Tokyo is a highly populated, dense metropolis of approximately 845 square miles that I had the pleasure to briefly explore in May. When traveling to Tokyo, it is best to do the following ahead of time:
- Download the Google Translate app to help you with menus, directions and outdoor vending machines, and learn some basic Japanese phrases such as “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me” and “I don’t understand”. Very few people speak English, especially off the beaten path.
- Plan to spend a LOT of ¥en as many places (including taxis, train station kiosks, and local restaurants) do not take credit cards!
- Your best bet is to get Yen ahead of time through your bank or via Travelex super convenient as 45 minute wait times at the airport are likely. Travelex will even buy back your yen with a pre-paid return envelope upon returning home. Keep in mind banks and Travelex do not buy back coins (only bills) so use up your coins – a ¥500 coin is equivalent to a $5 U.S. bill! ¥en is so absolutely lovely you almost don’t want to spend it! But… you will.
- Wifi is spotty and not available in many locations. Here’s a brill concept… have a pocket wifi delivered to your hotel! Once fully charged it will run up to 12 hours and you have wifi everywhere you go in the city – they will deliver to most hotels (mine was there upon check-in) and give you a prepaid return envelope to give to the hotel concierge upon checkout. Stick the small device in your purse or pocket for continuous wifi. Super duper convenient!
- Bring printed copies of the addresses of your hotel and places you plan to or think you might visit along with printed photos. These will be helpful when asking for directions!
- Work on your pantomiming skills. Many Japanese will humor you by watching and attempting to figure out what you need/are trying to convey and others will flat out ignore your antics. Either way, you’ll get a slight workout.
- Plan to use public transportation from the Narita airport (Skyliner train) and around the city as taxis are very expensive, drivers speak little or no English, and they don’t accept credit cards. Skyliner will run from Narita to Nippori where you can then buy a transfer (with yen only) to get you nearest to your hotel. Friendly airport transportation information folks will help you find the best route to get to your hotel.
- Have a plan in place before you arrive as Tokyo is one very expansive and expensive city!
As for getting around Tokyo, consider purchasing an IC card – a rechargeable card that can be used to conveniently pay fares and is valid on virtually all trains and buses in most of Japan’s major cities including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka. IC cards can be bought at any major train station in Japan from an automated ticket kiosk, which you can navigate in English for the most part. Please note – they don’t take credit cards! Be prepared to bring a lot of ¥en for spending while in Japan. The rail can seem daunting at first, but after a day it’ll start to be less overwhelming and getting around the city will become easier if you have a reasonable sense of where you are going and the direction you are heading.
Hotel rooms are pretty tiny. You’re more likely to have some hangers-on knobs on the wall next to your bed than an actual closet. That being said, you’re hopefully spending most of your time out enjoying the city instead of sitting in your hotel watching TV!
As for entertainment…. Consider the following for some beautiful views, entertainment and a small taste of Tokyo!
While it’s called Robot Restaurant, this is more of a visual 7-course meal of lights, robots, Japanese futuristic theatrics and multi-media excitement than enjoying an actual sit-down meal – and, best to eat beforehand elsewhere… though you can plan to have some popcorn and light-up drinks during the performance.
The Robot Restaurant is packed in between arcades, clubs and pubs and seems like a carnival attraction at best from the outside. Head on in, though, and your eyes and mind are transported to a dazzling spectacle of a bizarre, fun techno world. Inexpensive drinks and a funky lounge set a premise for what you are about to witness. This cabaret show runs seven days a week in what could be considered a dank basement in Tokyo’s red-light district, Shinjuku. Walking 3 flights down to that basement, however… is also an adventure of mirrors, lights, butterflies, lizards and snake art…
Robot Restaurant’s main purpose is to thoroughly entertain in unexpected ways – there is no rhyme or reason to what you are about to experience – it’s best to attend with no pre-conceived notions of a plot or natural flow of events. You’ll watch pandas and samurais, lasers and captivating live drumming, mild pyrotechnics and dragons, animated wall screens, neon hip-hop, geishas and fans… and of course, some pretty funky metal moving robots! It’s crazy, it’s loud and it’s truly spectacular to witness! You’ll find yourself submerged in this unbelievable true tourist event, laughing, cheering and clapping while you wave your neon glow sticks along with the crowd. Just a reminder… you’re not there for the food. Best to buy admission tickets online ahead of time to get a discount.
