Our 2021 Tokyo travel guide offers info & tips, things to do, transportation info, where to eat, best hotels, avoiding crowds, itineraries for the city, and everything else you need to know. Whether you’re visiting for the Olympics or at some other point, we’ve got you covered. (Updated March 14, 2021.)
Let’s start with the big event of 2021: the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Japan’s capital city hosts the Games of the XXXII Olympiad from July 23 to August 8, 2021. After being delayed by a year, Tokyo 2020 (it’s still being called that) is set to proceed as a “symbol of solidarity” with peace, health, and safety as priorities.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely anyone reading this will be attending the Tokyo Summer Olympics. That’s because the Japanese government has decided to exclude overseas spectators from attending this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. If you’re curious about when you Japan might allow international tourism once again be able, read When Will Japan Reopen for Travel in 2021?
Tokyo can be an intimidating place to visit. As Japan’s capital and world’s largest metropolis–home to 13 million people–it’s a veritable sea of humanity. Its skyscrapers like modern-day castles, many of which have the distinct personality and architectural ambition not often associated with Japan. Tokyo’s transportation network is by far the most complex we’ve ever encountered, and with each visit we still manage to find new ways to get lost taking the trains.
Through the bustle and maze of train lines, there are numerous districts, each offering unique character and begging to be explored. There’s the charm and old world sensibility of the low city, exemplified by temples and austere shopping streets of Asakusa. There’s the kinetic energy and buzz of the high city, showcased by the neon glow and occasional kitsch of Shinjuku.
Tokyo is best known as a modern megacity known for speeding Shinkansen and bustling businessmen, but there’s much more to it–Tokyo literally holds everything you could possibly imagine. Tokyo is not our favorite city in Japan, but it is one of our favorite cities in the world. Seemingly paradoxical, but fairly easy to resolve.
As we note in our Ultimate Kyoto, Japan City Guide, the former distinction belongs to that wonderful place, which is also our favorite city in the world. While Tokyo is the much more globally recognizable destination, Kyoto is a truly magical place. That’s not to diminish Tokyo, which is itself absolutely incredibly, just in very different ways.
When it comes to Japan travel, we often mention Kyoto in the same breath as Tokyo because they are two parts of a greater whole. Given its sprawling size and the existence of pretty much everything imaginable, there’s a temptation to treat Tokyo as the one-stop shop for all things “Japan.” When it comes to traditional culture, there are temples and sights scattered around Tokyo that would seem to reinforce this.
However, Tokyo is decidedly modern, and the glimpses of traditional Japanese culture it presents are exactly that–glimpses. We present this Ultimate Tokyo, Japan City Guide in tandem with our Kyoto guide, and would strongly suggest using them both to plan a complete trip to Japan that includes both cities. (If you’re Disney geeks like us, you can also use our Tokyo Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide to complete the trifecta of our must-visit destinations in Japan!)
The threshold questions are whether you should visit Tokyo and if so, for how long? Given that we’ve called it one of our favorite cities in the world, the answer to the first question is an emphatic yes. If at all possible, we’d highly recommend everyone with the means visit Tokyo at least once in their lives. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
How Long to Visit
The question of how long to visit isn’t as easy to answer. Travel legend Anthony Bourdain once said that if he had to live in only one city, never leaving it, he’d “pick Tokyo in a second” before likening a first visit to Tokyo to his first acid trip in that afterwards “nothing was ever the same.” While we can’t speak to the acid trip portion of that, we cannot disagree with the rest.
Point being, no amount of time is too much. We’re confident that you could spend your entire life exploring Tokyo, and discover new gems, oddities, great food, and little nuances that make the city tick. Obviously, that’s not pragmatic for a tourist, especially one wanting to sample a diverse selection of locations in Japan. With that in mind, we’d recommend at least 4 days in the city of Tokyo, with more time there if possible.
You might note that’s the same recommendation we made for Kyoto, meaning you’re looking at least an 8-day trip to Japan if you visit no other cities. That’s correct, and we’d recommend not getting overzealous with your plans and adding other cities to the trip unless you have more time. A week-long trip spent criss-crossing Japan is going to be exhausting and less satisfying than more time in each of the country’s two crown jewels.
When to Visit
In terms of seasonality, Tokyo is comparable to Kyoto, with the latter having slightly more pronounced seasonality (more snow, hotter in the summer, etc.). Tokyo does a much better job of absorbing tourist crowds and also has less natural scenery like cherry blossoms and fall foliage.
