Tokyo is a mega-metropolis and the largest capital of Japan that is buzzing with tradition and modernity at the same time. It has an amazing skyline, busy fast-paced salesmen, bars open until you pass out, delicious and absolutely authentic restaurants, prestigious universities like the University of Tokyo, unique shopping experiences and technology that is very ‘Back to The Future’! On the other hand, it also has ancient shrines like the famous Shinto Meiji Shrine, wooden houses, and festivals that bring you back to the past. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Japan. In short, it’s a place you would not want to miss out on. This article is the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about Tokyo, Japan.
Getting to know Tokyo: Basic Information
The Weather in Tokyo
Tokyo lies in the humid subtropical climate zone. The summers are generally warm and humid while the winters have mild cool spells. The hottest month is in August with an average of 26.4 degrees Celsius (79.5 °F) while the coldest month is January with an average of 5.2 degrees Celsius. The best time to visit Tokyo is late March to May and October to early December when the weather is almost perfect. At these times, the summer heat, rains, and frosty winter have passed or have not yet started.
Official Standard Timezone in Tokyo
The official standard timezone in Japan is Japanese Standard Time (JST). It is ahead of UTC by 9 hours (UTC +9:00) and has no daylight savings time. You can catch the sunrise in Tokyo at around 6:52 a.m. and the sunset at around 4:44 p.m. That gives you approximately 9 hours and 53 minutes for day time touring until the sun sets.
History of Earthquakes in Tokyo
On a grand scale, Japan has had its big share of earthquakes as part of its history. The nation sits right on top of four tectonic plates which are part of the Earth’s crust - making the potential for earthquakes relatively big. The biggest earthquake to shake Japan was the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 which left approximately 140,000 people dead or missing. Throughout the years, Japan has learned from its history. The most recent earthquake was the Tohoku earthquake which was also felt in Tokyo in 2011. However, because Tokyo has built mainly earthquake-resistant infrastructure, the damage in Tokyo was minimal compared to the locations that were directly hit by the tsunami. Although earthquakes are certainly tragic events to look out for, Tokyo with its vast and futuristic technology can say that is very well prepared.
Form of Government in Japan
Japan, like the UK, is a constitutional monarchy. Technically, Japan is a monarchy but has the freedom of democracy, and is not a republic. The Tokyo Metropolitan government is the governing body of Tokyo and consists of an elected governor, who the people of Tokyo vote for, and an assembly. The headquarters is located in Shinjuku. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government currently oversees 23 special wards of Tokyo. These special wards are treated as individual cities.
Population in Tokyo
Tokyo is popularly known as a city but it is actually one of the prefectures of Japan and also known as a “metropolitan prefecture”. The metropolitan is located in the Kanto region which is on the southeastern side of the Honshu Island. The region also includes the Ogasawara Islands and Izu Islands. Its population is around 37.8 million people, making it one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. The Tokyo region is also known for being an industrial center, as well as a management and finance center.
The Top Attractions To See in Tokyo
Tokyo Tower: The Eiffel Tower of Asia
The majestic 333-meter tall radio tower is the tallest steel-supported tower in the entire world and even 13 meters higher than its model, the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The tower was erected as a symbol of Japan’s rebirth as a major economic power after the war. From the time of it’s completion of 1958 to 2012, it was the nation’s tallest structure only recently until it was surpassed by the Tokyo Skytree. The tower has become a popular tourist spot and also serves as a broadcast communications tower. The main observatory takes you 150 meters off the ground through an elevator or a 600-step staircase where you can enjoy a magnificent view of the metropolis complete with a souvenir shop and refreshments to complement the view. If you want to get a much better view, another set of elevators will take you 250 meters from the ground where you can get a bird’s eye view of the city. Directly below the tower stands the One Piece Tower, an indoor amusement park. The park features the popular manga it was inspired from and offers games and attractions from the series. Going to Tokyo Tower is both a treat and a thrill - hitting two birds with one stone at the same time. To get to Tokyo Tower, you can get off at Onamiron Station on the Mita Subway Line, Kamiyacho Station on the Hibiya Subway Line or Akabenashi Station on the Oedo Subway Line and walk around 5-10 minutes to the tower. Do take note that the upper deck observatory is closed for renovations until summer of 2017.
