Tokyo Travel Tips: 50 Things To Know Before You Go

Tokyo is a vibrant kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and sensations. For first-timers, Tokyo is a place of endless possibility, where every corner reveals something new and exciting to discover.

Imagine wandering through the bustling streets of Shinjuku, where neon lights and towering skyscrapers create a dazzling display of modern technology and innovation. Here, you’ll find some of the city’s best shopping, dining, and entertainment options, from high-end fashion boutiques to cozy izakayas serving up delicious Japanese cuisine.

Or perhaps you’ll venture to the historic district of Asakusa, where the ancient traditions of Japan are still alive and well. Senso-ji Temple’s towering pagoda and beautiful gardens welcome you. You can also stroll through the narrow streets of Nakamise, lined with traditional shops selling everything from handmade crafts to sweet treats.

And of course, no visit to Tokyo would be complete without experiencing the city’s world-famous food culture. From sushi and ramen to tempura and yakitori, Tokyo is a food lover’s paradise!

Do you see? There’s so much to look forward to in Tokyo. But I haven’t even scratched the surface!

As with any travel destination, there are certain things to keep in mind when planning your trip to make the most of your experience.

In this post, I will share a handful of my lessons learned and travel tips for Tokyo to make your trip that much better. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, these tips will help you navigate the city like a pro, help you save time and money, and ensure that you have an unforgettable experience in an even more unforgettable destination!

From where to eat and drink to how to get around and what to see, I’ve got you covered. Let’s dive into all the travel tip goodness!

This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!


TOKYO IN A NUTSHELL

Here’s a quick overview of all the useful info you need to plan an awesome trip!

When To Go: Spring (March to May) for cherry blossoms, Summer (June to August) for festival season, Fall (September to November) for epic fall foliage.

Where To Stay: Choose a hotel along the JR Yamanote Line for the most convenience. We like:

Nearest Airport: Narita International Airport (NRT) and Haneda Airport (HND). NRT is 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of Tokyo’s city center. HND is 14 kilometers (9 miles) south of Tokyo’s city center.

How to Get Around: Public transportation all the way. Don’t even think about renting a car in Tokyo! If you plan on traveling across Japan, a Japan Rail Pass can save you a lot of money on transportation. The pass allows unlimited travel on Japan Railways (JR) trains, buses, and ferries for a set period of time.

Must-Do’s: Immerse yourself in all the digital art at TeamLab Planets, feel the Disney magic at Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea, eat a crepe in the Harajuku district, try vending machine ramen and conveyor belt sushi, spend your early jet-lagged hours at Tsukiji Fish Market.

Before You Go:

  • Read up on all our tips on how to do Japan on a budget
  • Consider getting the Klook Pass Tokyo — you’ll get up to 48% off your tickets to Tokyo’s popular attractions, including Tokyo Disney, teamLab Planets, Legoland, Sanrio Puroland, Shibuya Sky Deck, and more. Choose from 6+ different combinations, and add on activities based on what you like to do!

‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Japanese:

  • Hello: こんにちは (Konnichiwa) or おはようございます (Ohayou gozaimasu) in the morning or こんばんは (Konbanwa) in the evening
  • Thank You: ありがとうございます (Arigatou gozaimasu)

Currency: the Japanese yen (¥) – click for current conversion rates


Tokyo Travel Tips: General Overview

1. Tokyo is the capital city of Japan, and it’s pretty darn crowded.

Tokyo is the capital city of Japan (Tokyo translates into English as “Eastern Capital”), and it’s one of the most populated cities in the world.

When I say crowded, I mean it. The city is home to over 13 million people, and the greater Tokyo metropolitan area has a population of over 37 million people!

As a result of its massive population, Tokyo can be a crowded and overwhelming place to visit — especially if you come from a small town or are used to hanging out in suburban areas.

The city is known for its always-bustling streets, packed trains, and busy shopping districts. So be ready to rub elbows with locals at some point during your trip!

However, despite the crowds, Tokyo is also world-renowned for its efficiency and orderliness. The city’s public transportation system is one of the best in the world, and it’s so easy to get around the city quickly and efficiently.

Shibuya Crossing Tokyo Japan
Shibuya Crossing… on a calm day.

2. The local currency is the Japanese yen.

The Japanese yen looks like this: ¥. 100 yen is approximately $1 USD. Click here for current conversion rates.

3. Don’t expect everyone to know English in Tokyo.

While some Japanese people have some English knowledge, many do not. And for those that do, it may not always be enough to have a full conversation.

This is only a slight challenge if you don’t speak Japanese, but don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to get around this. For example, you can download a translation app on your phone, simply point to things on a menu that you want to order, or carry a phrasebook with you to help you communicate in a pinch.

If you need help with directions, it’s best that you print out the name of the place in English as well as in Japanese so that locals can understand what you’re talking about. If you don’t want to print out the names of the places, you can always pull up the names on your phone, but be sure to have the Japanese translation ready!

At the train stations, there will be at least one English-speaking staff member there to help you.

It’s also a good idea to learn a few basic Japanese phrases before you go, such as “hello” (konnichiwa), “thank you” (arigatou gozaimasu), and “excuse me” (sumimasen).

4. Tokyo is shockingly clean.

During your trip, you probably won’t see a single piece of trash on the ground. Really!

One thing that many first-timers to Tokyo notice is how clean the city is. Despite its massive population and bustling streets, there is virtually zero trash on the ground in Tokyo. (Oh, how I wish the USA was like that!)

This is due in part to the city’s strict waste management policies. Tokyo has a highly organized system for collecting and disposing of waste, which helps to keep the streets clean.

