Best Of, Itinerary, Japan, Kanto
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First Time in Tokyo? The Complete Tokyo Travel Guide and Itinerary

Traveling to Tokyo for the first time? I am so happy and jealous of you. The feeling of visiting Tokyo for the first time is one of my fondest memories of all of my travels, by far. As a repeat visitor to this wonderful city, I will impart some of my knowledge of Tokyo all in this post.

PS: This is going to be a very long post. If you don’t have time to read this now, click here to save this post on Pinterest to read later!

A bit of backstory of why I decided to write this post: it started innocently enough – my friend Lachlan messaged me this afternoon asking for Tokyo recommendations, as he will be visiting for the first time. Tokyo is one of my favorite cities in the world so I got way excited and wrote him a novel-length Tokyo recommendation. While writing my novel recommendations, I realized that for someone who has been to Tokyo so many times, I’ve never actually written anything about Tokyo on this blog. So I’m on a mission to fix the lack of Tokyo-ness in this blog, starting with this post.

Okay, enough rambling. Let’s move on to the good stuff!

Tokyo Tower just before sunset
Tokyo Tower just before sunset

Tokyo Travel Tips for First-time Visit

Find a flight that flies to/from Haneda Airport (HND). Unless the flight is much cheaper, don’t even think about going through Narita. It will save you both money and time because Haneda is so much closer to the city than Narita. In fact, Haneda pretty much already in town – it would take you about 30 minutes to Shibuya using the local train. Narita, on the other hand, takes about 40-90 minutes.

However, if the only flights you can find is going to Narita (NRT), then it’s fine too. You can still get into the city. Aside of the Narita Express, there is now Tokyo Keisei Skyliner which takes you to Ueno station in 41 minutes. From Ueno, you can then use the local lines to get to the station nearest to your hotel.

What is a JR Pass and do I need it? JR Pass is a form of rail pass that gives you unlimited access to all JR trains in Japan for 7, 14 or 21 days. I bolded the JR train part for emphasis since this gets confusing for some people – in Japan, there are many train companies and Japan Rail (JR) is only one of them, and this pass is only valid for JR trains. Getting a JR Pass makes sense if you are planning to visit multiple cities in Japan, for example from Tokyo to Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, etc. The trains between cities aren’t cheap and you’ll be saving a lot more by getting a JR Pass.

You should buy the JR Pass from outside of Japan before your trip. The JR pass is solely for tourists and it used to not be available for purchase within Japan, though there are now limited quantity for sale in Japan for a higher price. You should still buy it ahead of time – you can buy Unlimited JR Pass here (cheaper than buying from the official website) and have it sent to your home before your trip, so make sure you get it way ahead of time so that it arrives before your trip. There’s 7-day, 14-day, and 21-day option depending on the length of your stay in Japan and your planned train usage.

If you are traveling alone, you can look into getting a prepaid SIM card. You have to order this at least 7 days before your arrival in Japan, where you can arrange for it to be shipped to the airport or your hotel. I used a prepaid SIM card for my first visit to Japan in 2014 and it worked swimmingly well.

If you are traveling in a group, another option is to rent a pocket wi-fi, which you can get here. This provides unlimited data and you can connect multiple devices to it, up to 10 devices. It’s ideal for group travel. You’ll have to remember to charge the router every day and also remember to return the router at the end of your trip.

Don’t worry about traveling solo to Tokyo. Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world. Two of my trips to Tokyo was done on my own and it couldn’t have been more perfect. Okay, I know there are incidents involving perverted peeping toms in the train, and I’m sure crimes do still happen, but I personally have never felt scared or threatened even when I was walking alone at night.

Random Alley in Tokyo

How long do I need to spend in Tokyo?

I recommend setting aside a minimum of 5 days for Tokyo. Tokyo is MUCH bigger than you might have expected. On my first trip to Japan, I went for 7 days with aspirations of doing a few day-trips outside of Tokyo. That plan was quickly trumped when I realized how big this city is. In the end, I allocated 5 days in Tokyo and barely managed to squeeze in two days in Hakone, and it was still not enough to cover the city. I ended up coming back a few more times and on subsequent return visits, I still discover new sides of the city. This is why I’ve written this post as a 5-day itinerary in Tokyo!

Getting around Tokyo using Public Transport

Before getting to Tokyo, buy a SUICA card online and pick it up as soon as you land. This SUICA card will be your lifeline during your stay – they allow you to tap in and out of each station without having to buy a ticket every single time you take the train. You can then refill the credit at any train station.

In terms of train schedules and routes, I’m happy to report that Google Maps work really well in Japan! You can use it as per normal but set it to the public transport mode, and it will give you the best way to get from point A to point B by train.

Example Tokyo Train Route on Google Maps - Shinjuku to Asakusa
Example Tokyo Train Route on Google Maps – Shinjuku to Asakusa

I’d say that’s good enough for tourists. My boyfriend (who grew up in Japan) tells me locals use a more comprehensive transit app called NaviTime which will tell you even more details such as which train car you should board so that you can get to your transfer faster. But for me, google maps was enough.

