Japan’s capital city is massive, with over 14 million people, but that doesn’t create an overpowering atmosphere. Instead, Tokyo is one of the world’s friendliest, most welcoming capitals, with a vast array of neighborhoods just waiting for visitors to explore.
For close to three years, pandemic border controls halted foreign travel to Tokyo, leaving its cityscape, sights and scenes exclusively to locals.
Now, with international tourists welcomed back in full, those willing to explore beyond the busier districts of Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku and wander down mazes of side streets in Sangenjaya or Shimokitazawa will find their own version of happiness sipping coffee in a charming kissaten, shopping the racks of a specialty boutique or taking refuge in many of Tokyo’s natural sanctuaries.
We like to think of Tokyo as “the capital of concealed treasures”, where you can imbibe at an intimate bar tucked up in a small office building or enjoy ultra-premium sushi hidden in plain sight.
How to Get to Tokyo
Many travelers will arrive in Tokyo via Narita Airport. The cheapest way to get from there to downtown Tokyo is to take the TYO-NRT Shuttle bus to Tokyo Station (¥1,300) or to take the Keisei Limited Express train to Ueno (¥1,050). However, the Skyliner train is faster, although it costs ¥2,570. There are also plenty of taxi companies at the airport, but they are easily the most expensive form of transport.
Others will find that flying to Tokyo via Haneda Airport may be more convenient. The most affordable way to get to a major hub like Shinagawa is to take the Keikyu Line (¥300) or to take the Airport Limousine Bus (¥1,300) to Shinjuku . Taxis are always an option, but again, they are quite expensive.
Very few people choose to drive into Tokyo from the airport. Tokyo’s traffic is notorious, the streets are confusing and parking in the city center is expensive. Add in the high quality of public transportation, and there’s no real need for a car.
If you are coming from other areas of Japan by bus, Tokyo is served by a wide range of companies. Easily the largest bus operator is JR Bus Group, but Willer Express also runs fast buses from cities like Osaka and Nagoya (and offer excellent English language information for travelers).
Where to Stay in Tokyo
Japanese Style Hotels
There are an array of options, both in price and square footage, when it comes to Japanese Style Hotels — business style, ryokan or capsule style are the three most typical options within Tokyo. You will likely find yourself paying comparable or cheaper rates than an Airbnb or traditional housing rental, while enjoying generally basic, no frills accommodations that tend to suit most travelers on a budget.
Western Style Hotels
Western hotel chains have a presence in Tokyo, including global standards such as Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, Ritz-Carlton and Peninsula properties. There are also a number of local brands that uphold the same style, such as the Cerulean Tower, Shinjuku Granbel, Palace Hotel and Keio Plaza.
Boutique / Designer Hotels
If you are seeking a more stylish, design-forward accommodations, there are an array of independent boutique hotels scattered throughout Tokyo for your consideration— Hotel KOE in central Shibuya, TRUNK (Hotel) in Shibuya and Claska in Meguro all offer uniquely luxurious settings.
Since regulations took hold in mid-2018, Airbnb accommodations within Tokyo have become a bit scarcer, though there are still options available in most any neighborhood of the city and remain a popular option for pairs or groups of travelers in particular.
Popular areas to search for short-term rentals are Aoyama, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Yoyogi, which are centrally located and near good transit connections.
How to Get Around Tokyo
Public transit is one of Tokyo’s greatest strengths. It’s easy to get anywhere in the city by train, subway, or bus. The easiest way to get around is by using the Yamamote “loop” which rings the center of town. From stations on the loop, you can simply take subway lines to central districts. Fares can be paid at vending machines or you can add credit to prepaid cards. Day passes from the JR Rail company cost ¥760 (for trains only) or ¥1,600 for all forms of transportation. You can also purchase 1-day, 3-day, and 5-day Tokyo Metro (subway) tickets for ¥600, ¥6,000 and ¥7,200, respectively.
What’s even better news as of late is that Tokyo’s major transit companies are preparing to implement contactless fare systems that are payable via credit and debit cards. Trials began this summer, with plans to expand the contactless payment option to all of its train stations by spring 2024. Tokyo Metro has plans to begin a tap-and-go system at its stations by 2024.
Taxis + Rideshare Apps
Taxis in Tokyo aren’t a cost-effective way to get around, but they are convenient. The basic taxi fare is ¥730, and then ¥320 for every kilometer (0.62 miles). Uber is active in the Japanese capital as well. Their cheapest cars have a base fare of ¥730 as well, so it all depends on whether it’s peak travel time or not to save some money.
Ride-hailing apps are not as commonly used as elsewhere, but JapanTaxi and Uber are available.
Navigation + Directions
Google Maps is the best navigation app to use in Tokyo and may come in particularly handy when sharing addresses with Taxi drivers if your Japanese language skills aren’t up to snuff or non-existent.
A good, fool-proof tip once entering a Taxi is to simply greet your driver and pass your phone with Google Maps open to the address of your destination so they may review it for accuracy and get you to your destination without issue. This adds an extra minute or two to your trip, but saves the trouble of an incorrect drop-off and incurring any extra expenses or lost time as a result.
If you use a rideshare or taxi app where the destination can be inputted ahead of the trip, you won’t need to worry about ensuring the above.
Renting a car isn’t an ideal way to get around Tokyo. The roads are hard to master, traffic is bad (very bad at rush hour), and parking costs are high everywhere in the city. It’s much easier to rely on public transportation and take taxis when needed.
However, if you’ve got a local friend or a guide with an automobile, it can be a fun way to traverse and take in the grandeur of the city, especially at night.