In addition to that, there is also a strong cultural emphasis on cleanliness and orderliness in Japan. Many people carry small trash bags with them to dispose of their trash, and it’s considered impolite to litter or leave trash on the ground.

While visiting, you should dispose of your trash based on their rules and customs. Hang onto your trash until you come across a garbage bin instead of tossing it wherever you like. You’re a visitor, so be respectful!

5. The best time to go to Tokyo is in the spring or autumn.

In the spring, Tokyo is famous for its cherry blossoms, which bloom in late March to early April. The city is transformed into a sea of pink and white flowers, and it’s a magical time to visit!

The weather is also mild and pleasant (daytime temps in the 60’s F), making it a great time to explore the city’s parks, temples, and other outdoor attractions.

Ueno Park Ueno District - Where To Stay In Tokyo

In the autumn, Tokyo is known for its beautiful fall foliage, which usually peaks in November. The leaves turn brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow, creating a stunning backdrop for the city’s many attractions.

The weather is equally as mild and comfortable in the fall! I personally love visiting in November — I toss on a light jacket, a pair of comfortable walking shoes, a travel backpack, and off I go!

Summers can be hot and humid, so unless that’s your definition of fun, I would avoid going during the summer.

Winters can be cold and windy, with daytime highs in the 40s.

👉 Pro Tip: Don’t like the rain? Avoid visiting during the month of October, as this is Tokyo’s typhoon season.

Japan On A Budget - www.TravelsWithElle.com

6. Springtime is probably the most expensive time to visit.

You have the cherry blossoms to thank for that!

The cherry blossoms are a big deal in Japan, and each year they draw visitors in from all over the world. As a result, prices for flights, hotels, and other travel expenses tend to go up during this time of year. Expect LOTS of crowds too — you’ll need to plan well in advance and book early to ensure you get the best experience.

That being said, if you’re willing to pay a little extra, springtime in Tokyo can be absolutely magical!

If you’re on a budget, though, you might want to consider visiting Tokyo in the autumn or winter instead. While the cherry blossoms might not be in bloom, the fall foliage and winter illuminations can be just as beautiful, and prices tend to be lower during these seasons.

7. Avoid visiting during Golden Week.

Golden Week is a series of four national holidays that take place in Japan from late April to early May, and it’s one of the busiest travel times of the year.

To give you an idea of what this means in practice, imagine being in Tokyo during Golden Week. You’ll encounter massive crowds of both international tourists and Japanese vacationers, making it difficult to navigate the city and enjoy popular attractions.

Hotels and other accommodations may also be fully booked, and prices for flights and other travel expenses will be way higher than usual.

In addition to the crowds, many businesses and attractions may be closed or have limited hours during Golden Week. This can make it difficult to plan your itinerary and see everything you want to see while you’re in Tokyo.

I say just avoid it altogether and pick a different week to visit!

8. Be sure to carry some cash with you.

While Tokyo is a pretty high-tech city, you are going to find yourself in situations where the yen is excepted over electronic or credit card payments. If you happen to pop into a mom-and-pop shop or restaurant, they may only accept cash!

Be sure to carry cash around with you, so that you’re able to experience local food made by local people!

I usually carry around $150 – $200 USD worth of yen when I’m traveling through Japan and re-up whenever I need to.

9. You can use Suica cards at convenience stores.

Suica cards and other reloadable IC cards from other regions of Japan can be used on most trains, buses, and subways in Tokyo. These cards are widely accepted throughout the city and can be used on the following transportation systems:

  • JR East trains (including the Yamanote Line, Chuo Line, and Keihin-Tohoku Line)
  • Tokyo Metro trains
  • Toei Subway trains
  • Buses operated by JR East, Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, and other private bus companies

But did you ALSO know that IC cards can actually be used to make purchases at many convenience stores, vending machines, and other retailers throughout Tokyo?

I love running into a beverage vending machine in the streets and being able to pay with my IC card instead of fumbling with coins.

Simply touch the card on a reader for about a second and you’ll have paid! The convenience of having this is such a luxury—no more fumbling for coins or bills, no more waiting for your credit card to go through!


Tokyo Travel Tips: Accommodations

10. If it’s your first time in Tokyo, I recommend staying in Shinjuku or Shibuya.

In terms of neighborhoods to choose from, Shinjuku is our favorite area to stay in Tokyo because it’s so central and has many attractions within walking distance. Shibuya is another convenient base with tons of things to do as well, but can be too crowded for some people.

SHINJUKU HOTELS

Tokyu Stay - Where To Stay In Tokyo
Tokyu Stay Shinjuku | Booking.com

JR Kyushu Hotel Blossom Shinjuku ($$) – has an awesome breakfast buffet, and in the most perfect location (just a 3-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station); twin and full-sized bed options.

Mimaru Tokyo Shinjuku West ($$) – offers apartment-style hotels that are perfect for people traveling with family members; 6-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station.

Tokyu Stay Shinjuku East ($) – super affordable and modern hotel with delicious breakfast options; 11-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station; twin and queen-sized bed options.

Kimpton Shinjuku Tokyo, an IHG Hotel ($$$) – features facilities inspired by New York-themed designs, such as a restaurant, a fitness center, terrace and an onsite bar. 7-minute walk from Shinjuku Station; king beds are available here!

SHIBUYA HOTELS

Hyatt Regency Tokyo - Where To Stay In Tokyo
Hyatt Regency Tokyo | Booking.com

The Millennials Shibuya ($) – For the adventurous travelers who want to try sleeping in a capsule bed, this hostel is hard to beat! While not the most varied breakfast, it is free. 4 min walk from Shibuya station.

