When is the best time to travel to Tokyo?
February 16, 2011 9:46 AM   Subscribe

When is the best time to travel to Tokyo?

I am planning on traveling to Tokyo some time this year. I am just beginning my research process and have not set a date or anything yet. I need help! When is the cheapest time to travel to Tokyo? Once I am there, what activities should I do? What should I see? Anything this community can provide would be greatly appreciated.
posted by *lostatsea* to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
New Year's is fun, party in Omotesando/Harajuku and then go to Meiji Jingu for hatsumode(first temple visit of the year) right after midnight! Summer is generally too hot to be comfortable. Try to avoid the Obon season(August) at all costs, travel is insanely expensive.
posted by lettuchi at 9:52 AM on February 16, 2011

Depending on your location, most airlines are having a sale on airfare to Japan right now:

I'm planning on going next year, so I've been following the average price on airfare for several months. This is by far the best deal I've seen!

Other than that, I'm just as curious as you. :)
posted by jaynedanger at 9:54 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would do May and take a side trip to Kamakura to enjoy the outdoors, or I would do late October and take a side trip to Nikko for the Fall colors.

Both May and October are pleasant, neither hot or cold or overly rainy. They are also a little cheaper than cherry blossom or O-bon time. Just avoid Golden Week at the beginning of May because the crowds get crazy and it will be hard to get train tickets.
posted by Alison at 10:14 AM on February 16, 2011

The start of April is nice for seeing all the cherry blossoms.
posted by krunk at 10:18 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can make it to Tokyo during the spring and are lucky enough to get there during the cherry blossom festival, go to Ueno Park :)
posted by lizbunny at 11:56 AM on February 16, 2011

Just got back from Japan in January. I can only say...don't go in winter if you are cold averse. It was FREEZING. I caught a cold which dampened my energy a bit. Airfare, however, was extremely cheap. $740 round trip from LAX to Tokyo (have some connections with a travel agency so YMMV).

Friends in both Osaka and Tokyo say the best time to come, weather-wise, is spring or autumn. They echo the sentiment of posters here - that summer is just too damn hot to be comfortable. Next time I go I will be going in the Fall.

There is much to do in Tokyo when you get there, but I suppose it depends on your interests. My friends and I hung out in Harajuku, Shibuya, Roppongi and Ginza while I was there and spent most of our time eating or going dancing. We stayed in Akasaka and I found it was a great location to get around and see Tokyo.

Depending on how long you are there I would consider taking the Shinkansen (train) down to Osaka and / or Kyoto. On the train ride to Osaka you will get an amazing view of Mt. Fuji on your right side, and with a decent zoom lens you will literally have a calendar-quality picture. Osaka is more "LA", Tokyo is more "New York" Osaka is known for its cuisine and has a lot of great Osaka-specific dishes. Kyoto is a beautiful hub of Japanese culture (Ryoan-ji temple [Zen rock gardens], Kinkaku-ji temple [gold leaf covered temple over a pond], Gion [kind of a preserved middle ages district with many fine restaurants and Geisha / Geiko walking around].

I spent way more time in Osaka so if you do plan to get down there feel free to meMail me and I could give you some specific places to go...
posted by jnnla at 12:36 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was in Tokyo last year in October. The country had an incredibly hot summer and though the heat had broken by then, it wasn't yet cold. It was perfect t-shirt weather.

Activities? I'm a big fan of cities, and just like wandering the streets. Tokyo is lively and safe even at night. I suggest splitting your days up between the different districts.

So, an unordered idea-splurge: Go to Shibuya and go to the 109 and people watch all the young girls shopping. Spend a Sunday in Harajuku, go to the Meiji Jingu shrine in the park, and find some of the cosplayers. Go to Shinjuku, browse the arcades and comic/music stores. Sit upstairs in the Starbucks overlooking the famous Shinjuku crosswalk and marvel at all the people and the giant Darth Vader billboards. Come back here at night and watch the street performers.

If you like computer games, go to the Sega Joyopolis arcade and Hey! Taito arcade. Go to Akihabara and go to the retro game store Super Potato, which has three floors of old computer and console games and a fourth floor with free, retro arcade machines to play.

Go to the Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) and time it so you're there for one of the Asimo demonstrations. Because robots are fun.

Go to the Tokyo Disney Resort. It's the same as every other Disney resort, but the singing of animatronic animals is even creepier when it's in a foreign tongue. "It's A Small World After All" is a surreal experience.

Go to the Tokyo Tower - a slightly taller replica of the Eiffel Tower - for the views over the city.

Everywhere you go in the center of the city will be populated by small noodle restaurants. Most of these will be bare - a counter top, a few stools, a couple of businessmen eating. All of these will be fantastically cheap, and stunningly delicious. You'll either order via a vending machine outside, paying and handing a ticket to the people inside, or by pointing at a menu. Either way, pointing will get you by without knowing any Japanese. Try the soup noodles. Try the dumplings. Spend the rest of your life wishing you could find food so good.

