Tokyo (東京 Tōkyō) is the enormous and wealthy capital of Japan, overflowing with culture, commerce and, most of all, people. The core of the most populated urban area in the world, Tokyo is a fascinating and dynamic metropolis that brings high-tech visions of the future side by side with glimpses of old Japan. From modern electronics and gleaming skyscrapers to cherry blossoms and the Imperial Palace, this is a city that represents the entire sweep of Japanese history and culture. Tokyo truly has something for every traveller.
Huge and varied in its geography, with over 2,000 square kilometers to explore, Tokyo Metropolis (東京都 Tōkyō-to) spans not just the city, but rugged mountains to the west and subtropical islands to the south. Tokyo Metropolis legally contains 23 regions (区 ku), which refer to themselves as "cities"; to avoid confusion, Wikivoyage refers to them as "wards" of Tokyo, which is much more common in English. This article concentrates on the 23 central wards near the bay, while the western cities and the islands are covered in a separate article.
The geography of central Tokyo is defined by the JR Yamanote Line (see Get around). The center of Tokyo — the former area reserved for the Shogun and his samurai — lies within the loop, while the Edo-era downtown (下町 shitamachi) is to the north and east. Sprawling around in all directions and blending in seamlessly are Yokohama, Kawasaki and Chiba, Tokyo's suburbs.
| Chiyoda |
The seat of Japanese power (both political and economic) that includes the Imperial Palace, the Ministries near Kasumigaseki, the Parliament in Nagatacho, the corporate headquarters of Marunouchi, and the electronics mecca of Akihabara.
| Chuo |
Also includes the famed department stores of the Ginza and the fish markets of Tsukiji.
| Minato |
Including the business centers of Akasaka and Shinbashi and the neighbouring nightclub district of Roppongi, the port district (at least in name) which includes the artificial island of Odaiba, the skyscrapers of Shiodome.
| Shinjuku |
Home to luxury hotels, giant camera stores, futuristic skyscrapers, hundreds of shops and restaurants, and Kabukicho, Tokyo's wildest nightlife and red-light district.
| Shibuya |
The fashionable shopping district which also encompasses the teenybopper haven of Harajuku (also home to the Meiji Shrine) and the nightlife of Ebisu
| Shinagawa |
A major train hub and business center, including Gotanda.
| Toshima |
Including Ikebukuro, another giant train hub.
| Meguro |
A residential area with a few nice parks and museums.
Old Tokyo (Shitamachi)
| Sumida |
Now graced with the presence of the modern Tokyo SkyTree, this ward is home to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and Tokyo's main sumo arena (Ryogoku Kokugikan), both in Ryogoku.
| Taito |
The heart of Old Tokyo featuring the temples of Asakusa and National Museums in Ueno.
| Bunkyo |
Home to Tokyo Dome and the University of Tokyo.
| East |
Many suburban wards, including Adachi, where one can visit one of Kanto's Three Great Temples: Nishi-arai Daishi, Katsushika, known for the charming Showa-era atmosphere of Shibamata and Edogawa, a quiet eastern suburb.
| North |
Includes the suburban wards of Kita, Itabashi and the quieter northern Nerima, which contains some of the 23 wards' last remaining farmland.
| Nakano |
Home to the otaku paradise known as Nakano Broadway.
| Ota |
Half industrial complex, half upscale residential area.
| Setagaya |
An upscale residential area that houses the student drinking spot of Shimokitazawa as well as the newly revitalized shopping centers of Futako-Tamagawa.
| Suginami |
Typical Tokyo suburb stretching along the Chuo Line.
Over 500 years old, the city of Tokyo was once the modest fishing village of Edo (江戸). The city only truly began to grow when it became the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603, who decided to set up a new seat of power far away from the intrigues of the imperial court in Kyoto. After the Meiji restoration in 1868, during which the Tokugawa family lost its influence, the emperor and the imperial family moved here from Kyoto, and the city was renamed to its current name, Tokyo, literally the "Eastern Capital". The metropolitan center of the country, Tokyo is the destination for business, education, modern culture, and government. (That's not to say that rivals such as Osaka won't dispute those claims.)
Tokyo is vast: it's best thought of not as a single city, but a constellation of cities that have grown together. Tokyo's districts vary wildly by character, from the electronic blare of Akihabara to the Imperial gardens and shrines of Chiyoda, from the hyperactive youth culture mecca of Shibuya to the pottery shops and temple markets of Asakusa. If you don't like what you see, hop on the train and head to the next station, and you will find something entirely different.
The sheer size and frenetic pace of Tokyo can intimidate the first-time visitor. Much of the city is a jungle of concrete and wires, with a mass of neon and blaring loudspeakers. At rush hour, crowds jostle in packed trains and masses of humanity sweep through enormous and bewilderingly complex stations. Don't get too hung up on ticking tourist sights off your list: for most visitors, the biggest part of the Tokyo experience is just wandering around at random and absorbing the vibe, poking your head into shops selling weird and wonderful things, sampling restaurants where you can't recognize a single thing on the menu (or on your plate), and finding unexpected oases of calm in the tranquil grounds of a neighbourhood Shinto shrine. It's all perfectly safe, and the locals will go to sometimes extraordinary lengths to help you if you just ask.
The cost of living in Tokyo is not as astronomical as it once was. Deflation and market pressures have helped to make costs in Tokyo comparable to most other large cities. Visitors from San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Sydney, Toronto and Dublin will not find it any more expensive than back home. Travellers should budget a similar amount of money for their stay in Tokyo as they would for any other great city in Europe, North America or Australia. Locals will know the bargains, but experienced cheapskates from anywhere in the world can get by with a little ingenuity. Tokyo is one of the most popular places to live in Japan. Rent for a single's apartment could range from USD500 to USD1,000 a month. Tokyo is so overwhelmingly crowded that many people live in apartments no bigger than 16 square meters (175 square feet).
Tokyo is classified as lying in the humid subtropical climate zone and has five distinct seasons.
- Spring kicks off with plum blossoms in late February, followed by the famous cherry blossoms (sakura) in March–April. Parks, most famously Ueno, fill up with blue tarps and sozzled salarymen.
- Rainy season (baiu or tsuyu) in late May to June means a month of overcast skies and drizzle punctuated with downpours, with temperatures in the twenties.
- Summer really kicks off in July, with clear skies but temperatures peaking into the high thirties and brutal steam bath humidity. Even a short walk outside will leave you drenched in sweat, so this is probably the worst time of year to visit, and is best avoided if you have a choice. The one bright spot is the plethora of fireworks, most notably the epic pyrotechnic extravaganza of the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival on the fourth Saturday in July.
- Fall from September onwards means cooler temperatures and fall colors. While southern Japan is regularly battered by typhoons this time of year, they mostly (but not always) veer clear of Tokyo.
- Winter is usually mild, with temperatures generally ranging from 0-10 °C, though occasional cold spells can send temperatures plummeting below zero at night, and indoor heating can leave much to be desired. Snow is rare, but on those rare occasions once every few years when Tokyo is hit by a snowstorm, much of the train network grinds to a halt.
In Japan, all roads, rails, shipping lanes and planes lead to Tokyo.
Tokyo has two large airports: Narita for international flights, and Haneda for (mostly) domestic flights.
- Main article: Tokyo Narita Airport
A brief summary of options for getting there and away:
- Easiest: Airport Limousine bus, direct to most major hotels, and particularly handy if you have lots of luggage. ¥3,100, 90-120 minutes.
- Fastest: Keisei Skyliner train to Nippori (JR Yamanote Line) or Ueno, then connect to local train or taxi. ¥2,470, 36 minutes to Nippori.
- Cheapest: Keisei bus to Tokyo station, then connect to local train. ¥900, 90 minutes or so.
- Best value: Keisei Access Express running through to Toei Asakusa subway. ¥1,240, 65 minutes to Asakusa.
- If you have a JR Pass: JR Narita Express to Tokyo, Shinagawa or Shinjuku, free with pass (¥3,000 without), 55 minutes to Tokyo station.
