Tokyo Japan 2018
Efficient, expensive, clean, safe, great food and shopping are things you hear about Tokyo and guess what…. it’s all still true. I received an invitation to visit a friend in Cambodia with a promise to also visit Vietnam. Going this far from home (Eastern USA)I figured I’d better take advantage of a stop over and decided on Tokyo.
Tokyo has never been one of my top ten destinations but figured why not. Tokyo is a very large city with lots to offer. I had less than a week so I didn’t even attempt to leave the city.
I arrived via Narita (NRT) Airport on United’s “new” Business Class product ‘Polaris’. My 14-hour flight from Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) was a direct non-stop. More on my United experience here.
As usual, after landing in Japan within NRT airport, I headed to the railway to catch a train downtown to my hotel. Normally I research the heck out of my destination months before departure. I look forward to learning about the city and culture, it’s all part of the journey. But this time I wasn’t sure I’d make the trip until about 2 months prior to leaving so I snagged my hotel and flights close to my departure date. Although I chose NRT Airport, Haneda Airport is closer to the city. My arrival choice of NRT was based on the airline availability which held most of my travel points and airport lounges.
Lodging and Transportation
The Tokyo hotel selection was much more agonizing than the airport selection. There are so many choices and locations to consider within Tokyo. Even so, I think my final choice was great, especially the location right at Tokyo Station. See all about my hotel stay at the Shangri-La Hotel here. Pretty much all the prominent hotel brands are in Tokyo so no problem there. I recommend spending a bit more time securing the location within the city that best suits your needs first then select the hotel. Below is the exit near the Shangri-La Hotel.
This Subway map looks intimidating but it’s really not that difficult to navigate. The long flight over gives you time to review the system.
Japan has so many things to see and do so my lodging location was based on quick and easy access to public transportation and sites. Then my hotel strategy starts with the chain where I want to utilize points for the stay (my budget) and in a city like Tokyo, this still presents a lot of options. For me, shopping is usually dead last and priority on this trip was given to proximity to public transportation.
I did not purchase any transportation vouchers/tickets prior to arrival. Off the plane at NRT with my carry-on I headed to the lower level to purchase a RT ticket on the express train that goes into a major station hub, Tokyo Station. I also bought a multi-day subway pass to use throughout the city. This was a very convenient way to buy the metro ticket. I didn’t want to purchase anything stateside and have it mailed or pick it up at the airport.
This transportation site is helpful https://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/travel/index.html
My hotel entrance was located less than 500 feet from the station entrance. This was great except this station is about the size of Rhode Island with about 400 exits. I think Google Maps walking direction work within some larger Tokyo stations because they are vast and intricate. Not to worry if you speak English, Korean or Chinese as almost all signage and announcements are in these languages. It’s pointless to try to give directions within the large stations, maybe leave bread crumbs and markings. I am kidding but I never made it straight through the station to the hotel without stopping or going the same way because it was way to much to see. Anyway, getting lost is part of the fun and I’ve never experienced anything worth mentioning within a metro station until Tokyo. There is much to take in at the Tokyo Station.
In the US we have the idea that Asian cities are packed full of people everywhere but I really didn’t experience this in Tokyo or China. The only Asian destination where I felt a bit cramped was in Thailand. Talk about a ‘city that never sleeps’, Thailand is the country that never sleeps. See my Thailand post here. Having said that, if you arrive at rush hour you are in for a bit of a shock if you spend your time in small towns. But remember, it’s an efficient organized chaos in Tokyo and you literally receive white glove service.
Leaving IAD, wheels went up right on schedule and down ahead of schedule in Japan. In Tokyo, trains were right on schedule, clean and soooo quiet. No one was talking or laughing out loud, just staring down at their devices or beyond eye contact. Ahhhh, a solo travelers dream.
So a little more on the subway pass, I recommend the purchase of a Subway Pass and although I read you can purchase tickets ahead of time I wouldn’t worry about trying. There are dedicated ticket agents, information desks and kiosks sprinkled throughout the airport. There was even someone dedicated to the kiosks to assist riders purchasing tickets. My advise is to just pick a flight that arrives early enough so that you are able to relax and don’t have to rush. Nothing ruins the travel mood like rushing, am I right?. Oh yeah, most agents working in the hospitality industry speak multiple languages. Granted their English is not as plainly spoken as say the Dutch but patience and a few Japanese words and phrases that show gratitude go a long way.
