Tokyo

Travel Guide Asia Japan Honshu Kanto Tokyo

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Introduction

Shinjuku Monk - Tokyo, Japan

Shinjuku Monk - Tokyo, Japan

© jwongyboy

Tokyo, a bustling metropolis aglow with neon lights, is an image of the throughly modern Japan. With almost 38 million people living in Tokyo and the surrounding urban area, the Greater Tokyo Area is the largest metropolitan area in the world. While this large number of inhabitants can be overwhelming for the traveller at first, especially if trying to take a train at rush hour, Tokyo is one of the safest large cities to travel in. And while Tokyo may seem all glass, steel and neon at first, digging deep can reveal treasures from Japan's historic past.

Over 500 years old, the city of Tokyo was once the modest fishing village of Edo (江戸 - literally Gate of the River) due to its location at the mouth of Sumida-gawa. 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.

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Neighbourhoods

The Tokyo metropolis consists of 23 city wards (ku), 26 cities, 5 towns and 8 villages, including the outlying Izu and Ogasawara Islands. Listed below are some of the most popular neighbourhoods for travellers.

Shinjuku - The original boomtown in Tokyo, Shinjuku has some of Tokyo's earliest skyscrapers, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. A centre for shopping, the area boasts many major department stores and electronics stores, and on the east side of Shinjuku Station, the golden gai has many bars and nightclubs, though a number of places are private clubs or don’t allow foreigners inside. Shinjuku Station moves an estimated three million passengers a day, making it the busiest in the world.
Shibuya - Where Tokyo's youth go to shop and show off, offering travellers a chance to people watch and the wild fashions of the Japan's hipster. The scramble crossing outside of the Shibuya station Hachiko exist is the world's busiest street crossing, and nearby is the statue of Hachiko, a dog who met his owner every day at the train station, even after his masters death. The devotion of the dog, who returned every day to the station to wait for 11 years after his masters death inspired the Japanese, and also provides a common meeting place.
Akasaka and Roppongi - Akasaka offers many hotels and restaurants close to the active night life in Roppongi.
Ginza - Where Japan's high end consumers come to do their shopping, Ginza offers department stores, upscale shops selling brand-name goods and some of city's finest and most expense restaurants.
Akihabara - If you want to see bright lights, Akihabara is the place to go. This part of the city is most famous for its numerous electronics stores selling all kinds of gadgets and gizmos. More recently, however, it has become known as the 'otaku' centre of Tokyo. 'Otaku' is basically a sub culture of society made up of both young and old anime and manga lovers. Add to that the maid cafes where gents can go for a cup of coffee while being treated like a king and it's safe to say that Akihabara has firmly placed itself as the capital for animation and electronic fans in Tokyo.

Akihabara (Electric Town)

Akihabara (Electric Town)

© Brenda0308


Harajuku - Harajuku is the centre of teenage culture in Japan.
Odaiba - Odaiba is a futuristic shopping and entertainment district.
Asakusa - The Asakusa district is a good place to get a feel for the "old Tokyo". The main attraction is Sensoji, a 7th century Buddhist temple.

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Sights and Activities

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.

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.

Museums

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.

  • Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo - Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo - A selection of post-World War II works are on display in this museum. Address: 4-1-1 Miyoshi, Koto-ku
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum - Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum - Modern Japanese art is on display in this museum in Ueno Park. Address: 8-36 Ueno Koen
  • Mori Art Museum - Mori Art Museum- Situated on the 53rd floor of Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills, this museum not only offers great shows of emerging and established artists from around the world, but also some excellent views of the city. Address: 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-Ku
  • Edo-Tokyo Museum - Edo-Tokyo Museum - Chronicles the history of Tokyo (known as Edo during the feudal period). Address: 1-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida-ku
  • Tokyo National Museum - Tokyo National Museum - The largest museum of Japanese art in the world, with artefacts ranging from samurai armour and lacquerware to kimono and woodblock prints. Located in Ueno Park. Address: Ueno Park

Shrines and Temples

Nakamise - Tokyo, Japan

Nakamise - Tokyo, Japan

© jwongyboy

  • Sensoji Temple.
  • Meiji Shrine.
  • Sengakuji Temple.
  • Yasukuni Shrine.
  • Zojoji Temple.

