Tokyo Travel Guide
Tokyo is Asia’s bustling and vibrant gigantic metropolis – superior in population to any other city in the world. When visiting Tokyo you are being introduced to a fascinating world blending ancient Japanese culture and heritage with modern lifestyle, art and technology.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 03 JAN 2020
1. Facts about Tokyo
- Country: Japan
- Currency: Japanese Yen
- Population: Metropolis: 14 million, Greater Tokyo Area: 38 million
- Density in Tokyo metropolis: 6,350 per square kilometre (16,440 per square mile)
- Divisions of Tokyo: 23 special wards
- Driving side: Left
- Climate: Humid subtropical climate
- Religion in Japan: Buddhism and Shintoism. It is common to believe in both Buddhism and Shinto gods.
- Electricity: Standard 100 V, 50 Hz. Plugs and sockets are generally of type A and B
- Measures: The metric system (but for room size: number of tatami mats).
- Japanese writing system: Kana (using the syllabic systems hiragana and katakana) and kanji (a logographic system of adopted Chinese characters).
- Visa: Check if you need a Visa
Tokyo is the world-class capital where traditional Japan meets modernity in the fashionable, contemporary world. Although the contrasts are seemingly stark, Tokyo has in its own wondrous way found a natural balance between old and new. Historical temples and shrines lie side by side with brand-new, high-tech stores. Gift-giving, ikebana or flower arrangement, calligraphy workshops, painting classes and other traditional disciplines of arts still thrive in the midst of the hustle and bustle in modern Tokyo. A Shinto wedding at the Meiji Jingu shrine follows the old traditions, and the next day the couple goes back to their modern lifestyle in the vibrant city.
Akihabara is the district to come to for anime and manga. Originally known as the electric town abounding with electronic goods and other gadgets, it has today turned into a bright neon lit part of the city. Here you come across tons of shops related to the otaku culture and the cosplaying industry. Massive, sparkling facades decorated with trendsetting anime characters dominate the streets. On street corners the popular gachapon vending machines full of collectible figures can be spotted. Satisfy you anime and manga passion in electronic Tokyo!
Nowhere else is the infrastructure as reliable and efficient as in Tokyo. Convenience stores are open 24/7. The public transport and the Tokyo trains are super accurate and it is a rare incident that trains are even a few seconds late. Japanese people are impeccably polite and always helpful. Everywhere the considerate employees will go out of their way to provide you with the very best. The courtesy and respect are all part of the Japanese etiquette and heritage.
3. Facts about the price level in Tokyo
Tokyo is in general one of the more expensive cities in the world, at least when it comes to housing prices where Tokyo is known to be high-end.
Convert Currency: Convert prices in Japanese Yen into your own currency (or vice versa) here: Convert Currency
You can get an impression of the price level by comparing the most recent update of our cost of living indices in Japan to the cost in your own country:
Beer: Compare the price of a beer in Japan to the price of a beer in your country of origin: Beer Price
McMeal: Compare the price of a McMeal in Japan to the price of a McMeal in your country of origin: McMeal Price
Taxi: Compare the price of going by taxi in Japan to the price of going by taxi in your country of origin: Taxi Price
Tipping: It is neither common nor expected to leave a tip in Japan – even if you are satisfied with the service you get. It may well be turned down or even considered rude. However, if you do choose to leave a small gratuity, do place the money in an envelope before handing it over with both hands, as according to Japanese etiquette.
Have you got all travel essentials for Japan? Click on the images to check out the items shown on Amazon:
View more useful travel gear for your trip: Travel Essentials
4. Popular to see and do in Tokyo + Itineraries
- Cross the Shibuya Crossing. The renowned intersection is said to be the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. Witness the daily, massive migration of the people working in Tokyo. At its busiest times it is a myriad of humans remarkably intertwining and then again miraculously escaping from the throng on the other side. Best spot to observe the crowd in the Shibuya Crossing right outside the station is from the second floor of the Starbucks coffee shop. Say hello to the famous Hachiko dog statue.