The trains stop running at midnight

The cab is expensive in Tokyo and train stops at midnight. So if you’re out late, you want to make sure you still catch the last train. Most stations have trains running until midnight but you should be at the station by 11:30PM, especially if your travel involves changing lines. In one of our nights out, we missed our last connecting train in Shibuya and had to take a cab back to our accommodation. The short 20-minute ride costed us $50 😐

Be mindful of train peak hour

I try to stay away from using the train in the morning during peak working hour – this means any time from 8 AM to 9:30-10 AM on a weekday. I’m sure you’ve heard about people getting pushed by sticks to encourage them to move more inside the train so that more people can get on, and you end up packed into the train like sardines.

Where to stay in Tokyo

With Tokyo’s extensive train system – anywhere close to a train station is a great place to stay. For a first timer, I’d try to stay close to Shibuya, Shinjuku or Asakusa. This means you should look for a place within 15-minute walking distance or 1-2 stations away from these places.

Here are places I’ve personally stayed at in Tokyo:

Retrometro Backpackers Hostel ($) in Asakusa. I stayed at the 6-bed female dorm for roughly 1,500 yen (US$14) per night. It’s a very basic hostel and on the smaller side compared to say, european backpacker hostels, but i imagine it’s average size for Japan. The location is very convenient as it’s quite close to the train Asakusa station. The hostel is small and quiet so you’ll get a good rest.

A private Airbnb room in Sendagaya ($), 15 minutes walk to Harajuku for about US$31 a night. If you are new to Airbnb, you can sign up using my link to get some discounts. The room is small and only has a single bed so it can only fit one person, but the location is amazing and you get to stay in a Japanese-style apartment. You do have to share the apartment and bathroom with two other roommates, but I barely saw them. When I did see them though, they were very friendly. One of them even drove me all the way to Umegaoka to have dinner at Midori Sushi.

The Strings by Intercontinental ($$$$) in Shinagawa. This one is a more expensive option as I stayed here during a business trip, but this hotel was very nice and convenient. It’s right on top of Shinagawa station, which is close to both Shibuya and Haneda Airport. There are several convenience stores and a shopping mall in the same complex as the hotel. Also, it’s one of the taller buildings around and on a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji.

Tokyo 5-Day Itinerary

Again, Tokyo is a massive metropolitan city. It’s worth planning your trip and grouping the days by areas so that you don’t waste time. This is the basis of how I’ve structured the itineraries below – I’ve put together some of Tokyo must-visits in sections based on their proximity to each other so that you can optimize your trip by choosing which sights you want to visit in the same day.

Please note that these itineraries are not meant to be done chronologically so you can mix and match your days. Also, don’t feel bad if you did not get to do everything! It’s just an excuse to come back 🙂

What to do in Tokyo on your first visit:

Day 1: Yoyogi Park, Harajuku, Omotesando and Roppongi

Choose one of the days on a weekend for this itinerary, because the places I’m going to mention are more happening on weekends!

Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu

You can start your day by exploring Yoyogi Park. It’s a huge park with a pleasant shaded walk and all of the walking routes will go through Meiji Jingu, a beautiful Shinto shrine, where you can buy an amulet and other traditional souvenirs. Don’t forget to do the water purification ritual at the temple entrance! Read more on the etiquette of visiting a temple in Japan. If it’s on a weekend, you might even see a Shinto wedding there as well. I was lucky enough to see one when I visited.

A Shinto wedding at Meiji Jingu
A Shinto wedding at Meiji Jingu

Harajuku

Next, you can check out Harajuku, a walkable distance from Yoyogi Park (it’s actually right across) and walk along Takeshita Dori. Harajuku embodies everything you’ve probably heard about modern Japan – It’s a crazy area filled with people, trendy shops, and street food. Harajuku became well-known as the hangout spot for the trendy youngsters who would wear their most outrageous, fashion-forward outfit. Sadly, this is a dying culture and they’re not seen as often as they used to, so to increase your chance you might want to visit on a weekend. Aside from that, you can easily spend 2-3 hours in Harajuku just walking and looking at the various shops. Oh, and you’ve gotta try the Japanese Crepes while you’re here!

Harajuku's Takeshita Dori
Harajuku’s Takeshita Dori

Omotesando

If you keep walking along Takeshita Dori towards the east, you’ll end up in Omotesando and then Roppongi.  In total, this is about ~3km walk from Harajuku station and totally walkable because the entire route is lined up with shops and food. Don’t miss Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku for a quick photo op too! This building has these geometric-shaped mirrors on the ceiling and it makes for an amazing photo.

Roppongi Hills

I recommend visiting the Tokyo City View And Sky Deck in Roppongi where you can take the lift up to the rooftop and get an amazing view of the city, including the iconic red Tokyo tower, for just 1,800 yen. If you’re lucky and the day is clear, you might even see Mount Fuji! I recommend going close to sunset to get the best lighting for photos. Make sure you stay a little bit after sunset too for night time photography!

You can book the Tokyo City View Observation Deck Admission Ticket here, which I recommend since it’s cheaper than buying on the spot.