On the way to Robot Restaurant, consider taking a detour down Godzilla Road – Shinjuku is a densely populated area with tall buildings and a million lights… the entire town feels like an ant mound that’s been disturbed and the “ants”/people are walking everywhere in every direction… but tucked in Shinjuku down Godzilla Road you will find the one, the only… Godzilla appearing to climb over the Toho Cinema Plex next to the Hotel Gracery! This is truly “only in Japan”… Every hour on the hour he roars, lights up and breathes blue smoke. Great photo opportunity, especially if you bring your Godzilla action figure to pose alongside “Papa!”
Yes, bringing a Godzilla action figure can add to your fun for photo opportunities!
Another destination of interest is Shibuya – which is the fashion mecca and shopping district that surrounds Shibuya Station, one of Tokyo’s busiest railway stations. Consider this an area of interest for the nightlife of Tokyo. You may be familiar with Shibuya’s pedestrian scramble crossing – located just outside the train station all vehicles are stopped in all directions to allow people to cross the intersection in 12 different directions simultaneously. You may recognize this crossing from several movies that it appeared in including Lost in Translation, and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, among others. You can also rent “Mario” Go Karts and cruise throughout the area in costume.
Roppongi Hills showcases Tokyo City View and its Observation Deck at the Mori Tower – which is one of the tallest buildings in the city and houses offices, restaurants and shops. This lovely 360° panoramic view of Tokyo at City View is impressive… The upstairs café has some fun drinks and food fare while seeing the city expanse from floor to high ceiling glass walls. An actual open-air rooftop observation area can be experienced by going to the Sky Deck as long as weather permits.
As for some delicious local dining – consider the Kanda Station area. There are so many places to eat when you exit the station – with a great selection of gyoza, ramen shops, yakitori and tempura. This will not disappoint your taste buds… just remember… bring your yen! Keep your spirits up even when you feel like jetlag has gotten the best of you, laugh at and be proud of yourself as you figure out how to navigate in this foreign country where YOU are the foreigner, and enjoy the Saki!
Kanpai (Bottoms up!)
Would you like to book a trip to Japan? Contact me! Currently, flights from DFW to Tokyo, Japan for next year (Jan 2019) are starting at only $800 round trip! There are lots of local Japanese hotels/guestrooms for under a hundred per night, but if you want to stay in a Marriott or Sheraton property you will start at $113/nt for the Moxy Tokyo Kinshicho, start at $140/nt at the Yokohama Bay Sheraton Hotel & Towers, and start at $194/nt for the Tokyo Marriott Hotel. (Jan 2019 Quotes)
Here are a few suggestions for great half day to day trips to get to know Tokyo:
Tokyo Asakusa Rickshaw Tour with Temples, Shrines, Skyscrapers, “Enjoy a memorable rickshaw ride through the streets of Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s most picturesque and historic neighborhoods, on this easily-customizable 30-min, 45-min, 1-hour, 2-hour, or 3-hour tour offering several different ride lengths. Sit back and relax as your knowledgeable driver peddles you past some of the city’s iconic sites, lovely gardens, towering skyscrapers and historic shops, passing cherry and maple trees as you go. It’s a great way to take a relaxed, informative, ride through this atmospheric area of Tokyo.” Starts at $41.58/person.
Tokyo 1-Day Tour: Meiji Shrine, Asakusa Temple, Bay Cruise, “Enjoy a comprehensive Tokyo one-day tour, covering its best gardens, temples, shopping areas and a Tokyo Bay cruise over the course of your 8.5-hour trip. Check out Meiji Temple, the city’s most famous Shinto site before visiting the Imperial Palace and Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist site, Asakusa Kannon Temple (Senso-ji). You’ll also get to do some shopping in Tokyo’s Nakamise and Ginza districts before enjoying a 50-minute cruise on Tokyo Bay. This Tokyo excursion also includes a guide, coach transport, pickup from select hotels, entrance fees and lunch.” Starting at $91.48/person.
Tokyo Tower, Tea Ceremony and Sumida River Cruise Day Tour, “Take a whirlwind sightseeing tour of Tokyo as you visit the city’s top landmarks, observe a tea ceremony and enjoy a river cruise during this 8.5-hour day tour. Follow your guide to attractions including the Imperial Palace, Nakamise shopping street, Asakusa Kannon Temple and Tokyo Tower observation deck. You’ll also enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and take a 40-minute cruise on the Sumida River. This excursion in Tokyo, perfect for those with limited time, also includes lunch, all entrance fees, pickup from select hotels and a souvenir city map.” Starting at $110.89/person.
Let’s discuss what features are most important to you and get the perfect itinerary planned. Did you know that using the services of our travel agency costs you NOTHING! Thanks to volume power of our agency and established relationships we have access to information and negotiated rates that the public doesn’t. We search for the BEST, most competitive prices for you!