City Guides: Tokyo
If you’re looking for a truly unique city break, Tokyo is hard to beat. It offers an intriguing fusion of a futuristic neon metropolis, with towering skyscrapers, cutting edge technology and a transportation system second to none. Yet Tokyo is also a city, true to its roots, with hundreds of ancient shrines and temples to be found all over the city, along with traditional tea-houses, cherry-blossom packed public gardens and plant covered Sukiya-zukuri houses. Tokyo really does offer an experience unlike any other. It’s no surprise that many first time western travelers to Tokyo (even the more seasoned travelers) talk of the culture shock they experience when they arrive. There’s a lot to take in, and for many, the experience can be overwhelming. The city has an energy of its own, and its staggering 13 million plus population make Tokyo the largest metropolitan area in the world. Despite this fact though, moving around the city is remarkable easy. Trains are frequent and run on time. The Tokyo subway is the envy of most cities around the world, both in terms of safety ad technology.
Just how expensive is Tokyo?
It’s no secret that Tokyo is not cheap. In fact, after holding the unwelcome title of the world’s most expensive city for much of the last few decades, you’d be forgiven for placing a visit to Japans capital on a wish-list rather than a to do list. This being said, Tokyo is becoming increasingly affordable, and indeed, in the last two years alone Tokyo has actually found itself outside of the top 10. Central to this development, has been the weakness of the Yen against other currencies, particularly the Dollar. Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came into office in 2012, they Yen actually slumped 31% against the Dollar, and the bank of Japan’s recent move to negative interest rates caused a further sharp fall in the Yen at the start of 2016. On top of this, there has been a significant increase in budget accommodation in Tokyo, no doubt as a result of the 47% increase in worldwide visitors to Japan last year. Entrepreneurs across Tokyo, are increasingly seeing the opportunity in providing low-cost, budget accommodation to cater for this surge in tourism to the capital. Airbnb is also taking off in a big way in the land of the rising sun, with listings up 370%, so yes, Tokyo isn't cheap, but it’s far from unaffordable if you plan well enough in advance!
When is the best time of the year to visit?
Whilst there is always plenty to see and do in Tokyo no matter what time of year it is, the best times to visit are Spring, particularly late April and early May or during Autumn, between September and November. It’s worth remembering that seasons play a big part in Japanese culture, with different seasons yielding a different cultural experience. Late April to early May sees temperatures return to the comfortable 60s and 70s after the bone chillingly cold first few months of the year. Early spring will see the cherry blossoms burst into flower and the city parks come alive with vibrant colours. In terms of key events during this time of year, you’ve got the Tokyo international Anime fair (March April), the Tokyo Art Fair (March-April), and Golden Week (April 29-May 5) all of which are well worth experiencing. Between September and November the city ushers in the stunning colours of autumn foliage. Daytime temperatures tend to range from upper 70s to the low 60s and by November, you will more than likely need a jacket. Financial Guides and the tranquil setting of Tokyo’s city parks aside, this time of year also offers some great events and cultural experiences for visitors. There’s the Tokyo international film festival in October, and in November there’s Culture Day, the Seven, Five, Three Festival and Labor Thanksgiving Days (to name just a few!).
Where to go, what to see?
Tokyo is obviously a huge Metropolitan area with 23 municipalities covering 844.66 sq. miles. That being said, the transport links are fantastic and reliable, so navigating yourself around the City is not difficult. It’s well wort doing your own research into each of these municipalities, as they all contain a wealth of things to see and do that will cater to whatever your preferences and desires are. If you’re after some of the more renowned boxes to tick while you’re in Tokyo though, there’s the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden with its stunning landscapes and striking cherry blossoms. Shibuya (one of the most famous districts in Tokyo) offers colourful, fashionable streets that never sleep, packed with an array of bars, shops, restaurants and clubs, a must see in Tokyo, especially for the young! Tokyo also boasts more Michelin star restaurants than anywhere else in the world, and when it comes to food, you really are spoilt for choice in Tokyo. From sushi to Tempura, Soba to Ramen, and all the other weird and wonderful culinary adventures on offer, you won’t leave disappointed. You should also prepare yourself for the novelty that is vending machine dining (a lot more enjoyable than it sounds!). Then there’s the stunning Meiji Shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall in Ryogoku Kokugikan, and the Tokyo Tower (one of the many architectural icons of Tokyo). There really is way too much to mention, and it’s advisable that you look into all of Tokyo’s distinctive districts to discover all the city has to offer!
Things to know!
• Cash is King: Despite Tokyo’s futuristic cityscape and Japans renowned affinity for technology and gadgets in all shapes and forms, there are still many places that do not accept credit cards. Simply locating an ATM is not as straightforward as it may be back home, even less so if you can't read Japanese. While understandably carrying cash around may make some people apprehensive, it is worth noting that Tokyo is one of the safest Cities in the world by any standards, though certain areas (like Roppongi and Kabuki-cho) are considered higher risk than others.
• Learn Japanese etiquette: It’s worth brushing up on your Japanese etiquette before you visit Tokyo. Having the correct manners is very important to the Japanese, and while as a foreigner, you will be be cut some slack, you should familiarize yourself with the most basic rules. Having a knowledge of Japanese greetings (whether formal or informal) to dining etiquette (particularly how to use chopsticks) as well as how to behave at shrines and temples. All will stand you in good favour.
• Plan your days: While some may favour a more spontaneous approach to their travels, getting around Tokyo can be overwhelming, particularly if it’s your first time. It’s always advised that you know where you’re going before you leave, and plan you journey both to and from your destination. You could save yourself a lot of time and money (and embarrassment) with some forward planning.