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So you want to go to Japan.
We’re not surprised. Japan is an awesome country. But it can be daunting for first-timers.
If it’s your first time, there are a few things you need to know. This page shows you how in one place.
Helpful references are provided at the end.
We’ll discuss different aspects of visiting Japan, and some tips + pitfalls most first time travellers to Japan are unaware of. With careful planning your trip can go much more smoothly. Without planning, it’s easy to have a problem in Japan. You want to avoid that.
So let’s begin.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Getting to Japan – passports, visas, customs, and length of stay.
- What to bring, how much to bring, and packing tips.
- Navigating the major airports in Japan.
- Money in Japan – currency exchange, and money transfer options.
- Booking info + websites.
- Transportation – how to get around in Japan as easily + cheaply as possible.
- Food + dining in Japan.
- Accomodation options – hotels, hostels, and capsules.
- Phones, computers, and WiFi.
- How to make the long trip easier, and more comfortable.
- Sightseeing – things to do.
- Other tips + tricks.
Getting to Japan
To get to Japan you need either your home country’s valid passport accepted by Japan, or else a visitor’s visa. Many western countries passports are accepted by Japan. If you are from one of these countries, such as US or UK, you may stay for up to 90 days on your passport. Longer stays, or people from other countries are required to apply for a visitor’s visa with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism within the Japanese government. The Japanese gov’t also operates the Japan National Travel Organizaton (JNTO) which is also an excellent resource on entry into Japan. So get your passport in order, or file for a visa before you go. You must show either at immigration at the airport or else you’ll be deported and sent home.
If you want to work in Japan, then you must apply for either a work visa, or a working holiday visa with Japan’s Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Labor.
What to bring, how much to bring, and packing tips
If you are going to Japan from the west, the flight will be long. From Asia it is much shorter. If the trip is a long one, you’ll need to pack light. Some flights from the west coast of the US can take 16 hours or more. From UK or EU, even longer. The last thing you want is to have to drag a lot of heavy luggage all that way. It will really slow you down. If you must bring a lot of stuff to Japan, we recommend packing all the heavy items into one small rollable suitcase, and then packing other lightweight items into a laptop bag, and or a backpack. Backpacks are much easier to carry. Frame packs take the weight off your back and put it on your hips where it won’t feel as heavy. The downside to backpacks is they don’t have locks.
Another hack to shorten the trip: if you have time + money to spare, break the trip up into multiple shorter flights. The flight from San Francisco to Tokyo is a grueling 16 hours. You can shorten that to 10 hours by first flying to Seattle, staying over 1 night, then flying from Seattle to Tokyo, which is 10 hours. Even better (and more expensive) would be to fly from San Francisco to Seattle, stay over, then fly from Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska, stay over, then from Anchorage to Tokyo. To save fuel by utilizing the earth’s rotation, most airlines don’t fly from the west across the Pacific Ocean as you might expect – instead they fly a parabolic arc north, up past Canada, Alaska, then down from Alaska to Tokyo. This saves fuel + time by flying over the part of the earth that rotates the fastest – near the Arctic Circle where the circular distance is shorter. Taking multi-hop steps will cost more – but if you can’t stand long plane rides, one of these options is a good way to break up the long flights.
Consider shipping a box full of light items ahead of you to the hotel via FedEx 2nd day air. It’s worth the cost not to have to drag heavy items with you. Just be sure to check what items are prohibited by Customs in Japan before you ship. Prohibited items will be confiscated and destroyed by Customs. Surprisingly, Japan has very strict rules on importing meat products, and raw fruits and nuts. Most western packaged food is fine. Use common sense.
An even better way is to just buy clothes in Japan when you arrive. Tokyo is the fashion capital of the world and good cheap clothes are everywhere. Clothes are actually really heavy, and it may be worth it just to bring 2 changes of minimal light clothes with you, then buy everything else when you arrive. Most hotels in Japan have coin laundries for washing clothes.
Bringing knives, and medicines into Japan can also be problematic. And they’re real serious about it. Even western meds such as Benedryll and cough syrup are considered narcotics by the Japanese gov’t and can land you in a Japanese prison if you bring them into the country in your luggage. Firearms + ammunition of all kinds are absolutely banned. If you bring them into the country, you’ll be arrested + thrown in a Japanese prison immediately. Don’t even think about it.
Japan is also strict about quarantining sick people entering the country. In fact, as you pass through customs, your temperature will automatically be taken by remote control without your consent as you pass through. If you have even a cold, or fever, or worse, when you arrive, you might be placed in quarantine. Again, they’re real serious about it.
Also be aware that Japan is a country of climate extremes and can be extremely cold in winter, and extremely hot + humid in summer. Spring and fall tend to be shorter and more mild due to Japan’s northern latitude. Pack appropriately.
Navigating the major airports in Japan
Japan’s major airports are: Narita (east of Tokyo), Haneda (in the south end of Tokyo, near the bay), and Kansai International, in Osaka Bay. Their symbols are NRT, HND, and KIX, respectively. Narita is actually far outside Tokyo. You will need to take the Japan Railways Narita Express (NE’X), a slower train, or a bus into Tokyo from Narita International Airport. See this site for ticket info. Haneda has recently be modernized to add more flights, but it can still get congested at times. The big advantage to flying in to Haneda is the trip into the city is shorter.
If you are flying into KIX, there is an excellent train at that airport called RAPIT (that’s the correct spelling), which shoots you directly into central downtown Osaka stations such as Namba, or the newly remodeled Osaka Station.
For Tokyo the pros and cons of each airport in a nutshell are:
Narita – farther from the city, takes 40 minutes to get into Tokyo, even using the NE’X, but it’s also bigger, and less congested.
Haneda – at the south end of the city. It’s more congested, and smaller but is much shorter to get into downtown Tokyo than from Narita.
Kansai International – Fly into KIX if you want to go to Osaka or Kyoto. You can catch local trains from downtown Osaka to Kyoto which take about 35 minutes and are cheap. If you want to go into downtown Osaka from KIX, just get on the RAPIT at KIX, then get off at Namba or Umeda stations, and you’re there. There’s also a great Osaka Station guide.
Once you arrive at Narita, you’ll need to collect your luggage, get through immigration, then Customs, then Quarantine. If you make it through all 3, you’re home free. Narita International can be really confusing. There aren’t a lot of signs, and it’s easy to get lost. So here’s the quick guide to navigating Narita:
When you land, exit the gate, turn left, unless you’re connecting to another international flight – in which case turn right. Follow the signs to “Domestic Arrivals”. You’ll go down several long corridors + people movers, then have to walk some more. Once you get to immigration, get in line. When you reach the front, an agent will direct you to fill out a simple immigration form with basic personal info. You then present this form + your passport or visa to another agent who will clear you. Once you get through that step, go down one level to collect your baggage if any. Watch the screens for the baggage carousel number for your flight. You might want to get a free baggage cart near the carousels if you have a lot of luggage.
Once through that, you’ll have to fill out another form for Customs. The forms are in tiny boxes at the end of the baggage carousels and they are not clearly marked. Usually you’ll just be asked if you’re bringing any prohibited or restricted items into Japan – or more than $10,000 USD in cash. Fill out the form, and hand it to a Customs agent. Once you’re cleared, proceeed directly ahead to the exit. It’s not clearly marked either, but it’s straight ahead. This brings you out into the main airport lobby. Turn right + walk down the concourse and you’ll find an Information Desk right next to a small coffee shop. You can ask agents there anything you like.
