Tokyo City Guide: Everything about the Japanese Capital.

Tokyo (東京), also referred to as Tōkyō (東京), is the capital of Japan. It’s a city that truly has something for everyone:

  • Traditional Japanese culture juxtaposed against futuristic architecture
  • Skyscrapers beside historic temples and shrines
  • Thousands of shops and restaurants, a world-class nightlife scene, and the latest electronic gadgets
  • A cosmopolitan population with over 2 million people from around the globe

Tokyo is also a city that’s constantly changing. Over the past century, it’s seen its fair share of “firsts,” including being the first Asian host of the Olympic games in 1964, the first Asian city to welcome the world’s tallest building (109 floors high), and being the first megalopolis to offer bullet train service.

Tokyo is a megacity that continues to grow and change as new technologies emerge and social trends take hold. It was one of the first cities in Japan to be connected by rail and the first to have a bridge connect its two major islands.


Tokyo prefecture.

Tokyo city proper ranks second in the entire country regarding landmass (i.e., more significant than most other cities or prefectures). In contrast, Greater Tokyo (28 cities) has about 12 million people living in its suburbs.

Tokyo is a center for business, finance, fashion, and technology in Japan. It’s also home to the world’s busiest streets (Shibuya Crossing) and one of the most popular shopping districts.

Akibahara, Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku… these are all areas that will give you a taste of the city’s modern side.

On the other hand, Omotesando and Aoyama will have you reminiscing about Tokyo’s history as Japan’s capital (even before Tokyo) with its collection of trendy boutiques and excellent international restaurants.

Tokyo is a city with something for everyone and every budget. It’s a city that will provide you with adventures around every corner – whether trying the world-famous sushi or walking through Tokyo Station, where you’ll likely encounter energetic businessmen and beautiful girls in kimonos.


Tokyo Districts.

There are 23 districts in total. All of them can be divided into three areas – the city area (都心), the suburbs (郊外), and the northern part, which is very mountainous, but there are many pretty sightseeings like Mt. Fuji.

The central business district of Tokyo is Ginza or Marunouchi.

It’s often called ‘city area’ or ‘downtown area’ because Ginza and Marunouchi are close.

Kabukicho is a famous red-light district.

The 23 districts of Tokyo are

  • Chiyoda-ku (千代田区) 
  • Chuo-ku (中央区)
  • Minato-ku (港区)
  • Shinagawa-ku (品川区)
  • Meguro-ku (目黒区) 
  • Setagaya-ku (世田谷区)
  • Shibuya-ku (渋谷区) 
  • Nakano-ku (中野区) 
  • Nerima-ku (內平区)
  • Itabashi-ku (板橋区)
  • Adachi-ku (足立区) 
  • Kita-ku (北区)
  • Arakawa-ku (荒川区)
  • Bunkyo-ku (文京区)
  • Taito-ku (台東区)
  • Sumida-ku (墨田区)
  • Koto-ku (東京都)
  • Edogawa-ku (江戸川区)
  • Nerima-ku (內平 ) 
  • Adachi-ku (足立 ) 
  • Itabashi-ku (板橋 ) 
  • Suginami-ku (杉並区) 
  • Setagaya-ku (世田谷区)

Language.

The Tokyo dialect – called Tōkyō-ben by locals – has a reputation for being challenging to understand due to the fast verbal pace and sentence-final particles in daily speech (as opposed to standard Japanese).

Another point that locals are proud to emphasize is how there’s no distinction between formal and informal speech, unlike other dialects in Japan.


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Clima.

Tokyo has a humid subtropical climate with hot, humid summers and generally mild winters with extraordinary wind bursts.

There’s also a seasonal temperature variation in that it’s cooler between November and February (summer), while it’s hotter during August, September, and early October (winter).

Winter is usually drier than summer, except for July, when rainfall averages 89 mm/3.5 inches per month.


Popular tourist sites include:

Asakusa shrine
Asakusa shrine

You can click on any of these links to be taken directly to that section.

