Guide to Visiting Tokyo for the First Time

Guide to Visiting Tokyo for the First Time

Guide to Visiting Tokyo for the First Time

An easy to use guide for first time visitors to Tokyo, Japan

Last Updated April 8th, 2020

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Visiting Tokyo for the first time left me feeling lavish, while practical, and humbled, while also confused. Tokyo is a beautiful blend of high tech and tradition, and if you’ve never been to Asia before this massive city can feel overwhelming. There is a lot going on in Tokyo. And that is definitely an understatement. Regardless, this city is incredibly beautiful, inspiring and kind, as well as a destination that everyone should experience at least once.

This Tokyo Guide for first time visitors will present the basics that you need to know for planning your trip and provide some guidance for what to expect. Continue reading to find out how to get to Tokyo, where to stay in the city, what to pack, the best things to do on your first trip to Tokyo, and more!

General Information about Tokyo, Japan

(for travelers & tourists)

  • Tokyo can be quite expensive, especially the lodgings, so budget accordingly. We found that decent hotels were in the $300-$400 price range. There are over 13 million people living in Tokyo, which means real estate is sparse, and in order to fit everyone the rooms need to be small.
  • Budget for Tokyo by visiting free attractions and eating one of your daily meals from one of Tokyo’s awesome 7/11’s. They have plenty of food options for cheap prices (however, not many for vegetarians, at least none that I could decipher)
  • Utilize 7/11’s ATMs. Who would have thought that 7/11 would be the saving grace for tourists in Tokyo? Many ATMs in the city do not accept international credit cards, but the 7/11s do!
  • Tokyo is very safe for travelers. In fact, crime rates are crazy low. I never felt uncomfortable (except in Golden Gai, but not to a point of fear, just a general awkwardness as an outsider. Read more about that here)
  • Water in Tokyo is safe to drink
  • Japanese currency is the Yen. Once you arrive, I would suggest taking out money as some places will only accept cash
  • The Japanese language can be confusing for tourists. It’s okay if you’re not an expert (or barely a novice level speaker like myself). Most people will help you if you need it (in fact, I was surprised at how often someone came to our language barrier aid).
  • Tokyo bathrooms are pretty fun. Weird to announce to the internet, but seriously their public restrooms felt nicer than some hotels restrooms I’ve been to in the states. Some play music in your stall, and I’m now convinced that toilet seat warmers should be required in all bathrooms.
  • Write down your lodging address in Japanese (you can ask the staff at your hotel), this way if you need to show it to a taxi driver or are asking for directions, it will make translating much easier.

How long do you need to visit Tokyo?

You could spend months in Tokyo and still find unique and fun things to do, but if you’re traveling to Tokyo for the first time with a limited number of vacation days, I would suggest three to five full days in the city. It will give you a great taste for the culture. Check out my itinerary that has details for each day.

    When is the best time of year to visit Tokyo?

    It seems that anytime of year is good to visit Tokyo. Many visitors flock to Tokyo for the annual spring cherry blossom bloom (which makes finding affordable lodging difficult). We visited Tokyo in November and were in awe of the fall foliage. Summers may be hot, but not unbearably so, just as their winters don’t become too cold. I suppose what is too hot/cold will depend on you, a simple Google weather search will show you what you need to know.

      Getting to Tokyo:

      There are two main airports that fly in and out of Tokyo:

      1. Haneda, which is closer to Tokyo and is the larger airport
      2. Narita, which is much further away from the city (up to two hours driving time).

      *I would suggest researching how to get to your hotel from BOTH of these airports. Our flight was redirected to land in Narita, so our transportation plans from Haneda had to change. From Narita you can take the Narita Express into Tokyo.

      • Currently, no visa is required for US citizen tourists staying less than 90 days, but you must have an onward ticket booked out of Japan in order to be admitted into the country. Your passport must have at least one free page, and be valid for your entire stay. *If you are not from the US, please check your country’s entry requirements for Japan
      • Effective January 2019 visitors to Japan are required to pay a 1000 yen tourist tax. This will be built into your airfare, and was put into place to help support their infrastructure for the 2020 Olympics.

        How to get around Tokyo:

        With a massive city like Tokyo, comes an equally intricate public transportation system. I’ve put together a blog post detailing how to use Tokyo’s public transportation system here.

          Where should a first time tourist to Tokyo stay in the city?

          Choosing the best location to stay while visiting Tokyo for the first time is key to having an enjoyable experience. It’s best to stay in a major area of the city such as Shinjuku, Shibuya or Ginza. Many recommend Ropongi as well (I did not visit this area of the city, so I cannot speak from personal opinion).

          When booking your lodging I would suggest a hotel or a capsule hotel. While I typically recommend booking an Airbnb, there are new measures being put into place post-2020 Olympics that will limit the number of Airbnbs. So, you might as well try to earn a few hotel member points during your stay. Here is where we stayed and loved its location being close to Shinjuku.

