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Tokyo Travel Guide

As a modern city Tokyo, the capital of Japan, could be described as too good to be true. People dress in the latest gear, excellent restaurants serve up delicious food of all varieties, and the trendiest nightclubs keep things hopping. The public transport system is punctual and one of the most efficient in the world; and shops and vending machines provide necessities and luxuries both day and night. All this is achieved in a city that is home to 12 million people, amid the confusion of bumper-to-bumper traffic, flickering neon signs and a crush of humanity packing subways and sidewalks. In the crush and rush Tokyo remains, remarkably, one of the world's safest cities with a low crime rate and local people who are only too willing to spare the time and effort to assist a stranger.

With such a dense population, Tokyo is an urban maze of buildings that jostle for space in an unplanned jumble of grey concrete, which makes parts of it ugly and drab. The city fills a huge area that seems to go on forever, with no specific city centre, but rather a succession of districts grouped together. In the back streets, where timber houses line narrow lanes, there are reminders that this is exotic Japan: kimono-clad women prune bonsai trees and colourful neighbourhood festivals take place.

The city is an exuberant experience for visitors. It hosts many museums and is the largest repository of Japanese art in the world. Then, of course, it would take forever to exhaust the shopping possibilities in this megalopolis. The more one explores Tokyo the more it becomes obvious that one cannot judge a book by its cover. Inside the modern buildings the cultural life of Japan is very much alive and well. Interiors reflect the tranquil minimalist Asian style and taste of Japan.

Getting Around

Tokyo's public transport system is one of the most efficient in the world and is clean and safe, combining an extensive train network, 13 underground subway lines and a bus system. Visitors usually find the trains (JR) and subways the best way to get around, although the complexity of the underground network can be intimidating; rush hour from 7:30am to 9am and 5pm to 7pm should be avoided. Most stations have English signs. Because lines are owned by different companies, transfers between trains or subways usually require a transfer between different train systems, with different ticketing systems that can be confusing. The Tokyo Combination Ticket (Tokyo Free Kippu) is a day travel pass that allows unlimited use of the trains, subway and bus lines within the city. Subway tickets are bought at vending machines; buy the cheapest ticket if unsure how much to pay and the difference, if any, can be paid at the end of the journey. The bus system is more complicated for visitors as most destinations are written in Japanese only and bus drivers don't speak English. Taxis are convenient but never cheap, particularly during rush hour. Taxis can be hailed on the street, except in some central areas, where they only pick up from taxi ranks. Drivers speak little English so it is a good idea to have the destination written out in Japanese. Driving a car in the city is not advised. JR trains are free with a Japan Rail Pass. Walking around the city is a delight and the best way to go sightseeing, when possible.

Japan Contacts

Tourist Information Centre, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3201 3331 or
Japanese Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 238 6700.
Japanese Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7465 6500.
Japanese Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 241 8541.
Japanese Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3244.
Japanese Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 452 1500.
Japanese Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 202 8300.
Japanese Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 1540.
United States Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3224 5000.
British Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 5211 1100.
Canadian Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 5412 6200.
Australian Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 5232 4111.
South African Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3265 3366.
Irish Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3263 0695.
New Zealand Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3467 2271.
Emergencies: 110 (Police); 119 (Ambulance).

Customs

The Japanese are formal and reserved and visitors are expected to behave politely. Their system of etiquette is one of the most complex in the world, with a strict code of conduct for almost every situation. It is important to avoid causing 'loss of face' by insulting or criticising someone in front of others. Bowing is the customary greeting. The possession of common prescription, or over the counter medicines, particularly for allergies and sinus problems, are forbidden under Japanese law, and it is highly advisable to check with a Japanese embassy before travel.

Passport/Visa

All foreign passengers to Japan must hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

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