If you are a museum person, Mori Art Museum is also in the same building and access to the permanent exhibition is included with the observation deck ticket. They might have an interesting exhibit to check out too, but you need to buy the ticket separately.

Where to eat

  • Japanese Crepes at Harajuku. This can be found all throughout the famous Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, so just snap them up whenever you see a stall. It wouldn’t be a very big stall, usually just enough for one person to serve you the crepes through the stall window. You can customize your crepe with different fruit toppings and sweet syrup.
  • Zaku Zaku Ice cream. “Zaku-zaku” is Japanese onomatopoeia for something crispy/crunchy (I swear, Japanese people have sounds for everything). As soon as you enter the shop, you can smell a delicious buttery sweet and savory aroma wafting in the air – similar to caramel popcorn but BETTER. This place is actually famous for their creampuff, filled with Hokkaido cream which is made fresh on the spot and coated with their crispy ‘croquant’ made from baked almonds. But the Harajuku store also has an ice cream version which is exclusive to this branch.
Maisen Tonkatsu at Omotesando
Maisen Tonkatsu at Omotesando
  • Maisen Tonkatsu at Omotesando (maps). While walking around Omotesando, be sure to stop by here for one of the best tonkatsu in town. Their specialty is Kurobuta aka the Japanese black pork. I have to say their tonkatsu set can get pretty pricey, but there are cheaper alternatives such as the cutlet rice bowl. More on Maisen Tonkatsu by my friend Daniel.
  • Sincere Garden (maps). My friends are going to be surprised I’m recommending a vegetarian restaurant, yet here we are. Long story short, I made a friend at the hostel I was staying at in Asakusa and ended up tagging along for lunch with him and his Tokyo friends. We ended up at this vegetarian place that serves all organic food in Omotesando. For someone who loves meat as much as I do, this was actually a very decent meal! I feel that it fits perfectly with the trendy vibe of Omotesando. The entire cafe has this light wooden theme and made me feel good about eating healthy food.

Day 2: Shibuya and its surrounding areas (Ebisu, Nakameguro, Daikanyama, and Shimokitazawa)

For this day, we will be exploring Shibuya, one of the major areas of Tokyo. This itinerary can be done any day, weekdays or weekends!

Shibuya Scramble

Check out Shibuya for the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing road, where every few minutes the pedestrian light would turn green and the entire crossing will be filled with a ton of people coming from all directions. Located just outside the Shibuya station, this is the crossing has been featured in many movies, video games, and music videos. It’s a crazy scene and the true definition of an organized chaos – everybody is going everywhere but amazingly, nobody is bumping into each other!

I recommend doing this during the day so you can see the craziness in all its glory. There is a famous Starbucks branch where people love to sit and watch the scramble crossing from, but I find it to be quite crowded so I preferred to just watch from the ground zero (plus it’s free!)

The famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing
The famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing

Statue of Hachiko, the loyal dog

At one corner of the scramble crossing, you can check out the famous Hachiko Statue. Hachiko is the legendary Japanese dog, famous for being extremely loyal as he kept waiting for his owner’s return at the train station years after he had passed away. Shibuya is a major train station and it can get pretty confusing when you are trying to meet up with friends, so Hachiko statue has become a famous meeting point.

Hachiko, the loyal dog
Hachiko, the loyal dog

You can spend some time exploring more of Shibuya. It’s a huge shopping district and you can even say it’s the center of Tokyo, along with Shinjuku. Check out Shibuya Loft for floors of random goodies, each floor with its own theme. You can also check out Don Quijote for even more random stuff.

Dogenzaka

If you are tired or shopping is not your thing, I recommend going to Dogenzaka area. Formerly a yakuza hangout, Dogenzaka is now filled with ramen shops, pubs, and izakaya (small stalls selling skewered meats) – good place to be if you are there for the nightlife.

Famous 109 Shibuya Building
Famous 109 Shibuya Building. This exact angle was featured in one of my favorite video games – The World Ends With You.
Dogenzaka at night
Dogenzaka at night

Outskirts of Shibuya

If you still have some energy after the madness that is Shibuya, you can take the train to Shimokitazawa, Daikanyama, Naka-Meguro or Ebisu for some cafes and check out the nightlife. These are more laid back residential areas, so it’s probably not the place to go if you want to be around lots of people.

Chilled-out streets of Shimokitazawa
Chilled-out streets of Shimokitazawa. There was even an ambient music playing for a loudspeaker

