NOTE: This post was written prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. We will update when travel resumes to Tokyo after the pandemic.
We love Japan, so we’re incredibly excited about the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games! The city really has so much to offer, whether you’re visiting for a week or just one day. The beautiful Asian nation is expecting a surge of tourists this summer, and they are doing all they can to make it a pleasant visit — even giving away trips to other cities in Japan. Be sure to check out the promotion from Japan Airlines (keep reading!).
The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics will take place from July 24 to August 9, 2020. With attractions such as shrines, temples, famous neighborhoods, theme parks, land marks and amazing food, along with the Olympic sites themselves, there’s so much to do. This guide will provide tips for making the most of your visit to Tokyo, even if you’ve only got one day!
We’ll be in Japan later in August, meaning we’ll miss the Japan Olympics, but we’re already busy with trip planning. There are things we want to see again and new areas to explore. We’re coming up with our own itinerary, so why not share with our readers? We hope these tips for visiting Tokyo in 2020 will be helpful for your own travel preparations!
Preparing for Your Trip to Tokyo
Before you step on the plane, you should learn more about Japanese culture and customs before your first trip. Among the tips we provide in this post is that it’s considered rude to eat while walking down the street. It’s a major faux-pas and you should avoid doing it.
Travel and Transportation
If you’re flying directly to Tokyo, you’ll land at Narita International (NRT) or Haneda (Tokyo International Airport or HND). Sometimes, flights into Narita, the larger of the two, are cheaper than those landing in Haneda.
The service you receive shouldn’t differ — the Japanese are committed to providing excellent customer care. Narita is a LOT further away from the city center, though, so keep that in mind when you book your flights.
You’ll also want to read up on the Shinkansen bullet train and the Japan Rail Pass. This is the best way to get around Japan, especially if you plan to leave the Tokyo area.
The Shinkansen allows you to travel vast distances very quickly, so we highly suggest that you buy a JR Pass and checking out the following:
- Fuji-Q Highland/Mount Fuji area
- Dotonbori (a famous area in Osaka, about three hours from Tokyo)
For travel within Tokyo, you’ll want to take advantage of the extensive commuter train, subway, and bus transit system. It’s very affordable, and you can preload fares onto an IC Card.
Practical Tips for Tokyo
You should also consider carrying a small backpack (we love this convertible one by Eagle Creek because it folds up so small when it’s not being used!). Here are some things we recommend carrying with you:
- Lonely Planet guidebooks, maps, and language aids
- Mobile Wifi Hotspot (like the Skyroam Solis)
- Power banks (don’t let your battery die!)
- Poncho or umbrella (Japan can get pretty rainy – buy one of these at a local convenience store)
- A copy of your passport
- Bags for trash (there are very few public garbage cans in Japan)
We’ve heard people say that they struggled with phone service in Japan. Between our Skyroam and free Wifi on the Shinkansen and in public areas, we never struggled. That’s why I’m going to suggest downloading the following apps:
- Google Maps (Android device | iOS device)
- Google Translate (Android device | iOS device)
- Tokyo Subway Navigation (Android device | iOS device)
- Japan Travel by NAVITIME (Android device | iOS device)
- Uber (iOS/Android)
Where to Stay in Tokyo
If you plan to stay in the Tokyo area overnight, remember that most Japanese hotels will be much smaller than anything in North America. Also, you’ll probably be provided with a pair of slippers. Use them. It’s considered rude to wear shoes inside homes or hotel rooms in Japan.
On our most recent trip, we stayed at The Knot Tokyo Shinjuku. It was incredibly affordable, conveniently located, and clean. We were able to walk to Shinjuku Station to easily explore Tokyo or travel directly to the Mount Fuji region. It was a tight fit, though, so either pack light or ask the front desk about storing your suitcase. Read our full review here.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
As mentioned, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be held from July 24 to August 9, meaning that the crowds are going to be insane. You’ll also probably pay more for hotel and flight costs, too. Plus, it’s summer, which is already one of the most expensive times to visit Japan.
