Travel Notes on Tokyo

Tokyo is awesome. Simply amazing. From site seeing, shopping, eating to simply experiencing, you can never get bored here. And don’t worry, the city does accommodate tourists pretty well. English will get you by most areas, but having some basic understanding of the language and culture will make things much easier. You won’t get that on this page. Instead, this page is focused on notes I have picked up over the years visiting this awesome metropolitan.

Here are some things I’d recommend right off the bat:

  • Get the JR Railway pass if you are staying a week or later and plan on visiting other cities
  • Get a prepaid subway card, either the Passmo or day passes (covers less of the lines)
  • Rent a wifi router at the airport
  • Have late night drinks and eats in Shinjuku
  • See the old town area of Asakusa
  • Shop in Shibuya and cross that crazy intersection without being an annoying tourist
  • Geek out in all the electronics and anime stores in Akihabara
  • Check out the convenient stores (7-11, Family Mart, and Lawsons) and wonder why they aren’t as awesome back home
  • Witness the early morning auctions at the Tsukiji fish market and have sushi afterward
  • Explore and discover little places to eat! There’s so much undiscovered gems.

Now onto the details.

Arriving


There are two international airports that service Tokyo, Narita and Haneda. I’d recommend getting flights into Haneda, not because it’s new, but because it’s closer to the city. It’s less than 30 minutes to get into the Tokyo, while Narita generally takes about an hour. Either one you choose, look for the express trains. You don’t want to spend more time traveling than you already have.

The airports are fantastic. Sure, they have the run of the mill duty-free and souvenir shops. But the little restaurants aren’t too bad and won’t charge you an arm and a leg like they do back home. Stuck at the airport for a while? Check out one of the paid lounges or if you need a shower, they got that too for a small price. And if you’re in search of something, the information booths are filled with helpful people. They can guide you to get your JR Railway pass and even where to pick up a wifi router. Sometimes you’ll find them around the ticket machines making sure foreigners don’t get on the wrong train.

Not a bad way to arrive into this vast city.

Getting Around


The subway system can be intimidating. Just look at that map. Throw in the fact that the lines are operated by several companies, it’s no wonder why people feel overwhelmed and take forever in front of the giant railway map. Best advice, get that Passmo card, fill it up and travel where you want. No need to get change and work those ticket machines. It’s relatively a new thing to Tokyo and you can also use it down in Osaka.

As for the JR Railway pass, I’d definitely recommend it for visiting other cities. Not so useful for travel within Tokyo, because it’s only valid on the JR lines, which is only some lines on this map. You can read more about it on their JR Railway website. They make this pass specifically for tourists and it’s a huge savings benefit compared to buying standalone tickets. Go check it out!

Taxis

A very good option for when you want to get to a specific place, fast. One challenge as you may guess is the language barrier. But as long as you have the address in Japanese, you’ll be fine. The drivers are very helpful and not looking cheat you. Very different than other cities huh? Well, that’s why I believe this is the best option if the subway can’t take you there.

Uber/Lyft

It’s an option here, but it’s not an affordable or even convenient one. Unless you really really don’t want to deal with the language barrier and let tech get you to your destination. Sure. However, there are not many drivers on these systems and you may find yourself waiting longer than what you’re used to

Eating


Okay, this is probably the section you came here for. What to eat in Tokyo? Hmmm… there’s so much. Traditional classics to the new, this city’s got it all. I’m only going to mention a few but will likely add more over the years. I’ll try to get the obvious out of the way first, followed by some interesting eats you may want to venture into.

For places that need reservations, do give https://www.thesushigeek.com/ a read.

Sushi

Yeah, the obvious “must eat” when you’re in Japan. There are so many places you can go to that’s either pretty affordable or sporting one or more of them Michelin stars. Make sure you secure those reservations if you’re going for the latter. But whichever place you pick, make sure you sample different types of fish. In the states, we’ve only started to get varieties from Japan and that comes with a premium. So take full advantage of things you may not have seen before.