Where to eat

  • Ichiran Ramen (maps) for the famous Tonkotsu Ramen from a vending machine. Basically, you go up to a vending machine outside the restaurant, punch in your order, receive a ticket based on your order and pay, then wait to get seated in your own personal cubicle to slurp on your ramen. They have many other branches around the city, so you don’t have to eat this in Shibuya.
My Okonomiyaki at Hiroki in Shimokitazawa
My Okonomiyaki at Hiroki in Shimokitazawa
  • Hiroki (maps) for Okonomiyaki in Shimokitazawa. There are only 8 seats in this hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Try to sit on the counter if you can, this is where you can watch the action as it happens! The chef will cook and mix your Okonomiyaki for you according to order and once done, he would push it to the hot plate area in front of you so the Okonomiyaki stays warm as you eat it off the counter’s hot plate. For each Okonomiyaki, you get to pick soba or udon as the noodle base, then add-on toppings as you want! There was no English menu, but here are some toppings I can remember off the top of my head. This is how it’s written on the menu (in hiragana and katakana), how to pronounce them and its translations.
    • イカ – Ika – Squid
    • ホタテ – Hotate – Scallop
    • エビ – Ebi – Shrimp
    • タコ – Tako – Octopus
    • もち – mochi – sticky rice cake
    • チーズ – Chiizu – Cheese
    • ネギ – Negi – Spring Onion
    • シソ – Shiso – Japanese Basil
    • レタス – Retasu – Lettuce
  • I highly suggest visiting Daikanyama for one of your meals. Daikanyama has been dubbed the Brooklyn of Tokyo and they have tons of cool restaurants and cafes – you can check out my Daikanyama guide here!
  • Ebisu Yokocho (maps) – This was a random surprise find for me. I was just aimlessly walking around Ebisu when I decided to go into a random building that seemed very unassuming on the outside. Once inside, I was greeted with a lively atmosphere of people eating and drinking in rows upon rows of small restaurants. Sure enough, none of them had an English menu, but just put on your brave face and try something new. I randomly chose a modern sushi joint and was able to order with my very limited Japanese. I ended up with a plate of beef and mushroom sushi… which is interesting as that’s not what you’d normally expect from sushi.
The lively Ebisu Yokocho
The lively Ebisu Yokocho

Day 3: Akihabara, Ueno Park, and Asakusa

Try to do this itinerary on a Sunday, since Akihabara streets are car free on Sundays

Akihabara

As a first time Tokyo visitor, you have to check out Akihabara for all those outrageous things you’ve heard about Japan – the infamous Maid cafe, cat cafes, electronics, comic books, floors and floors of arcade games, just to name a few. If you go on a Sunday, they close up the street from cars and open it up for pedestrians so you can roam around freely.

Akihabara on a Sunday car-free day
Akihabara on a Sunday car-free day
Video games and cafes at Akihabara
Video games and cafes at Akihabara

Asakusa

Then once you’re done with Akihabara, you can walk to Ueno Park for an afternoon stroll. If that’s not your thing, then you can head straight to Asakusa and check out Senso-ji, a famous Buddhist temple. There is a cool street in front of this temple too, called Nakamise Shopping Street, which has lots of street food you can try and souvenir stalls.

PS: This was where one of my earliest Girl Eat World was taken! Asakusa is a backpacker district so there are lots of cheap food and shopping you can do here. If history is your thing, the Edo-Tokyo Museum is also nearby this area.

Where to eat

  • Beerbal ビアバル NAGAOKAYA (maps) – I actually came across their stall while I was at Fuji Rock Festival through an acquaintance recommendation. Their lamb chops were seriously the best I’ve had. I still dream about it, so I stalked them down and found out that they have a full-blown restaurant/beer garden in Ueno! Please give them a visit and let me know how you like it!

Day 4: Explore Shinjuku

Shinjuku deserves its own itinerary because this area is massive.

A typical sight in Shinjuku
A typical sight in Shinjuku

Omoide Yokocho

First, visit Omoide Yokocho. “Omoide” means memory and “Yokocho” is a lane / small alley, so loosely translated as you are walking down the memory lane… everything here feels nostalgic of traditional Japan. There are tons of little stalls (izakaya) and while most don’t have any English menu, some had pictures. I suggest going with google translate if you plan to know everything you are eating, otherwise just point your fingers and be surprised. They mostly serve small skewered meats but be warned that they aren’t exactly cheap. You can drink beer or whiskey highball here too!

Robot Restaurant

At night, go to the famous Robot Restaurant for dinner, drinks, and incredibly Japanese show. It’s this crazy 90-minute show with lasers, dances, and… well, robots. Basically, it’s the most modern Japanese experience you can get. You have to purchase the admission ticket ahead of time, and I suggest booking it here through Klook since they provide the cheapest price: Book Robot Restaurant. If you go for the first showing (4 PM), the ticket is slightly cheaper.

Even though it’s a “restaurant”, I wouldn’t bother getting the bento (boxed set meal) there since there are better options for a meal around Shinjuku!

