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How many days in Tokyo Do You Need? Not that many!

How many days in Tokyo Do You Need? Not that many!

written by The Travel Captain April 27, 2017

How many days in Tokyo do you need? Answer: Not too many.

I didn’t like Tokyo that much.  There, I said it.  It took me a couple months of hesitation before deciding to write about my feelings, mainly from not wanting to deal with commentary accusing me of racism or not giving the city a chance.  I gave Tokyo a big chance.  Six days of chances while zipping from Shibuya to Ginza to Shinjuku to Asakusa to Odaiba to Roppongi Hills to Minato to Ueno to you name it.  I did not check out any of the cat cafés, maybe that would have changed my perspective. Kidding.

My bigger concern about writing the article was making sure I didn’t deter people from visiting Japan altogether.  I didn’t like Tokyo that much but I sure as hell loved the rest of my time in Japan.  One of my favorite things about Japan is the cuisine.  Read Must Try Japanese Dishes for my list of everything you should eat when visiting.

So How Many Days in Tokyo Do You Need? Probably 2-3 Max

I would allot more time to other cities like Kyoto or those with more naturescapes.  Tokyo, of course, has its share of excellent restaurants and cool museums but so do a lot of the other cities in Japan.  To me, Tokyo lacked a lot of the elements I find fascinating about Japanese culture: things like tradition, elegant dress, balance and harmony.  Maybe If I were living in Tokyo, I would have more time to discover otherwise.  But I don’t live there, I’m a visitor and I couldn’t find much to rave about (other than the food) in the full six days I was there.

Here’s Why I Didn’t Like Tokyo

Tokyo did Not Live Up To Its’ Reputation – I know… expectations can be a terrible thing.  I remember reading and hearing from so many about how futuristic Tokyo is.  But I’m guessing that sentiment lingers from when people visited in the 80s and 90s because Tokyo does not feel futuristic at all except for the awesome bullet train and a talking hologram that was semi functional at the waterfront mall in Odaiba.  Where was the super skyline aside from Tokyo Sky Tree Tower (looked pretty normal to me).  Where were the kids riding hover boards (didn’t see any) or big holograms popping out of billboards (there were none).  I was expecting Back to The Future kinda stuff, it wasn’t here.

Japan, in general, is highly efficient and mostly modern but Tokyo itself is nothing special in this category.  In fact, Singapore and Dubai have a much more modern feel.

Travel Tips for Japan

Bullet Train or Shinkansen

 

The Locals looked really unhappy and kinda mean – Sadly its true 🙁  That’s how I felt anyway.  I’ve heard that life in Tokyo can be rough due to long working hours, small living spaces and everything being mucho expensive.  These dynamics take a toll on the psyche I’m sure.  New York ain’t got nothing on Tokyo when it comes to unfriendliness though.  No one smiled and people looked generally unhappy.  Not to mention, everyone stared at us in Tokyo like they had never seen foreigners.  I hadn’t encountered this in a major city before.  Maybe we were dressed too “normal” for their liking.  The vibe was certainly very different in Kyoto and Nagano… the locals are friendly and helpful there.

How Many Days in Tokyo

Don Quijote Store Tokyo

 

The Lights Are A Complete Assault on your senses.  I literally had a headache every day once the sun went down.  And it wasn’t because of too much sake.  Bright neon lights everywhere.  There’s no escape.  It’s like Times square multiplied by 1000 to the 50th power (remember exponents?) in your face 24/7.

Combine that with millions of unhappy people scurrying around, I just couldn’t handle.  Every corner I turned was another row of overly lit up stacks of concrete cubes and flashing signs.  Going back to point 1, this did not make Tokyo feel more futuristic but more an ambassador to a shock and awe campaign as well as massive carbon emitter.

I highly suggest filling your days in Tokyo with more zen activities such as visiting parks and the palace gardens in the hopes of achieving some balance.  Or take day trips to Mt. Fuji and other sites.

How Many Days in Tokyo

 

Tech Obsessed in Tokyo The Tech obsession in Tokyo, like the lights, are in your face all the time.  Tokyo natives are on their phones everywhere… in restaurants, on the metro, in bars, cafes, walking on the street.  You will get bumped on the sidewalk because people pay more attention to their phones than to other pedestrians or cars headed toward them.  The idiom Glued to your phone is an understatement in Tokyo.

