Japan’s bustling capital of Tokyo perfectly combines the ultra traditional and all things avant-garde, from cherry blossom trees to temples and neon-lit skyscrapers to anime stores. Check out our ultimate guide to visiting this fascinating city, from money matters to eating out, we’ve got you covered.
The trains in Japan are truly incredible. Of course you have the bullet trains (shinkansen) that go over 300km per hour (amazing right?!) However, the trains and subways within Tokyo are still great and incredibly punctual – so punctual they announce a 10 second delay and apologise profusely!
There are the JR lines, which are the above ground trains, and then the subway of which there are two operators, Toei and the Tokyo Metro. Getting a prepaid card is the easiest and most efficient way to use all the services. There are a couple of types, but the most commonly used card is the Suica or the PASMO. They cost ¥500 to buy and then you upload more yen onto the card as you need. Easy! Alternatively, you can buy tickets as you go but I’d highly suggest a prepaid card.
It’s also worth downloading an app or using Google maps to help you get around as the stations can have three or more services so finding the right platform and operator is definitely an adventure! The JR Yamanote line is the best – it does a circle of the city (it takes an hour to go around the whole way) and stops at all the best places: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Hamamatsucho, Tokyo and so many more.
The official currency of Tokyo is the yen (¥). The notes come in ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥5,000 and ¥10,000. In coins you get ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥50, ¥100 and ¥500.
You won’t find many ATMs in Tokyo, and a big portion of them don’t accept cards from outside of Japan. Your best bet would be ATMs at post offices and 7-Eleven stores. Visa is also better than MasterCard, as many ATMs don’t accept MasterCard. Withdraw cash at the airport or when you find an ATM so that it lasts you a while, making sure you separate it within your luggage and use the hotel safes to store your cash.
One of the ultimate places to eat in Tokyo is Ninja Akasaka in Akasaka. When you arrive, you will be met by one of the ninjas who leads you through dark tunnels to get into the restaurant. Our table was inside a small carved out stone room with sliding paper doors! Dishes come in set menus, with every dish being incredible and really creative too. The ‘master ninja’ visits your table throughout the night and does magic tricks (really, really cool magic tricks).
How to get there: Ginza line to Akasakamitsuke station
Robot Restaurant, Shinjuku
Aussies will be familiar with this dinner and show as Contiki did a pop up robot restaurant in Sydney last year. It was definitely an experience for the books. The Japanese really don’t do anything in halves. The building is an eclectic mix of colours and major sensory overload. Think: serpents coming out of the walls, little dinosaur robots sitting on your table to play with, mirror balls and crazy Japanese dancing.
After pre-drinks in the bar you are lead down into the basement, which is where the show takes place. They give you a bento box and then the show starts. There are bikini clad Japanese girls drumming and screaming and dancing on top of robots. It’s totally crazy but amazing! You don’t know where to look. If you can drag your eyes away from everything that is going on and look around at the audience, jaws and eyes are wide open. The cost is ¥6,000 (approx. $62AUD). Just check out the website for a taster.
How to get there: Yamanote line to Shinjuku Station
Sights to see
Shibuya Crossing is the world’s busiest intersection and definitely an amazing sight to see. It’s kind of like Times Square in New York – lots of neon signs and people everywhere. It’s most famously known from the movie Lost in Translation (as well as Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – although we would never admit to having watched that…)
How to get there: Yamanote line to Shibuya station
The Imperial palace is the home of the Japanese Emperor and the imperial family. The palace is off limits (because they live in it!) but you can take a free tour of the surrounding grounds or just wander around yourself.
How to get there: Chiyoda line to Ōtemachi station
Meiji Jingu Shrine, Harajuku.
I was here for midnight one New Year’s Eve and it was insane. There were people everywhere. It’s custom in Japan to make a visit to a shrine within a few days of the New Year to make their wishes for the New Year. The Japanese typically buy little charms, which are like their lucky charm for the year (and they burn their old one).
The shrine was completed and dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken in 1920. There are approximately 100,000 trees in the forest surrounding the shrine. It’s so peaceful. It’s free to enter but ¥500 to go into the Treasure House or the Inner Garden.
How to get there: JR Yamanote line
The Tokyo Tower is a real sight to behold. It’s essentially a red version of the Eiffel Tower. It’s 333 metres high and has amazing views over the city. Everyone knows Tokyo is a huge city but from 333 metres above, you realise how ridiculously big it is – it stretches as far as you can see (plus you can spot Mount Fuji off in the far distance!)
How to get there: JR Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho station
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