A first timer to Tokyo, Japan? No worries at all! Let this travel guide of mine guide you through all you need to know to have that jam-packed, fun-filled virgin trip to Japan. I’m confident you’ll love the place as much as I do~
Out of the 47 prefectures of Japan, Tokyo (東京), Japan is the most densely populated one with it being Japan’s capital. It is one of the world’s largest cities and offers a unique mix of traditional and contemporary attractions. I would recommend going to this city first for anyone who’ve yet to set foot on the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s bound to be an experience so unique you’ll be asking for more time there eventually!
This itinerary will include the following:
- My recommended Top 9 Highlights in Tokyo
- How to get to Toyko
- Getting around Tokyo
- What’s the best time to visit Tokyo?
- What should I pack for my trip to Tokyo?
- How much do you need for an 8D7N trip in Tokyo?
- Visa requirements for Tokyo, Japan
Highlights of Tokyo, Japan
These are some of the main highlights of Tokyo, Japan in my opinion for any first timer. It consists of a good mix of local culture, both traditional and modern that you can experience all in one city. Most of these places are located along the JR lines and easily accessible via the Yamanote line. Rest assured that you’ll be able to find your way around quite safely!
1. Visit Kaminarimon at Asakusa (浅草雷門)
Asakusa is a place rich in traditional Japanese culture, with Kaminarimon (雷門) and Sensouji (浅草寺) being the main soul of the area. Kaminarimon would most probably be the first thing you would notice as you emerge from the underground train station. It is a big red lantern that you cannot miss at the entrance of the street linking to the main temple of Sensoji. Its bright colour is especially useful for any first timer visiting Tokyo, Japan. It is a popular place for both locals and even tourists, hence, make sure you avoid the weekends when visiting this place!
On top of the already-popular Nakamise food street, I also love the surrounding food area too located around the area just behind this main food street. Here you’ll find many delicious street food too from fluffy pancakes for brunch, matcha gelato for the hot summer or even onigiri on the go if you’re tight on time! I think Tokyo Zebra did a really good compilation here on his Top 10 favorites, so do check it out too!
2. Experience the local markets at Ueno (上野)
Ueno has a more local feel to it and is also one of my favorite places of Tokyo. It houses one of the biggest open-air markets, Ameyoko, and boasts of around 400 shops in this 400 meters long street! Don’t be surprised at that massive selection of shops selling fresh food, dried goods, fashion and cosmetics, medicines at very affordable prices. As a first-timer to Tokyo, Japan, it’s very reasonable to feel like you want to buy everything home. That’s me despite the multiple trips there still, so all’s good for you!
It is also known by many locals as an excellent place for “tabearuki (食べ歩き)”. It literally means eat as you walk, just because there are so many options around. Just buy and munch on a small snack as you walk on the street. You can get takoyaki (round doughy balls with octopus), taiyaki (red-bean fish-shaped pancakes), ice cream soft serves, fruits etc. There’s even this seafood place that caters to the Tabearuki community with its fresh seafood bowls available at half portion too! What’s more, they obtain their seafood from Toyosu Market, the popular fresh seafood market which I’ll be touching on below too. Hence, do visit this place preferably before dinner as most shops close by evening at around 7pm.
3. Try your luck at the UFO Machines in Akiharaba (秋葉原)
Akihabara is the epitome of the Japanese Animation Culture. It is a must-go for any first-timer to Tokyo, Japan as the life of animation through cosplays, music, figurines, comics, shops and even the food can visibly be seen there. There were never-ending streets of anything anime-related that I don’t even know where to start. One common sight is definitely the UFO machines in the numerous arcades there. Find your favorite character in those machines and try your luck with it. It’s a great iconic souvenir of Akihabara!
One other iconic experience of Akihabara is the visiting the maid and butler cafes there. If you don’t know what that is, have a read on the maid cafe recommendations by Live Japan. They’ve put this unique Japanese experience beautifully into words for anyone not knowing what it is. I would recommend you to visit one if you do want to experience something uniquely Japan. I can assure you that you won’t get a similar experience anywhere else.
All, in all, I had such a great experience in Akihabara really immersing myself in what the international world knows Japan for. It was so mind-blowing that it even made it to one of my Top 5 Unique Experiences in Japan. One tip I have for you is to schedule your trip there on a Sunday as the streets would close off to all cars then. Pedestrains can then explore the entire area on the wide roads, amplifying your all-rounded Japanese experience there!
