Maybe you’ve only got a few days to spend there, or maybe there’s so much to do you don’t know where to start (yep I feel ya) but here are my top 10 tips for your trip to Tokyo.
1. Buy a Suica Card
This was my lifesaver. I bought it at the airport, topped it up with 2000 yen and I was good to go. It basically works like an Oyster card or any other transport card where you tap in and tap out. Super quick and easy – just top up whenever you need to at the ‘fare adjustment’ machines found in every station. The great thing is that it can also be used on inner city transport in other cities, so I was able to use it in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Wakayama. Check the city transport website for you’re going to see if it applies.
2. Get most of your currency before your trip
Okay so some of you might do this anyway. I’m usually a fan of just getting it out the ATM at the airport when I arrive or using my bank card everywhere; I don’t like carrying lots of cash on me. However, some Japanese card machines don’t like western debit cards, some only accept cards issued in Japan, some places only accept credit cards rather than debit cards and some ATMs only function 9am – 5pm. So save yourself the hassle and take your cash.
3. Plan in advance
Again it might be obvious for some of you. When I travel I usually have a list of things I want to see and figure out my plan roughly or play it by ear when I get there. This does not work so well in Tokyo. Tokyo is made up of what was originally 11 cities now all merged, so it is huge. It will serve you well to have a fairly structured itinerary when you arrive so you cover each area of the city logically. It’s not like small European cities where you can just hop on a metro and be across the other side of the city in 10 minutes.
4. Stay in Shinjuku
Okay I might be biased. But if you’re young and/or want to sample the nightlife, this is where it’s happening. Karabukio, Harajuku, Golden Gai are all based here. Shinjuku comes alive at night with lights, music, food, drink and karaoke; you don’t want to be across the city and missing it. Plus Shinjuku station is directly accessed from the airport and is the busiest train station in the world – so wherever you’re going next, you’re in the right place.
5. Pick your sights
There’s so much to see and you might not have long, so prioritise what gardens, shrines and observation decks you want to visit otherwise you’ll be doing a lot of the same.
6. Eat the local food
This wasn’t hard for me, I’m a huge ramen fan and proper sushi is my guilty pleasure so having it in ready supply was a dream. Street vedors can be super cheap for a quick ramen in the day and sushi is fresh and often cut and prepared right in front of you as you order. Don’t be intimidated by the Japanese names and huge range of foods on some menus. Which leads me to…
7. Don’t be afraid to ask
There is a common misconception that Japan is perhaps not as friendly as other south east asian countries, but that is not true at all. Japanese culture is based in respect so the people are some of the nicest I’ve ever met whilst travelling. The locals may not all have great English but it is appreciated if you make an effort and if you ask something they will try their best to help you always.
8. Know your way home
This is more for you solo travellers who might be out late alone but it goes for anyone. If you find yourself in a part of the city you don’t know, make sure you know which subway line or bus route is available at 2am to get you back to where you need to be. A lot of the public transport is not 24hrs so it closes over night – don’t end up in a sticky situation!
9. Pack for all weathers
Seriously. I had 25 degree heat the day I arrived and a torrential thunderstorm the following evening. It varies like this in the inbetween season but I found myself in shorts and a tshirt in the pouring rain because the weather changed so fast.
10. DON’T PANIC
Tokyo is bright, loud and can be overwhelming. When I arrived in from the airport to Shinjuku station jetlagged and exhausted with 15kilos on my back, I nearly cried when I learned there were 52 platforms, a shopping centre, a bus station and over 30 exits in the biggest train station in the world. Even for a seasoned traveller like me I was overwhelmed with the thought of having to find my way to the right exit or transfer lines. Don’t panic, ask if you need to. And the same for the rest of the city, just enjoy it and learn from any mistakes or wrong turns – getting lost in Tokyo can be fun!
Have you been to Tokyo?