With the help of this guide and a good map, you should be able to visit Tokyo's major attractions easily on your own. Should you be pressed for time, however, you might consider taking one of several group tours of Tokyo and its environs offered by the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB; tel. 03/5796-5454; www.jtb-sunrisetours.jp) or Japan Gray Line (tel. 03/3595-5939; www.jgl.co.jp/inbound/index.htm). Day tours may include Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Palace and Ginza districts, Asakusa Sensoji Temple, Meiji Jingu Shrine, and a harbor or river cruise. There are also specialized tours that take in local festivals, the Ghibli Museum, Kabuki, Tsukiji Fish Market, Akihabara, sumo wrestling, or Tokyo's nightlife, as well as cultural-themed tours that allow participants to experience such activities as the tea ceremony, making sushi, or dressing up in a kimono. Be warned, however, that tours are very tourist-oriented, do not allow much time for exploration, and are more expensive than touring Tokyo on your own. Prices range from about ¥4,500 for a half-day tour to about ¥12,000 for a full-day tour including lunch. You can easily book tours through most tourist hotels and travel agencies.
Although they cover less ground, 10 tours offered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government concentrate on specific areas or themes, such as Japanese gardens, Asakusa, or Harajuku. Lasting 2 to 3 hours, they are conducted mostly on foot or utilize public transportation and vary in price from free (a walking tour of Shinjuku and the food floor of Isetan department store) to ¥3,540 (the Ginza, Tsukiji Outer Market, Hama Rikyu Garden, and Odaiba), plus admission costs of the volunteer guides. Tours depart from the Tokyo Tourist Information Center in the TMG building in Shinjuku at 1pm Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays; some tours depart also at 10am). Preregistration 3 days in advance of the tour is required, and a minimum of one participant must be at least 20 years old. For more information, go to www.tourism.metro.tokyo.jp/english/tourists/guideservice/guideservice/index.html or contact the tourist office.
Volunteer guides are also on hand at the Ueno Green Salon in Ueno Park every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday for free 90-minute walking tours departing at 10:30am and 1:30pm; and at the Asakusa Information Center every Sunday for 1-hour tours departing at 11am and 2pm. No registration is required. For more information, call tel. 03/3842-5566.
Free guided tours are also offered through www.tokyofreeguide.com, staffed by volunteers. You're expected to pay for the guide's entrance to museums, meals, and transportation fees if applicable, but you get to choose what you'd like to see; because many of these volunteers work, weekends are the best days to book a tour.
A 1-hour tour of the Marunouchi and Ginza districts is offered by the Tokyo Sky Bus (tel. 03/3215-0008; www.skybus.jp), with departures from the Mitsubishi Building (across from the Marunouchi South exit of Tokyo Station) every hour on the hour from 10am to 6pm. The open-top, double-decker buses roll past the Imperial Palace, National Theater, Supreme Court, Diet Building, and other downtown sights, and the tours cost ¥1,500.
Otherwise, one tour I especially like is a boat trip on the Sumida River ★★ between Hama Rikyu Garden and Asakusa. Commentary on the 40-minute trip is in both Japanese and English (be sure to pick up the English-language leaflet, too). You'll get descriptions of the 12 bridges you pass along the way and views of Tokyo you'd otherwise miss. Boats depart Hama Rikyu Garden hourly or more frequently between 10:35am and 4:15pm, with the fare to Asakusa costing ¥720 one-way. There are also other cruise routes, including those between Hinode Pier (closest station: Hinode, about a 1-min. walk) and Asakusa (fare: ¥760), Asakusa and Odaiba (fare: ¥1,520), and Hinode Pier and Odaiba (fare: ¥460). For more information, contact the Tokyo Cruise Ship Co. (tel. 0120-977311; www.suijobus.co.jp).
Another boat company, offering transportation along the Sumida and Arakawa rivers, in the Odaiba area, and to Kasai Rinkai Park, is the Tokyo Mizube Cruising Line (tel. 03/5608-8869; www.tokyo-park.or.jp/English/business/route.html).
Finally, for personalized, one-on-one tours of Tokyo, contact Jun's Tokyo Discovery Tours, managed by Tokyoite Junko Matsuda, which offers tailored sightseeing trips to Tsukiji, Asakusa, Yanaka, Harajuku, Aoyama, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Kamakura, as well as shopping trips and special trips designed to fit your interests. Tours utilize public transportation and are especially useful if you wish to communicate with shopkeepers and the locals, want to learn more about what you're seeing, or are timid about finding your way on public transportation (if you wish, you'll be met at your hotel). The cost is ¥25,000 for 1 day (7 hr.) for up to four adults or a family. Reserve tours at least 3 days in advance (1 week preferred) by fax (tel. 03/5477-6022) or e-mail (email@example.com), stating the desired tour date and what you'd like to see; messages can also be left at tel. 090/7734-0079 (if you're calling from abroad, drop the initial 0).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.