Having made two trips already to the Japanese capital, I can attest that this city cannot be thoroughly seen in a few days or even a few weeks. Seeing Tokyo is an experience, a massive experience. Think of each section of Tokyo as its own separate Manhattan and that will give you an idea of just how overwhelmingly huge this place is.
Step One Divide the City
Don’t be that tourist that goes on TripAdvisor and goes down the list 1, 2, 3. If you do that then you will be spending your entire day underground on a train. You may see three things tops because of the distance between major monuments. Instead, have a plan. If you know little or next to nothing about Tokyo except Robot sushi restaurants then do a little bit of research on the city before you’re thrown into the busy Japanese metropolis. One website that I highly recommend is japan-guide.com, as you can search the Tokyo area and the website will break the city down into geographic regions. If you want to see the Tokyo Tower, located in South Tokyo it will show you other nearby attractions so you can hit several birds with one stone. This is the best way to plan your outing for the day, sticking to one or two regions.
Step Two: Experience the magic
Be careful not to get too caught up in seeing monuments and buildings. I think the atmosphere is what is so unique and interesting about Tokyo. The capital city isn’t Paris or London, full of architectural beauty wherever you turn, but it definitely has attitude and character. Shop around in Shibuya, the Times Square of Tokyo, or take a walk down Harajuku’s narrow streets to people-watch. I also recommend hitting up all the anime and manga stores in Akihabara which has become legend. My biggest piece of advice is to slow down and take it all in. Rushing from place to place results in missing out on what makes the city so special.
Step Three: Get Your Suica Card
Whether or not you are familiar with using public transportation or not, Tokyo’s extensive subway will confuse the hell out of you until the lightbulb clicks and suddenly you get it. The main thing to be aware of is there are separate companies that own parts of the rail so you may have to switch lines several times to get to your destination. The best way to avoid wasting time is to invest in a Suica Card ($5) which allows you to load money onto the card and eliminates you having to buy a ticket for every trip (one trip could be 3 different tickets!). All you need to do is have your card ready and tap the entryway when prompted (you will see everyone doing this). Also have Google Maps at the ready, this saved my life countless times. You can easily put in your destination and the app will find the quickest/cheapest/most convenient route for you to take. It will even tell you which platform to be on, what rail company, what time the train is departing (sometimes this was a little inaccurate), and also at what time the last train leaves (important for party goers). Needless to say this is the best way to navigate Tokyo’s subway instead of puzzling over the signs in the station that are mostly in Japanese. People are also very friendly so even if you can’t speak any Japanese saying, “Su-mi-ma-sen” (“excuse me”) and showing them the name of the place usually does the trick.
My Top Places
Tokyo SkyTree (Ride up the tower to see an impressive view of the city)
Tokyo Tower (iconic tower of Tokyo)
Asakusa (traditional Japan in the futuristic modern city)
Shibuya (Times Square of Tokyo)
Shinjuku (shopping, eating, partying)
Akihabara (for all you Otaku fans)
Harajuku (find out why Gwen Stefani was so obsessed)