Tokyo, Japan: A Travel Guide For First-Time Visitors
So, you want to go to Tokyo? It might be difficult to plan a trip, especially for the first time. What sights should I visit? How do you get around? Where should I book a room? What should you do in Tokyo in 5 days? We’re bombarded with questions in order to make our experience as enjoyable as possible. Some of my fondest experiences were made in this country, and as a returning visitor, I’m extremely excited to share some tips with you on how to make your trip to Tokyo memorable.
1. If you can, book a flight to/from Henada Airport instead of Narita Airport.
Narita and Haneda are both excellent airports, though there are some important differences between the two.
Even though Narita is served by more international carriers and has a broader selection of airport lounges to choose from, Haneda is increasingly being used for long-haul flights. Also it is closer to downtown. It’ll save you both time and money.
If you’re traveling off hours (train operates from 6:00 AM to midnight) or with a group, you might want to consider getting a Private Transfer from/to HND.
|Getting To Central Tokyo||Narita (NRT)||Haneda (HND)|
|Distance (by car)||47 miles||13 miles|
|Time (by car)||1 hour 30 minutes||40 minutes|
|Average taxi cost||￥23,000 (~$215)||￥11,000 (~$100)|
|Public Transit||Narita Skyliner Express/Yamanote line (¥2,670/~$25)||Tokyo Monorail/Yamanote line (¥690/~$6.50)|
But if you’re flying to Narita, that’s okay too. You can still get to Tokyo easily. Aside from Narita Express, you can take the Tokyo Keisei Skyliner which will take you to Ueno station in 40-50 minutes. From Ueno, you can hop on a local train to the station nearest to your accommodation.
2. Buy a Suica or Pasmo card
Getting around Tokyo is easy as it is covered by an extensive network of trains and subway lines. Before you fly to Tokyo, be sure to buy a Suica card or a Pasmo as this will be your best friend throughout your stay. You can use either of the two, the only difference are the companies that sell them. Both are available in Narita and Haneda airports.
No need to buy individual tickets whenever you need to hop on train, just tap the card at the gate and you’re good to go. You can easily ‘reload’ your card credit in any train stations. Aside from trains, you can also use them for buses and other electronic purchases in convenience stores and vending machines.
TIP: Local trains operate only until midnight. You should be at the station 30 minutes before (or 11:30 PM). If your travel involve transferring from one lane to another, you need to be earlier. Cabs are expensive in Tokyo – fare typically start around ¥400-700 for the first two kilometres and increase by around ¥80-90 for every additional 300-400 meters traveled.
What’s a JR Pass and do I need to get one?
Japan Rail Passes can be used on JR trains across Japan, including shinkansen (bullet trains) for 7, 14 or 21 days but that pass cannot be used for other private train lines or subways within cities. Meaning, JR passes are exclusive for JR trains only. If you’re planning to stay in Tokyo, your Suica card or pasmo is enough.
3. Stay Connected: Japan SIM Card
A few days of mobile roaming can see you paying astronomical amounts for data use this is why getting a Data-Only Japan SIM card is more convenient. These cards are usually good for 6-8 days and you don’t have to present any personal documents when you buy one. Plus, data is totally unlimited, so you’ll never run out. You can pre-order them online and pick them up at Narita or Haneda airports. This is ideal for solo travelers.
Stay Connected: WiFi Router
Tokyo Metro stations and cafes have Free WiFi, but they are still not enough convenient or comfortable. You can use it only at the designated spots and have to process the troublesome entry. Having your own WiFi device can be a godsend as you no longer have to rely on spotty public WiFi – whenever you turn on your device, you can instantly connect your phone and use the internet. Ideal for traveling with a group or tethering of multiple devices. I rented my WiFi device via Klook, and had it picked up at Haneda airport.
