When I am asked about my travels, by far, my most frequently asked question is “which city is your favorite?“. Having been to about 80 cities in about 50 countries outside of the United States at the time of this posting, I have a good number to choose from.
Yet, this is my most difficult travel question to answer… ever!
Truth is, I don’t like to pick favorites. I truly feel like every city I have visited is unique in it’s own way and there is often something I love or at the very least appreciate in every city I visit.
However, if I were to have to pick a favorite Asian city I have visited thus far, I will readily admit it is Tokyo. While I also loved Kuala Lumpur and Seoul would always have a special place in my heart, my time in Tokyo was very enjoyable and it left a wonderful impression on me. In fact, if I were to move to Asia, it would likely be to live in Tokyo (despite the fact that it can be super expensive).
Last year, my sister, bestie and I took a dozen day tour through some major Asian cities, namely Tokyo, Hong Kong, Macau, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Tokyo was our first stop where we spent 4 days which was just a good amount of time (given the time constraints) to get a good feel for the city and determine that I cannot wait to return!
We stayed at the Sheraton Miyako Hotel in the Shirokanedai area, and although the hotel is a SPG Category 4, don’t be fooled to think that means a lower quality accomodation. Simply put, this hotel was awesome (especially because I was able to use my suite night awards to upgrade us to a beautiful and spacious executive suite).
Though the hotel is tucked away in a quiet area with beautiful greenery, it is not too far from major attractions such as the Tokyo Tower (1.2 miles away), Shibuya (1.9 miles away) and the Imperial Palace (2.5 miles away). The hotel is just 5 minutes from the JR Meguro Station by the free shuttle bus that the hotel provides and just a 5 minute walk from Shirokanedai Station (Nanboku Line/Toei Mita Line). Staying at the Sheraton Miyako was the best of both worlds – so close to public transportation so you can get to anywhere you need to go in the city, yet you can come back to the hotel after a long day of touring to some peace and tranquility.
The hotel is a great value starting at just around $175/night for a standard room. If you are part of the Starwood Preferred Guest program and have points, staying here will run you 10,000 points or 5,000points + $75 when using the cash & points option.
And that the staff was so courteous, welcoming and helpful was an added bonus. I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Tokyo :).
Without further ado, I wanted to share just 7 of the reasons why Tokyo captured my heart and why I feel it is a wonderful place to visit for anyone considering taking a trip to Asia.
1. Friendly and welcoming people
From the time we landed at Narita to the time we left for Hong Kong, everyone we encountered was extremely pleasant, friendly and welcoming. We were received with smiles, well wishes and the customary bowing greetings. People also came up to us on occasion to ask where we are from or to compliment something about us.
Take for instance, this photographer lad that approached us at Harajuku Park. Harajuku Park is famous for getting photographed, especially for Cosplay Sundays. Once he spotted us, he immediately came over and politely asked to photograph us..
And in general, everywhere we went, there was some show of love in one way or the other.
As a show of respect, I worked on learning basic Japanese prior to traveling and this was something that was also greatly appreciated. Smiles widened even more when residents heard my attempt at speaking the language, even if I at times butchered it :).
The cab drivers were the most pleasant I have ever experienced in any city! So patient with us, even as I struggled with some Japanese phrases (be advised: you’d be hard pressed to find a cab driver who speaks English so learn Japanese!), and extremely honest – no scandalous tricks of trying to take the longer routes to up the meter fare. Not to mention, tipping is against custom in Japan, so people were genuinely nice out of the goodness of their hearts and not to get an extra buck out of you. This was so refreshing to experience!
2. Amazingly organized and efficient subway system
I have a confession: I don’t often take the subway/metro system when I travel. Being a native New Yorker, I have had my fair share of the subway hustle, so when I go to discover new destinations, I just want a more comfortable transportation experience (e.g. taking a cab, booking a private tour guide or hiring a car service). To be completely honest, I don’t prefer public transportation in general. It can be stressful, dirty, delayed, crowded, you name it… However, the Tokyo system was something I had read about and wanted to try out, and boy was I pleased I did! If you’ve ever ridden the subways in New York, you have come to expect subways to be dirty and rat infested. Not so in Tokyo! They were so clean, well organized, and efficient!
I haven’t used every subway system in the world, but I’d have to imagine that Tokyo’s system is up there as being one of the very best in the world. In addition, the trains made announcements in both Japanese and English, which was very helpful.
3. The amazing culture
While Tokyo is one the most urbanized cities in Asia, that doesn’t mean it has lost it’s cultural footing. In fact, Tokyo is busting with cultural reminders at every turn! From festivals to weddings to traditional dress, arts and music, there was no shortage of cultural experiences to have. I also love that when you go to Japan, you are forced to learn some Japanese words/phrases to have basic communications and not just fall back on speaking English.
Not only were we extremely fortunate to have been at the Sanja Matsuri festival – which I wrote about here – we also got to experience a full Japanese wedding procession from start to finish at Harajuku park!
There is culture and history at every turn, from the festivals, to the temples, to booming art scene – you will never run out of reminders that you are in the cultural epicenter of Japan and one of the most bustling culturally influenced urban cities in the world.
One thing I missed doing this time that I would love to do when I return is to get dressed as a geisha.
