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

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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 30 million people living in Tokyo, which means real estate is sparse, and in order to fit everyone the rooms need to be small in order to have enough places for everyone.
  • 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 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. Here are a few basic phrases that we used:
  • 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 the closest and larger airport
      2. Narita, which is much further away (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.

                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
                  Laura of Blue Eyed Compass, a Sustainable Travel Blog

                  Hi!  I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger & photographer, sharing real and honest information about travelling & how to do so sustainably

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                  Fish Consumption in Japan

                  Fish Consumption in Japan

                  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, which 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?

                          Seafood is a top provider of protein for diets around the globe.  As more and more people turn away from red meats heart health problems, seafood is seen as a healthy conscious choice.  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, the torpedo shaped bluefin tuna, which Japan is the largest consumer of, 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 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 is now highly engaged in improvements with plans to rebuild the Pacific bluefin stocks, with a target to regain up to 20% of historic levels by 2034.  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’.

                      • 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 question of whether Japan consumers 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 around 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]

                            Citations:

                            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:

                            -WWF

                            -Greenpeace

                            -Marine Stewardship Council

                            -Sustainable Fishering Partnership

                              Laura of Blue Eyed Compass, a Sustainable Travel Blog

                              Hi!  I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger & photographer, sharing real and honest information about travelling & how to do so sustainably

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                              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!)

                              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

                                  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.  Which can be quite convenient since Tokyo is…

                                      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, check it out 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

                                            Laura of Blue Eyed Compass, a Sustainable Travel Blog

                                            Hi!  I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger & photographer, sharing real and honest information about travelling & how to do so sustainably

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                                            Set up your blog today by using my discount code for Bluehost – Click the image to get started.

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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:

                                              -sushi

                                              -geishas

                                              -samurais

                                              -iekbana (flower arranging)

                                              -origami

                                              -kabuki (theatre)

                                              -sumo wrestling

                                              -anime

                                              -tea ceremonies

                                              -capsule hotels

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