4. Map Your Way Using Google Maps or NaviTime.
Google Maps is super useful when navigating around Tokyo as it will give you train schedules and routes. Japan Travel by Navitime Japan Co is another great app that you can use, especially for train travel. It displays detailed timetable and compares routes and prices.
5. Choosing an accommodation in Tokyo.
For first-time travelers, I strongly recommend staying in hotels within walking distance to major train stations in the JR Yamanote Line train loop (the main circular train line in Tokyo with stops in major tourist districts) to save MONEY, TIME and ENERGY. So transport-wise, Shinjuku, Ginza and Shibuya are equally convenient.
Aside from that, it has great local Japanese atmosphere, shopping centers, there are plenty of shops and reasonably-priced restaurants in these areas, highly convenient location.
Here are some places that I’ve stayed at in Tokyo (these are just examples):
A Private Airbnb room in Kabukicho, You can easily walk to many restaurants, shops, corner stores, cinemas, nightclubs, and bars such as the popular Golden Gai alley. It’s 10-minutes walk to JR Shinjuku Station. If it’s your first time to use Airbnb, feel free to use my code to get some discount.
Tokyo Plaza Hotel in Shin Okubo, The location of the hotel was perfect since it’s just close to JR Shin Okubo so it was easy going to different places like Shinjuku and Shibuya. It’s also surrounded by many restaurants so all-in-all, it was excellent.
An Airbnb apartment in Nishishinjuku, it is near two train stations (one just being a few blocks away). The heart of Shinjuku is a 10-15 walk away. There are convenience stores nearby, too.
6. How Many Days Should I Spend In Tokyo?
Should stay at least 5 days, this should cover the 5 popular districts in Tokyo: Shibuya, Shibjuku, Chiyoda, Chuo and Taito. It’ll probably take a month to fully immerse in their culture but a week is enough go get a taste of what Tokyo has to offer.
7. Safety and Security in Tokyo
Japan is ranked #9 in the world in the Safety and Security security of the 2019 Global Peace Index, but it is still no excuse to ditch your commonsense. Women travelling alone should take care as they would in their home countries and never hitchhike alone. I’ve already been to Tokyo thrice, I have not experienced any inconvenience, or felt scared or threatened while walking alone at night.
8. Currency and Banking
Most konbini’s (convenience stores) like 7-11 and post offices had ATM’s that accept foreign debit and credit cards. I only had to use it twice and I didn’t have any issue. Check with your bank before you leave to make sure your cards will work overseas.
8. Some Unique Things To Experience in Tokyo.
- Rickshaw Ride in Asakusa
- See a Geisha at Asakusa
- Watch a Sumo Wrestling Match in Ryōgoku
- Catch a Kabuki Performance in Ginza
- Walk the red light district in Kabukicho, or watch Robots fight at Robot Restaurant
- Satisfy your Inner Otaku at Akihabara
9. Learn a Few Japanese Phrases
English is common in Tokyo – signs are written in Japanese with English translations, even most restaurants have English menus. They’ve also designated staff in train stations that could assist tourists when they needed directions. But not everyone is comfortable conversing so it’s and some speaks very little English. You may check out our page for 20 useful Japanese phrases for travelers.
10. Learn Basic Japanese Etiquette Before Visiting, Some Include:
- Restaurants: Do not tip
- Train: Talking on your cell phone in the confined spaces of a train or bus is considered rude.
- Stations: Form an orderly line and stay on the left if you’re not in a hurry.
11. Learn how to order from a Ticket Vending Machine
Whether you’re eating at a restaurant or buying from a food stall in Japan, ordering food using ticket machines is common mainly because it helps improve process making it easier for the staff.
Have you been to Tokyo, Japan? What are the things that you’ve enjoyed while visiting? Let us know by commenting below.
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More Japan Tips: Japan Travel Guide: Language, currency, visa policy, etc.
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Don’t forget to secure a reliable travel insurance like World Nomad for your trip!
Are you crossing from one city to another? Book a JR Pass to make your trip a breeze.