Tokyo, Japan. Right up there with New York, Dubai, and Singapore, Tokyo is world-renowned as one of the most modernized and innovative cities in the world. Bustling, bright, and uniquely alive, it’s no wonder that Japan’s capital attracts 29 million tourists a year. When planning a trip to this amazing city it’s easy to get inundated with information on where to stay, what to see, and what to eat … so much so, that you might feel absolute gridlock when trying to make any plans. So, to plan a trip here gridlock-free, here is our tried and tested cheat sheet to Tokyo, Japan.

The Basics You Should Know

  • Visa Requirements: None for most Westernized countries (Check yours here)
  • Exchange Rate: $1USD = 108.67 Japanese Yen (as of October 25, 2019)
  • Currency: Japanese Yen
  • Capital: Tokyo
  • Primary Language: Japanese
  • Time: GMT +9 hours (Japan Standard Time)

When Should You Go to Tokyo?

Plan a Trip to Tokyo - Cherry Blossoms

Most of Japan (short of the Okinawa Islands in the south) is temperate in climate, meaning that the temperatures and seasons mimic those of the mid-northern hemisphere. The summers are hot and the winters are cold, with moderate and fresh spring and fall seasons in between. This makes Tokyo a fantastic place to visit year-round, as the city transforms itself entirely depending on the season you’re there.

The high season for tourism is in March and April, primarily because of the cherry blossom bloom in the springtime. However, fall makes for a great time to visit as well, as the pink trees get replaced with a beautiful display of red and yellow as the leaves change. The summers can on average get as high as 88° Fahrenheit (31° Celsius) in August, and the winters as low as 31° Fahrenheit (1° Celsius) in January.

How Can You Budget for Tokyo?

We’re not going to cushion this for you guys: Japan is pricey. For those of you used to spending $5 a night on hostels, and $3 for a meal, you may want to prepare yourselves for a bit of a culture shock. Tokyo, as one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, is not a cheap backpacking destination by any means. That being said, however, there are always ways to trim down your budget by being street smart and thrifty. That involves eating local food (street food is always cheapest), staying at hostels over hotels, and opting for cheaper rideshare apps over-inflated tourist taxis.

Average Prices in Tokyo

Plan a trip to tokyo on a budget

  • Hostel dorm (1 night): ¥3,200 ($35 USD)
  • Hotel room (1 night) : ¥5,000-8,000 ($45-70 USD)
  • Meal (street food): ¥850-1,280 ($8-12 USD)
  • Meal (mid-range restaurant): ¥1,070-3,200 ($10-30 USD)
  • Glass of wine: ¥1,000 ($10 USD)
  • Subway ticket (72 hours): ¥1,500 ($14 USD)
  • Average daily price for a budget backpacker: ¥8,030 ($75 USD)

Our best budget tip: Find cheap flights to Tokyo. Your flight will easily be the most expensive part of your trip. Compare airlines thoroughly to book your flight to Tokyo and don’t be afraid of long layovers and budget airlines. Remember that your flight is just your means to an end. It doesn’t need to be extravagant. Your money is better spent in Tokyo itself.

What to Do in Tokyo

What to do in Tokyo … the age-old question. There are so many things to see and do that it can often feel overwhelming when trying to decide where you’re going to stay and what you’re going to pack into your trip. We’ve narrowed it down to the top picks of what to experience in Tokyo itself, but also in Japan if Tokyo is not your only stop in this beautiful country.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Image via Flickr – CC BY 2.0 – Dani

Eat, Eat, Eat

Japan is world-famous for so many foods, so you’d be remiss if you didn’t actually try authentic Japanese sushi, ramen, wagyu beef, and more. Take a full day to explore the best local spots and stuff your belly with as much okonomiyaki and mochi as you can. Talk to the locals, information centers, and your hotel/hostel to find out which places the locals recommend, so you can avoid big price tags and big crowds.