There are a few things you may want to do before proceeding to transportation: you probably will want to exchange some of your own currency into Japanese Yen (¥) at any one of the several currency exchanges there. Just be aware their rates are not the best and there are other places in Tokyo which have better rates, such as Sakura Exchange offices. We’ll talk more about currency exchange below.
You might also want to buy a phone SIM card to use in a GSM phone in Japan, if you have one. Western CDMA phones won’t work in Japan. Up until a few years ago, voice + data SIM cards for GSM phones were available, but due to crime by internationa, drug dealers in Japan, there is now only one Japan SIM card vendor which offers both voice and data to foreign travellers; a company called Mobal. See this article for a comparison of all foreign SIM card vendors in Japan. Another good article on SIM cards for foreigners in Japan is here. A US company called UltraMobile also offers an international SIM card for GSM phones at very low rates.
There are also luggage forwarding services in Narita International. For around $20 per item, you can have your luggage forwarded to your hotel. These are at the far right end of the concourse as you exit Customs. Luggage forwarding can save you a lot of struggle if you have multiple heavy items. Many hotels in Japan also offer luggage forwarding for an additional fee. There are also luggage storage places such as Yamato Transport and railway station coin lockers where you can temporarily store your luggage. More on that below.
You may want to take advantage of these services before you leave the airport.
All connections to trains out of Narita are down in the basement. The entry is near the Information Desk mentioned above. And this is clearly marked. Just take the escalator down. You may have to walk down several additional flights of stairs, so be prepared. If you have lots of heavy luggage, it will be a chore. We’ll cover trains in depth below.
If you want to take a taxi out of Narita, walk out any one of the front doors in the main concourse. But be warned a taxi ride from Narita into Tokyo will set you back $200 -$300.
There are also many good buses out of Narita to Tokyo. In fact, busses are the cheapest way to get to Tokyo – many of them are around or under $10. But it will take about 2 hours vs. 40 mins on NE’X. Search on Google for Narita bus companies.
Money in Japan – currency exchange, and money transfer options
There are a few tricks for currency exchange when going to Japan.
First off, the #1 thing you need to know is: airport currency exchanges are a total ripoff. Some American travellers report close to 30% fees at some major US airports. Don’t even think of paying more than 3%-5%.
You’ll need to change a little but of money into Yen (¥) before you go – just to be safe in case you need to take a taxi, buy food, get train passes, and other small incidentals.
But for the most part, you’ll want to exchange most of your currency in Japan. If you take more than $10,000 USD into Japan, you’ll also need to fill out a Customs form on the plane, or at immigration in Japan.
Japan is a cash society, and credit cards and debit cards are not accepted in many places. So, while in Japan you’ll need to carry lots of Yen. For currency exchange, here are your options, in order from least desirable to most desirable:
- Airport Exchange Counters – in both countries. In general these are too expensive so you’ll want to limit the amount you exchange at airports.
- Your bank at home before you leave – you can order foreign currency from your local bank before you leave, which may take a few days – so plan in advance. This is also not a good option since most US banks will charge you around 10%.
- ATMs – some Japanese ATMs accept foregin bank cards and debit cards. Visa is the most accepted in Japan. But not all Japanese ATMs will accept foreign cards. Check with your bank first to see if they work in Japan. In general business debit cards are your best bet for ATMs in Japan. Both Bank of America and Charles Schwab offer US ATM business cards which work at many ATMs in Japan. So consider opening a business bank acct. in the US and get an ATM or debit card attached to it well before you go. The easiest ATMs to use in Japan that work with US cards are 7-11 (called 7′ and i’) in Japan, SMBC banks, and Japan Post post offices. You can actually walk into most Japan Post offices, slide your card in, and withdraw cash. Many hotels and hospitals in Japan also offer ATMs in their lobbies. Different ATMs and banks will change different fees for withdrawls. As of this writing Bank of America charges 3% per amount withdrawn. 7-11 ATMs in Japan also charge 3%. By far the best deal is Charles Schwab, which charges no fees whatsoever for overseas withdraws. You can read more about 7-11 ATMs in Japan here.
- Online currency exchange – online services for currency exchange have popped up, but by far, the best one is Transferwise. PayPal also offers instant money exchange, but to remove your money as cash in Japan, you must first have a Japanese bank account in that country. There are other exchanges such as OFX, which are also very good. If you are sending cash to someone else in Japan, there is also always Western Union. The big advantage of WU is the recipient can pick up the money at at WU counter in Japan with just an ID.
- Local currency exchanges – there are several small hole-in-the wall offices in Japan which specialize in exchanging currencies. For direct exchange, these are by far the best value. Some of them, such as Sakura Exchange do direct conversion with no fees. You won’t get exactly the market rate, but you’ll get close – and you won’t pay 3% either. In many of these exchanges, you’ll pay as little as 1% for exchange. Most of the exchanges in Tokyo have English-speaking Japanese staff, but we have also heard reports that sometimes the exchanges are staffed by foreign workers who have reportedly tried to rip customers off on occasion. So be careful. You will need to do the math yourself when you do the exchange. The offices can be a bit hard to find. Sakura Exchange has several offices in Tokyo near train stations, so you’ll need to map them on Google Earth to find the one you want. The easiest one by far is just 2 blocks north of Shibuya Station in Shibuya.
So what do we recommend? By far the best deal is a zero fee debit or ATM card from Charles Schwab. Just keep in mind withdraws from overseas ATMs will likely be limited to $1000 per withdraw. The second best deal are the local currency exchanges in Tokyo. We recommend Sakura Exchange. The other huge advantage to using a local exchange is there generally is no limit on the amount you can exchange at a time – walk in, drop a big stack of cash, and they will exchange it on the spot – you walk out with a big pile of local currency. Just remember to exchange a few hundred dollars for incidentals at home or at the airport before you leave so you have a little bit of Yen when you arrive in Japan.
For B of A customers, see this page.
Booking info + websites
We’ll come right out and say that most of the US booking sites are lousy: hard to use, confusing, poorly designed, and limited on payment options. Everyone goes to sites such as Expedia.com or Booking.com, but hands down, the very best booking site online is agoda.com. Agoda has a simple, easy interface, lets you set all options for booking such a smoking/non-smoking, free breakfast, cancellation, and other options right on each property’s page. It even lets you book a reservation for someone else using your credit card. It also offers options for pay now, pay later, or even pay at the property on arrival. Since Japan is a cash society, this is an awesome choice. It also shows you which reservations can be cancelled, and the date up to which you can cancel. Using agoda.com will make setting your trip up a thousand times easier. Just a few clicks, set your options, reserve. All your booking info is also stored in the site, so you can log in from anywhere later + view your entire itinerary. It’s awesome.
Transportation – how to get around in Japan as easily + cheaply as possible
In Japan there are 4 basic modes of transportation:
By far trains are the most commonly used – trains are usually packed, especially in urban centers. Try to avoid rush hour if you use the trains.
However, a lot of people cycle in Japan too – including ypoung housewives with small children and very old people. It’s not uncommon to see people over 70 or 80 riding bikes here. People cycle everywhere. The 1 big downside to cycling in Japan is the parking (see below).