The rainy season, which runs from early June through July, will be tapering off. Still, it’s a good idea to be prepared with umbrellas and/or ponchos. It’s also going to be hot and humid with average temperatures from the high 80s to low 90s.
History of Olympics in Japan
If you don’t follow the Olympic Games closely, you may not know that this won’t be the first time Japan has served as host of the international sporting event. Here is a brief overview of the history of the Olympics in Japan:
- 1940 Summer Olympics (Tokyo): Tokyo beat out Barcelona, Rome, and Helsinki to become the first non-Western city to win an Olympic bid. Unfortunately, the Second Sino-Japanese War lead to the Games being moved to Finland. Ultimately, though, the 1940 Summer Olympics were cancelled due to World War II anyway.
- 1964 Summer Olympics (Tokyo): They missed their first chance to host the Summer Games, but Tokyo got a second chance when they held the event from October 10-14, 1964. To win the bid they beat out Detroit, Brussels, and Vienna.
- 1972 Winter Olympics (Sapporo): Held from February 3-13, 1972 in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, the city was chosen over Banff, Lahti, and Salt Lake City. It was the first time the Winter Olympics took place outside of North America and Europe.
- 1998 Winter Olympics (Nagano): Beating out Salt Lake City, Östersund, Jaca, and Aosta, Nagano held the Winter Olympic Games from February 7-22, 1998. Events also took place in the nearby communities of Hakuba, Karuizawa, Nozawa Onsen, and Yamanouuchi.
We’re sure that Japan will draw from past experience to deliver an incredible event for Tokyo 2020. It’s going to be an exciting summer for athletes, fans, and tourists!
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay
Every pun intended — it sounds like the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Torch is going to be lit! The design was inspired by cherry blossoms and will feature five petal-shaped columns around the tip. The torch, which will feature a “sakura gold” finish, was made using aluminum recycled from the unused shelters deployed to survivors of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
After being lit in Olympia, Greece (as is tradition!), the 2020 Summer Olympics torch will travel to Athens on March 19. Here are the details for the Japanese leg of the relay:
- It will start in Fukushima and end in Tokyo’s New National Stadium (more on this venue below!).
- The 2020 Olympic Torch will visit all 47 prefectural capitals.
- The slogan is “Hope Lights Our Way.”
Three prefectures — Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima — were damaged by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, so a special torch display will be held in those areas. The “Flame of Recovery” will be on display at the following locations in March, 2020:
- 20th: Ishinomaki Minamihama Tsunami Recovery Memorial Park, Ishinomaki
- 21st: Sendai Station, Sendai
- 22nd: Sanriku Railway and the SL Ginga Steam Locomotive Express (between Miyako, Kamaishi and Hanamaki Stations)
- 23rd: Kyassen Ofunato, Ōfunato, Iwate
- 24th: Fukushima Station, Fukushima
- 25th: Aquamarine Fukushima, Iwaki
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sites
There are 33 competition venues for Tokyo 2020, including 11 newly constructed or renovated sites. It’s probably not realistic to assume you’ll be able to see most of them (at least, not from the inside), so if you’re curious, you could just check out the main attractions. You might be interested in the following venues (and how to get to them):
New National Stadium (Olympic Stadium)
The Old National Stadium, which was used for the 1964 Summer Olympics, was demolished in May 2015. In its place, the New National Stadium was built. You can find it in the Kasumigaoka, Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo. This is where the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the track and field events, will take place.
How to get to the Tokyo 2020 New National Arena by train or subway:
- JR Sobu Line: 5-minute walk from Sendagaya Station or Shinanomachi Station.
- Subway Oedo Line: 1-minute walk from Kokuritsu-kyogijo Station.
- Subway Ginza Line: 15-minute walk from Gaienmae Station.
Olympic Aquatics Center
All of the swimming, diving, and synchronized swimming will take place at this 828,800-square-foot arena located in the North Tokyo Bay area.
