What to do in Tokyo
If you’ve not visited Japan before, or even if you have, then you need to put Tokyo on your itinerary. Japan’s capital is a vibrant, exciting city with so much to see and do. So, in this article, I’m going to share the details of our experience in Tokyo and give you some tips on making that most of your stay in the city. I’ll cover where to stay, how to get around and also what to see to help you build the perfect Tokyo itinerary.
What’s included in this Tokyo Itinerary?
Where to Stay in Tokyo
Using the Tokyo Subway
Yurikamome Automated Train
Where to Stay in Tokyo
We stayed at Hotel Ryumeikan during our time in Tokyo. Since it is just a few minutes walk from the station it is convenient for exploring the city. It’s unusual in that the reception is on the 15th floor so you go in and immediately into the lift. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed at a hotel where the reception was quite so high up before. However, you do get some pretty good views from up there.
We were efficiently checked in, of course. In fact, everything in Japan seems to run very efficiently. Soon we were in our room on the 12th floor. Surprisingly, this is below the reception floor. A little unusual indeed.
To explain, as we were on a trip around the world without flying, we booked a cruise across the Pacific Ocean to Canada. More about that in future blog articles, of course. For most of the trip up until now, we’d travel relatively light. If you count my backpack as travelling light!!! However, we needed some more outfits for the cruise so we had our cruise bag with all our formal wear, nice shoes etc couriered out to Japan.
To this end, we used a company called sendmybag.com and I can highly recommend them. Our bag was collected in the UK and was waiting in our room at Hotel Ryumeikan when we arrived. I did email the hotel to let them know the bag would arrive ahead of us just in case. However, it’s common to send your luggage this way in Japan so they weren’t phased by it. Also, a big thank you to my sister who waited in with our bag for the courier to collect it in the UK. Japanese customs had scrutinized the contents just as they did our rucksacks when we arrived in Oska but it was all intact.
An English Pub in Tokyo
Having travel half-way across the world, it was particularly funny to find that next door to our hotel was an English pub. It was too good an opportunity to miss so even though we were pretty tired we thought we’d pop in and see what it was like. Surprisingly, for the first time in our lives, we had 3/4 pint of beer each. Never seen that before! They did 1/2 pints and full pints too but who could resist the opportunity to have a 3/4 pint?? They do English type food also, including Fish and Chips and the Japanese customers seemed to be enjoying it. It just goes to show that you never know quite what you’ll find when you travel.
Why choose Hotel Ryumeikan?
In summary, I chose the hotel for location and value for money. Our room was rather compact although bigger than the one in Osaka. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the room but we found it comfortable we’d definitely stay here again if we return to Tokyo. Customer service was excellent but that really goes without saying in this part of the world. You can check availability for Hotel Ryumeikan here.
Using the Tokyo Subway
In the morning, we grabbed coffee and bagels at the Japanese equivalent of Starbucks (they have Starbucks too, of course) and headed off for the subway. To do this we had to walk right through Tokyo station (which turned out to be much bigger and more complex than I thought when we arrived) and walk down the road. Some of the subway lines in Tokyo are part of the Tokyo subway but others are part of the Toie line so are accessed separately. We managed to purchase a 1-day pass which covered both to avoid confusion and that, together with our JR pass, meant we were able to use pretty much any route within Tokyo.
Buy a 1-day pass for convenience and to save money
We often buy a 1-day travel pass for the metro/subway when we travel as it makes life easier. If you get on the wrong train you can just get off and try another one. Believe me, we’ve done this more times than I care to admit! It also saves worrying about whether you’ve bought the correct point-to-point fare and usually you’ll save money too.
Firstly, buy your ticket at one of the vending machines in the station. There are two types of 1-day pass available for the subway. One is for the Tokyo metro only and the other is for both the Tokyo and Toei systems. This is because part of the Tokyo metro is a private company. You can read about the various tickets here on the official site.
