Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Tokyo (Japan) Travel: 10 Tips for Planning

We are planning our family trip to Tokyo in this December! Other than Tokyo city area, we are going to explore places out of Tokyo. Here are our tips for planning a trip to Tokyo with children!

Tips #1. How to get from Singapore to Tokyo

There are a number of airlines that offer non-stop flights from Singapore to Tokyo, for example, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Singapore Airline and United Airlines, with flight time of about 7 hours.

When you are booking your air tickets to Tokyo, please note that there are two airports - Narita International Airport and Haneda International Airport. While Narita International Airport is further away from Tokyo city compared to Haneda International Airport, it seems that there are more flights available from Singapore.

Tips #2. Booking accommodation in Tokyo

Which part of Tokyo to stay? 

base map: Google Maps

I have stayed in Shinjuku and Ikebukuro previously. These two districts are convenient, with great accessibility via public transportation, as well as a variety of shopping and dining options. However, the area in the north of Shinjuku and north of Ikebukuro seem to be too "happening" for families with young children. We once stayed in the north of Ikebukuro, and saw a number of men in black suit standing outside some shops at night...

For our upcoming trip, to save cost, we booked Toyoko Inn, which is a chain business hotels. Children under 12 years get to stay free when they do not occupy extra bed, and the whole family can enjoy free breakfast! You may read our post on Budget Accommodation for Family with Children - Toyoko Inn for more details. There are a lot of Toyoko Inn hotels in Tokyo area, we are going to stay near Tokyo Dome this time.

If I have a chance to visit Tokyo again, I would consider staying in Ueno area, as it is easily accessible to Narita Airport by Keisei train (read Tips #3).

Tips #3. How to get from Narita Airport / Haneda Airport to Tokyo city area

If you are landing at Narita Airport, you can plan your route using

There are a few ways to access between Narita Airport and Tokyo city area:

Spoiled for choice? There are a few consideration when you choose which mode of transportation between Narita Airport and Tokyo city area.
  1. Where do you stay - JR trains and TYO-NRT bus are suitable for those who stay near Tokyo Station. Keisei trains are suitable for those who stay near Ueno. Airport Limousine Bus offers many routes to different parts of Tokyo.
  2. Your budget - The most expensive way is to take taxi (can cost more than 20 000 yen!). The next most expensive way is Airport Limousine Bus (around 3200 yen for adult), and followed by JR N'EX and Keisei Skyliner (read Tips #4 on how to save money on these trains). The cheapest option is TYO-NRT bus (Adult 1000 yen).
  3. Time spent on travelling - It can be a pain to encounter traffic jam, especially during the rush hours. For trains, depending on where you stay, it may be time-consuming if you have transfer to / from subway.
  4. Convenience - If you have elderly and children with you, then choose the method that involves the least number of transfer.
Just to share my personal experience with Limousine Bus and rapid trains to get between Narita Airport and Tokyo city area:
Limousine Bus: Pros - confirm have a seat if you reserve in advance, the luggage can be placed in the luggage compartment of the coach. Cons - heavy traffic jam when the bus approached Tokyo city area during rush hours.
Rapid train: Pros - no traffic jam problem. Cons - may not have place to put luggage, may not get a seat if you are not purchasing reserved seat.

If you are landing at Haneda Airport, you can choose
It takes about half an hour to get between Haneda Airport and Tokyo city area.

Tips #4. Money-saving for taking public transport in Tokyo

Suica Card
You can consider getting Suica card, which is similar to EZ-Link card in Singapore. You can purchase Suica card in major JR East stations, multifunction ticket vending machine or JR Ticket Offices (Midori-no-madoguchi). A deposit of 500 yen is required, but can be refunded when you return the card to JR East Station. There is also a charge of 220 yen to be deducted from the remaining amount stored in the card when you return the card.

In September 2019, a new type of Suica card called Welcome Suica was introduced, there is no deposit, but there is no refund of remaining amount.

The fare using Suica card is a few yen cheaper than using standard ticket. Though the saving is not that significant, you can save some time as there is no hassle of purchasing standard tickets from the machine every time.