How to get to the Tokyo Olympics Aquatic Center by train or subway:
- JR Keiyo Line: 15-minute walk from Shiomi Station.
- JR Keiyo Line: 20-minute walk from Shin-kiba Station.
- Rinkai Line: 20-minute walk from Shin-kiba Station.
- Yurakucho Subway Line: 20-minute walk from Shin-kiba Station.
- Yurakucho Subway Line: 10-minute walk from Tatsumi Station.
Coincidentally, indoor volleyball became an Olympic sport at the 1964 Games, which were also held in Tokyo. For Tokyo 2020, the events will be held at the Ariake Arena in the northwest corner of Tokyo Bay next to Ariake Tennis Park.
How to get to Ariake Arena by train or subway:
- Waterfront New Transit Waterfront Line Yurikamome: 8 minute walk from Ariake-tennis-no-mori Station.
- Tokyo Rinkai Kosoku Tetsudo Rinkai Line: 17 minute walk from Kokusai-tenjijo-seimon Station.
- Waterfront New Transit Waterfront Line Yurikamome: 8 minute walk from Shin-toyosu Station.
At the center of the Heritage and Tokyo Bay venue zones, you’ll find Harumi Pier. This is where Tokyo 2020’s Olympic Village will be situated. Spread across a sprawling 33 acres, the area will feature two 50-story residential towers. Branded as the Harumi Flag community, the hope is that it will be transformed to include a school, parks, and commercial space to be used after the Games have ended.
How to get to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Village by train or subway:
- Toei Oedo Line: 10 minute walk from Kachidoki Station.
- Tokyo Waterfront New Transit Waterfront Line Yurikamome: 20 minute walk from Shintoyosu Station.
Ariake Gymnastics Center
Just a few steps away from the Olympic Village, the Ariake Gymnastics Center is located in Tokyo’s Koto Ward. It should be pretty easy for athletes (and tourists) to easily move between these two venues!
How to get to the Ariake Gymnastics Center by train or subway:
- Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transit: 8 minute walk from Kokusai-tenjijo Station.
- Tokyo Waterfront New Transit Waterfront Line Yurikamome: 1 minute walk from Ariake-tennis-no-mori Station.
Japan Airlines 2020 Promotion
For international visitors who will be in Japan between July 1 and September 30, 2020, Japan Airlines (JAL) has made an exciting announcement. The much-loved carrier will be offering round trip domestic flights within Japan to 50,000 lucky participants! Here are some key details:
- How to apply: Applications will begin in late February 2020. A set number of applications will be accepted each day. Details will become available mid-January.
- Participating airports: Travelers will choose between three departure/arrival airports: Haneda (HND), Kansai International (KIX), and Osaka International (ITM — also referred to as Itami).
- Destinations: Participants will be shown four possible destinations when they apply. If chosen, they will find out where they are going within three days of submitting the application.
- Planning your itinerary: Choose from three or five departure/arrival time slots. Sightseeing tips and information on local specialties will be provided!
- Groups are welcome: You can apply as a group of up to four people.
JAL is working with the Japan Tourism Agency to increase tourism to rural areas and less-visited regions. To be eligible to apply, visitors must live outside of Japan and be members of the Japan Airlines Mileage Bank program.
Tokyo Neighborhoods to Visit
It really will feel like there are 20 million different regions in the Tokyo area. If you don’t speak Japanese, they might all start to look and sound alike. Make it easier on yourself and stick to the most popular areas, at least on your first trip.
The active vacation is becoming really popular, so if you’re looking to stay physically fit while you’re in Japan, why not take a run along the new Tokyo 2020 Marathon Course? You’ll see the sites and get in a good workout before you head to the next curry spot!
