There’s no feeling quite like arriving for your first time in Tokyo. A mesmerising and multi-faceted metropolis, Tokyo can (and will) seem utterly confusing the first time you visit.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled the complete list of everything you need to know to make your first time in Tokyo as enjoyable and effortless as possible.
If you’re planning your first trip to Tokyo you’ll no doubt have a lot of questions? Which is the best airport to fly into? What’s the best time of year to visit Tokyo? How do I decide on where to stay? Panic not, we’ve got the answers to all these questions and plenty more Tokyo travel tips too.
For anyone planning their first trip to Tokyo, here are our top travel tips for the perfect holiday in one of the world’s greatest cities.
Fittingly for a city of its size Tokyo has two airports, Narita International Airport and Haneda International Airport.
Narita Airport, however, is not located in Tokyo but in the neighbouring prefecture of Chiba. From Narita it’s a 40-80 minute train ride (depending on the train) or a two hour coach ride to the centre of Tokyo.
Haneda International Airport is actually in Tokyo, on the southern tip of the city near Tokyo Bay. Haneda Airport is a much easier 30 minute train or monorail ride to central Tokyo.
If it’s possible we’d strongly recommend arriving and departing Tokyo from Haneda Airport rather than Narita. Arriving at Haneda will allow you to spend more of your first time in Tokyo seeing the sights.
If you do fly into Narita, the quickest way of getting into central Tokyo is by the Tokyo Skyliner Express, which takes around 45 minutes to reach Ueno Station. You can buy advanced tickets for the Skyline Express here.
Unfortunately, because it is in a much more convenient location, flights in and out of Haneda Airport are often more expensive than flights to and from Narita. Therefore you may have to sacrifice the convenience of arriving at Haneda for the economic advantage of arriving at Narita.
We’d recommend spending at least four or five days in Tokyo. Obviously how long you choose to spend in Tokyo will depend on your budget and whether you plan to visit other parts of Japan during your trip.
Yet if this is your first time in Tokyo you’ll want as many days as possible to see as much as you can – there is enough to see and do in Tokyo to last a lifetime and beyond.
With at least five days you’ll get to see a good range of Tokyo’s main sights, from famous landmarks and tourist sights as well as some of the city’s off the beaten track spots.
You could also fit in a day trip to one of the many beautiful spots that are an easy train ride from Tokyo too. However, if you have less time to spend in Tokyo you’ll still be able to see a good selection of the city’s main highlights.
Spring and Autumn are easily the best times to visit Tokyo. This is due to the cooler temperatures and the beautiful nature that blooms throughout the city in both seasons. If this is your first time in Tokyo then
In both spring and autumn the weather in Tokyo is usually sunny and dry. In spring daily temperatures range from highs of around 13°C by early March to the low 20°s in May.
Autumn in Tokyo is also sunny, warm and dry with highest temperatures in the low 20s until they drop into the teens in December.
In Spring the city is filled with gorgeous shades of pink, white and red cherry and plum blossoms. A huge deal for locals and tourists alike, cherry blossom season is one of the best and busiest times to visit Tokyo.
Sakura season usually reaches Tokyo between the last week of March and early April, though the exact dates vary from year to year. The cherry blossom season is short, typically lasting a little longer than a week, and it’s also one of the busiest times of year for international tourists. As a result, the price of flights and accommodation in Tokyo are higher at this time of year.
Cherry blossoms are not the only flowers to bloom in spring in Tokyo. If you miss sakura season you can still admire the azaleas and hydrangeas that fill Tokyo’s parks, gardens and temple grounds during the rest of spring.
Autumn is also a great time to visit Tokyo. The temperatures in Tokyo in autumn are similar to those in spring, and most days are warm and sunny. In autumn the leaves on the trees in much of Japan turn a stunning range of orange, yellow and red.
Thanks to these beautiful colours, Tokyo’s gardens and parks are just as popular in Autumn as they are for the cherry blossoms of spring. Many of the beautiful forested areas within easy reach of Tokyo, such as Nikko or Kamakura, are spectacular in autumn and make for a wonderful day trip from the city.
Summer is easily the worst time to visit Tokyo. Early summer is Tokyo’s rainy season, and along with heavy rain the temperatures and the humidity begin to rise. Typhoons regularly hit Japan in summer too, and though the worst hit areas are usually around Okinawa, strong rain and devastating winds are not uncommon in Tokyo too.
In early summer the days are generally overcast and cloudy until the end of July, with temperatures in the mid to high 20°s. By late summer, from August and early September, Tokyo is usually incredibly hot and humid, with temperatures regularly reaching the 30 °s. At the height of summer the added humidity can make the temperature feel closer to 40 °s.
