A cultural wonder in itself, Tokyo is Japan's capital and is widely known for being the most populous metropolitan city in the entire world, with more than 9 million inhabitants.
Tokyo is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan, forming part of the Kanto region on the southeastern side of Japan's main island, Honshu. Located in the heart of the nation, Tokyo is idyllically situated roughly 80 miles from Mt. Fuji, one of the most iconic volcanoes in the world and one of the country's three sacred mountains.
Filled with endless opportunities to taste the best Japanese cuisines and indulge in rich cultural experiences, Tokyo stuns its visitors with its futuristic skyscrapers, chaotic streets, the world's most sophisticated railways, and vibrant youth fashion.
The following guide will answer all your questions before heading to the extraordinary Japanese capital, including Tokyo's weather, must-eats, popular neighborhoods, how to get around, and important cultural customs.
Average High/Low Temperatures by Month
June: 12 days
July: 10 days
September: 12 days
Tokyo has a humid subtropical climate with hot summers and mild winters. Japan as a whole has four distinct seasons, with spring landing from March to May, summer from June to August, autumn from September through November, and winter from December to February.
Annual rainfall in Tokyo averages approximately 60 inches, with a wetter summer and a drier winter. Snowfall usually occurs annually in Tokyo, albeit sporadic.
Spring is arguably the best time to visit Tokyo, for Japan's magnificent cherry blossoms bloom in abundance during this season. In spring, temperatures are mild and ideal for touring the city outdoors and on foot.
If you're traveling to Tokyo specifically to visit Mt. Fuji, though, the best time to visit would be from July to mid-September, when temperatures are pleasant and the mountain is free of snow. The only downside to visiting Tokyo during summer months is that this is the season when the capital city sees the most rainfall.
If you're wondering what clothes to pack before traveling to Tokyo, check out this super helpful guide What To Wear While Traveling In Japan? Here's What To Pack For Every Season!
Meiji Shrine is one of the most prevalent shrines in both Tokyo and throughout Japan, celebrating the passing of Emperor Meiji and his companion, Empress Shoken.
The area of Meiji Shrine covers an area of 170 acres enveloped by an evergreen forest containing 120,000 trees of 365 different species, a great way to spend some downtime for rest and relaxation.
One of Tokyo's most visited places of worship, Senso-ji is a Buddhist temple built for the "Goddess of Mercy," otherwise known as Bodhisattva Kannon Bosatsu. It is Tokyo's oldest temple, constructed in the year 628.
When visiting Senso-ji, be sure to visit the nearby shopping street, Nakamise.
A suspension bridge crossing northern Tokyo Bay between Shibaura Pier and the Odaiba waterfront development in Minato, Rainbow Bridge is a popular tourist attraction, particularly breathtaking during the night when the bridge lights up in an array of vibrant colors.
Crossing Rainbow Bridge takes about 30 minutes and is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the winter.
Tokyo Skytree is the nation's tallest structure, and at the time of its completion, was the second tallest building in the world.
Today, travelers can head to the top of Tokyo Skytree for spectacular panoramic views of the city, a sight one has to see when visiting Tokyo.
Japan is known for offering some of the best cuisines in the world, and the following Japanese specialties are undeniably the best foods to eat while visiting Tokyo, along with some suggestions on where to find them.
Sushi is conceivably Japan's most popular fare, and the nation's capital is home to some of the best sushi found throughout the country. For those that don't know, sushi is a Japanese dish made with vinegared rice, usually mixed with seafood and/or vegetables, then wrapped in nori.
Best sushi in Tokyo: Sushi Sugita
If you think ramen is the noodles you ate in college when you were a broke student, think again. Ramen originated in Japan and is a popular dish made with Chinese-style wheat noodles cooked in a meat broth, flavored with soy sauce or miso, and usually topped with pork, menma, soft boiled egg, and green onions.
Best ramen in Tokyo: Ichiran
Another prized Japanese delicacy, tempura normally consists of seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep fried. Rich and crispy, tempura is a must-try dish when visiting Tokyo.
Best tempura in Tokyo: Tempura Kondo
Tonkatsu consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet, with the two main types being fillet or loin. Tonkatsu is usually served with shredded cabbage and a slice of lemon.
