Update: August 2018
Having been to Japan before (when I was 16, on a school excursion.) I knew on some level what to expect. Booking flights and organising JR Passes with only a few days before departure, add some airport difficulties, I knew this trip was going to be bringing us some ‘testing’ times- as with most unplanned ventures. We spent a week in Tokyo, exploring the crazy and wonderful districts before venturing down south for another week exploring Kyoto.
Japan has it all, great shopping, delicious food, impeccable transport and helpful humble people. It is land to ancient cultures, strict traditions and lush green gardens and park.
Tokyo will captivate with its intense energy and neon-lit nightlife. It will leave you wanting more. Here is a quick guide if you’re planning an adventure to this diverse city.
- 1 Things you should know about Tokyo
- 2 Where to stay in Tokyo
- 3 Where to eat in Tokyo
- 4 What do in Tokyo
Things you should know about Tokyo
Getting there: Jetstar often has sale fares to Japan and takes around 12 hours from the East Coast of Australia. If you are coming from someone other than Australia I would recommend searching for your desired dates via Skyscanner.com
Getting around: You will most likely get around using the subway in Tokyo. If you are planning on visiting Kyoto and other areas I would recommend looking into getting a Japan Rail Pass. You can use Hyperdia.com to plan and research all your train trips.
Population: 9.273 million (2015)
Exchange Rate: As of 11/2018 it was 82.85 Japanese Yen to $1.00 AUD
Religion: Shinto and Buddhism are Japan’s two major religions.
When to visit: The best months to visit Tokyo are March, April, October, and November. Go end of March-April for Cherry Blossom season in Japan. Go during Dec-April for the Japan ski season.
Good to know:
+ Tipping is unnecessary in Japan, in fact, it’s slightly frowned upon.
+ It’s considered impolite to eat while walking in Japanese culture, aha! I wonder if coffee counts?
+ If you need to print anything (we needed to print our Disneyland tickets), cyber cafes require you to bring your passport along. Alternatively, you can save your document on a USB and print at a 7/11.
+ Use Japanese when you can, a simple Arigato (Thank You) or Sumimasen (Excuse me) are really appreciated by the locals :). You can download some apps to help you, try this or duolingo.
+ Plastic food is big business in Japan. It’s best to just embrace it- at first, I found myself quite turned off anywhere that had them displayed. But you just gotta learn to love. Because culture!
Related: 10 Tips for Travelling to Asia
Where to stay in Tokyo
We stayed in a small studio apartment in the Shinjuku area, booked with Air BnB. I really enjoy using Air BnB to book my accommodation these days as I feel it offers that tiny bit extra of an ‘authentic experience’. Our hosts were extremely informative, from the booking process all the way to the arrival.
We got video directions on how to get from the airport to the studio, it came with a portal WiFi device which is extremely beneficial when exploring the city and it was just a short walk to a subway, coffee and a 7/11.
Click here to see their available listings in Tokyo.
Standard accommodation is available from around $150 a night. There is a wide range of choice depending on what area you would like to stay in. You can search hotels here.
If you’re on a tighter budget I would suggest finding a hostel here are 7 of the best hostels in Tokyo that are perfect for backpackers. You can find something through Hostelworld.com, it has a range of both private rooms and shared dorms. Alternatively, could you try something the Japanese are famous for, the growing popular capsule hotels.
Ginza is Tokyo’s most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district, featuring numerous department stores, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, nightclubs and cafes.
Shinjuku is one of the most vibrant “nodes” of Tokyo. It’s useful to think of two different Shinjukus: East Shinjuku and West Shinjuku. On the east side of Shinjuku Station, you’ll find all the neon lights, crowds, restaurants and bars that you associate with modern Tokyo (along with a pretty seedy entertainment district, Kabukicho), while on the west side of Shinjuku Station, there are some of the city’s tallest high-rise buildings, government offices and hotels. It’s a lot of fun to check out both.
Shibuya is one of the main hubs of modern Tokyo. It’s a seething frenzy of shopping, dining and drinking. This is the place to come to experience Tokyo in all its glory. Home to the famous Shibuya crossing, cutting-edge fashion boutiques, world-class nightclubs, unbeatable record shops, hip bars, dining options ranging from fancy washoku eateries to dirt-cheap diners.
Roppongi is a district in Tokyo that is well known as the city’s most popular nightlife district among foreigners, offering a large number of foreigner-friendly bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Roppongi and the surrounding districts of Azabu, Hiroo and Akasaka are home to many embassies and a large expat community.
Shinagawa is a bustling bayside area known for Tennozu Isle, a skyscraper complex with a boardwalk, shops, a stylish brewpub and restaurants overlooking the water. Traditional sites include the elegant Sengaku-ji Temple, with the graves of 47 samurais from the 18th century. Colourful bridges span the cherry tree-lined Meguro River, while Shinagawa Park has picnic spots and an aquarium.
