How to plan a trip to Tokyo: useful tips and information for your trip
Planning and organizing a trip to Tokyo may seem complicated as the city alone deserves a thorough visit regardless of whether or not you visit the rest of Japan; in fact, Tokyo has about 15 million inhabitants and even if we consider it as a single city, in reality it is a whole Prefecture that includes several cities. The largest is what we commonly call Tokyo and which extends to the east on the bay, the real city, and includes as many as 23 distinct neighborhoods, each with its own peculiarity. Let’s try to get some order with this informative article on how to plan a trip to Tokyo with some useful tips and information for your trip.
What is the best month to visit Tokyo?
Although most tourists flock to Tokyo between March and April each year, in time for cherry blossoms, the city can be visited all year round and in every season you can see it from a different point of view. In autumn, for example, the leaves that become orange/red make the landscape special. In terms of temperature, summer is really very hot while the winter can be very cold and that’s why autumn and spring are the most requested seasons. December and January are two special months for Tokyo and Japan as they celebrate the transition to the new year in a very suggestive way. So I suggest you seriously think about leaving and visiting Tokyo at this time. For example: if you are in Tokyo on the second Monday in January, you can be part of the Coming of Age Day celebrations, for the newly-classed adults that have turned 20 in the last year or will do so before March 31. All the young women wear an elaborate kimono or furisode, a long-sleeved kimono for unmarried young women, on this day.
How many days do you need to visit Tokyo?
It depends on the type of experience you want to have: the average tourist stops in Tokyo for 4-5 days and then leaves to discover Japan. I have always stopped for a long time, 2 weeks: the city is huge, there is always something different and new to do and see and, above all, in this way you can get in touch with the culture of the inhabitants of Tokyo and with their way of life. Tokyo alone deserves a trip and relegating her to a quick and temporary visit is, in my opinion, a real shame.
Flights to/from Japan
First thing first, you need to find whether your nearest airport is served by direct flights to Tokyo. If there’s no direct flights from your city to Tokyo, you have to find the best airport for your connection
You can fly to Narita Airport or Haneda Airport and from there look for the best way to reach your hotel: from Narita you can use the metro or the Skyliner but also a special bus, the Limousine Bus. Same for Haneda. Check Narita Airport and Haneda Airport website for details on how to get to Tokyo and back from the airport.
How much does it cost to go to Tokyo?
This question is too personal to be realistic: the flight is surely the big expense to be calculated while the hotel if booked in advance, can cost relatively little. In terms of food, you can spend astronomical amounts to eat very well but also spend negligible figures to eat well. Having fun and go shopping can raise your budget but just be careful and the expenditure can be significantly reduced. If you are in Tokyo during the sales period, you can do business with both domestic and international brands. Remember that you can purchase Tax-Free in Tokyo by presenting your passport: in this way, you can buy products, especially electronic, at lower prices. On the passport, a receipt related to the expenditure will be applied and this will then be detached at the airport, at the appropriate office, to certify the successful exit from the territory of the goods purchased.
Do I need a Visa to go to Tokyo?
No Visa needed but you must have a valid passport and a return ticket for tourist so that you will be allowed to stay, without working, for up to 90 days.
What to wear in Tokyo?
The choice of clothing depends on the period in which you will visit Tokyo. In general, advice that applies to all periods of the year, do not overload the suitcase: in Tokyo and in general all of Japan, hotels always have a laundromat that can be used to wash everything. In addition, the city offers continuous temptations and it’s best to bring fewer things and pack lots of stuff upon to your return. Remember that the city is great and you will have to walk a lot so clothing and comfortable shoes are a must.
Do I have to speak Japanese to go to Tokyo?
One of the difficulties when planning a trip to Tokyo (and in general in Japan) is the language: English is widespread but not spoken by everyone and therefore it may be useful to learn a few basic words, also fundamental as a form of respect. You do not need to speak Japanese but I suggest you learn and remember at least the following expressions:
- Hayou gozaimasu – Good Morning
- Konnichiwa – Good Afternoon
- Konbanwa – Good Evening
- Jaa mata – See you soon!
- Arigatou gozaimasu – Thank you
- Sumimasen – Sorry
- Gomen nasai – I owe you an apology
- Onegai shimasu – Please
- Hai – Yes
- Iie – No
- O-kanjo onegaishimasu – The bill, please
I also suggest you install Google Translate, or any program for automatic and simultaneous translation, on your mobile phone; it will be useful to you when you have to ask for something and you will not know how to do it. Simply write the sentence in English (or in every other language), have it translated and have the content read by your interlocutor. Among other things, a lot of Japanese use this system to talk with foreigners and no one will ever look at you like an alien.