Us + Robots in Shinjuku
Us + Robots in Shinjuku

Where to eat in Shinjuku

  • Tatsukichi (maps). We went for dinner on a local Tokyo friend recommendation. They were quite packed during dinner so be prepared to wait. It’s an omakase-style restaurant, meaning they will just keep serving you whatever they are cooking until you ask for the bill. Their specialty is Kushiage – deep-fried vegetable/meat skewers – and although it might seem daunting and unhealthy to eat fried food for a meal, I swear all of them were good, super crispy and not overly oily. With each skewer, the chef will tell you which sauce to use. If I remember correctly, we each spent S$50 after 10-12 skewers and 2 whiskey highballs.
  • Golden Gai (maps) for some nightlife. This area was super cool! It was filled with tiny bars with different themes, so you can easily bar hop to your heart’s content (provided you are fine that each bar will have a cover charge of $5-10). Keep in mind the last train in Tokyo is just before midnight so you have to make it or else you will have to fork out some cash for the taxi.
Kushiage at Tatsukichi in Shinjuku, Tokyo
One of the deep fried veggies at Tasukichi

Day 5: Toyosu Market, Tsukiji Market and Ginza

If you are a foodie like me, visiting the fish markets in Tokyo is a must. It’s not that they have the best sushi in Tokyo, but you can’t beat the atmosphere at the fish market. Fishermen arrive at the crack of dawn with their daily catch, and most importantly – the Tuna auction, where sushi tycoons have been known to bid crazy amount of money for the best fish.

The center of this fishermen activity used to be at Tsukiji Market, but as of October 2018, the tuna viewing and the wholesale market has been moved to Toyosu Market. I have not been to Toyosu yet (I heard it’s massive, sterile-looking and modern compared to the old Tsukiji), but I reckon it’s still worth visiting both. Take note that the market is closed on Sundays and on Japanese public holidays, so check before you go. I tried to go during one of their public holidays and had to come back the next day.

Tsukiji Market after the crazy morning bustle
Tsukiji Market after the crazy morning bustle

It can be an intimidating experience to visit these markets on your own. It’s a huge and very fast-paced market. If you think going on your own is too hectic, you can also book a private Tsukiji and Toyosu Market tour through Voyagin. You can use my code GIRLEATWORLD for extra 5% off!

The tuna auction viewing is still closed to the public until January 15, 2019, but you can pre-book the Tuna Action viewing at Toyosu Market if you will be there after January 15. Take note that you’ll have to wake up at the crack of dawn and get there by 5AM.

16-piece sushi for breakfast? Why not!
16-piece sushi for breakfast? Why not! For the record, I finished them all by myself

I recommend to first check out the sushi stalls at the market. In terms of where to get your sushi, I know some blogs would recommend one sushi stall over another (Sushi Dai is a huge crowd’s favorite), but if you’re like me and didn’t want to queue then just pick a random stall with the shortest queue. I did exactly this and it turned out just fine. You can either order a sushi set or do an omakase set, where the chef will serve you whatever sushi they can make with the day’s ingredients.

After your sushi breakfast, you can then go inside the market to see what’s on offer and perhaps eat even more! There is also an outer market area you can visit for some more street food. Once done with the market, you can walk back to the direction of the train station and walk around Ginza for the high-end shopping and visit the Imperial Castle which is also nearby.

Day 6 Onward: Take day trips (or short trips) away from Tokyo

If you find yourself still longing for more, you can also do short day trips outside of Tokyo! There are plenty of options you can choose from – here are some great day trip from Tokyo to check out:

Hakone

Hakone is a small town about two hours away from Tokyo. It’s famous for the hot springs (onsen), Lake Ashi, and probably the best chance for you to see Mount Fuji up close. But you have to adjust your expectations because the mountain is not always visible. If it’s raining or if it’s too cloudy, it can be difficult to spot. From my experience, I do feel that Mount Fuji is easier to spot in the morning before the clouds come. On my first trip to Tokyo, I spent 2 days in Hakone and got to see Mount Fuji the second morning.

Mount Fuji from Hakone Ropeway
Mount Fuji from Hakone Ropeway

To get to Hakone, you can take the two-hour journey via local train on the Odakyu line, which is included in the Hakone Free Pass. I highly recommend purchasing the Hakone Free Pass if you plan on visiting just Hakone, but if you are planning to visit Kamakura and Hakone, then I highly recommend getting the Hakone Kamakura 3-day pass as it saves you money.

As for accommodation in Hakone, I stayed at Ryokan Masuya and I highly recommend them. They are much cheaper than other Ryokan in the area and easy to get to by bus.

The famous Hakone Torii gate
The famous Hakone Torii gate

Kamakura & Enoshima

If you like visiting temples and shrines, this is the city for you. Kamakura is a seaside city just south of Tokyo. Once the political center of medieval Japan, nowadays Kamakura is a resort town with dozens of Buddhist Zen temples and Shinto shrines. Enoshima is a small island just off Kamakura, so you definitely need to visit if you’re already coming to Kamakura.

Like Hakone, Kamakura and Enoshima can also be reached via the Odakyu local train (cheapest option), or if you have the JR Pass, you can take the JR lines there. But if you are planning to visit Kamakura and Hakone, I highly recommend getting the Hakone Kamakura Pass

Other Activities Ideas and Places worth visiting in Tokyo

Onigiri at any Konbini (Convenience Stores)

Convenience stores (called “Konbini” in Japanese) are an integral part of Japanese cities. The Konbinis that can be commonly found in Japan are: Family Mart (Famima for short), Lawsons, and 7/11. My fondest memory of Japan has always been going into a konbini first thing in the morning to see what Onigiri they have that day. Onigiri is this triangle shaped rice wrapped in seaweed and stuffed with various fillings, perfect to eat as a snack on the go. My personal favorite is the salmon onigiri!

