Japan was on my dream travel list for years! I always hesitated going because I would get overwhelmed with the planning aspect of it. After so much waiting, I decided to just go for it and in a week I had all my travel itinerary and booked my hotels and flights. It was a total dream to go and such a different yet familiar place… if you’ve ever wanted to visit, just DO IT! In fact, I’m gonna make it easy on you and share my ultimate Tokyo travel guide!
Tokyo Travel Guide: What to Know Before Arriving
Tokyo is completley different world and it’s an absolute must-see for anyone with a serious case of wanderlust. It’s a place where you can soak in the traditional Japanese culture while simultaneously finding yourself in the middle of modern life. There’s no place like Tokyo… but here’s a couple of things you should know before you arrive:
LANGUAGE + PEOPLE
Not a lot of people speak English but they are some of the sweetest people I have ever met. I never felt lost or frustrated with lack of communication. Plus, Tokyo has almost every major sign in English as well as Japanese so you never truly feel lost.
Free public Wi-Fi isn’t common in Tokyo. I recommend getting a portable Wi-Fi. We got ours from Pupuru, which you can pick up at the airport when you arrive and drop it off at the end of your trip.
CASH + CARDS
Most local food and shopping places won’t take credit cards so it’s good to have cash on you. We actually got all our travel cash before we left from our bank, that way we wouldn’t have to think about it. But, 7-Eleven is always a sure spot to find an ATM.
Public transportation is amazing in Tokyo and most major stations are huge and have tons of food options and even shopping. It’s bizarre! It’s like a party on the top and business on the bottom kinda situation. We spent half a day exploring Shinjuku station which we took almost every single day and ended up getting the best dumplings of our lives. Oh and I even found an Alfred Tea Japan there (it’s a California tea chain haha)!
I recommend getting the JR pass ahead of time. It’s made specifically for tourists and you can only buy it before your trip. We got ours for 7 days and used it every day it even works on the Shinkansen if you plan on doing a day trip to Osaka or Kyoto. We also used the app Navitime to get around and know the train schedules.
Tokyo is one of the friendliest places I have ever been to and it is also the cleanest. There are NO trash cans anywhere. Seriously, the streets are clean with no where for people to dump their trash. That’s because they keep a bag in their purse or pocket to store their trash until they find an appropriate place to discard it. We had a brown paper bag in our backpack for our trash, then always dumped it at a local Starbucks.
The bathrooms are the best thing ever. Most of them are western style (I never encountered anything different!), and they are super high-tech. All of them have a panel of options, from flushing to heated seat to… get this… “privacy”, where it plays a zen water sound to muffle the noise of you doing your business. It was the best.
One last thing to note… people do not eat or drink while walking. It is considered rude. You’ll notice that people will eat or drink beside the place they got their food from.
During our trip we pretty much stuck to three main districts in Tokyo. There is just so much to do and see! I kept coming back to the same spots because I wanted to keep exploring.
One of my favorite places to explore was Shibuya! It is home to Harajuku which is a very trendy and ultra hip fashion district. This is where you can get the cutest things like the giant rainbow cotton candy or animal shaped ice cream. Takeshita Street is full of shops and food and the most vibrant colors ever. It is also home to Daiso, a 100 Yen store (like the 1 dollar store), where you can get a bunch of souvenirs for cheap, plus everything is adorable and quirky.
The side streets parallel to Takeshita Street are full of other goodies. We stumbled upon a coffee shop that makes latte art and they take requests! I loved getting to see them recreate a photo of Pancake (my dog!). Harajuku is so cool to just walk around and find hidden gems. The streets are painted with street art, flower shops and trendy shops. By far one of my favorite places in Tokyo.
For more traditional sight-seeing you can visit in Shibuya is the Meiji Shrine and write out a wish. The walk is really nice and even a bit zen. To get to the Shrine you walk through this forrest of really tall trees and the experience is very serene. Before getting to the actual Shrine you start seeing old traditional structures and lanterns which is pretty cool.
And no trip to Shibuya could be complete without going to see Shibuya Crossing. It’s one of the busiest intersections in the world! During rush hour more than 1,000 people can be seen crossing this famous spot. If you like people watching, this is where to do it.
Shinjuku is home of the very famous Robot Restaurant. I don’t know how to describe it other than the weirdest most unforgettable experience of my entire life. If you’re visiting Tokyo, do it. Afterwards you have to visit and walk along Golden Gai. Hidden alleyways of tradition and a glimpse of Japan in the 50s. With more than 200 bars crammed into six ultra-narrow streets, it’s where you want to go for some local cocktails and a taste of night life.
For souvenirs you want to hit the Mega Don Quijote in Shinjuku. It is the biggest store full of the most Japan things ever. It has so many floors for everything and it’s a bit overwhelming. The sounds and colors are extremely stimulating but so fun to just visit and browse.
GINZA + BEYOND
I loved Ginza. It’s like the Manhattan of Tokyo. I think it was my favorite because we stayed at a Hyatt that was in the thick of it and we could walk everywhere. It was like walking the streets of New York — which we love. There are hidden bars in the basements of upscale markets and shops.
There’s a mix of old and new around the streets of Nissan Crossing (the central point of Ginza!). My favorite place to shop for souvenirs was Loft! It’s such a cool concept store that has pretty much everything you think you’ll ever need. They have lots of modern items and products. It’s a graphic designer’s paradise with all the cute packaging. To top it off, there’s a cafe on the ground floor where you can get a yummy matcha latte.
The last thing we did before heading to the Tokyo Disneyland Resort was venture to the outskirts and go visit the Ghibli Museum. It is a train ride away and in the city of Mitaka, Tokyo. It’s not really near anything but it’s worth it if you are a fan of any Studio Ghibli film.
What to Eat in Tokyo
Noodles, noodles and more noodles! I loved Udon noodles. Seriously you can’t go wrong just stepping inside any spot along popular streets. The more traditional places normally have two pieces of cloth draping just before the actual doors. You will also find that Japan has a lot of French food and restaurants. In Harajuku alone there are over 10 Crepe places!
There’s something for everyone at every corner of every street. From fluffy pancakes to a hot and spicy ramen. Bonus that most places have an English menu! My favorites eateries were: The Happy Pancake, Rokurinsha Ramen and Harajuku Gyozaro.
There is so much to do and so much to explore in Tokyo! We were there for a little over a week and still felt like it wasn’t enough! Just walking around and soaking it all in was my favorite thing to do. Have you been to Tokyo? What were your favorite things to do?