- Ascend Shibuya Sky. Combine the experience of viewing Shibuya Crossing with ascending Shibuya Sky – the new open-air rooftop observation deck 230 metres above ground at Shibuya Scramble Square – providing a 360° view over Tokyo (fees apply).
- Study anime, manga and electronics in Akihabara, the district of Tokyo famous for its many electronics shops, otaku stores of subcultures, maids cafés and anime-oriented shops. Visit Mandarake, Gachapon Kaikan, Don Quijote or Animate. Electronic Tokyo is a sheer paradise for the anime and manga addict!
- Enter the anime universe in Tokyo One Piece Tower, the indoor theme park at the bottom of Tokyo Tower dedicated to the popular anime series One Piece. Tokyo One Piece Tower is a fictional world and a fun way to blend in with the Japanese visitors. Afterwards, go to one of the Tokyo Tower decks to get an extraordinary view of Tokyo.
- Do Go-Kart – Mario Kart in the streets of Tokyo. Drive in a go-kart dressed as a Mario character.
- Explore teamLab Borderless. Discover a borderless world in a museum. Interact in this three-dimensional 10,000 square meter world with no boundaries – beyond what you have previously seen!
- Explore teamLab Planets. Explore a world where you walk (barefoot) through water in impressive artworks!
- Ascend to the observation decks on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buldings in Shinjuku for a free view of the Tokyo skyline. On a clear day you may see Mt. Fuji. Alternatively, go to the 25th deck of Bunkyo Civic Centre for another free 330-degree view of Tokyo (and with a bit of luck Mt. Fuji), or else Tokyo Skytree (fee applies) or Shibuya Sky (fee applies).
- Buy plastic sushi samples in Kappabashi Street. The famous kitchenware street is dotted with shops selling all kinds of kitchenware, everything needed for restaurants like pots, pans, pottery and kitchen utensils. You will find appealing plastic and wax food samples which are being used in the restaurant windows.
- Chill out in the vast Yoyogi Park. If you come on a Sunday you may be lucky to see a group of leather jacket dressed dancers in a 1950s attire performing to old music hits in front of the crowd.
4.2 Traditional Tokyo
- Visit a museum to get behind the culture and history in Japan. Tokyo is indeed the capital of Japanese culture and features many museums of Japanese art and heritage. Visit Tokyo National Museum for Japanese and Asian culture and history, Japan Folk Crafts Museum for craft works, Ghibli Museum for the history of anime or the Edo-Tokyo Tatemono En for open-air historical buildings.
- Satisfy you science interests in the top-rated Natural Museum of Nature and Science situated in a corner of Ueno Park. The collections of flora and fossils are huge! Moreover, the museum displays the technological development and history through a plentitude of tools and fascinating objects.
- Arrive in spring to experience the spectacular cherry blossoms at temple grounds, parks and various other locations all over Tokyo. Ueno Park is one of the popular locations for sakura (cherry blossoms) and hanami (flower viewing with a picnic under the blossoming trees). Yanaka Cemetery is another option. Alternatively, if you arrive before Tokyo cherry blossom season, you may experience the traditional plum blossom festival at the Yushima Tenjin Shrine in Bunkyo, near Ueno Park.
- Shop at the Ameyoko bazaar-style market under the rails between Ueno Station and Okachimachi Station, the old World War II black market with American products. Today you can get all kinds of products here.
- Get up early to watch the sumo morning training at one of the sumo stables. The Japanese sumo training is an easy way to experience the fascinating sumo discipline.
- Walk through the characteristic Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate) of the Sensoji Temple, also known as the Asakusa Kannon Temple. It features an enormous red traditional chochin lantern. It is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple from year 645. According to the legend two brothers fished a statue of the goddess Kannon out of the Sumida River, and even if they put it back again, it kept on returning to them. The temple was then built for the goddess.
- Shop for Japanese souvenirs in the historical 200 m (650 ft) long Nakamise Street at the foot of the Sensoji Temple.