Tokyo Subway Ticket
The network of subways (Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway) is very extensive. You can consider getting Tokyo Subway Ticket. There are 24-hour, 48-hour and 72-hour tickets available, yes, the ticket is valid within the stated number of hours from the first use, not in days! The adult fare for 24-hour, 48-hour and 72-hour tickets is 800 yen, 1200 yen and 1500 yen respectively (half price for child).

Yurikamome One-day Pass
If you are exploring Odaiba area which is accessible by Yurikamome Line, you can get Yurikamome One-day Pass at 820 yen for adult (half price for child).

Return-trip train ticket JR N'EX or Keisei Skyliner between Narita Airport and Tokyo city
To save money while getting to and from Narita Airport, you can purchase round-trip ticket instead of two single-way tickets to enjoy some discount.

For JR N'EX, the Round Trip Ticket for adult is 4070 yen, which is much cheaper than getting regular tickets costing more than 6000 yen.

For Keisei Skyline, the discounted round-trip fare for adult is 4380 yen, which is cheaper than standard fare of 5040 yen.

Free shuttle buses
Enjoy the free shuttle buses in some parts of Tokyo!

Tips #5. Seeking medical care in Tokyo

Just in case you need to seek medical care in Tokyo and you can't understand Japanese, find the medical care here:

Tips #6. Where to visit in Tokyo for the first timers

These are some of the popular tourist attractions in Tokyo for the first timers:

  • Tokyo Tower - the famous observatory
  • Tokyo Skytree - the highest observatory with a huge shopping mall
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observation Decks - free observatory!
  • Asakusa - enjoy the vibe of olden Tokyo, try the street food, visit Senso-ji (temple)
  • Odaiba - offers an array of entertainment e.g. Teamlab Borderless digital art, Fuji TV, Legoland Discovery Centre, National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation
  • Shinjuku - shopping and dining
  • Tsukiji Market - visit the outer market for street food
  • Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea

Tokyo Tower


Tips #7. Experiential Learning in Tokyo

As usual, we focus on experiential learning as a family when we go overseas. Other than visiting the tourist attractions, we are planning different activities in Tokyo.

Japan Airlines or All Nippon Airways Maintenance Centre Tour
For our upcoming trip, we have booked Japan Airlines (JAL) Factory Tour Sky Museum. The tour allows visitors to get an up close and personal experience with the air crafts in the maintenance centre located near Haneda Airport. All Nippon Airways (ANA) also offers similar experience. The tour is free of charge!

The reservation for both JAL and ANA factory tours is available in Japanese only. The reservation is opened 6 months in advance, at Japan time 9.30 a.m. (Singapore time 8.30 a.m.) . When I made the reservation 6 months before the intended date of visit, I encountered some problems when I tried to book the earliest slot of the date, and within a few minutes, the slots of that timing were all taken, so I had to select the next time slot.

For those who are interested in registering for JAL Factory Tour Sky Museum, you have to fill up the following information in red as shown below. For name in Katakana, you can Google for converter to Katakana, For postal code and address, I used the address and postal code of the hotel. For "How do you know about the tour", the options are homepage, friend, travel magazine, travel agency, TV program, others. If you are going with other family members and friends, you have to key in their name, name in Katakana, age and gender.

You will then receive an email upon completion of registration, and then another email on confirmation of the tour. Print the email of confirmation and bring on the day of your visit.

JAL Factory Tour Sky Museum tour:
ANA Maintenance Centre tour:

Cooking Class
We are attending cooking class conducted by the Japanese local. There are many different cooking classes to choose from. 

Cherry blossom in April
Useful resources to check the status of cherry blossoms:

Autumn golden ginkgo and foliage in late November to early December
For the upcoming trip in December, we are planning to enjoy the autumn golden ginkgo at Meiji Jingu Gaien and University of Tokyo, as well as autumn foliage at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.

Useful resources to check the status of autumn foliage:

Fireworks display in July to August, and December
During July and August, there are various fireworks displays at different parts of Tokyo, for example, Jingjugaien, Sumida River, Odaiba. In December, there is also fireworks display at Odaiba Seaside Park every Saturday at 7 p.m.