- Main article: Tokyo Haneda Airport
Tokyo's second international gateway is Haneda Airport (羽田空港) (IATA: HND) .
Ibaraki Airport (茨城空港 IATA: IBR) in Omitama, Ibaraki, some 85 km north of Tokyo, is an upstart aimed squarely at low-cost carriers. Skymark currently operates domestic flights to Sapporo, Kobe and Okinawa, and Spring Airlines operates daily service to Shanghai.
The best way to travel between Ibaraki Airport and Tokyo is by bus service, operated by Kantetsu Bus several times a day. The trip takes about 2 1/2 hours and costs ¥500 for air passengers and ¥1000 for non-air passengers. Reservations are required, and free English reservations are available online. The fare is payable when boarding the bus.
Even if you intend to use a Japan Rail Pass, there are no exchange offices in the immediate vicinity. It will be best to take the bus to Tokyo Station and visit the exchange office there.
Chōfu Airfield (調布飛行場 Chōfu hikōjō) serves only some turboprop flights to the Izu Islands south of Tokyo. The nearest railway station is Nishi-Chōfu on the Keiō Line, a 15-minute walk away. Alternatively, you can take a bus from Chofu or Mitaka stations.
Tokyo is the nerve centre of railways in Japan. High speed Shinkansen services arrive at Tokyo Station (東京駅 Tōkyō-eki) which is located in the Chiyoda ward. For all trains on the northern route, you can get off at Ueno, while trains on the western route call at Shinagawa. Most non-Shinkansen services usually stops at Shibuya and Shinjuku stations as well. Ueno and Ikebukuro stations connect you to the northern suburbs and neighboring prefectures.
There are multiple departures every hour from Kyoto and Osaka to Tokyo, with three types of shinkansen trains. The Nozomi is the fastest, with trains taking 2 1/2 hours from Osaka. The Hikari makes more stops and takes 3 hours, and the Kodama is the slowest, making all stops and reaching Tokyo in 4 hours. Note that Japan Rail Pass holders cannot use Nozomi trains.
Multiple cities from the north offer direct shinkansen services to Tokyo, including Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Hakodate, Kanazawa, Morioka, Nagano, Niigata, Sendai, Toyama, Yamagata and Yuzawa. All trains from these cities converge at Ōmiya in Saitama, then run south to Ueno and Tokyo stations.
Although Japan is dominated by fast shinkansen trains there are still a couple of sleeper trains left: The Sunrise Izumo (サンライズ出雲) runs daily to Tokyo from Izumo while Sunrise Seto (サンライズ瀬戸) connects with Takamatsu, the largest city on the Shikoku island. Both trains run coupled together between Tokyo and Okayama.
By car or thumb
While you can drive into the city, it's really not recommended as the city can be congested, signs may be confusing and parking fees are astronomical.
Hitchhiking into Tokyo is pretty easy, but hitchhiking out is considerably more difficult. It's definitely possible for determined cheapskates though, see Hitchhiking in Japan for a detailed list of tested escape routes from the city.
Highway bus services link Tokyo to other cities, resort areas and the surrounding prefectures. There are JR and private bus companies. Bus service may be cheaper, but the train is probably more convenient. If you have a JR pass, then you should generally stick with the trains.
Long-distance buses use a number of terminals scattered throughout the city, but the main JR depot is at Tokyo Station's Yaesu-minamiguchi (八重洲南口) exit, while Keio and some other private companies use the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal (新宿高速バスターミナル), opposite Yodobashi Camera near the West Exit. JR Bus also uses the Shinjuku Station JR Highway Bus Terminal (新宿駅JR高速バスターミナル), which is actually located closer to Yoyogi station on the Yamanote Line than it is to Shinjuku station.
- The JR Bus Group. A major operator of bus services to and from Tokyo. Seat reservations for JR Buses can be made at JR Bus counters in Tokyo and Shinjuku stations, and in JR train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains.
- Willer Express. A company that has nightly bus services to and from Tokyo. Its bus services link many cities in Japan. Online booking available in English.
- Kokusai Kogyo Bus (Japanese Website).
- Keisei Bus (Japanese Website).
- Keikyu Bus (Japanese Website).
- Keio Bus (Japanese Website).
- Kanto Bus (Japanese Website).
- Nishi Tokyo Bus (Japanese Website).
- Odakyu Bus (Japanese Website).
- Odakyu Hakone Bus.
- Seibu Bus (Japanese Website).
- Tobu Bus (Japanese Website).
- Tohoku Kyuko Bus (Japanese Website).
One of the great ports of the world, Tokyo also has domestic ferry services to other points in Japan. However, none of the regular international ferries to Japan call at Tokyo.
The main long-distance ferry terminal is Ariake Ferry Terminal, located on an artificial island adjacent to Odaiba in Tokyo Bay. The nearest station is Kokusai-Tenjijo-Seimon on the Yurikamome line, but it's still a bit of a hike. You can also take a direct bus from Shin-Kiba station on the Metro Yurakucho line. The main services from this terminal are:
- Kawasaki Kinkai Kisen (川崎近海汽船), ☎ +81 3-3528-0718. This ferry has no passenger facilities, so it can only be used if you have a car fares for a car and driver start at ¥25,820.
- Ocean Tokyu Ferry (オーシャン東九フェリー), ☎ +81 3-5148-0109. Tokyo-Kitakyushu passenger fares are ¥16,420 for second class, ¥30,550 for first class.
Ferries to the Izu and Ogasawara Islands leave from Takeshiba Terminal (竹芝客船ターミナル), adjacent to Takeshiba station on the Yurikamome line. Cruise liners tend to use the Harumi Terminal (晴海客船ターミナル), best accessible on bus 都05 (To-05) from Tokyo station Marunouchi South Exit or 東12(Tou-12) from Tokyo station Yaesu exit. International ferries and cargo ferries that also take passengers can leave from other terminals too, enquire with your shipping company.
By train and subway
Tokyo has one of the most extensive mass transit systems in the world and is the most used subway system in the world in terms of annual passenger rides. It is clean, safe and efficient – and confusing. The confusion arises from the fact that several distinct railway systems operate within Tokyo – the JR East network, the two subway networks, and various private lines – and different route maps show different systems. Avoid rush hours if possible; trains get overcrowded very easily.
The defining rail line in Tokyo is the JR Yamanote Line (山手線 Yamanote-sen), which runs in a loop around central Tokyo; being inside the Yamanote loop is synonymous with being in the core of Tokyo. Almost all inter-regional JR lines and private lines start at a station on the Yamanote. JR's lines are color-coded, and the Yamanote is light green. The JR Chuo (orange, 中央線 Chūō-sen) and Chuo-Sobu (yellow, 中央総武線 Sōbu-sen) lines run side-by-side, bisecting the Yamanote loop from Shinjuku on the west to Tokyo on the east. JR's other commuter lines, the Saikyo and Keihin-Tohoku, run off the rim of the Yamanote loop to the north and south. JR East has a good English information line, 050-2016-1603 or 03-3423-0111.
Tokyo has an extensive subway network with frequent trains, and these are primarily useful for getting around within the Yamanote loop. The Tokyo Metro runs nine lines: Ginza, Marunouchi, Hibiya, Tozai, Chiyoda, Yurakucho, Hanzomon, Namboku and Fukutoshin lines. Toei operates the Asakusa, Mita, Shinjuku, and Oedo lines. While the JR Yamanote Line is not a subway line, due to its importance as a major transportation artery in downtown Tokyo, it is usually featured on subway maps. In addition, there is a largely underground Rinkai Line, a private line which is operated by Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transit (web-site only in Japanese) or TWR, that passes through the island of Odaiba.
Announcements and signs are usually bilingual in Japanese and English, though in some areas frequented by tourists, signs in Korean and Chinese can also be seen.
A number of private commuter lines radiate from the Yamanote loop out into the outlying wards and suburbs, and almost all connect through directly to subway lines within the loop. The private lines are useful for day trips outside the city, and are slightly cheaper than JR. Among these, the most important to visitors is arguably the Yurikamome which offers great views on the way to the island of Odaiba.