And what do people do after work to destress?  Head to buildings filled with rows of loud arcade machines on every floor and sit in trance like states while chain smoking and gaming.

The irony of it all is that the infrastructure for public wi-fi and hotspots are non existent for visitors.  If you need to connect outside of your hotel, get a mobile wifi thingie at the airport.  That mobile wifi does also depend on how many days in Tokyo you do spend.  Read Tips for Japan.

How Many Days in Tokyo

gaming in Tokyo

 

The Fashion Am I considered uncool if I don’t like Tokyo’s street style?  Oh well.  Just because I won’t wear it (you’ll find me in rolled up jeans and sandals a lot of times) doesn’t mean I don’t like it or don’t respect it.  But I did not feel that way about most of the street fashion in Tokyo.  I wouldn’t wear it and I certainly didn’t like it.  Some styles are interesting but most of it looked ridiculously forced, devoid of any harmony and trying too hard to be anti whatever.  Some of it felt borderline geared toward attracting pedophile attention. Yuck.

And seriously, whats up with the Harajuku girls?  They dress up like characters from Alice in Wonderland and get upset when people take notice? I’m not saying that gives anyone the right to harass you but beware, tourists will probably stare and take out their camera.

Don’t agree with my advice to the question of how many days in Tokyo do you need to spend?  Would love to hear your comments below.

Like How Many Days in Tokyo Do I Need? Pin It!

 

how many days in tokyo

 

 

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  • Chelsea M

    I was browsing Pinterest and found your blog. I’m really sorry that your experience in Tokyo was so awful. I’m glad you visited other parts of Japan! I’ve been living in Tokyo for about ten months now. I barely speak Japanese. So maybe I can give you some insight to what you experienced. I’ve traveled to well over 14 countries with work and for fun.

    (1) Japan is all about respect. Americans tend to want the “wow everyone here loves me and caters to my every need” experience when they travel. It’s pretty frustrating when you’re trying to get to work and a foreigner didn’t do their research about how to use the trains and access wifi. It’s important to learn a few key phrases in Japanese before arriving. “Arigatou gozaimasu” “sumimasen” go a long, long way.

    (2) If you don’t like the Times Square vibe, don’t stay in Shinjuku, Shibuya or Roppongi. Ikebukuro is a good compromise between the intense feel and sleepy suburbs. An Airbnb that requires an extra 10-15 minutes on the train can vastly improve your experience of the nice, real people that live in greater Tokyo, and dim the lights. I live near Inokashira Koen, it’s 15-20 minutes to Shibuya or Shinjuku. Everyone is super nice and deals with my lack of language. Especially if I seem humble when asking for help, and apologize for not speaking Japanese.

    (3) Did you walk into a Uniqlo ever? That’s normal Tokyo fashion. Harajuku style has died enough to where even a popular magazine dedicated to it was canceled recently. In my ten months here, I’ve seen dozens of foreigners hoping to find fellow fashion rebels and 1-2 actual Japanese people wearing crazy clothes on purpose.

    (4) If you don’t like big cities like New York or San Francisco, you’re not going to like Tokyo proper. If LA or Portland is more your vibe, the prefectures outside of Tokyo are gonna be better. Kanagawa (i.e. Yokohama) is great and still not too far to head into the city to see random things.

    • Hi Chelsea, really appreciate the time you took to check out the article and comment. It seems that you’re enjoying life in Tokyo and I’m glad. To clarify a few points… As a Native New Yorker who just moved from Dubai after living there for 9 years and with a brother living in San Francisco… i can definitely tell you that I’m all about the big city 🙂 And as someone who travels habitually, I’m pretty much the farthest thing from the typical American who travels. I would never stop anyone for directions while on their morning commute. As for wifi, I had done my research and was prepared by grabbing my portable one at the airport upon landing. I know you’re citing these as examples but I assure you that both my husband and I know how to behave and are more than respectful of other cultures – after all we do have about 50 countries traveled between us 🙂 Noted on point 3, that was probably a smart move on their part. We also did not stay in the 3 areas you mentioned, we were near the Tokyo Tower – much quieter I think comparatively speaking. We probably would have benefitted going further out as you mentioned. We did encounter very friendly people but none of them were below 50 unfortunately. Not to mention, we are an interracial couple and got stared at A LOT. not in Kyoto, but in Tokyo which I found strange. Perhaps Tokyo deserves another chance later down the road but as for now, I think there is just so much else to see in Japan.