If you’re not planning a visit to Kyoto but are planning a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort, we’d recommend planning in accordance with our ‘When to Visit Tokyo Disneyland‘ resource on Disney Tourist Blog. Our recommendations there are largely predicated upon weather, which obviously is consistent between the city and the theme parks. The biggest difference is seasonal celebrations and crowds, which are a factor in the theme parks but not the city.
Wait that said, if you’re not planning on visiting Kyoto or Tokyo Disney Resort (heresy!), the best times to visit Tokyo are either between mid-March and mid-April or early October through early December. Of those two timeframes, we think the sweet spots are early April and early November.
Our main basis for both recommendations is comfortable temperatures, mild weather, and beautiful natural scenery. Both times of year, you’re looking at average temperatures around 60ºF range and minimal precipitation. If that’s too cool for your liking, go later in April or in October.
More importantly, there’s the seasonal beauty in both of the aforementioned ‘sweet spots.’ Spring is cherry blossom season in Japan, and the sakura throughout Tokyo creates an ethereal beauty. In the autumn, fall foliage turns the city a fiery red, creating a stunning vibrance. Both looks are quite pronounced, and worth planning a visit around.
Summer and winter are both to be avoided. The former is peak tourist season, and is also oppressively hot and humid. Winter can be attractive for cheaper hotel rates, but it gets dreary and cold in Tokyo–cold enough that it snows a couple of times each year.
Where to Stay
For me, this has a simple answer with a somewhat silly justification. Stay within a 10 minute walk from a station along the Yamanote Line. Why? Because Chris Peppler said so. (Who?! Don’t ask foolish questions!)
One of our favorite shows on NHK World that we watch to learn about Japan and get us hyped for our trips is Tokyo Eye. The host of this show is Chris Peppler, a no-nonsense badass who usually gets around via hydro jet pack, but uses the Yamanote Line when he doesn’t.
Tokyo Eye has been a great resource for helping us find under-the-radar things to do in Tokyo, and the show covers how to get to each point of interest. After watching a few dozen episodes, we noticed the Yamanote Line was invariably the recommended route. So, we started staying along the Yamanote Line based upon this.
As we’ve visited more, and gained a better grasp of Tokyo transportation, we’ve come to realize that this seemingly-random decision was actually pretty savvy. The Yamanote Line could just as easily be called the Tokyo Loop Line. It’s the only line that connects to Shinjuku, Tokyo, Shibuya, Ueno, and Ikebukuro, which are the city’s major stations.
If you want to stay in a posh, high-rent area nearby nightlife, shopping, and dining, pick somewhere between Shibuya and Shinjuku. This is roughly where you’ll find Park Hyatt Tokyo, which is the most recognizable hotel in Japan thanks to being prominently featured in Lost in Translation. We’ve stayed here and cannot recommend it highly enough. Of course, it’ll cost you.
Near Tokyo Station is the other most compelling option, especially if you want to be near this transportation hub, shopping in Ginza, or some of the city’s best dining. Unsurprisingly, this is another high-rent area, but it’s also near Imperial Palace, public parks, and offers easy-access for transferring to Kyoto or Tokyo Disney Resort.
If you’re on a tighter budget, you’ll find that accommodations between Ikebukuro and Ueno Stations tend to be cheaper. Generally speaking, the farther from these major stations, the cheaper the prices. In our highly unscientific–but extensive–research, Airbnbs near Tabata Station tend to be the cheapest.
If you look at a map of Tokyo, you’ll see why. This station is practically on the outskirts of the city, but it will still get you to Tokyo or Shinjuku Stations within 15 minutes, which is why we favor this area for value conscious travelers. You have to sacrifice in terms of walking distance to major points of interest, but not in train transit time.
Speaking of Airbnb, that is what we favor for our stays in Tokyo. We’ve stayed in several hotels in the city, but it’s gotten to the point that hotels cannot compete with Airbnb for us, unless we want to splurge for a special occasion. For the price of a cramped hotel that’s the size of a walk-in closet, you can rent an entire flat on Airbnb.
Tokyo’s Airbnb listings are back to normal now that the dust has settled on Japan’s new minpaku private temporary lodging law. New requirements and licensing for hosts caused initial complications, but now all Tokyo renters are fully licensed and there should be no issues booking stays in Japan through Airbnb.