Shibuya Stream Excel Hotel Tokyu ($$) – Great location surrounded by restaurants and close to Shibuya Station (train station is just under the building). Hotel is modern and very clean, and the room had a spacious; king-sized beds are available here!

Hyatt Regency Tokyo ($$) – Awesome location (Shinjuku station is right in the hotel basement), awesome city views, and even more awesome breakfast.

11. Japanese hotel rooms are on the smaller side.

Especially if you’re used to the room sizes in the Western world! Some rooms will fit two people perfectly… but do not allow much room for your extra luggage to be sitting out.

If you do want something on the larger side, look for something 25 square meters or more. This’ll be comparable to the room sizes in the USA.

While looking for accommodations, you might also come across different bed types. Your choices are likely going to be Japanese-style or Western-style.

Japanese-style beds are typically low to the ground (if not directly on the ground) and consist of a futon mattress placed on a tatami mat, while Western beds are raised off the ground and feature a mattress and box spring.

Lastly, check the bed size when you book your accommodation—most hotels normally offer a queen-sized bed at most. Very few provide king-sized beds, unless you’re paying top dollar at a luxury hotel!

Planning your trip to Japan? Save on travel costs by booking your accommodations through this platform! Their ‘no prepayment’ and ‘free cancellation’ features are unbeatable.


Tokyo Travel Tips: Getting Around Tokyo

12. You’ll most likely be flying into one of two airports.

If you’re flying to Tokyo, you’ll most likely be flying in and out of one of two airports – Narita International Airport (NRT) or Haneda Airport (HND).

Narita International Airport is located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of Tokyo, and it’s the main international airport serving the city. From this airport, it’ll take about an hour to get into the main tourist area of Tokyo.

Haneda Airport, on the other hand, is located much closer to the city center (14 kilometers / 9 miles), making it a great option if you’re looking to get into Tokyo quickly. It’s a smaller airport than Narita, serving mostly domestic flights, but as of late there have been more international flights coming and going from here.

No matter which airport you fly into, there are lots of easy/affordable ways to get into the city once you land. Both airports offer train and bus services that will take you directly to Tokyo Station or other major hubs in the city.

13. Don’t be overwhelmed by how many ways there are to get from the airport to Tokyo city center.

Not only are there multiple trains you could take into the city, but there are also so many bus options too! While there are many, many ways to get into the city center, I’ve provided the best and most efficient ways here.

From Haneda Airport: The fastest and most convenient option is to take the Tokyo Monorail from Haneda Airport to Hamamatsucho Station, which takes just under 20 minutes. From there, you can take the JR Yamanote Line to your final destination.

Another option would be to take the Keikyu Railway train from Haneda Airport that takes just 20 minutes to reach Shinagawa Station in downtown Tokyo. From there, you can take the JR Yamanote Line to your final destination. This option works out to be slightly cheaper than the monorail.

From Narita Airport: The most comfortable and convenient way of getting from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station is the JR Narita Express (NEX). The one-way journey takes roughly one hour and costs around 3,000 yen, with departures every 30 to 60 minutes. This ride is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass, JR Tokyo Wide Area Pass and some other JR passes.

👉 Pro Tip: To get real-time train/bus times, routes, and prices, use Hyperdia. This site might look simple and outdated, but it is the most helpful thing in the world when planning out transportation in Japan!

14. You could take a taxi to get into the city, but expect to spend some big bucks.

Sure, taxis are super convenient, but they will cost you a LOT more than if you were to get into the city with public transportation.

From NRT Airport, depending on where in Tokyo you are going, your taxi ride could cost you anywhere from $100 to $200 USD.

Since HND Airport is a bit closer, you can expect to spend about $80 USD on your taxi ride.

15. If you’re just staying within Tokyo, the JR Pass probably isn’t worth the money.

You may have heard about the JR Pass and you might even be considering getting a JR Pass for your trip to Tokyo. This is a special transport pass that allows you to travel on Japan Railways trains, buses, and ferries throughout the entire country.

However, if you’re JUST staying within Tokyo, the JR Pass is not worth the money. While Japan Railways does operate within the city, there are also many other transportation options available, including the Tokyo Metro and buses that the JR Pass wouldn’t work on.

The JR Pass can be quite expensive (I’m talking hundreds of dollars), especially if you’re only using it for local transportation within Tokyo.

Instead, consider purchasing a Suica, IC, or Pasmo card (they are the same kind of cards, just issued by different train companies), which are rechargeable IC cards that can be used on most trains, buses, and subways in Tokyo. These cards are easy to use and offer a more flexible and affordable way to get around the city.

You can easily get one online or from the ticket machines at any train station. Just load it up with yen and off you go!

Of course, if you’re planning to travel outside of Tokyo and explore other parts of Japan, the JR Pass can be a great investment. It can save you money on long-distance train travel and make it effortless to get around the country.

16. There are two main “hubs” of Tokyo — Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station.

One of the key things to know about Tokyo is that it is a massive city with many different neighborhoods and districts. However, there are two main “hubs” of the city that are particularly important for travelers to know about: Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station.

Tokyo Station is located in the heart of the city and is a major transportation hub. It serves as the starting point for many of the city’s main train lines, including the Shinkansen bullet train. It’s also home to a number of shops, restaurants, and other amenities, making it a great place to start your exploration of Tokyo.