4. Immerse in the night-time buzz at Shinjuku (新宿)
Shinjuku is one of the largest train stations in Japan and also listed as Guinness World’s busiest transport hub. It has over 52 platforms all in one station and well over 200 exits to this station. Just imagine the crowd you’ll see at this station! I remember being rushed along with the crowds and feeling very obliged to keep up with their pace even as a tourist. I definitely did not want to be trampled upon for walking too slow.
With Waseda University in the vicinity, this place is popular with both university undergraduates and even employees. Make sure you visit Golden Gai for a very authentic Japanese dinner or bar experience. It is a street packed with hundreds of eateries, also known as Izakaya (居酒屋). I absolutely love Izakayas as it usually serves food in small portions with a good array of Japanese sake choices. You can try many different types of Japanese dishes and pair them together with your unique choice of sake or beer. I can spend hours in one chit-chatting and unwinding for the day. I’m sure you will enjoy your experience there too!
This place is also home to Kabukicho, Japan’s largest red light district. It’s an area that features numerous restaurants, bars, nightclubs, pachinko parlors, love hotels and more. However, do take extra caution when exploring this area!
5. Get close to the Lolitas at Takeshitadoori in Harajuku(原宿竹下通り)
You got to visit Harajuku as a first timer to Tokyo, Japan! There are many fun streets to explore in this area, from the teenage-styled Takeshitadoori (竹下通り) to Omotesando (表参道) with a more mature style to it. It is a heaven for people who love shopping and eating. The fashion style here ranges from teenagers to working adults, cosplayers from Lolitas to Harajuku Goth and Punk. You will never get bored of what you can find in this area! I remember seeing numerous people dressing up in Lolita fashion when I visited this place on a Sunday. That is a day when numerous people would dress up and fill the streets of Harajuku. Feel free to ask for photos with them but just remember to be respectful!
On top of that, I recommend reaching Harajuku earlier in the morning to visit the famous Meiji Shrine (明治神宮). It is located just behind Takeshitadoori and is really suitable for a peaceful morning walk. It goes through a really quiet and peaceful path through a dense forest that leads up to Meiji Shrine. I like strolling through casually in the morning at my own pace while taking in large slow breaths of fresh air. It is a great way to start the morning before you continue your day of shopping and eating at Takeshitadoori and Omotesando!
6. Cross the largest crossing at Shibuya(渋谷)
Shibuya is also a popular shopping area with its famous Shibuya 109 and definitely no stranger to anyone who’ve ever heard of the popular Shibuya Crossing. It is known for being the world’s busiest crossing with an average of 2.4 million people crossing it everyday. To put it into perspective, the whole of Singapore has slightly less than 6 million people. Just imagine! When the traffic light turns red for that few minutes, a whole pool of pedestrains flood the crossing from all directions. It is a really iconic sight to see when you’re there and tyou just got to check this off your bucket list as a first timer to Tokyo, Japan.
Also, if you’re a fan of dogs, you may be interested in the tale of Hachiko, the dog from Akita who showed unwavering loyalty to its owner even after his death. It became famous because of how it waited at Shibuya station each day for years for its owner to return even after its owner’s death. However, instead of Hachiko, you would find a bronze statue of it located at the spot at Shibuya where he used to wait for his owner. Do give Hachiko a quick visit when you’re at Shibuya!
7. Roppongi (六本木)
Roppongi is one of Tokyo’s most affluent areas right next to Ginza. This place is house to many Michelin-starred restaurants and is best known for luxury shopping. However, my main reason for visiting this place is definitely because of the insanely beautiful light illumniations at Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown during Christmas. The amount of effort and detail put in by the Japanese to set up these illuminations never fail to make my jaw drop! If you’re in Japan during winter, this has got to be a must-visit for you. Not just for any first-timer to Tokyo, Japan, but also for whoever passing by Tokyo during winter!
Also, head over to Roppongi Hills where you can go crazy in that massive shopping complex. Being a person who prefers the quiet over the buzz, my favorite part of this place is actually Tokyo City View. There are both an indoor observation deck and the outdoor sky deck that can give you panoramic views of Tokyo. Time your visit there to catch the beautiful sunrise or the calming sunset. If not, head up to the deck after dinner and you’ll be welcomed with an amazing night view of Tokyo. You will not be disappointed with what you see at anytime!
8. Shopping at the luxurious Ginza(銀座)
If shopping is your cup of tea, you have to visit Ginza (銀座) then! The endless streets of department stores, boutiques, restaurants and cafes, would be enough to keep you busy for an entire day. It is the equivalent of Singapore’s Orchard Road or even Marina Bay Sands, where you can find almost every name in the fashion and cosmetics industry there. The only difference is that the scale of that in Japan is way larger than in Singapore. Timely reminder for you to be in comfortable walking gear to support the full-day of shopping!