Tokyo and Toei Subway Lines Combination Ticket
I recommend buying the Tokyo and Toei ticket since it saves confusion and you’ll probably use both lines. The ticket costs 900 Yen (approx £6.50). If you don’t already have a Japanese Rail Pass then you should consider the Combined Ticket instead if you want to use any of those lines. This is more expensive at 1590 Yen (£11) so check if you plan on using any of the JR lines in Tokyo. Our JR passes were still valid while we were in Tokyo so we had full access to their network which runs throughout the city.
Yurikamome Automated Train
The Yurikamome is a tourist attraction in its own right and we headed their first when we arrived in the city. I called it the monorail but in fact, it’s not. Apparently, this is because of the way it runs on its track. However, it’s still a really cool way to travel. It’s a fully automated transport system with no driver. So you can sit right at the front and pretend you’re driving.
This is a great way to see the Tokyo Bay area and also all around the south side of Tokyo. It costs approx £2 and is elevated with great views across the bay and port areas. We managed to get the seat right at the front so had a clear view all around. It takes about 30 minutes to go round the bay and then over Rainbow bridge.
Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge is a suspension bridge which crosses the bay to the Odaiba Waterfront as can be seen in the foreground of the photo above. Although the bridge is mainly designed for cars and the Yurikamome transit line, you can walk along the pedestrian walkways for views of both the north and south sides of the Tokyo Bay.
These photos were taken from our front seats on the Yurikamonm Line Train while we crossed Rainbow Bridge. In the one above you can see a car driving past on the roadway part of the bridge.
I love the photo below since it looks like the train is about to head over a rollercoaster drop as it exits the bridge. It’s not that big a drop in reality and definitely not scary but a rather cool visual illusion from this angle.
Rainbow Bridge: Practical Information
Opening Hours: The Pedestrian walkways are open from 9am to 9 pm in summer and 10 am to 6 pm in winter.
Nearest Metro: Tamachi Station (JR East) or Shibaura-futō Station (Yurikamome Line)
You can’t miss Daikanransha as you can see it from pretty much anywhere in Tokyo Bay. Daikanransha means big wheel in Japanese. It opened in 1999 and for a while was the largest Ferris wheel in the world. At 100 metres (328 feet) in diameter, it is, however, smaller than the London Eye (135 metres) which opened shortly afterwards. Today, you can take the 16-minute ride in one of the colourful capsules for great views across Tokyo.
Daikanransha: Practical Information
Opening Hours: 10 am to 10 pm
Admission: 1000 Yen (£7.50)
Nearest Metro: Aomi Station (Yurikamone) or Tokyo Teleport Station (Rinkai Line)
Next, we headed for the Tokyo Tower. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the Eiffel Tower, doesn’t it? In fact, it was modelled on the French tower. At 333 metres it is actually the tallest, self-supported steel tower in the world. What’s more, it is 13 metres taller than the Eiffel Tower.
We only went to the main observation deck as there was a huge queue for the top deck. However, we still got some great views from up there. It’s quite a lot more money to go on up and I tend to think that once you’re up high there’s little benefit in going up further. Of course, if you disagree you can head on up to the upper deck.
Take the elevator or climb the stairs!
Interestingly, you can reach the main observation deck the way we did it, by elevator, or you can choose to use the stairs. There’s no discount if you climb it on foot though and you’ll need a lot of energy to tackle the 600 steps. I’m sure it’s a great workout!
Once up on the main observation deck, you can look out at all the sights of Tokyo. You can also look down through the transparent panels in the floor. This is quite a fun way to get perspective on how high you are. The panels are quite small though and plenty of mesh so you don’t get the feeling of standing on air. Which can be a good thing if you’re a bit unsteady with heights.
Paul isn’t a great fan of heights but I really enjoy going up these tall buildings. It gives you some idea of just how big Tokyo is when you see the cityscape from above.
Tokyo Tower: Practical Information
Opening Hours: 9 am to 11 pm
Main Observation Deck: 1200 Yen (£8.50)
Main and Upper Deck: 3000 Yen (£21)
Kamiyacho Station (Hibiya Line), Onarimon Station (Mita Line), Akabanebashi Station (Oedo Line)
After visiting the Tokyo Tower take a stroll into the nearby Shiba Park. For a large city, Tokyo has many lovely green spaces and it’s lovely to wander from the modern metropolis into natural surroundings.