  • I’ve never really considered travelling to Tokyo myself because of the things you have said above! I’m really not sure I’d like it but would like ce to explore Kyoto and snowfields.
    Kristie- you.theworld.wandering

    • if urban jungle and bright lights are not your thing, I think you’ll fall in love with Kyoto and the smaller cities in Japan… truly beautiful

  • Jean Bean

    It’s so sad to hear that you had this experience of the locals in Tokyo. I’ve been going regularly for the last 15 years and have found them to be some of the friendliest people. Even when I’ve been travelling solo. Never had a problem finding a drinking companion or someone to help give me directions.

    • I totally agree, really sad. And it was surprising to us given our wonderful experiences in other cities. Tokyo was our last stop on the trip. we found the older crowd to be friendlier and helpful in Tokyo whether it was for directions or getting help with the metro at first but a lot of our not so great experiences were with the 40 and younger crowd.

  • Anna Hammerschmidt

    Interesting take on Tokyo! I always hear people say you need a whole week in Tokyo but a few days may be all I could handle there.

  • marvi ocampo

    Such an honest take on Tokyo 🙂 I’ve looked forward to seeing it too and experience it, but reading your post makes me want to be more cautious on the things I need to expect when I get the chance to visit 🙂 Thank you for the heads up!1

    • Tokyo was always high on the bucket list and Im glad I saw it. I think people have different reactions to it, you may love it. But imho, I would leave more time for other cities.

  • Ketki Gadre

    Tokyo is the typical big city. I was there in November last year for work and visited all places of interest in evenings and i loved it! The food, the shrines, public transport, the hi tech toilets. Haha. But i like your honest opinion.

    • Very true. There were definitely some aspects I appreciated like the amazing food and public transport system.

  • Dariel Lim

    I wasn’t too impressed with Tokyo as well but I was already forewarned since it’s another busy city with high cost of living and small houses. However, I did a daytrip to Kamakura and went for a ‘streetcar exploration’ on another which made me feel better.

    • I really wish I did the same! My mistake was not scheduling day trips out in those 6 days.

  • Julie

    haha I loved Japan, but I totally feel ya about Tokyo. I still really enjoyed it but we stayed one day too long and wish we spent that extra day in Kyoto. I would say 3 days would be plenty as well. I did imagine it to be more futuristic than it was as well! I still liked it but it was kinda just like another big city but with super good food haha

    • Totally agree! We loved Kyoto, even with 5 days there I felt like it wasn’t enough. But still happy I saw Tokyo… live and learn 🙂

  • lapinayviajera

    Talk about “keeping it real”! Thanks for your heads up I’m planning to go there soon. I might need to adjust my expectations, that way I can make sure I’ll have a lot of fun exploring the city.

    • haha. thanks. Im surprised at how much back and forth i went through before writing this. I thought about doing a listicle on everything to do in Tokyo and then I realized there’s probably thousands of those articles and I’m better off writing about how i really felt.

  • Amber Groce | A Resort Rendezv

    I’ve never been to Tokyo, so I appreciate the honest opinion! Getting around town to the different museums and restaurants, was the bullet train the easiest/fastest? In big cities I feel like public transit can be hit or miss.

    • The bullet train is excellent but you wouldn’t use it to get around town, only for trips out of Tokyo. You would use the regular subway system to get around Tokyo which can be daunting at first but once you get the hang of it after one or two times, you’ll realize it is one of the most efficient transit systems ever.

  • Reading the Book

    This is really interesting, because I would love to visit Japan but Tokyo has never really called to me. Sounds like your experiences might back that up a bit. However, it would still be great to see it!

    • I definitely recommend seeing it and not ruling it out. Just maybe less than 6 days 🙂

  • oh sadness! Tokyo has been on my top 3 places I want to visit for ages. I’ll have to check it out myself 🙂 But will make sure to visit other cities too.

    • It was on my top 3 as well! Definitely go but leave more time for other cities in my opinion 🙂

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