Shopping & Dining
Good food is found everywhere in Tokyo. I had a list of spots to visit but everywhere I went I saw great choices and didn’t make it to some places on my list. If you want to grab a coffee on your way to a venue you will find plenty of tea and coffee shops everywhere. Starbucks is also very popular in Tokyo. Although I did not glance at the coffee selection, the sweets were more towards the local tradition and very good. I prefer tea and of course Japan is a great place to indulge. I did not have time to attend a Tea Ceremony but it was on my list and is recommended.
I pretty much sampled a spectrum of food venues from upscale to street dining and everything was great and I did not take ill at all. I pretty much OD’ed on Ramen Noodles. Remember this was in January so it was difficult to pass a noodle shop without stopping. Interesting to me were restaurants and eatery locations. The subway at Tokyo Station also serves pretty much as a food and shopping destination with a ton of great choices and shops most at street level and below. Department stores usually have ‘food courts’ and full service restaurants and are very good. The food selection is very broad and prices range from most reasonable on up. If you plan to shop at one of the many department stores just know that you don’t need to leave the building in order to enjoy a good meal.
The fish market is a popular. You’ll find souvenirs, food, teas and fresh fruits and veggies with rows and rows of small vendors. I would suggest visiting this spot in the morning. If you have children make sure to keep them close as this area can get very crowded and noisy.
One of my absolute favorite shopping venue was the ‘Electronics District’ Akihabara.
Imagine a Best Buy, Targets, Apple, REI, Sears had a baby that was 8 stories high (giggle). Well you get what I am saying. I am talking electronics, cameras, binoculars, Tents, Electric Shavers, Luggage, Appliances, Beauty devices, toys, games, blenders, you name it and they probably have it. Try Yodobashi Camera, Laox or Sofmap. No doubt this could take the entire day.
Update: The Tokyo-Tsukiji Fish Market – Relocation. No longer located in Tokyo
My Hotspot was priceless. In the past I would secure an international data and text plan from my carrier and rely on free hotel Wi-Fi but not anymore. For some reason I wanted to rely on real-time walking directions which I’ve not really done before. See my Hotspot comments here. This maybe because I normally spend more time planning and researching. I also recommend using google maps to do street view walking directions prior to arriving. This is helpful because you set your start and end points and can actually see your walk step by step at street level before you arrive.
Attending Sumo wrestling is an absolute must while in Tokyo.
The venue, Kokugikan Stadium, is very large but you want to sit as close to the action as possible. Try to secure your tickets in advance by purchasing online or in person at the box office. Lower level seating is usually on low cushions while upper levels are standard stadium seats. The matches begin in the early afternoon and become more competitive going into the evenings. The matches build up during the day until they reach the most experienced wrestlers. I think the main event begins at about 7pm. The matches are fast with little downtime in between so you aren’t bored at all. I’d suggest arriving early enough to see as much as possible instead of only catching the most popular matches near the end.
There are dining selections and snacks available within the stadium. If you plan on eating in the stadium make sure to arrive at least 20 minutes before the café opens because there may be a line.
Consider visiting the Sumo ‘Stables’ in addition or instead of the wrestling matches. The Stables are where the wrestlers live and train. In the morning you can watch wrestlers practice for the upcoming matches. Don’t forget to walk through the Sumo Museum.
- Don’t rush! Book events far enough apart and in such a way that your current activities are not altered by your upcoming events. There’s nothing worse than having to rush away from someplace that you are currently enjoying. If you have extra time in-between venues use it to sit outside a coffee shop and people watch.
- Use public transportation. Grab a metro pass at the airport when you land and hop right on the train to get to your hotel. Also, instead of riding the train between venues, try walking from one stop before your planned stop and explore along the way.
- Leave room for getting lost. There is no rule that says you must have a full schedule every-day.
- Enjoy!!! You are in Tokyo!!
Recommended device Apps:
Tokyo Subway Navigation
Tokyo Subway Map OFFLINE