Fares and hours
Most tickets and passes are sold from automated vending machines. Keep in mind that JR trains are free with a Japan Rail Pass.
Prepaid fare cards are convenient and highly recommended because they allow you to ride trains without having to read the sometimes Japanese-only fare maps to determine your fare. There are two brands of prepaid fare cards, JR East's Suica, and PASMO, offered by private (non-JR) lines. Functionally they are completely interchangeable and can be used on just about every subway, train and bus line in Tokyo (with the noted exception of JR's Shinkansen and limited express trains).
The fare cards are rechargeable "smart cards": you simply tap your card on the touch pad next to the turnstile as you go in, and do the same when going through to exit. There is an initial ¥500 deposit that you must pay when purchasing a fare card, but up to ¥20,000 in value can be stored on each card.
The older Passnet cards are not accepted anymore. If you still own some of these, you can exchange them for a PASMO or Suica card.
There are also some special tickets that allow unlimited travel, but most are unlikely to be useful to tourists unless you're planning to spend half your day on the train.
- The Tokunai Pass (都区内パス) is a one-day pass good for travel on JR lines anywhere in the 23 wards of Tokyo (including the entire Yamanote Line and many stations surrounding it). It costs ¥730, making it economical if you plan to make five or more train hops in one day. A variant is the Tokunai Free Kippu (都区内フリーきっぷ), which also includes a round-trip into Tokyo from stations in the surrounding prefectures. The Monorail And Tokunai Free Kippu, which is good for two days and includes a round-trip from Haneda Airport to central Tokyo, is also sold for ¥2,000.
- The Tokyo Free Kippu (東京フリーきっぷ) covers all JR, subway and city bus lines within the 23 wards. It costs ¥1,580 for one day, and covers a number of areas that are not served by JR, such as Roppongi and Odaiba.
- The Holiday Pass (ホリデーパス) covers the entire JR network in the Tokyo metropolitan area, including Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and west Tokyo. It costs ¥2,300 for one day, and is only available on weekends, national holidays and during summer vacation (July 20 through August 31).
Who is making announcements in English?
In Tokyo, whichever train you take--namely, JR East, Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, Tobu Railway, Seibu Railway, Odakyu Electric Railway, and Keisei Electric Railway--you will hear English announcements in a similar voice. Actually, they are all announced by the same voice actor, Christelle Ciari.
In a Japanese interview she said, "Most railway companies I worked for did not give me any instruction on how to pronounce the station names in English. So I decided to read them in the original Japanese accent because I personally thought it was more natural and easier to comprehend for non-native speakers of English. The only exception was JR East, which instructed me to announce the station names in an American accent."
Therefore, you will hear "Shibuya" on Tokyo Metro while you will hear "Sheebooyah" on JR trains.
If you're paying à la carte, subway and train fares are based on distance, ranging from ¥110 to ¥310 for hops within central Tokyo. As a general rule of thumb, Tokyo Metro lines are cheapest, Toei lines are most expensive, and JR lines fall somewhere in the middle (but are usually cheaper than Metro for short trips, i.e. no more than 4 stations). Many of the private lines interoperate with the subways, which can occasionally make a single ride seem unreasonably expensive as you are in essence transferring to another line and fare system, even though you're still on the same train. E.g. changing between Metro subway line and Tokyu private line amounts to paying the sum of each fare: minimum fare Metro ¥160 + minimum fare Tokyu ¥120 = ¥280. In addition, several patterns of transfer are listed as "Transfer Discount", and the most famous one is ¥70 discount, that applies to a transfer between Tokyo Metro and Toei subway lines. When using Suica or PASMO, you can get all transfer discounts automatically. At some transfer stations, you may need to pass through a special transfer gate (both for paper tickets and PASMO/Suica) which is coloured orange – passing through the regular blue gate will not get you your transfer discount and if you have a paper ticket, you won't get it back. At some transfer points (e.g. Asakusa station) you may actually need to transfer on street level as the two stations (Metro Ginza Line and Toei Asakusa Line) are not physically connected and are about one block apart.
It pays to check your route beforehand. The Tokyo Subway Navigation for Tourists by the Tokyo Metro, is a mobile app that allows you to plan subway and train travel from point A to point B, based on time, cost, and transfers. This app provides information for Tokyo only. For other apps or sites which cover the whole country, see the Japan page.
If you can't figure out how much it is to the destination, you can buy the cheapest ticket and pay the difference at the Fare Adjustment Machine (norikoshi) at the end. Most vending machines will let you buy a single ticket that covers a transfer between JR, subway and private lines, all the way to your destination, but working out how to do this may be a challenge if you are not familiar with the system. When transferring between systems, whether paying with tickets or smart cards, use the orange transfer gates to exit. Otherwise, you'll be charged full fare for both separate parts of your trip, instead of the cheaper transfer fare.
Most train lines in Tokyo run from around 05:00 to 01:00. During peak hours they run about once every three minutes; even during off-peak hours it's less than ten minutes between trains. The only night when regular passenger services run overnight is for the New Year's Holiday on select lines.
Taxis are very pricey, but may be a value for groups of three or more. Also, if you miss your last train, you may not have another choice.
Fares generally start at ¥710 for the first two kilometers and can add up rapidly. A 20% night surcharge is tacked on from 22:00-05:00. As a rule of thumb, a daytime trip across the city from Tokyo station to Shinjuku station will cost approximately ¥3000, while a daytime trip from Tokyo station to Haneda Airport costs around ¥6200. These examples are based on standard routing and traffic conditions, so your actual fare may vary in relation to the estimated fare.
Taxi rear left passenger doors are operated by the driver and open and close automatically. Don't open or close them yourself.
Do not count on your taxi driver speaking English—or knowing more than the best-known locations, though most taxis have GPS "car navi" systems installed. The best and easiest thing to do is to prepare a map marked with where you want to go, and point it out on the map to the taxi driver. If you are staying at a hotel, they will provide a map. If possible, get a business card, or print out the address in Japanese of any specific places you wish to go. However, because in Japan streets are often unmarked, if the taxi driver does not have GPS he may not be able to do more than take you to the general vicinity of where you want to go. Also, note that taxis can get caught in traffic jams. No tips are expected or given.
Nihon Kotsu has a 24-hour English telephone number, 03-5755-2336, to call for a Nihon Kotsu taxi within Tokyo. There is a ¥400 booking fee for each reservation, payable to the driver at the end of the trip. The English receptionist will inform you about your assigned taxi by color, company name and taxi number. If you already have a destination (or a few) in mind, the receptionist will electronically transmit the information to the driver so that you don't have to tell the driver yourself.
A growing number of companies in Tokyo also offer taxi hails and ride requests by mobile app.
Tokyo is a gigantic warren of narrow streets with no names, with slow-moving traffic and extremely limited and expensive parking. In this city with such an excellent mass transit system, you would need a good reason to want to drive around instead. While renting a car can make sense in Japan in some contexts (e.g., visiting a rural onsen resort), in general it is neither convenient nor economical to rent a car to get around metro Tokyo. Taxis are much more convenient if your budget allows it; walking or public transportation is much less expensive and given the difficulties of navigation and finding parking in popular areas, probably easier too.
If you do decide to plunge in and drive around by car, the main expressway serving Tokyo is the Shuto Expressway, abbreviated to Shutoko (首都高). The C1 Loop Line forms a circle around central Tokyo, similar in fashion to how the Yamanote Line does it by rail. But whereas the Yamanote Line charges ¥130-250 for a single trip, driving a car onto the Shutoko in Tokyo entitles you to pay a nominal entry fee of ¥700 every time you enter the system, with additional tolls (¥300 or ¥500) collected at various other locations.
Driving on the Tokyo Expressway at night can be a pleasant and beautiful experience as you whiz through and around the Tokyo nightlife. When driving at night you should exercise caution and obey speed limits: Street racing over the Shutoko at night became popular in the 80's and 90's and still happens today, albeit on a less frequent basis. Street racers often concentrate their driving on the C1 Loop Line and the Bayshore (more popularly known as the Wangan) Line. "Competitors" sometimes hang out at parking and service areas on the Shutoko, especially the large Daikoku Parking Area at the intersection of the Bayshore Line and the K5 Daikoku Line in Yokohama.