Gardens and Parks

  • Rikugien is a Japanese style landscape garden.
  • Koishikawa Korakuen is a Japanese style landscape garden.
  • Hama Rikyu is a Japanese garden along Tokyo Bay.
  • Palace East Gardens is the Imperial Palace's public gardens
  • Ueno Park is a public park containing many of the cities most important museums and the Ueno Zoo.

City Views

In a big city, it’s often a good idea to get yourself up high to get a view of the place. The Tokyo Tower or Tokyo City View, both close to the Akasaka/Roppongi area both offer views, but both cost money. For a free view of the city, head to the Municipal Building to the west of Shinjuku station, where you can get up high and get a view of Tokyo for no cost. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see Mount Fuji, though due to either overcast skies or hazy smog it is becoming increasing rare to see.

Other Attractions

  • Imperial Palace is located in the centre of Tokyo.
  • Tsukiji Fish Market is one of the world's largest fish markets.
  • Ryogoku is the centre of sumo. Grand Sumo Tournaments are held here in January, May and September.
  • Ueno Zoo is home to several pandas.

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Events and Festivals

Traditional Festivals

Japan has countless traditional festivals and holidays. Then when you add the local festivals that number just grows and grows. Here is a list of the few major national traditional festivals.

  • Japanese New Year (January 1) - the most important holiday in Japan. Although there are lots of customs and traditions most of them are done in the private. This is mainly a family holiday and Japan can feel very empty as almost everyone goes home. Travelling in Japan in during this time is difficult because everything is shut down.
  • Seijin No Hi (2nd Monday of January) - the coming of age holiday for Japanese women which 20. Traditionally families will buy any young woman how turned 20 in the last year a kimono. On this day almost all Japanese women will ear a kimono.
  • Hina Festival (March 3) - Also known as doll festival the Hina Matsuri festival is meant for young women. In early February families with daughters put dolls in order to make the women happy and healthy later in life. On Girls Day, on March 3, the dolls are put away until next year.
  • Shichi Go San Festival (November 15 in the old lunar calendar) - Boys who are 3 and 5, and girls 3 and 7 are taken to a Shinto shrine in traditional Japanese dress. The children are brought there to pray for good luck, good health and wealth.

National Holidays

  • Golden Week - Is quite often referred to as the "Japanese Spring Break." It is a combination of many state holidays, including Showa Day, Greenery Day, Children's Day, and Constitution Memorial Day in order to give a full week off. It takes place during the first full week of May. Everyone gets this week off in Japan so it is very bad time to travel because everything is crowded, expensive and most hotels will be full. There is also a major festival in the southern city of Fukuoka this week, it is called Hakata Dontaku.