            Foods to try in Tokyo:

            While there are so many delicious options for japanese food, here are the items I looked forward to most & enjoyed as a vegetarian:

            • Green tea: green tea is served at basically every restaurant, instead of a glass of water.
            • Mochi: a sweet rice paste that’s gooey, sweet & flavored
            • Taikyaki: a japanese fish-shaped pastry, usually filled with red bean paste. Typically served warm & so yummy!
            • Sushi: I typically stay away from seafood, but felt that I couldn’t visit Japan and not try a piece of sushi (especially since those who I was traveling with wanted it for every meal haha)
            [the plethora of places selling sushi had me thinking about fish consumption in Japan. After researching, I wrote a post about the information I found. Check it out here]
            • Vending Machines: the plethora of vending machines in Tokyo is comparable to the number of people living in the city. At least once, order something from a vending machine. However, keep in mind how much plastic that runs through those machines, please don’t overdo it.

            *Fun fact- Tokyo has the most Michelin star restaurants of any city in the world!

              What to pack for a trip to Tokyo:

              • Comfortable shoes to walk around in: You will be doing a lot of walking in Tokyo, so comfortable shoes you can wear all day should be the first thing you pack
              • A small lined bag for inside of your purse or backpack: Tokyo is extremely clean, yet there aren’t many public trash cans, so you will need to hold onto your garbage waste when you’re walking around the city. Having a lined bag with you will help make it easier to do so.
              • Reusable water bottle: You can find & purchase reusable water bottles anywhere, and since the water is safe to drink you won’t need a fancy one. Having a reusable water bottle with you will prevent you from paying for drinks all day, and help avoid how much plastic you waste.
                • Travel Credit Card: Our Visa was accepted everywhere we wanted to use it, but I’ve heard that American Express may not work too great in Japan. We LOVE our Chase Sapphire Preferred card, especially because using it allows us to earn points that we redeem for free travel. Considering signing up for this stellar travel rewards credit card? Please do so here. If you sign up for this Chase credit card you can now earn 60,000 bonus points (used to be 50,000 bonus points.
                • Layers: Tokyo’s weather can be fairly mild, but I would suggest dressing in layers so that you can spend all day out without having to waste time going back to your hotel for a jacket
                • Universal Adapter: the outlets in Japan are similar to US standard, but are two pronged, so if you have a three pronged plug, you’ll need an adapter.

                Don't Forget to Pack:

                click image to find out more!

                What to see & do on your first trip to Tokyo:

                This is only a short list of the things you should see and do on your first trip to Tokyo. There is much more detail provided in this post.

                • Visit Teamlab Borderless
                • Explore the Asakusa area & the Sensoji Temple
                • Walk around the Tsukiji Fish Market
                • Go to the top of the Government building
                • Drive like a Mario Kart player
                • Explore Ginza
                • Walk around Harajuku
                • Enjoy a night out in Shinjuku

                  Hi! I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger, as well as freelancing online brand strategist. I share real & honest information about traveling, how to do so sustainably, and ways to earn an income while working remote.

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                  Fish Consumption in Japan

                  Fish Consumption in Japan

                  Fish Consumption in Japan

                  Last Updated November 12th, 2019

                  A discussion on the fish consumption rates in Japan. How much is too much & can our oceans recover?

                  “I wonder how much seafood Japan consumes?” A question I continually asked myself while visiting Tokyo, Japan in November 2018 (this was also my first visit to Asia).

                  Can the blame of certain fish species population depletions be placed solely on Japan?

                  Do the Japanese over consume seafood?

                  It’s said that one out of every ten fish is consumed in Japan. This rings true as the worldwide view of the Japanese diet is based around its affinity to create incredibly delicious sushi.

                  So with an amazingly popular dish and a unique culture that millions of visitors want to experience each year, why should we care if there may be an overconsumption of seafood in Japan?

                  It’s important to consider that

                  1. Seafood is a top provider of protein for diets around the globe. As more and more people turn away from the heart health problems of red meats, seafood is seen as a healthy conscious choice.
                  2. The fishing industry provides jobs for millions of people around the world, as in over 200 million jobs. This means that almost 3% of the entire world’s population is affected by the fishing industry.


                  For decades fishing seemed like an endless opportunity in our oceans, yet overconsumption and unregulated fishing practices have pushed many species to the brink of extinction.

                  Most notably affected is the torpedo shaped bluefin tuna, which Japan is the largest consumer of. This specis of tuna is a highly sought after endangered species. Oddly enough, we shake our fingers at poachers of endangered rhino species and sign petitions to end dog meat trades, yet are comfortable ordering a plate of sushi that offers an endangered fish.

                  Please keep in mind, the first two examples are terrible, this statement is merely aiming at opening your perspective in a new way and in no way trying to place negative opinions on those who consumer fish or undervalue the atrocity of other species killings and abuse.

                  So, how much is too much fish consumption for Japan?

                  Japan is one of the dominant importers of seafood. Japan’s fishing industry is focused on feeding Japan, with 90% of its caught seafood consumed domestically, and importing the remainder from the United States and South America.

                  Due to their high consumption of seafood, they are one of a few countries who look to sustainably source their fish, however it’s an uphill battle. It was only in 2017 that agreements were haphazardly agreed upon to structure the fishing of the most popular fish sold worldwide, the bluefin tuna.


                  The population of tuna has been depleted by about 97% due to overfishing and has become a billion dollar industry. In fact, each year there is a New Years tuna auction in Tokyo. This year, 2019, the winning bidder won with a record high $3.1 million! Talk about a supply and demand market that is a perfect example for economics professors to use in their lecture halls.