Tokyo Dome City: Where to Go for Entertainment
Located in the heart of Tokyo in the Koishikawa district of Tokyo’s Bunkyo ward is the Tokyo Dome City wherein entertainment at its finest is brought to locals and tourists alike. The city consists of the Tokyo Dome, an all-weather multi-purpose stadium where major events are held throughout the entire year. Both domestic and international sports like professional baseball, exhibitions and concerts are staged in this majestic dome. Another part of the city is an amusement park complete with attractions and facilities for children and adults alike. After a day of entertainment, head on over to LaQua, an oasis for relaxation right in the middle of Tokyo. LaQua is one of the biggest natural hot spring spa complex in Tokyo. It is the perfect spot to relax after a long day of touring for visitors. The hot spring is 1, 700 meters below the ground and houses a variety of restaurants, specialty shops, and high-end grocery stores and is home to the “Big O’’ - the first centerless Ferris wheel in the world. A similar oasis with less than an hour’s train ride from Tokyo is Tama area. Here, you can enjoy Mother Nature on Mount Takao which was also awarded three Michelin stars aside from Mount Fuji.
The Imperial Palace: Paying Royalties A Visit
Visiting Tokyo would not be complete if there was no visit to the Tokyo Imperial Palace. The vast park-like area is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. It is located on the old site of Edo Castle - the reason why it is surrounded by moats and large stone walls right in the center of Tokyo. The Palace contains the main palace, the private residences of the Imperial Family, museums, an archive, beautiful gardens and administrative offices all spanning out to a total of 3.41 square kilometers. To get to the Tokyo Imperial Palace, get off at Tokyo Station. From there, the Palace is a 10-minute walk.
Tokyo Bay: The Tourist’s Choice for Sightseeing
Also known as the “Waterfront City”, The Tokyo Bay has recently become a quick favorite with international visitors for sightseeing, especially for families and couples. The area opens onto a waterfront and features amusement parks, shopping malls, and a lot more. It’s a different experience from the bustling city of Tokyo, where tourists can ride and relax on the Yurikamome and water buses to the bay’s sea breeze, have a taste of gourmet food, go shopping, wait for the sunset, or witness the night view of the illuminated Rainbow Bridge. One can watch the breathtaking view of central Tokyo from Odaiba or the Tokyo Bay Cruise.
Tokyo Skytree: The Perfect Place to Watch the Tokyo Skyline
Skytree, a television broadcasting tower and a popular landmark of Tokyo is now the tallest structure in Japan standing high at 634 meters and the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa. The main highlight of the Skytree is its two observation decks that can bring you up to 350 meters high off the ground and 450 meters, making it the highest observation decks in Japan and to some observation decks around the world. The topmost floor gives you a breathtaking 360-degree panoramic view of Tokyo. The middle floor features a delicious French-Japanese Restaurant in case you might want some chow after a good look at the view. The lowermost floor features a cafe with glass paneled floor where in you can have a clear view of the ground below. A stunning place to visit for both adult and children alike. On Trip Advisor, the Skytree retrieved an Excellent and Very Good rating of a combined 80% from users and visitors. To get to Tokyo Skytree, get to the 4th floor of Tokyo SkyTree Town once you get down the Tokyo Skytree Station which is on the Tobu Isesaki Line or the Oshiage Station on the Asakusa Subway Line, Keisei Oshiage Line or the Hanzomon Subway Line. You can also reach the Tokyo Skytree Tower by riding a bus from Tokyo Station.