People also walk everywhere – which is perhaps one reason the Japanese are so healthy and have long life expectancies. If you plan to come to Japan, you’d better be prepared to walk – a lot. Like 5-10 miles a day a lot. And up and down train station stairs – a lot. Walking here daily will get you in shape fast.
For trains you have several options:
- Buy paper tickets at stations.
- Buy + reload IC cards such as Suica or Passmo and use them at station turnstiles.
- Buy a regional or nationwide Japan Rail Pass.
Here’s a short tutorial on dealing with the rail systems. Once you get used to it, it’s easy.
- There are several different systems: JR (Japan Rail), Tokyo Metro (Subway), Toei Subway, and Keisei Railways. There are a few other minor ones as well. For the most part you’ll use JR and Metro.
- If you order one of the rail paases online, you will be mailed a voucher, which you pick up at your hotel or at one of the JR service centers in Japan – such as the main one in Shinjuku or Ikebukuro. You can also exchange your voucher for the rail pass at the airport when you arrive.
- Despite what people may tell you it is possible to buy a rail pass once you are in Japan – at the JR Ikebukuro service center, for instance. But you must buy it in person, show your foreign passport, and not be a Japanese citizen in order to make the purchase.
- If you plan to use the trains a lot, a rail pass may be the way to go as it allows yout to save ¥ by breezing through ticket turnstyles at stations.
- If you plan to use the trains only a litle, then a Suica or Passmo card may be better. Suica and Passmo are electronic (IC) cards. You buy one at most JR stations, add money to it, then pass it over a sensor on turnstiles in stations as you enter and exit. Your fare is automatically deducted for each trip. When your card runs out of $, you can add more by using a Fare Adjustment Machine at most JR stations. If you go to exit a turnstile, and your card doesn’t have enough ¥ left on it, don’t panic, just turn around and go to the nearest Fare Adjustment Machine, insert your IC card, press the English on-screen button, then the button for adding fare, then press the Confirm onscreen button – your IC card will be ejected from the machine with more ¥ added to it. You can then go through the turnstile again by passing your card over the IC reader.
- You can also use Suica and Passmo cards at many stores and post offices to pay for things. IC cards make the train system much easier to use.
- When using trains at rush hour or at crowded stations, be ready for a lot of people, and be ready to be packed into a train with lots of other people. When lining up for a train at a packed stations, there’s only one way to deal with the rush: make sure you are first in line or near first in line for the next train. The worst thing you want is to be in the middle of a long line as you’kll usually end up in the center of a car with people packed around you on all sides. Making sure you are near the front of the line when the doors open means you will enter the train first, and get your choice of where to stand (or sit if seats are available).
- In rare cases, be ready for emergency brakes to be used which could send you flying. With millions of people riding Japan’s trains daily, Human Damage Incidents (suicides, jumpers, peopple being pushed on tracks, people falling onto tracks) are not uncommon and you’ll likely encounter one before long.
- As of this post, Japan is busy renovating many of its train stations in preparations for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. This means new facilities, but it also means if you’re there during renovation, you may be inconvenienced by construction.
- Most of the new stations will have full handicapped access, escalators, and elevators, IC card terminals, and kiosks. Even many of the more remote new stations will have more restaurants and shops right in the stations themselves, to make things more convenient.
- There are big express trains that run from the airports – especially NE’X and Keisei Skyliner from Narita International. In Osaka/Kobe the RAPIT train runs to and from Kansai International Airport (KIX) which sits out on a man-made island in Osaka Bay. (There is also a great luggage forwarding service at the Keisei Skyliner Ueno station which will forward your bags in either direction for $9/bag).
An unfortunate human-related accident has caused a delay on the Tobu Tojo Line.
Itabashi‘s beautiful brand new renovated JR station.
A Toei Subway station in Sugamo.
JR Itabashi Station at night.
See the huge links section at the end for complete rail info.
Cycling in Japan has not yet caught up with the rest of the world, but is still popular. New bike lanes are being built, but there are still far too few of them given the huge size of Japanese cities. Many people ride bikes on sidewalks, or simply brave traffic on city streets. Be careful on backstreets as many Japanese will fly thorough intersections on their bikes at full speed without stopping. If you’re not careful at intersections, you could collide with another cyclist.
Most bikes in Japan require a small registration sticker on them so that if they are stolen, they can be tracked. If you buy a bike in Japan, you’ll need to work out registration with the bike shop and the local police.
The one crazy thing in Japan about bikes is that in most cases it’s illegal to just park them anywhere. Instead you have to park them in designated paid bike parking lots. In most cases you’ll have to feed a bike parking machine twice a day ranging anywhere from $1 to $6. Most are around $2/day. If you don’t park your bike in a designated lot, and just lock it up anywhere, it may be impounded by the police. Not a good idea.
The bike parking lots are a bit crazy – the machines are usually in Japanese only, and at first don’t appear to work consistently. Usually you roll your bike up on a rack at a lot, you’ll hear a click. In most cases you pay when you come back to get your bike out. To pay, in most cases, you enter your slot number on the machine, then press a button, then enter the amount shown on the display. There’s also a button for a receipt if you wish. The weird thing is some lots allow free parking for the first few hours, so even if you try to put ¥ in initally, the machine will tell you you’ve already paid – but in Japanese on the display. In these cases it’s only later (like 6 hours later) that you’re required to pay again. This can confuse the hell out of you. If you’re not sure after locking your bike in the rack, and you don’t read Japanese, try to ask a local what the machine is telling you. In most cases it’s telling you you’ve already paid (i.e. that it’s free for the first X number of hours). You’ll need to come back in 6 hours to see if you need to pay again. It may take some time to get used to the machines.
Other types of bike parking racks have a box + slot for coins on each rack itself – along with a long thick wire cable used to secure the bike. These machines you feed coins into directly and are harder to use.
Food + dining in Japan
Myths abound about how expensive it is to eat in Japan. This is not entirely true.
Yes, top good restaurants might cost a pretty penny – a good meal at a good upscale restaurant might cost $60-$100 USD.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well for less in Japan.
There are some surprisingly good supermarkets in Japan with fresh food cheap. In general, the quality of supermarket food in Japan seems to be higher than in the west. Many supermarkets hold midnight sales to clear out excess inventory at dirt-cheap prices. If you take advantage of these sales, you can eat cheap.
There are also conbini (convenience stores) which have good prices. In Japan, most conbini food is fresher and of higher quality than in the US. You can get fresh great conbini sandwhiches for $1.50, drinks for $1-$3, and even cheap snacks. Some conbini have cheap pre-cooked meals in small plastic containers which only need to be microwaved. These typically are a full entire meal and only cost $4-$6.
Some conbini are built into train stations, such as this Kinokuniya mixed-use store @ Shinjuku Station.
There are also discount chains such as Don Quiojte, Can Do, and others which often have sales on good food cheap.
Tokyo and other major Japanese cities also have many good less expensive restaurants – great burger places abound, and there are all kinds of restaurants all over big cities in Japan with an endless variety of good stuff to eat. A really great burger in Japan will cost you $10-$14 but are well worth it, on occasion.
There are even some vending machines which sell hot + cold soups and sandwhiches right out of the machines.
So, sit back and enjoy the list of inexpensive foods in Japan.
We review a few foods with photos below.