                    Japan asked for an increase in their annual quotas for bluefin tuna, which was thankfully denied by the Pacific Fisheries committee (thanks to the United States opposition to the request). Japan has had plans to rebuild the Pacific bluefin stocks, with a target to regain up to 20% of historic levels by 2034. However their asked for expansion was not approved due to the population levels not improving enough.

                    Their Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries has said that fish consumption is down from 2001’s high of 40.7kg to 24.6kg consumed per person each year. (Considering part of this could be due to Japan’s younger generation now having access to other options such as beef and poultry.)

                    With the help of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), fisheries now have access to evaluations and strategies to implement more sustainable tactics. It is clear there is a need to conserve the ocean’s ecosystem and maintain a healthy balance from low lying plankton to large predators, and also preserve the jobs of millions.

                    Greenpeace compares this all to ‘simple housekeeping’ that I feel needs quite a bit of regulation and accountability. Luckily there is the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership who has the T75 goal, where 75 % of all fishing will be done sustainably by the end of 2020 (fisheries must be certified by the MSC).

                      For a typical consumer it feels overwhelming to consider the ramifications of the interests of business owners overpowering the needs of our environment. You can help make a difference by using your money as your ‘vote’. Here’s how:

                      • Only purchase sustainable seafood from brands who only sell seafood with a certified MSC blue label. This is currently the most trustworthy and widely known label for sustainable seafood


                      • Support restaurants that are MSC certified; even asking if they provide MSC certified sustainable seafood will help. Think about it this way- if enough people ask a restaurant if they sell sustainably certified seafood then they will look into, and hopefully, transition to it.

                      The MSC Blue Label

                      Image credit:

                      The question of whether Japan consumes too much fish is a difficult one to properly answer, especially because I don’t believe we fully understand the impacts of the oceans shifting biodiversity.

                      The actions needed to be taken should be based on how we fish around the world, the retail and food services industries seafood choices and higher consumer standards.

                        If you’re planning a trip to Japan, then be sure to check these posts about Japanese culture & my First Timers Guide to Tokyo


                          IWC “The IWC is the global body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling. The IWC currently has 89 member governments from countries all over the world.

                          The Commission’s role has expanded since its establishment in 1946. In addition to regulation of whaling, today’s IWC works to address a wide range of conservation issues including bycatch and entanglement, ocean noise, pollution and debris, collision between whales and ships, and sustainable whale watching.”


                          Organizations you can support to help with ocean conservation:



                          -Marine Stewardship Council

                          -Sustainable Fishering Partnership

                            Hi! I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger, as well as freelancing online brand strategist. I share real & honest information about traveling, how to do so sustainably, and ways to earn an income while working remote.

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                            Tokyo, Japan in 4 Days

                            Tokyo, Japan in 4 Days

                            Tokyo, Japan in 4 Days

                            A four day itinerary for what to do in Tokyo, Japan

                            Last Updated April 8th, 2020

                            Four days in Tokyo is a great amount of time to spend in the city, if you’ve never been to Tokyo before. This Tokyo itinerary is the best way to spend a weekend here and get the most out of your time in this wonderfully clean, fast paced & unique city.

                            Below are four days of what to see and do in Tokyo based on location within the city, including tons of tips and how to be best prepared.

                            Things you should know before going to Tokyo:

                            • The city is massive, so prepare in advance by allocating time spent getting from one place to the next
                            • Each day in this itinerary is stuffed with awesome places to see & things to do, which means these are long days.
                            • Be sure to understand Tokyo’s public transportation systems before you arrive. Here is an awesome detailed guide about Tokyo’s public transportation.
                            • If this is your first trip & you need general information about Tokyo, then check out this first timers guide to Tokyo
                            • You do not have to follow the order of this itinerary, however each day is based on a certain area of the city to make the most of your time there

                            While there is definitely an endless amount of things to see & do in Tokyo, here are the

                            Best places to see in Tokyo in four days for your first visit:

                            Day ONE: Saturday, Central Tokyo

                            Fly into Tokyo the day before, Friday

                            Explore the Tsukiji Fish Market

                            The Tsukiji Fish Market was once the largest wholesale fish & seafood market in the world. Today it is split into two locations.

                            1. The wholesale fish market is in Toyosu (the wholesale fish market was the original inner market)
                            2. The outer market is still in Tsukiji, and is mostly restaurants and vendors. Here is where you can experience the traditional looking market that many travelers cherish. You will find plenty of sushi, mochi, matcha green tea and more at the Tsukiji outer market. Most of the restaurants and vendors are open until around 3pm, so visiting here first thing in the morning would be ideal.

                            *Please note- the Toyosu fish market is located where a previous gas company took residence. It took many years for the transition due to concerns about contamination. It’s said there is no contamination, but for my preference I wouldn’t choose to go or eat from there. Just something to consider…

                              Become a real life Mario Kart player!

                              Let your childhood gaming dreams come true by booking a go-karting experience through Tokyo. Dress up in cartoon onesies and a local guide will direct you through the beautiful city. You’ll have a hilarious and fun few hours revving your engines while seeing a new perspective of Tokyo.

                              After thorough research we chose this company to go-kart with. They had small groups of about six people plus one guide. You will need to bring an IDP — International Driver’s Permit — and your passport with you.

