in the middle
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Vast Tokyo feels like a city of the future. From the towering skyscrapers and fast glamour of Roppongi to the quirky shops of Harajuku there are endless fascinating districts to explore. You'll stumble upon pockets of calm and tradition as you navigate this high-tech metropolis, with temples, tea ceremonies and culture still very much a part of modern Japan.
Must-see sights in this city of nearly 13 million people range from spectacular temples to fascinating museums and bustling streets. And there's a whole world of bizzare sights that you'll want to experience too. If you want to get a sense of the scale of the city you'll get a great view from the Roppongi Hills Complex, as well as some of Tokyo's best art galleries with the Roppongi Art Triangle there too. Fans of anime godfather Hayao Miyazaki will want to visit the Ghibli Museum. Alternatively Tokyo Disneyland is another big draw for cartoon fans!
Waves of people flood across the world's busiest pedestrian crossing at Shibuya, it's also one of the commercial hearts of the city. Find a coffee shop with a view and revel in the bustle of this vibrant metropolis. If you want to see traditional Japan then head to Sens?-ji, the city's oldest temple, or discover an oasis of calm in the tranquil gardens at Shinjuku Gyoen.
And if you want to see Tokyo's stranger side the first place to start is your hotel bathroom for Japan's famous hi-tech toilets. You'll want to spend a while testing the facilities which include heated toilet seats and jets of water. Afterwards you could visit a kitty cafe - which is more about petting the furry residents that the coffee, or head to Yoyogi Park on a Sunday where Tokyo's tweens show off their outlandish costumes to crowds and photographers.
The speediest of Tokyo flights will wing its way from the UK to Japan in just under 12 hours, with the return journey taking a little less time. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both offer direct flights to Tokyo, as do Japanese national carriers, however you may be able to save some pounds if you consider flights that involve a stopover or connection along the way.
Tokyo has two main airports; Tokyo Narita International Airport and Haneda Airport. Narita Airport is much further outside the centre, but with direct train links that will whisk you into the city in about an hour. Haneda Airport is only 15 miles from the centre of Tokyo, but it is more regularly used for domestic and short haul flights than cheap long haul flights to Tokyo from the UK.
Narita Airport website | Tokyo International Airport website
Haneda Airport is on the monorail line from the centre of Tokyo as well as the Keikyu suburban train line, so you can get into the centre nice and quickly. These may be difficult with luggage if you're planning on joining the subway, so you could also use the buses, which run to a wide range of destinations. Narita Airport is similarly accessible by public transport, with the Keisi Mainline, Skyliner and Narita Express services all heading for the airport. Buses here are slightly different, with a variety of shuttle buses served destinations across the city centre. If you're really in a hurry you can even travel by a combination of helicopter and limousine! Car hire and taxis are available from both airports - but be wary of Tokyo's nightmare traffic jams.
Tokyo has one of the most extensive and efficient public transport systems in the world, but also one of the most confusing! There are several different operators across the subway and train networks and fares vary. Often the easiest thing to do is buy the cheapest ticket and use the fare adjustment booths to pay the extra when you arrive at your destination. It works out the same price and it saves some complicated calculations. Buses run across the city too. Taxis in Japan are expensive, more so because they often get stuck in Tokyo's chaotic traffic jams, and driving in Tokyo is even more confusing than the public transport! For such a large city the public transport stops running surprisingly early, so check what time the last train runs. If you do miss it, do like the locals do and head into an Internet cafe for a nap. You get your own room and it's often cheaper than a taxi home!
If you're planning on travelling around Japan you absolutely must buy a train pass in advance. Japan's extensive and fast train network covers the whole country from Nagano to Kyoto to Kagoshima-Chuo, but the fares make even the British rail networks look cheap! The main operator is JAL and depending which pass you go for you'll be able to use all their trains except for the very fastest Shinkansen Bullet Trains. There are other train companies too, which sometimes offer much cheaper trips. Because the train network is so fast and efficient, internal flights are sometimes seen as a luxury, but are great if you want to head to one of the other islands. Ferries from Tokyo Bay are also available but are even less popular. Long-distance buses serve a wide range of destinations too, at much cheaper prices than the trains, but they do take a significantly longer time.
Tokyo has hot, humid summers and mild winters which can be a little cold in places. The seasons tend to lag behind traditional northern hemisphere seasons with the warmest month being August, with highs of just under 30°C and the coldest month being January, when temperatures hover around 5°C. The summer tends to be wetter than the winter but higher areas do experience snowfall in the winter.
Spring and summer are the main tourist seasons, with the start of the influx coinciding with the beginning of the cherry blossoms at the end of March. But Tokyo is a great year-round destination with plenty to see regardless of the weather. October to December is a great time to visit, although it's not traditionally associated with the city. The summer rains are ending, the leaves are changing colour in all the beautiful gardens and you can get a head start on your Christmas shopping!
January sees one of the only days you can visit the internal grounds of the Imperial Palace, as well as the Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan if you want to get into this fascinating sport. In February head to the shrines to see the annual Bean Throwing festivals and in March the Tokyo Anime Festival is a mecca for anime lovers the world over. The Cherry Blossom parties are in full swing in April, whilst in May the Tokyo Port Festival is a great excuse for fireworks and a party. Flower lovers will want to head to the two-day-a-year flower market in July to celebrate Morning Glories, the country's favourite flower whilst visitors might want to avoid Obon in August. It's a traditional family festival where people visit their ancestors, making transport congested. The Tokyo International Film Festival and Tokyo Motor Show both roll into town in October.
Currency in Japan is the Yen. Cash is king in Tokyo, many places won't accept cards at all, but it's quite difficult to get hold of when compared to home! Many of the ATMs don't accept UK cards but there are dedicated foreign exchange bureaux so having a few travellers cheques to swap in these may come in handy. It's best to check with your bank which ATMs you can use when you're travelling, and take some notes with you.
Japanese. Whilst English will be spoken in tourist hotspots and at hotels, very few Japanese people speak English. Written phrases are more likely to be understood and roman characters are used at many of the train stations, but learning a few phrases in Japanese may just help your trip go a little more smoothly.
+81 for Japan followed by 3 for Tokyo
Japan is a very safe place to be a traveller, with crime rates very low. You are most likely to stand out for wearing the wrong things, with shorts for men and short shorts for ladies frowned upon even at the height of summer!
A valid passport and a return ticket are all that is required for a UK national to stay in Japan for up to three months.