Travel Tips for Visiting Tokyo

Tokyo is a city of contradictions. In this gigantic metropolis, old world meets new as skyscrapers tower over humble noodle shops and bullet trains blast past old shrines dedicated to the departed. Those visiting Tokyo perhaps have conflicting feelings about the city. While some revel in its contrasts and immensity, others crumble, overwhelmed by the maze of options. To get the most out of a trip to Tokyo, you need to be well-prepared and well-researched, as the city offers hundreds of sites worth visiting. These tips will assist in those preparations, but it’s best to do some additional research as well.

1. Study the grid: Learn about the different districts of Tokyo

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Studying a district grid may seem unnecessary until you look at the megalopolis known as Tokyo on a map. With over 37 million inhabitants, Tokyo Metropolis is the second most populated urban area in the world. Central Tokyo alone is made up of eight different wards, with each one having its own sub-districts. In other words, the city is a hugely complex place and in order to efficiently move through it, you’ll need to know which districts you want to spend the most time in. You can also hire a guide to show you around the city as well. Some of The most notable districts in Central Tokyo include:

Chiyoda is the most important ward in Tokyo, as it encompasses the Imperial Palace and the most crucial government buildings (like Parliament and the various Ministries). Here you can also find dozens of art museums and cultural centers worth perusing as well as cheap and cheerful downtown Tokyo hotels.

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Chuo is another famous ward that borders Chiyoda in Central Tokyo. It encompasses the famous tsukiji fish market where you can watch the tuna auction early in the morning. You can also sample fresh, delicious sushi right there in the market. Chuo is also home to the Ginza shopping district, one of the most famous and expensive shopping districts in the world. Here you can find Japan’s oldest and most distinguished department stores as well as other high-end shops.

Shinjuku is the most important ward for nightlife and luxury hotels in Tokyo. Here you’ll find a myriad of districts that feature authentic international restaurants, small pubs and bars that are popular with university students, the famous Kabukicho red-light district, and a multitude of other entertainment options. 

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2. Make use of one of the best transportation systems in the world

Visitors to Tokyo have the luxury of getting around using one of the most expensive transportation systems in existence. While metros and trains connect this vast metropolis, it can be extremely confusing because various systems criss-cross the city. The most useful and convenient train is the green JR Yamanote Line. This line makes a loop around Central Tokyo and either stops at or bisects the most important stations in that area. You can also use the Tokyo Metro system that features nine lines stopping at all major stations.

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The best way to pay for transportation in Tokyo is to get a pre-paid card. You can purchase either a Suica card or PASMO card for a $4.00 deposit. These cards allow you to tap on and off the train, metro, or bus which is much easier than using ticket machines as not all of them have an English option. If you’ll just be in town for a day or two, you may want to look into the various day passes available.

3. Don’t try to do it all

Travel can become really frustrating when you try to cram everything into one trip. It’s important to keep in mind that Tokyo is a huge city with dozens of districts, each offering unique cultural, religious, and culinary gems. It would take months to hit all of the major sights. So give yourself a break and cut your list down to a handful of day-trips that are possible in your traveling time frame. That way you won’t be disappointed by the things you didn’t get to do. Save those for your next trip to Tokyo!

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