The humidity and temperatures do become slightly more bearable by early October as autumn approaches, but needless to say, trekking across Tokyo in the blazing sunshine and unforgiving heat is incredibly uncomfortable.
Even seasoned Tokyoites struggle to combat the heat each summer, hiding beneath sun umbrellas and carrying portable electric fans to try to stay cool. If high temperatures and humidity are not your thing then consider visiting Tokyo at a different time of year.
Another reason to avoid Tokyo in the summer is the cluster of public holidays at the end of April and beginning of May known as Golden Week. These public holidays usually coincide with at least one weekend, making this one of the busiest travel periods of the year in Japan.
Many businesses, including cafes and restaurants, also close down during Golden Week as people travel across Japan to be with their families. Most people also use these extra holidays as a chance to travel out of (and then back into) Tokyo over the Golden Week vacation.
Flights, trains and hotels are often extremely busy during this period and are often fully booked way in advance. Tokyo’s main tourist attractions are also packed as people take advantage of the extended holiday.
Generally winter is a good time to visit Tokyo. Though it’s the coldest time of year in Tokyo, most days are gloriously sunny, with very little rain. However, travelling to Tokyo during the New Year period is best avoided.
After Golden Week this is one of the biggest holiday seasons in Japan, when people return home to spend the season with their families. Many shops, bars, cafes and restaurants close completely over the New Year period. Businesses tend to shut down entirely from around the 28th December to 3rd January.
One of the toughest decisions to make ahead of your first time in Tokyo is deciding where in the city to stay. The size of Tokyo and sheer volume of choice of accommodation in the city is bewildering.
When looking for somewhere to stay in Tokyo think about what you want to see and do in the city, and then try to find accommodation in an area that is well connected to the things you plan to do.
The sheer size of Tokyo means that it’s inevitable that you’ll spend a chunk of your time here travelling across the city. If possible, think ahead about the main things you want to see whilst you’re in Tokyo and plan to stay somewhere that makes your journeys as easy as possible.
— Here are a few of our tips to help you find the perfect place to stay in Tokyo.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to find a hotel right in the heart of Shinjuku or Shibuya to get the most of a trip to Tokyo. Tokyo doesn’t have a typical city centre and there are a multitude of districts in the city that are crammed with hotels and have great transport links.
When looking for somewhere to stay in Tokyo take a look at other areas of the city, such as Ueno, Iidabashi, Ikebukuro or Shimbashi. All have a huge range of hotels and accommodation as well as an endless amount of things to do and places to eat. They’ll also be well served by train and metro stations and be a great base for exploring the whole city.
This is very much related to our previous points, but you will spend a lot of your time in Tokyo travelling from A to B. A top Tokyo travel tip is stay within reach of a well connected train or underground station.
Whatever your budget, find a hotel that has good transport connections. The good news is that with close to 300 metro stations and hundreds more train stations in Tokyo it’s almost impossible to find a hotel that isn’t near a train or metro line.
It’s often suggested that it’s best to find a hotel close to a station on the Yamanote Line, the circular train line that loops around many of Tokyo’s major tourist sights and most popular areas, such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku and Akihabara.
While it is certainly handy to be close to a Yamanote Line station, in reality, with so many metro and train lines in the city, there are dozens of ways to get across Tokyo, so staying right on the Yamanote line isn’t essential. As long as you’re somewhere fairly central that’s close to a train or metro station you’ll be able to get in and around Tokyo easily.
Unfortunately there’s no getting around the fact that accommodation in Tokyo can be pricey. If you have the means then there is a multitude of excellent mid-range and luxurious top end hotels in Tokyo.
However, even if you’re on a tighter budget, Tokyo is well stocked with surprisingly affordable – if small and basic – accommodation.
If you’re looking to cut costs but don’t fancy staying in a capsule hotel, then consider staying at a business hotel. As the name suggests, these hotels are primarily aimed at Japanese salarymen on business trips.
Yet business hotels are great for cost-conscious travellers too, offering small but perfectly functional rooms stocked with all the essentials. Expect a comfy bed and a good-sized bathroom at an affordable price.
There are a number of hotel chains in Japan aimed at travelling salarymen, such as Toyoko Inn, Tokyu Stay and Daiwa Roynet. These hotels are often conveniently located close to major railway stations and usually include a basic but decent breakfast.
One of our best Tokyo travel tips is to think about your departure in advance. You probably don’t want to think about leaving Tokyo before you’ve even arrived, but it really pays to plan ahead.