There is a huge variety of snacks in Japan. You can buy them at conbini, and supermarkets, but the best place is at discount stores such as Don Quijote, Can Do, SEIYU, and others. Discount places have snacks as low as $1.50 each. Some are good, some are not so good.
Conbini snacks such as these for around $1 abound in Japan. Not the healthiest, but cheap and quick nontheless.
There are some crazy (and good) snacks in Japan. From Don Quijote to supermarkets, to conbini, you can find some strange, wacky, and tasty snacks in Japan, such as:
Lots of cheap snacks @ Don Qijote such as:
Even chocolate covered potato chips.
Conbini (convenience stores) have a wide variety of good cheap food. In general conbini sandwiches are fresher and more natural than those in the west. You can get good salad/egg/cheese/ham conbini sandwiches for under $2.00 in most conbini in Japan.
You can also get a wide variety of drinks + bottled coffee in conbini too.
The cheapest possible breakfast in Japan is a $1.00 bottle of coffee + a $1.28 Tamagoyaki (fried egg) pack from Lawson. $2.28 for breakfast is hard to beat.
Consider the breakfast shown below: $1.00 for coffee, $1.28 for milk, $1.75 for 3 slices of ham, and $2.00 for a 4-pack of croissants from Aeon supermarket. Total: $6. If you cut the croissants out, $4. A very cheap meal. For desert we threw in a $1.25 chocolate donut as well.
Salads + meals
Complete conbini meal – salad, drink, water, milk, green smoothie – $6 total.
Good sandwhiches abound – many for under $3.50 USD.
3-pack of sliced ham – $1.50
You can get large yogurt containers for $1.50-$1.78 at most convenience stores and discount stores. Meiji seems to be the best brand, but there are others, Meiji brand is shown here:
Both conbini and grocery stores in Japan have a wide variety of good drinks. In general soft drinks and sodas are better than in the west – containing less sugar and more natural juices. Water and milk are also around $1.00-$1.25 each. There are endless varietes of coffee, shown on the center right, here.
Incredibly, you can get 1 liter, 26-vegetable drinks for $1.78 @ Don Quijote, SEIYU, and other discount stores. Aeon supermarkets also sell them. They contain a blended mixture of 26 different vegetables – nothing else. They’re an incredibly quick, cheap, healthy way to eat. Just buy 2 + chug them down. $3.25 USD for an entire meal. They’re incredibly healthy + good for you. If you do this once a day, for dinner or lunch you can save up to $7-$10 a day/per meal. That’s $300/month. If you stay in Japan a few months on vacation, you can save $600 this way – just on this one thing alone. Well worth it.
Mixed 26-veg. drink from Aeon – $1.78 US
There are a wide variety of great grocery stores in Japan – YorkMart, Life, SEIYU, Japan Meat, and others. All are excellent with very fresh food. Many are not that expensive. SEIYU seems to be the best discount store. SEIYU and Japan Meat can often be found in the basements of department stores right near train stations. We like the ones just outside Kinshicho Station – in PARCO‘s and OIOI‘s (pronounced “Marui”) basements.
Don Quijote also has small packages of folded paper towels for $1 – perfect for your backpack or bag.
Kinshicho Station, left. PARCO department store, right.
Entrance to SEIYU, in the basement of the PARCO Kinshicho dept. store. There is also an entrance to the Kinshicho Metro Subway station in the basement. To get here, exit Kinshicho south or west exit, head south to the PARCO, take the escalator down.
PARCO – just to the south of Kinshicho Station.
Large healthy salads abound for around $2. A healthy and cheap way to eat.
Cheap, good, pre-cooked meals also abound in Japan’s grocery stores. This midnight sale had some for under $2.50
$.25 bags of bean sprouts make a great cheap filler addition to any meal and are a good way to save $.
If you catch a midnight sale @ a grocery store in Japan, you can find great deals – such as an entire tin of butter cookies for around $1.00 – in this case at SEIYU. Good stuff.
Checkout in Japan Meat.
Great meat deals @ Japan Meat. $1.00-$3.50 for chicken and pork.
If you feel adventurous, and can find a spot to cook, you can even use a small camp stove to cook meat. The best place to buy camp stoves + fuel in Japan is at Xebio SuperSports.
Inside the craziness that is Don Quijote.
More cheap, good yogurt – $1.25 for one pint @ SEIYU.
Another midnight sale. Not the healthiest – but cheap – around $1.50 for 3 corn dogs. Purchased @ YorkMart.
Japan, and Tokyo in particular, have lots of great burger places. Brozer’s on the top floor of the Takashimaya Annex Bldg. 2 blocks east of Tokyo Station has great burgers and other sandwiches for around $10. Definitely worth a trip.
Numerous good smaller burger places abound – such as Darcy’s hidden in the backstereets of Ikebukuro.
Don Quijote has both bottled, carton-ed, and ground coffee for very good prices. A 1 liter carton of black coffee will set you back a mere $.75 USD – an incredible deal. If your hotel or hostel has a fridge in it, you can make one of these stretch 2 days – $.37/day for coffee, not $7 for one cup at a café.
You can get a small jar of honey to use in coffee as a sugar substitute for under $2:
Both groceries + discount stores have some good canned food cheap – fish, ham, chicken. $1.50-$4.00 depending on brand and quality.
Amazingly, 7-11 sells very high quality packaged fish in most supermarkets in Japan. $2.75 gets you a nice fresh package of salmon. A great way to save $.
Since Japan is a seafood nation, most groceries have vast amounts of freshly-caught fish for very low prices. Look around most stores to find good deals on fresh fish.
Most 1st-time visitors to Japan are shocked to discover that the Japanese, despite their good health, and diminutive size are voracious eaters. This is because Japan is a pedestrian society. The average Japanese walks 5-10 miles daily. Up the station stairs, down the station stairs, through train station tunnels miles long, walking everywhere. As a tourist, you will quickly realize after walking all day you want to eat everything in sight.
As a reward, they eat, and eat well. Food is everywhere in big cities in Japan, in vast quantities. Japan has “food parlors” – a throwback to 1950’s-style fine dining. There are restaurants for just about everything. Most dept. stores have food palaces in their basements or on their top floors. All are generally pretty good. There are even entire buildings of 12 floors or more dedicated to food and restaurants – the DAIMARU food palace at Tokyo Station and others. Forget Paris or Italy – you want to eat – Japan is the place to be.
When it comes to food, in Japan, they don’t mess around.
In Japan you can pig out like a native and never gain weight.
Surprisingly, Japan loves deserts + sweets. They can do this without getting fat because they walk 10-15 miles on average per day. Japan is full of an abundance of deserts everywhere you turn. From cheap sweets like the Hokkaido Cream Roll shown below to higher end cakes + cookies in packages, to all kinds of deluxe food parlors, pancake shops, and dessert palaces, which we will discuss next.
Dessert + Fruit Parlors
There are even fruit and desert-only parlors in Japan, such as Takano Fruit Parlour in Shinjuku shown below.
Takano Fruit Parlor, Shinjuku
Heaping plates of all kinds of deserts.
A pancake craze has hit Japan big time. There are big pancake restaurants everywhere and their number keeps growing. The most famous of these is Happy Pancake – one in Ikebukuro, Omotesando, and Ginza. A new one has recently opened in Hong Kong as well. Well worth a trip. Around $10-$15 for just about every variety of pancake you can imagine. There are plenty of other smaller ones as well, such as Flippers, shown below. Happy Pancake Ikebukuro is just a few blocks east of the east exit @ JR Ikebukuro Station.