Best tonkatsu in Tokyo: Kinka Pork Cooking Hirata Farm Kiwami
Known as the Japanese name for buckwheat, soba refers to thin noodles made from buckwheat, regularly served chilled with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth as a noodle soup.
Best soba in Tokyo: Kanda Matsuya
Presumably a lesser known Japanese specialty, okonomiyaki is a savory pancake literally translating to "grilled as you like it" and is usually associated with the Kansai or Hiroshima regions of Japan. Think Japanese crepe, only served over a bed of noodles.
Best okonomiyaki in Tokyo: Suzume-no-Oyado
Quite the opposite of soba, udon is Japanese's most popular thick wheat flour noodle dish, often served as a hot noodle soup cooked in a mild broth.
Best udon in Tokyo: Kagawa Ippuku Kanda
If you keep reading, you'll discover that tattoos are considered taboo in Japanese culture, making it hard for tattooed tourists who wish to enter any of the city's or surrounding areas' onsens (Japanese hot springs). Unfortunately, if you have a tattoo, you'll be turned away from these popular baths.
Luckily, Tokyo is home to a hidden onsen that allows tattoos, Mannen-yu onsen. This traditional tattoo-friendly onsen is situated just a five-minute walk from Shin-Okubo Station, and the surrounding area is a hotspot for incredible food (both Japanese and Korean), along with bizarre beauty outlets.
If you're visiting Tokyo in January, May, or September, you're in luck.
Sumo wrestling matches in Japan are held six times out of the year, three of which occur at Tokyo's Ryoguku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall) during the previously mentioned months, with Grand Sumo Tournaments being spread over 15 days.
Sumo wrestling is one of the nation's most beloved and prized traditions, dating back more than 1,000 years, originating as a right of the Shinto religion.
Click here to see Sumo Hall's Grand Tournament schedule for 2019 to catch a sumo wrestling match during your trip to Tokyo.
It's no secret that Japan has some of the most delectable cuisines in the world, thus taking a Japanese cooking class during a trip to Tokyo is a must.
Though there are endless Japanese cooking classes to choose from in Tokyo, Mayuko's Little Kitchen Japanese Cooking Class is the top-rated cooking class in Tokyo on TripAdvisor, where Mayuko herself offers a home-style approach to simple and delicious Japanese dishes.
During the three-hour class, travelers will learn how to make traditional dishes such as sushi, miso soup, ramen, and gyoza.
Shinjuku is arguably the best neighborhood to stay in when visiting Tokyo, with plenty of accommodations, entertainment, and shopping in this area. This neighborhood vividly depicts the essence of Tokyo: bright neon lights, towering skyscrapers, and crowded streets.
A popular hotspot amongst Tokyo's youth, Shibuya and Harajuku are great places for people watching, filled with wide boulevard streets and buildings constructed by famous architects. This neighborhood is also nearest to Meiji Shrine.
Though Asakusa houses Tokyo Skytree, the city's tallest building, it has managed to avoid the switch to modernization unlike the rest of the city and is a more laidback and quiet alternative compared to other bustling and hectic neighborhoods.
For more detailed information on many more of Tokyo's leading neighborhoods, click here.
The Tokyo Metro will take visitors to the most popular places in Tokyo, connecting travelers to tourists attractions such as Senso-ji Temple, Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Skytree, and many more.
Toei Subways is made up of four lines and is incredibly convenient to use, similarly connecting visitors to Tokyo's most popular spots.
The best way to see all of Tokyo's main attractions is by buying a Tokyo Combination Ticket, which includes unlimited one-day use of both the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subways. The Tokyo Combination Ticket costs approximately $14.65 USD.
An even better way to see the entire Japanese capital is by purchasing a prepaid smart card, namely Pasmo or Suica.
Pasmo and Suica prepaid smart cards can be used for all subways, buses, and trains in Tokyo, and can even be used at many shops and convenience stores.
Both cards suffice for the same purpose but are purchased in different places. Pasmo smart cards can be bought from vending machines at subway stations in Tokyo, and Suica cards can be purchased by vending machines at Japan railway stations in Tokyo.