Tourism to Japan has increased dramatically in the last 5 years and expected to bounce back thanks to media coverage and promotional value of the Tokyo Summer Olympics once Japan’s borders reopen. This has created intense demand for hotels, and in turn, a shortage of rooms and ever-escalating prices.
It’s one thing to pay ~$400-$600 for the pampered omotenashi and luxurious setting of the Tokyo Park Hyatt, Palace Hotel Tokyo, Shangri-La Tokyo, Peninsula Tokyo, Ritz-Carlton, or Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi. Splurging on one of those for the best hotel experience of your life or a special occasion can make sense.
Conversely, paying ~$200/night for a small room in a barebones Japanese hotel with minimal amenities when you could pay less for an Airbnb over double the size makes zero sense to us. Of course, your mileage may vary. Some people are apprehensive about Airbnb or the language barrier that might be involved.
If it assuages your fears, we’ve used Airbnb over one-dozen times in Japan, including two month-long rentals in Kyoto, and have never been burned. If you stick to listings with good reviews (we never stay in units with 0 reviews) that are written in English, you shouldn’t have an issue. Most units in Japan have a self-checkin process with a key-code or lockbox, meaning you never interact with anyone face-to-face. (You can use my sign-up link for a free credit your first time using Airbnb!)
Things to Do in Tokyo
As noted above, you could spend your entire life in Tokyo and still not see it all. There are so many shops, restaurants, neighborhoods, and museums. Of these things, the specific type of attraction we enjoy the most–and find the easiest to visit–is museums.
For experiencing these, we highly recommend the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass. Basically, this is a ticket booklet that provides admission tickets as well as discount coupons for 92 museums and other attractions in the Tokyo area. These one-time-use tickets and coupons are each location that are valid for 2 months from the date of first use.
For ~$20, the Tokyo Grutto Pass represents tremendous value, and you only need to visit a handful of prominent points of interest to get your money’s worth. If you manage to visit 10+ of the attractions, you’re coming out way ahead. The Grutto Pass is especially attractive during the cold winter months or hot and humid summer months, when you’ll want to spend more time indoors.
One specific museum that we really enjoy is the Saitama Railway Museum. This might sound like a niche-interest thing for families with train-obsessed children, but it’s fun for the whole family. Seriously. We had no idea we were so interested in railroads until visiting this exceptional museum. The only downside is that it’s in a suburb of Tokyo, meaning it requires a half-day commitment.
As far as options within the city go, our favorite is the Edo-Tokyo Museum. This is routinely cited as one of the best museums in Tokyo, so our endorsement shouldn’t come as a surprise, but this is definitely the best museum in the city. (While you’re in the area, don’t miss the nearby Sumida Hokusai Museum; it’s small, but packs a powerful punch and is also included in the Grutto Pass.)
Tokyo stands in stark contrast to Kyoto in terms of one specific type of point of interest for tourists, and that’s temples and shrines. While it’s easy to come up with a list of things to do in Kyoto thanks to its thousands of temples and shrines (quite literally), Tokyo is lacking in that regard.
This really should underscore just how different of experiences the two cities are, and why Tokyo and Kyoto complement one another so well. Beyond distinct points of interest, Tokyo is a place where you window-shop at the high fashion boutiques in Ginza, browse anime in Akihabara, get swept up in the sea of humanity at Shibuya Crossing, feel the glow of neon at night in Shinjuku, or catch a random parade of mascots and police bands.
A “complete” visit to Tokyo is more about letting the unique energy of the city envelope you, and being present in its many quirky moments. This can be difficult to grasp as an abstraction while planning, and those with a propensity to build comprehensive itineraries would be advised to build in some time for spontaneity.
Tokyo is the ultimate SQUIRREL! city, with distraction after distraction that will eat away your day in the best possible way. With that said, you can consult our Top 10 Things to Do in Tokyo for recommendations as to the major points of interest you should incorporate into your daily itinerary.
If you’re looking for Japan itineraries, you’re in luck, because we have a ton of them! These combine a little of everything, and over a dozen cities throughout the country. See our Japan Itineraries for Kyoto, Tokyo, and Beyond. These offer multi-day itineraries, including several not listed below that are season-specific, as well as single day options that you can combine to see what interests you the most.
