Practical advice for travellers to Tokyo: transport, safety etc

Meiji Jingu Shrine Tokyo
Meiji Jingu Shrine Tokyo

Tokyo is a huge metropolitan city but it is fairly easy to navigate and the public transport network is one of the best in the world. Here are some tips and advice for travellers to Tokyo.

How to get to Tokyo from the airports at Narita and Haneda?

Shinkansen bullet train Tokyo Japan
Shinkansen bullet train Tokyo Japan

Tokyo has two main airports – Narita and Haneda.

Narita Airport is a bit further from the city centre. The best transfer from the airport is the Narita Express. It is a bit more expensive then other options but it runs straight into Tokyo and is very convenient.

Haneda airport is closer to the city. When you arrive, just buy and put some money on a Plasmo card and use the Citymapper app on your phone to find your way to your hotel or apartment.

Where to stay in Tokyo if you don’t want to spend a lot of money?

Hotel in Tokyo Japan
Hotel in Tokyo Japan

Tokyo has plenty of options when you are travelling on a budget. Business hotels offer decent accommodation for a fair price. Many of them have laundry facilities so you can wash your clothes and don’t need to bring too many things with you. The hotel rooms in Tokyo are very small.

Another option are capsule hotels, which is a step up from staying in a hostel. They offer less privacy then a regular hotel room but more privacy and security than staying in a hostel with a bunch of strangers sleeping in the same room.

Plasmo or Suica?

Blossoms in Tokyo Japan at Hama-rikyu Onshi-teien garden
Blossoms in Tokyo Japan at Hama-rikyu Onshi-teien garden

Tokyo has two main transport passes – Plasmo and Suica – and as far as I could tell, they both allow you to ride around on Tokyo transport. As it was explained to me, Plasmo cards are a bit more convenient because you can return them at all underground stations and get back your deposit.

I handed my over at Tokyo Station office before getting on the Narita Express to leave Tokyo. You can top up the cards at machines in the stations. The gates show how much money you have left and when the amount is too low, the gates automatically shut in front of you so you can’t pass them.

Wifi and internet

Its recommended to rent a pocket WIFI device for mobile internet to avoid hefty roaming charges. You need internet to find your way in Tokyo. The city is huge and difficult to navigate without using Google Maps.

I used the Citymapper app to find my way and it worked perfectly. Maps.me is great because it allows you to download a map of Tokyo and avoid using mobile data. But with Maps.me I had difficulty finding even the most popular tourist destinations (such as shrines and temples) by typing in their names – I had to look them up on Google Maps and then find the spot on Maps.me to save them.

Google Maps worked fine but just like Citymapper, they need a mobile internet to function.

On the subway, find the right exit

Subway stations have many exits and some can be quite far away from where you are going sometimes. Citymapper app actually tells you the best exit but I still suggest to take a look at the maps in the subway station which are usually very-very good and show you exactly which exit you should look for.

Eating out

Japanese food Udon with Egg and Shrimp Tempura
Japanese food. Udon with Egg and Shrimp Tempura
Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo Japan
Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo Japan

There are a million places to eat out in Tokyo and they are almost always very good. Ask for the English menu, they usually have it. If not, most restaurants have pictures of the food so you can just point. Despite a huge number of tourists, most people you will meet don’t really speak English or speak very little.

Leaving Tokyo – trains, tickets etc

Nikko in Japan
Nikko in Japan

If you want to take a trip outside Tokyo (I have a blog posts with suggestions on what to see around Tokyo) or go to other cities in Japan, trains are amazingly efficient and fast. To find your way as a tourist just head to the ticket office at Tokyo station and ask for advice and options regarding train schedules and ticket prices.

If you plan to travel by train a lot you need to pre-order a Japan Rail Pass – you actually have to pre-order it before coming to Japan to use it. There is also a fare calculator that lets you compare if it makes sense to buy individual tickets or the JR Pass.

Cash and credit cards

A lot of smaller restaurants and shops only accept cash. There are a lot of 7-Eleven and Lawson stores in Tokyo and they all seem to have ATM-s that accept international cards.

Safety

Tokyo is safe but that doesn’t mean there is no crime at all. So keep your eye on your belongings and take precautions as if you would in any other big city.

Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo Japan
Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo Japan

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