  • Imperial Palace (皇居), the Emperor of Japan’s residence, is located in Chiyoda ward.
  • Tokyo SkyTree Tower – Tokyo’s tallest structure and second-tallest on earth. Its observation decks located 350 meters above ground offer an excellent panoramic view of downtown Tokyo.
  • Tokyo Tower (東京タワー) – is one of the most iconic images of Japan and a perennial favorite with tourists.
  • Meiji Shrine (明治神宮, Meiji Jingū) – is located in Shibuya ward. It’s dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife.
  • Nezu Shrine (根津神社, Nezu Jinja) – one of Tokyo’s oldest shrines, it is where some of Japan’s most important cultural properties and artifacts are kept.
  • Sensoji Temple (浅草寺) – also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple, is one of Tokyo’s oldest temples and a short walk from the metro station that shares its name.

Events in Tokyo.

There are plenty of things to do around the city, but events are usually held during weekends and public holidays. Here are some of Tokyo’s major annual events:

  • Cherry Blossom Season ( 桜 ) – is expected to last from late March until early May 2013. The most popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots are near Ueno Park and the Tokyo Tower.
  • The Sumida River Fireworks Festival ( 東京小川花火大会, Tōkyō-kogawa-Hanabi-taikai ) – one of Tokyo’s most significant fireworks events, takes place every year on the last Saturday of July.
  • New Year Countdown ( 新年大晦日, Shinnen’ōmisoka) is Japan’s most significant new year event, held in various parts of Tokyo.

Tokyo Outlying Areas.

Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo Disneyland

Shibuya Crossing at night is one of Tokyo’s most famous tourist spots.

Tokyo National Museum houses some key Japanese historical artifacts, including an ancient statue of the goddess Amaterasu, one of Japan’s most important deities.

Tokyo Sky Tree Tower at night. Get to Tokyo SkyTree Town by using Tokyo Skytree Line (スカイツリーライン), which departs from both Tokyo Station and Oshiage station. 

Tokyo Ueno Park is one of Japan’s most popular and famous parks. It was established in 1872 as a private villa belonging to the Ueno family, who donated it to Tokyo in 1889.

After spending a whole day walking around and looking at all the sites, you’ll want to relax. 

My favorite way to relax in Tokyo is by visiting a Japanese hot spring – they’re called “onsen.” I love how the water feels super soft, and it makes my body feel warm and relaxed.


Side Trips from Tokyo.

Suppose you’re up for an adventure, a good day trip that won’t take all day in Nikko.

It’s about 4 hours by train from Tokyo, and it’s home to Nikkō Tōshō-gū (日光東照宮), a famous shrine located on the slopes of Mt. Nikkō and completed at the end of the 17th century.

Your Japan Rail Pass is valid for this trip, so you get to save money on transport costs! However, ensure that your pass covers non-reserved seats because you have to pay a supplement fee if none are available.

Hakone: Located about 2 hours away from Tokyo, Hakone is a popular tourist destination with hot springs and a unique volcanic landscape.

There are also beautiful mountain ranges surrounding the area – it’s worth spending a day or two exploring as there are plenty of things to do (e.g., hiking, cycling).

Kamakura: A small city in the province of Kanagawa, about an hour from Tokyo. It is home to a giant Buddha and hundreds of famous Japanese temples.


Transportation Tokyo.

Metro Map Tokyo
Metro Map Tokyo

The JR Yamanote Line [Yamanote-sen (山手線)] is a loop train line that circles the inner districts of Tokyo. It’s famous for being incredibly busy during rush hour, and there are times when people literally walk on the roofs of cars to squeeze into trains!

However, it is also the backbone of Tokyo’s public transportation system as almost all regional trains – subway, JR train, and private lines included – can be accessed through the Yamanote Line.