Here are a few places on my list to try. They are small intimate places that focus on omakase. All of which require a reservation up to a month ahead of time, if not more.

If you can’t get a reservation or don’t want to shell out a ton of money, check out:

Ramen

Definitely worthwhile to try in the birthplace of it all. Although, technically speaking, the ramen you know and love wasn’t born in Tokyo. But one thing you can count on, is that the varieties from different regions are present here. So if you like the classic Hakata or Hokkaido style ramen, this city has it. Or even if you like the more experimental kind like milk based or the now popular chicken based ramen, look no further. This city has you covered.

Here’s a sampling of places to try. They are all international chains and you should give them a try.

Now, if you’re looking for a local shop, check out the list at https://www.eater.com/maps/tokyo-best-ramen-ginza-akihabara-nakano.

Izakaya

For those seasoned travelers to Japan, you could probably tell from the header image that I love this style of eating and drinking. And no, it’s not like the restaurants back in the states that serve you small plates of delicious food. It’s more than that. It’s the streets filled with these little shops that sit side by side, tempting you to hop from one place to the next. I would say, stay. Get to know the people and the owners and you’ll get a glimpse into everyday life of the salary men and women of Tokyo. That was my first experience in Shinjuku many years ago.

There are several areas around the city:

Gyukatsu

Fatty cuts of beef, battered, and deep fried like it’s cousin, tonkatsu. But this meal is just oh so decadent and rich, you’ll be in food coma territory soon after you finish. Read more about it here. Otherwise, be warned that it is well advertised to Asian tourists. Put that together with the locals who love this stuff and you got yourself a pretty long line.

I know only one restaurant that makes this. But fortunately, it’s a local chain. Check their website (http://www.gyukatsu-motomura.com/) for complete up to date listings.

Sukiyaki

Oh, this stuff is so great. You gotta go to a high-end one to enjoy these very fatty cuts of Japanese beef. They will prepare it for you table side. And once they dip it in that egg yolk, hang on to your seat because the flavor just leveled up.

There were two places on my list:

Robatayaki

This one is a little hard to explain in my own words, but I’ll try. It’s basically a festive place to eat where fresh food is presented at this huge table between you and the chefs. These chefs aren’t the quiet ones either. They’ll be happy to shout cheers and keep the mood lively. And when your food is ready, they’ll serve it to you on these long wooden paddles. Because damn, that produce table is huge.

There are several places around the city. I’d recommend you call to make reservations. It isn’t a months ahead type of thing but there’s limited seating with long hours of eating and drinking.

Other Ideas


Want some things to do in between your food excursions besides the usual site seeing? Here are some ideas:

  • Studio Ghibli
    http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/
    If you’re a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki, you should definitely go check out their museum. Keep in mind though, tickets take some planning. Read the instructions on their website. You may need to reserve them three months in advance and they become available only at specific times. There will be other vendors that offer ticket, but they generally cost more.
  • Go-Kart Mario Style
    http://maricar.com/en/shinagawa.html
    What city lets you go-kart on the city streets? Why here of course. They also have outfits for you to dress up in to relive those Nintendo memories of Super Mario Kart sans all the turtle shells and mushrooms.
  • Robot Restaurant
    http://www.shinjuku-robot.com/pc/system.php?lng=en
    So this has become a popular tourist thing to do these days. But I have to say, it’s a pretty unique experience that I haven’t seen anywhere else yet. Although they do consider themselves a “restaurant” their expertise is in their crazy robot show. And since there’s so much good eating in Shinjuku, I’d recommend getting your eats before arriving at the show.
  • Fuerza Bruta
    http://fbw.jp/en/
    Along the lines of performing arts, this is a new show that has opened up in Tokyo. Something that I’ll have to experience next time I’m in Tokyo but this is definitely on the list. Read more about it on their website.

If you want more personal experience on some of these places, check out http://thehungryox.com/category/japan/tokyo/.

Hope this page serves as a good primer for your visit to Tokyo. Feel free to drop me a message and let me know how it went!



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