Local Festivals

  • Daruma Kuyo - "Daruma Kuyo" is a traditional ceremony held after the new year where Daruma dolls are burned at the famous Nishi-Arai Daishi temple. Daruma dolls are a staple fixture in many Japanese homes and businesses; they symbolize the hoped-for good fortune Japanese families or businesses intend to experience in the new year and are often given as gifts. For Daruma Kuyo, thousands bring their dolls to the temple, where they offer blessings and gratitude for what occurred over the past year. Buddhist monks lead a lighting ceremony with traditional chants and prayers, and then the dolls are burned, symbolizing the end of a year. At that point, new dolls are purchased, and positive intentions are set for the upcoming year. The event is held the first weekend after the New Years celebrations have commenced.
  • Sakura Matsuri (01 Mar 2014 - 30 Apr 2014) - Sakura Matsuri is very popular festival held during March and April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Visitors can anticipate "hanami" (blossom viewing) parties, dancing, music, and many different kinds of food vendors. Some popular viewing locations are the Chidori-ga-fuchi Moat, Aoyama Cemetary, Sumida Park, Kaomonyama Park, Yoyogi Park, Ueno Park, and the Yasukuni Shrine.
  • Tokyo International Anime Fair - The Tokyo International Anime Fair is one of the largest animation-related events in the world. It is attended by over 250 Japanese and foreign tv and film production companies, as well as toy, game and software developers.
  • Sanja Festival - Sanja Festival is held the third weekend every May and is one of Tokyo's most important festivals, dating back to the the Edo period (1603-1868). During the festival, more than a hundred portable shrines (mikoshi) are paraded around the streets by residents near the Asakusa Shrine.
  • Fuji Matsuri or "Wisteria Festival" - Fuji Matsuri is held every April and located at the Kameido-tenjin shrine in Koto-ku, when the wisterias bloom in late April- beginning of May.
  • Kurayami Matsuri - Kurayami Matsuri or "Midnight darkness festival" is held every May in Okunitama Jinja. During this four-day festival, the city illuminates with evening events including horse races, lantern parades, and fireworks.
  • Sanno Matsuri - Sanno Matsuri is held every other June and is organized by Hie Jinja in Chiyoda-ku. About 300 people dressed in ancient costumes parade through the heart of Tokyo. The procession departs from Hie-jinja Shrine at 8 o'clock in the morning does not return to the shrine until early in the evening.
  • Tokyo International Film Festival - Tokyo International Film Festival is held every October. This star-studded event is one of Asia's most competitive film festivals.
  • Tokyo Bay Fireworks - The Tokyo Bay Fireworks show is held the second Saturday of every August. It's an extravagant display of fireworks that launch just north of the Rainbow Bridge.
  • Awaodori Koenji (31 Aug 2013 - 01 Sep 2013) - One of the most famous summer festivals in Japan, the Awaodori main event happens on the Shikoku isle in the south of Japan but during the last weekend of August it happens in Koenji center of Tokyo. It is a vivid festival with dance and songs. About 188 groups (ren), 12,000 dancers perform Awa dance to lively music and parades even if it's raining. The atmosphere is very festive and after the parade it continues around the streets where people eat Yakitori. Address: Tran station: Koenji it just beside., Hours: From 5:00pm

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Weather

Tokyo lies in the temperate zone, with hot humid summers, chilly winters and mild springs and falls. Summers are wetter than winters. Snowfall is only sporadic, but does occur each year. Average temperatures are between 25 °C and 30 °C from June to September with warm nights, around 20 °C. Winters from December to February are around 10 degrees during the day, and slightly above zero at night, but sometimes daytime temperatures can stay around zero and snow stays on the ground for some days. In general, March-May and October-November are good times for a visit, but also busy as this is when all the flowers bloom (Spring) or the trees show their beautiful foliage (Autumn).

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max9.9 °C10.4 °C13.3 °C18.8 °C22.8 °C25.5 °C29.4 °C31.1 °C27.2 °C21.8 °C16.9 °C12.4 °C
Avg Min2.5 °C2.9 °C5.6 °C10.7 °C15.4 °C19.1 °C23 °C24.5 °C21.1 °C15.4 °C9.9 °C5.1 °C
Rainfall52.3 mm56.1 mm117.5 mm124.5 mm137.8 mm167.7 mm153.5 mm168.2 mm209.9 mm197.8 mm92.5 mm51 mm
Rain Days4.55.59.99.910.311.410.37.7119.86.84.2

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Getting There

By Plane

There are two main airports: Narita International Airport (code NRT) and Haneda Airport (code: HND). Haneda (officially Tokyo International Airport) offers mainly domestic flights but a growing number of international routes are added. Narita International Airport, in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, is the major gateway for international travelers. Some of the main links with Tokyo Narita include those to/from London, Los Angeles, New York City, Sydney, Paris, Amsterdam, Auckland, Kuala Lumpur, Mexico City, Moscow, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Mumbai, Bangkok, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Dubai, Frankfurt, Cairo, Istanbul, Perth, Copenhagen, Warsaw, Zürich and Hanoi.
Ibaraki Airport (IBR IATA; 茨城空港). In Omitama, Ibaraki, some 85 km north of Tokyo, is aimed squarely at low-cost carriers. Skymark operates domestic flights to Sapporo, Kobe and Okinawa, and Spring Airlines operates daily service to Shanghai. Ibaraki Airport (Q1156420) on Wikidata Ibaraki Airport on Wikipedia edit

To/from Narita

Tokyo Starfish

Tokyo Starfish

© prendy98

  • Rail: From Narita, there are two train lines to Tokyo.

