Tokyo City Guide
Tokyo is the capital of Japan with a population of 13,5 million people. Together with neighbooring cities Yokohama and Kawasaki, Tokyo forms the largest metropolitan area in the world with almost 38 million people living there.
Tokyo grew out of a small fishing village, Edo, first formed in the 12th century. In 1590 it started growing when Shogun Tokugawa, the real ruler of Japan at the time, settled in the city. It became the capital of Japan when the imperial court moved from Kyoto following the Meiji Restoration, in 1869. Already a large city by then, it grew substantially in the 20th century, even after being totally destroyed by Allied bombing raids during the Second World War.
Today Tokyo is a lively, vibrant and interesting city. The city is packed with small bars and restaurants, shrines, parks, shopping districts and sights. I have always had a great time when visiting.
How to Get There
Tokyo has two major airports, Narita and Haneda. I have only flown to and from Narita myself, but I have heard arriving in Haneda is much more convenient. While Narita is some distace away from the city, Haneda is much closer. The city can be reached by train from both airports.
I won’t list too many details here, simply google it and you will find up to date information. I have found google to have good up-to-date information on public transport in Japan.
Tokyo is an extremely easy city to get around in. There are several train and subway companies operating an extensive rail network througout the city. There is always a train station not far away.
JR Rail operates several local train lines in the city, the most famous being the Yamanote line. The Yamanote Line rides in a circle around central Tokyo, taking the hour long ride is a great way to see the city. A Japan Rail Pass works on all JR lines in the city.
Tokyo Metro has a large underground rail network, complementing the JR network. Metro Stations are numerous throughout the city, it is never a problem finding one.
In addition, other companies operate a few other train lines at certain places in the city. All in all, the Tokyo rail network is massive, and heavily used by the local population. Japanese people love trains, as can be seen in this story.
Finding accomodation in Tokyo is easy. There is always talk of a shortage of hotel rooms in the city, I have never found that to be a problem. I have mostly used hotels.com, and most of the time booked my room only the day before. Hotels are usually strict in their check-in time, but they sometimes make exceptions.
Tokyo is a city of many different hotels, from cheap hostels to high end luxury resorts. There are also many capsule hotels in the city, offering a capsule, just big enough for a bed, to sleep in. If all else fails, love hotels usually takes single customers for a night, or you can spend the night in a manga cafe, all-night cafes with a large selection of manga comics and games, and also places to sleep. Sleeping in a bar is of course another option.
Airbnb is also growing in Tokyo, with some uncertainties of its legality. I have used airbnb in Tokyo before, and found it to be a cheap and comfortable option to a hotel. Just make sure your room has air conditioning in the summer.
During my last two trips I have stayed with a friend i met at Fuji Rock Festival 2015, who has a spare bedroom in his apartment. This of course saves me money. When visiting Tokyo in September 2016 I even had a job interview for a job in Sweden in his apartment. Over Skype of course.
Things to see and do in Tokyo
Tokyo is a city that has so much to offer, there is so much to see. It is impossible for me to list them all. My best tip would be to not try to rush through a list of pre-decided sights to see, don’t rush from one sight to another while missing the rest of the city.
Tokyo is such a huge city, there is simply too much to see. Every neighboorhood is different, every neighboorhood has a different feel, different vibe, and in every neighboorhood there are so many hidden treasures to be found.
If travelling to Tokyo, my best advice would be to do some research beforehand, find a neighboorhood you like, find a hotel there and use that as a base. Then get to know that neighboorhood, walk down the small alleys, don’t just use the main roads. Find a local restaurant, pop in for a great meal and conversation, find a bar the locals frequent. Make some local friends.
The people of Tokyo are open, friendly and always in mood for a chat. Like most Japanese, a bit shy, but eventually they will open more up. Stay a few days in the same neighbourhood, you will have made a friend, I almost guarantee it.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit other parts of Tokyo at all, that you should limit yourself to one neighbourhood. Go other places, no problem, but make sure to spend the majority of your time in the same place. Instead of seeing Tokyo you will be experiencing Tokyo.
Some interesting sights to visit are:
Tokyo Skytree. At 634 meters tall, this is the tallest building in Japan and the tallest tower in the world. There are two observation decks, at 350 and 450 meters, offering a great view of the city.