- Buy local products at Yanaka Ginza, the old shopping street in the Yanaka district just off Nippori Station. Here you still find a unique timeless Shitamachi atmosphere, with a vibe and reminiscence of ancient Tokyo. You will see the locals shopping and passing to do their chores. Groceries, snacks, pottery, tea and other necessities are sold from small shops squeezed in one beside another and next to abundant food stalls of local food.
- Take a stroll in the old Yanaka Cemetery where the last shogun of the Edo period, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, is buried.
- Cross the bridge to the Chiyoda Imperial Palace East Gardens, open to the public. The gardens are the former site of Edo Castle, residence of the Tokugawa shogun in Japan 1603-1867.
- View a wedding at the Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine near Harajuku Station. The shrine is dedicated to the former Emperor Meiji who ascended the throne in 1867. With him Japan underwent radical changes to a modern society and the feudal era in the country came to an end. The shrine is frequently used for weddings.
4.3 Things to try
- Try sushi for breakfast or lunch at the Tsukiji Outer Market abounding with shops and seafood restaurants.
- Have a night out at a chic nightclub in the entertainment district Roppongi.
- Visit the Robot Restaurant. It is a popular entertainment event with robot shows and dancers surrounded by neon lights and music.
- Take the Tokyo water bus on the Sumida River from Asakusa to Odaiba.
- Master the art of eating with chopsticks. Eat sushi, sashimi, tempura, yakitori, gyudon, soba, udon, ramen or some other tasty Japanese food.
- Try an onsen / public hot bath. You may stay in a Tokyo onsen hotel that features a traditional hot bath.
- Shop with all Tokyo teenagers on Takeshita Street at Harajuku and notice the latest trends within pop culture.
- Get lost inside and try to find your way out of Shinjuku Station. It is the busiest train station in Tokyo and in the world having about 3.5 million people daily passing through – sheer facts! The station features both shinkansen trains, JR and other lines. It is served by 5 railway companies, has 36 platforms and 200 exits!
- Have a drink in Golden Gai, the old post-war quarter near Shinjuku Station. 6 narrow alleys and 200 tiny, shanty-style bars together make up Golden Gai. Most of the bars seat just 4-10 people!
- Plan a trip – a 3-day itinerary by train from Tokyo to Kyoto and Nara.
If you have only got 2 days in Tokyo, you may consider this 2-day itinerary: Best Things to Do in Tokyo – Itinerary 2 Days
5. Useful books about Tokyo
Do you want to go more in depth with Tokyo? You may consider buying one of these books for your trip.
Click on the images to view the books on Amazon and get details.
6. Facts about safety in Tokyo
Japan is considered among the safest countries in the world and has an extremely low crime rate. See the facts about the crime level in Japan (and Tokyo) here.
Crime: Compare the crime rate in Japan to the crime rate of your own country: Crime Rate
Anyway, it is like for all other destinations always a good idea to take appropriate safety measures and follow travel safety tips to be both a safe traveller and have a secure trip.
The corruption level is also ultra-low.
Corruption: Compare the corruption index in Japan to the corruption index of your own country: Corruption Index
Make sure you have a travel insurance in the unlikely event of needing it.
7. Local tips
Stay in a hotel / ryokan near Ueno Station in Tokyo where you can get a hot bath atop the roof! Hotel Edoya is one of the few Tokyo ryokans where thermal water is transported from the underground to the ofuro bath on top of the building. There is both a section for men and a section for women. The experience of sitting in the outdoor hot bath on a cold winter or spring night contemplating the stars is absolutely awesome!
Do you need somewhere to stay in Tokyo? Check out these hotels:
9. Health issues
Tokyo is a very clean city, and facts are that there are far from as many health risks as you hear about in many other Asian countries.
As a precaution you may want to check up on potential health issues and recommended vaccinations before going: Recommended vaccinations
Many Japanese people wear a hygienic face mask. It is in general not a precaution against pollution as you might think. The Japanese wear them NOT to pass illness on to someone else or as a precaution NOT to catch a cold from someone else. In particular, face masks are heavily used at crowded locations like stations and other high-density areas.