The few areas within Tokyo that aren't easily accessible by train are served by various bus companies. Buses operating within 23 wards of Tokyo have a fixed fare regardless of distance (¥210 on Toei buses and ¥220 on other private bus companies), which is paid upon boarding from the front door. The fares are not transferable; however most buses do accept Suica or PASMO fare cards (see above). If you use a "Suica" or "PASMO" card to board a Toei Bus, you will receive a ¥100 discount on your next Toei Bus ride as long as it is within 90 minutes of the previous ride. Compared to the trains, the buses run much less frequently, carry fewer passengers, and are much slower. This makes them amenable to the elderly residents of Tokyo, but rather inconvenient for travelers, who will also have to deal with lack of information in English and sometimes very well hidden bus stops. Bus routes can be fairly complicated and are often not listed in detail at the bus stops; signs on the buses themselves often list only two or three main stops in addition to the origin and destination. Inside the bus the next stop is usually announced several times, sometimes by a taped voice and sometimes by a mumbling driver. Recently taped announcements in English are used on some lines, but are still rare. Nevertheless, north-south routes are useful in the western side of the city since train lines (Odakyu, Keio, Chuo, and Seibu) tend to run east-west.
In an attempt to provide some information about their buses to foreign visitors/residents, Toei Bus now has a web site that shows some of the main bus routes used to go to certain destinations in Tokyo. This information is provided in English and several other languages.
Sky Hop Bus
Willer Express operates a hop-on, hop-off bus service called the Sky Hop Bus, which bills itself as "the first open-top double decker bus in Japan." At a charge of ¥1800 for a 24-hour pass and ¥2500 for a 48-hour pass (children half price), you can ride these buses and hop on and off as often as you wish. There are three bus routes that operate, all from the Marunouchi Building next to Tokyo Station: One route serves Asakusa and Tokyo SkyTree, the second runs to Roppongi and Tokyo Tower, and the third runs to Odaiba. Service only runs hourly, with departures from the Marunouchi Building between 10:20 and 18:30.
The Tokyo Cruise Ship Company operates a series of Water Bus ferries along the Sumida River and in Tokyo Bay, connecting Asakusa, Hinode, Harumi and Odaiba. The ferries feature a recorded tour announced in English as well as Japanese and a trip on one makes for a relaxing, leisurely way to see the waterfront areas of Tokyo. Of particular note is the super-futuristic Himiko ferry designed by anime and manga creator Leiji Matsumoto, which runs on the Asakusa-Odaiba Direct Line. You might want to arrive well before the departure time just in case tickets on the Himiko sell out!
Bicycles are very commonly used for local transport, but amenities like bicycle lanes are rare, drivers pay little heed to bikes and traffic can be very heavy on weekdays, so if you use a bicycle, do not be afraid to cycle on the sidewalk (everyone does). Keep in mind, however, that parts of Tokyo are surprisingly hilly, and it's a sweaty job pedaling around in the summer heat. Central Tokyo can still be covered fairly comfortably by bike on the weekends. Tokyo Great Cycling Tour offers a one day guided tour for biking around major tourist spots in Tokyo, like Marunouchi, Nihonbashi, Tsukiji, Odaiba, Tokyo tower, Imperial palace and so on.
Renting a bike is possible from some youth hostels, particularly around Asakusa, although it's not common. However, buying a simple single-speed roadster is fairly cheap, and comes complete with a built-in bicycle wheel lock system (this is what most Tokyoites use). An imported multiple-geared bike will be much more expensive so get a good lock, as bike theft is a common threat, although the problem is nowhere near as serious as in other countries.
In this large city with such an efficient public transportation system, walking to get from point A to point B would seem a bit stupid at first glance. However, as the city is extremely safe even at night, walking in Tokyo can be a very pleasant experience. In some areas, walking can be much shorter than taking the subway and walking the transit (the whole Akasaka/Nagatacho/Roppongi area in the center is for instance very easily covered on foot). If you have the time, Shinjuku to Shibuya via Omotesando takes roughly one hour, Tokyo Station to Shinjuku would be a half a day walk, and the whole Yamanote line Grand Tour takes a long day.
It's possible for English speakers to navigate their way around Tokyo without speaking any Japanese. Signs at subway and train stations include the station names in romaji (Romanized characters), and larger stations often have signs in Chinese and Korean as well. Though most people under the age of 40 have learnt English in school, proficiency is generally poor, and most locals would not know more than a few basic words and phrases. Some restaurants may have English menus, but it does not necessarily mean that the staff will speak much English. Reading and writing comes much better though, and many people can understand a great deal of written English without actually knowing how to speak it. That being said, staff at the main hotels and tourist attractions generally speak an acceptable level of English. While it is possible to get by with only English, it will nevertheless make your trip much smoother if you can learn some basic Japanese.
Tokyo has a vast array of sights, but the first items on the agenda of most visitors are the temples of Asakusa, the gardens of the Imperial Palace (in Chiyoda) and the Meiji Shrine (明治神宮 Meiji-jingū, in Harajuku).
Tokyo has many commercial centres for shopping, eating and simply wandering around for experiencing the modern Japanese urban phenomenon. Each of these areas have unique characteristics, such as dazzling Shinjuku, youthful Shibuya and upmarket Ginza. These areas are bustling throughout the day, but they really come into life in the evenings.
If you're looking for a viewing platform, Tokyo has plenty of options:
- The Tokyo SkyTree is Tokyo's latest attraction, not to mention it's also the second-tallest structure in the world, soaring to more than 2000 feet above the ground.
- The more familiar Tokyo Tower is still around, though not as expensive as its newest rival.
- For a view that's light on your wallet, head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings (in effect, Tokyo's City Hall) in Shinjuku. Its twin towers have viewing platforms that are absolutely free, and offer a great view over Tokyo and beyond.
- The World Trade Center Building (10:00-20:00, or 21:00 in July and August, ¥620) at JR Hamamatsucho station offers stunning views of Tokyo Tower and the waterfront due to its excellent location, especially at dusk.
- Tokyo City View. In Roppongi Hills has an observation deck – admission is a steep ¥1500, but includes admission to the Mori Art Museum.
- The Rainbow Bridge linking Tokyo to Odaiba is another good option, if you don't mind traffic noise and smell. The bridge's pedestrian walkways (open until 20:00 at night) are free, and the night-time view across Tokyo Bay is impressive.
- The Bunkyo Civic Center next to the Tokyo Dome, dubbed by one newspaper as a "colossal Pez candy dispenser", has a free observation deck on the 25th floor offering an iconic view of Shinjuku against Mt. Fuji on a clear day.
The city is dotted with museums, large and small, which center on every possible interest from pens to antique clocks to traditional and modern arts. Many of the largest museums are clustered around Ueno. At ¥500 to ¥1,000 or more, entrance fees can add up quickly.
Riding Sky Bus Tokyo, an open-top double-decker operated by Hinomaru Limousine (every hour between 10:00 and 18:00), is a good option to take a quick tour around the city center. The 45 minutes bus ride on the "T-01 course" will take you around the Imperial Palace via Ginza and Marunouchi district, showing the highlight of Tokyo's shopping and business center. The fare is ¥1,500 for adults of 12 years old and over, and ¥700 for children between 4 and 11 years old. You can borrow a multi-language voice guide system free of charge upon purchasing a ticket, subject to stock availability. Four other bus courses are offered, including a night trip to Odaiba, but those trips are conducted in Japanese with no foreign language guidance.
Other tour companies catering to foreign tourists offer bus tours with English guidance – JTB is an excellent example.
- Eat a sushi breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market.
- Take a boat ride on the Sumida River from Asakusa.
- Lose yourself in the dazzling neon jungle outside major train stations in the evenings. Shibuya and east Shinjuku at night can make Times Square or Piccadilly Circus look rural in comparison — it has to be seen to be believed.
