After the Tokyo Games: InsideJapan’s top Tokyo tips for first timers
by James Mundy
The Olympics have come to a close and the world’s media is heading home. It was not only fans that didn’t get to see Tokyo this summer due to Covid restrictions, but the athletes too. Fortunately, Tokyo is still be there as the Olympics buzz dies down – but when you’re on holiday in one of the world’s biggest cities, how are you supposed to know where to start?
To help you get your bearings, Japan travel specialists InsideJapan are sharing some of their top Tokyo tips for first timer visitors.
Head to the top
A stay in a traditional ryokan guest house is always recommended in Japan – except for when you’re in Tokyo, that is. This city is best sampled from a high-rise hotel with a view.
If you can’t find anywhere lofty to stay for the night, however, there are plenty of other opportunities to take in views of the sprawling metropolis. Tokyo’s 634 metre-high Skytree serves up city views as far as the eye can see – and you might even see Mount Fuji on a clear day from its 450 metre-high viewing deck (at a cost of 3,100 yen/approximately £22).
Not only that, but there are some incredible free views too – one of the best being the view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, standing at 242 metres tall. Its 202 metre-high observation decks offer views that stretch from the city to the mountains.
High-rise, neon Shinjuku is arguably the beating heart of Tokyo. As the city’s transport hub, it is also a hive of activity – with food, bars, karaoke boxes, gaming centres and much more.
Head to the upmarket Takashimaya department store’s food basement for a massive array of beautifully presented food. On the south side, Tokyu Hands is where you’ll find floors of gadgets and stationery – and Don Quixote on the east side sells an interesting array of the quirky and useful.
For those who want a taste of traditional Tokyo, head to the old Yanesen district. This is old-fashioned low-rise Tokyo with family run shops making and selling senbei rice biscuits, green tea and coffee shops, textile shops and old craft stores too. There are various small temples dotted around the area and many a cat can be seen. This is a traditional Tokyo and a breather from the crowds.
The old Asakusa district is home to the famous Sensoji temple. The entrance to the temple complex is marked by the imposing Kaminarimon ‘Thunder Gate’ with a long line of stores along the Nakamise-dori selling everything from rice biscuits, geta sandals, kimono and more but it is the temple that’s impressive. If you head there in the early evening, you can avoid the crowds and see the temple buildings lit up.
Hamarikyu garden is a 17th century garden that sits serenely with the Sumida River on one side and the skyscrapers of Shiodome on the other. Stroll the gardens or sip a green tea in the tea house for a moment of calm. There are plenty of other gardens too with Rikugien being a quiet strolling garden being a favourite, especially during autumn leaf season (Mid Nov-early Dec).
Scrambling for words
Shibuya ‘scramble’ is the Bladerunner-esque crossing where hundreds of people cross at one time, surrounded by huge video screens. Head there at dusk as the lights come on for maximum impact. Or, for another view, head to Shibuya Scramble Square for a 360 view of Shibuya in its glory from a roofless 260m high viewing platform. There are big crossings all over Tokyo, but Shibuya is the most impressive. Top tip: Never cross on the red man. Always wait for the green man or you will get very disapproving looks or even arrested.
Art & Culture
There’s always a good exhibition in Tokyo. The Yayoi Kusama Museum displays the artist’s familiar polka dot contemporary style in Waseda and for the classic art lovers, the woodblock print work at the contemporary looking Sumida Hokusai Museum is impressive. The teamLab Borderless digital museum blows minds with its interactive digital displays. All perfect rainy-day material.
Don’t miss out on…
If you haven’t found what you wanted in one of the many vending machines in the city, head to an Izakaya ‘traditional pub’ for a drink and a bite to eat. This is a proper Japanese experience and where the locals let their guard down. Often selling beer, sake and local spirits along with a range of snack food including sushi, okonomiyaki, gyoza, salad, fries and more, these places sometimes offer a ‘tabi-nomihodai’ or ‘eat and drink as much as you like’ from as little as 3000 yen (approx. £21) for a couple of hours. This is Japan at its most sociable.
Training is best
The best way to get around Tokyo and indeed Japan is by train. There is a huge network of overland and subway trains across the city with a whopping 882 train stations in the Metropolis. They are frequent, they run on time to the second, they are clean and indeed part of the experience. An IC card (similar to Oyster card) is the best way to pay, and travel is cheap with journeys costing from 170yen (approx.£1.10).
And for those that have been to Tokyo before and are looking for a fulfilling day trip out of the city, take a look at our blog piece here for easy but very different trips out of Tokyo.
InsideJapan offers Insider knowledge and insight for people to discover some of the lesser-known and most memorable parts of Tokyo and Japan, creating self-guided cultural adventures and a range of off-radar small group tours.
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TravelMole Editorial Team
Editor for TravelMole North America and Asia pacific regions. Ray is a highly experienced (15+ years) skilled journalist and editor predominantly in travel, hospitality and lifestyle working with a huge number of major market-leading brands. He has also cover in-depth news, interviews and features in general business, finance, tech and geopolitical issues for a select few major news outlets and publishers.