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For the second time, Japan’s capital is playing host to the Summer Olympics, and the world's spotlight will be on this wonderful, enormous city on the south-eastern side of Japan's main island, Honshu.
Tokyo skyline. Credit: www.olympic.org/tokyo-2020
The number of Australian’s holidaying in Japan has boomed over the last few decades, in part driven by huge numbers taking advantage of fabulous skiing and winter sports conditions. To give you an idea of the growth, in 1997, just over 40,000 Australian holidaymakers travelled to Japan. By 2016, the number had skyrocketed to nearly 400,000—almost a 1000 per cent increase in just 20 years.
And in the glow of the recent Rugby World Cup, and the Summer Olympics beckoning on the horizon, those numbers will inevitably continue to grow.
Tokyo’s new National Stadium awaits the 2020 Olympics. Credit: Getty Images
To first-timers, Japan can be tricky. There are some pretty serious cultural and linguistic differences for starters, and quirks galore. So what do you need to know if you're heading to Tokyo for the first time?
We asked a couple of ATAS accredited travel agents for their top tips, recommendations and sneaky secrets. Here's what they had to say.
Sinead Allison from ATAS accredited Weston Cruise & Travel in the ACT starts with some important fundamentals, noting that, "I always recommend learning some basic phrases before you go. Manners and etiquette are 'everything' in Japan, and your attempts at the language will be very well received by the locals."
Tokyo has two international airports, Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND), with flights from Australia using both. Each has its pros and cons, but Sinead recommends the latter.
Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Credit: Japan Airports.
"Personally, I would suggest flying into Haneda as it's closer to the city and easy to take the train into town," she advises.
Tokyo is a brilliant gateway to the rest of Japan, and there are endless, uber-efficient transport options. Sinead recommends speaking with your ATAS accredited travel agent about a Japan Rail Pass.
Shinkansen bullet train. Photo by David Dibert from Pexels.
"The Japan Rail Pass gives you access to Tokyo's metro train network, intercity rail services, the incredible Shinkansen bullet trains, long-distance buses and airport shuttles. The passes are available in a range of durations, have to be purchased before you leave home, and can save you lots," says Sinead.
With the right Japan Rail Pass or organised tour, you can choose your own adventures from Tokyo.
"There are some very cool side trips you can take from Tokyo such as heading off on a tour to see the legendary Mount Fuji. Or you might venture to the small city of Nikko and wander its shrines and temples. If you have time, extend in one of these more regional areas and stay in a Ryokan—a traditional inn—and experience real Japanese hospitality," says Sinead.
Nikko temple and traditional Ryokan hospitality. Credit: Sinead Allison.
Sinead offers a convenient checklist of Tokyo sights to delight the first-time visitor.
"Enjoy Japanese culture, natural surroundings and, in Asakusa, the atmosphere of historical Japan. Visit the Meiji Shrine, the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace and Senso-ji Temple with an English speaking guide on a sightseeing bus tour of Tokyo," she advises.
"Shibuya crossing is a Tokyo must-see. It is a fab place to people-watch. Find an elevated spot for a birds-eye view of the thousands of people crossing this remarkable intersection. Shibuya is a great district for fashion-forward shopping and dining," she adds.
Shibuya Crossing. Credit: Photo by Life of Wu from Pexels.
HOT TIP: A common vantage point to view the Shibuya Crossing from above is the local Starbucks. If you venture to level 2, the coffee shop has a great viewpoint of the crossing but be prepared to wait... this is a well-known photo opportunity hotspot. However if you duck across the street to the beauty store L'occitane and head up to their cafe located on level 2, for the cost of a beverage or afternoon tea you have the perfect spot for an uninterrupted view.
Your ATAS accredited travel agent can help you plan your day trips and Tokyo adventures.
There's no shortage of 'quirky' in Tokyo. And many consider its epicentre to be located at Harajuku, the centre of Japan's extreme culture and fashion.
"Hop on a train to Harajuku and head towards Takeshita street for classic, quirky Tokyo. Takeshita is a pedestrian mall lined with cafes, funky clothing stores and people with every fashion senses imaginable," says Sinead.
Image: Shopping in Harajuku. Credit: JNTO.
After a day taking in Tokyo's sights and sounds, you may need a quiet spot to catch your breath. Sinead knows just the place.
Image: Exploring Happoen Gardens. Credit: Sinead Allison.
"Happoen Gardens in Minato offer an escape from the hustle and bustle. Koi ponds, incredible bonsai displays and a traditional Tea House make the gardens very popular for weddings—we saw three while exploring the gardens," says Sinead.
Sinead recommends heading to an Izakaya restaurant, an informal Japanese bar that serves alcoholic drinks and snacks. Izakayas operate a little like Japanese tapas bars, serving Edamame, Tempura, steamed buns, and delicious traditional snacks like Okonomiyaki.
One does simply not go hungry in Tokyo. Credit: Ben Alcock.
David Thompson, Manager – Sales & Client Experience at The Travel Authority Corporate in Sydney—another ATAS accredited Tokyo fan—revealed his favourite parts of the city.
"I always stay in Shinagawa. It has one of the largest (but easiest) train stations in Tokyo and it connects you to everywhere. The shopping centres in and next to the station have loads of food options—I ended up eating here a lot," says David.
Conveniently, Shinagawa has train services to both Narita and Haneda airports.
"For something different and un-touristy, I love the area around Koenji which has a bit of a Newtown or Byron Bay vibe to it. Shop for retro clothing and recycled fashion, and there's a big covered shopping street and lots of fab food everywhere," he says.
Image credit: David Thompson.
Clearly, there's a lot to do in Tokyo. It's the kind of place that is best explored with a great plan and lots of information. If you're planning a trip, be sure to consult your ATAS accredited travel agent for insights, tips and great deals.
Looking for more insights from ATAS-accredited travel agents? Try these on for size: Australia’s most romantic places; Long Layovers—A Survival Guide; and ATAS Accredited Agents share their experiences of travelling solo.
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