- JR: The Narita Express offers service between the airport and central Tokyo area vary from as little as 53 minutes to 70 minutes depending on the time of departure. The price from the airport to Tokyo station is 3,140 yen in ordinary class.
There're also commuter trains which is a cheaper option. Remember that a JR pass covers the cost of this train.
- Keisei: Keisei's Skyliner limited express travels to Nippori Station in 51 minutes and Keisei Ueno Station in 56 minutes. The price of the Skyliner from Narita Airport to Keisei Ueno Station is 1,920 yen. They're not frequent but there are commuter train services directly between Narita airport and Haneda airport

  • Bus There're limousine bus services from Narita Airport to many places in Tokyo vicinity. Many lines directly goes to big hotels.

Cost is about 3000yen per person. In recent years there are cheap bus services from Narita to Tokyo station whose cost is about 1000yen.

  • taxi service also exists between the airport and Tokyo. However, they are much more expensive. Depending on where you're going, it will cost about 20000-30000yen.

To/from Haneda

  • Rail: Haneda Airport is served by the Keihin Kyuko Railway (Keikyū) and Tokyo Monorail. The monorail has three stations (Haneda Airport Terminal 1 Station, Haneda Airport Terminal 2 Station, and Haneda Airport International Terminal Station); Keikyū operates a single station between the two domestic terminals (Haneda Airport Station) and another station for International Terminal (Haneda Airport International Terminal Station).
  • Keikyū offers trains to Shinagawa Station and Yokohama Station and through service to the Toei Asakusa Line, which makes several stops in eastern Tokyo. Some Keikyū trains also run through to the Keisei Oshiage Line and Keisei Main Line, making it possible to reach Narita International Airport by train. Although a few direct trains run in the morning, a transfer along the Keisei Line is generally necessary to reach Narita.
  • Tokyo Monorail trains run between the airport and Hamamatsuchō Station, where passengers can connect to the Yamanote Line to reach other points in Tokyo, or Keihin Tohoku Line to Saitama, and have a second access option to Narita Airport via Narita Express, Airport Narita, or Sōbu Line (Rapid) Trains at Tokyo Station. Express trains make the nonstop run from Haneda Airport to Hamamatsuchō in 16 minutes. Hamamatsuchō Station is also located adjacent to the Toei Oedo Line Daimon station.
  • The airport can be reached by a the Bayshore Route of the Shuto Expressway and is also accessible from Route 1. Scheduled bus service to various points in the Kanto region is provided by Airport Transport Service and Keihin Express Bus.

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.

By Train

Shinkansen bullet train

Shinkansen bullet train

© GregW

Tokyo is the nerve centre of railways in Japan. High speed Shinkansen services arrive at Tokyo Station (東京駅 Tōkyō-eki) which is 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 2½ 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. The Nozomi trains are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Multiple cities from the north offer direct shinkansen services to Tokyo, including Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Hakodate, Kanazawa, Morioka, Nagano, Nagoya, 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 Bus

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. At Tokyo Station, the main boarding point for buses is at the Yaesu Exit (八重洲口) on the east side. In Shinjuku, nearly all services use the new Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal, abbreviated Busta Shinjuku (バスタ新宿), which is above the JR tracks at Shinjuku Station.

By Car

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. One option that should be considered is cheaper 24-hour parking lots in cities bordering Tokyo. For example, Yashio city's train station in Saitama (prefecture) has hundreds of spaces at 500 yen per day, and is just minutes from Kita-Senju or Akihabara. A car of people can travel by highway at a fraction of the price of each person traveling by train, and can take the last leg by the cheapest train ticket into Tokyo. For groups of 3-5 tourists traveling in Japan, a rental car to or from Tokyo to be returned at the agency counter in another city may prove to be a major chance for savings compared to train or air travel.

By Boat

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 Tokyo Port Ferry Terminal, 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 bus 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.

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Getting Around

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 Line (orange, 中央線 Chūō-sen) and Chuo-Sobu Line (yellow, 中央・総武線 Chūō-Sōbu-sen) 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 (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. That said, staff working at the stations rarely speak much, if any English.

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.

Keep in mind that it is rude to talk on the phone while in the train; you should send text messages instead. When using the escalators, make sure you stand on the left so people in a hurry can pass you on the right.

