Information & Facts
Tokyo has four distinct seasons, similar to New York. The summer
months (June, July and August) are hot and sticky while winter can
be freezing. Tokyo is best visited in spring or autumn.
Tokyo is one of the world's great cities for diners. Not only is
there a fabulous variety of premium eateries (collectively with
more Michelin stars than Paris) but the wonderfully diverse and
exciting world of Japanese cuisine reaches its highest peaks here.
kaiseki, the elaborate and expensive Japanese cuisine
themed around the four seasons, to down-market roadside classics
sukiyakinoodle dishes, deep-fried
yakitorichicken grilled on skewers, Tokyo has it
all in abundance.
Then there is the perennial western favourite, sushi -
impeccably served in a thousand different varieties around the
city. Note that when eating sushi it is usual to eat with your
fingers, and go easy on the soy sauce and
wasabi. For a light meal on the move, you can
also grab a lunchtime
bentobox from any convenience store and find a
seat in the many quiet enclaves amidst the city bustle. For an
unforgettable experience, treat yourself to a pricey but incredibly
fresh sushi breakfast at one of the restaurants near the Tsukiji
Fish Market in Chuo.
You can also visit the basement level of nearly any department
store, which will contain a number of shops selling prepared foods.
Piece together your own meal, or just browse the free samples. Note
that these stores will begin discounting their food around 7pm.
Chopsticks are used in most restaurants, except those serving
western cuisine. You can ask for western utensils, but you are
better off getting into the spirit and practicing with chopsticks
before your visit! When eating noodles it is quite normal to pick
up the bowl and drink from it, using the chopsticks to eat the
solid bits. Slurping is also normal; in fact, it improves the
flavour of the food.
In most restaurants you will be given a wet towel known as
oshiboribefore eating. Use this to freshen up by
wiping your face and hands. While ordering in a restaurant without
an English menu can be intimidating, many restaurants have plastic
food models on display, and most offer set menus with popular
Tipping is not customary in Japan, and attempts to provide
gratuity are likely to be met with confusion. At more up-scale
restaurants a 10-15% service charge may be added to your bill.
Smaller restaurants and roadside stalls will not accept credit
Tokyo's public transport system is one of the most efficient in
the world and is clean and safe, combining an extensive train
network, 13 underground subway lines and a bus system. Visitors
usually find the trains (JR) and subways the best way to get around
although the complexity of the underground network can be
intimidating; rush hour from 7:30am to 9am and 5pm to 7pm should be
avoided. Most stations have English signs. Because lines are owned
by different companies, transfers between trains or subways usually
require a transfer between different train systems, with different
ticketing systems that can be confusing. The Tokyo Combination
Ticket (Tokyo Free Kippu) is a day travel pass that allows
unlimited use of the trains, subway and bus lines within the city.
Subway tickets are bought at vending machines; buy the cheapest
ticket if unsure how much to pay and the difference, if any, can be
paid at the end of the journey. The bus system is more complicated
for visitors as most destinations are written in Japanese only and
bus drivers don't speak English. Taxis are convenient but never
cheap, particularly in rush hour. Taxis can be hailed on the
street, except in some central areas, where they only pick up from
taxi ranks. Drivers speak little English so it is a good idea to
have the destination written out in Japanese. Driving a car in the
city is not advised. JR trains are free with a
Japan Rail Pass.
Not everyone's ideal holiday destination with children, Tokyo is
surprisingly well geared towards kids on holiday in this bustling
city. With a dazzling array of technological attractions,
scientific museums and a rich and colourful history, children
should find there is plenty to explore round Tokyo.
The Baji Equestrian park is a great place to take kids to watch
horse shows and even have a pony ride, or for a more exhilarating
day out, head to the Tokyo Dome City where children can enjoy
countless rides and games at the amusement park and parents relax
and pamper themselves in the spa. The Tokyo Metropolitan Children's
Hall is also a great attraction for kids to enjoy with its indoor
gyms, computers, crafts areas, mini-theatre and rooftop playground,
it's Tokyo's largest public facility for children.
On a sunny day, why not pack a picnic and the Frisbee and head
off to Shinjuku Park, or Hama-Rikyu Sunken Garden for a stroll or
just to admire the cherry trees and blossoms. Or for those days
when the weather turns bad and outdoor activities for kids are no
longer an option, visit the Panasonic Center, or soak up a bit of
culture at one of Tokyo's many museums, such as the National Museum
of Emerging Science and Innovation, Museum of Maritime Science or
the National Science Museum. You'll find a number of skating rinks,
sports clubs, and swimming pools dotted around the city as
Japanese is the official language. Most Japanese people
will have studied English at school, but few can speak it well or
understand what is said to them.
The currency is the Japanese Yen (JPY), which is equal to 100
sen. Major credit cards are accepted in the larger hotels and
stores, but most Japanese operate with cash. Cash and travellers
cheques can be exchanged in banks, post offices and currency
exchange bureaux. Banks are usually open Monday to Friday 9am to
3pm. Travellers cheques offer the best exchange rate and are best
taken in US dollars. ATMs do not accept all credit and debit cards;
only the international ATMs in post offices, airports and some
Nightlife in Tokyo is huge. They have everything from geisha
bars to jazz or 'hostess' clubs, dive bars referred to as 'shot
bars' and zany themed dance clubs. It is legal to drink out in the
streets and vending machines even stock cans of beer!