Get an early start at the Tsukiji Fish Market

Easily the most famous market in all of Japan, Tsukiji Fish Market is exactly what it sounds like. It used to be located in Tsukiji, but got relocated to Toyosu in 2018. You should start off in the very, very early hours of the morning, grab a taxi and head over to check out the famous Tuna Fish Auction, tour the market yourself, or grab some of the world’s freshest sushi at a stall or nearby restaurant.

Soak in an Onsen

Onsens are as natural to Japan as cheeseburgers are to Americans, and Tokyo boasts hundreds if not thousands of traditional and modern versions of these Japanese hot springs. Grab a bathing suit and unwind in one of these steamy natural baths.

Robot Restaurant, Tokyo

Image via Flickr – CC BY 2.0 –  Mike Norton

Dine at a robot restaurant

Ever have dinner and wish you were in the middle of a high-tech, 2050-themed robot dance party? If so, you’ll want to check out one of Tokyo’s numerous robot restaurants. As outlandish as these seem, you’re bound to have one of the most mind-boggling and unforgettable meals of your life when you’re there!

Play real-life Mario Kart

This one is quite gimmicky but totally worth it. Check out one of the dozens of go-karting companies in Tokyo that offer customized kart rentals you can drive out around the city. Dress up as an (unofficial) Mario Kart character and explore the city like you’re in a video game. Just leave the banana peels at home, please.

Ghibli Museum

Image via Flickr – CC BY 2.0 – Antti T. Nissinen

 

Visit the Sensoji Temple

This temple is the picture-perfect textbook definition of a traditional Japanese temple and is surprisingly easy to get to by train, bus, or boat. Hours of operation are 6:00 AM-5:00 PM from April to September and 6:30 AM-5:00 PM from October to March.

Tour the Studio Ghibli Museum

Studio Ghibli is essentially the Disney of Japan, and its reach as an animation studio has expanded well overseas in the past decade. If you’re a fan of anime hits like My Neighbour Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, or Ponyo on the Cliff, you’ll definitely want to check this museum out. But, be advised that you need to reserve a tour well in advance, as this is a very popular tourist spot in Tokyo.

Check out a maid café

Slightly awkward perhaps but inherently Japanese, maid cafés are cosplay restaurants where the cafe staff act as customers’ maids or servants rather than waiters. They treat you like masters or mistresses in your own home rather than customers at a restaurant. A bit odd, but something uniquely Japanese.

Get your dose of nature at the Japanese Gardens

Located in the heart of this high-tech city are the stunning Japanese Gardens. Take a day, or even a half-day, to tour the gardens and see the beautiful flora of Tokyo, complete with oasis-like ponds and lights in the evenings. This is a great place to visit year-round, but especially in the spring and fall to see the cherry blossoms or the leaves changing colors.

Day Trips from Tokyo

Plan a trip to Tokyo -Day Trip Kamakura

If you have the time, and you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city for a bit, Tokyo has some amazing day-trip options that are sure to recharge your batteries. These sort of trips are perfect for days where you have nothing in particular planned or when you want to see another side of Japan.

Nikko

Less than 2 hours from Tokyo by train, Nikko is a stunning village in the mountainous region north of the city. It has sky-high cedar trees, stunning waterfalls, and gorgeous sloping hills that change color during seasonal changes. A beautiful escape from the electric pulse of the city, Nikko is the perfect place to quietly rejuvenate your body and mind by enjoying the local temples, shrines, and nature.

Hakone

We love spending a few days in Hakone, but with an hour and forty minute travel time by train, it’s easy to make it a day trip. Hakone is a quiet village located at the base of Mt. Fuji, making it the perfect destination to soak up some breathtaking views, relax in an onsen, or check out some local art museums. Spend the day touring the lake surrounding the volcanic mountain and be back in time for bed.

Kamakura

A quick half-hour drive from Tokyo city center, Kamakura is a perfect spot to temple-hop and see some incredible Shinto shrines. It’s most famous for its Great Buddha of Kotokuin, an absolutely enormous and imposing statue. Check out the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine as well, the most significant and important shrine in the city.