Rows of neatly stacked Onigiri - my personal heaven
Rows of neatly stacked Onigiri – my personal heaven

Midori Sushi at Umegaoka

Eating sushi while you are in Japan is undeniably a must-do. While staying at an Airbnb apartment in Tokyo, I got to know one of my roommates, a Japanese guy who kindly offered to drive me to his favorite local sushi joint. It’s called Midori Sushi – they are famous for being affordable yet offering high-quality food.

Midori Sushi
Loooooooong tailed sushi at Midori sushi

They have a few branches in Tokyo, but the original one is at Umegaoka and located in a very local residential area. They are famous for shaping their nigiri such that the meat topping forms this very long “tail”, much longer than normal.

Visit Studio Ghibli

Any Japanese anime fan must make a visit to Studio Ghibli. Yours truly included, of course. The studio is located it Mitaka – not too far away from Shibuya. At the studio, you can see their early sketches, watch a short animation and buy some Ghibli merchandise. It’s a bit small though, so I would say this is doable for a half day trip.

Visiting Studio Ghibli as an english speaking tourist has gotten easier over the years. A few years ago, you used to have to buy tickets a few days in advance at Lawsons and the instructions were all in Japanese. Lucky for you, these days the Studio Ghibli tickets can be booked online and even purchase them outside of Japan! You can read here for instructions on how to obtain a ticket, but you still have to book this in advance and book for a specific time and day.

If you need ticket last minute or can’t be bothered to get the ticket on your own, you can try your luck by booking a Studio Ghibli online at Voyagin, but it will cost you more due to the extra services they provided (you use my code GIRLEATWORLD for extra 5% off)

Shop at Japanese variety stores

I love shopping for random goods while in Japan, especially for home goods. In my recent trip, I discovered LOFT at Shibuya and I was just blown away by the sheer amount of shopping you can do there! They sell everything and anything, from home goods, kitchen wares, stationeries, and clothing. Another similar shop is Tokyu Hands.

I also love checking out eclectic discount stores like Don Quijote and Daiso, guaranteed to be fun and easy on your wallet. Living in Singapore, we have a lot of Daiso stores around but not Don Quijote, also known as Donki to Japanese people. They also have everything from home goods to makeup and groceries.

And even more places to visit!

STILL looking for more places? Let these articles guide you!

PS: Want to reference this post later?

Click on any of the images below to pin to your Pinterest board!

First Time in Tokyo? The Complete Tokyo Travel Guide and Itinerary
First Time in Tokyo? The Complete Tokyo Travel Guide and Itinerary
First Time in Tokyo? The Complete Tokyo Travel Guide and Itinerary

Alright, that was super long. If you end up doing any of my itineraries, please comment below and let me know how it went! Also, if there is any information you want to know about Tokyo, let me know in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them. I want your first visit to Tokyo to be as magical as possible 😀 I love Tokyo.

Are you planning a trip to Japan? I’ve written loads about the beautiful country. Check out the ‘Japan’ category of this blog for some travel inspiration!

Filed under: Best Of, Itinerary, Japan, Kanto

by Melissa Hie

Hello! Welcome to Girl Eat World. I'm Melissa, the "Girl" in Girl Eat World. I run a popular Instagram account by the same name, @girleatworld, where I update my 390,000-something followers about my food and travel adventure. I love writing really long detailed blog posts about my travel experiences, which I'm guessing was how you ended up on this site! (Read more about me here)

60 Comments

  1. Sasha says

    Hi Melissa! Great post. Very helpful as I’ll be heading to Japan for 3 weeks later this month. We’ve already purchased and picked up a 21-day JR pass, but I’m wondering if we also have to purchase extra passes like the Hakone-Kamakura pass you mentioned? (Both of those places are on our itinerary) If so, where can these be purchased and does it have to be outside of Japan?

    Thanks!

    • Hey Sasha,

      The JR pass can only cover the journey up to Odawara station, after which it switches to Odakyu line, which is why I recommend getting the Hakone pass as it offers discounts on the journey from Odawara to Hakone (or straight from Tokyo). I bought the pass in Japan, but it might be cheaper to buy through Klook link I have above. This pass does not have to be bought from outside of Japan. Find info about Hakone-Kamakura pass here – It has info about their office in Shinjuku

  2. Aastha Sahni says

    This detailed post is very helpful. I am travelling from 9th until 21st April to Tokyo. My husband will be woking so I will be mostly on my own. Please recommend anything you want as i am going to stay for 2 weeks.

    • Aastha, you are going to have so much fun! Perhaps you can look into day trips to nearby Tokyo, such as Hakone, Yokohama, and Kamakura. I also recommend exploring the lesser known neighborhoods such as Daikanyama, Nakameguro, Ebisu, and Shimokitazawa. I have a quick write up on Daikanyama here: https://girleatworld.net/daikanyama-tokyo-guide/

      You can also look into Tokyo Disneyland trip if that’s something that interests you.