You’re going to love Japan, so plan to explore a little more on your next visit! Here are some suggestions for some of the best Tokyo neighborhoods to explore using the local commuter train Yamanote Line Loop (the subway stops correspond with the names of the neighborhoods):
Often referred to as the “Times Square of Tokyo,” this is a hub for students and young office workers. We love the huge department stores, shops, and restaurants (our favorite Indian restaurant is in Shibuya!). Look for the two-story Starbucks and you’ll find the famous Shibuya Crossing (also known as “The Scramble”). It’s reportedly the busiest intersection in the world!
Head south for one more station past Shibuya and you’ll end up in Ebisu. Ever since the incredible Yebisu Garden Place debuted in 1995, this has become a mecca for shopping, nightlife, and culture.
If you’re looking for electronics or even electrical appliances, you’ll want to head to Akihabara. There are literally hundreds of shops where you can find everything from camera gear to the latest gadgets. It’s also home to the Tokyo Anime Center.
When Keio Plaza Hotel opened in 1971, Shinjuku, a former post town dating back to 1698, welcomed Japan’s very first skyscraper. It was definitely a sign of things to come because you’ll find many tall buildings, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office, towering above the area. If you can manage to find your way out of the famously confusing Shinjuku Station, you’ll discover both a bustling shopping district and beautiful gardens in Shinjuku Gyoen Park.
Related: The Knot Tokyo Shinjuku Hotel Review
One of Tokyo’s most popular and oldest attractions, Sensoji Temple, is located in Asakusa. The whole area feels more traditional, with tiny shops offering beautiful Japanese souvenirs. Don’t miss Nakamise Dori, a pedestrian street that leads straight to the temple!
Ready to live the high life? Head over to Ginza! It’s where you will find the most high-end, expensive commercial area in all of Japan! Shop till you drop at major department stores and international boutique shops and then replenish your reserves at one of the exclusive restaurants.
While Shinjuku is the most happening district in Japan for bars and nightclubs, Roppongi is a close second. Locals and foreigners alike flock to the area for the nightlife, but you’ll also find some incredible international restaurants too.
Just west of Asakua, you’ll find Ueno. Look for the Ameya Yokocho street market, an original black market after World War II. The Tokyo National Museum is another popular spot and is located at Ueno Park, where visitors can enjoy ample green spaces, a temple, a shrine, and even a zoo.
If you’re looking for Tokyo’s younger crowd, you’ll probably find them in Harajuku. Takeshita Dori, a narrow pedestrian street, is packed with eateries, discount shops, and teenagers. Aside from this bustling hub, Harajuku is also the location of the Meiji Jingu Shrine, built to deify Emperor and Empress Meiji in 1920.
Where to Eat in Tokyo
Okay, we are NOT high rollers and I’m allergic to fish and seafood, so our restaurant recommendations will reflect that. In fact, we prefer to find great food at the many affordable restaurants and convenience stores throughout Japan. As such, here are some places to eat in Tokyo that are quick and inexpensive.
We’d had a long day commuting from Osaka. By the time we made our way across The Scramble in Shibuya, we were ready to eat. We found Tandoor in the lower level of a shopping mall near the famous intersection (it’s close to the Starbucks on the corner).
Head downstairs and you’ll find several eateries, including Tandoor. As the name implies, they specialize in amazing Indian food. The prices are very reasonable and the naan was bigger than our heads. It was delicious! There are locations in Shibuya, Ebisu, and Meguro.
Go Go Curry
All around Tokyo, you’ll see Go!Go!Curry! locations. They are easy to recognize and distinguish from other curry places because they use a giant Gorilla as their mascot. So much fun!
Several different platters are available, but we love the Chicken Katsu. The menu is pretty limited, but everything is tasty. It’s the perfect choice for when you want something fresh and filling without breaking the bank.
You’ve seen one McDonald’s, you’ve seen ‘em all, right? No way! McDonald’s is different all around the world, but we particularly enjoy the menu in Japan. Not only do the burgers and fries taste better, but even the condiments seem like real food.
We’ve got a strong recommendation, though — try the Shaka Shaka Chicken. Oh my goodness! It’s actual chicken, breaded and deep-fried, then served with a seasoning pack that you can shake onto it (shaka shaka!). It’s crispy, cooked to perfection, and just so good. Do it!