                              *Tokyo may be a massive city of 13+ million people, yet their roads felt very safe and easy to navigate (which was a fear of mine going into go-karting).

                              *Be sure to dress in layers. Considering the fact that go-karts have no walls, you are zooming through the streets which means lots of wind. Our hands were numb halfway through, and I was very grateful for my goofy onesie as it provided an extra layer of warmth.

                                Walk around Ginza

                                Ginza is Tokyo’s famous shopping, entertainment & ritziest neighborhood. It felt like a cleaner, more extravagant version of Manhattan. I suggest walking around on a Saturday afternoon as the main street is closed off to vehicles (from 12-5pm) so pedestrians can meander through the streets. Hop in and out of gorgeous department stores, listen to live music on the street and find a great place for lunch to take in the extravagance of Ginza

                                  Explore the Imperial Palace

                                  Tokyo’s Imperial Palace was rebuilt after its destruction during World War Two to its identical style. While the buildings are not open to the public, you can walk around the gardens. There are options to book a tour guide for these gardens. We did not participate in a tour, however they are free and limited to 300 people (!?) per group. For more information here is the ‘application’ page to book one of the tours.

                                    Go out for drinks in Shinjuku

                                    Shinjuku is considered the business district, yet it has an exciting night life and turns into an entertainment hub when the sun goes down. It’s also home to the famous Robot Restaurant. Take your time walking around, popping into different stores and bars to gain a sense of how nightlife in Tokyo is done by all ages.

                                      Shinjuku is where the popular Golden Gai area is located as well. Golden Gai is a small area with narrow bars and alleyways. The clientele are comparable to the locals you see at your bars, but are very loyal to their small bar in Golden Gai. To be honest, as tourists, we felt uncomfortable entering the narrow establishments. I would suggest only exploring here with a local.

                                        Day TWO: Sunday, West Side/Modern Tokyo

                                        Wear comfortable shoes today, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking

                                        Meander through Shinjuku Garden

                                        Shinjuku Garden is a beautiful place to leisurely walk around and disappear from the hustle of Tokyo. It’s beautiful in both autumn (fall foliage) and spring (cherry blossom blooms). The Shinjuku Garden is a national park and has an entrance fee of 200 yen.

                                          Step back in time at Yoyogi Park & the Meiji Shrine

                                          An even more densely forested area in busy Tokyo, Yoyogi Park is one of the city’s largest parks. The Meiji Shrine sits inside of the beautiful Yoyogi park, and was originally built for the emperor who helped Japan transition to a world power in the early 1900’s. Similarly to the Imperial Palace, the Meiji Shrine was rebuilt after World War Two. When you visit here you may likely witness a traditional Shinto wedding like we did.

                                          This Japan Guide provides great instructions on how to get here without having to walk crazy far (…which we may have done ourselves accidentally).

                                            Channel your inner child spirit at Harajuku

                                            Thanks to Gwen Stefani, we’ve come to know Harajuku girls are fun, eclectically dressed girls, and it originated in Harajuku, Tokyo. The main street is Takeshita Dori, or Takeshita Street. Everything is open on Sundays, and still very busy but very much so worth the experience of shuffling through the crowds. Spend your time here exploring the colorful shops and restaurants (many of which have lines lasting at least 30 minutes just to place an order)

                                              Become lost in the crowd at Shibuya Crossing

                                              Shibuya Crossing is the busiest crossing section in the world, but oddly enough is not overwhelmingly hectic as you might expect. Curious as to why that is? Read this to learn more about Japanese culture. Unlike most street crossings, Shibuya’s crosswalks will all turn green at once which is why it’s such a busy crossing.

                                              *Many people will suggest going into the Starbucks at Shibuya to people watch the crossing. This could be a great option, but you’ll be waiting in an epically long line to cram your way to the glass window. INSTEAD go to the Magnet building roof. It’s free to go up on their rooftop viewing deck, and (in my opinion) has a better view as it’s higher up than the Starbucks window. Plus there was NO line. We casually walked into the elevator with only one other couple, and were greeted by at most 10 people up there.

                                                Day THREE: Monday

                                                Get a birds eye view of Tokyo from the top of the Government Building

                                                While you can go to the top of the Tokyo Sky Tree for a fee, you can visit the top of Tokyo’s Government Building for free! (My excitement for free things to do while traveling apparently makes me rhyme like Dr. Suess) You will get an equally high view of the city, just from the opposing side of the Sky Tree.

                                                We arrived 15 minutes prior to it opening and there was already a long line, however it moves quickly. Be prepared for potential motion sickness, as the elevator ascends quickly.

                                                  Test your senses on a Japanese food tour

                                                  Japanese food is known for sushi, but compared to America’s take on sushi it is vastly different than what you might expect. Having a guide to direct you to the best unknown gems and suggesting new items to try is a great way to test the waters and build your confidence when ordering food on your own.

                                                  We booked through City Unscripted. I love their concept of hiring local guides for personalized and private tours.

                                                  Personally, I try to maintain a vegetarian diet while traveling, however given certain circumstances I will eat seafood on my travels. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a food tour in Tokyo for strict vegans or vegetarians as it was quite difficult for our local guide to find places that satisfied our eating preferences.

                                                    Have your mind mesmerized at TeamLab Borderless

                                                    By far one of our favorite places in Tokyo. TeamLab Borderless is a museum filled with unique rooms with lightshoes. Pictures can do it more justice than I could explaning it, so see below!