  3. Richard says

    Does the JR pass include the cities we are visiting..
    Dor it includes Haneda airport to Chiba when we arrive from Bangkok..

    • Tokyo to Hamamatsu – Yes
      Hamamatsu to Kyoto – Yes
      Kyoto to Tokyo – Yes

      Haneda to Chiba you need to look it up yourself. I think it does not.

  4. Richard says

    family of 3 traveling from Tokyo to Hakone to Hammamatsu to Kyoto then back to Tokyo, over 10 days.. is the JR pass feasible..?
    Does JR pass cover transport from Haneda airport to hotel nearby Disney, this is when we first arrive.. Thanks.. Richard

    • Hey Richard, it’s hard to say since it depends on how long you plan to stay in Kyoto. In general, most of the savings of JR pass comes from the city to city bullet train so I feel it would be good for your Kyoto – Hamamatsu – Tokyo transfers, but you need to compare the actual price difference depending on your plan.

    • Hey Richard, I think it only covers part of the way. You can use your JR Pass to reach Odawara, then from there Hakone can be reached by private Odakyu line, which is not part of JR.

  5. vivian chin says

    HI, good day to you

    We are 4 adult will be travelling to Tokyo this mid May 2019. my questions as below:-
    Any hotels receommand (transfer from Haneda Airport around 12am mid night to shinjuku bus terminal or Tokyo City Air Terminal for us with some luggages

  6. Eyelett says

    Hi thank you for your post. Our family of four (kids 11 and 15) will be visitng Tokyo for the first time this coming May. We saw lots of affordable hotels in Ueno (3 min by foot from JR Ueno Station) that are new and spacious. Do you suggest this is a good base area for our 6 days? We are only planning to tour around Tokyo. I read somewhere that we might be wasting our time in transportation getting around the city (as opposed to staying in areas like Shinjuku, Tokyo Station or Shibuya.

    Also for 6 days in Tokyo, can we just use Pasmo or Suica card in getting around the city? There is also a 3 day Tokyo city pass???

    Thank you so much!

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Eyelett, Ueno is not too bad – if you don’t mind the 30 mins train ride to Shibuya and Shinjuku. Are you planning to spend many of your days there? There are things to see near Ueno too, like Akihabara and Asakusa.

      For the 3 day pass, can you link me to the pass? You have to be careful bc sometimes they only include certain lines and does not include JR, which you’ll want if you’re staying near JR Ueno. If they don’t include JR then you’ll still need to pay with Pasmo/Suica. It’s usually around 260-320 yen per ride.

        • Melissa Hie says

          Hey Eyelett, that 3-day pass is only valid on Tokyo Metro and Toei lines. These are different than JR. That said, if you are planning to travel a lot by train in the first 3 days then I think it’s still worth getting. Each ride on Toei/Metro line is usually 200 yen so to make it worth it you just need to ride it at least 3 times a day.

          Then, if you need to take a JR line then you can pay for it individually by either buying tickets each time at the ticket counter or use Suica.

          For JR passes, these are only worth it if you are planning to get out of Tokyo since the savings are in the fact that you can take the longer ride bullet train between cities.

  7. Ada Tash says

    Hi Melissa

    Love your post! Thanks so much 🙂

    Have a few questions for you :
    1. Any suggested apps to download prior to trip?
    2. Based on your blog post, you suggested to buy these beforehand: 1) JR Pass 2) Suica pass 3) Prepaid Sim / Router… did I miss anything else?
    3. Did you go to Disneyland Tokyo during any of your trips? Any tips to share?
    4. If we arrive Haneda Airport late and trains may have stopped running by then, would taxi be the only option to get into Tokyo?

    Thanks again! Look forward to hear back from you x

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Ada
      1) Definitely download a google translate pack for Japanese, just in case
      2) yup, those should be good. I also suggest booking in advance if you want to visit Ghibli museum as they have limited tickets. And the Tokyo Disneyland ticket since you have to print those out in advance.
      3) Not yet 🙁 It’s still in my to-do list! I have heard you should just buy directly from the Disney website though since it allows direct entry and you won’t have to pick up the ticket elsewhere. But you still have to print out the ticket no matter where you buy it from.
      4) There is a night bus from Haneda to certain areas of Tokyo, but the coverage is very limited – click here for more information. Aside of this yeah you have to take the taxi I suppose – it won’t be cheap.

  8. Ah Zul says

    Dear Melissa,

    Thank you for your advise, I am first time to Tokyo for Rugby World Cup 2019 in October.
    1) For accommodation, any suggestion place to stay for 2 adults + 1 child?
    2) Can you suggest place to visit in Osaka? How many days require?

    Best regards,
    Ah Zul

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hi Ah Zul!

      1) Since you are a family, I would recommend looking through Airbnb for a one-bedroom apartment. This would be pretty small, but perfect for your family because you won’t have to share. Just make sure it’s close to a train station so you can get around easily.
      2) For osaka, I have an entire blog post on it! https://girleatworld.net/things-to-do-in-osaka/ I recommend at least 3 days in Osaka.