As for Tokyo specifically, her are some of the best ones:
- 2-Day Tokyo Highlights Itinerary
- 1-Day Eastern Tokyo, Japan Itinerary: Ueno, Asakusa & Akihabara
- 1-Day Western Tokyo, Japan Itinerary: Shinjuku, Harajuku & Shibuya
- 7-Day Japan Itinerary
Even as frequent visitors to the city, we have never (not once) accomplished everything on an itinerary we’ve created for ourselves in Tokyo. It’s just too easy to get distracted and enjoy the many great spontaneous experiences the city has to offer.
We also have itineraries if you plan on spending a couple of days at Tokyo Disney Resort. Consult our Tokyo DisneySea 1-Day Touring Plan and our Tokyo Disneyland 1-Day Touring Plan to see the highlights of each park in a single day. If you only have one day and have to choose between the two parks, we’d recommend Tokyo DisneySea. It’s the most unique and ambitious Disney park in the world, unlike anything you can experience anywhere else.
As for building your own itineraries for the city of Tokyo, we would recommend focusing on a single area each day, and not trying to bounce all over the city. Do Shinjuku/Shibuya one day, Ueno/Asakusa the next, Roppongi/Ginza another, and so forth. The more time you have, the more you can focus on each district and not lump multiple adjacent districts together.
Districts to Visit
Shinjuku – Whether you want to fight a robot, close on a commercial real estate transaction, or race around the streets in a Mario Cart, Shinjuku has you covered. (Said in my best Stefon impression.) Okay, so Stefon never actually said that, but that doesn’t make the sentiment any less true. (Seriously, the Robot Restaurant is the craziest and most hilarious thing you’ll see in Japan. It’s an absolute must-do.)
Shinjuku is the mullet of Tokyo districts: business in the front, party in the back. Or business during the day, party at night. Either way, it’s both one of the leading commercial districts in Tokyo and one of its most vibrant areas. During weekdays, parts of Shinjuku are about as dull as imaginable: thousands of identically-suited salarymen scurrying from one vanilla office building to another. At night, you can find the seediest pockets of Tokyo, with Shinjuku being home to the city’s red light district.
That’s a polarized overview of Shinjuku, and while true, the reality for most of the district is somewhere in the middle. Shinjuku is a hub of activity, in terms of both business and entertainment. Generally speaking, it’s both amusing and fun, and you shouldn’t worry too much about the dullness of the business areas or the seediness of the red light district. Shinjuku is where you’ll find the Robot Restaurant and countless other amusing offerings, and that’s what’ll draw most visitors to this area of Tokyo.
Shibuya – Famed for the world’s busiest intersection, Shibuya is a fashion and culture hub in Tokyo, with over a dozen major department stores in the area. Our favorite area of Shibuya is Omotesando, which is actually part of both the Shibuya and Minato wards. It also blends together with both Harajuku and Roppongi.
For us, it’s tough to draw a clear distinction between all of the Tokyo high rent shopping districts in terms of ‘distinct character.’ The highlight of them all is Omotesando, which is rightfully known as Tokyo’s Champs Élysées. In terms of planning, we tend to approach Shibuya as “South Shinjuku” as the two are basically separated by Yoyogi Park, and it’s great to stroll through there (and visit Meiji Shrine).
You’ll also be able to pass through Harajuku when going from Omotesando to Yoyogi Park. First-timers will likely have Harajuku high on their list of places to see in Tokyo, but we generally don’t allocate a ton of time to it.
Asakusa – The last vestige of “Old Edo” and the heart of the low city on the delta of Sumida River, Asakusa is a place to get a feel for how Tokyo used to be. Not necessarily centuries ago, as most of the original Asakusa was destroyed by fire, earthquake, or bombing. What can be found today is much newer, but still reflects a bygone era of Tokyo to the extent that the post-war boom seems to have passed over it.
The main draw and reason most tourists head to Asakusa is to visit Sensoji Temple, often regarded as one of the top 5 things to do in Tokyo. We think that’s way too generous of a ranking, and while Sensoji Temple is very much worth seeing, the real reason to visit Asakusa is to experience a part of Tokyo that’s radically different from the flashy neon signs, shopping mega-centers, and striking skyscrapers found elsewhere in the city. Asakusa has a certain charm to it, and is well worth exploring.
