Seeing Tokyo for the First Time
Paris, New York, and London are usually on everyone's list for places to visit, but there's another grand city that deserves a spot on that list: Tokyo, the illustrious capital, and heart of Japan. As the center of the most populated urban area in the world, Tokyo is an amazing blend of high-tech industry and classic Japanese culture. Even in this highly modern city, it's possible to find the occasional ancient park or Edo Period shrine downtown. If you're making your first visit to Tokyo, then keep the following tips in mind.
1. Budget your money wisely
Because there's so much to see and enjoy in Tokyo, it's best to have a plan of where you want to go and how much you want to spend. The cost of living there is equivalent to life in other major cities like San Francisco or Toronto. You should familiarize yourself with Japanese shopping habits and other local customs. For example, it's considered rude to offer a tip for the service you receive, even if it's commonplace in your own country.
2. Get lost in the crowd
Walking in Tokyo can be an experience in and of itself. Whether you're strolling through one of the many lovely parks or getting swept up in the foot traffic outside a shopping district, you can find so much to see and enjoy on your own.
3. Become familiar with trains.
Trains and subways are essential for getting around this immense urban region. The first thing you'll want to do is get a subway pass, either a Suica or Pasmo card. With the money you put on these cards, you can tap them over the right sensors and breeze through any subway line, convenience store, or vending machine. When taking the train, you'll also want to keep your luggage very light and easy to carry, since the crowds are large and most passengers aren't afraid to push their way around you.
4. You can get by without knowing Japanese
For the most part, many Japanese have a basic proficiency in English and most of the signs you'll have translations. If you speak slowly and use the right gestures, you can make yourself understood by most locals. Even so, it's good practice to pick up a few phrases like "Hello," "Thank you," and "Which train takes me to...?" When you're dining at a restaurant, you'll find it easier to grab a waiter's attention with the phrase "Sumimasen!" or "Excuse me!"
5. Look for the nightlife in Shibuya and Roppongi
For young Japanese and tourists alike, the best nightclubs and movie theaters are in the Shibuya district, along with some pretty good bars and cafés. However, the hotels in Shibuya are limited, so most tourists will be drawn toward an area like Roppongi instead. Besides being more budget-friendly to tourists, Roppongi is also home to the National Art Center, Tokyo's largest art museum. Just remember that you're going to draw more attention from club and bar owners because you might look like a tourist with money to spend.
6. Find great food and shopping in Shinjuku
This central region of Tokyo contains numerous department stores and restaurants, including places that serve authentic French and Italian cuisine. You'll find great discounts on electronics in this area, and it's a curious fact in Japan that the larger department stores usually have restaurants located in the basement level. Naturally, no trip to Japan would be complete without a meal of sushi or noodles.
7. Spend your Sunday in Yoyogi Park
Many locals will gravitate toward Yoyogi Park on Sundays, usually to drink and enjoy music. Located near Harajuku Station, you'll find plenty of rock music shows and colorful street performers. It's also an ideal place to visit in the spring to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom.