Tokyo is one of the most popular destinations for first-time travellers in Japan, and it is no wonder why, with the vast stretches of metropolitan buildings boasting of insane sales, illuminated by flashy neon lights. Although the occasional surly bump of shoulders from rushing commuters may come off as cold to some, there are plenty of people who wouldn't hesitate to point you in the right direction if you're lost and need help!
Take a page out of Osaka's book, because they're a pro at doing just that - known for the friendly locals who speak in the expressive kansai-ben, they serve up a wicked meal of savoury delights to melt your taste buds! The travel time may take longer than the city area, but all's well at the end of the day with a full tummy,
If you need help deciding on where to go on your next vacation - fret not, because we're here to break it down for you! Where's the hot spots to shop, what lines you should take, and the best food in each prefecture; we've got you covered!
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1. Distance from the nearest airport: domestic vs. international flights
The two main airports in Tokyo are Narita and Haneda, with the former bringing in more international flights, and the latter for domestic flights. Both airports offer high-quality facilities and world-class standards when it comes to service, with the only difference being the distance between their location and the city centre.
For a more convenient but longer ride, book a flight that lands in Narita, where the airport is located about a 1-hour drive away from Tokyo Station. Compared with Haneda, it has more transport options for you to choose from and most of them feature a one-way trip with the least amount of transfers. On the other hand, Haneda Airport may be closer to the city centre (8 miles/14 kilometers away), but there are limited transport options and the transfers you have to make may be confusing for first-time travellers.
No matter which one you choose, remember that there are friendly staff on duty who will be more than willing to help you out if you're lost!
Available bus transportation
Available train transportation
Housing two airports, the Itami Airport handles the bulk of Osaka's domestic flights, offering its service to more than 30 destinations within Japan. For international travellers, the Kansai International Airport is where you will be landing at. Built atop a man-made island 24 miles away from central Osaka, the travel times can vary from 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on which transport options you take.
Available bus transportation
Available train transportation
2. Rail transport for sightseeing : entwining routes vs. straightforward
If you're confused after seeing the flurry of colours, don't worry, you're not alone! Japan Rail Line (JR Line) is operating on ground. So You will enjoy the scenery from the window. The main line you should take note of is the Yamanote Line (black), which will take you on a loop across major city centres such as Ikebukuro, Shinjuku and Shibuya, Tokyo, Ueno station. The whole circle takes only an hour so just relax! Other noteworthy lines are the Chuo Line (yellow), where it cuts across from Shinjuku to Tokyo station.
Another noteworthy line is underground, Tokyo Metro lines. Some key stations are interconnecting to JR ground line stations such as Otemachi station to JR Tokyo station, Shinjuku to JR Shinjuku station, Omotesando to JR Harajuku station. Usually Japanese locals rely on metro more than JR when they move around this metropolitan city.
Being smaller than Tokyo, Osaka's public transport system is more straightforward. The four main stations you should take note of are: Umeda Station found in the shopping district of Kita, Shin-Osaka Station where the bullet train makes a stop at, Namba Station for transfer to 3 other railway lines, and lastly, Tennoji Station near Tennoji Park and the entertainment district of Shinsekai.
3. Shop till you drop: upbeat youthful streets vs. bargain shopping
If you're already planning for a trip to Tokyo, you must have heard of the major shopping hubs of Shibuya - but add in the edgy Harajuku, and eccentric Akihabara for an all-rounded shopping experience.
Immerse yourself in the buzz of Shibuya, where the towering Shibuya 109 stands tall against the backdrop of illuminated buildings. Spanning across 10 stories with over a hundred boutiques, one day may not even be enough for the serial shopaholics! Visit the nearby Tokyu Hands for lifestyle necessities with a creative twist on designs.
The dazzling array of colours on the streets of Harajuku are a sight unique to this youthful hangout. Spot the occasional cosplayer parading down the alleyways, or just sit back with a crepè in hand as you watch the latest fashion trends of Japan take to the streets. You can stop by the Oriental Bazaar for authentic Japanese souvenirs ranging from silk kimonos to ceramic teapots, and if your tummy is rumbling, pop by Omotesando Hills for a cup of coffee!
Housing a ton of electronics stores that boasts of crazy sales, you can head to Yodobashi Camera for a brand new camera tax-free! Known also for the mega otaku culture here, you can explore the plethora of maid cafès for a unique dining experience. Drop by the Gundam cafè if you're a long time fan, and pick up a couple of video games from Gamers nearby.
The never-ending line of stores that pepper Tenjinbashi-suji stretches past 1.2 miles - talk about shop till you drop! With a ton of locally owned boutiques, feel free to haggle for that dress that you really like, and hang out by the old bookstores for a change of pace. Be sure to pick up a drink at the nearest izakaya too - the prices are dirt cheap for a decent gulp of booze!
Head over to Tempozan Marketplace, where good food and budget shopping come hand in hand. Enjoy a delicious plate of scrambled egg rice with a generous serving of curry sauce, and indulge in the quiet atmosphere of the quaint shopping district, away from the other bustling tourist spots.
Lastly, visit Rinku Town just on the outskirts of Kansai International Airport, where a ton of outlet stores feature crowd faves with giant reductions on prices. If you're not one for luxury shopping, head over to Aeon Shopping Mall for a 100 yen shop and Sanrio store for some souvenir shopping.
4. Famous shrines and temples: bustling tourist spot vs. quaint retreat
Built just beside Harajuku station, the Meiji-Jingu Shrine is less of a tourist trap than Senso-ji - with tranquil sights of lush green trees that wrap around the shrine with an air of peace, you can take the chance to disconnect from the busy city life here. Appreciate the Shinto religion up close by making offerings or writing out your wish for the future on wooden plaques known as ema.
The beautiful exterior of jet black roofs built atop a vivid red exterior are reflective of its name of The Grand Shrine. Erected in dedication of ancient Shinto gods, these shrines are usually found near harbours to aid in the safe return of fishermen out at sea. Take a short break in the woody regions of Southern Osaka, where the calm atmosphere stills your mind and soothes your soul.
5. Famous street foods: sweet treats vs. savoury delights
Sweets galore: Tokyo is hands down one of the best places to satisfy your sweet tooth! Grab a fish-shaped bun known as Taiyaki, stuffed full with delicious red bean paste and grilled to a rich golden brown hue. Munch on a fragrant melon bread (melon-pan) with a refreshing taste of authentic melon mixed with a crunchy exterior. Save the best for last with crèpes of over 10 flavours - for a fruity taste, try the strawberry ones topped off with fluffy whipped cream, and if you are looking for something a little more unique, opt for the ice cream crèpes with any flavour of your choice!
After indulging in sweets, balance it out with a burst of flavour with the locally made takoyaki. Wrapped with a well-grilled batter, you can choose from the traditional octopus filling or turkey bacon for a more Western taste. Share a plate of okonomiyaki with your friends - resembling the shape of a pancake, you can find everything and anything in an okonomiyaki! Thin sliced pork belly, shrimp and chewy mochi aside, the generous serving of otafuku sauce is bound to have you coming back for more!
Modern city or rural charms for you?
The developed metropolis of Tokyo offers some of the most up-to-date facilities as well as a wide array of entertainment for everyone. Osaka, however, has a more laid-back pace as compared with Tokyo, and the friendly locals say it all with their welcoming attitude! No matter where you choose to visit, remember that each vacation is different for everyone - you may find the snacks in Osaka to be unfitting to your taste buds, and oddly find a sense of peace even amongst the bustling roads of Tokyo!