Flights to Tokyo
Tokyo is home two international airports: Narita and Haneda. Narita is the reigning international airport and main airport hub for the city. However, it is actually located in the neighbouring Chiba prefecture and is 60 minutes away from the city centre by train. Haneda Airport, which used to be the domestic airport, has recently been expanded and modernised to handle international flights. Located just 15 minutes by train from the city centre, Haneda is quickly becoming an international airline hub. It’s lower landing fees is attracting budget airlines, such as Air Asia, increasing cheap flight options for travellers.
Narita Airport handles over 35 million passengers a year and is the hub for Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways. It services most international airlines and offers the best domestic airline links, as well as direct links from Australia. The airport has two terminals, with terminal one split between the North Wing and South Wing. Most amenities are available at the airport, but there is little available once in the satellite wings.
Both airports have excellent public transportation options and are well-linked into the Japanese rail system. From Narita, it is easy to take the Airport Express train to the city centre. The train station is located beneath the arrivals hall and easy to access. Trains also depart frequently, which makes it a good transportation option. There are also limousine buses from the airport, which service many of the main hotels in Tokyo and provide a direct link from the airport to hotel. Taxis from Narita should be avoided, as a taxi fare to Tokyo could cost over A$400!
Haneda Airport offers much better links to the city centre. There is the Tokyo Monorail and also Keikyu Line, both connecting to the city centre in about 15 minutes. These are easiest and most direct options. There are also buses from the airport. From Haneda it is possible to take a taxi into the city centre, but this will be the most expensive transportation option.
Take it from someone who's been there and slurpped the noodles, Tokyo is one fantastic place. But to truly experience it, you need to train yourself in the ancient art of drinking to excess - because in Tokyo - after a long day of work, it's time to hit the local watering holes with reckless abandon! After all, you only live once... and Godzilla might attack! So you might as well live a little.
Personally, I recommend the drinking establishments under the train tracks in Yurakucho (a train station not too far from Ginza and the Imperial Palace). It's smack in the middle of town and crazy busy. At night you'll find pubs nestled in the stone arches underpinning the bullet train tracks, where modern day samurai, the 'salarymen', recover from the brutal paper cuts they've suffered at work. Get in early before they get smashed (say around 7pm). The food is awesome and the plum wine, shochu (distilled liquor from potato or rice) and sake will add to the ambience. Follow that up with karaoke (see below) and you'll have a night to tell your grand children about... if you remember it!
More to see in Tokyo
Alright, so Tokyo isn't only about the crazy stuff that goes on there at night. It mostly is, but that's not the whole story. There's also...
1. Ginza on a Sunday
You’ll want to walk down the main drag of Ginza on a Sunday. That’s the big shopping street that you see on a lot of postcards. On Sunday, they stop the cars! It's a great way to see it. But you’ll probably want to see Ginza at night. That's when you'll get the full crazy neon Blade Runner experience. I can't imagine the electricity bill!
2. Climb Mt Fuji.
For sadists (ugh… I mean active people) looking for a challenge, you’ll want to climb Fuji-san. Provided it's Summer (the volcano is closed in the Winter), take the bus at 7am from Shinjuku station, the world’s busiest and most convoluted train station, and drive all the way up to the 5th station of Mt Fuji – half way up the volcano. There you’ll hike up for 4 hours on molten lava gravel (and hopefully not in the rain or God forbid a Typhoon) and see next to nothing once you’re at the top. It’s an exhilarating climb 3,776m and on a good day – epic! On a bad day it is living hell. I’ve experienced both. My recommendation: Check the weather forecast.
Note: You may not see Mt. Fuji at any point during your stay, but it is visible from Tokyo – early in the morning on a clear day when there's no smog. There’s also an amusement park in front of it with a massive rollercoaster. If you're into thrills, you'll want to take a ride. It's insanely fast. Be sure to catch the last bus or train home or it’s going to be an expensive stay for the night at the hostel on the mountain…
3. Harajuku Shops
Lots of hip back streets and ecclectic fashion. Harajuku Station and the Olympic park are next to each other. That’s where the "kogaru" hang out. There’s also a nice souvenir shop and a great woodblock print museum within walking distance.
If Harajuku is for the day time, Shibuya is where you go at night. That’s where you'll find the massive intersection full of lights and neon that you see in all the ads. Go there and explore the back streets. Exit the station and see the statue of Hachiko (loyal dog who waited for his master to return from work until he died - tragic story...) Once you've composed yourself, cross the street explore the back streets filled with shops, clubs, karaoke boxes, and all kinds of weird stuff.
5. Hiking Mt Takao (and eating at the best tourist trap ever!)
It’s a nice day out. You climb this small mountain and at the top you're rewarded with a picturesque landscape of ondulating hills in various shades of green. There’s a shrine and some shops selling puff pastries and meat on a stick and (wait for it...), on a nice day… you can see Mt Fuji in all it's symetrical and conical glory!
Once you’re done, you take a shuttle bus to the best traditional Japanese restaurant you could ever hope to go to (as a tourist). The restaurant’s name is Ukai and you will love it.
It's a sprawling estate located in a steep valley about 10 minutes’ drive from Takao-sanguchi Station. It consists of a series of small, traditional Japanese buildings and is the sort of place that Tokyo residents like to take their overseas visitors for a taste of ‘the real Japan’ (the photos on the restaurant’s Japanese-language website will give you an idea of the atmosphere).
Here’s the link to the restaurant: http://www.ukai.co.jp/toriyama/
Go there. You will love it.
6. Asakusa Shrine
It's a really big shrine with a really big lantern in front of it. It also has shops selling trinkets and souvenirs - like replicas of famous woodblock prints and classy memorabilia like ninja throwing stars, rising sun bandanas and plastic Godzilla dolls. The Shrine is worth a look - it's big - and there's good tempura nearby too.
7. Tokyo Disneyland
If you hate cutsie stuff and all things Mickey Mouse… you’ll probably want to kill yourself as it is the epicentre of cute in Nippon. But it's also a very nice day out if you don't mind queues. The night parade is amazing and everything is spotlessly clean and well maintained. As Disney parks go, this one delivers a great experience.
There’s a nice shopping mall across the way – and a Cirque Du Soleil Show on permanent display (not to mention a whole other park called DisneySea featuring Tower of Terror and Indiana Jones rides).
Can't sing? No problem. Karaoke is about letting go of your inhibitions and, if you're really bad, entertaining others through your sheer mediocrity. "Karaoke boxes" (complexes with private booths where you can sing karaoke) are easy to find. They're at most stations, but I would recommend the gigantic one in Akasaka. Ask to see the song selection before you go in to make sure your favourites (in English) are there.
9. Electric Town: Akihabara
Marvel at the stores full of electronic gadgets while enduring a cacophony of noise and nausea enducing jingles. It’s sick. It’s nuts. It’s Japan!
10. Tokyo Skytree Tower & Ueno Park
In a city that gets earthquakes regularly, it only makes sense to have the world's tallest tower. And who knows... on a clear day you might see Mt Fuji!
There's also Ueno Park featuring homeless people in tents (they're very industrious - some of them even have TV!) and Japan’s National Arts Gallery and a ton of other museums. Plus a zoo with Pandas.
Nearby is Nippori Station. That’s where you’ll find many love hotels all lit up at night in garish neon. There's also Kappabashi street where restaurants purchase all their cooking supplies such as lanterns and the plastic replica food you'll see on display everywhere - but beware, it's not cheap!
Tokyo - If it didn't exist, someone would have to invente it.
Book your flight today with Skiddoo and say hi to Godzilla for me!