4. You’ll never run out of things to do
Tokyo is HUGE. Literally. Which means there is a ton of things to do. A TON! While we were only there for 4 days this time, it was still amazing how little of Tokyo we covered even though I felt we did a lot. We visited the Tokyo Tower, Ginza, Asakusa, Shibuya, the Imperial Palace and Ebisu, yet it was only a VERY small fraction of what we could have done. When I go back, I’d love to really take my time exploring each of these areas in more detail and visit some places I didn’t get to cover last time, such as Roppongi, Shinjuku and Kabukicho.
If you want to make a list of attractions/places to cover when there, here’s a list of 10 that you may find helpful (Note: I didn’t get a chance to visit all of these, thus you have to pick and choose which ones you would like to cover):
- Asakusa, home of the famed Senso-ji Temple
- The world-famous Tsukiji fish market
- The peaceful and serene Yoyogi Park in Shibuya
- The Tokyo Tower in Minato
- Sumida River cruise
- Shopping in Ginza
- Shopping and dinner in Roppongi Hills
- Harajuku to see the fashion and cosplay
- Learn about Sumo wrestling and take in a match
- Visit the Tokyo Disney Resort in Chiba
5. The shopping, especially for electronics
Tokyo is famous for it’s shopping, especially for electronics. As one of the main electronic centers of the world, this is to be expected. Between Ginza (high end shopping heaven), Roppongi Hills (more high end shopping) and Akihabara (the electronics mecca), there’s nothing you are looking for that you won’t be able to find in Tokyo.
6. Very clean and well taken care of city
Residents of Tokyo have so much respect for their city (even if it is enforced). No one litters or does anything to disrespect the land. The streets were ALL amazing clean, all the time, even in the major tourist areas. In fact, the only places you are likely to see litter on the floor is the tourist areas, caused by, of course, the tourists.
Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world. Crime isn’t completely non-existant, but it is extremely low and very rarely targeted towards tourists. My sister and I – and then just I – walked around the streets very late at night with absolutely no issues whatsoever. Of course, common sense should always be exercised anywhere you travel, but Tokyo is probably the safest big city you can visit. According to HuffPost, it is actually the #1 safest big city in the world.
Some additional notes
While I do not ever like to point out negatives in any city (it’s not what I go looking for), in the interest of full disclosure, Tokyo may not be for everyone for 2 main reasons:
1. It’s super populated. There are over 12 million people residing in the Metropolitan Area of Tokyo alone.. what that means is there are people everywhere, all the time. However, there are still certain areas that have a lot of peace and quiet, such as the Shirokanedai area where the Sheraton Miyako Hotel is located.
2. Smoking. If you travel to Eastern Europe or Asia, this is something that you will inevitably encounter. While it doesn’t bother me, be prepared to see this quite a bit:
However, these two things should NOT stop you from visiting one of the greatest cities in the world! I have yet to meet anyone who did not have a good time in Tokyo, mainly because it has something that pretty much everyone can enjoy!
Want to go?
The best time to visit Tokyo is.. anytime! Yes, Tokyo is indeed a year round destination.
Because of the subtropical climate, Tokyo experiences generally good weather year round with average daily temperatures of around 60 F. In all, Tokyo has four seasons – summer, autumn, winter and spring.
Summer begins in June and is also referred to as the rainy season, which lasts from about mid-June to mid-July in Tokyo. Temperatures range from highs of 70s to 80s. The period from the end of August through September is typhoon season, though most storms stay out at sea. Autumn goes from September through November with average temps in the 60s to 70s F. Winter lasts from about December to March in Tokyo, with days that are generally clear and cold with low humidity. However, temperatures rarely fall below 40 F, and Tokyo doesn’t get much snow. Lastly, Spring, the cherry blossom season, goes from March through May with average temperatures in the 50s.
Tokyo is served by two major airports – Narita International Airport (IATA: NRT) for international flights, and Haneda Airport (IATA: HND) for mostly domestic flights. You will likely fly into Narita, though there are some scheduled international flights into Haneda.
One myth I have encountered through the years is that getting to Asia is ridiculously expensive. However, with airline deregulation and increased competitions on major routes, getting to Asia is not as expensive as one might think. In fact, last year when we took our tour of Asia, my sister and I were able to get our tickets flying into Tokyo from EWR (Newark/New York) and returning out of Singapore for just $850 on China Eastern Airlines.
It appears we got in on a deal with that, however, one can still find a ticket on China Eastern, round trip into Narita for about $1,000 with a connection in Shanghai. If you do not fancy a connecting flight, there are several direct flights on that route including ANA’s direct flights from EWR to NRT for around $1250 during the summer season. The direct journey will take only 13.5 hours from New York. American Airlines, United and Delta also operate non-stop flights for around the same cost (with American flying into Haneda instead of Narita, from JFK).
There are also direct flights operated from major cities like Chicago (ANA, American Airlines, Japan Airlines), San Francisco (American Airlines, Japan Airlines), Los Angeles (Singapore Airlines, Delta, United, ANA, All Nippon, American Airlines), Dallas (American Airlines, Japan Airlines) and Atlanta (Delta).
Whenever you choose to go, and however you choose to go, one thing is for sure, an adventure awaits in Tokyo!
And remember: be sure to brush up on some Japanese before going! Trust me… you will be glad you did!
Sayonara, and Arigato for reading!