Asakusa is famous for the Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple. There are several other temples in Asakusa, as well as various festivals, such as the Sanja Matsuri. It’s the best neighbourhood to stay in Tokyo on a Budget. There aren’t many malls in this area, however, there are lots of small shops and eateries in this area.
Where to eat in Tokyo
My favourite foods are fresh tuna bowls and perfectly cooked Gyozas so you can imagine I was pretty much in food heaven. Tokyo offers amazing authentic foods like ramen, sashimi and miso but also has a great range of delicious international cuisines. I would recommend using trip advisor to search the best restaurants in your hotels area. Below are some of my top picks!
+Sushi Zanmai- Surprisingly enough it is actually quite hard to find quality sushi us Westerns are used to. So I was pretty stoked when we came across the chain Sushi Zanmai scattered all over Tokyo. They have a beautifully fresh sashimi salad as well as some hand rolls plates that really hit the spot!
+Salvatore buffet lunch, was perfect as it tied us over so we could just have a small dinner. To memory, it was only 1200 yen and there was a decent range of pastas, pizzas, salads and desserts. Oh and drinks were included!
+Lumine Department Store in Shinjuku above the main station is an impressively overwhelming food floor. Located on the top 2 levels of the department store we were flooded with choice. We found ourselves here on maybe 4 occasions. Favourites included a massive flaming paella, tuna bowls and ice cream from Cold Stone.
+Craving a western breakfast/bunch? Forget the hours of research you will come up short- I know I did. Go to Bills in Harajuku (Owned by our very own Bill Granger) and avoid chains like Slappy Cakes.
What do in Tokyo
There is an endless list of attractions and things to do in Japan and particularly in Tokyo, you would definitely need much longer than a week. Although not much had been researched and planned for our Tokyo itinerary, I really think we used our time quite well and covered some of the best Tokyo and its surroundings have to offer.
Arriving at a new city I always like to walk. I walk for hours. Until I get lost. Until I no longer feel like a stranger. I feel like it gives you a real understanding of the culture and quickly familiarises you with your surroundings.
We started our first day grabbing a coffee and a pastry (which became a breakfast staple and I became 5 kgs heavier) we then wandered the streets of Shinjuku discovering shops and restaurants and then taking a rest stop at SegaFredo (best coffee) to people watch.
During our time in Tokyo we didn’t tick off all the major tourist attractions, we didn’t visit the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower or the Tsukiji Fish markets. Nor did we part take in traditional attractions like tea ceremonies, performing arts or stay in a Ryokan. Instead, we spent our time wandering the streets and appreciating the colourful neighbourhoods and locals. And eating. A lot. For epic views try an afternoon tea at the Ritz.
Read more: ‘Tokyo Chocolate: Bean To Bar Guide“
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Don’t miss The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku which offers free, panoramic views of the city. The observation deck is located on level 45, of the 202-meter tall building and is open until 10.30 pm.
Shop at Shibuya
Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s largest districts for shopping, dining and entertainment. It is also famous for its huge crossing, a place to stand and feel insignificant amongst a sea of bodies, before capturing that perfect photo of course. We highly reccommend doing a food tour whislt in Japan to get a great look into different traditions and unique dishes. The Shibuya Food Tour with Arigato Tours is a top pick as it is the number 1 food tour in Japan!
Harajuku, famous for its extravagant teen pop culture and is evident in the flamboyant attire of the young locals, the colourful posters of the latest anime and the exuberant shopping alleys like Takeshita Dori (street). What I love about Japan though is its diversity. How we can have something so modern and futuristic on one side of the station and just around the corner lies the famous Meiji Shrine. The shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort was first built in 1920. The entrance is marked with a grand Torii (gate), with walking paths forested to create an atmosphere of serenity and stillness. Adjacent is Yoyogi park making this attraction a perfect little break from the grind of the city.
Be a kid again at Disneyland
This was the 2nd time I got to experience Disneyland and once again it did not disappoint. I’m a big kid at heart and places like Disneyland and Disney Sea just evoke sheer happiness. Stay into the PM to witness the impressive neon-lit musical parade.
Day trip to Nikko
Nikko was the perfect little day trip from the hustle of Tokyo. After spending a week in the city, it was so nice to see the lush trees and dewy atmosphere of Nikko. There are lots great things to do in Nikko, the preserved town was inspiring and lead to the iconic Shinkyo Bridge. Exploring the Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples was peaceful and. We didn’t have the time, but I’ve read other blogs that suggest going that extra mile and see the waterfalls.
Day trip to Odawara
For another escape, catch the train to Odawara for a day of exploring and frolicking amongst a sea of hydrangeas. By JR Tokaido Shinkansen you can access Odawara in about half an hour from Shinjuku. Upon arriving, we walked straight to the beach, wasn’t anything special but nice to see some ocean. What I did like about this small town was the Castle and fact it was surrounded by vibrant hydrangeas.
Thanks for stopping by wanderers until next time,
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