Disneyland: The Happiest Destination on Earth
Tokyo Disneyland is one of the happiest destinations on earth. It is a theme park based on the films of Walt Disney and is the very first Disney theme park outside the US. The park is modeled after the California theme park and consists of seven themed lands - World Bazaar, Tomorrowland, Toontown, Fantasyland, Critter Country, Westernland, and Adventureland. Seasons also change the theme of the park such as Halloween and Christmas. To get to Tokyo Disneyland, get down at the JR Maihama Station or Tokyo Disneyland Station which is along the Disney Resort Monorail. This is a five-minute walk from either station. Tickets are approximately 7,400 Japanese Yen.
Disney Sea: A Theme Park Located Only in Japan
Unique to Japan, Disney Sea is located inside Tokyo Disney Resort. The theme park is made to cater to more mature audiences by offering a wider variety of food selections and alcoholic beverages that are not available in its neighboring park. Like Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea is made up of seven themed ports: Mermaid Lagoon, Arabian Coast, Mediterranean Harbor, Lost River Delta, Mysterious Island, Port Discovery and American Waterfront. To get to Tokyo Disney Sea, get off the Maihama Station and take the Disney Resort Monorail to get down the Tokyo Disney Sea Station. This will take you 10 minutes with a price of 260 yen. Another way to get to Tokyo Disney Sea is to walk from Maihama Station which will take you around 20 minutes.
Japanese Restaurants: How to Select Sushi
There are thousands of sushi restaurants to choose from in Tokyo. You will come across different types of Japanese restaurants (listed from the most expensive to the least expensive) such as high-end restaurants, family-run, chain, and conveyor belt sushi. It is This can be overwhelming so the best strategy is to set criteria in selecting your preferred sushi restaurant whether it be according to the best price, best location, or an option for non-Japanese speakers.
Tokyo’s Fish Market: Eat Seafood Fresh from the Sea
Arriving too early from the airport is not a problem in Tokyo. At 5 a.m., you can visit the Tsukiji Fish Market to catch the live tuna auctions. A visit to a fish market would not be complete without having breakfast there. There are many sushi counters available. Undoubtedly, these fish are fresh from the sea. To get to Tsukiji Fish Market, get off the Tsukiji-Shijo station at Exit A1 on the Oedo line. Alternatively, you can get off the Tsukiji station by taking the Hibiya line of the Tokyo Metro.
Teppanyaki or Japanese Steakhouse: Culinary Dining with A Show
Sometimes called “hibachi”, teppanyaki is called a Japanese steakhouse because the food is “grilled on an iron surface”. This Japanese dining experience is unique where you have expert chefs showing their culinary techniques both with skill and style grilling all types of premium meat, seafood, and vegetables. Guests have delighted reactions as chefs grill on an open cooktop where the food is prepared right before their eyes. This style of dining is Japan’s reinterpretation of an American steakhouse, originating back to the 1940’s. Eating at a teppanyaki is truly one of a kind experience. You can try a night out in these teppanyaki restaurants such as Teppan Diner Jaken Ebisu, Teppanyaki Benbe Mita or Azabu Juban Romantei which are all just in Tokyo.
Japanese Buffet: Eat More on a Budget
If you’re feeling extra hungry in Tokyo, drop by a Japanese Buffet in Shibuya Station. Usually, buffets would seem expensive but if you’re on a budget, there are buffets that can just cost you around 1000-2000 Japanese Yen. You can check out Oyster Jackpot, Moyan Curry, or BeeHouse Shibuya.
Cafes for Coffee Neophytes to Aficionados
Coffee shops and cafes are a unique blend of the old and the new in Tokyo. From old school cafes to third wave coffee shops, Tokyo has got every type available for the coffee aficionado or even beginner in you. You can check out one of the best coffee shops in the metropolis such as Café de l'Ambre, Fuglen Tokyo, Satei Hato, or Allpress Espresso.