Rainbow Pancake in the food court @ ODAKYU dept. store in Shinjuku.
Window of a pancake palace in TOBU dept. store, Ikebukuro. If you want pancakes, Tokyo is the place.
Milky Way pancake + ice cream parlor, Ikebukuro
Food basement shops
Many dept. stores in Japan have food basements – huge floors where vendors sell both meals and desserts. Many of these Deepichika also have gift vendors which sell packaged gifts. TOBU, Isetan, PARCO, OIOI (Marui), Matsuyakaza, and SEIBU are just a few. There is also a huge Keio dept. store + food basement just outside the west side of Shinjuku Station, which is very good.
Food basement, Mitsukoshi @ Nihonbashi
Giant cookies the size of pies in the food basement of Keio Shinjuku.
Many hotels in Tokyo also run elaborate seasonal-themed dessert buffets on their restaurant floors, such as this one:
Dessert buffet @ Sunshine City Prince Hotel
Cafes abound in Japan. You might say they are even more popular than in the US. Much more. There are small independent cafes and larger chains. The larger chains are:
We won’t go into rankings, but let’s just say in our opinion we like Doutor and Excelsior Cafe best with Tully’s a close 3rd. Cafe Crie is IOHO not that great – the food tends to be of lesser quality. Tully’s has charge ports and AC outlets in almost every store. Cafe Veloce is sort of a throwback to the 1950’s style diner. Its only drawback is it tends to have more smokers. Doutor is hands down the best for food value/price. You can get great hot dogs and small sandwiches for under $3 along with coffee for around $2.50 – half what the big chains cost. Definitely worth a look. There are all kinds of great cafes around Tokyo Station, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and other city areas. Here are a few photos of some of the cafes:
Doutor Menu with all kinds of inexpensive sandwhiches and drinks.
Doutor Lettuce Hot Dog and coffee – around $5.
A Doutour on the right, in Iidabashi.
Komeda’s Coffee, Ikebukuro
If you walk 1 mile south from Ikebukuro Station, you will find the Rocket Cafe on the west side of Meiji Dori. It also has a nice 2nd floor seating area. A must-visit. As a footnote if you walk far enough south from here you will eventually hit Waseda University about 2 miles to the south.
Cafe Legato and Sunday Coffee in Shibuya.
Legendary Junk Cafe, Shibuya – now closed.
Other restaurants + food malls
Bakeries abound everywhere – especially in train stations, such as this one – Little Mermaid Café in Komagome Station.
Another bakery in Shinjuku Station.
Sugar Butter Tree, Ueno Station
There are also a few online groceries which will ship food to you:
Accomodation options – hotels, hostels, capsules.
There are several accomodation options in Japan – luxury hotels, resorts, ski places, Ryokan inns, smaller hotels, budget business hotels, and hostels.
We review just business hotels + hostels here since they tend to be cheaper.
By far, the very best value in Japan when it comes to hotels is the APA Hotels chain. There are hundreds of these all over Japan, and they are very reasonably priced. They are designed for business travellers, and have great rooms and service, although the hotel rooms tend to be smaller. Don’t let that deter you though – this chain of hotels is a great value for the money – some as low as $65/night USD, with far better accomodations than a similarly priced cheap Motel 6 in the US. Most of them have 4K TV, a fridge in the room, and power outlets + bathroom amenities. Most also have tiny desks in the rooms to work on. In fact, APA is an acronym for Always Pleasant Amenities – and they’re not joking. These are fine hotels. Well worth a look. There is even an APA just 1 train stop from Narita International Airport. If you want to avoid jet lag and want to crash on arrival, you can check in here for a few nights to recover, then move on to Tokyo on the Keisei Line which has a station in Narita City just a few blocks from the hotel. An easy way to make a long trip a bit easier.
Hostels are a cheap way to stay in Japan – some as low as $25-$35/night but you pay in terms of inconvenience and discomfort. Some are capsule hostels, such as And Hostel in Akihabara and Sumida – which we highly recommend. First Cabin is an upscale larger modern luxury “tube hostel” similar to capsule hotels – but the rooms are larger, cleaner, more modern, and have a large TV. These are very clean first class hostels when you can sleep cheap. There is also one of these near the Sumida River in east Tokyo south of Sky Tree.
The downside to hostels + capsules are noise, lack of room AC control on a per-room basis, cramped quarters, and nowhere to stand up (although First Cabin also offers larger rooms which do have some floor space + a large table). The air in these places also tends to get a little stuffy. There are several First Cabins all over Tokyo – there is even one right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Akasaka near the central gov’t that is worth a look. Beware however that First Cabin requires all residents to check out daily from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM for cleaning. No exceptions. All rooms also include a small lockbox in which you can store valuables when you leave.
Most First Cabins have shared bathrooms, which are very upscale + clean. Floors are by gender – mens’s floors + ladies’ floors.
Looking out of a First Cabin room, at an empty one across the hall. Note the small black shelf on the left side. That’s where the lockbox is – and you can also set your stuff on top of it. There is also a metal rail along the top of your cabin inside to hang clothes on. The white shutter on front pulls down to nearly the floor for privacy.
Outside of First Cabin we like And Hostel – as mentioned – in Akihabara, Sumida, and a few other locations. While not quite as upscale as First Cabin, they’re pretty good – clean, well ordered, and they also have the good sense to open floor windows to draft stuffy air outside. They have a lounge where you can sit on a sofa, and tables for work. Some of them have a kitchen you can use. These are pretty reasonable at $40-$50/night. Worth a look.
There are also a variety of smaller, older, privately-run capsule hotels – these vary in quality and price. Search Agoda for reviews + reservations.
Most hotel/hostel staff in Japan are very helpful – much more so than in the US – and many speak English as well. If you have any trouble or need something, most will be more than willing to help.
APA Komagome, east Tokyo. “Ekimae” means “At the station” or “In front of the station”.
Inside First Cabin – like something from a 1970’s sci-fi movie. Be sure to keep quiet during sleeping hours.
Inside a First Cabin standard room.
First Cabin bathroom hallway.
Inside And Hostel, Akihabara. You get a plywood tube with a matress, and a pull curtain for privacy. The room also has power outlets + a light – but no TV, unlike First Cabin. The plywood walls help deaden sound, which makes And Hostel much better than most. Plus And Hostel just has a comfy, easy-going feel. A bit Bohemian, but not too much.
Phones, computers, WiFi
Much has been written about using phones + WiFi in Japan.
We will try to keep this subject brief. It’s pretty simple.
For phones, your best bet is to bring a phone from your home country which offers an affordable fixed monthly plan with unlimited roaming. Such plans in the US include UltraMobile and T-Mobile. UltraMobile offers a fixed $19/mo international roaming plan which allows you to use any western GSM phone in Japan. Up until 2016 foreigners could buy a Japanese phone in Japan, but this has now been disallowed by the Japanese gov’t over terrorism concerns. If you absolutely must have a Japanese phone, have an associate or company buy one for you there for you to use. Note that prepaid is not big in Japan and you’ll have to have the company pay the bill for you as well.
