Recently, I have been getting a lot of questions from friends regarding planning a trip to Japan–questions such as, when is the best time to go?; what places should I go to?; where is the best place to stay in?; etc. Having done a lot of research about Japan, as well as having gone there a few times, I thought it best to come up with a blog entry that simplifies all those questions by providing the most direct answers.
With Tokyo being the most popular area to visit, I decided to focus on that area first by sharing some pieces of experience from my trip there during last year’s summer (Tokyo’s summer, i.e. June-August), and by also sharing whatever knowledge I have gained about it during all my research. So, let’s get down to it!
When is the best time to go to Tokyo, Japan?
Honestly, it would depend on what kind of weather you favor. I would personally suggest you visit during the late Spring and early Autumn seasons as the temperature would still be pretty cold (between 10°C – 20°C), but not cold enough to make you feel like you’re freezing to death. A popular choice is during late March (around the last week) until early April (first week), as this is usually when the hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season hits. I’ll list down the seasons for you to give you an idea:
Spring: March, April, May
Summer: June, July, August -> This is when I went last year (2015)
Autumn: September, October, November
Winter: December, January, February
We went to Tokyo last year during June, which is considered the summer season already and is also considered the rainiest month in Japan. The benefit of going to Japan during non-peak seasons is cheaper travel fares, as well as experiencing lesser crowds, especially in famous shopping areas such as Shibuya, Harajuku, etc. If you plan to take this approach, I suggest you check Tokyo’s weather forecast in advance to find out when the rainy days are going to hit. Japan weather forecasts are very reliable and, based on my experience, usually 99% accurate!
What area should I stay in at Tokyo, Japan?
I would personally prefer staying near the areas of Shibuya and Harajuku, as I favor shopping in those areas. For me, if I am given the opportunity to book a hotel near those areas, I automatically would. It is mainly for the convenience of reduced transportation costs and wasted time. It’s also a big help should I end up feeling like doing some last-minute shopping. Though, it’s all a matter of preference. What are your hobbies? What interests you? What kinds of activities do you enjoy doing?
Here’s a general description of the major districts that tourists normally visit in Tokyo, to give you an idea of where you would probably end up preferring to stay:
Asakusa – Temples; Namikase-dori shopping street (traditional goods)
Akihabara – Gadgets; Video games; Anime/Manga
Ueno – Parks; Gardens/Open Spaces; Ueno Zoo
Ginza – Night life; Beer
Odaiba – Life-sized Gundam; Malls; Theme Park; Sight-seeing with view of the sea
Shinjuku – City life; Malls and shopping
Ikebukuro – Otome game paradise; Otaku products
Shimokitazawa – Quaint and dainty cafes and shops; Laid-back area
Mitaka – Ghibli Museum
Harajuku – Shopping and street fashion; City life
Shibuya – Major shopping district; Urban setting; City life
Omotesando – City life; High-end shops; Shopping
Roppongi – Night life; Drinks and Entertainment
What hotel/hostel/apartment should I book?
Without a second thought, I would automatically recommend for you to book an AirBnB apartment (P.S. This is not a sponsored plug-in. lol). I have nothing against hotels. In fact, I would book hotels in some of my travels if convenience and budget calls for it. But, I found that booking through AirBnB allowed for me to have a more interesting, authentic, and realistic experience in a country. This is specifically because AirBnB better reflects how living in a country would feel like. You are offered an interesting variety of options of the kinds of apartments you could book–from traditional with tatami mats and futons, to Western with modern bedrooms, and to quirky and dainty with artistically-designed apartments.
In addition, I would like to mention that I have been booking AirBnB apartments for about 80% of my travels. There’s just something extra fun about browsing all kinds of unique options for apartments to stay in.
Booking apartments via AirBnB has been a safe experience for me all throughout. You just need to be smart about reading the reviews and descriptions thoroughly. I personally prefer booking the ones that already have good star ratings, and at least an ample amount of good reviews.
If AirBnB is not to your taste, I would also recommend to try searching hotels/hostels via Agoda. I’ve used it a few times, and I find it easier to find good budget hotels there.
How to get to Tokyo from Narita Airport:
With a country where majority do not speak English, it could be very stressful for tourists to ask for directions. It becomes even more overwhelming and disorienting for first-timers.
For me, the easiest and fastest way to get to Tokyo is via the Keisei Skyliner. It’s an electric railway that takes you directly from Narita Airport all the way to Ueno. Although, you could opt to stop at Nippori, but typically, tourists would rather choose to stop at Ueno as it becomes easier to access the rest of central Tokyo from this point.
A one-way ticket would cost ¥2,470 (as of Feb. 23, 2016). To purchase the ticket, I recommend watching this detailed video made and provided by Keisei Skyliner. It shows a clear indication of where to head to once arriving and stepping out of the airplane.
As a convenient side note, should you be arriving at Ueno a bit too early before your check in time at the hotel, there are actually coin-operated lockers that you can use at the station where you can temporarily leave your luggages. There’s enough space for even the big luggages, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
How about transportation in Tokyo, Japan?
Transportation is extremely convenient in Tokyo. You have train lines networked to almost every nook and cranny of the city! Although the subway map can be overwhelming at first, you’ll find yourself getting a bit used to getting around after a couple of rides. I highly suggest you download the mobile app, HyperDia, to help you navigate through the train system. It will indicate which stations you should transfer/stop at, as well as the timetables/ETAs for the trains.
As a first timer, I was often given the recommendation of buying the Tokyo Subway Tickets once arriving at Narita Airport. These tickets are more intended for tourists as they have unlimited use for up to only a certain number of days (varies depending on which one you get). Though, it also depends on your itinerary and which places you plan to go to. If you are intending to check out places mostly along the Japan Rail (JR) Yamanote Line, then I suggest you purchase the JR Yamanote Line ticket instead. Note that the unlimited JR Pass for a limited number of days is not available for Japan residents; thus, something intended mainly for tourists.
Budgeting for Food:
Food from Takashimaya Mall, Shinjuku’s depachika
Food can be quite expensive in Tokyo. I suggest you budget your meals for most of your trip, and allow yourself just a few special meals every now and then. I found that the best way to budget meals was by shopping for bento meals at depachikas (department store basements). The standard of the meals are still of good quality. You can find depachikas in almost any mall. Just head on to the basement floor! 😀
If you have any other questions, let me know at the comments section down below!