Related: The World’s Largest Entertainment McDonald’s
With my food allergies and germaphobia, you could not pay me to eat gas station food in North America. In Japan, though, some of the best eats come from convenience stores. For Tokyo 2020, consider grabbing a bite from 7-Eleven, Family Mart, or Lawson (our favorite!).
We ate everything from microwavable (but fresh) spaghetti with meat sauce to Jumbo American Dogs (huge corn dogs). Okay, we averaged between two and four corn dogs a day, but who’s counting!?
Again, in North America, there’s little chance that I’d eat at a restaurant in a train station. Japan is so amazing, and it does so much to improve my anxiety, that I didn’t hesitate to sit down and order some soup, fried rice, and gyoza.
The prices will likely be very reasonable, and remember, there’s no tipping in Japan! So, sit down and slurp it up to your heart’s content (slurping is a-okay with the locals)!
Theme Parks in Tokyo
Are you thrill seekers like us? We’ve found that riding roller coasters actually helps with anxiety. Who knew? As such, we like to check out theme parks whenever we travel. There are several in the Tokyo area, including the following:
Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea
People LOVE Tokyo Disneyland but they REALLY love DisneySea! Both parks have great reputations, but we don’t have first-hand experience yet. We’ll be updating this post after we visit this summer.
You will probably have a terrible time trying to buy tickets online due to the security protocols for foreign credit cards. Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out a solution, but you can buy tickets at convenience stores around Tokyo! If you don’t need all day, you can even buy the Starlight Passport (entry after 3pm) or the After 6 Passport at highly discounted rates!
Tokyo Dome City
Once called “Big Egg City,” you’ll need to travel to the Bunkyo neighborhood to check out Tokyo Dome City. The entertainment complex includes the (you guessed it!) Tokyo Dome, which is the world’s largest roofed baseball stadium.
At Tokyo Dome City, you can find a hotel, restaurants, and attractions, but there’s one thing that’s been at the top of our bucket list for a year. We can’t wait to ride the Thunder Dolphin roller coaster, which speeds through a building and the center of the Big O ferris wheel!
You’ll have to travel up to the Mount Fuji area, but we think it’s absolutely worth it. Not only will you see one of the most majestic natural wonders in the world, but you’ll get to ride some truly breathtaking and record-breaking roller coasters at its base. It’s really an unbelievable experience.
Head to Fuji-Q Highland ready for adventure. Summon your courage for Do-dodonpa, the fastest accelerating launch coaster in the world, or Takabisha, which features one of the steepest drops on this planet (121 degrees). We had an absolute blast, and the food at the park restaurants is phenomenal — get the spaghetti with meat sauce!
Mount Fuji from Tokyo
When you visit for Tokyo 2020, be sure to set aside some time to visit Mount Fuji. Often referred to as “Fuji-san,” the active volcano is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest from Tokyo. At 3,776 meters (12,388 ft), it’s Japan’s tallest peak.
Along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku, Fuji is considered one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains.” The UNESCO World Heritage site has been a popular pilgrimage site for centuries. The area is excellent for outdoor lovers, so if you’re into active vacations, this is a good spot!
How to Get to Mt. Fuji by Train
Japan is known for their trains, and there are several options for getting to the Fuji area from many places within and around Tokyo. Although the train is generally going to be slightly more expensive and take a little longer than buses, if you prefer traveling this way, it’s definitely a viable option!
- Fuji Limited Excursion Express Train: This service offers the most direct train route available to the Fuji area from Tokyo. Departing from Shinjuku Station with a final destination of Kawaguchiko Station, stops include Mount Fuji Station and Fujikyu Highland along the way. The JR Pass partially covers this route.
- JR Chuo Special Rapid Service: Following the same route as the Fuji Limited Excursion Express Train, this option departs from Shinjuku but takes longer due to additional stops along the Chuo Line and Fujikyu Railway. The JR Pass also partially covers this route.
