With the help of this book and good online maps, you should be able to visit Tokyo’s attractions easily on your own. Should you be pressed for time, however, you might consider taking a group tour of Tokyo and its environs offered by the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB; www.japanican.com/en/tour; tel. 03/3865-5718). Day tours may include Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Palace and Ginza districts, Asakusa Sensoji Temple, Meiji Jingu Shrine, and a harbor or river cruise. Specialized tours take in Tsukiji’s Outer Market or neighborhoods like Akihabara, 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 these itineraries are very tourist-oriented, do not allow much time for exploration, and are more expensive than touring Tokyo on your own. Prices average ¥12,000 for a full-day tour (children pay half-fare). Tours are easily booked through most hotels and travel agencies like JTB. Although its offerings are not nearly as extensive, Japan Gray Line (www.jgl.co.jp/inbound/index.htm; (tel. 03/3595-5939) also offers a morning, afternoon, and full-day tour.
The 13 tours offered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government concentrate on specific areas or themes, such as Japanese gardens, Asakusa, or the tea ceremony. What I like most about these tours is that they are more personable than those above, with a maximum tour-group size of only 5 persons. Lasting 2 to 6 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 ¥5,200 for a trip to Mt. Takao outside the city, plus transportation and admission costs of the volunteer guides. Prices may be cheaper for some tours if there’s more than one participant. Tours depart from the Tokyo Tourist Information Center in the TMG Building No. 1 in Shinjuku at 10am and/or 1pm Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays; the Mt. Takao tour departs at noon). Preregistration 3 days in advance of the tour is required, and a minimum of one participant must be at least 20 years old. For details, contact the tourist office or book online at www.gotokyo.org/en/guide-services.
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 Culture Tourist Information Center every Saturday and Sunday for 1-hour tours departing at 10:30am and 1:15pm. No registration is required, but you should arrive 10 minutes beforehand. For more information, call tel. 03/6280-6710.
Free guided tours lasting up to 4 hours are also offered through www.tokyofreeguide.com, staffed by volunteers ranging from students and housewives to retirees and businesspeople. 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.
One tour I especially like is the Tokyo Cruise boat trip on the Sumida River between Hama Rikyu Garden and Asakusa. Commentary on the 45-minute trip is in both Japanese and English (be sure to pick up the English-language leaflet, too). You’ll get descriptions of the 14 bridges you pass along the way and views of Tokyo you’d otherwise miss, including riverside promenades, high-rise apartments, and artwork. Boats depart Hama Rikyu Garden every 30 minutes between 10:25am and 4:45pm, with the fare to Asakusa costing ¥740 one-way. Other cruise routes include those between Hinode Pier (closest station: Hinode, about a 1-min. walk) and Asakusa (fare: ¥780); and between Asakusa and Odaiba Seaside Park (closest stations: Yurikamome Daiba or Tokyo Teleport stations; fare: ¥1,560). For details, contact the Tokyo Cruise Ship Co. (www.suijobus.co.jp; tel. 0120-977311). Another option is the new amphibious bus called Tokyo no Kaba (http://en.kaba-bus.com/tokyo; tel. 03/3455-2211), which departs from Aqua City (station: Yurikamome Daiba) and tours Odaiba and Tokyo Bay. Departing eight times a day from April to September daily except Wednesday, it costs ¥3,500 adults and ¥1,700 children (¥500 for infants).
You can also see Tokyo by bike by joining one of four guided Tokyo Bicycle Tours (www.tokyobicycletours.com; tel. 080/3209-9666). The 4-hour ride, costing ¥5,000 per person, takes in Shibuya, Yoyogi Park, Meiji Jingu Shrine, Harajuku, and Aoyama. See the website for more information.
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, Imperial Palace, Harajuku, Aoyama, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Yanaka, as well as shopping and personalized trips designed to fit your interests. Tours utilize public transportation and are especially useful if you wish to meet 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 ¥22,000 for a half-day (4 hr.) for up to four adults or a family. Reserve tours at least 3 days in advance (1 week preferred) by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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.