Tokyo Station - Where To Stay In Tokyo
Tokyo Station Area

Shinjuku Station is another major transportation hub in Tokyo, and it’s one of the busiest train stations in the world. It’s located in the Shinjuku district, which is known as the entertainment/nightlife district of Tokyo! Shinjuku Station is also home to a number of department stores, including the famous Isetan, which is a must-visit for anyone interested in Japanese fashion and design.

Shinjuku Tokyo - Best Of Japan: The Ultimate Two Week Itinerary
Shinjuku

If you were to draw a circle around these two stations, what you get is the JR Yamanote Line, which is one of the most convenient train lines for getting around Tokyo.

17. The JR Yamanote Line will be your best friend when taking the subway.

For first-time visitors to Tokyo, the JR Yamanote Line is a great way to get around the city and explore its many neighborhoods and districts.

The line stops at many of Tokyo’s major train stations, including Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station, and Ueno Station, making it easy to transfer to other train lines and explore different parts of the city.

As an example, if you were to stay by Shibuya Station and wanted to go to Shinjuku (a district that you’ll definitely end up in at some point during your trip), it would take approximately 5-10 minutes on the JR Yamanote Line. Easy!

However, if you were to stay along another train line or had to bus from your hotel to the nearest subway station, you’ll need to transfer onto the JR Yamanote Line to get to Shinjuku. This could take considerably longer, depending on the distance between your starting station and the nearest Yamanote Line station.

Plus, that doesn’t even take into consideration the time it takes to get off your first train and transfer to your next train!

What Is The JR Yamanote Line

18. You should aim to book a hotel along the JR Yamanote Line.

To save yourself the logistical headache of having to worry about bus/train transfers, AND to save both money and time, opt to stay at a hotel as close to a JR Yamanote Line train station as possible!

Every time I’ve visited Tokyo (with the exception of my first visit where I learned the hard way), I’ve stayed in hotels along the JR Yamanote Line. This makes getting around SO much easier, without the need to do a million bus/subway transfers just to get to a destination.

19. While on the train, keep your voice down.

It’s important to keep your voice and other noises at a low volume while on the train. This is because Japanese people are very aware of the need to share space with others, and loud or disruptive behavior is considered rude and annoying.

To avoid being THAT person, avoid loud conversations, music, or other sounds that could disturb those around you. If you need to make a phone call, try to keep your voice down and speak as quietly as possible.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t talk at all while on the train. Quiet conversations are perfectly acceptable, and many people will read, work, or listen to music while riding the train. The key is to be respectful of those around you!

Train Station - Tokyo Travel Tips You Need To Know

20. Try to avoid rush hour as best as you can.

In a city with millions on millions of people, keep in mind that rush hour can be incredibly crowded and hectic. This is especially true on trains and roads, which can become PACKED with commuters during peak hours.

To give you an idea of just how crowded things can get, imagine being packed into a train car like a sardine, with people pressed up against you on all sides. You might not even be able to move your arms or legs, and you’ll have to rely on the movement of the train to keep you upright!

On the roads, traffic can be similarly congested, with cars and buses inching along bumper-to-bumper. Pedestrian crossings can also be crowded, with dozens of people all trying to cross the street at once.

Given these crazy-crowded conditions, it’s definitely a good idea to try to avoid rush hour as best as you can. This means adjusting your schedule so that you’re traveling during off-peak hours, enjoying a neighborhood on foot, or enjoying a meal/drinks at a restaurant until rush hour is over.

When is rush hour exactly? Rush-hour peak is on weekdays between 7am and 9am, and around 5pm to 6pm. The most congested train lines will be the Tozai line, JR Chuo-Sobu line, and JR Yamanote line.


Tokyo Travel Tips: Eating and Drinking

21. The number of restaurants in Tokyo are endless.

Restaurants in Tokyo are literally on every corner, every block, and practically every street!

In Tokyo, you’ll find a wide variety of Japanese and international cuisine, ranging from traditional sushi, katsu, and ramen to modern fusion dishes and high-end yakiniku restaurants.

Some popular types of cuisine in Tokyo include izakaya (Japanese-style pubs), yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), and kaiseki (multi-course Japanese meals).

Okay, but where should you eat specifically? While this list is not meant to be extensive, I did want to share a few notable spots with you!

  • Sushiro – a top conveyor belt sushi option in Tokyo
  • Hamazushi – another great conveyor belt sushi option
  • Kaiten Sushi Toriton – more conveyor belt sushi!!
  • Rokurinsha – one of the best tsukemen (dipping noodle) joints in all of Tokyo
  • Fūunji – also a great tsukemen option
  • Kyushu Jangara – yummy and affordable tonkatsu ramen; small space, but always packed!
  • A Happy Pancake Omotesando – the only spot you need to visit to try the fluffiest ricotta pancakes ever.
  • Azuki to Kouri – elevated kakigori ice desserts; the signature parfait showcases sweet azuki red beans!
  • Nanaya Aoyama – amazing ice cream, I highly recommend the toasted rice tea and the matcha flavors.
  • … and pretty much restaurant at Tsukiji Market and Omoide Yokocho!

Read Next: 18 Popular Foods To Try In Japan

Ramen - Foods To Try In Japan

22. For casual restaurants, head to the department stores.

No, I don’t meal the food court! Many department stores in Tokyo have entire floors dedicated to restaurants and cafes. These restaurants are often really good and reasonably priced, making them a great choice for a casual meal or snack.

Some popular department stores with great restaurant floors include Isetan in Shinjuku, Tokyu Food Show in Shibuya, and Daimaru in Tokyo Station. These spots offer everything from sushi and ramen to crepes and gelato, so there’s guaranteed something you can enjoy no matter the time of day!