If you have an early flight or train out of the city you will want to make your journey to the airport or Tokyo Station as easy as possible. You do not want to be dragging heavy suitcases all the way across Tokyo on packed commuter trains in the middle of rush hour.
If you’re flying out of Narita Airport consider staying within easy reach of either Ueno or Nippori stations. These have the easiest access to Narita Airport on the Skyline Express. If you’re departing from Haneda Airport think about staying somewhere with easy access to Shinagawa station, which is a direct 15 minute train ride on the Keikyu Airport Line.
If you’re moving on to other parts of Japan from Tokyo on the Shinkansen (bullet train) you might want to stay somewhere close to Tokyo station. Shinkansen trains also stop at Shinagawa station when heading south from Tokyo or Ueno station when heading north, so you could consider finding accommodation near either of these stations.
If you’re only staying in Tokyo and planning one or two day trips out of the city then you don’t need to get a Japan Rail Pass. Unless you’re travelling on to other parts of Japan after Tokyo, buying a Japan Rail Pass will be a very expensive waste of money.
The Japan Rail Pass is a great way of saving money if you’re taking multiple trips across Japan on bullet trains (shinkansen) or other long distance trains operated by Japan Railways. The cost of the Japan Rail Pass is much cheaper than individually buying multiple tickets to and from the same destinations.
However, if you’re only travelling around Tokyo with the odd day trip planned then buying a Japan Rail Pass will not be cost effective. The cost of the Japan Rail Pass will be far greater than the price of tickets for trains on day trips to destinations close to Tokyo.
If it’s your first time in Tokyo then its guaranteed that you’ll be taking a shedload of photos that will need to be instantly Instagrammed. Plus you’ll also need to get online in order to navigate your way around the city.
In which case hiring a portable WiFi router will be essential to keep you connected. Several devices can be connected to a portable WiFi router, so if you’re travelling with a phone, a laptop and a tablet, this is the easiest and most convenient way to go about it.
Thankfully hiring a portable router is a pretty straightforward process. Several companies offering portable WiFi routers for hire, and these can be booked online before you arrive in Tokyo and collected at either Narita Airport or at Handeda Airport depending on where you’ll be landing.
Alternatively you can arrange for the router to be delivered to your hotel or you can collect it from central Tokyo. At the end of your trip simply post the router back in the enclosed pre-paid envelope in any postbox.
Though it’s one of the largest cities on earth, Tokyo has a phenomenally efficient and extensive public transport system. By far the easiest way to get around Tokyo is by train, and a vast network of underground and overland train lines are connected to nearly 900 stations throughout Greater Tokyo.
Though Tokyo’s train and metro system might appear daunting at first, here are a few tips to help you cross the city like a seasoned Tokyoite.
Pasmo and Suica are contactless prepaid cards (known as IC cards) that allow you to tap in and out of stations. Pasmo and Suica cards are accepted on virtually all of Tokyo’s underground and train lines and buses. Pasmo and Suica IC cards are essentially identical, the only difference being who they are sold by. Suica IC cards are sold by JR East
Pasmo cards easily can be bought from ticket machines at most metro and train stations. They can also be bought at Narita and Haneda Airports. You can top up both Pasmo and Suica cards at ticket machines at any train or metro station regardless of who they’re operated by.
You can also use both Pasmo and Suica cards on a number of train lines and buses in places outside Tokyo too, such as Yokohama and Kamakura, making them ideal for day trips outside of Tokyo.
Pasmo and Suica cards can also be used on public transport systems in all other major cities in Japan that use IC cards, such as Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Sapporo. Pasmo cards can even be used to pay for items in convenience stores and many vending machines.
With so many metro and train stations in Tokyo it can be easy to get flustered and lost when trying to plot a route across Tokyo. In Tokyo it pays to plan your journey before you set off to make sure you get to where you want to go.
The Tokyo Subway Route Map and app (Apple here / Android here) and Google Maps apps will be Godsends in your first time in Tokyo. You can use either app to easily plot out the quickest route across town in an instant. You will need internet or a mobile network connection for both of them to work, so plan on picking up a portable wifi router whilst you’re in Tokyo.
Once you get to your required station it pays to know which station exit you need before you arrive. Mega-stations such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and Ueno are almost subterranean cities. Often simply trying to get out of the station can be an ordeal.
Besides countless platforms and huge underground corridors linking to other nearby stations, the likes of Shinjuku and Ikebukuro stations are also home to an endless number of shops, restaurants, food courts and massive department stores. Tokyo’s larger train stations have literally hundreds of exits (Shinjuku station has over 200 exits).
If you take the wrong exit out of the station you can easily end up nowhere near where you’re trying to get to. However, every station exit is numbered and they all have signs written in English, meaning that finding the exit you need should be fairly straightforward.
