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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                  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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