As for WiFi there are plenty of options – you can buy small roaming WiFi boxes at most electronic stores in Japan such as Bic Camera – you pay a fixed fee per month (usually $40-$70) and the little box piggypacks on the local cell network. There are various vendors such as eConnect Japan and others. Speeds can range from fast to slow, depending on service, and bandwidth. Most electronic stores are eager to sell/rent these boxes to foreigners and will be more than happy to help explain the services and features in both Japanese and English.
However, today, most hotels and many department stores in Japan now offer free WiFi. Some municipalities do – such as at a public hotspot shown below. Check each city’s website before you go. These are easy to use and usually require just an accept on a web page, or a free email registration. To use them, just get in range of the public WiFi signal and log in.
Computers in general, and laptops in particular are generally cheaper in Japan than the rest of the world – except perhaps for the high end models. Good cheap laptops by Acer or Asus can be had in most electronic stores for $400-$700. Make sure you ask for one with an English keyboard if you don’t speak Japanese as most models in Japan have Japanese. Some models have both on the same keyboard.
A free WiFi spot in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Just stand nearby + log in. Most of these WiFi booths in Japan are old converted payphone booths. In fact many of them still have their green payphones inside. But of course, no one uses payphones anymore.
Transportation – Rail – IC cards
Most major railways in Tokyo and other large cities have IC electronic fare cards. You buy one from a ticket machine at a station, add money to it on the same machine, and swipe it at entry/exit turnstyles to pay. Trip payment is automatically deducted when you exit the turnstyle. No more paper tickets to buy. The gates have small lighted blue pads on them to indicate where to swipe. The two major IC card systems in Japan are Suica and Pasmo. Osaka also has a few systems of its own.
If you have a late model smartphone, you can set them up to also work as an IC payment system using services such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and others. Late model smartwatches such as Apple Watch are also now adopting the tech and will allow you to use them as payment devices. You can also use these services to pay in some conbini in Japan (look for the respective company pay symbols on registers in stores). You just add money to your account your phone/watch is connected to, then swipe it over the IC reader to pay.
For a complete review of railway IC cards + other electronic payment methods in Japan, see our full post.
Itabashi Station, western Tokyo. The bank of ticket machines is in the center just under the station sign.
Older-style ticket machine converted to handle Suica IC cards. The tall row of mechanical push-buttons on the left is now largely unused. Newer machines are 100% touchscreen. The slot on the right with the yellow border also allows you to toss Japanese coins in to add fare.
Pasmo/Suica Cards: Smart Tokyo Travel (w/ Instructions) – Tokyo Cheapo
How to return your card:
Only cash (Japanese currency) can be used to recharge Suica cards.
Buying Paper Tickets With Your Suica Card
Free Wifi: Yes
Location: 35°38’32.60″ N 139°51’43.42″ E
Our Rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
Worth it? Don’t miss it.
Tokyo Sea Life Park is a part of the huge Tokyo Zoo located at the north end of Tokyo Bay on a man-made island. The complex includes many exhibits with live marine life and a bird-watching center. There are also miles of walking trails and a huge pond.
The easiest way to get to TSLP is to take the Keio Line to Kasai-Rinkai-Koen Station. By car from west Tokyo take Rt. 257 west into the Wangan Area and then into the park. This area is just west of Suitengumae.
Kasai Rinkai Park
The obvious pick in the area is Hotel Seaside Edogawa since it’s right inside Kasai Rinkai Park. On peak season it may be a little expensive so you’ll want to plan ahead and scope out other hotels if this one is too expensive. The hotel is also a popular wedding venue.
There are lots of other hotels in the area but most of them tend to be over $250 USD/night.
The one other option is the oddly-named Family Resort Fifty’s For Maihama at 4-1-3 Minamikasai, Edogawa, Tokyo, Japan, 134-0085. It tends to be very cheap – $40/night off season but it is a bit north of the park. It’s located around 35°38’51.95″ N 139°52’19.09″ E but there is a nearby station – Maihama Station (which is quite a hike of a few miles to the southwest).
GINZA SIX 4F, 6-10-1 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0061
Free Wifi: Yes
Location: 35°41’29.39″ N 139°42’07.68″ E
Station: Shinjuku Station – JR Yamanote Line
Our Rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
Worth it? Don’t miss it.
The name Shinjuku means New Lodgings. The area became a busy commerce center during the Edo Period and later again after World War 2. The name derives from the older area Harajuku (Sun Lodgings) to the south.
A diorama depicting Shinjuku during the World War 2 era at the Edo-Tokyo Museum.
Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station on earth. Over 2 million people pass through the station every day. At rush hour the place is so packed it can be hard to move or even find your way around if you’re not familiar with it.
There are both Japan Rail (JR) platforms for common lines such as the Yamanote Line, as well as various subway lines. The station acts as an interchange + transfer point for many lines in Tokyo. There are at least 8 levels in the station, many of them buried deep underground.
There are also lots of shopping areas as well as a newly renovated outside shop area and courtyard (Shinjuku Southern Terrace). The station was vastly expanded in 2009-2010 and is now several times its former size on the south end.
The station is shown above, lower center. On both the north and south ends there are huge clusters of shopping centers, as well as an outdoor courtyard. To the northwest is the Cocoon building, and the Tokyo Metropolitain Gov’t buildings (which has a great free observation deck). Just northeast of the Cocoon Tower is the Odayku department store (depato) complex. To the northeast are the main streets with a dizzying array of outdoor shops, restaurants, and things to do and see. At night the area comes alive with lights + sounds – a photographer’s dream. There are also countless huge electronics shops such as Bic Camera and others.
Info map at the station on a platform.
Madness at a station platform.
At the north entrance of the station around 35°41’31.78″ N 139°42’03.26″ E is the famous Duckman street performer.
The surface-level of the station has several areas: the main (north) area bisected by Rt. 20 running east-west (this area has the LUMINE and NewWoman modifications made in the early 2000’s. The MyLord bldg. and open terrace to the west of that, the Cocoon bldg. area to the northwest, and the Takashimaya Square area to the south. Of course there are many more areas than this – the station area is huge and takes a whole hour to circumnavigate on foot. Just to the northeast of the LUMINE area is a huge OIOI (pronounced Marui) department store complex, and just to the immediate west on Rt. 20 is a huge Don Quijote discount store. Also at the very south end of the new station redevelopment is a huge outdoor open-air sitting area + cafés (Shinjuku Southern Terrace). You can sit and watch the trains come and go beneath you. Just to the east of the Takashimaya Square complex is the huge Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – a must see. If you go to the gardens and have a few extra minutes, also pop in to Yoyogi just a few minutes’ walk to the south.
Inside the crazy west end of the station.
Heading down into the Metro Ginza line from the west side of the station.
The northwest terrace. The MyLord bldg. is straight ahead.
At the very south end of the LUMINE bldg. under the train tracks is a huge Shinjuku Tourist Information Office. If you want to pick up some brochures on things to do in the area, stop in when you first arrive.
There is another Tokyo Tourist Information Center on the 3rd floor near the south exit. There’s also a Sagawa luggage delivery service office here.
At the west exit there is the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center which has all sorts of info about sightseeing.
There also loads of currency exchanges around the info offices, but their rates may not be the best. You might be better off using a smaller exchange in places such as Akihabara, or the Sakura Exchange in Shibuya.
There’s also a large coin locker bank on the southern side of the info center shown above.