A good way to enjoy Tokyo's nightlife is in an
izakaya, a pub-style watering hole serving food and drink.
Western-style bars are much more expensive than those with local
flavour, though chains like The Hub have happy-hour prices that are
Roppongi is the top nightlife district in Tokyo, where the
locals are very friendly to
gaijin(Westerners). Be wary of hostesses and 'patrons' who
try to lure you into one of the districts many gentlemen's clubs,
where drinks are prohibitively expensive. Shibuya also has a number
of nightclubs, and Shinjuku is home to both Tokyo's red-light
district and its primary gay bars. While Shinjuku is famous for its
crazy atmosphere, women are advised not to walk around alone. For
less expensive bars that cater to students and backbackers, go a
little further to the Shimokitazawa, Koenji and Nakano
Many bars and lounges impose a 'table charge', which includes
snacks like nuts or chips. Not all venues charge and policies vary,
so ask before you order anything. Note that the legal age for both
drinking and smoking in Japan is 20.
Those looking for a more cultured evening can catch a
Kabukiperformance at the Kabuki-za theatre in Ginza.
Tickets range from ¥3,000 to ¥22,000, or you can catch a single act
for as little as ¥800. Other popular forms of theatre include the
restrained and refined
Bunrakupuppet theatre. You can also see traditional
Western music performances by the Tokyo and NHK Symphony Orchestras
at various theatres around Tokyo. Check the Japan Times for concert
For detailed nightlife listings, grab a copy of the free
Tokyo has refined shopping into an urban art form and essential
cultural experience. The result is quite possibly the most
futuristic shopping environment in the world where you can purchase
everything from underwear to watermelons from vending machines
while never interacting with a human. Tokyo is also at the cutting
edge of fashion and design, as a wide-eyed stroll through Ginza and
Shibuya districts will confirm. Tokyo is also famous for its
electronics stores, the biggest concentration of which can be found
in Akihabara, Tokyo's 'Electric Town'. Despite the wide range you
will struggle to find genuine bargains and don't expect to
negotiate too much on price.
Shopping malls have also been taken to another level here - in
some cases, up to 20 levels. Shinjuku Station is surrounded by
multi-level shopping stores selling everything under the sun. Big
name chains such as Keio and Isetan can be accessed directly from
the station. They both offer tax-free shopping and European
language assistance. For a more upmarket department store
experience, visit Mitsukoshi which has several branches throughout
Tokyo isn't known for flea markets, but two that are worth a
visit for artisan-style gifts are Togo Shrine in Harajuku on the
first and fourth Sundays of each month, and Nogi Shrine on the
second Sunday of each month. There are many small markets around
the various temples and shrines. Essential purchases include
traditional items like Duruma dolls and crafts such as ceramics and
chop-sticks. Kimonos are another good purchase although those made
from pure silk, as true kimonos are, will be expensive. On a more
modern note, the very latest gadgetry and electronics gear will
also be perfectly emblematic of your visit to Tokyo. A good place
to browse for souvenirs is the Oriental Bazaar and Omotesando, both
of which offer good value and plenty of interesting human
A popular sight is the
otakuarea of Akihabara. There you'll find colourful manga
and anime stores, and you may catch some fans and promoters
wandering around in fantastical costumes.
One of the surprising aspects of shopping in Tokyo is that
despite the vast buildings and slick modernity surrounding
everyone, there are still traditional neighbourhoods and quiet
districts to be found. Here you can find specialist stores selling
unique and frequently hand made items such as micro-brewed
sakeor beautiful lacquerware.
Sightseeing in Tokyo can bring about sensory overload if you're
not careful. Animated billboards, the buzz of a densely packed and
highly energetic population, and glittering, gleaming architecture
all compete for your attention. One thing is certain though, you'll
never be bored.
The transport system is excellent, good value, and easy to
figure out, even for westerners. However, the best way to view the
city remains the oldest way: on foot, walking the streets, taking
in the multitude of sights and sounds on your way. You'll be sure
to find plenty of unexpected treasures, from little temples on a
side streets, to the warm smile welcome of a local shop keeper.
Tokyo really does have something for everyone. Westerners
honeymooners come to cultivate romance amidst the cherry blossoms,
shoppers will find exactly what they're looking for and plenty on
top of that, and even backpackers can find a way take in the
culture without breaking the bank. The temples and museums listed
below are well worth your time, or you can lose yourself in the
neon lights of Shibuya, check out the hip Harajuku girls in
Takeshita Street or cosplayers in Akihabara, and take the elevated
train from Shimbashi station to the bayside Odaiba district, and
ride on the giant ferris wheel.
If you're curious, you can also take a class in any number of
traditional Japanese art forms, including calligraphy, tea
ceremony, martial arts, massage, flower arranging or meditation.
Tokyo also has a number of neon-lit pachinko parlours with men,
women and childrentrying their hand at the popular game. Japanese
sports such as baseball and sumo wrestling are also fun ways to get
a taste of Tokyo culture.
Local time is GMT +9.