The pollution level in Tokyo is in general not that bad compared to some other Asian cities, and the environment is clean. The daily real-time updated pollution index for Tokyo and surrounding areas can be viewed here: Real-time Pollution Index.
10. Facts about the Tokyo climate
The climate is humid subtropical. Summers are hot and humid, whereas winters are drier, relatively sunny and mild. From May until October temperatures are most likely above 20 degrees centigrade (above 70 degrees Fahrenheit). These are also the months with the highest risk of precipitations. Temperatures may well reach 35 degrees centigrade (95 degrees Fahrenheit) during the warmest summer months, and combined with the rain it can feel quite oppressive.
Therefore, the best time to come to Tokyo is often considered to be outside the summer months. Both spring and autumn are popular seasons to visit Japan.
See the facts about the updated current weather situation in Tokyo in degrees Fahrenheit and degrees centigrade:
Tokyo is also a typhoon exposed area, and in general the typhoon season also lies between May and October. Typhoons are large low pressure systems being created over the Northwest Pacific Ocean. During strong typhoons, expressways are sometimes closed off and the public transport stopped.
Due to being situated in a volcanic zone on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Tokyo also lies in a tsunami-risk zone and the Japan Meteorological Agency has a tsunami warning system to notify the population in case of incidents. The warnings can be viewed here: Tsunami warnings
11. Facts about transport in Tokyo
Public transport in Tokyo is easy. The city has an extensive urban railway network and a considerable number of railway lines and operators. According to statistics there are well over 150 different lines and about 50 operators. Although there are also buses and trams in Tokyo, the rail services are by far the most commonly used public transport within the Greater Tokyo Area.
The Tokyo rails serve about 40 million passengers every day. This counts both passengers going by underground and by other local, regional and national trains. Tokyo hits the record with more than 2,000 stations (if you count one station for each operator)!
There are two interlinked subways systems in Tokyo, the Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subways.
In addition to the subway lines there are also the JR trains in Tokyo. One of the very useful JR lines is the Yamanote Line which is a loop line around central Tokyo. It connects Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Ueno and Tokyo Station. The inner circle operates in counterclockwise direction whereas the adjacent outer circle operates in clockwise direction. The Yamanote Line is 34,5 km (21,44 miles) long. The wait is usually short – between 2,5 minutes and 4 minutes.
The combined Tokyo Greater Area rail map can be seen here: Tokyo Rail Map
The busiest station in Tokyo is Shinjuku Station with 3.5 million daily passengers using both the shinkansen trains, the JR lines and other train lines. It has 36 platforms and 200 distinct exits! The second and third busiest stations both in Tokyo and in the world are Shibuya Station and Ikebukuro Station which are located on each their side of Shinjuku Station. Surprisingly enough, out of the 51 of the busiest stations in the world, facts are that 45 can be found in Japan – and about half of them are inside the Greater Tokyo Area!
There are many types of day passes available within the Greater Tokyo Area. The Suica cards (at JR stations) and the Pasmo cards (at other stations) are frequently used and a recommended way to get around. You simply just swipe them over a card reader.
The Japanese bullet train Shinkansen is the fastest train. It can reach a speed of 320 km/h (199 miles/hour). There are 7 Shinkansen lines (Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku, Hokkaido, Joetsu, Hokuriku and Kyushu Shinkansen). The trains offer several classes, as well as both reserved and non-reserved seats. Some trains require an additional supplement (the Nozomi, Mizuho, Hayabusa and Komachi trains).
It may well be worth buying a Japan Rail Pass if you plan on travelling around in Japan. The rail pass covers all JR trains (and even some buses), including the metropolitan Yamanote Line, the Chuo Line, the Keihin-Tohoku Line, the Sobu Line and the Saikyo Line in Tokyo, as well as the Narita Express. A Japan Rail Pass allows for free seat reservations and can be used on all trains except on the Nozomi and Mizohu Shinkansen trains – for 7, 14 or 21 days. You will need to buy your Japan Rail Pass online before coming to Japan. You then receive an exchange order which needs to be exchanged and activated once in Japan.