Kusatsu

Known for being the type of place you can spend days at a time, Kusatsu is home to one of the most popular onsens in all of Japan. Located 2.5 hours away by train, the Kusatsu Onsen is famous among tourists and locals alike, and for good reason. The onsen boasts a variety of hot spring options, both indoor and outdoor, and is uniquely picturesque. However, the volcanic sulfur that makes the water warm does have a distinctly eggy smell, so hold your nose and dive in!

Accommodation Options in Tokyo

Plan a trip to Tokyo - Ryokan

Because Tokyo is such an innovative tourist hub, it has literally hundreds of thousands of accommodation options. Do you want a sleek and modern hotel or a more traditional budget-friendly option? While many backpackers, solo, and/or budget travelers generally opt for hostels, some hostels in Tokyo are actually just as pricey as hotels.

Hostels

Hostels are generally the cheapest option for accommodation. There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to hostels in Tokyo, from young party-centric backpacker hostels to more upscale and futuristic ones. Make sure to check out a capsule hostel while you’re in the area, as Tokyo is known for them. A great source is Hostelworld, but there are options on all sorts of review sites as well. Be advised though that these are not hostel prices you’d find in other parts of Asia, as Japan is significantly pricier. No $5 a night business here.

Hotels

Hotels are always an obvious choice when it comes to accommodations, and understandably so. Tokyo hotels can range from anywhere between rustic and traditional to sleek and modern, and the options are always there to go for the chains (Marriott, etc.). Our recommendation? Look for a hotel that has some elements of traditionalism to it. Maybe be bold and opt for a Tatami mat room over a regular bedroom (mats on the floor — very traditional).

Ryokans

Ryokans are traditional Japanese hotels, and they resemble a more bed & breakfast or inn sort of vibe than a hotel as we know it. The rooms are generally Tatami mat rooms, and there are gardens and onsens that guests can explore. These are generally very pricey, but definitely worth it if you want an authentic Japanese experience.

Rentals

As with anywhere nowadays, home or apartment rentals are a great option to get a more local and authentic feel of a city rather than stay in a cold and disconnected hotel. You’ll have a wide selection to choose from, with apartments, entire houses, small cottages, and many others on offer.

Final Advice for Tokyo

  • Get a rail pass in advance: The country-wide rail is the fastest and easiest option to travel around Japan. If you plan to do any day trips while in Tokyo, this is well worth your money. Tickets need to be shipped to your home, so you need to purchase it well in advance.
  • In fact, book everything in advance: Usually, we’d recommend booking things last minute, because oftentimes the prices you see online are inflated. In Tokyo, however, demand is so high and tourism is so prolific, you’ll need to reserve your accommodations, flights, and sightseeing trips well in advance if you want a shot at actually getting to see them.
  • Accept the prices: This is not going to be a budget trip, and if you ruminate on the price points of everything you spend, you won’t enjoy your time in Tokyo. Accept that this is the price you pay to visit one of the best cities in the world, and you’ll enjoy it that much more.
  • Embrace the culture: This tip is essential for every trip you go on, but in Tokyo, we insist on it. Do your best to avoid Western food and cookie-cutter hotels. Tokyo has so much culture and contains a beautiful union of aggressively modern and nostalgically traditional elements. Embrace where you’re at and don’t be scared to try new things.

And there you have it! A complete guide for you to plan a trip to Tokyo, stress-free! Let us know more things to do and see in Tokyo in the comments below!

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About The Author

Gilad Gamliel

Gilad is a 26-year-old backpacker with anxiety, OCD and Hypochondriasis. He spent most of my life thinking that travel wasn’t for people like him -- nervous, neurotic, Type A people. But after his first trip, he realized that anyone can - and should - give backpacking a try. He’s now found subtle and clever ways to turn his anxieties into positives and hopes to share his experiences with the world. His website Anxious & Abroad is a travel guide dedicated to showing nervous and first-time travelers that they don’t have to be carefree or careless to enjoy what the world has to offer. You can follow his travels on Instagram @gil.ad.ventures.