In addition to the department stores, Tokyo also has plenty of other casual dining options, including izakayas (Japanese-style pubs), street food stalls, and neighborhood cafes.

23. Make some time to try the street food too.

Not every meal needs to be a sit-down meal! You can actually get pretty full (and save a lot of money) by snacking on street food! Here are a few spots you can add to your itinerary if you’re in search of street food:

Ameya Yokocho in Ueno: Also known as Ameyoko (translates to “candy store alley”), this bustling market is a great place to try some traditional Japanese street food, such as yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), takoyaki (octopus balls), and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes). You can also find fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables at the market stalls.

Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street in Yanaka: a charming shopping street known for its traditional architecture and old-fashioned atmosphere. The street is also a great place to try some delicious street food, including yakitori, cat-shaped taiyaki (cakes filled with sweet bean paste), and other local specialties.

Takeshita Street in Harajuku: This famous street is known for its trendy fashion boutiques and quirky street food stalls. Here, you can find everything from crepes and cotton candy to cheese tarts and rainbow-colored popcorn.

Nakamise Shopping Street in Asakusa: This historic street leading up to the famous Sensoji Temple is lined with traditional souvenir shops and street food stalls. Here, you can try some classic Japanese snacks such as senbei (rice crackers), ningyo-yaki (sweet bean-filled cakes), and kibi dango (sweet rice dumplings).

Popular Foods To Try In Japan - Dango

24. Most cafes and restaurants only open after 11am.

This is because breakfast is typically eaten at home in Japan, and cafes and restaurants tend to focus on lunch and dinner service.

That being said, there are still plenty of great places to grab breakfast in Tokyo if you know where to look. Some cafes and restaurants do serve breakfast, especially if they specialize in Western-style cuisine.

You can also find breakfast items like pastries, sandwiches, and coffee at convenience stores and bakeries throughout the city. In fact, these are the only two types of establishments where I got breakfast during my trips to Japan.

25. Find the best grab-and-go meals at the konbinis (convenience stores).

If you’re envisioning a basic 7-Eleven in the USA, get that picture out of your mind. Right this second.

Japanese convenience stores (what the locals call konbini) are so much more than that, as they carry a plethora of food options for daily working people to grab and go.

Once you step foot inside a Lawson’s or a 7-Eleven in Japan, your perception of the convenience store will be changed forever! Convenience stores have significantly cheaper food compared to restaurants, and they often carry full meals and hearty bites.

We often bought rice balls and egg sandwiches for breakfast and lunch if we were crunched on time. You can often eat for under $5 per meal by doing this!

26. Try conveyor belt sushi at Genki Sushi or Uobei.

If you want to try conveyor belt sushi, Genki Sushi or Uobei, has branches from Hokkaido to Kyushu.

These two sister franchises are a great choice. Most of its dishes only cost 70p and you can order your food via multilingual touch screens. The Shibuya branch in Tokyo is super popular, meaning that there is always a line during the dinner rush.

Turnover here is high, so the wait is rarely that long. If you don’t want to wait, I recommend visiting during off-peak hours when you can typically walk right in and get a seat without waiting.

27. Avoid buying fresh fruit/produce.

For some weird reason, fresh fruit and vegetables in Japanese supermarkets are super expensive (similar to Japanese markets in the USA, but even MORE expensive than that).

If you are looking for vegetables, get them at a restaurant or at some other food establishment and avoid buying them at the market.

28. Do not get pressured to eat at a restaurant by a stranger.

Do not go into restaurants on main streets when beckoned by young boys holding menus. You may find yourself in a hostile environment, where you won’t be allowed to leave unless you pay up.

Though this is usually not a problem throughout Japan, it could happen in the Kabukichō (red-light district) in Tokyo.

29. Go to a chain izakaya for cheap food and drinks.

If you love going to izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) but you think they’re too expensive for you—think again!

There are a few chains such as Torikizoku or Kin No Kura that promise good food and drinks without breaking the bank. They also offer all-you-can-eat or drink courses as well for ¥2,000 (around $20-25 USD).

Yakitori - Japan On A Budget - www.TravelsWithElle.com

30. But expect a “sitting fee” at some izakayas.

 If you’re planning to visit an izakaya in Tokyo, one thing you might want to keep in mind is that some places may charge a sitting fee. This fee is typically charged per person, and it’s meant to cover the cost of sitting at a table and occupying space in the restaurant.

Learn from my lack of knowledge when I went to Japan with my family a few years back! We had decided to go to an izakaya restaurant that served casual bites such as grilled meats, beer, etc.

When we asked for the bill, we noticed an extra 2,000 yen on our bill (500 yen x 4). We were so confused about this extra charge and were not happy about why we weren’t told about this. But honestly looking back on it, it was our fault for not knowing.

This fee is a common practice in Japan, and it’s meant to help cover the cost of running the restaurant.

If you do encounter a sitting fee, it’s important to pay it along with the rest of your bill.

It’s worth noting that not all izakayas charge a sitting fee, and some places may only charge the fee during peak hours or on weekends. You can always check with your server or look for signs indicating that a sitting fee is in place.

31. Eating on the go is frowned upon.

There is a custom in Japan where most people do not eat food in public, other than when in restaurants. This means that if you buy food “to-go” from a street vendor or convenience store, it’s usually meant to be eaten at your final destination, rather than while you’re walking around.

In addition, it’s also considered impolite to eat in front of other businesses, such as restaurants or cafes. 

That being said, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, it’s generally acceptable to eat while on a long-distance train (like a shinkansen), as long as you’re not making a mess or bothering other passengers. And some street food vendors will have a small seating area where you can eat your food on the spot.