Fares and hours
Most tickets and passes are sold from automated vending machines. These machines are cash only but do give change. 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 exception of Shinkansen and limited express trains). However, Suica cards can only be refunded by JR East, while PASMO cards can only be refunded by non-JR operators should you wish to return them at the end of your visit. They remain valid for 10 years from the last transaction, so you may also opt to keep them for your next trip.

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 term “fare card” is somewhat of a misnomer; Suica and PASMO are generic stored-value debit cards, which are accepted as payment by other services, from vending machines to some shops. Should you still have leftover balance on your card by the time you're leaving Japan, you can easily spend it at a restaurant or duty-free shop at the airport.) If you are coming from elsewhere in Japan, the smart cards of most other regions, such as Kansai's ICOCA or Hokkaido's Kitaca can be used interchangeably with Suica and PASMO. However, these cannot be refunded in Tokyo, so you will have to go back to their respective regions if you want to get your money back.

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.

Tokyo Subway Pass: One (¥800), Two, Three days pass are available along with other combos.
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 ¥750, 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).

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.

By Bus

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. 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.

By Car

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 80s and 90s 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.

By Taxi

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 were revised in 2017 in an effort to make taxis more attractive for short-distance trips, though longer trips are still very expensive. The fare for the standard taxis starts at ¥410 for the first kilometer, and goes up ¥80 every 237 meters and for every 90 seconds in stopped or slow traffic. A 20% night surcharge is tacked on from 22:00-05:00, and tolls are added for any trips using the expressway.

Here are some daytime fare examples based on Nihon Kotsu's taxi fare estimates (actual fares may vary):

Tokyo Station to Akihabara Station - 2.5 km - ¥1130
Tokyo Station to Shinjuku Station - 8 km - ¥3300
Tokyo Station to Haneda Airport - 16 km - ¥7000 including expressway 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, 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 booking fee payable to the driver at the end of the trip: ¥410 for an immediate hail or ¥820 for an advance booking. 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. If you are hailing a taxi right away, the English receptionist will inform you about your assigned taxi by color, company name and taxi number.

A growing number of companies in Tokyo also offer taxi hails and ride requests by mobile app. Your hotel's front desk can also call a taxi for you, subject to the same booking fees.

By Ferry

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. The super-futuristic Himiko ferry, designed by anime and manga creator Leiji Matsumoto, 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!

By Bicycle

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). 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.

By Foot

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.

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Eat

A resturant in Ginza, Tokyo

A resturant in Ginza, Tokyo

© kenx

Visitors from Western countries may be surprised to find that despite its justified reputation for being an expensive city, eating out in Tokyo can be surprisingly affordable. While fine dining establishments in Tokyo can be some of the most expensive in the world, at the budget end of the spectrum, it is fairly easy to find a basic rice or noodle joint serving up meals starting from ¥300; a price that is unmatched even by McDonald's or other fast food chains in the West.

Tokyo has a large quantity and variety of food. Department stores have food halls, typically in the basement, with food which is comparable to top delicatessans in other world cities (though mostly Japanese and Japanized foreign food). 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 tens of thousands of restaurants representing many cuisines in the world, though sometimes adjusted for local tastes, 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.

Budget

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.). LIFE supermarket is a good place to buy discount food after 8pm. 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 (そば) (thin brown buckwheat) or udon (うどん) (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. Pseudo Chinese-style ramen (ラーメン) (yellow wheat and egg noodles) are a little more expensive and typically sold in specialist shops, with prices starting from ¥400, but are typically served in very flavourful pork or chicken broth that has been boiled overnight. Tokyo is generally known among the Japanese for shoyu ramen, in which soy sauce is used to add flavour to the pork broth.

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.

Mid-range

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 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.

There is a great variety of restaurants serving Tokyo’s world-famous sushi at every price point, with fish fresh from Toyosu, 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, former home of the fish market, 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.

Splurge

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. Tokyo is widely regarded as the spiritual home of a fine style of sushi known as edomae-zushi (江戸前寿司). Besides sushi, Tokyo's fine dining scene also includes Japanese contemporary, tempura and kaiseki. 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. However, Tokyo's fine dining scene is notoriously inaccessible to foreign visitors, as most establishments do not accept reservations from new customers; you will need to be introduced by one of their regular diners in order to dine there. That said, it is possible to book a spot at some of these establishments through your hotel concierge if you do so many months in advance, though only the most expensive luxury hotels will have the necessary clout to do this. Also keep in mind that many fine dining establishments do not accept credit cards, and you will be expected to pay for your meal in cash.