Internet access in Tokyo
The best way to use your mobile phone in Tokyo is by renting a Japanese SIM which will allow you to use the Internet both to browse and use apps and to make calls via VOIP. These are special cards designed for tourists and do not allow calls or SMS due to the law on terrorism but are very much needed for the Internet. I’ve chosen CDJapan: you can order your SIM online, choosing the number of days and the type of card you need based on your mobile, and you can then pick it up at the airport or directly to the hotel in a sealed envelope (this was my choice). Once installed, it will start working immediately and for all the days for which it was purchased. You can return it by following the instructions enclosed in the envelope and inserting it into a mailbox, even at the airport; it is also possible to increase the duration, simply by connecting online to the site and asking for the change (even the day before the return date). Be sure, however, before leaving, that your mobile phone is not locked otherwise the Japanese SIM will not work.
Transportation in Tokyo: how do you get around in Tokyo?
The first thing to do when you arrive in Tokyo is to know and to get around: the city is served very well by public transport. For this reason, if you stay in Tokyo for a few days, it is advisable to buy one between the Pasmo and Suica, rechargeable cards that can be used on all urban public transports and that can be recharged without problems to the machines located in all the stations. There is no difference between Pasmo and Suica except for the refund process at the end of your trip since the Pasmo can only be returned within Tokyo Prefecture, including airports. You’ve read correctly: the cards are returned at the end of your trip directly at the airport and if there are any remaining money, cash will be returned, together with the initial deposit. The machines for purchase can be found at the airport and at all stations, where they can also be refilled by following the instructions in English.
Best hotels in Tokyo and how to choose
It is difficult to recommend a hotel in Tokyo because the city is full of facilities, more or less expensive and economical, able to meet everyone’s needs. You can choose to stay in a standard hotel, with small but comfortable rooms or in a luxury hotel (for example the famous Park Hyatt, the one used in Lost in Translation, in the Shinjuku area) or in a typical Japanese ryokan with low beds (futon) and mats for a unique experience. The market for rented apartments to tourists is constantly growing if you are interested in an experience of this kind.
Unless you stay in luxurious hotels, on average the hotel rooms but also the apartments are small and, in some cases, claustrophobic; despite this, they are usually equipped with all comforts, considering their use. A traditional ryokan is usually quite spacious but because they are intended for tourists, prices can be high. An element not to be underestimated is the proximity to public transport, primarily to the subway.
Among the hotels that I personally recommend, because of an excellent quality/price/location, there are those of the Sotetsu Fresa chain: very simple hotels scattered throughout the city in incredible locations and very close to metro stations, which offer small but comfortable accommodations and a whole series of free products for the bathroom.
Cash and credit cards: what’s the best way to pay in Tokyo?
In Tokyo, despite what you expect, paying cash is still the norm and there are many restaurants and shops that do not accept credit cards. Remember to unlock your credit card, if it is blocked, so you can withdraw cash once in Tokyo and remember to always keep money in your pocket to avoid having problems with payments.
Electrical plugs in Tokyo
In Japan, a socket with two rectangular feet is used, such as the one used in the United States. If you’re from Europe, buy your adapters in your country or directly in Tokyo. With regards to the voltage, there are no compatibility problems. Pay attention to the reverse situation: if you buy an electric appliance in Tokyo it may not work or burn if the device does not support the voltage used in your country.
Food in Tokyo: Heaven!
Eating in Tokyo is not really a problem: there are in fact an incredible number of restaurants but also banquets, where you can find street food at all hours of the day and night and the choice is almost endless. The food is always well presented and, in spite of what is believed, you can eat by spending very little. I will tell you more in a dedicated article but know that Tokyo is really a paradise for lovers of good food.
How to plan a trip to Tokyo: a few more information
- It seems almost incomprehensible but in Tokyo, there are no trash bins in the street. Take a plastic bag where to store paper and similar items, then throw it at the hotel or in the first café;
- Bring paper towels for the nose with you: they are sold in stores but, because they are not used in Japan, they are so thin that using them is impossible;
- In private places (restaurants, bars, etc) you can smoke, but on the street is prohibited except in special areas: many hotels provide sprays to remove the smell of smoke from clothes but to avoid problems I advise you to equip yourself.
Whom do you recommend a trip to Tokyo?
Surely to all lovers of Japanese culture and those who want to discover the soul of a city that, within it, contains many others. I do not recommend Tokyo to those who do not like big cities and those who do not feel at ease with different cultures and different ways of doing things. In general, I would recommend a trip to Tokyo to everyone, including families with children.
[All pics by Giuseppe. All material is copyrighted]