CHEAP EATS IN TOKYO

Tokyo gets a bad rap for being expensive, but many of the top sights are actually free, and feasting on the city’s top ramen joints and sushi stands won’t leave you broke — if you know where the bargains lie.

Katsu Midori Sushi, Shibuya-ku | A spin-off from Tokyo sushi shop Sushi- no-Midori, this is the city’s best kaiten-zushi (conveyor-belt sushi) restaurant. It’s a bargain for the quality and it’s always crowded, so you know the plates are fresh! Address: Seibu Department Store, 21-1 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku; plates ¥100-500.

Onigiri Yadoroku, Taitō-ku | Onigiri, rice shaped into triangles and wrapped in sheets of nori (seaweed), is Japan’s ultimate snack. Try them made-to-order at Tokyo’s oldest onigiri shop (opened in 1954). Address: 3-9-10 Asakusa, Taito-ku; about ¥310-800 each.

Kagawa Ippuku, Chiyoda-ku | Originating from Kagawa, the prefecture synonymous with udon in Japan, Ippuku has a great reputation. Plus it’s a bargain bite! You’ll be handed an English menu to help with the options, but you’ll pay at the vending machine. Address: Tokyo Royal Plaza,1-18-11 Uchikanda, Chiyoda-ku; ¥430-900 per bowl.

Isetan Department Store, Shinjuku-ku | The massive food hall in this department store has outlets from some of the country’s top restaurants. Customize your meal of sushi, dumplings, tonkatsu sandwiches, and even dessert — then take it upstairs to eat on the roof garden! Address: 3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; dishes from ¥500.

Sagatani, Shibuya-ku | This noodle joint possibly wins the prize for Tokyo’s best cheap meal. Expect fresh, stone-ground soba noodles made daily and served with a side of goma (sesame) dipping sauce. You can wash it all down with a cheap beer too. Address: 2-25-7 Dōgenzaka, Shibuya-ku; 24hr; noodles from ¥280.


Tokyo Travel Tips: Attractions / Things To Do

32. Tokyo actually has a lot of green spaces.

Be sure to get away from the bright lights and skyscrapers and visit some of the Japanese gardens while you’re there.

Some of the most popular green spaces in Tokyo include Shinjuku Gyoen, Yoyogi Park, and Ueno Park. These parks offer a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, with beautiful gardens, ponds, and walking paths to explore.

In addition to these larger parks, Tokyo also has many smaller gardens and green spaces that are worth a visit. Some of these include the Hama Rikyu Gardens, the Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens, and the Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Gardens.

👉 Pro Tip: If you’re still deciding when to visit Japan, consider visiting in the autumn season. This time of year is when fall foliage is EVERYTHING. The trees across the country turn brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow, creating the most postcard-perfect scenery! Some of the best places to see the fall foliage include Kyoto, Nikko, and the Japanese Alps.

Meiji Shrine - Best Of Japan 2 Week Itinerary

33. Book discounted tickets for attractions on Klook.

Klook is like Viator or GetYourGuide, but for Asia. This is my go-to platform for all things transportation and activity-related whenever I travel to Asia.

Most of the time, you can find admission tickets to popular sites and theme parks in Japan for a fraction of the cost. At the very least, you’ll be able to save a couple of bucks by booking through Klook vs direct!

Klook is also the best place to get discounted Tokyo Disney and Universal Studios Japan Studio tickets!

Explore and pre-purchase all the best Japan activities and attractions on Klook here.

34. If you’re planning to see MANY attractions, the Klook Pass can save you money.

The Klook Pass Tokyo includes general entry to all-time favorites including teamLab Planets TOKYO, LEGOLAND Discovery Center Tokyo, Tokyo Kimono Experience, Tokyo Sanrio Puroland, TOKYO SKYTREE®, and many more tourist attractions perfect for first-timers.

Add-ons include Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, so you can craft the perfect attraction pass and pay for what you’ll actually use.

TWE RECOMMENDED

Save with the Klook Pass Tokyo

Get up to 48% off your tickets to Tokyo’s popular attractions, including Tokyo Disney, teamLab Planets, Legoland, Sanrio Puroland, Shibuya Sky Deck, and more. Choose from 6+ different combinations, and add on activities based on what you like to do!

35. Minimize the number of cities you visit in one trip.

If you’re staying for a week or less and Tokyo is a must-see for you, I’d recommend not leaving Tokyo–unless for a short day trip or overnight stay somewhere less than 1-2 hours away.

There’s so much to do and see in Tokyo that you really can’t fit in more without feeling rushed. I’ve only been able to see about 5% of Tokyo and I’ve spent a total of over 15 days there between multiple trips.

If you have extra time, check out some of the smaller neighborhoods. There are literally tons of them, each with its own culture and flair.

If you’re looking to see more outside of Tokyo, some day trips from Tokyo include Hakone, Nikko, Yokohama, or Mt. Fuji. Even Disneyland and DisneySea can be considered a day away from Tokyo!

Here are a few day trip options for inspiration:

36. While Hakone is one of the most popular day trips from Tokyo, I recommend an overnight stay.

There’s a lot to see in Hakone — and personally, I think a day trip does this town a disservice! If you’ve got the time for an overnight stay at a ryokan, I’d highly recommend you do it!