- JR Tokaido Line: This route departs from Tokyo Station and is a great option for people heading to climb Mt. Fuji. It is, however, a little more complicated. From Tokyo Station, take the JR Tokaido Line heading towards Atami to Kozu Station, then transfer to the JR Gotemba line heading to Mishima. You’ll want to get off at Gotemba Station, where you will need to catch a bus to locales like the Gotemba Premium Outlets or the Subashiri 5th Station, a popular launching point for Mt. Fuji climbers. The JR Pass covers the entirety of the train portion of this route.
How to Get to Mt. Fuji by Bus
There are several bus options available from the Tokyo area to visit Mt. Fuji attractions such as the Five Lakes region, Fujikyu Highland, and Mt. Fuji itself. The options below are the most straightforward for visiting tourists, are relatively cheap, and generally faster than trying to travel by train.
The bus lines mentioned will typically travel a route that includes attractions or stations such as Fujikyu Highland, Fuji-San Station, Kawaguchiko, and the Fuji Subaru 5th Line Station (a popular staging point for Mt. Fuji hikers).
- Tokyo Station: From here, you can travel on the JR Kanto bus line or the Fujikyuko bus, with one to two departures to the Fuji region and attractions hourly. Depending on where you get off, and traffic, expect about a two hour ride.
- Shinjuku Station: Buses to the Fuji area are available from Shinjuku through the Fujikyuko bus and Keio Bus. Taking just under two hours, there are one to two departures hourly between these two options that terminate at Kawaguchiko Station, with stops at Fujikyu and Fuji-San along the way.
- Shinjuku Station – Climbing Season: During the primary climbing season of July to mid-September, direct buses from Shinjuku to the Fuji Subaru 5th Line Station are available, taking you to one of the primary start points for Mt. Fuji climbers. This ride lasts about two and a half hours.
- Shibuya Station: The Fujikyuko Bus departs from Shibuya about once every hour and a half, with returns approximately as often. The journey can vary between two and two and a half hours with stops that include Fujikyu Highland, Kawaguchiko, and Mt. Fuji Station.
How to Get to Mt. Fuji by Air
Although Mt. Fuji isn’t accessible by air from Tokyo, it is accessible from both international and domestic locations via Mt. Fuji Shizuoka International Airport.
Flights are available to and from cities in Japan such as Sapporo and Fukuoko as well as destinations outside Japan like Seoul, Taipai, and Shanghai. A less busy alternative to the congested Tokyo-area airports, Mt. Fuji Shizuoka opened in 2009 to divert increasing traffic away from Narita and Haneda airports as well as to further serve the local prefecture.
Located 50 miles from Mt. Fuji itself, visitors are able to access the destination by traveling via bus to the nearby Shizuoka train station and taking either the Kodama Shinkansen or the JR Tokaido Line to the various destinations located around Mt. Fuji.
Tokyo 2020 With Travel Anxiety
Overall, Japan is great for our travel anxiety. Everything is so organized, there’s a huge emphasis on cleanliness, and even convenience store food is served in sanitary wrapping paper. We would feel completely comfortable wearing a mask to protect us from germs or allergens without having to worry about being mocked. The transportation is always on time and the Japanese go out of there way to provide excellent customer service.
Nevertheless, Tokyo is pretty hectic. If you’re sensitive to noise and crowds really bother you, it might be good to visit during the off-season or during times when there are fewer tourists. Basically, avoid the Olympics or summer and visiting from November through April.
We try to avoid traveling during those months due to cold and flu season, so we stick with September and late May. You’ll still have crowds, but they will be smaller. Prices are reasonable and the weather is good. If you’re concerned about your travel anxiety being an issue, we’d recommend traveling during those two months.
With the excitement of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics and everything else Japan has to offer, we’re hoping tourists explore the big cities — and then check out the rural areas. It’s such an amazing, beautiful country and we hope everyone who visits has the time of their lives!