It's always in a traveler's best interest to learn some useful key phrases in any given country's native language. It can be very intimidating to speak another language, yes, but locals will appreciate you trying, regardless of how you may sound. You're guaranteed to feel empowered afterward by stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new.
The first time I traveled alone, I sat down and watched a few YouTube videos on key phrases from the specific country I was traveling to, and, believe it or not, I was actually able to use one or two of them during my trip.
If you're trying to learn a new language, there is no better way than putting yourself out there and trying to speak in real-life situations. Even if you aren't trying to learn a new language fluently, visiting a country and at least being able to ask for the bathroom or ask if someone speaks English will truly come in handy!
The following vital Japanese phrases are provided with their phonetic spelling:
Good morning: Ohayo
Please: Onegai shimasu
Thank you: Arigato
You're welcome: Do itashimashite
Excuse me: Sumimasen
How much?: Ikura?
Can you help me?: Tetsudatte itadakemasu ka?
Do you speak English?: Eigo o hanasemasu ka?
Check out the video below to learn some of the most common and important Japanese phrases.
Like many Asian countries, bowing is the typical way to greet others, and the way and degree in which you bow matters.
If you're meeting a friend or a friend-of-a-friend, bowing at a 30-degree angle is normal, while bowing at a 70-degree angle with your head facing downward is customary for greeting people of importance.
In Tokyo and throughout the rest of Japan, we suggest you embrace the bow!
You may notice that, when eating out at restaurants in Tokyo, you'll be handed a cold or hot towel, depending on the season. These towels are not meant to wipe your food-stained mouth after eating; instead, they're used to wipe your hands before eating a meal and should then be gently placed aside afterward.
Removing your shoes before entering public places or peoples' homes is another common custom throughout several Asian countries, but Japanese culture takes this to the next level.
Museums, hotels, places of worship, and other attractions throughout Tokyo will even have guards or doormen that check the actual nature of your socks after removing your shoes. If they're abnormally holey, dirty, or just plain ugly, guards and doormen have the right to deny you access into said tourist attraction or accommodation. So, make sure your socks are up to par!
Tipping is considered rude in Tokyo, for locals view this as undermining the authority of the person who set the price. Just. Don't. Do it.
Presumably because Tokyo is the world's most populous city, when you're walking around its busy streets, note that that's all you should be doing.
Though there aren't any rules governing the custom, Edokko (Tokyo locals) give the same care to walking as they do driving, and we guarantee you'll never see any Edokko eating, drinking, talking on the phone, or smoking while they're walking.
Edokko also walk on the left side of the street in Tokyo, so try to familiarize yourself with this idea before you arrive in the Japanese capital!
Unfortunately for many foreign tourists, tattoos in Tokyo are considerably frowned upon, mainly because they're associated with organized crime and the Yakuza, Japan's most notorious gangsters.
Travelers with tattoos will even be turned away when entering onsens, so we suggest covering them up before entering any relaxing Japanese hot spring.
If you're like us here at Travel Awaits and want to learn as much about a destination before you travel there, there are several helpful articles, books, and travel guides that will fully prepare you for your trip to Tokyo.
1. For a more extended list of things to do in Tokyo, read 9 Things You Need To Do In Tokyo.
2. If you're staying in Tokyo for a while and want to venture out on some outstanding day trips, be sure to check out 5 Best Day Trips Outside Of Tokyo, Japan.
3. For travelers heading to other areas of Japan that want to embark on some unforgettable adventures, head to 5 Once-In-A-Lifetime Adventures To Try In Japan.
4. To learn more about Japan's culture, click 8 Interesting Things You Didn't Know About Japan.
Here is a list of some of the best travel guides for Tokyo:
1. 111 Places in Tokyo That You Shouldn't Miss
2. Frommer's EasyGuide to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Western Honshu
3. Lonely Planet: Tokyo
4. Lonely Planet: Best of Tokyo 2019
5. Cool Japan: A Guide to Tokyo, Kyoto, Tohoku, and Japanese Culture Past and Present
For some excellent fiction and non-fiction reading material, both about Tokyo and by famous Japanese authors, be sure to read:
1. The Book of Tokyo: A City in Short Fiction by Osamu Hashimoto
2. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
3. In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
4. The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder
5. Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein
6. A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir by Ian Buruma