Here’s a taste of what your itinerary could look like:

Day 1:

  • Take the Odakyu Electric Railway line’s “Romancecar” from Shinjuku to Hakone
  • Check into your hotel and explore the local area
  • Take the Hakone Ropeway to see stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys
  • Enjoy a traditional Japanese dinner at your hotel or at a local restaurant
  • Return to your hotel for a relaxing evening and another soak in the hot springs

Day 2:

  • Wake up early and take a short walk to the Hakone Railway to experience the most sought-after views of Mt. Fuji
  • Take a scenic hike through the forested trails and small area villages
  • Visit the Hakone Shrine, a beautiful Shinto shrine located on the shores of Lake Ashi
  • Take a boat tour on Lake Ashi to see the beautiful scenery and views of Mt. Fuji
  • Return to Shinjuku

Overall, this itinerary allows you to experience the picturesque countryside and famous Mt. Fuji, while also taking advantage of the area’s hot springs, hiking trails, and cultural attractions.

37. To experience the iconic Great Buddha, take a day trip to the seaside city of Kamakura.

To get there, take the Yokosuka Line from Tokyo Station, which will take approximately an hour. Once you arrive, get off at Kita-Kamakura Station and explore the bamboo forests and temples, such as Tokei-ji.

For a scenic hike, take the nearby Daibutsu Hiking Trail, a one-mile trek through dense forests that leads to Kamakura’s most famous landmark: the Great Buddha of Kamakura.


Tokyo Travel Tips: Shopping

38. Don’t have time to shop for souvenirs? Head to a transit hub.

Airports and major train stations actually have some really cool shopping areas. The lower level of major train stations can be full-on shopping centers and food courts!

If you’re waiting to buy souvenirs or seem to have forgotten some last minute, the airport is a good option. Unlike in the USA, the goods here are not drastically overpriced or marked up.

39. Tokyo subway stations are basically underground cities.

Some of Tokyo’s subway stations are massive, with multiple levels, shops, restaurants, and other amenities you didn’t think existed.

To give you an idea of what this means in practice, imagine being in a subway station that’s so large it feels like a shopping mall. You might see dozens of shops selling everything from clothing and accessories to food and drink. You might also see restaurants, cafes, and convenience stores, as well as ATMs, vending machines, and other services!

Next time you’re near a major train station, pop in and wander around to explore all the quirky gift stores, noodle shops, and other eateries in there! Chances are, you’ll be able to entertain yourself for hours!

40. Bring food back as souvenirs.

Souvenirs can end up being a large chunk of your budget. Yes, they have tons of cute and cool trinkets, but they are often pretty pricey.

Consider bringing back Japanese candies, cookies, and snacks instead. These items will actually be used/consumed instead of sitting on someone’s desk or closet collecting dust.

41. Shop at Don Quijote for cheap superstore buys.

At Donki, you can find almost everything you need, and it will always be cheap. I often make a Don Quijote run (or two) for candy and souvenirs during my time in Japan, and can easily spend over two hours in there!

You’ll be shocked at how cheap everything is in there compared to drug stores, department stores, and convenience stores. The best part is, if you happen to be stricken with jet lag and wake up early, there will likely be a Don Quijote open near you at any time!

Japan On A Budget - www.TravelsWithElle.com

Tokyo Travel Tips: Other Things You Should Know

42. There is a no-tipping culture in Japan.

This means that you don’t need to tip servers, taxi drivers, or other service providers when you’re out and about in the city.

This might seem a bit strange if you’re used to tipping in your home country, but in Japan, it’s simply not expected. In fact, trying to tip someone can sometimes be seen as rude or disrespectful and may cause confusion.

Instead of tipping, the best way to show your appreciation for good service is to simply say “arigatou gozaimasu” (thank you very much) or give a small bow. This is a polite and respectful way to show your gratitude, and it’s more than enough to let someone know that you appreciate their help!

If you’re staying at a luxury hotel or dining at a high-end restaurant, a service charge may be included in your bill. In this case, you don’t need to tip any additional amount.

43. Change your money once you get there.

When exchanging cash, most of the time it is better to exchange your money in the country you’re going to. You will usually get the best exchange rates at banks, post offices and possibly hotels.

Avoid the foreign exchange stands you see everywhere in airports, train stations, and touristy areas. They charge a fee for everything!

You will almost always get the best exchange rate when buying foreign currency with either ATM cards or credit cards, which will usually be 2 to 7 percent better than the rates you’ll get when exchanging cash.

If you need more cash while you’re there, find the nearest convenience store—these usually have an ATM inside.

44. Use credit cards without a foreign transaction fee.

Try to use credit cards whenever possible for large purchases such as hotel bills, tickets, and car rentals. The exchange rate is almost always one of the best, but make sure you charge in the local currency (yen), NOT your home currency.

45. Get an ATM fee-free banking card.

Most credit and debit card issuers charge foreign transaction fees, which typically run between 2% and 3% of the purchase price, as well as ATM fees. That might seem like a minor expense per transaction, but all those extra charges can really add up!

You can avoid these fees by signing up for a Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account.

This account comes with a debit card that does not incur currency conversion fees, and you’ll get a full rebate for all your US and overseas ATM charges (this is what I use, it’s changed my international money life for the better).

46. For internet, get either a pocket WiFi or a SIM card.

Many vacation rentals and hotels offer perks like free Pocket Wi-Fi during your stay. There are also free messaging apps like WhatsApp and Line, free Wi-Fi calling, as well as cheap international calling options through Skype.

If your hotel/accommodation does not provide free pocket WiFi, then you should rent your own Pocket WiFi for the duration of your trip.

eSIM cards are a great alternative to pocket WiFi. You can simply buy a digital package online and dowload it directly to your phone — no need to spend time picking it up upon arrival at the airport! I use Airalo for all my eSIM needs.