Winter illuminations in late November to December
There are many winter illuminations around Japan at the end of the year. Since we are going to visit Tokyo in this December, we have shortlisted a few winter illuminations that are easily accessible by public transportation:
  • Caretta Shiodome Illumination
  • Shibuya Blue Cave
  • Tokyo Dome
image source: Caretta Illumination

Tips #8. Planning a day trip from Tokyo 

N years ago, when DaDi and I visited Tokyo, we had a 2D1N trip to Kawaguchiko, a place near Mount Fuji. If the weather is fine, you get to see Mount Fuji! This time, we are bringing our children to Kawaguchiko! To get from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko, you can either take bus or train from Shinjuku (around 2 hours).

We are also planning a day trip to Kawagoe, known as "Little Edo". This place allows visitors to have a feeling of going back to the past. Kawagoe is accessible by Tobu Line train from Ikebukuro (about 30 minutes), or Seibu Line or Japan Rail train from Shinjuku (about 50 minutes).

When I set my first footstep in Japan, my friend and I visited Hakone. This is a famous hot spring area. You can get to Hakone from Shinjuku by Odakyu Line (about 1 hour 40 minutes). However, do take note that in the recent years, there are some volcanic activities in the region.

Other places that you can consider having a day trip or 2D1N trip include:
  • Yokohama - a city with various sightseeing spots, about 30 minutes from Tokyo by train
  • Kamakura and Enoshima -  an area with many temples and shrines. 1 hour from Tokyo by Japan Rail
  • Atami - hot spring area, 1 hour from Tokyo by Shinkansen (bullet train)
  • Izu - hot spring area, 2+ hours from Tokyo by Japan Rail and Izukyu line
  • Karuizawa - a relaxing area with ski resort, around 80 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen
  • Gala Yuzawa or Echigo Yuzawa - ski resort area, around 75 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen
  • Nikko - scenic area where the famous Toshogu Temple is located, 2+ hours from Tokyo by Japan Rail or Tobu Rail

Tips #9. Money-saving tips for taking public transport to places near Tokyo

As mentioned in Tips #8, there are some day trip or 2D1N trip options from Tokyo. Do make good use of discounted transport passes to maximise savings!

For a day trip to Kawagoe, you can purchase Tobu Kawagoe Discount Pass Premium (Adult 970 yen, child 490 yen) which covers the round-trip ticket between Ikebukuro and Kawagoe as well as unlimited bus and train rides within designated area.

At Kawaguchiko, you can consider getting Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Bus 2-day Pass (Adult 1500 yen, child 750 yen) that covers buses around Kawaguchiko, Lake Saiko, Narusawa / Shojiko / Motosuko.

If you are visiting places like Karuizawa, Gala Yuzawa or Nikko, get Japan Rail (JR) Tokyo Wide Pass  (Adult 10180 yen, child 5090 yen), you can save a substantial amount of money especially when you travel on Shinkansen.

Tips #10. Useful websites and apps for Tokyo travel

As usual, I do my homework by reading travel blogs from Taiwan, as there are more travel information about Tokyo in Chinese as compared to English. In addition, I also get information from Go Tokyo.

Here are some websites I find useful for travelling in Japan:

Here are some apps that I find useful:
  • Google Translate (iOS / Android) - You can snap a photo or speak, and the app will translate for you
  • Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi (iOS / Android) - Sign up an account or log in on the day before you travel to Japan, then you can connect to free Wi-Fi in Japan for the next 90 days
  • Travel Japan Wi-Fi (iOS / Android) - Another free Wi-Fi connection app in Japan
  • Gurunavi (iOS / Android) - Search for good food when you are planning your trip, or when you want to locate nearby eateries when you are in Japan
  • Google Map (iOS / Android) - Build your Google Map before your trip, so that you can use your customised map to locate the places that you want to visit
  • (iOS / Android) (Japanese) - You can set the areas that you are visiting, and check the weather on the go
  • Jorudan (iOS / Android) (Japanese) - Transit planner which searches for the route, fare and schedule of trains and airplanes in Japan
  • ロケスマ (iOS / Android) (Japanese) - It can locate eateries, shops (e.g. convenient stores, supermarkets and 100 yen shops) and service facilities (e.g. petrol stations)

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