                                                    NOTE: there are TWO locations near each other in Tokyo–

                                                    The difference between TeamLab Borderless and TeamLab Planet:

                                                    It is easy to confuse the two. TeamLab Borderless is known for the images I have included in this post, and is further away than TeamLab Planet (by only a 5-7 minute train ride). It is also intended to be permanent.

                                                    TeamLab Planet is a temporary exhibit, and doesn’t require as much time to go through & enjoy. It also apparently has an exhibit where you walk through water.

                                                    You must purchase your tickets in advance, so book your tickets now! It’s difficult to say what time of day is best as you will want to spend hours inside enjoying everything. Mornings are busy but you will have the most time to explore. However, even with a busy crowd entering we were able to take the pictures we wanted with almost no one in the way.

                                                    Fun story: we were SO proud of ourselves as we arrived early and were towards the front of the entrance line, only to find out that we were at the wrong location, and sprinted to the train to get to the correct one we purchased tickets for. A typical travel fail, but oh well, it happens to the best of us.

                                                      Maps to reference the two locations of TeamLab

                                                      Catch a rainbow view

                                                      Enjoy sunset and watch the Rainbow bridge light up. The bridge is located in the same area as both TeamLab locations, which is why I would recommend visiting TeamLab in the afternoon, and staying for sunset. There is an easily accessible beach area where you can watch the bridge light up. The bridge lights up in different colors depending on the time of year, so you may not witness the rainbow colors, however sunset here is beautiful either way. Fun fact about the bridge is that the lights are solar powered- bonus points to Tokyo for sustainability!

                                                        Day FOUR: Tuesday

                                                        Enjoy Ueno Park

                                                        Ueno Park contains quite a few museums and is quite beautiful during autumn and spring (similar to Shinjuku Garden). Choose a museum to explore and spend the morning calmly walking around the peaceful park

                                                          Dive into Japanese culture by exploring the Asakusa neighborhood

                                                          Asakusa showcases some of the most popular landmarks to see in Tokyo. While walking around here you’ll feel as if you are stepping back in time by walking through what feels like a living museum. The Nakamise Shopping Street here has many small shops that are great for purchasing souvenirs and gifts to bring home.

                                                            Marvel at the Sensoji Temple

                                                            The Sensoji Temple is part of the Asakusa neighborhood, but rightly deserves its own section here. It is incredibly breathtaking and in the heart of the Asakusa area.

                                                            *If you’re curious about what people do in and around the temple read about basic Japanese culture here

                                                              Tokyo, Japan is an incredibly unique city that is a great gateway for those who have never visited Asia before. This four day itinerary for Tokyo will have you excited to spend even more time in the city on your next visit. The city feels like a blend of culture, entertainment, history and modernity with some of the most respectful and kind people I’ve ever met.

                                                                Tips for Visiting Tokyo, Japan in four days:

                                                                • Aim to stay somewhere central, as getting around Tokyo can take quite a bit of time
                                                                  • We stayed in the Shinjuku area, but other great neighborhoods would be Shibuya, Ginza or near the Tokyo Station
                                                                  • If you can, try staying in a capsule hotel. Note: We couldn’t find one that had availability for both male & females. If you find a capsule hotel that accommodates both please share with me!
                                                                • Department stores are great for gift & souvenir shopping. Many are located underground, so look up their locations as opposed to hoping to find one while walking around
                                                                • Tokyo is a very large and busy city that can feel overwhelming, so be sure to slow down & enjoy it (which is why I suggested so many parks)
                                                                • 7/11’s will be your best friend. You can find relatively cheap food and use their ATMs easily.

                                                                  Hi! I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger, as well as freelancing online brand strategist. I share real & honest information about traveling, how to do so sustainably, and ways to earn an income while working remote.

                                                                  Follow Along!

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                                                                  How to Use Tokyo’s Public Transportation

                                                                  How to Use Tokyo’s Public Transportation

                                                                  How to Use Tokyo’s Public Transportation

                                                                  An easy to understand, outlined guide on how to use Tokyo’s public transportation.

                                                                  Last Updated April 8th, 2020

                                                                  Tokyo has almost 14 million residents, so taking public transportation in Tokyo, Japan is the best way to get around the city. However, being that it is such a large city, Tokyo’s public transportation system can be very confusing and overwhelming to visitors. I’ve put together an easy to follow, and detailed guide on how to get around Tokyo, and the best way to do so. And when I say detailed, I mean I’ve compiled all of my research into a succinct bullet point outline so that you can easily understand everything and get the most juice out of the lemon (is that a real phrase, or did I just make it up?)

                                                                  Trust me when I suggest that you read through this slowly. Jot down your own notes & reference multiple maps while reading, so that you can feel comfortable with getting around when you arrive in Tokyo. Taking public transportation is much cheaper than paying for an uber or taxi, since the city is so large, and it gives you an excellent opportunity to truly experience Japan’s unique culture.

                                                                  *PLEASE note that bus transportation is not included in this guide. We found prices to be similar from bus to train to subway, and felt that train and subway lines are more reliable and time efficient.

