Tokyo is a place that has to be seen to be believed – a city that truly never sleeps, a city full of culture, life, amazing fashion and incredible food. A city so well organised that it makes it a pleasure to travel through. Now I’m well aware of the fact that there are 1001 Tokyo Travel Guide’s available online (and they’re incredible), but there are a few things I learned on my travels that I wish I knew in advance – so here they are summarised for you below.
Before you even leave home, make pocket Wi-Fi your priority. I rented a device through Japan Wireless and for the cost of a daily coffee, I had the tiny, pocket-sized device (which came with a complimentary portable charger) waiting at my hotel upon arrival. It was life-saving, as in Japan, you’re not getting very far without the Internet, and in particular Google Maps (download the app on your phone) – it’s so advanced that it will guide you to the platform your train will be departing from! Japan Wireless even sent a paid return envelope so that once I was done I just slipped it in a postal box and sent it back to them. It will be your greatest travel investment, and goodbye data charges!
Airport – Tokyo Transfer
Landing in Tokyo can be quite daunting and confusing. The Japanese are quick and efficient and you can quickly feel lost if you don’t stop for a breather. If you haven’t gotten a JR Rail Pass (I’ll cover that further down) – your best bet is getting into Tokyo via the Narita Express (NEX) – Taxis are far too expensive and the bus transfers will take up to 2 hrs. After a long flight, you just want an efficient way of getting to your accommodation. We got the NEX to Shinjuku (where we were staying) and then got a taxi for the short ride to our hotel. There are ticket machines and a ticket office where you can speak to someone in person. The machines are quick but can be a bit confusing so take your time reading the prompts. If you opt for the ticket office, you’ll likely be waiting in queue for a while.
The Suica is the golden public transport card, which you can get at any major train station. If you’re planning on traveling across Japan (Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka etc) then I suggest looking into the JR Rail Pass – this will allow you to travel across the country for 1 price (a pricey price) – if however you’re sticking around Tokyo and the surrounds – a Suica is the way to go. Get one and load it up with $50 to $100 to start off with. You will be able to use it on all public transport around Tokyo. You’ll also be able to use in all convenience stores and vending machines and when your trip is done, if there is money left on it, you can simply get it back in cash at the airport. Brilliant!
Money, money, money
As technologically advanced as Tokyo is with it’s singing toilets and robot restaurant, it is a predominantly cash-based society. This means you should be ready to go from the moment you land, as some taxis won’t have EFTPOS facilities. There are plenty of banks around and ATMs in every convenience store. My hot tip is to get yourself an ING account. They wave all international transaction fees and ATM transaction fees, that way you don’t have to stress about where you’re getting money.
Planning your outfits for your Tokyo trip? Leave the active wear at home unless you want to be the only person wearing it. The Japanese are very fashion-forward, they’re impeccably dressed and a dream to look at. There is really no such thing as overdressed in Japan, even on a Monday morning. So have fun with it, experiment with different styles, I promise you that you’ll feel fabulous! My go-to BIANKO pieces that complimented every outfit and made me feel that little bit more put together were the Lucky Bay Opal Ring and the Ningaloo Earrings - they are such versatile pieces that worked with both plain and sassy outfits! A big tick from me when traveling! My other travel essentials were a good versatile bag you can take from day to night ( I loved my belt bag as it freed my hands up for eating and picture taking haha), a trendy pair of sneakers that can be dressed up or down, and a chic pair of sunnies.
The Japanese are incredible people. They are kind, courteous, tidy, quiet and very helpful. This can be quite a contrast to what we’re used to seeing in Australia, so it’s important to keep front of mind. They don’t eat on the go, so you’ll find no bins in the streets, they don’t speak on their phones in public, especially not on trains, in fact, they don’t make a lot of noise at all. Some places will expect you to take your shoes off, so be ready. They consider tipping an insult; so don’t try to tip, no matter how good the service is. They are extremely kind and helpful, if you ever feel lost or need help, don’t be afraid to ask, they’ll likely go above and beyond to ensure you’re sorted! It’s best to embrace their culture while you’re over there, even if it clashes with what you’re used to.
This came in handy for me so many times that I couldn’t not share it (my apologies to vegans). Lawson’s is a convenience store chain, and right by the counter where you pay, you’ll see delicious fried chicken which you can get for $1 apiece. I’m talking finger-licking good chicken – this came in handy so many times when we were on the go and hungry but knew we had a lunch or dinner reservation in a couple of hours and didn’t want to ruin our appetite. The convenience stores, in general, are incredible, there are so many ready to eat meals if you’re traveling on a budget, there’s fresh fruit, salad bowls, and alcohol in case you wanted a cheeky lunchtime drink (yes, you can drink in the streets in Tokyo)
I know this might sound like a trick suggestion, but sleep in and take your time in the mornings. Tokyo doesn’t really wake up until 10-11am – nothing is open, so there’s nothing for you to do. The city makes up for the late morning with its late nights – all shops are open till 10pm minimum, some later and most restaurants and eateries are going till 4am every night
Coffee and Breakfast
This is where thing get a little tricky, particularly because we’re so spoiled for choice in Australia. Tokyo doesn’t have great coffee and a Western breakfast is hard to come by! Tully’s and Excelsior café did the job in terms of a morning coffee fix, they employ actual barista’s, unlike Starbucks! If you’d prefer some bacon and eggs on toast or pancakes to a Japanese style breakfast, my go to’s were; Sarabeth’s in Shinjuku, The Grand Kitchen, and Ivy Place. Shibuya station food hall is also amazing and I highly recommend you visit it at least once (you’ll probably want to go back everyday) It’s like the Disneyland of food halls, all that you could imagine, from pastries to sushi to salads and pork belly. It’s relatively inexpensive and a great way to try something new!
My parting words
Enjoy the overwhelming, amazing and buzzing city that is Tokyo. Live outside of your comfort zone. Try the sake, the standing sushi bars, the vending machine restaurants. Go to Harajuku and shop your heart out while eating ludicrous looking crepes. Bar hop through the Golden Gai. Sing your heart out in a karaoke bar. Have a drink at Park Hyatt’s New York Bar (if you want the best view of Tokyo city). Enjoy walking the streets at night feeling as safe as you ever will and most importantly take lots of photos, because you won't want to miss a moment of it!