Plan your journey using Google Maps to find the station exit closest to where you’re trying to go. Once you get off the train, find the direction of the exit you need and follow the yellow exit signs.
Hundreds of thousands of people pass through Tokyo’s busiest stations every day and the worst time to travel is during rush hour. If you can then avoid travelling by train during the morning rush hour then do. Trains are crammed and stations are hectic. If you need to travel through central Tokyo by train try to leave it until after 9.00am
If you have a very early flight out of Narita Airport when departing Tokyo you might want to consider staying at a hotel in the airport on your last night (or in the nearby town of Narita) to save yourself the hassle of lugging your luggage across Tokyo during rush hour.
Typically taxis aren’t the best way to get around Tokyo. Taxis are fairly expensive, plus the scale of the city and the amount of traffic means that it’s often much easier to hop on a train. However, as Tokyo’s metro and trains stop running at around midnight, there might be occasions if you’re out late at night when you might need a taxi to take you home.
Vacant taxis can easily be flagged down in the street. There are also a huge number of taxi ranks in busy areas, particularly near train stations or larger hotels. Whilst taxi apps are becoming more common in Tokyo, they’re nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are in other major cities.
If you hail a taxi in Tokyo remember that most taxi drivers won’t speak a great deal of English. If you’re trying to get back to your hotel, make sure to have the address written in Japanese script (not romaji) to show the taxi driver.
Taxi drivers often find it easier to search for a destination in their sat nav system by looking up the business’ telephone number, so make a note of your hotel’s phone number too. Hotels often have business cards at the reception desk with their address on it, so take one of these with you in case you ever need a taxi back to where you’re staying.
Taxi fares can be paid in cash, whilst most drivers will also accept credit card. A growing number of taxis also accept payment by Pasmo and other IC cards too. Remember not to tip the driver as tipping is not the done thing in Japan (more on this below).
Tokyo has a reputation as one of the more expensive cities to visit. Certainly if you’ve got money to burn then Tokyo is one of the best places in the world, though you can have a fantastic time in Tokyo without having to spend an arm and a leg.
While flights to and accommodation in Tokyo are not cheap, not everything has to cost a fortune. Everyday basics such as snacks or bottled drinks cost no more in Tokyo than you’d expect to pay in any other major city.
Public transport in Tokyo is reasonably priced though the cost of getting around can add up pretty quickly if you take several train journeys over the course of a day. If you are on a budget there are plenty of free and cheap things to do throughout the city that will help to keep costs down.
You can also eat like a king for just a few hundred yen in thousands of restaurants all over Tokyo. You don’t have to go far to find a very good bowl of ramen for around 800¥.
Though Tokyo is expensive it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to save a few yen here and there during your trip. If you’re looking for a few money saving ideas for your first time in Tokyo, here are a few tips and tricks to help you keep costs down.
As well as potentially saving a few a yen, booking tickets with sites like Klook and Get Your Guide is incredibly convenient. Bookings are confirmed in an instant and often mean you just have to show a QR code at the ticket desk when you arrive.
If you’re looking to save money on food then embrace Japanese convenience stores. Called konbinis in Japanese, the likes of Lawson, Family Mart, and 7-Eleven are great places to eat cheaply, selling a wide variety of pretty decent sandwiches, salads, and ready made meals that only need a few minutes in a microwave.
Most convenience stores have small eating areas, meaning you can eat in and dispose of your litter too. If you want to eat in then meals can be heated up in-store by konbini staff while you wait in just a few minutes.
If you need to take out money whilst in Tokyo the most reliable cash machines can be found in convenience stores, particularly in 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven’s ATMs usually accept a wide variety of overseas bank cards.
Many stores in Tokyo offer tax free shopping to overseas tourists, removing the 10% consumption tax. This only applies in shops that are part of the tax free scheme and on purchases over ¥5000. You’ll need to show your passport and usually have to go to a specific counter inside the same store to get a refund on the tax after paying for your goods.
Tipping is an alien concept in Japan – in fact it can sometimes be seen as something of an insult. In Japan it is believed that people are paid fairly for the work they do and tipping might suggest that they are being underpaid.
Occasionally in bars or cafes you may see a small tips jar by the till, and leaving a tip will be entirely at your discretion. Otherwise remember that tipping waiters, bar staff, taxi drivers or hotel porters is not necessary and may even cause offence.
Japan as a whole has a remarkably low crime rate and Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world for travellers. Tokyoites won’t think twice about securing a spot in a cafe by leaving their wallet, keys, phone or laptop unguarded on a table whilst they order a coffee at the counter.