The loop measures about 50 kilometers in length (including branches) and covers 23 different stations that are located at intervals of 2 to 5 minutes on average:

  • Tokyo Station (東京駅)
  • Shinagawa Station (品川駅)
  • Shibuya Station (渋谷駅)
  • Shinjuku Station (新宿駅)
  • Ikebukuro Station (池袋駅)
  • Ueno Station (上野駅)
  • Tokyo Station is the primary station of the JR line.

Tokyo Metro (東京メトロ, Tōkyō Metro ). There are 13 lines total (nine as of May 2013) with an average length of 12 kilometers and a full length of 149 kilometers. 


Tokyo Schools.

Tokyo is also known to the world for its many schools. The best universities in Japan are located there. More than a dozen on the Ji-Bai campus in Bunkyo ward alone (notable ones include: Tokyo University, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Waseda University). There are almost as many international schools as Japanese, leading to Tokyo being called the educational capital of Japan.


Things To do in Tokyo.

Tokyo is known for its “things to do” as well. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day at the spa or want to be entertained with the latest movies, you’ll find something in this city that fits your taste.

Unsurprisingly, Tokyo’s most extensive entertainment venues are Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro.

Tokyo Disney Resort: is located in Urayasu city, about a 20-minute train ride from Shinjuku station. 

This park features two parks: Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea, based on the original “Disneyland” and “Disneysea” in California. Both parks are enormous, with a separate pass required for each one.

Tokyo Dome: home of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. A dome-shaped building also houses a multi-purpose arena that can hold up to 70,000 spectators. Many big-name artists make their appearance here every year as part of their world tour tours.


Tokyo Shrines.

There are many shrines in the city, including the Meiji Shrine, which is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. This shrine hosts various events, such as New Year celebrations and taiko drumming performances.

Food In Tokyo.

Japanese food is famous worldwide for a good reason. I love sushi and ramen, but there are many other great Japanese foods that you can’t miss out on.

Tokyo is known for its Michelin Star restaurants so expect to be treated like royalty when dining here. Most places require formal attire with collared shirts and pants (no shorts for men).

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Japanese food is sushi and ramen

Both are very popular in Tokyo, especially among tourists. You can’t go wrong with either one, but I would rather have sushi any day over ramen if I had to choose. Ramen is not a bad option either, but you can find it anywhere. 

Tokyo has some of the best tea houses in Japan that serve high-quality tea leaves and desserts. For an after-meal drink, nothing can beat a cup of high-quality green tea with sweets.


Tokyo Accommodation and Hotels.

Hotels in Tokyo are some of the most expensive globally, and it can be tough to find one within your budget. If you absolutely have to stay at a hotel, get online deals or purchase an advantage discount coupon before arrival. 

Tokyo is home to many “Love Hotels.” They’re typically small, but they provide a great place to rest your head if you can’t find or afford any other accommodation.

If you’re hard-pressed for time, I recommend staying near Tokyo’s significant places of interest. For example, Shinjuku (for convenience), Ginza (high-end shopping), and Asakusa (tourist attractions) are areas with lots of hotels and a lot to do.

Tokyo Ryokans.

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that have been around for hundreds of years. They’re a great alternative to hotels if you want to experience something different than Western-style accommodation.

Tokyo’s best ryokan is honke kitchoan yasaiya Fuyo which has been in operation for over 300 years.

Tokyo Onsen.

Japan has over 2,000 hot springs scattered across the country. If you want to relax and forget about your worries, visiting an onsen is the way to go. 

Tokyo’s largest onsen complex, Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, features indoor and outdoor baths filled with high-quality water.


Itinerary ideas.

Tokyo has some fantastic places to see, such as shrines, historical sites, and museums such as Tokyo National Museum (with over 140,000 artifacts), Edo-Tokyo Museum (over 6,000 artifacts), Senso-Ji (Asakusa Temple), and Tokyo International Forum.

Tokyo also has over 300 parks, such as Ueno Park, Inokashira Park, and Shinjuku Central Park. Many of these parks host festivals throughout the year, so be sure to schedule your trip around one!

Links and Resources.