                                                                  Things to Know about Tokyo, Japan’s Public Transportation System:

                                                                  • Tokyo’s size requires anyone to utilize their very efficient public transportation
                                                                  • Japan’s public transport is ALWAYS on time
                                                                  • Everything is clean. From the actual train cars to the walkways, to the restrooms. In fact, the public restrooms at the stations were comparable to nice hotel restrooms. As with most of Tokyo, there are few trash cans available.
                                                                  • Efficiency is the focus. With more than 13 million people in one city, efficiency is necessary for Tokyo’s public transportation. There are arrows showing which side of walkways to walk on and where to line up for each car. What would be chaotic elsewhere is systematic order here.
                                                                  • Tokyo’s public transportation is very safe. The etiquette on Tokyo’s public transportation is to not give direct eye contact and to keep to yourself. Not once did I ever slightly feel uncomfortable or that there were pickpockets. *however, still always protect your belongings
                                                                  • It’s easy to use, but can be quite confusing to a visitor due to the number of transit lines.
                                                                  • Vending machines are in every station. They have a plethora of unique drinks you can get. *Keep in mind the amount of plastic that comes from these machines, if you want to try something be selective to limit your plastic purchases please.
                                                                  • There are two types of Tokyo public transportation cards you can purchase. The Suica & the Pasmo, more details on these below
                                                                  • If lost, someone may come up to help you and you can always ask an official inside. We found that the Japanese were very kind and helpful when we seemed lost and confused.
                                                                  • The JR East & subway lines are the most convenient (see below)


                                                                    Trains in Tokyo

                                                                    You can use a Travel card (Suica or Pasmo) or a JR rail pass on Tokyo’s trains. These allow commuters to hop on/off buses and navigate stations relatively stress free. I would recommend using one of these cards throughout your stay as it will eliminate the need to purchase a ticket for each ride. Whichever you choose, know that Tokyo’s trains are very economical & convenient for travelers

                                                                    Here are details on the train types available in Tokyo:

                                                                    • JR = Japan Rail, this rail system covers the entire country of Japan (this JR term will be referred to a lot in this post)
                                                                      • JR East is a group of lines. It includes Tokyo so will be seen most often in the city
                                                                        • JR Yamanote Line- one of the JR East lines, this train service does a circular loop of all of Tokyo’s main spots & runs until 1:20am
                                                                          • Six major stations on this line:







                                                                      Other JR Lines that you might use frequently in Tokyo are:

                                                                      Keihin-Tohoku Line: runs parallel to the Yamanote Line’s eastern half


                                                                      Saikyo Line: runs parallel to the Yamanote Line on the western half

                                                                      (dark green, light blue)

                                                                      Chuo/Sobu Line (local): runs across the Yamanote circle, this is a local, slow service

                                                                      (Yellow, slow local)

                                                                      Chuo Line (rapid): runs across the Yamanote circle, a rapid service. Connects the Tokyo Station with Shinjuku Stations

                                                                      (Orange, rapid)

                                                                      Shinkansen: known as ‘bullet trains’. The Tokaido Shinknason trains stop at Tokyo & Shinagawa, and bullet trains north stop at Tokyo & Ueno

                                                                      Shinkansen, or high speed bullet train, tickets can be purchased from the JR stations

                                                                      Maps of the Shinknason trains cover the entirety of Japan, so to avoid confusion none are included in here. If you are interested in the bullet trains, check out this guide here

                                                                        • The Narita Express is a JR East train line
                                                                          • Narita Express is the train line that takes you from the Narita Airport into Tokyo’s city center
                                                                      • There are private railway companies
                                                                        • They connect Tokyo’s center with outer regions & surrounding prefectures
                                                                        • The private railways typically start at a JR Yamanote Line
                                                                        • Here are some of the private railway companies
                                                                          • Keio
                                                                          • Odakyu
                                                                          • Seibu
                                                                          • Tokyu
                                                                          • Keikyu
                                                                          • Keisei
                                                                          • Tobu

                                                                        Before you visit! Learn about Japanese Culture here.

                                                                        Now that we’ve covered above ground trains, let’s move onto

                                                                        Tokyo’s SUBWAYS

                                                                        • There are 13 subway lines
                                                                          • Operated by two companies
                                                                            • Toei (4 lines) & Tokyo Metro (9 lines)
                                                                          • They run mostly inside of the JR Yamanote Line (remember the JR Yamanote Line is the circular/loop line that stops at many major Tokyo stops)

                                                                        Tickets & Passes for Tokyo’s Subways and Trains

                                                                        Tokyo Travel cards

                                                                          • Tokyo’s travel cards give you unlimited access to any subway or train line
                                                                          • They don’t discount the cost per ride, but they do save you a lot of time from having to buy a ticket each time you want to go somewhere; i.e. you’d have to find the ticket booth, stand in line, etc (each station is different so finding the ticket area would take you time)
                                                                          • Each area/prefecture of Japan has their own travel card. The most used and acceptable in Tokyo are the Suica and Pasmo cards. What is the difference between a Suica and a Pasmo card? See below!

