Unfortunately, seven days is not nearly enough time to explore and see all that Tokyo has to offer. I’ve only just scratched the surface. There are beaches I would love to visit , castles I would like to see, hot springs to relax and be enjoyed, sumo and kabuki to watch, alleys to get lost in and more. But, for my first time in Tokyo I feel like I was able to see and do a lot.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity to visit and I just know I’ll be back soon.
Until next time, Japan.