Tips on travelling to Tokyo from Anne Kyle

Anne loves travelling the world and says her memories are her most prized possessions. She has lived in Tokyo for many years and works for Arigato Japan, a company offering food tours and cooking classes.

For more information on food tours in Japan, check out Arigato Japan Food Tours and Cookery Classes

How well do you know Tokyo?

I know this beautiful city by heart as I've lived here for almost 20 years now. There's so much to do, so many restaurants to choose from, and every day is still an adventure for me. The city is so dense that even if you go to work the same way each day for years, you seem to notice new things all the time.

What is the appeal of Tokyo for travellers?

Tokyo is one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world. Walking in the posh, modern streets of Omotesando you will suddenly find yourself in front of the ancient Meijijingumae Shrine; in this city the old and the new are delightfully intertwined. There are so many hidden gems you couldn't get to them all even if you lived here for years.

Another remarkable thing about Tokyo is the quality of service you receive. Japanese people take pride in everything that they do and you simply cannot escape their politeness. It is unparalleled. Surprisingly, for a place with arguably the highest level of service in the world, there is absolutely no tipping. Even if you insist the Japanese seldom accept.

When is the best time to visit Tokyo?

Cherry blossom season is the best time to visit because the flowers are gorgeous, winter is turning into summer and the weather is perfect. The sakura (cherry blossoms) are even more beautiful when they are lit up at night. There are also some very good desserts called sakura mochi (bean paste) available during this season.

In autumn Japan is famous for its brilliant foliage and pleasant temperatures so this is also a great time to visit and to see places outside of Tokyo like Kyoto, Hiroshima and Niko.

Anything special I should pack for travel to Tokyo?

While everything is generally available in Japan, medicine is something that you should take with you in case something happens. Buying medicine here isn't the easiest thing due to the language barrier. Some medicines, like sleeping pills, are not available over the counter either.

Also remember to order a good wifi service online (there are English websites) BEFORE coming here. The ones at the airport are slightly more expensive than those you can order online. 

What's the best way to get around in Tokyo?

The train system in Tokyo is awesome, clean and always on time (almost to the second! Average delay in Japan is 0.6 seconds). No need for Uber because cabs are available everywhere.

Where would you send a first-time visitor in Tokyo?

Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. The temple is in the middle of the city and the subways are strategically built around it to allow easy access no matter where you are coming from. There are so many great local restaurants, quaint dessert places, and cute souvenir shops in this area.

There is also a pier close to the temple where you can take a boat cruise down the Sumida River to see views of the Tokyo skyline. These cruises stop at multiple attractions.

Anything or anywhere travellers should avoid?

When coming to Japan, avoid heavy luggage. Some subways don't have elevators or escalators so it will be very difficult moving around with lots of heavy bags. Also, make sure to bring enough cash as some places don't accept credit cards and money exchange kiosks are not very prevalent here and not all banks can exchange money either.

How safe is Tokyo?

THE SAFEST! One of our guests lost their iphone and wallet on separate occasions but found them again. The cab drivers will not take you on a longer route for a higher fare. Hotel staff are very trustworthy and there are no pickpockets even on a very busy subway. If you lose your stuff, try to go to the closest police station as most locals will make the effort to hand in lost goods.

Is Tokyo a good family destination? What would you recommend kids do in Tokyo?

Absolutely! To start, there is Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea. Most foreigners will know about Disneyland but Disney Sea is definitely something new and unique to Japan. Beyond this there are many other amusement parks. There are also great museums like the Fire Museum, Science Museums, Railway Museum and so on. Ueno Zoo is also wonderful for families and Tokyo has many parks and gardens where families can just relax and have a picnic.

What are your favourite restaurants in Tokyo?

Tsukada Nojo, in Shinbashi, specialises in local cuisine from the south of Japan. This restaurant has their own farm where they raise their own free range chicken and organic vegetables. You can eat some of the best raw chicken at this restaurant (I know! Raw chicken! But boy it is good).

Daidokoya, in Shibuya, is a very affordable sushi restaurant, with especially good toro (fatty tuna) and uni (sea urchin). Their grilled fish is to die for as well. They also serve horse and whale sashimi, for the adventurous.

Jumbo, in Shirokane, serves some of the most savoury and best quality meat in all of Japan. It is yakiniku style, where you grill your meat yourself, but the staff will give you some pointers to make sure you do a good job.

And your favourite Japanese meals?

Shabu shabu (meat and vegetable hotpot) is top of my list because of the balance of meat and veggies. Tonkotsu Ramen (pork noodle broth) is an absolute favourite as well.

What are the best souvenirs to buy in Tokyo?

If you love alcohol, get some Umeshu (plum wine). This drink is well loved by most who try it. Some good sake and shochu are also very affordable to take back home.

Japan is known for selling cute novelty items, like sushi erasers, hair accessories and key chains. Japanese chocolates are also great because they're not too sweet. Kit Kats are extremely popular souvenirs because of the variety of flavours in Japan, such as green tea, sakura, grilled potato, blueberry cheesecake, and brandy and orange.

Where would you recommend travellers shop in Tokyo?

Harajuku is an amazing place for clothes shopping. The Oriental Bazaar in Omotesando has one of the best selections of authentic cultural Japanese souvenirs like oriental figurines, tea cups, jewellery boxes, tapestries, and ornate chop sticks. Kappa Bashi is definitely the best place for kitchen ware like knives, lacquers, bowls, and tableware.

Remember to ask if the store offers free delivery to where you are staying as a lot of stores in Japan offer this for purchases above a certain amount.

I suggest that visitors make sure they don't pack their luggage too full because the shopping in Tokyo is great. Allow ample space for souvenirs!

Is Tokyo an expensive city?

I don't think so. First of all there are so many cheap eateries where you can get a set meal for as cheap as USD 6. Water is free in all restaurants which is often not the case in Europe. There are also very affordable bentos (lunch boxes), snacks and drinks at all convenience stores. Most of all, as I said previously, there is no tipping here which makes the cost of travelling lower.

Any other advice for visitors to Tokyo?

Tokyo is an amazing place. If you are coming here try to stay more than four days because there is just so much to see and do. Be prepared for a good amount of walking by packing comfortable clothes and shoes. Make sure you have a pocket GPS because the city isn't the easiest to navigate and there are hardly any street names in Japan.

Do not take a cab from the airport as they are so expensive. Narita Airport is about an hour and 30 minutes away from the city. There is a bus called Access Narita that stops at Tokyo and Ginza Stations for a very decent price, or you can take the Airport Limousine Bus. If you have a lot of luggage, you have the option of mailing your stuff from the airport to wherever you are staying. I have done this before and my luggage arrived a few hours later. Japan has one of the most sophisticated mailing systems in the world and the service is not expensive.

I also recommend joining a food tour in Tokyo. You can of course do the research and guide yourself to an extent, but for a truly authentic experience of Japanese cuisine, not normally available to foreigners, food tours are the way to go. Also, not all menus in Tokyo have English versions so it helps to have a translator.

For more information on food tours in Japan, check out Arigato Japan Food Tours and Cookery Classes