- Enjoy a soak in a local "sento" or public bath. Or one of the onsen theme parks such as LaQua at the Tokyo Dome (Bunkyo) or Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba.
- Go to an amusement park such as Tokyo Disney Resort, which consists of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea which are Asia's most visited and second most visited theme parks respectively, or the more Japanese Sanrio Puroland (in Tama), home to more Hello Kitties than you can imagine.
- Join and bar hop or pub crawl along with events groups in Roppongi,
- Check out the hip and young crowd at Harajuku's Takeshita-Dori (Takeshita Street) or the more grown up Omotesando.
- In the spring, take a boatride in Kichijoji's lovely Inokashira Park, and afterwards visit the Ghibli Studios Museum (well known for their amazing movies, like Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke), but you will need to buy tickets for these in advance at a Lawson convenience store.
- Take the Yurikamome elevated train across the bay bridge from Shimbashi station to the bayside Odaiba district, and go on the giant ferris wheel — the largest in the world until recently.
- Watch a baseball game, namely the Yomiuri Giants at the Tokyo Dome, or the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at Jingu Stadium. Nearby Chiba hosts the Chiba Lotte Marines.
- Take a stroll through the Imperial Palace's East Gardens (open to the public daily at 09:00, except Fridays and Mondays).
- Have a picnic in a park during the cherry blossom (Sakura). Unfortunately Sakura only lasts for about a week in Spring. But be warned, parks are usually very crowded during this time.
- Join a local for a short lunch or dinner homestay with Nagomi Visit's home visit program or participate in their cooking classes.
- Sanja Matsuri (三社祭), third weekend in May. Tokyo's largest festival, held near Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, this three-day extravaganza sees up to 2 million people turn out to watch the parade of portable shrines (mikoshi) with music, dancing and geisha performances.
- Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival (隅田川花火大会 Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai), fourth Saturday in July. Huge fireworks competition that sees up to a million people line the banks of the Sumida River.
The curious can study traditional culture such as tea ceremony, calligraphy, or martial arts such as Karate, Judo, Aikido and Kendo. There are also many language schools to help you work on your Japanese. Several universities in Tokyo cater to international students at the undergraduate or graduate level.
- Keio University (慶應義塾大学 Keiō Gijuku Daigaku), . Japan's top private university (unless you ask a Waseda student). Established in the samurai days of yore and has a stuffier rep than Waseda, with alumni including former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. Main campus in Mita.
- Sophia University (上智大学 Jōchi Daigaku), . A prestigious private, Jesuit university well known for its foreign language curriculae and large foreign student population. Main campus in Yotsuya.
- Tokyo Institute of Technology (東京工業大学 Tōkyō Kōgyo Daigaku), . Tokyo's top technical university. Main campus in Ookayama.
- University of Tokyo (東京大学 Tōkyō Daigaku), . Japan's uncontested number one university, especially strong in law, medicine and literature. For locals, passing the entrance exams is fiendishly difficult, but exchange students can enter much more easily. Five campuses are scattered around the city, but the main campus is in Hongo.
- Waseda University (早稲田大学 Waseda Daigaku), . Japan's top private university (unless you ask a Keio student), famous as a den of artists and partiers. Former prime minister Yasuo Fukuda is an alum. Main campus in Waseda.
Teaching English (or to a lesser extent, other foreign languages) is still the easiest way to work in Tokyo, but the city also offers more work options than other areas of the country: everything from restaurant work to IT. Certain nationalities are eligible for working holiday visas: for others, work permits can be very hard to come by without a job offer from a Japanese company. Consult your local Japanese consulate/embassy as far in advance as possible.
If it is for sale anywhere in the world, you can probably buy it in Tokyo. Tokyo is one of the fashion and cosmetic centers in the Eastern world. Items to look for include electronics, funky fashions, antique furniture and kimono, as well as specialty items like Hello Kitty goods, anime and comics and their associated paraphernalia. Tokyo has some of the largest electronic industries in the world, such as Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba etc.
Cash payment is the norm. Most Japanese ATMs do not accept foreign cards, but post office, 7-Eleven and Citibank ones do and usually have English menus as well (more recently, Mitsubishi-UFJ has opened its ATMs to UnionPay and Discover card users, while Mitsui-Sumitomo allows the use of UnionPay cards for a ¥75 surcharge regardless of time of day). Although credit cards are more and more widely accepted, they are far less widespread than in most other developed countries. The crime rate is very low, so don't be afraid of carrying around wads of cash as the Japanese do. The average Japanese citizen will carry a month's worth of expenses on them (around ¥40,000 give or take). See Buy under Japan. for general caveats regarding electronics and media compatibility.
There are numerous convenience stores throughout Tokyo, which are open around the clock and sell not only food and magazines, but also daily necessities such as underwear and toiletries. Supermarkets are usually open until 22:00, while drugstores and department stores usually close at 21:00.
Anime and manga
Akihabara, Tokyo's Electric Town, is now also the unquestioned center of its otaku community, and the stores along Chuo-dori are packed to the rafters with anime (animation) and manga (comics). Another popular district for all things manga/anime is the Nakano ward and its Broadway Shopping arkade. Check out the mandarake shop for loads of used and rare mangas.
In recent years there has been an "otaku boom" in Akihabara. A lot of attention in particular was paid to the town thanks to the popular Japanese drama "Densha Otoko", a (true) love story about an otaku who saves a woman from a molester on a train and their subsequent courtship.
Akihabara was previously known for its many live performances and cosplayers, some of which had drawn negative attention due to extremist performers. These have become increasingly scarce following the Akihabara massacre in 2008, although girls in various maid costumes can still be seen standing along the streets handing out advertisement fliers to passers by for Maid Cafes.
Serious collectors should head for the Antique Mall in Ginza or the Antique Market in Omotesando, which despite the rustic names are collections of small very specialist shops (samurai armor, ukiyo-e prints, etc.) with head-spinning prices. Mere mortals can venture over to Nishi-Ogikubo, where you can pick up scrolls of calligraphy and such for a few thousand yen.
Jinbocho is to used books what Akihabara is to electronics. It's clustered around the Jinbocho subway stop. The Blue Parrot is another shop located at Takadanobaba on the Yamanote line, just two stops north of Shinjuku.
Cameras and electronics
Ever since Sony and Nikon became synonymous with high-tech quality, Tokyo has been a favored place for buying electronics and cameras. Though the lines have blurred since the PC revolution, each has its traditional territory and stores: Akihabara has the electronics stores, including a large number of duty-free shops specializing in export models, and Shinjuku has the camera stores. Unfortunately, local model electronics are not cheap, but the export models are similar to what you'll pay back home. you can sometimes find cheap local models if you avoid big shops and check smaller retailers. It's also surprisingly difficult to find certain things e.g. games machines.
Department stores and exclusive boutiques stock every fashion label imaginable, but for global labels prices in Tokyo are typically higher than anywhere else in the world. The famous Ginza and Ikebukuro's giant Seibu and Tobu department stores (the largest in the world) are good hunting grounds. Recently, Roppongi Hills has emerged as a popular area for high-end shopping, with many major global brands. Other department stores in Tokyo are Mitsukoshi, Sogo, Marui (OIOI), and Takashimaya. Mitsukoshi is Japan's biggest department store chain. Its anchor store is in Nihonbashi. Marui Men store in Shinjuku has eight floors of high-end fashion for men only.
The district for this is Kappabashi Street near Asakusa, also known as “Kitchen Town.” The street is lined with stores selling all kinds of kitchen wares — this is where the restaurants of Tokyo get their supplies. It's also a great place to find cheap Japanese ceramics, not to mention plastic food!
Ochanomizu is to the guitar what Jinbocho is to used books. There, you’ll find what must be the world’s densest collection of guitar shops. Plenty of other musical instruments (though not traditional Japanese ones) are also available.