Asakusa, formerly the entertainment district of Tokyo, now a popular tourist destination. Only a short distance from Tokyo Skytree, it is home to a huge temple with an old street market in front of the temple.
There is also an old amusement park, Hanayashiki, in Asakusa. It has seen better days for sure, but is worth visiting.
Nezu Shrine in Nezu is an old shrine that belonged to the Tokugawa Shogunate back before the Meiji Restoration. Today the temple is quiet and worth anvisit, lying a little bit off the tourist trail.
A great way of seeing the city is by boat along the river. Tokyo Cruise offers regular boat rides between Odaiba and Asakusa.
Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, originally build as part of Tokyo’s defensive network, is today an entertainment district in Tokyo. Here you find such attractions as Sega Joypolis, a giant Gundam Statue, Toyota Showroom and Oedo Onsen, a cool Onsen (hot spring) theme park.
Jimbocho and all the second-hand book stores. This place is the largest second-hand book market in Japan, the whole street is packed with book stores. It is also home of some very good curry.
Shimokitazawa is a charming neighbourhood of Tokyo, still not as developed theest of Tokyo. It is a place of many independent stores and a strong music scene, with several recording studios, live houses and music bars.
Golden Gai in Shinjuku is a small and interesting bar district. In an area no larger than a city block you will find about 270 bars all cramped together. Most bars can only seat five people, and you are expected to move from bar to bar during the evening. While some bars are only open to regular customers or Japanese only, you will also find many bars catering to tourists.
For some pictures from Tokyo, look at this picture post from July 2015.
I’m not a big fan of shopping myself, but even I can see that Tokyo is a great city for shopping. From cheap retail or second-hand stores to flagship stores from the most expensive luxury brands, Tokyo has it all.
What I love about Tokyo is how stores selling the same thing have congregated together, creating small districts offering one thing. Guitar City, Book Street. You hear names like that often in Tokyo. Do some research and find the place devoted to your hobby.
For the latest fashion, Harajuku is the place to go. All the major designer labels have stores here. Cat Street, the main shopping street, is packed with fashion stores. Designers from around the world come to Harajuku to see what the newest fashion trends in Japan are, and to be influenced by them.
Ginza, close to the Imperial Palace, is a more high-end, classy shopping district. Not as trendy and hip as Harajuku, Ginza is where the rich people shop. If you have money to burn, and want a high class experience to go with it, Ginza is the place to go.
Ueno is a bit more working-class district. The market under the railway in Ueno has a great selection of discount clothes, souvenirs and street food. Ueno is also home to several homeless people.
As an avid reader and booklover myself, I was ecstatic when I discovered Jimbocho, a neighboorhood in central Tokyo with a whole street packed with second-hand book stores.
Whatever your hobbies and interests are, you will probably find somewhere in Tokyo devoted to that. Just do some research, talk to the locals, look around some and I am sure you will find it. I love treasure hunting in Tokyo, and you find so many other interesting places along the way too.
Food in Tokyo
Tokyo is a food city, its city streets are crowded with restaurants and eating establishments. As the city with the most Michelin Stars in the world, finding a good meal here is no problem. Be it at a fancy restaurant or a hole in the wall ramen shop.
For more information look at my page about Food in Japan.
Drinking in Tokyo
Tokyo is a city of many bars. Visiting one of the many small bars in Tokyo is a great way to get in contact with locals. I have made many friends while drinking a beer in a bar in Tokyo.
For more information about bars and drinking in the city, check out my Bars in Japan page
New Year in Tokyo
in December 2015 I traveller to Japan to spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in Tokyo. I was warned that many places would be closed during the holidays, and that people might spend their time with their families, but I found the New Year’s celebration in Japan to be exciting and interesting. Certainly a memory to remember.
Other posts from Tokyo:
For a great book about the darker side of Tokyo I recommend Tokyo Underworld by Robert Whiting.
English can sometimes be a hard language, as can be seen on these signs.
Tokyo is a city you have to experience your own way, follow your interests, desires. Don’t just follow the tourist trail, don’t be afraid to step away from it, find your own path. You will not regret it. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to comment.
All my posts from Tokyo:
Food in Tokyo
Bars in Tokyo