Whenever my husband comes home and tells me he has another business trip to Japan he barely has to finish the sentence before I am google-ing flight prices. Tokyo is one of my absolute favourite cities. From the very first time I went there I have been in love with the country.
We have been over 10 times and are always being asked for tips by friends who are going for the first time, so I thought I would turn those tips into a blog post.
The first visit to Japan can be a bit daunting. Its a big, busy, noisy city. There are signs written in Japanese everywhere and very little English is spoken outside of the tourist /ticket offices and hotels, but somehow it all works out. I've been to all of the tourist sites at least once, had mini adventures outside the city and eaten in many restaurants, most of the time I am alone, but I never really encountered any problems that couldn't be solved using a mixture of sign language and a big smile. My first bit of advice starts before you leave.... make sure you can use your bank card abroad.
A quick call to your bank should sort this out. When you arrive get cash out of Citibank at the airport. There are relatively few international bank ATM's in Tokyo. You can use Citibank and the Post Office Bank, but they are the only ones I've been able to use my assortment of credit cards at.......
Generally we get some cash and pay for everything in restaurants and shops with Visa/Mastercard.
The best way to get from the airport to your hotel is the "Friendly Shuttle Bus". The counters are in the airport just after you clear customs. The girls at the counter speak English and will point you in the right direction. Most buses do 5 or 6 stops and will drop you at the hotel door. The bus even has WiFi - though it is a little slow.
The whole area around Harajuku and Omotesando is great for people watching and shopping, especially at the weekend. Close by is Shibuya crossing and Yoyogi park with Meiji shrine. Both well worth a visit and fascinating for very different reasons.
Ueno Park is lovely to walk through, if you want to escape the craziness of the city or want to go to the Zoo.
Nearby is Ameyoko which is a great market area with some good food stalls and lots of good restaurants.
Sensoji Temple is a must see and the small gift shops on the walk to the temple are cute, despite being a bit touristy. Go early, as its on everybody's 'to do list' and it gets crowded.
Tokyo Tower near Rappongi - you can go up the tower and get great views to Mt Fiji if its a clear day. And afterwards maybe do a little bar hopping in Rappongi.
After these recommendations what you decide to see will really depend on how much you like to walk - there are several nice parks, if you are looking to go shopping - Tokyo Hands is amazing, or if you are especially into food and want to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.
There is truly so much to see in this amazing, vibrant city. You can spend hours just wandering around and enjoy just being there. The food is amazing too. If you are not a Japanese food expert I would suggest doing a little research before-hand. There are lots of different dishes available, but most restaurants specialise in one style of cooking. A sushi restaurant won't usually sell Tonkatsu or Ramen Noodles for example. This of course rarely matters to me as I don't have to compromise when I am out and about alone, but can cause problems if you are desperate to eat sushi and your dining partner doesn't like fish...... nothing a little forward planning can't solve of course.
I have written a review of a fabulous restaurant Andy's Shin Hinomoto. I can highly recomend this place, we have probably eaten there 8 or 9 times. Its excellent.
Japan Tourist Board
When arriving at the hotel ask the concierge for the free guide that comes from the Tourist Office. Its orange. Its fabulous. It has a page for each area with the major sights listed on the opposite page.
The next thing you should do is to get a PASMO card. You load the card up with money and use it throughout Japan on the trains and buses. its like the Oyster Card in London or the Metro Card in NYC. There are instructions for buying one and using the machines on the PASMO site.
If your hotel isn't covered by the Friendly Airport Shuttle service then you can buy the PASMO at the airport and use it on the train into the city.
Now you are set to explore all over Tokyo using the amazing train system.
Tokyo Metro map looks terrifying...... but its very easy to understand. All the lines are coloured differently and all the stations are numbered. You can even get a free app for your smartphone.
When you are on the train platform the next station the train will call at is written on the wall.
There are so many things to do in Tokyo that I could write pages and pages. Some of it will interest you, most of it not. I find sightseeing to be quite personal. I love taking photos, people watching, visiting temples and finding off the beaten track places to eat, but these things may not be your cup of tea, so I won't bore you with lists of things to do, I'll just make a few recommendations...
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