Ueno – A large public park that doubles as Tokyo’s museum district, most notably the Tokyo National Museum. The National Museum for Western Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, and Ueno Zoo all also call Ueno Park home. The area is also famous for its cherry blossoms, and holds a variety of festivals and events throughout the year.
What Ueno is not as well known for is its beautiful public spaces and temples. The most noteworthy of these has a wooden balcony modeled after the protruding stage of Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. There’s also a nice pagoda and some torii gates in the park. None of these are exactly renowned as cultural treasures, but they’re worth checking out if you’re not continuing on to Kyoto later in your trip.
As we aren’t big nightlife people, we often head to Ueno Park on weekend evenings. The museums are open late on Fridays and Saturdays, and it seems like there is always some sort of special event with outdoor entertainment and street food.
Akihabara – Akihabara is Tokyo’s nerd district, and I say that in the most loving way possible. If you have any sort of geeky niche interest, there’s a good chance Akihabara will scratch you right where you itch. It’s broadly known as the “electronics district” but that doesn’t properly encompass the more specific types of stores you can find in Akihabara. Speaking from experience, we’ve found great video games, anime, collectible toy, and photography shops in Akihabara.
Akihabara is most definitely the epicenter of Japan’s otaku culture, and following some major redevelopments around Akihabara Station, it’s an inviting (and easy) place to explore. Chuo Dori, the main street through the district, is closed to car traffic on Sunday afternoons, underscoring the popularity of this stretch for shopping in Tokyo.
Odaiba – Odaiba is a manmade island on Tokyo Bay that’s home to a popular shopping and entertainment area, located just outside of the city. In terms of distance, it’s very close to Tokyo Disney Resort, taking under 30 minutes to get between the two via the JR Line. Odaiba’s most popular spots include Legoland Discovery Center, Aquacity, Odaiba Seaside Park, Fuji TV Building, National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, and much more.
Odaiba’s year-round lighting, known as Odaiba Illumination YAKEI is a popular tourist draw, and one of the main reasons people make the trek to the outskirts of Tokyo. If you’re staying in Central Tokyo and only have a few days, we generally do not recommend Odaiba unless you have a specific purpose there. We like it, but only as an evening option while staying at Tokyo Disney Resort.
Roppongi – Speaking of evening options, Roppongi is Tokyo’s most popular nightlife district. It’s especially popular among expats and international tourists, as many of its bars, restaurants, and night clubs are foreigner-friendly. If there are picky eaters in your party, this is also a good option for finding familiar cuisine (like Shake Shack!).
Roppongi is also (yet another) posh shopping district, and the Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown developments are some of the most high-rent retail spaces in the city. While we’ve passed through Roppongi on countless occasions, it’s really not to our tastes, so we haven’t spent much substantive time here.
Eating in Tokyo
Of course, you’re going to find plenty of traditional Japanese cuisine in Tokyo, and that’s probably what most visitors looking for an ‘authentic’ experience will try. Options like sushi, ramen, udon, soba, tempura, okonomiyaki, kaiseki, unagi, and izakaya taverns.
Food is a fundamental component of each of our trips to Tokyo, but we’ve barely even scratched the surface of its seemingly bottomless dining scene. If you’re likewise serious about eating in Tokyo, and it’s one of the main priorities of your visit, here are some of the resources we use ourselves when determining where to eat in Tokyo:
- Michelin Guide to Tokyo
- Eater’s 38 Essential Tokyo Restaurants
- Timeout’s 100 Best Restaurants in Tokyo
- Afar’s Best Restaurants in Tokyo
- Bon Appetit’s Tokyo Dining Guide
The first three are by far our favorite resources, and while there’s no ‘best of’ list shortage, the problem we’ve found with many others is that they’re crowd-sourced and based upon what’s popular–the authors themselves have never dined there, and possibly never even been to Japan. Those lists can still make good jumping off points, but you should do independent research of each restaurant on them to see whether it’s just more of the hype machine or a solid recommendation.
It’s also worth noting that the main concern about Tokyo’s best restaurants is not necessarily going to be cost. Tokyo has great restaurants that are inexpensive, and also ones where there is no limit on how much you could spend. The bigger concerns are the difficulty in scoring reservations (for the pricier/fancier ones) or the time commitment for waiting in line at the lower to mid-tier ones. You’re not going to find ramen restaurants that accept reservations, and some of the more renowned locations could have waits of 30 minutes to an hour. That can be off-putting if you have limited vacation time.