Go to the 7/11 convenience stores and get some daifuku. They're powdery, dough-y, filled with cream and red bean paste. They're sweeter than they sound, and also delicious.

Try some more traditional food; miso soup, sushi, etc. If you've had sushi in the west, be warned that it was probably California sushi. Japanese, traditional sushi is quite different - more sparse, less mayo, etc.

There are other common things that I didn't do: the Nakagin Capsule Tower, the Sony Building, the New York bar (made famous in Lost in Translation). They're probably worth looking into.

Use the subway to travel around the city. It's safe, clean, very easy to use and, if you avoid rush hour, not too busy. The announcements are in Japanese and English, the ticket machines have a button to translate them into English. When you buy your ticket for each trip, choose the cheapest possible ticket and, when you reach your desired destination, use a "Fare Adjustment" machine to pay any more money you owe. That way you don't have to work out your route and the necessary ticket, and you never pay more than you need to.

And lastly, if you have the money and time to get out of the city, try some day trips to Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashii.
posted by Gonnas at 2:49 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

End of March/early April: Chilly, but with a good chance of seeing the cherry trees blossom, which can be absolutely beautiful, but difficult to time an overseas trip for, due to the weather. If you manage it, Kyoto during hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season is awesome.

End of April, early May: Week of national holidays. Travel is expensive, many trains/domestic planes fully booked, many sites of interest (museums, etc.) closed on nat'l holidays.

End of May, early June: Getting warm, no major holidays, pretty decent weather, not to hot, not too cold.

June: Rainy season. Do not come to Japan in rainy season. Nothing good will come of it.

July to August: Stupidly hot, frighteningly humid. Oppressive heat. On the other hand, Japanese beaches, lots of summer festivals, lots of fireworks festivals (especially in the beginning of August). Also, hot.

September: Hot. Still too damn hot. Small grouping of national holidays where everyone takes vacation at the same time, kind of iffy.

October: Cool, pleasant weather. No major culture things, but starting to get leaves changing up north. Nice time to visit.

November: Starting to get chilly, some beautiful leaf changing scenery. Not a bad time to visit.

End of year/New Year's: Many places (hotels and ryokan, too) close from Dec. 31st to Jan. 3rd or 4th, so plan carefully, and double check your bookings. Snow in some places. New Year's eve is largely large gathering free, most people stay home with families. Many people visit temples, as mentioned above. Meiji Shrine, Senso-ji, and many other temples and shrines open their gates at midnight for a steady stream of visitors that won't really taper off until the 2nd. Millions of people visit these places, and the atmosphere is very festive, lots of great street food. It will be freaking cold. Most places tourists go to (Tokyo, Kyoto) have no concept of insulation or central heating. You will be cold, and being cold is not fun.

January to February: It will be too damn cold. Not the best time.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:15 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry, hit post too early. Coming to Tokyo? How long? You can see most of the main stuff in Tokyo in roughly 3 days, though you can spread it out.

Ueno/Asakusa/Akihabara: Asakusa has a pretty famous temple, and is quite pretty. Lots of touristy souvenir shops. Walking west from Asakusa, you'll run into Kappabashi-dori, home to the restaurant supply shops. Good cooking stuff, fake plastic sushi (expensive though). Ueno has the park, some great museums, and Ameyoko, a holdover from the blackmarket days after the war. Follow Ameyoko, head south along the train tracks, about 10-15 minutes and you're in Akihabara. They have computers and stuff.

Shibuya/Shinjuku/Harajuku: Fashion, shopping, food, drinking, people watching. Sunday is the day when the cosplay kids sprout on the bridge next to Harajuku station. Meji-shrine is pretty cool, too. Kind of an oasis in the middle of the city.

Ginza/Tsukiji/Imperial Palace/Sengakuji: Sushi (go to Tsukiji early, stay out of people's way, get in one of the long lines in front of the sushi restaurants, enjoy) Ginza has lots of stores, is expensive. The imperial palace is all right, but much of it is closed off. Sengakuji is the shrine (and cemetary) of the 47 Ronin, and is possibly my favorite place in the city. It's a fantastical story, but seeing the shrine brings it home that it was all true.

Other than that, well, I'm not the biggest Tokyo fan. The best stuff in Tokyo isn't in Tokyo, I think. A day trip to Kamakura (get off at Kita-Kamakura station, and follow the guide map along the temples, end at the giant Buddha statue) or Nikko (wander around the shrines of the shoguns while wondering, if this looks so much like Endor, where are the Ewoks) is well worth doing.

Also, a meetup.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:25 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I went in late May and thought it was perfect. Senso-ji temple has a festival the third weekend of May which is fun, the weather was great but it wasn't nearly as intense as what I've heard about Golden Week. Lot of school groups at the big tourist attractions, not a lot of other tourists, though I'm not sure if it's like that other times of year as well.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:49 AM on February 17, 2011

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