For touristy Japanese knickknacks, the best places to shop are Nakamise in Asakusa and the Oriental Bazaar in Omotesando, which stock all the kitschy things like kanji-emblazoned T-shirts, foreigner-sized kimonos, ninja outfits for kids and ersatz samurai swords that can be surprisingly difficult to find elsewhere. Both also have a selection of serious antiques for the connoisseur, but see also Antiques above.
Bustling open-air bazaars in the Asian style are rare in Tokyo, except for Ueno's Ameyoko, a legacy of the postwar occupation. Yanaka Ginza in the Shitamachi Taito district, a very nice example of a neighborhood shopping street, makes for an interesting afternoon browse.
There are often small flea and antique markets in operation on the weekend at major (and minor) shrines in and around Tokyo.
The sheer quantity and variety of food in Tokyo will amaze you. Department stores have food halls, typically in the basement, with food which surpasses top delicatessans in other world cities. Some basements of train stations have supermarkets with free taste testers. It's a great way to sample some of the strange dishes they have for free. Tokyo has a large number of restaurants, so see the main Japan guide for the types of food you will encounter and some popular chains. Menus are often posted outside, so you can check the prices. Some shops have the famous plastic food in their front windows. Don't hesitate to drag the waiting staff out to the front to point at what you want. Always carry cash. Many restaurants will not accept credit cards.
Tokyo has literally tens of thousands of restaurants representing more or less every cuisine in the world, but it also offers a few unique local specialties. Within Japan, Tokyo cuisine is best known for 3 dishes: sushi, tempura, and unagi (freshwater eel). Nigirizushi (fish pressed onto rice), known around the world around simply as "sushi," in fact originates from Tokyo, and within Japan is known as Edo-mae zushi (Edo-style sushi). Another is monjayaki (もんじゃ焼き), a gooey, cabbage-filled version of okonomiyaki that uses a very thin batter to achieve a sticky, caramelized consistency. It is originally from the Tsukishima area of Chuo and today there are many restaurants near Asakusa offering monjayaki.
- Hot Pepper Available in various editions, by region, around Tokyo, this free magazine offers a guide to local restaurants in Japanese but provides pictures and maps to the restaurants. Some restaurants even offer coupons. Most restaurants within this magazine are on the mid-range to high end scale.
Go to a convenience store (konbini), there is one on every second corner. Really, the options may surprise you. You can get rice balls (onigiri), bread-rolls, salads, prepared foods (like nikuman and oden), and drinks (both hot and cold) for ¥100-150, bentō lunch boxes for around ¥500 and sandwiches for ¥250-350. At most convenience stores, microwaves are available to heat up your food for no additional cost. Supermarkets (sūpā) are usually cheaper and offer a wider choice, but are more difficult to find. (Try Asakusa and the sidestreets of Ueno's Ameyoko market for local—not big chain—supermarkets.) Also, ¥100 shops (hyaku-en shoppu) have become very common, and most have a selection of convenient, ready to eat items. There are ¥100 shops near most minor train stations, and usually tucked away somewhere within two or three blocks of the big stations. In particular, look for the "99" and "Lawson 100" signs; these chains are essentially small grocery stores.
Also, look for bentō shops like Hokka-Hokka-Tei which sell take-out lunch boxes. They range in quality and cost, but most offer good, basic food at a reasonable price. This is what students and office workers often eat.
Noodle shops, curry shops, and bakeries are often the best option for people eating on the cheap. They are everywhere. The noodle bars on every corner are great for filling up and are very cheap at ¥200–1000. You buy your meal ticket from a vending machine at the door with pictures of the dishes and hand it to the serving staff. The one question you will typically have to answer for the counterman is whether you want soba (thin brown buckwheat) or udon (thick white wheat) noodles. Some offer standing room only with a counter to place your bowl, while others have limited counter seating. During peak times, you need to be quick as others will be waiting.
Fast food is available just about everywhere, including many American chains like McDonald's and KFC. But if you are visiting Japan from overseas, and wish to sample Japanese fast food, why not try MOS Burger, Freshness Burger, Lotteria, or First Kitchen? If you're looking for something more Japanese, try one of the local fast food giants, Matsuya, Yoshinoya, and Sukiya, which specialize in donburi: a giant bowl of meat, rice, and vegetables, sometimes with egg thrown in for good measure, starting at below ¥300 for the flagship gyūdon (beef bowl). Another good option is oyako don (chicken and egg bowl, literally “mother and child bowl”), which the somewhat smaller chain Nakau specializes in. Drinking water or hot ocha (Japanese green tea) is usually available at no extra cost. There are also a number of tempura chains, with some budget options. More upscale but still affordable and rather more interesting, is Ootoya, which serves up a larger variety of home-style cooking for under ¥1000. Yayoi-ken is a chain of eateries serving teishoku, complete set meals: buy a ticket from the machine, and you'll get miso soup, main course (fish or meat, often with vegetables), rice (bottomless, just ask for refills), a small hunk of fresh tofu, pickles and tea, and still be left with some change from your ¥1000.
Raw fish enthusiasts are urged to try kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi), where the prices can be very reasonable. Prices do depend on the color of the plate, however, and some items are very expensive, so be sure to check before they start to pile up.
A great option for a quick bite or for groups is yakitori (grilled chicken) – individual skewers are often below ¥100.
Many of the larger train and subway stations have fast, cheap eateries. Around most stations, there will be ample choices of places to eat, including chain coffeeshops (which often serve sandwiches, baked goods, and pasta dishes), yakitori places, and even Italian restaurants.
There are a great many excellent and affordable lunch choices in busier neighborhoods like Shibuya and Shinjuku, especially during the week – expect to spend about ¥1000 (without drinks) for a meal.
By tradition the basement of almost any department store, including Mitsukoshi, Matsuzakaya, or Isetan, is devoted to the depachika (デパ地下), a huge array of small shops selling all kinds of prepared take-out food. You can assemble a delicious if slightly pricey picnic here – or, if you're feeling really cheap, just go around eating free samples! The very largest department stores are Tobu and Seibu in Ikebukuro, but Shibuya, Ginza and in fact any major Tokyo district will have their fair share. Shinjuku Station is home to several famous department stores, such as the Keio and Odakyu department stores. Many stores begin discounting their selections at about 19:00 each night. Look for signs and stickers indicating specific yen value or percentage discounts. You will often see half-price stickers which read 半値 (hanne). This discounting is also common at supermarkets located at the smaller stations, although the quality may be a notch or two down from the department stores, it's still perfectly edible.
The ubiquitous izakaya, a cross between a pub and a casual restaurant, invariably serve a good range of Japanese dishes and can be good places to fill up without breaking the bank: in most, an evening of eating and drinking won't cost more than around ¥3000 per person. See Drink for details.
There is a great variety of restaurants serving Tokyo’s world-famous sushi at every price point, with fish fresh from Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market. It is possible to get sushi for as little as ¥100/piece or less (at chain stores), or spend upwards of ¥10,000 yen (at elegant Ginza restaurants), but a typical spend is ¥3000–¥4000, depending on selection (drinks extra). Usually omakase (chef’s choice) gives a good deal and selection, to which you can add a piece or two a la carte if desired. A popular choice with tourists is a sushi breakfast at Tsukiji, particularly for one’s jet-lagged first morning, or after a night out partying. Most sushi shops in the outer market of Tsukiji open at 8 or 9AM, though there are some 24-hour shops, and particularly popular are two small stores in the inner market that open before 6AM and feature market ambience and very long queues; see Chuo: Mid-range dining.
The best-known tempura chain is Tsunahachi, where depending on the store you can pay from below ¥1000 for lunch to over ¥6000 for dinner.