47. You can find public toilets in train stations and department stores.

Chances are, at some point, you’ll need to use the restroom when you’re out and about.

The good news is that there are many public toilets throughout the city, and some of the best places to find them are in train stations and department stores. And they’re usually pretty clean and in good condition too!

At train stations, the toilets are usually located near the ticket gates or on the platforms, and they’re free to use. Some larger stations even have multiple toilet facilities, so you shouldn’t have to walk too far to find one.

Department stores are another great place to find public toilets in Tokyo. Many department stores have multiple floors of shopping and dining, and each floor usually has a public restroom. These restrooms are often quite spacious and come with little extras like heated seats and bidets!

48. Trash cans and garbage bins are few and far between.

While you might find garbage bins on every block in most major metropolitan cities around the world, you won’t find that here in Japan.

Public bins are quite scarce throughout the city. This can make it difficult to dispose of trash when you’re out and about, especially if you’re carrying something like a banana peel or dirty tissue!

To give you an idea of just how scarce public bins can be, imagine buying a drink at a vending machine, finishing it, and holding onto an empty drink carton for about 20 minutes until you finally find a trash can. True story, it happened to me!

To avoid this type of annoying situation, bring a small bag for trash with you when you’re out and about in Tokyo. This could be a plastic bag or a reusable tote that you can use to hold your trash until you find a bin. This way, you won’t have to carry your trash around with you for long periods of time, and you can dispose of it properly when you find a bin.

49. You will probably be jet-lagged during your first 4-5 days.

To help minimize the effects of jet lag, there are a few things you can do ahead of your trip. First, try to adjust your sleep schedule before you leave for your trip.

If you’re traveling east to Japan, try going to bed and waking up earlier than usual in the days leading up to your trip. If you’re traveling west, try going to bed and waking up later.

Once you’re in Japan, try to get as much sunlight as possible during the day, as this can help reset your body’s internal clock. Avoid napping during the day, and be sure to stay hydrated and eat nutritious meals to help your body adjust to the new time zone. Don’t just go straight for the ramen!

If you find yourself awake at 4am (as I always do during my first few days in Japan), you can always go grab yourself a fresh sushi breakfast meal at Tsukiji Outer Market!

50. Plan a rest day.

Trust me, with how big Tokyo is and with how much there is to do, it’s too easy to burn yourself out with all the traveling and exploring.

Factor in a rest day so you can sleep in, sit at a coffee shop, walk through some quieter streets, and browse stores that you naturally pass by during your stroll through the city.

Rikugi-en Gardens - Tokyo Japan

Your Essential Packing List For Tokyo, Japan

  • Japan Rail Pass | If you’re staying within the Kanto region, the JR Tokyo Wide Pass makes sense. If you’re traveling across Japan (like to/from Tokyo), the national JR Pass can be worth the money.
  • Suica / Pasmo / Icoca Card | Super-convenient rechargeable cards that can be used on all major trains, subways, and buses throughout Japan. You can even use them to pay for stuff at the konbini (convenience stores)! Cards can be purchased from train station ticket vending machines or ticket offices.
  • Pocket WiFi | If your phone carrier does not provide free international data, you’ll probably want to avoid those exorbitant roaming fees. Get around that by renting a pocket WiFi. Many hotels offer this as part of your stay, but in the case that they don’t, you can rent your own.
  • SIM Card | Alternative to the pocket WiFi. You can buy a Japan SIM card online for collection on arrival at Tokyo Narita or Haneda airports.
  • Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great landmarks of Japan. The last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
  • Travel Adapter | If you’re traveling internationally, you’re going to need one. This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
  • Jet Lag Prevention | Chances are you will be jetlagged during your first few days in Japan. Don’t let the long flight and time change weigh you down! Here are a few preventative options that’ll help:
  • Comfortable Walking Shoes | You will be doing a lot of walking in Japan.
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Important travel documents | Passports, visas, flight tickets, medical cards
  • Lastly, be sure to save space in your luggage for souvenirs and snacks to bring home!

Japan Travel Insurance

This is a no-brainer. When traveling internationally, be sure to get yourself some travel insurance.

I’ve heard of too many unfortunate experiences where friends and family have had baggage lost/stolen, hotels canceled, or have had unexpected medical emergencies while traveling where they’ve had to cut their trips short.

True story alert — in 2022, my partner even had his shoulder completely dislocated while surfing in Mexico, resulting in a $950 USD emergency room bill that we had to pay out of pocket for! Not fun… and most definitely not cheap.

Without travel insurance, you would have to pay out of pocket for these mishaps. This is why I get travel insurance for all my international trips now!

One of the best budget-friendly travel insurances for those traveling outside their home country is SafetyWing.

SafetyWing Insurance provides coverage for unexpected illness or injury, including eligible expenses for hospital, doctor or prescription drugs. This means that if you get ill or injured, THEY will cover the medical expenses.

In addition, it provides emergency travel-related benefits such as:

  • emergency medical evacuationvery much needed if you like to go hiking or backpacking in the wild.
  • travel delay
  • lost checked luggage
  • adventure sports coverage (add-on)so you can rappel down waterfalls, cave dive, mountain bike, scuba dive, etc. with peace of mind.
  • electronics theft (add-on)get reimbursed if your laptop, phone, camera or other electronics get stolen.

Click here to price out how much travel insurance would be for your trip.


Planning Your Trip To Japan?

Here are some of our other Japan travel guides to help you plan an incredible trip!

Tokyo

Kyoto

Osaka

Japan In General

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AUTHOR

Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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