Here, you can wander along meandering pathways, pass bubbling springs and waterfalls. Take time to relax, slow down and enjoy the natural environment. It’s particularly pleasant here during the hot weather as the canopy of trees provides some shade.
You can look down on Zojoji Temple from the Tokyo Tower. I got this great birds-eye view from up there. Zojoji is a Buddhist Temple which was founded in 1393 although they moved to this site in Tokyo some years later.
The buildings you see today are reconstructions. Zojoji suffered greatly during a period of anti-Buddhist sentiment after the end of the Tokugawa shogunate and then all its buildings were destroyed during the Second World War. Only the main entrance gate survived and this dates back to the early 17th century.
While at the temple complex you can also visit the Tokugawa Mausoleum & Museum. Here you’ll find the tombs of six of the Tokugawa Shoguns as well as the Imperial Princess Kazunomiya and other family members of the shoguns. Although entry to the temple is free of charge you do need to pay a fee to enter the mausoleum and museum.
Zojoji Buddhist Temple Complex: Practical Information
Zojoji Temple: 9am to 7 pm
Tokugawa Mausoleum & Museum: 10 am to 4 pm
Zojoji Temple: Free
Mausoleum: 500 yen
Musem: 700 yen
A combined ticket for the Mausoleum and Musem costs 1000 yen
Onarimon or Shibakoen Station (Mita Subway Line), Daimon Station (Oedo Subway Line )
Hamamatsucho Station (JR Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku Lines)
If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll know that I love to visit museums and galleries so it’ll be no surprise that we added the Edo-Tokyo Museum to our Tokyo itinerary. Tokyo used to be called Edo, which means estuary. Later, the name was changed to Tokyo when it became the capital. Of course, Tokyo has many wonderful museums. I think this one needs a particular mention though as I love local museums which show you something about the culture that you can’t see anywhere else. The museum is only small but it is very interesting and it also has a lot of models and reconstructions so you can get a good visual idea of how things used to look.
Discover the history of Tokyo
The museum is divided into different areas which cover the history of Tokyo from the Edo period. You walk across a full-Sized Nihonbashi Bridge as you enter the museum as if you are being transported back in time. It’s a really cool way of getting started with your exploration of the museum.
This photos showing the reconstruction of a Japanese theatre. Japanese theatre looks like a more formal version of pantomime with lots of colourful characters running around and hiding and tripping each other up.
Throughout the museum, you’ll find exhibits which show you how people have lived in Tokyo across the years. This exhibition of transport was particularly fun. Here you can see me trying out one of the cycle rickshaws.
We had penny-farthings in the UK and for some reason, I was quite surprised to see on in a Japanese museum. So, clearly they had penny-farthings in Japan too. Here’s Paul taking a ride! As you can see they put steps to get on it. I’ve no idea how people used to get on them before.
They also had a lot of 3D models of the ancient city and a full-size model of a typical Japanese house that you could walk into – if you took your shoes off, of course. It was these exhibits of the lives of ordinary people that really made me love this museum.
Edo-Tokyo Museum: Practical Information
9.30 am to 5.30 pm
Closed on Mondays
600 Yen (£4)
Ryogoku Station (Oedo Subway Line and JR Sobu Line)
In the evening, we popped out again for a beer and decided we’d head over to the neon lights area in Shibuya for a look. It’s a popular area at night. We saw more people there than we had all day. We were very surprised at how quiet Tokyo is. The fabled crowding on the subways just wasn’t there. In fact, the subway was very quiet, often empty apart from around major stations. Of course, we were in Tokyo on a Sunday so perhaps most people were having a quiet day at home.
Shibuya on the other hand was very, very crowded. There are plenty of lights and it is buzzing with young people. If you like shopping and people watching then this is a must-see on your Tokyo itinerary. Everything you could possibly desire is here. From fashion to technology. Cafes and coffee shop to top restaurants. Head to Shibuya station and take the Hachiko exit to the famous illuminated intersection.