There are four 3-star sushi restaurants in Tokyo, of which the most famous internationally is Sukiyabashi Jiro, 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.

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Drink

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. Receiving the items ordered will depend on how often your servers decide to bring out these items, which means you may be "throttled" to an extent, and may feel less than a true "all you can drink/eat" experience. This depends on the establishment. 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 Kabukichō, 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.

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Sleep

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.

Budget

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.

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 !

Mid-range

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 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.

Splurge

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 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.

You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Language

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 learned 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.

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Work

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.

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Learn

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.

Universities

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.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Manga cafes are dotted along the streets of almost every city in Japan. For a very reasonable price (about ¥100 per 15 minutes), you receive a private cubicle with a PC with internet access at blistering Japanese internet speeds. The chairs are incredibly comfortable (making them an excellent place to sleep for the cash-deprived), and you can even order snacks and drinks from the staff.

A number of business hotels have Internet access available if you have your own device, sometimes for free. It is also possible to find Wi-Fi "hot spots" around many large cities in Japan, especially near tech-related businesses and large corporate buildings with unsecured wireless networks. 3G Wireless Data and Pocket Wifi are other options.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

Payphones (公衆電話 kōshū denwa) are easily found, particularly near train stations, although with the popularity of mobile phones, public pay phones are not quite as numerous as they once were. Gray and green pay phones accept ¥10 and ¥100 coins and prepaid cards. Be aware that not all places with public telephones have phones that accept coins, so it may be worthwhile to buy a phone card for emergency use. Some of the gray phones, as indicated on the display, can make international calls. Pre-paid cards can be purchased at convenience stores, train station kiosk stores and sometimes in vending machines next to the phone.

Modern Japanese mobile phones (携帯電話 keitai denwa or just keitai) tend to operate on unique cellular standards not always compatible with the rest of the world. 3G phones using the UMTS/WCDMA2100 standard and equipped with a 3G SIM card will most likely work. If your phone is up to spec, double-check with your carrier if they have a roaming agreement with either SoftBank or NTT DoCoMo. Coverage is generally excellent, unless you are heading to some remote mountainous areas. If you have no 3G phone but still have a 3G-compatible SIM card, you can rent a 3G phone in Japan and slot in your card, allowing you to keep your home phone number in Japan. For a longer trip, you can also purchase a phone, but doing this legally requires an Alien Registration Card (or an obliging Japanese friend willing to front for you).

The easier way is to get a prepaid phone. Prepaid phones are sold in most SoftBank and AU stores. If you already have a 3G phone, go with Softbank as it can sell SIMs as opposed to au whose prepaid service is phone-based like most CDMA carriers. Prepaid phones use a "card" with a pass key to "charge" a phone with minutes. These prepaid calling cards, unlike the phone itself, can be found in most convenience stores. A prepaid cell phone is available for as little as ¥5000 plus ¥3000 for a 60-90 day call time package, which will get drained at a rate of ¥100 per minute (¥10 per 6 seconds for AU's prepaid service). Both SoftBank and AU offer prepaid phones.

Post

The Japanese postal service is excellent! Domestic and international mail service is very quick and reliable. The prices for sending letters, postcards and parcels vary depending on where you send if from and to which country you send it too, and of course depends on weight as well, so check this calculation page of Japan Post for more details. Post offices generally are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm on weekdays, closing at weekends and also on national holidays, though a few open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 3:00pm. Central post offices are sometimes open until 7:00pm, open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 5:00pm and on Sundays and holidays from 9:00am to 12:30pm. There are post offices in every major city and minor town. Another thing to remember is that the post office is one of the few places in Japan that is guaranteed to have ATMs that take international cards.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 35.670479
  • Longitude: 139.740921

Accommodation in Tokyo

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Tokyo searchable right here on Travellerspoint.

Contributors

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Tokyo Travel Helpers

This is version 92. Last edited at 22:19 on Dec 7, 19 by SZ. 151 articles link to this page.

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