A classic modern Japanese dish is tonkatsu (“pork cutlet”), and there are good Tokyo options; the fattier loin (ロース “roast”) is generally considered tastier than the leaner fillet (hire ヒレ). The most famous restaurant is Tonki, right by Meguro station (1-1-2 Shimo-Meguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo), serving a standard meal at about ¥1600, dinner only (from 4PM). While it is an institution with a loyal clientele (and frequent lines), and decidedly has atmosphere (similar to an established New York deli), the food gets mixed reviews, and is less succulent than other options – an interesting experience, however. Next most famous is the chain Maisen (まい泉), which serves delicious if somewhat expensive tonkatsu (various varieties and seasonal options) at many locations in Tokyo, most notably at their flagship shop in Aoyama by Omotesandō station (Jingumae 4-8-5, closing at 7PM). The top-end dish is Okita Kurobuta (Berkshire pork by Mr. Okita), at ¥3,800 for a meal, though they have cheaper options. A modern option is Butagumi, at Nishi-Azabu 2-24-9 (west of Roppongi station), serving a variety of premium pork brands expertly prepared.
Tokyo also has a large number of Korean restaurants, generally midrange, and many yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurants are Korean-influenced.
Tokyo has the world's highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants, with prices to match. For upmarket Japanese eats, Ginza is guaranteed to burn a hole in your wallet, with Akasaka and Roppongi Hills close behind. Top-end restaurants are primarily Japanese, with a few French. Beyond sushi, Japanese contemporary, and tempura, kaiseki and kappō cuisine are also high-end specialities. You can limit the damage considerably by eating fixed lunch sets instead of dinner, as this is when restaurants cater to people paying their own meals instead of using the company expense account.
There are currently four 3-star sushi restaurants in Tokyo, of which the most famous internationally is Sukiyabashi Jiro (home), due to the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi; reservations must be made on the 1st day of the preceding month, as they book up that day, and dinner is from ¥30,000. The cheapest of these top sushi restaurants is Saitō Sushi (+81 3 3589 4412), where a small lunch can be had for as little as ¥5,000.
The party never stops in Tokyo (at least in the karaoke bars), and you will find good little bars and restaurants everywhere.
The most Japanese way to spend a night out as an individual or in a small group would be at Japanese-style watering holes called izakaya (居酒屋), which offer food and drink in a convivial, pub-like atmosphere (see Japan for details). Cheaper chain izakaya like Tsubohachi (つぼ八) and Shirokiya (白木屋) usually have picture menus, so ordering is simple, even if you don't know Japanese – but don't be surprised if some places have Japanese only touchscreen ordering systems.
Another common option, which is often unbelievable to non-Japanese ears, is “all you can drink” (nomihōdai, 飲み放題), where you can drink all you want from a fixed menu for 90 minutes or 120 minutes. This is aimed at group parties, and is generally paired with a meal, often “all you can eat” (tabehōdai, 食べ放題), often in a private room. There are also a number of cheap bars where you can get a drink for ¥300 or even cheaper.
Tokyo’s most distinctive drink is Hoppy (hoppi, ホッピー), a virtually non-alcoholic beer-flavored drink (0.8% alcohol), which is drunk by mixing with shōchū (at 25%) at a 5:1 ratio, yielding an about 5% alcohol drink, essentially a substitute beer. This is available in older izakaya and has experienced a retro revival of late, though it is not particularly tasty. Another distinctively Tokyo drink is Denki Bran (電気ブラン, “electric brandy”), a herb-flavored brandy available (to drink in or in bottles) at the Kamiya bar (神谷バー) in Asakusa, right at the main intersection by the metro station.
The major brands of beer are widely available, typically ¥500–¥800 per glass or bottle, but microbrews and foreign beer are only rarely available and often very expensive. You’re generally better off getting bottles of microbrews at speciality stores. Popeye in Ryōgoku is a rare exception, with 70 beers on tap! Another popular choice is Beer Station at Ebisu, serving a variety of Yebisu beers and matching German food.
For a splurge on a beverage or two, Western Shinjuku's Park Hyatt Tokyo houses the New York Bar on level 52. Providing stunning views day and night across Tokyo, it was also the setting for the movie Lost in Translation. Cocktails here start around ¥1400 – single malt whiskies are upwards of ¥2000. Amazing cocktails, served in “tasting flights” of 4 or 6 drinks, are made by Gen Yamamoto at his bar in Azabu-Jūban, at about ¥6000 for 6 drinks (a la carte cocktails are available in larger pours for ¥1600–¥1800).
Visiting clubs and western-style night spots can get expensive, with clubs and live houses enforcing weekend cover charges in the ¥2000–5000 bracket (usually including a drink coupon or two).
If you're new in town, Roppongi has establishments which specialize in serving foreigners – but it's also overflowing with foreigners, hostesses, and 'patrons' who will continually hassle you to visit their gentlemen's clubs, where drinks cost ¥5000 and up. Many Japanese and foreigners avoid this area, preferring the clubs and bars in Shibuya instead, or trendy Ginza, Ebisu, or Shinjuku.
The Hub, a chain of British-style pubs, has branches in Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Roppongi (as well as near most major stations) and is reasonably priced and popular among foreigners and Japanese alike. Other British/Irish pubs can be found in Roppongi, Shinjuku and Shibuya. Expect to pay around ¥1000 a pint, although happy hours can reduce this by a few hundred yen.
In Shibuya, the bar area behind 109 (not 109-2) and next to Dogenzaka ("Love Hotel Hill") has a large number of clubs. Unlike those in Roppongi and Shibuya's Gas Panic, these clubs have entrance fees, but clubs without entrance fees often hassle you all night to buy drinks which ends up just as expensive and without people who are actually there to enjoy the music. Shinjuku is home to Kabukicho, Japan's largest red-light district. Also in Shinjuku is the gay bar district of Shinjuku-nichome. A little further from the city center are Shimokitazawa, Koenji and Nakano, full of good bars, restaurants and "live houses" offering underground/indie music popular with students and 20/30-somethings.
There are thousands of hotels in the Tokyo area, ranging from cheap to very expensive. They are distributed throughout the city, with some of the high end and the low end almost everywhere. Many Western-style hotels, especially those affiliated with American hotel chains, have English-speaking staff.
Much of Tokyo's budget accommodation can be found in the Taito area, especially Asakusa and Ueno. But if you are not afraid of being a little bit off-center, you may have a look to the surroundings: Yokohama, etc.
Do note that most of the cheap accommodations in the Taito area (near JR Minami-senjuu) have curfew times around 22:00 to 23:00, so be sure to check that in advance if it bothers you. One hotel that does not have a curfew is Kangaroo Hotel, rooms starting at ¥3200. There's also Economy Hotel Hoteiya, rooms starting at ¥2700.
Capsule hotels are generally the cheapest option. They may be reluctant to play host to foreigners as there are quite a few rules of behavior which may be difficult to explain; see the Japan article for the full scoop. Most capsule hotels are men-only. Akihabara Capsule Inn is among the very few to have women-only floors.
24-hour comic book library/internet cafes known as manga kisa, are common in Tokyo. This is one of the cheapest ways to crash if you miss your last train and need to wait for the early morning transit service to get started. No bed, but you have a comfy chair and a PC and/or DVDs if you can't sleep. Later in the evening, karaoke boxes often offer discounted prices for the whole night, they usually have a couch you can sleep on. Most of these cyber cafes charge ¥1500–2500 for 8 hours.
One of the cheapest ways to stay can be also a youth hostel, prices start at ¥1200, e.g. in the Shinjuku area.
If you are truly on a budget, it is possible to go homeless and camp in public parks, for free. You can do this with a tent, if you want to carry one, and you can also sleep on benches, as exhausted salarymen and students do. It is also possible to do this all over Japan ; by doing nojuku (as the Japanese call it) and eating in convenience stores or making your own sandwiches from the food you buy in supermarkets, you can stay in Tokyo for around the same price as it would cost you in Kathmandu, Nepal !
There is a wide range of choices in hotels while at Tokyo, most of the hotels are rated 3 stars or more. Tokyo is among most of the other cities when it comes to hotels because their services and hotel locations are the best of the best.
Keep an eye out for what is called a business hotel. The rooms are usually tiny, but they are conveniently located near stations and rates start from around ¥6000. Staff may speak minimal English, but it's not too hard to figure out. These are the best options for solo travelers. Affordable chains found throughout Tokyo include Tokyu Stay, which offers free internet access and breakfast, Chisun and Sunroute.
