Travel insights from Jenna Buege, associate editor of The Compass

The Travel Agent’s Ultimate Guide to Tokyo

Bright, colorful and fast-moving, Tokyo captivates travelers from around the world with its quirk and charm. Discover how one of the world’s largest cities perfectly merges ancient history and tradition with new technology and artistic expression.

Tokyo Basics

  • Getting There – There are two main airports in Tokyo, Narita International Airport (NRT) and Haneda International Airport (HND). Travelers can also visit the city via cruise ship and the area’s most popular dock is Harumi Terminal.
  • Location – Tokyo is located in eastern Japan and is the nation’s capital city.
  • Climate – Tokyo has four seasons and the local climate is described as humid subtropical. . The summers in Tokyo are hot and humid with temperatures ranging within the high 70s and 80s. Winters are mild with the average low being no colder than somewhere in the low 50s.
  • Currency – The currency in Tokyo is yen and travelers can exchange their U.S. dollars at ATMs, banks, post offices or convenience stores.
  • Language – Standard Japanese is the most common dialect in modern Tokyo and few locals are comfortable using English.

Lodging

Two of the best districts for tourists are Shinjuku and Ginza as they both offer plenty of local atmosphere as well as lots of shopping and restaurants. Shinjuku and Ginza are also nearby public transportation and have quick access to airport shuttlebuses. Those traveling with the whole family or a larger group may want to consider Asakusa, Odaiba or the Tokyo Disney Area where there are hotels that offer larger rooms and more space. Alternatively, solo travelers (who don’t suffer from claustrophobia) can spend a night or two at one of Japan’s famous Capsule Hotels where they’ll snooze in a coffin-sized space among 40 of their closest friends.

Food

With a wide range of regional and local Japanese cuisine plus a touch of international flare, Tokyo is one of the world’s best destinations for foodies. Whether you’re looking for Michelin-starred dining, of which Tokyo has more than New York and Paris combined, or a mom-and-pop shop, this city has a delicious dish to offer within any budget. Nigiri-zushi, tempura, soba, tsukudani and monjayaki are among many specialties best found in Tokyo where the seafood is fresh and the noodles are saucy.

For a unique night out, visit Golden Gai, a collection of tiny bars and eccentrically decorated buildings. The Golden Gai district has long been a hot spot for artists and while some of the establishments prefer to only serve locals, many welcome tourists with open arms (often indicated with a sign written in English posted on the door).

Fun

  • Entertainment
    • DisneySea – Take a trip around the world at DisneySea, a nautical-themed Disney park featuring a number of ports inspired by real places. Have lunch in “Venice” at the Mediterranean Harbor, explore the Arabian Coast or conquer an erupting volcano at Mysterious Island.
    • Robot Restaurant – If you’re looking to experience Tokyo’s weird side, make a stop at Robot Restaurant, a show that is easily one of the strangest and most popular things in the city. So grab a drink and relax as robots, clowns, dragons, ninjas, acrobats and more serenade you with bright lights and bumpin’ music.
    • Shinjuku Party District – Night owls won’t want to miss a night out on the town in the Shinjuku Party District. Home to hundreds of bars and clubs, Shinjuku has everything from loud music, smoky karaoke bars, quaint Irish pubs, fine dining and deep underground clubs.
  • Adventure
    • Cosplay Go-Karting – Make your Mario Kart dreams a reality at Go-Kart Asakusa, a company that allows visitors to cruise around Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto dressed as their favorite fictional characters. The Tokyo course begins in Old Town Tokyo and zips past a number of iconic sights including National Ueno Park, Akihabara and the Tokyo Skytree.
    • Hedgehog Cafes – You’ve heard of cat cafes, well, get ready for Tokyo’s hedgehog cafes. While their quills may be intimidating, hedgehogs are actually rather kawaii (that’s “cute” in Japanese) and the opportunity to grab a drink and a quick bite to eat with these tiny friends is one of the hottest trends in the city.
  • Shopping and Art
    • teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum – An interactive art museum with no map to lead the way, teamLab Borderless is all about discovery. Choose a door, any door, as you traverse the museum’s dark hallway behind which you will be met with colorful displays of twinkling lights immersing you into an alternate reality. teamLab Borderless gets busy so plan to arrive early to hit up the most popular displays: Floating Nest, Forest of Lamps and the Crystal World.
    • Studio Ghibli Museum – It’s no secret; Japan is wild for anime. See where the stories come to fruition at Studio Ghibli, creators of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. At the Studio Ghibli Museum, visitors will learn about the history of animation and have the opportunity to visit the iconic rooftop garden.
    • Harajuku – Tokyo’s youth neighborhood, Harajuku, is bursting with bright fashion stores, people wandering the streets dressed in cosplay and delicious food stands. After the bold outfits of Harajuku inspire you, take a stroll to Omotesando, a nearby high-end shopping street.

History

  • Koishikawa Kōrakuen – Founded in the mid-17th century, Koishikawa Kōrakuen was the property of a powerful Japanese family referred to as the Tokugawa clan. The strolling garden features elements of Japanese and Chinese landscaping and has some of Tokyo’s most fabulous scenery. Don’t miss a photo op on the Full-Moon Bridge, a structure dating back to the early Edo period.
  • Senso-ji Temple – Located in Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s most traditional neighborhoods, is Senso-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple dating back to 645 A.D. Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest most colorful temple, it is also one of the busiest.
  • Zojo-ju Temple – Nestled near Shiba Park, 1300s Zojo-ji Temple is a perfect example of Tokyo’s flair for tradition and modernity as visitors gaze up at neighboring Tokyo Tower. Zojo-ji Temple is the head temple for Jodo Japanese Buddhists and is open to the public.

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