This post will be about Tokyo but since I covered a few general topics about Japan in a previous post on you might want to check that out as well.
In Tokyo the preferred way of getting around is the subway. Which in my experience works great, is fairly inexpensive (single ticket between 1,5-2USD depending on route) and can take you pretty much anywhere in the metropolitan area resonably fast. But if you’re there for an extended stay they offer allday passes in a variety of days. If your coming to Tokyo from the airport you can buy a multiday Tokyo subway-pass at a discount in combination with the train ticket to Tokyo railway station. I do recommend picking up a subway map so you can check out how and where to go before you hit the streets. The subway can at first be a bit daunting because it is huge, a single station can have more exits than one can imagine. But getting from a to b is easy even when there are changes involved by looking at the subway map. Many accommodations in Tokyo have quite detailed description on how to get there by subway. And if in doubt simply look confused, stare at the subway map and someone will ask you if you need assistance shortly.
Tokyo by districts
Tokyo is divided into several areas like Shinjuku, Akibahara, Shibuya etc. and all these have their own different speciality and personality. Which is one reason why a trip to Tokyo takes more than a few days if you really want to get a feeling for the city. I am not going to go into all of these but I will dwelg into a few of the areas briefly.
Asakusa is a district that retains a feel and atmosphere of an older Tokyo with the main tourist attraction being Sensoji, a large temple. The area is easy to explore by foot.
Akibahara, also known as Akiba, is the tech and geek centre of Tokyo. It has electronics stores galore and a increasing amount of stores dedicated to manga, video games and anime. Other novelties are the maid cafes, where waitresses dress up as character and does various performances, or manga cafes where you can sit and read comics and watch movies
Ginza is the area in Tokyo for upscale shopping and entertainment. It hosts tons stores, galleries, restaurants and nightclubs.
Roppongi is a district both known for being a cultural centre our to the large museums as well as being a nightlife centre for tourists and expats.
Shinjuku is the location of the main railway station as well as a large shopping area.
Shimbashi, or Shinbashi, is an entertainment district where all the salarymen go after work to grab a drink and some food. It is host to loads of small eateries and bars.
Where to stay
There is somewhere to stay in Tokyo for every budget, from upscale hotels to kissaten (coffee shop where you can rent a both for the night). If you’re interested in trying a capsule hotel for a night you can do that in Tokyo. If you are traveling around Japan I would perhaps wait with the obligatory Ryokan stay and instead opt for doing that in perhaps Kyoto or some less bustling town. There are plenty of hotels and and by checking several booking sites I’ve been able to stay at some really nice ones quite cheaply, so it’s worth looking at. But for me personally I would look at a cheaper alternative, namely hostels. For starters you can save a lot of money, and to me that is money I can spend on experiences like entrance fees, transportation, food etc. instead. Secondly the staff in many hostels are often where helpful and accustomed to answering a variety questions and by talking to other guests you can get ideas for things to do or see which you hadn’t thought of before. And who knows, you might even make some new friends. But before you book anything that sound to good to be true do your research, because it might be just that. I have had good experiences staying with K’s House in Tokyo. The staff was great. They organised activities at the hostel, made reservations for us and immensely helpful when I accidentally lost both my phone and wallet. If anyone from there reads this: Thanks again!
In Tokyo there is decent food pretty much around every corner. You can eat out relatively inexpensive as long as you avoid the regular tourist traps, simply follow the natives and you know that you will probably get a good meal at a fair price. But always try to check the prices before ordering because there are some very expensive places in Tokyo. Also don’t think that because there are huge pictures or counters with mock plates outside that it is a tourist spot, a lot of the restaurant use that for advertising their food. A few things I would recommend you to at least try is Japanese curry, sushi, yakitori/yakiniku, gyoza and of course the almighty ramen. There are loads of other dishes to try but these are a good start. The local izakayas (pubs) often have both good and affordable food. If you are planning to see the Tsukiji fish market I could recommend a sushi breakfast afterwards at one of the several nearby Sushi restaurants.
One rather odd restaurant I can recommend is a izakaya is called Kagaya. The izakaya is located in Shimbashi.
The restaurant is small, perhaps six-seven tables, and located down a set of stairs in the middle of the building (look for this sign). You order a set menu, which depends on how hungry and thirsty you are. But the real highlight is not the food or drinks, although it is good, but the entertainment provided by the owner. I won’t spoil all the fun even if I knew where to begin, but let’s say it involves singing, gyrating beer mugs, painting and fun performances. Suffice to say that you will leave with a smile and a new experience.
Sights to see
There are several sights to see like the Tokyo tower, the Tsukiji fish market, Yoyogi park, Sensoji (temple) etc. And you should of course go see the ones that interest you, but my advice is to just take it slow and observe your surrounding instead of having a narrow focus an certain specific sights. The reasons for that are twofold firstly there are things to see almost everywhere in a city as large as Tokyo and because you can’t learn about everything in such a huge city in advance one might easily miss things next to you when focus lies far away . For example, last time I was there I more or less accidentally booked accommodations next to Sensoiji and when taking a stroll around the neighbourhood to learn my way around I more or less bumped into it.
Secondly of course one wants to see certain things but when going from one place to another on a tight schedule you miss out on the culture and people.
But I would recommend going both to Yoyogi park and the Tsukiji fish market. The fish market just because it is the largest of it’s sort in the world and there are just so much to see and eat in the area.
Yoyogi koen in Shibuya is a laid-back place where you can just relax and soak in the atmosphere which is a nice change of pace from the city. And you won’t be bored because there are often live music and a bunch of comedic characters around. On my last visit there I witnessed two teams of dance battling Elvis look-a-likes, something you don’t forget easily. You can do more people spotting in Harajuku which is the gathering spot for gothic lolitas and cosplayers.If you have limited time in Tokyo and are planning to go to Kyoto or have come from there you can hold back on the temples since you either have or will see plenty of them.
Things to do in Tokyo
I don’t know if “the world is your oyster” or “the sky is the limit” is the right saying, but they’re probably both applicable on the number of things things to do in Tokyo. Of course there are countless museuma and exhibitions if that is your thing. I’ve been to several, although I’ve always missed out on the Ghibli museum. If you’re interested in going there be sure to book well in advance. If comedy is your thing there are often standup performances in Roppongi. There are other shows and concerts galore around Tokyo. One show or whatever it is I would recommend checking out is the Robot Restaurant located in Shinjuku. You can read more about it here in a separate post.
One thing you have to do, and I know this is stereotypical, is karaoke. There are places where you do the singing in bars or pubs, but the most common way is to rent a room in a karaoke complex. There are several places where you rent the room by the hour and drinks can be included by a slight increase to the hourly rate. Then you and your friends have a small room equipped with the essentials and a extensive (read huge) menu of songs to keep you entertained. And when you get thirsty simply lift the phone place your ordering the drinks will be there in minutes.
You can spend a week in Tokyo and still feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface in regards to things to do, eat and see. But that does not mean you should hurry from one thing to another instead cut a few things from your agenda and take your time.