Tokyo is located on Honshu, Japan's largest island. This neon-bathed city is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan, home to the Imperial Family and Imperial Palace, seat of government and home to 12 million souls, making it one of the most densely populated cities on the planet. Tokyo is a futuristic and technologically advanced megacity, but retains traces of an ancient, more contemplative approach to life.
To get a feel for the bustling metropolis, visit the Tsujiki fish market, where you'll find freshly caught creatures of the deep, destined to lie, perhaps, on those little slabs of sushi rice. For a bird's eye view, whizz up to the observatory of the Tokyo Tower, from where you can even see Mount Fuji and Mount Tsukuba. And for a bargain, head to the colourful Akihabara (or Electric Town), the best place for electronic, computer and anime and otaku items.
For moments of calm, stroll through the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace or visit Meiji Jingu, the Shinto shrine just behind Harajuku station.
Thanks to the weak yen, Japan has become more affordable for travellers in recent years. Cheap flights to Tokyo take about 11 hours from London and touch down at Narita.
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Winter is cold in Tokyo and the temperature occasionally drops below freezing. Spring has pleasant warm days. Summer is hot and muggy. It gets cool again in the autumn, with temperatures in the teens-20s (Celsius). August is the warmest month with high humidity and temperatures in the mid-20s, and January is the coldest with temperatures below zero. The monsoon season lasts about a month starting around mid-June. Typhoons are widespread in Japan in September.
When to fly to Tokyo
Spring and autumn are the most temperate seasons. Despite the heat and humidity of the summer, rates in the summer are going up. Many local festivals are celebrated in Tokyo in July, and the school summer holiday runs from the end of July through August. Peak travel times for flights to Tokyo tend to fall around Japanese holidays when reservations need to be booked far in advance.
The New Year’s celebration is January 1 through 3, which is a busy travel time, but the rest of January, February, and March are quiet and sightseeing attractions are not very busy. Plus, skies tend to be clear and sunny and the weather is chilly but dry. The New Year’s celebration is January 1 through 3, which is a busy travel time. But the rest of January, February, and March are quiet and sightseeing attractions are not very busy. Plus, skies tend to be clear and sunny and the weather is chilly but dry.
Getting around Tokyo
Tokyo is known internationally for having great public transport. It’s clean, safe and efficient. Tourists usually stick to the subway or Japan Railways (JR). The subway has 13 different lines that run from 5am to midnight. Avoid the rush hours if possible as they can get extremely crowded. You can buy a Tokyo Combination Ticket which offers unlimited rides on the Tokyo trains, subway and bus lines for one day. Taxis are safe, clean and comfortable, but among the highest-priced in the world. Drivers rarely speak English, so it’s a good idea to have your destinations written in Japanese before boarding.
Tokyo insider information
- Tokyo is the largest city in the world. The city is made up of a series of small towns and neighbourhoods, each with its own history, flavour, and atmosphere, organized into 23 wards. Depending on how you like to explore a city, you may want to make a plan as to which districts/wards you want to visit and sites you want to see before arriving.
- Experiencing the best of what Tokyo has to offer is inexpensive and often free, such as a walk through Shitamachi around Asakusa, the Buddhist temple Sensoji, the Meiji-jingu Shinto shrine, the Harajuku shopping area, and the Tsukiji fish market. Get a good guide book to both check out which sites are free and to plan your visit to Tokyo.
- The Tokyo Tourism Info website lists the top attractions in Tokyo, with links to information on festivals, shopping, eating, and entertainment in Tokyo.
- In Tokyo it’s very easy to eat on a budget. Two options are a set lunch and obento. A set lunch is a fixed-price meal that usually includes an appetiser or soup, main dish with one or two side dishes, and sometimes dessert. Set lunches are called teishoku,seto coursu, or coursu in Japanese. Some restaurants also offer set dinners although they cost a bit more than a set lunch. Getting an obento (box lunch) is a “must do.” A typical obento contains fish or chicken, side dishes, rice, and pickled vegetables. But the best part is the presentation — it should be beautiful enough to “eat with the eyes”.
- For nightlife and entertainment, Tokyo has Kabuki, No, Bunraku puppet drama, music, dance, classical and popular music, strip joints, massage parlours, peep shows, bars, restaurants, and so on. But even as the night wears on and the revellers become more and more inebriated, the city remains fairly safe.
- You will get lost in Tokyo — everyone does, even Tokyo cab drivers. Always go out armed with street and subway maps. They are readily available in Tokyo, and the Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau gives out free maps. When you do get lost, ask for help and directions. Don’t be shy about asking again as you’re following the directions. Unless you’re fluent in Japanese or the person you asked is fluent in English, misinterpretation of the directions is a possibility. You may also want to buy a phrase book that has English transliterations of Japanese (romaji), and Japanese characters (kanji and kana). Then you can also point to the Japanese words to get help.