Planning a solo trip to Tokyo? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- Capital of Japan, with a population of around 14 million. Tokyo is the center of one of the largest urban areas of the world (over 35 million reside in the Greater Tokyo Area).
- Divided into 23 wards and 62 municipalities.
- Known worldwide for its great food, trendsetting fashions, shopping areas, and a stark contrast of tradition and modernity (all wrapped in a giant, efficient mega-city).
- Nicknames: Tokyo means “Eastern Capital” in Japanese. Known as Edo prior to 1867.
- Currency: Japanese Yen (JPY). Symbols: ¥, 円 or 圓.
- Spoken languages: Japanese (English is also widely spoken).
- Best time to visit: from March to May. Tokyo has mild winters (with cool spells), with hot and humid summers. Note: the first week of May is known as Golden Week in Japan, and is an extremely busy time for tourism – plan your trip outside of that week to avoid the crowds.
- Arriving via airport:
1. From Haneda Airport:
a) Bus (30 minutes – 1,000 Yen)
b) Monorail (30 minutes to Hamamatsucho Station – 600 Yen)
2. From Narita Airport (60 km to central Tokyo):
a) Keisei Limited Express (1 hour 15 minutes – 1,000 yen)
b) JR Airport Narita Line (1 hour 30 minutes to Tokyo Station – 1,000+ Yen)
c) Keisei Skyliner (30 minutes to Tokyo – 2,000 Yen)
d) JR Narita Express (1 hour from the airport to Tokyo station – 3,000 Yen)
WHERE TO STAY
- Best hostel for solo travelers in Tokyo: CITAN Hostel. This cool 7 story hostel puts many regular hotels to shame. Friendly English-speaking staff, impeccably clean rooms/showers, and an on-site basement lounge for hanging out with others. Close to multiple JR stations for getting around the city. Make sure to book ahead to reserve your spot!
- Reasonably priced accommodation is available is areas such as Ueno (cheap shopping area), Ochanomizu (student area), and Nihombashi (office area).
- Roppongi has the highest hotel rates.
- Accommodation options are varied, and include ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), Western and Japanese hotel chains, love hotels, and even “capsule” hotels (tiny rooms for budget travelers or businessmen who have missed the last train)!
- The subway and bus system is the preferred means of transport for both visitors and locals, providing the quickest, easiest and inexpensive way to arrive to all destinations.
- Note: navigating public spaces can be challenging for the inexperienced visitors. Try to follow the signs and ask for directions, if necessary. People in Tokyo are very hospitable!
- Trains and subway system close at midnight, and reopen early in the morning.
- Taxis are best avoided in Tokyo unless absolutely necessary, as they are very expensive.
- Drinking age is 20, no official last call.
- Trendy scene: Shibuya, a famous nightlife and fashion district. Located close to Harajuku, which is famous for its outlandish street fashion.
- Foreigner/expat scene: Roppongi, frequented by the non-Japanese. Foreigner bars: check out Geronimo Shot Bar, Mogambo Tokyo, and Propaganda. For live music, head to 1Oak Tokyo.
- Shinjuku is another major nightlife area, famous for its Red Light district.
- Tip: while in town, try going to an Izakaya (essentially a pub that serves food) for a fun local experience.
- Entrance fees and drinks can get expensive in some of Tokyo’s upscale clubs, so make sure you bring plenty of cash to last the night.
- The subway stops running around midnight, so the nightlife dies out a bit at that time. Anyone who didn’t make it to the last train has two choices: take a (very) expensive taxi home, or keep partying until the morning!
- Clubs don’t get going until midnight or so, so stick to bars and izakayas before then. Great place to start your night: Kabukicho (in Shinjuku), an area with many cool little bars – each with their own menu and personality.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- The Meiji Shrine (in Shibuya) is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife. It is a very impressive shrine, with its high front gate and park of cypress trees.
- Situated in the districts of Shinjuku and Shibuyua, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is an impressive park – a great place to see cherry trees. Don’t miss the garden’s pond.
- Kyōkyo Imperial Palace (in Shinjuku) is the permanent residence of the Japanese imperial family. Parts of the garden are open to visitors.
- One of Japan’s oldest museums, the Tokyo National Museum exhibits a very wide collection of art pieces and archaeological finds.
- The Tsukiji Fish Market in central Tokyo attracts visitors from all over – witness all the workings of one of the world’s largest fish markets, processing over 2,000 tons of marine products daily! A select few (first come, first serve) visitors also get a chance to visit the famous tuna auction – lines for this daily event start forming as early as 5 AM. Closed on Sundays. UPDATE: Tsukiji Fish Market’s inner market operations have now been moved to Toyosu (the outer market, where you can buy fish and other goods, remains).
- Take a walk around Kitanomaru Park. Continue on to the Science Museum and National Museum of Modern Art, and finally to Chidorigafuchi, where you can enjoy beautiful cherry blossoms. A boat service is available for those visiting the pond.
- Ueno-Onshi Park is perfect for a stroll. See some of the city’s most significant shrines and temples, and enjoy the plum trees in the Yushima Tenjin Shrine. Don’t miss the Toshogu Shrine, and the ancient Jomyoin and Kan-eiji Temples.
- Enjoy the snack shops and bars in Roppongi. Walk around the Roppongi Hills, with its high-end fashion stores, cinemas, museums, etc. Take a ride to the top of the Tokyo City View observation deck in the Mori Tower for stunning views of the city.
- Tip: go exploring the city bright and early! Tokyo is very safe, and you may have your most memorable adventure with no specific plans at all.
- The people of Tokyo are well known all over Japan for being hospitable (but reserved). You may find that some people are simply shy about their English skills.
- A number of areas can be very noisy – especially near Tokyo Station. Shinjuku is an especially busy and noisy area at night, thanks to its Red Light District.
- Where to find good cheap food: Inexpensive and delicious food is available in food stalls. For good and affordable food, visit one of the city’s many ramen and curry places. Don’t be afraid to point if no one understands English! If you have trouble finding cheap food, try seeing where the office workers go for lunch and dinner.
- Dangerous areas: most parts of the city are very safe. In any case, take special precautions at night in Roppongi and Kabukicho – robberies (and incidents of spiked drinks) have been reported in those areas.
Recommended trip duration: 4-5 days