The Tokyo Summer Olympics 2020
The Summer Olympics 2020 is a major multi-sport international event that draws many and different kinds of nationalities from all corners of the globe. The Olympic Games will be held in Tokyo from July 24 to August 9, 2020. The Japan National Stadium will be the flagship stadium for the major sporting event. Generally, the games will be inside and outside of the stadium due to the number of games to be held but organizers want this year to be within five miles of the athlete’s Olympic village. The whole world will turn its attention to the metropolis of Tokyo, Japan.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
Choose Between High-end Hotels to Mid-range Priced Accommodations
From high-end hotels to boutique hotels, Tokyo has got it all for any type of traveler. For luxury spenders, you can choose from a variety of hotels such as Mandarin Oriental, Aman Tokyo, Conrad Tokyo or the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo. It would be best to bookmark high-end hotels way before your trip to get the best price. If your budget is in the middle, you might want to try the boutique hotels available in Tokyo. Check out the Imperial Hotel, Claska, Ryokan Sawanoya, or Hotel Seiyo Ginza. These are smaller type hotels but still with upscale accommodations. Booking accommodations can cost you as low as 2,000 yen per person if you choose a dormitory and more than 50,000 yen if you select a first class hotel or a ryokan.
Share Houses: Inexpensive yet Comfortable Alternatives to Hotels
Share houses are popular for visitors staying for over a month. This is a good choice for people who may want to save up on their expenses. One of the advantages of living in a share house is that it’s quite inexpensive. In general, all that is required is a down payment from the first month’s rent and you can already move in the next day. Another advantage is that share houses are already furnished. It’s complete with beds, closets, drawers with kitchen, bathroom and living room facilities. Definitely, an easy and cheap way to live if you don’t mind sharing with your housemates. However, if you’re the type of person who likes their privacy and has the means to pay, then an apartment might be better for you. Share Houses can cost up to 50,000 Japanese Yen while apartments can cost up to 65,000 Japanese Yen. You may check reviews of share houses or apartments to get to know which space of living suits you the best.
Directions: How to Get to Tokyo
Getting to Tokyo from the Airport
Transportation in Tokyo is relatively easy. Narita Airport is located in the city of Narita in the Chiba Prefecture which is just outside Tokyo. Railway stations and bus lines connect the airport to Tokyo itself, not to mention there are maps located at the airport to guide you along the way. The most comfortable way to travel from the airport to Tokyo is by taking the JR Narita Express (NEX). It takes about an hour and costs 3000 Japanese Yen. For foreign travelers, round trip tickets are also available for a discounted 4000 Yen if you’re on a 2-week trip.
Tokyo has a very extensive network of trains, subways and bus lines. Traveling around Tokyo is very convenient. The most popular line is the JR Yamanote Line because it runs through Tokyo’s multiple city centers. Below is a map where you can see the most relevant railway and subway stations if you will be traveling around Tokyo.
If you plan your trip geographically, the wise choice would be to purchase single trip tickets rather than all day passes since the all day passes don’t cover all the subway or train lines. Prepaid IC Cards are the way to get around Tokyo but if you plan your trip in a way that it uses subways or trains all day, then it would be wiser to get the all-day passes.
How to Travel from Tokyo to Kyoto
Many travelers see Tokyo as a modern metropolis while Kyoto as a traditional one but these two hot spots are quite far from the other. The best way to get from Tokyo to Kyoto the fastest way is to take the bullet train. It costs around 13, 710 yen and can get you to Kyoto Station in just 2 hours and 40 minutes. This is your best bet if you don’t mind spending to get to your destination in just a few hours. Another prefecture that is home to old towns and cities is Nara, also accessible from Tokyo by taking the bullet train.
Tokyo, Japan is a fascinating metropolitan city to go to and can definitely bring you a certain authenticity that marks what Japan is truly made of. A taste of Japan will undoubtedly make you come back over and over again for more.