Over 80% of the meals we’ve eaten in Tokyo have been ramen or sushi. In part, this comes down to personal preference, but these are also the foods most prevalent in and associated with Tokyo.
Our average ramen meal costs around $10/person with sushi varying considerably more (we normally go to mid-tier or revolving sushi restaurants, so around $15-20/person). Read Our Favorite Ramen Shops in Tokyo post for some recommendations.
If sushi is what you’re after and you want to combine that with a must-do Tokyo experience, visit Toyosu Market, the spiritual successor to Tsukiji Fish Market. This is one part tourist attraction, part destination for exceptional sushi restaurants, many of which have long operating hours.
As a world city, you can find just about any type of cuisine in Tokyo. Naturally, other Asian styles such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, and Thai are all represented. (Quite often, these restaurants are less popular than their Japanese or European counterparts of comparable quality.)
Many of the best haute cuisine options in Tokyo are French or Italian, but you’ll want to have a healthy budget if you plan on trying either. The options you’ll find in malls are fairly bland and uninspired.
Speaking of malls, if you are not so concerned with food as part of the experience, malls can be a great option for food halls. Depachika, as these locations are known, shouldn’t even be called mall food courts…food oasis is a more apt term, and one with a positive connotation.
You’ll find dozens of restaurants in each at a variety of price points, most of which will have displays outside showcasing models of exactly what they serve. It’s tough to go wrong with these if you want a good, quick meal that isn’t too fussy. Given the competitiveness of Tokyo’s food scene, even depachika restaurants are usually quite good. Depachika are also great for dessert.
If you’re really not fussy, try grabbing a meal from 7-11, Lawson, or other convenience stores. We’re not even kidding about this, and we believe it’s integral part of any visit to Japan. The food is shockingly good, and it makes a great grab and go breakfast option.
Getting Around Tokyo
I have no interest in writing a blog post that’s as long and incomprehensible as Ulysses, and that’s exactly what would I’d be doing if I tried to fully explain Tokyo’s vast public transportation grid. If that’s what you’re looking for, there are plenty of sites that attempt to make sense of the trains and subway.
In my opinion, this is a fool’s errand, and you’re better off allocating however much time you’ve dedicated to Tokyo trip planning towards the myriad of other topics and simply relying on Google Maps to get you around Tokyo. You have exactly zero chance of mastering Tokyo’s public transit network on your first trip, and the good news in our internet age is: you don’t need to!
Google Maps makes it easy, and the practical reality is that even if you do spend hours reading about the trains and subway lines, all of that knowledge goes out the window the first time you pass through Shinjuku or Tokyo Stations during rush hour and are swept away by the current of people going home from work or school.
Generally speaking, we tend to use the JR lines in Tokyo. The main reason for this is because often purchase the Japan Rail Pass, and activate that for our days in Tokyo before taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto, and then taken the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.
You should read our Japan Rail Pass Tips & Info post for more on that and whether it’s worth the money for you, but as a general rule, if you’re going to use the Shinkansen (and you will to get to and from Kyoto), it’s worth it. The Japan Rail Pass is not valid on the Tokyo Metro subway system.
Most of the important things to know here we’ve already covered in our Kyoto guide, and they apply equally here. While many more locations in Tokyo accept credit cards than do in Kyoto, you’ll still want to bring some yen as there are cash-only spots. We rarely bring much yen because ATMs are abundant–inside every 7-11 or Lawson, which are everywhere–but it’s not a bad idea to have some upon arrival.
In addition to packing some yen, you’ll also want to bring hand sanitizer (many restrooms don’t have soap), tissue (many restrooms don’t have toilet paper), and some means of carrying your trash (public trash receptacles are incredibly rare).
There is a language barrier throughout Japan, but it’s not nearly as bad as you might expect. As residents of a cosmopolitan world city, most Tokyoites Tokyoites speak some amount of English (enough to engage in basic transactions, help with directions, etc). On the rare occasion you encounter someone who doesn’t, they will typically go out of their way to find someone who does and get you help. Moreover, all important signage is in both Japanese and English.
Even at over 5,000 words, this “ultimate” guide just begins to scratch the surface of planning for a trip to Tokyo. If you’ve visited Japan and have suggestions of your own to add, please share them below. Likewise, if you still have questions, please leave them in the comments (chances are you’re not the only one). We’ll do our best to provide you with further insight, and might just use them to expand upon this guide!