Flags Building + Green Peas Pachinko
Around 35°41’23.18″ N 139°42’05.80″ E is an east exit from the station, 2 long escaltors, and a huge department store called Flags. There’s a huge GAP that’s been here for over 20 years.
The Flags Building @ the east exit.
Incredibly, right next to the Flags building is a huge, 8-story pachinko parlor called Green Peas, which even has entire floors of Vegas-style slot machines. There is also a huge Taito Game Station arcade just behind it down a side street.
Green Peas Pachinko.
Just northwest of the station is the Odakyu Depato (department store) area. There are plenty of things to do here, and there’s a food floor on the top floor, which includes Shinjuku’s part of the latest craze in Tokyo: pancakes. Rainbow Pancake is on the food floor. There are also elevated walkways to other department stores such as Keio just across the street (Keio‘s food basement is one of the best in Tokyo).
The dept. store complex on the west side. Odakyu is the orange bldg. on the right, and just to the right of that, the KEIO dept. store. Further to the left out of view is a huge Bic Camera. The Cocoon bldg. is just behind the camera to the west. The MyLord terrace area is just beind the KEIO bldg. to the east. There are actually 2 Odakyu complexes – the east side one shown here, and the Odakyu/HALC/Bic Camera annex to the north (out of frame to the left). There is also a major bus stop area here.
Rainbow Pancake on the top floor of Odakyu.
If you’re really into pancakes, also check out Sarabeth’s Lumine Shinjuku just inside the new LUMINE building on top of the station at street level on the north side.
Giant pie-sized cookies in KEIO‘s food basement.
Standing on the northern Odakyu/HALC annex pedestrian overpass facing east. The huge UNIQLO is on the right.
From the station to the east, there are 3 main streets running west-east which parallel each other a few blocks apart. These are: 1), Yasukuni-Dori 2), Shinjuku-Dori, and 3) Koshu-Kaido Dori (Rt. 20).
By far, the most popular of these is Yasukuni-Dori. Several blocks to the east Meiji-Dori intersects all 3 and runs north-south all the way to the Imperial Palace. In this central area of about 3-4 long blocks, most of the action in Shinjuku happens. The west side is interesting too, but it’s more business/gov’t-oriented. A stroll around the east-side streets at night will floor you with its colors, lights, and dizzing array of things to do.
North Exit + Studio ALTA
The northeast station exit is a popular meeting spot for young people. Just across the street is a building called Studio ALTA with its massive TV display on the outside of the building. If you slip down the small side street to the left at night, you’re in for one of Shinjuku’s nightime delights – a small concrete pedestrian-only area with lots of shops and restaurants. There is also a huge Matsumoto Kiyoshi drug store here, and the rear entrance to the huge Yamada Denki LABi electronics shop (see below). As mentioned above, this is also where the infamous Duckman performs nightly. If you head through the small concrete park, in a few blocks you’ll come to a huge Don Quijote, described next.
Studio ALTA, right. Head down the small side street ahead.
Just north of the north exit. The station entrance is ahead.
Massive Don Quijote on Yasukuni-Dori
On Yasukuni-Dori 2 blocks from the station is a huge Don Quijote discount store. If you’re strolling this street at night, it’s worth a stop in to look around. The place is huge and has multiple floors of just about anything you could want, including a grocery.
Dazzling streets of east Shinjuku at night.
Heading Further East to Shinjuku Ohdori Shopping District
As a footnote, you can walk or bike all the way east on Rt. 20 back to Yotsuya (about 6 miles) – there are a lot of interesting things to see along Rt. 20 as well as several other subway station stops at various points – most notably Shinjuku-Sanchome Station around 35°41’26.01″ N 139°42’20.84″ E, and Shinjuku-gyoemmae Station – one more stop the east. All of them pop up onto Rt. 20 at various points. The coolest thing about Shinjuku-gyoemmae Station is its little retro 1950’s-styled entrance on the street around 35°41’19.17″ N 139°42’35.28″ E. There is also a large, cheap, excellent APA Hotel just 1 block west on the same side of the street. There is also a huge Tully’s Coffee just across from Shinjuku-gyoemmae Station.
Heading east on Rt. 20 towards Yotsuya. Note the JTB building on the right. Along this route around this area there are also huge massive department stores such as Isetan, OIOI (pronounced Marui), and Takishimaya. This part of Shinjuku is known as the Shinjuku Ohdori Shopping District. There is also a huge Apple Store here. One of the best kept secrets in this area is the hobby shop on the top floor of the OIOI.
West a few blocks from the west side of the station is the odd-looking Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower. It’s mostly offices, but there are a few interesting things on the ground floor. It’s a rather small building, so there’s not a lot to do here. But it’s worth walking to it just to have a look at the architecture.
If you head just northwest from the Cocoon, you’ll come to an iconic part of Shinjuku which includes many buildings from famous photos of Tokyo: such as Sampo Japan Building, and others. There is also a massive pedestrian walkway here which allows you to walk around several of the buildings elevated from the streets.
There is also a very nice massive concrete and green park 2 blocks to the west of Cocoon at the Sojibo Shinjuku Mitsui Building around 35°41’30.14″ N 139°41’38.23″ E.
Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower northwest of the station. KEIO dept. store is behind the camera to the east. If you continue far enough west from here, you’ll come to the Tokyo Metropolitain Government complex which has one of the best observatories in Tokyo.
Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower at street level facing east.
If you continue west for a few blocks, you’ll next pass the Shinjuku Keio Plaza Hotel, and 2 blocks west of that, you’ll come to the Tokyo Metropolitain Government buildings. These twin buildings house the entire central government for Tokyo. There is a massive open-air concrete courtyard surrounding the buildings, and a free observation deck on the top floors – but be warned, becuase it’s free, there are usually huge lines for the observatory – even on weekdays. Plan on spending several hours in line – more if it’s peak season such as in the spring or late fall.
The Japanese word for electronics is Denki. There are several huge electronics stores in Shinjuku: There are 2 Yamada Denki LABi stores – one near Studio ALTA mentioned above, and one just west of the MyLord building near the station’s central exit. The one near Studio ALTA is closing soon.
There are 3 huge Bic Camera stores – one in the Odakyu Annex mentioned above, one in the huge UNIQLO store (called BicQLO) around 35°41’29.45″ N 139°42’11.45″ E, and Bic Camera Shinjuku Station East Store just southeast of the Studio ALTA location.
The other big electronics store is the huge Yodobashi Camera Shinjuku West Main Store around 35°41’23.30″ N 139°41’52.96″ E. It’s just a few blocks southeast of the Cocoon Building. There’s also lots of interesting other small shops around the Yodobashi store.
All of the electronics shops are worth a look – if for no other reason than to marvel at their scale and selection.
Yodobashii Camera Shinjuku.
Kinokuniya Book Store
Just across from the BicQLO store mentioned above is a huge Kinokuniya Book Store around 35°41’30.98″ N 139°42’09.99″ E. Kinokuniya is one of the largest book chains in Japan, and this one doesn’t disappoint. If you have any extra time, be sure to pop in and look around. They also have a web store where you can order online.