The website Hyperdia is an excellent website to get information on fares, departures, train numbers and tracks on the stations!
Finally, you can also take one of the plentiful taxis. Compare the taxi fare in Japan to the fare in your own country: Taxi Price
Japan is located between 3 seas: the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Philippine Sea. It is an island country consisting of 6,852 islands of which the main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and the partly tropical, partly subtropical Okinawa.
The capital, Tokyo, is situated in the southern coastal area of the biggest island, Honshu. Honshu has both mountainous areas, fertile volcanic slopes as well as lowlands.
Tokyo’s latitude and longitude coordinates are: 35.652832, 139.839478.
Tokyo is, like the rest of Japan, also located on several tectonic plates in the Ring of Fire. It is precisely where four plates, the North American, the Pacific, the Eurasian and the Philippine plates come together. Tokyo is therefore extremely exposed to earthquakes, and there are minor tremors nearly daily. Around 1,500 earthquakes strike the country every year.
13. Facts about the Tokyo history
Old Edo village
- The small village Edo was inhabited by the old Edo clan already in the 12th century. They fortified it throughout the years and in 1457 the construction of the impressive Edo Castle began in the East Garden of the Imperial Palace.
- It was not until 1590, when Tokugawa Ieyasu established himself in Edo, that Edo got a central role in the country. He became the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603. Relatively peaceful times followed during the next centuries. Despite many natural disasters, such as fires and earthquakes that stroke the city, Edo became the political and cultural centre of Japan. By the mid-eighteenth century the population had risen to over a million.
- The peace lasted until the American Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived and forced the country to allow import of foreign goods. This drove prices up and eventually led to inflation. It all resulted in riots among the population and finally the last Tokugawa shogun, Yoshinobu, was overthrown in 1867.
The Meiji, the Taisho and the Showa eras
- A new era began with the Emperor Meiji who moved from Kyoto to Edo, now being renamed to Tokyo. With this Japan’s capital changed location from Kyoto to Tokyo. During the Meiji era (1868-1912) Tokyo became a city with stone and brick houses, paved roads, telecommunication lines, steam locomotives and partly adopted western lifestyle.
- During the Taisho era (1912-1926) Tokyo attracted even more people, the education level rose and the culture flourished.
- The Showa era (1926-1989), beginning shortly after the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake, brought further urban and political development and welfare to the metropolis.
Facts about Tokyo in recent times
- The Pacific War which broke out in 1941 brought about further changes and the metropolitan administrative system was established. During the war there were heavy bombings of Tokyo resulting in a great loss. When the war ended in 1945, facts were that the population in Tokyo was only about half of the size in 1940, namely 2.8 million.
- In May 1947 the new Constitution of Japan was introduced, and Seiichiro Yasui was elected the first Governor of Tokyo. Shortly, the special 23-ward system was introduced in Tokyo.
- Tokyo held the Summer Olympics 1964. During the following decades many technological inventions became part of the everyday life, and the standard of living changed accordingly. Expressways and Shinkansen trains contributed significantly to the new infrastructure. After the Oil Crisis in 1973 was over, Japan played a leading role in the development of technology, engaged in global activities and experienced a rapid economic growth. Tokyo’s population increased to 11 million!
- However, the Lost Decade of Japan, occurred in the 1980s. A debt bubble developed – and burst in 1990 bringing about a tremendous recession. Since then Japan has taken steps to recover again.
- Japan was in 2011 set back by an earthquake and the resulting tsunami causing a disaster on the nuclear power plant Fukushima Daiichi.
- Nevertheless, modern Tokyo is again a cultural magnet and attracts every year large numbers of tourists. Tokyo is known to the world as the safe, civilised, clean and efficient Asian metropolis with a rich history and an intriguing cultural life.
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