  9. AutumnVibes says

    Hi!! I was planning to go to Japan in the middle of September (sept 16 – 30th). I was wondering if it would still be hot summer weather or if it would have already cooled down for the Autumn. Great post by the way and very easy to understand 😀

    • Melissa Hie says

      September will be pleasant weather. Probably just need a light jacket for night time. enjoy!!

  10. QURAT UL AIN ANSARI says

    Hi Melissa,

    Thank you for writing a long and detailed blog. It is so helpful. We are planning to go in March mid during sakura season for the first time. I have 2 questions if you could help:

    1) Will it be cold or hot during Cherry Blossom season? Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka?

    2) Are local train station included in JR rail pass? Specially in shinjuku area? I read its huge.

    Best,
    Qurat ul ain

  11. Putu Artayasa says

    Dear Melissa,

    Thank you for your advise, I ll change the schedule as per your advise, as I am first time to Tokyo and with the kids do you recommend that I am going to pick the local city tour at our arrival? thanks.

    Best regards,
    Putu

    • Melissa Hie says

      I think Japan is pretty easy to do by yourself – why don’t you try first and see how it goes? If you need a tour then you can book on the second day

  12. Francesca says

    Hello we are going for a 30th Birthday is there anywhere you would recommend going for dinner for a special occasion? Also how much spending money do you think you need a day?
    Look forward to hearing back
    Francesca

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Francesca! Happy birthday to the person celebrating. For daily allowance, I recommend having about $10-20 per meal and about $4-8 for transportation. As for 30th birthday recommendation, try walking around Daikanyama area (https://girleatworld.net/daikanyama-tokyo-guide/) there are lots of nice restaurants you can try there. You can also try Zauo, a restaurant in Shibuya where you can fish for your own meal.

  13. Putu Artayasa says

    Dear Author,

    Thank you for your awesome testimony particularly for the first time traveler go to Japan, may your recommendation and advise to me if we go with family, wife and two kids of 10 and 12 years old.

    Best regards,
    Putu

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hi Putu, I think the above itinerary can still work for a family. Just make sure your kids are prepared to walk a lot! You might also want to check out disney sea in Tokyo.

      • Putu Artayasa says

        Hi Melissa Hie,

        Thank you for your reply, my last query is beginning of July this year a convenient weather in Tokyo? As this the kids holiday in Indonesia.

        Thanks and regards,
        Putu

  14. Loved your post. Just got back from a 10 day stay in Tokyo and I am in love with it!! We did everything on your list and some. Just wanted to update you on the Golden Dai area: Most of the little bars have cover charges between $5-10 so it didn’t make it convenient to go bar hopping. We just picked one and stayed the night…. it was great but would have enjoyed see each bar since they are unique to the owner.
    We would like to go back and visit more of the county side and the Cherry Blossom festival!

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Kris! Thank you so much for taking the time to come back and leave this comment. I’ll update the post with your information 🙂 (dunno how I could have forgotten that!) is there anything else I can do better?

  15. Zebeth says

    Thank you soooo much for this!! It’s so nice that you grouped activities based on location. It’s gonna make it much easier to see all I want to see. Wish more bloggers did this.

    • Melissa Hie says

      Thank you Zebeth! That was what I was thinking when I was visiting Tokyo, since I had limited time. So I made this guide 😀

  16. Enjoyed your Tokyo itinerary! Impressed that you made it to Shimokitazawa. It’s a great neighborhood and doesn’t show up on many “first time visitor” itineraries. You always can tell the difference between an itinerary from someone who spent a few days in Tokyo and someone like you who has visited several times for work and holiday alike.

    On your next visit to Tokyo, you might also enjoy Jimbocho. It receives even fewer visitors than Shimokitazawa, but likewise is a great place to explore.

    • Melissa Hie says

      Thank you for stopping by! I feel Shimokita is getting more and more popular these days, I guess because it was featured in Vogue as one of Coolest Neighborhoods in the world. But yeah, it’s definitely more low-key. I personally made it there due to a friend’s recommendation and I ended up loving it so much that I had to include it here 😀

      Definitely will keep Jimbocho in mind for my next Tokyo trip. I love how your blog recommends not-so-common things to do around the world too!

      • You’re quite welcome! Wasn’t aware of the Vogue mention for Shimokitazawa, but that is the kind of mention that will raise its profile, no doubt.

        Thank you for the kind words about travelgasm, as well!

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  18. Opster says

    Thank you for this post, it helped me out alot in planning my stay here in Tokyo and I managed to do everything I wanted :). My favourite places to eat were definitely Hiroki (they actually had an english menu too) and Asakusa were I tried tons of the little snacks (agemanju was delicious)

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  20. I loved your post and all you colourful pictures! I was actually thinking of visiting Japan next but I was wondering which periods of the year you think are the best to visit? Also, could you let me know which camera do you normally use? Xxxxx Cheers!

  21. I agree with you that Tokyo is very safe for solo travelers. I was there alone and I enjoyed it. 3 days in Tokyo isn’t enough *sigh*

  22. Bless you, I swear. Thanks for this! If I ever blog about my Japan experience next year I’ll definitely credit your for a few of these things.

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