Takishimaya Times Square + The Bubble Building + Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden + Cafe La Boheme
Just to the south of the station and the Southern Terrace area is the epic Takashimaya Times Square complex – a huge multi-story shopping/food/entertainment complex, TTS is a must-see in Shinjuku. There are also plenty of interesting shops in the complex’s open-air below-ground area, and the large Tokyu Hands department store (depato) on the south side. To get to TTS, go outside to the southern terrace (on the west side of the station) and head south to the large foot bridges which lead to the complex.
Takashimaya Times Square, left, and the NTT “Bubble building”, right.
Takashimaya Times Square at night.
Just south of TTS is the NTT DoCoMo “Bubble Building” HQ. It was nicked-named the Bubble Building because it was built during Japan’s “bubble” economy in the late 1980’s-1990’s. The building’s design was inspired by the Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York.
West of TTS is the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – a huge Japanese garden with several ponds, trees, and long walkways. Many of the paths afford excellent photo spots of various parts of Tokyo. There is also a large impressive greenhouse. Admission price is around $6 USD, but it’s worth it. Be sure to check it out.
Entrance to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
If you’re in the mood for a brew, just across the street to the north of the greenhouse is the excellent European-themed Cafe La Boheme at 35°41’15.14″ N 139°42’46.09″ E. If you love coffee + have the time, be sure to check it out – it’s excellent.
To the north of the station a bit (oddly in a seedy nightclub area) around 35°41’43.84″ N 139°42’12.63″ E, is the excellent Samurai Museum Shinjuku. This is one of the best samurai museums in Tokyo, and you can even buy swords and take caligraphy lessons there if you want.
Walking to Other Parts of Tokyo from Shinjuku
As mentioned, you can actually walk to other parts of Tokyo (or ride a bike) such as Yotsuya or Akasaka. Ebisu is just to the south and worth a walk. Plan on a few hours, however, and the walk east is a quite a ways. On bike it will take about 30-45 minutes.
There are so many food options in Shinjuku it’s hard to know where to start. The options are endless. There are conbini (convenience stores) in the station and they are all good. There are many good places just outside the station, and there are huge and upscale restaurants in the area and in TTS.
The Maple Diner waffle shop near the MyLord building.
Kinokuniya Entreé conbini near the Saikyo Line in the station.
HOKUO the Garden also in the station.
Watch them carbs.
Shake Shack @ Southern Terrace.
Soup Stock Tokyo.
American Bar + Grill, TGI Friday’s jammed down some side street.
More cool places hidden down side alleys.
Sanagi Shinjuku Food Hall
A Happy Pancake Shinjuku @ 35°41’26.01″ N 139°42’13.58″ E.
The world-famous Omoide Yokocho Alley around 35°41’33.97″ N 139°41’58.12″ E.
Taming The Beast
Shinjuku is one of the biggest, busiest, and most overwhelming parts of Tokyo – you could easily spend several days exploring it all and not see everything. It’s a must-see part of Tokyo, so plan on spending a few days at least seeing it.
We can’t recommend Shinjuku enough – and you absolutely can’t miss it if you’re in Tokyo. From the station area to vast electronics stores, depatos, the TMG + Cocoon buildings, and the streets, there is more than enough to do here. Be astounded, and be amazed.
The fire trucks are coming up around the bend. You live, you learn. The NTT “Bubble Building” tower in the distance at dusk.
A typical exit info sign in Shinjuku Station.
Inside the Odakyu complex heading down into the station below.
The Yamanote Line heading north for Ikebukuro and Omiya.
Facing the Odakyu/KEIO complex from the taxi stand @ the west side of the station.
Also @ the west side of the station.
At the LUMINE/NewWoman side of the renovations at street level.
The Odakyu Line cuts through the Shinjuku night.
One of many endless excellent restaurants on the backstreets.
There are endless things to discover on the streets of Shinjuku.
A hidden place to park your bike for free in a small underpass.
Stumbling around Shinjuku’s streets in the dark, every once in a while the perfect photo opportunity hits you smack in the face.
Or if you prefer – the B+W version.
Inside Odakyu HALC. This ain’t Walmart.
The main area to the northeast. The huge Don Quijote store is shown in this thumbnail on the right.
Great article over @ tokyocheapo.com about buying a bike in Tokyo.
In addition to the stores listed, we highly recommend some of the smaller hidden ones in Akihabara – it’s not uncommon to find a brand new high-end racing bike in Akihabara’s shops for up to 50% off retail price. Before the pandemic, we even saw a Bianchi touring bike in an Akihabara shop for a mere $600 USD.
The 1/2-price Binachi we spied in a tiny Akihabara shop.
As the article mentions, Don Quijote is a great place for buying bikes – such as this $200 special we picked up there on a trip a few years back.
A very nice Hummer @ Don Quijote Ginza, which actually has a huge array of bikes right out front.
Don Quijote Ginza. Bikes are out front on the right.
Another shop not mentioned is this small private shop in Toranomon: Avant Cycles.
Free Wifi: Yes
Location: 35°39’06.53″ N 139°43’20.30″ E
Our Rating: ⭑⭑⭑
Worth it? For a quick stroll or some night dining.
There’s not a lot do to here because the town is mostly a high-end residential district. There are however many very cool restaurants and few large parks + complexes worth checking out. The area is known as one of the more upscale areas in Tokyo. It also has many high end car dealerships.
Just to the east a few blocks is the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library and gardens.
If you head a bit further south on Gaien Nishi-Dori you’ll come to Ebisu.
The town is pretty simple – one main street running north-south and a bunch of side-streets. Most of the interesting stuff is on the main street. There is also Hiroo Strolling Street (see below).
The biggest reason to visit Hiroo is for the nice restaurants. There are also a few multiuse complexes worth checking out. There’s a wide range of food from Italian, pizza, cafés (there’s a nice Blue Bottle Coffee), sushi and more.
Blue Bottle Coffee which is right across from the station.
Hiroo Plaza, Hiroo Garden, National Azabu Supermarket
Around 35°39’00.19″ N 139°43’17.13″ E is a large multiuse complex called Hiroo Plaza worth checking out. Right across the street is Hiroo Garden – another small shopping complex. There is also a small free city shuttle bus stop right out front of Hiroo Garden. Both are worth a look.
Around 35°39’02.42″ N 139°43’27.84″ E is a very nice large organic grocery called National Azabu Supermarket.
Hiroo Strolling Street
At 35°39’02.08″ N 139°43’16.63″ E to the west is Hiroo Strolling Street (aka Hiroo Shopping Street) – which comes alive after dark and makes a nice nighttime stroll. Right on the corner is a huge 2-story wine bar/shop called Vinos Yamazaki.
Just a few blocks east from the intersection of Gaien Nishi-Dori and Meiji Dori is the New Sanno Hotel. If you’re looking for a nice hotel in the area, this is it. There are some others which aren’t as expensive, but if you’re looking for pure luxury and nice surroundings, New Sanno is the best in the town.
About 1/2 a mile to the west around 35°39’11.52″ N 139°42’49.09″ E is the very cool Yamatane Museum of Art. This museum has an excellent contemporary clean design inside and out and has a huge collection of ancient art. If you have a few extra minutes and don’t mind the walk, it’s worth checking out.
There are also quite a few ancient temples in Hiroo worth checking out.
Hiroo is a very hip quirky little town. If you’re on the Metro Hibiya Line and have a few free minutes, pop in and take a walk to check it out – especially at night.
There are also several bus stops.
Lots of high-end car dealers abound.