It’s interesting how all big cities have become the same. The streets, the fashion, the shops – you’d think you’re in London if it wasn’t for the Japanese faces and writing on the signs! However, there are some things you should know before you go, hence we’re writing this Tokyo travel tips post!
Airport to Tokyo: not cheap.
China Eastern airlines served awesome vegetarian food and had good service in general. Narita airport also had super helpful staff. When I think of it, the service in Japan was brilliant everywhere.
At the airport we bought JR express tickets just half an hour before the train. It felt like Manchester or Bradford again: proper trains, English winter outside the window, and British announcements, which took me back to uni days: “The next station is Bradford Forster Square, please take all your belongings with you”.
One thing I’d advise is to read up about the train lines in Tokyo, because it is kind of confusing, and will eat up a lot of your time there and then! Best option is to head over to wikitravel, as they have comprehensive information and there’s no way I would be able to explain it myself! The basic train fare from Narita to Shinjuku was about 3,000 yen per person (20 pounds).
Stupid airport area.
If you want to chill out and have a coffee after you’ve checked your luggage, don’t! Or should I say you won’t… Once you walk past security, there aren’t any proper coffee shops or restaurants to relax at. Everything’s right before security. Does anybody even do that? I thought you do all the check-in stuff and then get a drink with peace of mind while others queue, not the other way around.
Time: don’t assume quick airport procedures.
When arriving it’s not an issue, but if you have a departure – leave early. It’s a huge airport with many security procedures, and there are millions of people queuing at each of them. If you have checked-in luggage it may take up to an hour just to drop your stuff off, and another hour just to walk past security, AND locate your departure gate, which is like a needle in a 300-gate haystack. Check-in counters open 2 hours before departure – so go for it!
Once we arrived at Shinjuku, we walked to our hotel (Siberia temperatures!). It didn’t feel like 2 kilometres though, because there were so many nice shops and everything was so clean and organised. The skies were clear, the air was crisp and the Christmas decorations lit up as it got darker. It gets dark at 5 pm!
We peeked into one Starbucks store, and immediately walked out – there were like 30 people queuing up. They love their Starbucks there! They have branches on every corner, as well as local Japanese coffee shops so you won’t have a problem getting your caffeine fix: 450 yen for a hot latte. Convenience stores like Lawson or 7-11 also had takeout coffee which we took advantage of: 150 yen for a hot latte.
It was a nightmare searching for a double bed hotel, ANY double bed hotel in fact, because the [male] capsules are dominant! And there was like only one double capsule in the whole of Tokyo. With backpacks and a (small) suitcase there was no point of getting, or actually fitting into an overpriced capsule.
We scored a nice regular room, for 3000 baht per night, with a futuristic automated check in counter – it does everything for you. Well, not everything – you have to brush your teeth yourself and stuff. The receptionist was super helpful and wrote out our vegetarian card, which came in handy ten minutes later at a local shop! The hotel is called APA, and they are very similar to the Holiday Inn chain, and are very ‘green’-minded. We asked for the price had we wanted to book a day before – it was 5-6 times more per night! (around Dec 29-31) You get a small double-bed, a fridge, a kettle, and a tiny half-person bath!
Cheap food: from heaven.
The convenience stores are abundant and offer awesome snacks, and multiple snacks equal a meal. Family Mart was the best, and even had healthy salads, some even with quinoa. Lawson was equally good, with 7-11 scoring the 3rd place in terms of range. We actually feasted on their foods because the quality was exceptional! Seaweed sushi, quality bakery, tasty fruit, hash browns, tasty noodles…
Another way to eat amazing and not too expensive foods is the ramen shops. You come in, choose an option from a vending machine, pay, and give the ticket to the chef. Many people eat while standing, and go as soon as they finish – the ultimate fast food. A bowl of noodles with tempura vegetables cost around 380 yen (150 baht) which is enough for 2 small people.
In terms of money, for the first time we had a better rate of THB to JPY at an airport in Thailand, usually we’re fine exchanging Thai baht at our destination. Towards the end of our visit we decided to exchange a bit extra, and in Shinjuku we found a booth open around 7pm. They have very similar opening hours to England: holidays, weekends, and late evenings are a no-go, except for pubs and some restaurants.