                                                                        Suica: purchased at JR lines

                                                                          • Travelers can purchase Suica cards from any JR station ticket machine or convenience stores
                                                                          • It is a prepaid fare card
                                                                          • A 500 yen (about $5) deposit is required, and can be refunded when the card is returned
                                                                          • Suica cards are accepted all over Japan- almost all buses, trains, convenience stores, vending machines
                                                                          • Once charged up with money the Suica card can be used immediately

                                                                        Pasmo: purchased at non-JR lines/local lines (subway & bus lines)

                                                                          • Pasmo cards are used the same way as Suica cards, they are just provided by a different company
                                                                          • Pasmo cards are only accepted within Tokyo
                                                                          • Pasmo cards can be purchased from either airport, rail & subway stations
                                                                          • A 500 yen deposit is also required, and can be refunded when the card is returned.
                                                                            • Keep in mind, that the Pasmo card is only available to be used within Tokyo, so be sure to return the card for your deposit while you are within the city of Tokyo

                                                                        Should you choose a Suica or Pasmo card?

                                                                        This seems to be a matter of preference to each person & where they will be traveling within the country

                                                                        How to use your travel cards:

                                                                          • Simply touch your travel card over the entrance scanner to the station
                                                                          • The scanners will beep if you do not have enough money charged onto the card, so each station has kiosks where you can purchase and re-charge your cards
                                                                        • Day passes are available but not very convenient
                                                                          • They don’t cover all of the different lines & all seem to be overpriced
                                                                          • And if you’re exploring over a few days you’ll end up taking different lines of transportation around, so its more economical to purchase a travel card
                                                                        • Japan Rail Pass
                                                                          • This is useful if you are exploring large parts of Japan, outside of Tokyo
                                                                          • If traveling outside of Tokyo, I would suggest purchasing the Japan Rail Pass only for the days that you are not in Tokyo, and using the travel cards, which are cheaper, for when you are in Tokyo
                                                                        • Regional Passes
                                                                          • JR Tokyo Wide Pass: good for getting to Tokyo Disneyland and Mt. Fuji
                                                                            • You can only purchase a regional pass in person at either of Tokyo’s airports or the main train stations
                                                                          • Know that each region of Japan has its own travel pass, or IC card (Tokyo’s are Suica & Pasmo)

                                                                          Tips for using Tokyo’s Public Transportation:

                                                                          • The faster, bullet trains, also known as Shinkansen, require separate tickets. Meaning you cannot use your Travel (Suica or Pasmo) cards for the bullet trains
                                                                          • Return your travel card at the end of your visit at any station relevant to your card
                                                                            • Suica: JR lines
                                                                            • Pasmo: non-JR lines
                                                                          • With 13 million people in one city, rush hour will be packed; if possible, avoid traveling from 7:30-9am
                                                                          • Many lines run from 5am-1am
                                                                          • There are women only cars during rush hours (children 6th grade & younger are allowed), typically towards the front of the train
                                                                          • Use your mobile device to help you navigate. Google Maps was on point with their directions using Tokyo’s trains and subways. The app will show you the number of stops, which exit of the station to take & the direction to walk towards

                                                                          Hi! I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger, as well as freelancing online brand strategist. I share real & honest information about traveling, how to do so sustainably, and ways to earn an income while working remote.

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                                                                          Planning a trip to Tokyo? Read these posts to help you plan & feel prepared for your trip!

                                                                          Weekend Itinerary for Tokyo, Japan

                                                                          Basics of Japanese Culture

                                                                          First Time Visitors Guide to Tokyo, Japan

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                                                                          Japanese Culture

                                                                          Japanese Culture

                                                                          Japanese Culture

                                                                          Easy to remember & good to know information about Japanese Culture if you are visiting for the first time (or need a refresher!)

                                                                          Last Updated April 8th, 2020

                                                                          Japanese culture is known around the world as a fascinating, unique and deeply historic culture. Tokyo, Japan’s capital city, is where tradition meets innovation. You can be standing next to a thousand year old temple with a modern day skyscraper in front of you. With the 2020 Olympics just around the corner, Japanese culture and traditions are being highlighted for the world to see. Yet, it was only a few hundred years ago that the country was isolated from the rest of the world. This allowed the famous culture in Japan to become such a fascinating lifestyle to learn about and experience.

                                                                          I have only spent a few days in Tokyo, Japan (it was also my first time in Asia) and continue to cherish the beautiful and serene lifestyle. If you are visiting Tokyo, Japan, here are things to know about Tokyo culture to help you feel at home and be prepared for your travels there:

                                                                          [Traveling to Tokyo for the first time? Check out my First Timers Guide to Tokyo, Japan]

                                                                          Basics of Japanese Culture

                                                                          Japanese Food Culture

                                                                          1) Japanese food is created with pride and excitement

                                                                          The Japanese take great pride and excitement in the food they prepare, with many things being made with the craftsmanship that modern day ‘hipsters’ seemingly adore (however, if we’re being honest, the Western view of local & craftsmanship has shifted away from the typically adored mass production of food in the last few years- maybe the Japanese are onto something…)

                                                                            2) The Japanese diet consists mainly of rice, fresh seafood and pickled vegetables

                                                                            This healthy diet is considered to be one of the reasons the Japanese live such long lives.

                                                                            3) Japanese food is so much more than sushi

                                                                            Sushi has become a Westernized speciality for celebratory nights out or a self indulgent treat. It is also the food that Japan has become most well known for. However, Japanese diets go beyond sushi. While fresh seafood is a huge part of their typical diet, vegetarians (like myself) can find plenty of tofu, buckwheat noodles and seasonal vegetables to enjoy.