If you’re tired after a hectic day of shopping, you can also consider treating yourself to a tradtional Japanese play, known as the Kabuki (歌舞伎), at the Kabukiza Theater. There are plays almost everyday and you can easily access tickets online as a foreigner on their English-friendly site. Otherwise, if you’re all ready to fill your tummy with a hearty dinner, head down to restaurant district at the neighbouring Yurakucho (有楽町) station. There you’ll find loads of standing-only Izakaya bars, Yakitori casual eats or barbecue houses at the area under the elevated train tracks. The Japanese calls this the Gado-shita (ガード下), and it is very common for office workers to hang out at such places after work for dinner and a refreshing beer to end the day.
9. Fill your belly with fresh Sashimi at Tsukiji or view the auction at Toyosu (築地・豊洲)
Finally, how can we not talk about fresh fish and sashimi when you’re already in Japan right? Treat yourself to one of the freshest seafood at the Tsukiji Outer Market (築地場外市場,). There are numerous restaurants and shops there serving seafood directly obtained from the Toyosu Market located just 10 minutes away. Talk about freshness!!! You can have an early brunch there after a morning of observing the Tuna Auction. However, if waking up super early for the tuna auction is not your desired kind of morning, just make sure you get to Tsukiji before early afternoon to catch the restaurants in time for the seafood before they close for the day.
The Market sells everything from light snacks to a full meal, from raw fish to grilled options. To me, a hearty bowl of Chirashi-don or Sashimi platter is definitely on my to-eat list. However, my ideal kind of meal would be to first have some appetisers before the main course! I recommend having the grilled tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) on a stick as you walk along the market for a start. Somehow, even though that is not seafood, nibbling it off a stick while walking feels SO SO SO GOOD! Then, get some Maguro Kushiyaki (grilled tuna skewers) from Tsukiji Jyogai Shijyo. It is cooked simply with some salt and pepper, and that’s all you need to bring out the fresh flavours of the tuna. Finally, settle yourself in any restaurant that you feel the most comfortable with and order your favorite type of seafood. Ahhhh…what a perfect brunch plan~
Bonus: Go Tokyo – Official Tokyo Travel Guide
If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo and want to check what’s in it for you during that period, do check out the Tokyo Events Calendar on the Official Tokyo Travel Guide – Go Tokyo. It is a great place to find out what events are happening in Tokyo, or even over the weekend. The uniqueness of your experience there may then be elevated!
How to get to Toyko, Japan
There are 2 main airports you can arrive at to get to Tokyo, Japan.
(a) Fly in to Haneda Airport
Haneda is closer to the city centre of Tokyo, and takes you less than 15 minutes to get to the Tokyo Main Station via the Keikyu line. However, not all places have a direct flight to Haneda, Singapore unfortunately does not have this option too. The last I managed to get a trip in to Haneda was when I was flying in from Taiwan. Hence, do check to see if the place you’re flying from has a flight to that airport. If so, definitely pick this option!
(b) Get to Tokyo from Narita Airport
There are more international flights flying into Narita than Haneda. However, it is located further away from the City Centre and takes about an hour’s train ride to get there. You can get to the City Centre really easily with the N’EX Tokyo Round Trip Ticket that would cost you 4,070 yen. It stops at major train stations like Tokyo, Shinjuku, Yokohama and Omiya.
Getting around Tokyo, Japan
As a first-timer to Japan, Tokyo, it is very common to get lost and feel overwhelmed with the trains there. Japan has one of the most developed train networks and I would highly recommend exploring the city via train, and then on foot in each area. It may be complicated but there are many resources available in English that will be super useful as you travel! Some things to note:
- Different operators – Unlike Singapore where you only need to tap in and out once from the start to end of a journey, it is different in Japan. You may need to tap out to get to another train line in Japan because of the different operators for each line. The main train operators in Japan are namely, Japan Railway Network (JR) and Keikyu etc.
- Get your Suica and Pasmo cards before you start to travel: This is the equivalent of EZ-link cards in Singapore where you can use it everywhere on almost all rail and bus lines in Tokyo. You can purchase them easily at JR stations or subway stations. Some places like Family Mart also accept these cards as electronic money, so it’s really convenient!