Tokyo has some self-proclaimed ryokan (Japanese inns) that cater largely to foreign tourists, mostly concentrated around Ueno and Asakusa. While not as opulent as the real thing, they offer a sample of Japanese home life at affordable rates.
Japan's infamous love hotels can be a reasonable (and interesting) option in Tokyo. Shibuya's Dogenzaka ("Love Hotel Hill") offers the widest selection in the city. If you're really going to spend the night, be sure to check in for a "stay" rather than a "rest". Be warned that some love hotels (at least around Shinjuku) have a 'No Japanese, no stay' policy, presumably to avoid confusion over billing; others lock you into your room until you pay into a slot by the door to leave.
If you plan to stay more than one week, you can try Weekly-Mansion Tokyo. These are flats you can rent for short periods of time for affordable prices. Rates are around ¥5000 per day for one person or a little more for two people. Sometimes you can find deals for as low as ¥4000 per day (Various promotional deals are available for online reservations). You can also make online reservations in English.
You can spend a fortune on accommodation in Tokyo. Most of the high-end international chains are well represented. Particular concentrations of luxury hotels can be found in western Shinjuku (including the Park Hyatt Tokyo, featured in Lost in Translation), around Tokyo station (best here are Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo. Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula Hotel, Imperial Hotel Tokyo, Seiyo Ginza and Four Seasons Marunouchi), and in Akasaka.
Beware of hotels marketing themselves as being located at "Tokyo Bay". At best, this means you'll be in or near the Odaiba district, built on reclaimed land half an hour away from the city center; at worst, you'll end up somewhere on the coast of the adjacent prefecture of Chiba, which is handy for visiting Tokyo Disneyland but quite inconvenient for touring Tokyo itself.
- Tokyo Metro About 100 metro (not JR) stations have free Wi-Fi, with SSID "Metro_Free_Wi-Fi" or "Toei_Subway_Free_Wi-Fi", email registration necessary.
- 7 SPOT (Japanese Website) Seven-Eleven convenience stores and Dennys restaurants offer Free Wifi service. "7SPOT" to take advantage of member registration (free) can be used for up to 60 minutes per one login is required, you can access up to three times a day. Registration Page(Japanese)
- FreeSpot FreeSpot offering free wireless Internet access, check out their maps of service areas
- Free Wi-Fi Japan Visitors to Japan can use NTT East Free Wi-Fi for up to 14 days, completely free of charge, on presentation of your passport. You can enjoy free Wi-Fi in half of Japan through just one ID.
- HOTSPOT NTT Communications WiFi Service. ¥500/24h
Good connections are available at Internet cafes everywhere. Expect to pay ¥400-¥500 per hour. "Gera Gera" is a popular chain. Paid WiFi service is also taking off in Tokyo with reasonable coverage – at a price. WiFi services are probably not convenient for those just visiting.
If you bring your own computer with a WLAN card, it is possible to find wireless connections in fast food outlets like McDonald's or Mos Burger. You also have a good chance to find a connection in one of the numerous coffee shops. Just look for a wireless connection sign in the front window or computers within the shop. Note that free wireless is not nearly as prevalent in Japan as it is in the West.
Foreigners are forbidden from buying disposable "burner" mobile phones and SIM cards, but it is possible to rent mobile phones, SIM Cards, and portable wifi hotspots.
- Rentafone Japan Rents basic mobile phones with texting, calling, and mobile internet service.
- eConnect Rents "WiFi-To-Go" mobile hot spots, for ¥ 432 - 1,080 / day and prepaid data-only SIM Cards lasting as long as 30 days.
Tokyo is probably one of the safest big cities you will ever visit, and Japan in general is one of the safest places to visit in the world. Most people, including single female travellers, would not encounter any problems walking along the streets alone at night. Street crime is extremely rare, even late at night, and continues to decrease. However, "little crime" does not mean "no crime", and common sense should still be applied as anywhere in the world. Often the biggest risk is travellers taking Japan's visibly apparent lack of crime too close to heart and doing things they would never do back home.
The most common crime is sexual harassment on crowded trains, pressed up against each other, hands wander. This is more of a local problem as westerners are considered more aggressive and would stick up for themselves. The best way to deal with any wandering hands is to yell "Chikan!" which is the Japanese term for "pervert".
Small police stations, or kōban (交番), can be found every few blocks. If you get lost or need assistance, by all means go to them; it's their job to help you! They have great maps of the surrounding area, and are happy to give directions. They may, however, have difficulties with English, so some knowledge of the Japanese language helps.
Take the usual precautions against pickpockets in crowded areas and trains. Also be aware that theft is more likely to occur in hangouts and bars popular with travellers and non-residents.
The red-light and nightlife districts can be a bit seedy, but are rarely dangerous. Note some small, back-street drinking establishments in red-light districts have been known to charge extortionate prices. Similar problems exist in the seedier upscale clubs in Roppongi, where it may be wise to check cover charges and drink prices in advance.
Still in a jam? Call Tokyo English Life Line, tel. 03-5774-0992, daily 09:00-23:00.
If you make it as far out as the Izu Islands, note that visitors to Miyakejima Island are currently required to carry a gas mask, due to volcanic gases. Those in poor health are advised against travelling to the island. In addition, Tokyo, like the rest of Japan is at risk for earthquakes.
- Tokyo Metropolitan Health and Medical Information Center, ☎ +81 3-5285-8181. 09:00-20:00. Information about medical institutions as well as about the medical and health insurance system in Japan.
- Emergency Translation Services, ☎ +81 3-5285-8185. Weekdays:17:00-20:00,Weekends and Holidays:09:00-20:00. Interpretation service through phone is also available for foreign patients visiting a hospital if their treatment is not going to be carried out smoothly because of language difficulty. (for medical purpose.English/Chinese/Korean/Thai/Spanish)
- Kinder-Network, ☎ +81 3-6415-8271, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Babysitters, ☎ +81 45-507-1888, e-mail: email@example.com;.
From Tokyo, the entire surrounding Kanto region is your oyster. Particularly popular destinations nearby include:
- Hakone — for hot springs and views of Mount Fuji
- Kamakura — home to dozens of small temples and one Big Buddha
- Nikko — grandiose shrine and burial site of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu
- Odawara — houses the only Japanese castle in greater Tokyo area
- Tokyo Disney Resort — with Tokyo Disneyland (just like the ones everywhere else) and Tokyo Disney Sea (an only-in-Japan theme park which includes some unique rides and some imported rides from Disney parks outside of Japan)
- Yokohama — Japan's second-largest city and a suburb of Tokyo
The Tokyo area also has some less-famous destinations that are easy day trips from central Tokyo:
- Ashikaga — historical hometown of a famous shogun clan
- Hachioji — a refreshing climb up Mt. Takao through a forest to a shrine and beer garden
- Kawasaki — home to the Nihon Minka-En park with 24 ancient farmhouses (more interesting than it sounds), not to mention the annual Festival of the Iron Penis (Kanamara Matsuri)
- Kinugawa — Onsen town in Nikko, home to Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura, a theme park set in the Edo period with shows, ninja, samurai, geisha, et al., in a beautiful mountain setting
- Fujino — a small town popular with locals and foreigners alike who are interested in the arts and enjoy beautiful scenery
And don't forget the islands to the south of Tokyo:
- Izu Islands — easily accessible seaside and hot spring getaways
- Ogasawara Islands — 1000 km away from big-city bustle, for whale watching, diving and those who want to get away from it all
|Routes through Tokyo|
|Niigata ← Ōmiya ←||N S||→ END|
|Aomori ← Ōmiya ←||N S||→ END|
|Osaka ← Shin-Yokohama ←||W E||→ END|
|Nagoya ← Hachioji ←||W E||→ END|
|END ←||W E||→ Ichikawa → Narita|
|Iwaki ← Misato ←||N S||→ END|
|Nagaoka ← Tokorozawa ←||N S||→ END|
|Aomori ← Urawa ←||N S||→ END|
|Nagoya ← Kawasaki ←||W E||→ END|