                                                                            4) Chopsticks are the equivalent to a fork and knife.

                                                                            And just like we have etiquette with utensils in the United States, there is etiquette for using chopsticks.

                                                                            Never point with your chopsticks

                                                                            Don’t place your chopsticks in a bowl of rice or pass food around with them

                                                                              5) Soy sauce should be used lightly

                                                                              The Japanese cook with pride & dousing your rice in soy sauce translates to the chef and restaurant owner that you were served poorly made food

                                                                              6) No need to tip

                                                                              The Japanese are extremely kind (more on this below) and will provide excellent service regardless, so there is no cultural norm to tip. In fact, most will try to awkwardly give you back your tip if you leave one

                                                                              7) Don’t pour your own drinks

                                                                              Your host/ess or friend should make sure your glass is always full, and you should do the same for them- Kanpai! (cheers)

                                                                              8) Vending machines are everywhere and are filled with unique beverages

                                                                              Drinks on the go is a lifestyle here, however the use of plastic doesn’t make this a sustainable tactic

                                                                              9) Speaking of drinks, tea is the drink of choice in Japan

                                                                              Most restaurants will supply you with hot green tea, just like you would receive a glass of water in western culture. And there are many delicious teas to try besides green tea.

                                                                              Japanese People & Mannerisms

                                                                              10) Japanese people are very friendly and kind. They will notice if you are a visitor and are helpful if you become lost or confused. You will be in awe with how polite, well mannered and quiet the Japanese are.

                                                                              Some say that this mentality stems from the strong history of the samurai (discipline, respect honor), which transcended through time to modern society

                                                                              11) PDA is a no-no

                                                                              It’s improper to show public displays of affection

                                                                              12) Instead of pointing with your finger, show with your hand, palm facing up

                                                                              13) Greet with a bow

                                                                              A bow is the equivalent to a handshake. You don’t need to bow to everyone who bows to you (otherwise you would bow to every restaurant employee you come across and spend your entire day bent over), you can instead do a polite head nod. However, many Japanese are becoming accustomed to shaking hands

                                                                              Bows are silent ways of saying thank you, greeting or saying farewell and for apologizing

                                                                                Overall Japanese Culture

                                                                                14) Public spaces are quite quiet. You won’t see many loud or rambunctious Japanese in public spaces, however the nightlife can be a completely different story

                                                                                15) Overall, the city of Tokyo is very safe.

                                                                                We never felt uncomfortable or that there were pickpockets

                                                                                16) Try not to stare

                                                                                I’m not sure if it’s the sales person in me, but I found myself giving direct eye contact to way too many people when visiting Japan. I noticed I was doing it because they do not do the same. I came to find out that this a cultural norm.

                                                                                  17) The maps for public transportation can be quite confusing to a visitor. Don’t let it frighten you, because if you look lost someone will most likely stop to help you. At one point during our trip, a gentleman stopped on his way to work to help walk us outside of the metro station and take us to the correct station (did I mention the Japanese are some of the kindest people?)

                                                                                  Great piece of advice: don’t just stop inside of a train station if you are lost or confused. Move to the side, out of the way, as there are so many people filtering through them

                                                                                  I put together an awesome guide for how to use Tokyo’s Public Transportation here!

                                                                                    18) The city of Tokyo is spotlessly clean

                                                                                    There aren’t many public trash cans, yet the streets are all immaculate (I once saw a man shining a fire hydrant… that’s cleanliness level that Monica Gellar would be proud of). This means that the cities cleanliness is partly self maintained by its people. Respect the country and its people by not littering.

                                                                                      Interesting Cultural facts about Japan

                                                                                      19) There’s a difference between a shrine and temple

                                                                                      A shrine is for the Shinto religion, whereas a temple is for the Buddhist religion. You can tell the difference upon your entrance as a shrine will have water for those entering to wash their hands and mouth in order to cleanse the soul before entering, and a temple will most likely require shoes to be removed prior to entering.

                                                                                      20) You will see evidence of the country’s religious heritage everywhere you look. The Japanese are very proud of it, although for each person religion is typically a private affair

                                                                                      21) In fact, many Japanese gardens are based on Buddhism, but the two religions mutually exist together

                                                                                        Hi! I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger, as well as freelancing online brand strategist. I share real & honest information about traveling, how to do so sustainably, and ways to earn an income while working remote.

                                                                                        Follow Along!

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                                                                                        As with any country there are different cultural segments among the people – for Japan it would be Shinto, Buddhism, Ryukyukan and Ainu – yet the overall sense of respect and honor transcend throughout its entirety. Japan is a country where traditions that go back for thousands of years are respected, and fast paced evolution with fashion trends, architecture and technology are sought after simultaneously. There is debate among which stands to support Japan moving forward – the traditions or advancements – but that’s a discussion for another time, maybe one we can have during or after the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

                                                                                          [If you’re planning a trip to Japan, then don’t miss this Weekend Itinerary for Tokyo, Japan. No trip to Japan is complete without experiencing this incredible city]

                                                                                          Things Japan is known for:




                                                                                          -iekbana (flower arranging)


                                                                                          -kabuki (theatre)

                                                                                          -sumo wrestling


                                                                                          -tea ceremonies

                                                                                          -capsule hotels

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