Though crime is extremely rare in Tokyo it’s always wise to be exercise common sense when you’re out and about, especially in more touristy areas….
Though edgy rather than overtly dangerous, its best to keep your wits about you if you plan a night out in the areas of Roppongi and Kabukicho.
Roppongi and Kabukicho are both big nightlife areas with hundreds of restaurants, bars, and clubs. It’s not uncommon in both areas for touts to try to lure (usually male) foreigners into bars with the promise of cheap drinks and pretty women.
The touts tend to be non-Japanese and are often pretty persistent. If approached by a tout ignore them until they give up as this is a well-known scam aimed at fleecing unsuspecting tourists of a lot of money.
The scam is a well-rehearsed one and is a particularly unpleasant one to fall victim to. When taken to a nearby bar the unsuspecting tourist will usually find their drinks spiked and memories of the evening a total blur. At the end of the night they’ll be presented with an enormous bill which they will be forced to pay, even if it means being forcibly marched to the nearest ATM.
Japanese society is famously polite. In a city the size of Tokyo there are a number of unwritten rules and accepted customs that help everything to run smoothly and to prevent people from imposing on others.
Here are a few social rules the first time visitor to Tokyo should follow in order not to appear rude or fall foul of a few social faux-pas.
Unless it’s outside a food stall it’s incredibly rare to see anybody eating or drinking openly in public. Eating a tray of sushi whilst walking down the street is a very easy way to mark yourself out as a tourist.
If you get hungry while you’re out and about and fancy a snack eat in at a convenience store, or find the nearest park where you can tuck into something to eat. Eating food on a train is also a huge no-no and should never be done.
Tokyo is one of the cleanest cities that you will ever visit, largely because littering is practically unthinkable in Japan. This is despite the fact that you will hardly ever see a public bin anywhere in Tokyo.
There are usually bins for plastic bottles and cans next to vending machines and small bins in convenience stores, public toilets and sometimes in train stations. Otherwise it is incredibly hard to track down a bin on Tokyo’s immaculate streets. If you accumulate any rubbish pack it up and take it away with you until you can dispose of it.
For many overseas visitors this might seem an alien concept but when waiting for and boarding trains, the queue is king. On station platforms lines mark out the position of the train doors and where to queue.
When waiting for the train to arrive line up behind the last person in the queue. When the train arrives passengers board in order of the queue rather than just piling on en masse. Also, if you have a lot of luggage keep out of the way of the flow of human traffic and don’t clog up station walkways or platforms.
For a city of 16 million people Tokyo is a quiet place. Collectively keeping the peace is an essential part of ensuring that the city ticks over so smoothly. Even in the busiest areas of Tokyo, loud behaviour is uncommon. Similarly, no matter how busy they get, Tokyo’s trains are almost always as quiet as a library.
Talking loudly or making noise on a train is considered incredibly inconsiderate and will be frowned upon by other passengers. People rarely talk on their phones, and if they do will talk as quietly as possible so as not to disturb other passengers. Conversations are always conducted in hushed silence too.
For decades tattoos in Japan have been associated with organised crime and gang membership. With the steady influx of foreign visitors, as well as a more open-minded younger generation, Japan’s attitude towards tattoos are (very) slowly changing. However, many people still frown upon openly visible tattoos.
It’s down to personal choice but if you have tattoos and you’re keen to avoid any awkwardness you might want to consider covering up any visible ink, especially if you’re visiting sacred monuments such as temples and shrines. If you’re looking to visit an onsen then you’ll need to find one that offers private baths for people with tattoos.
As a general precaution, don’t be surprised if you do get asked to cover up your ink as old attitudes towards tattoos still remain.
If you’re planning on visiting temples, shrines or any historic buildings during your first trip to Tokyo, be aware that some will require you to take your shoes off when you enter. This is common in Japan, with many attractions such as tea houses, Western-inspired mansions and even some traditional restaurants often requiring visitors to remove their footwear on entry.
If you have to take your shoes off in Tokyo then don’t be shamed by your socks. Bring your best socks to Tokyo just in case you need to take your shoes off. If you need to up your sock game after you arrive in Tokyo, you’ll be glad to know that all convenience stores sell a decent variety of socks.
In Japan it is very uncommon for people to wear a noticeable amount of aftershave or perfume. Wearing strong scents are seen as a way of inconveniencing others, something that is very much frowned on in Japan.
One way to really stand out from the crowd is to slap on a high dose of your favourite cologne. Even Japanese deodorants and anti-perspirants are usually odourless. Wearing a lot of perfume or aftershave is a very good way to clear a train carriage or find yourself sat alone in a cafe in Tokyo.
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