Lastly, transport is one of the more expensive expenses you would incur during your travel in Japan. You may not require a JR Pass if you are visiting most of the places I’ve recommended above. However, if you’re looking to couple your trip to Tokyo with some day trips out to neighbouring places, do explore the various transport passes like the JR Tokyo Wide Pass as that would save you a lot more money on transport.
Best time to visit Tokyo, Japan
Japan experiences all four seasons, only that the intensity of each season varies across the country in different months. For example, Spring comes earlier in the Southern part of Japan (March) but only reaches the Northern area such as Tokyo later in April. Temperatures in Tokyo are also less harsh as compared to other parts of Japan in my opinion. For example, although you would still need a thick and warm jacket in Tokyo during winter, it only snows occassionally. Hence, you can imagine how temperatures would be like on average for all other seasons too.
For a first-timer, I would recommend visiting Tokyo, Japan in either Spring (March – May) or late Autumn (October – November). This is because you can catch the cherry blosson season (花見) in Spring while enjoying the comfortably cool weather. Late autumn is also a good choice as it’s coincidentally the peak fall foliage then too. Japan has many popular parks like Yoyogi Park and Shinjuku Goen for flower viewing in both Spring and Autumn. Hence, all the more you should visit these countries during either of these seasons!
Top 8 Items to Pack for Tokyo, Japan
- Plastic bags in your everyday bag – It is a rare sight to find dustbins along the streets of Japan. These plastic bags would be handy at times when you have some rubbish on hand and want to put them somewhere. It was a true culture shock for me during my first trip there when I could find no place to throw my sweet wrapper and coffee cup for the whole day. It was only until I arrived back at my hotel that I could finally throw it away. This is mainly due to Japan’s emphasis on recycling rubbish, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see any bin around at all.
- Recyclable bags – This is useful for when you do lots of shopping and require a big bag comfortable enough to carry for the rest of the day. This is one of my personal recommendations especially when I go crazy in their cosmetic and snack shops!
- UV foldable umbrella – This is essential if you’re visiting Japan during summer. The summer sun there is even more unforgiving than the sun in Singapore.
- Portable charger – This is an almost essential item as I believe you will rely heavily on your phone especially in Tokyo for navigating your way through the extensive train network maps, and even finding your way around places when you are above ground.
- Camera – If you’re not satisfied with just your phone camera, bring along an extra camera! You’re bound to get many beautiful pictures in this well-developed city.
- Wet Tissues – This is always a good item to have in your bag as you travel. You never know when you just need to clean your hands for a quick snack you got by the food stall.
- Anti-pollen face masks or Scarf – If you have a sensitive nose and are going to visit Tokyo in Spring or Autumn, do bring along some anti-pollen face masks. It is quite common for people to develop pollen rashes if they’re allergic and it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when you’re not sure if you’re allergic or not!
- A 2-flat-pin type socket – Voltage in Japan is 100 V, while frequency varies by location. This 2-flat-pin socket would be generally accepted throughout the country, so make sure you bring along at least one.
Budgeting for 8D7N in Tokyo, Japan
This budget is based off an itinerary for 8 days as in this travel guide to Tokyo, Japan, and is purely for travel within Tokyo. Also, do note that food ranges from as cheap as $10 per meal at places like Matsu-Ya and Yoshinoya, and can even go up to $100 per meal when you treat yourself to some pretty quality meals probably when you’re at Tsukiji or some other fancy restaraurant! So I’ll leave that to you to how much you want to treat yourself to.
|Flight from Singapore to Tokyo
|800 – 1,000
|600 – 750
|Accommodation (per person based on a twin room), ranging from $70 to $100/night
|490 – 700
|365 – 520
|Food ($80 – $120/day)
|640 – 960
|475 – 720
|1. N’EX Tokyo Round Trip Ticket (4,070 yen)
|2. Daily train rides via Suica / Pasmo
|150 – 200
|115 – 150
|Cash (for shopping, souvenirs etc.) – Do decide on this accordingly to your own spending habits!
|500 – 1,000
|380 – 745
|2,630 – 3,910
|1,975 – 2,925
Visa requirements for Tokyo, Japan
The great news is that Singapore citizens do not require a visa to enter Japan for temporary visits less than 90 days for purposes of tourism, visiting friends/relatives, business, attending a conference and/or other unpaid activities only. If you’re not from Singapore, fret not! Check out if your country is one of the 68 countries that has a Visa Exemption Agreement with Japan here.
Hope you’ve enjoyed my Travel Guide for first-timers to Tokyo, Japan! May it be helpful for you to plan your first ever trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. I’m excited for you already~~