October 28, 2018 · Travel · Japan · Tokyo
Public transportation in Tokyo is amazing. You can pretty much get from anywhere to anywhere within 30 minutes. However, it is still important to choose where to stay depending on where you plan to spend most of your time. In general, staying anywhere along the JR Yamanote train line that circles Tokyo will enable cheap and convinient access to all of the main areas of Tokyo (especially if you have Japan Rail Pass).
I always recommend people to stay near Shibuya. It’s crowded and chaotic, but has an amazing wibe. It’s a hot spot for things to do, has an amazing selection of restaurants, the famous Shibuya crossing, nightlife, shopping, and great access to public transportation. From Shibuya station you can get anywhere in Tokyo so it’s a great place to start and end your day.
Harajuku is right by Yoyogi park, has lots of vintage/hipster clothes shops, but is still within walking distance to Shibuya. Further to the east you reach Omotesando which is more upscale with all the luxury brands and an Apple store. The area is great for shopping and cafes, but gets very crowded during weekends.
This area is a personal favorite of mine. It’s a smaller, less crowded downtown area, but still has a great vibe. It’s also within walking distance to Shibuya (or one stop away on the JR Yamanote Line). A bit to the west you reach Daikanyama and Nakameguro (quieter hipstery areas with lots of small shops, cafes, and restaurants).
While not on the JR Yamanote Line there is still a lot to do in Roppongi there are several Subway lines that connect you to other areas of Tokyo, convinentaly located between the other areas.
There are lots of hotels around Tokyo station but this area feels more like the business and financial downtown of Tokyo. If you plan to take a lot Shinkansen (bullet trains) to other areas of Japan then staying close to Tokyo station is definitely a benefit. Ginza is located within walking distance and is a more upscale shopping area with lots of brand stores and department stores.
There are lots of great hotels in Tokyo, everything from cheap capsule hotels to world class luxury hotels. In general the standard of quality is very high (a 3-star hotel in Japan is way better than a 3-star hotel in Europe or the USA). Of the budget Japanese hotel chains I like both Tokyu Stay and Hotel MyStays.
Since the law change that occurred during 2018 it has become a lot more difficult finding good cheap Airbnbs in Tokyo. Essentially Airbnb owners have to be licensed and are only allowed to rent out their homes for max half a year. If you decide to use Airbnb then be very careful that you make sure the host is licensed as you might otherwise find yourself stranded.
There are several monthly rental agencies that target foreigners. Usually they require a minimum 1 month rental, but is usually much cheaper than staying at a hotel for a longer period of time. Usually you have to email and ask what you’re looking for (number of rooms, dates, location) and they will tell you what they have available.
A note on how public transportation works in Tokyo. There are multiple transportation companies. For example, the most common ones are:
Each transportation company sells their own tickets. If you transfer trains within the same company then you only have to buy 1 ticket. If you transfer trains between two different companies then you have to buy 2 tickets.
It’s always cheaper to change train within the same company. For example changing between two JR lines is way cheaper than first taking a JR line and then changing to a subway line (since you are switching companies).
If you have a Suica IC card then you can easily tap in and out everywhere without worrying about buying tickets, and you also get a discount. It also works on busses.
When deciding on a place to stay (hotel, Airbnb, or apartment) check Google Maps to see how long it takes to get to Shibuya station. If you can get to Shibuya station either by walking or taking a bus/train (preferably direct) within 30 minutes, then it’s probably a good location. Here are some examples:
Ikenoue is west of Shibuya but you can easily walk, take a bus, or a train to get directly to Shibuya. Higashinakano is north-west of Shinjuku which is quite far from Shibuya. However, there is a direct bus route to Shibuya, or you can take JR to Shibuya by train using a single ticket.