Tokyo for beginners
A friendly guide
Alright, so you’re going to Tokyo! I spent three of the best months in my life there. I got so many requests for tips and recommendations that I decided to write up a small guide.
There are two key things about this city.
1. You’re going to have a great time. Tokyo is amazing, Japan is beautiful.
2. Pretty much everything is different from what you’re used to.
PASMO / Suica
Tokyo is absolutely huge — prepare to spend a lot of time in the subway. You’ll need a PASMO or Suica transport card to get in, which you can buy at every station. They’re given out by two different companies, but it doesn’t matter which one you get. With both of them you can ride the subway in any Japanese city and even use the credit to buy things at certain stores and vending machines. More info about PASMO can be found on its website.
Definitely get a prepaid data SIM. You will really need this when you’re lost, but it’s definitely going to come in handy navigating the crowded and crooked streets of Tokyo—the place is a total maze.
Find the best deals on prepaid data SIMs right here.
Where to go?
If you’re looking for a nice restaurant, a cafe to work for a bit or a beautiful temple, look no further. I’ve compiled all these things and more in a big Foursquare list — just browse around it for some inspiration.
Even though these tips cover a lot, I can’t help myself to highlight a few must-see spots in and around the city. Let’s go.
All-around amazing ramen place. They’re everywhere. You’ll recognize it from the logo on their website. An entry-level version of Tokyo’s famous noodle soup that’s completely customizable to your taste. Go here.
This must be my favorite park in Tokyo. Go here when the sun is just about to set. Bring a few bottles of wine and food from a konbini, and walk down to the peninsula on the above map. Best view of the Tokyo bay bar none.
Yes, it’s a tourist trap — but you have to experience it. Order your sushi on an iPad and wait until it magically appears in front of you within seconds. Probably the most Tokyo thing you’ll do and kind of like living in the future.
You just have to see this neighborhood. It’s the Kreuzberg of Tokyo. Everything here is low-rise, cute and friendly. Dive into a bar, thrift shop or arcade and have the time of your life.
Any arcade (Taito Station, SEGA, Adores)
Walk around the city and you’ll come across an arcade every few minutes. Even if you’re not a big gamer, don’t miss out on these ridiculous places — there’s something fun for everyone.
These are no ordinary donuts. Handmade, healthy and with weird looking animals on them. They all taste amazing. It’s based in Koēnji which makes for a great excuse to visit this up-and-coming neighborhood and its crazy amount of thrift stores.
Studio Ghibli Museum
If you’re a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, you have to go here. Actually, you should regardless. The museum itself is compact but beautiful and in a great part of Tokyo. Make sure to reserve your ticket through their website a few weeks before your visit.
Any karaoke tower
You shouldn’t miss out on one of the city’s most iconic establishments—its legendary karaoke towers. Open 24/7 and equipped with the most modern karaoke systems, these are the best place to lose your voice in the world.
They’re scattered around the city—check out this list to see what they look like.
Don’t worry too much about etiquette — people notice you’re not Japanese, so you’ll get a pass every time. However, do teach yourself to eat with chopsticks as restaurants often don’t supply western cutlery.
Never take a call in the subway. It’s considered very rude.
Don’t miss the last subway. Depending on your location, it will leave around midnight. If you do miss it, just go to a 24H karaoke place and turn up to some Céline Dion until the early morning. Taxis are expensive.
If you want to go to the Tsukiji fish market, go out during the night and then take the first subway to the market.
You won’t understand every single menu item in every single restaurant. Don’t try to — just point at something and surprise yourself or say omakase (chef’s choice) to get whatever’s good. the Google Translate app on your phone, it’s invaluable for its picture translation.
I wrote some other short pieces about my experiences in Japan, that all make for a nice read.
Johan Ronsse made a great, simple guide that’s perfect for learning more about Japanese culture and customs or if you’re looking for more practical tips.
Wikivoyage is your friend. There are no other websites that have this much practical (travel) info in one place.