It’s a great question, asked by thousands of travelers across the globe who are considering visiting Japan’s busy capital. How can you decide which one of Japan’s 14 districts you should choose to be the base of your next Japanese adventure?
Whether you’re a strict planner and list-maker, or you like to go with the flow, you’ll likely still want to know which accommodation to choose in Tokyo. Tokyo has an incredible wealth of options for every kind of traveler and is very well connected no matter where you choose to stay. Every district offers a different perspective and set of amenities, though. By choosing the right accommodation in the right district, you can ensure you plan your perfect trip.
Before we get into detail, what factors should you weigh up when making your decision? There are a few big points you should take into account: budget, what type of accommodation you prefer, and convenience.
What Factors Should I Consider First?
Look, I don’t want to “teach grandma to suck eggs” as the old, albeit weird expression goes. There’s a good chance you’ve booked a great many holidays and can tell a boutique from a luxury hotel with your eyes closed (impressive). Perhaps, though, you’re in the same situation as I was when I planned my first trip to Japan – I had been on plenty of trips around Europe, and knew what to expect to a degree in each country, but the complete culture shift of Japan meant that I was anxious about my options in Tokyo. Would “budget” mean the same level of quality in Tokyo as it does is Spain, or France, etc? So please allow me to expand on some considerations you’ll have specific to Tokyo (you can also feel free to scroll down to the next section, I won’t tell anyone).
A huge part of your choice will be your budget – are you planning a luxurious, expensive holiday? Are you looking to cut costs as much as possible for a shoestring budget? Or would you like something in between the two? Many destinations around the world tend to cater to one or the other, but the good news is Tokyo has something for every budget. You just need to choose the accommodation type to match your budget, and your taste of course (we’ll get into this in more detail shortly).
Once you know how much you want to spend, what kind of accommodation will you choose? Again, Japan has a very diverse range of options. Tokyo houses some of the most luxurious hotels you’ll find on a city break, with great locations central to high-end shopping and dining. Additionally, Tokyo is no stranger to the Airbnb boom, with apartments and rooms to rent across the entire city that cater varying budgets. Of course, no city would be complete without various hostels, and in Japans case the odd capsule hotel too. You just need to know where to look to find what you need.
Finally, how much travelling would you like to do during your trip? Do you plan to stay relatively close to your accommodation, or at least stick within Tokyo’s boundaries? Or are you hoping to travel to other parts of Japan during your stay? Perhaps you’ve got a few day trips to other Japanese cities in your sights, in which case it might serve you well to stay in a central location. For your ease of reference, we’re going to tackle all these factors in two categories: types of accommodation, and different districts.
What Types of Accommodation Does Tokyo have?
In short? Every type of accommodation you can think of! But how does the quality of these various accommodations vary? And will one offer you a more authentic experience than another?
Ryokan are the most traditional experiences you can have anywhere in Japan. They offer Japanese style rooms, and are basically the Japanese equivalent of traditional inns. The price can vary from around 5’000 to 45’000 yen per person, but that price usually includes dinner and breakfast as well.
There are plenty of Ryokan in Tokyo to choose from, but here are a couple of our favourites:
This Ryokan is very popular, in part due to its location – just a few minutes’ walk from the infamous Senso-ji Temple, and a five minute walk to the nearest station. This is a great place to stay in one of the quieter and more traditional neighbourhoods of Tokyo – perfect if you’re hoping to stay away from the busy, neon nightlife.
This is a great option for those who want to experience a Japanese aesthetic but aren’t yet ready to give up the familiarities of home – they have Japanese and Western-style rooms. Chiyoda Inn is also 3 stops from Ueno, and 5 stops from Akihabara (for all you Gēmuotaku).
The hotel – a timeless classic. Japan’s hotels cater to a wide range of people and budgets, but you will find them to be the most expensive option on our list. The rates do vary though, from the luxury to the relatively basic. Western hotels offer familiar comfort and style, while business hotels take a more convenient approach, often offering chain locations across the entirety of Japan. Hotels are a great choice if you’re hoping for convenience and an easy stay, as they will cater to all your needs and friendly staff will help you navigate your way around the city. You really are spoiled for choice in Tokyo, so we thought we’d offer two options on either end of the spectrum:
This boutique hotel is in a prime location, and great if you’re on a budget but don’t want to give up little luxuries. Located within walking distance to Ueno Park (a prime viewing spot during cherry blossom season), this hotel has an excellent rating from guests. The Hideout is very close to the JR Yamanote Uguisudani station, which means you can easily get to most places, but head to the link above to see a list of other nearby locations.
This quintessential Japanese hotel is incredibly popular – partly because it’s a gorgeous location with stunning views, and partly because it was the central setting for the film “Lost in Translation” with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. It’s definitely one of the pricier places you can stay, but Park Hyatt offers every luxury you can think of, and you can sit on the roof bar enjoying a gorgeous sunset and views of Mount Fuji.
Hostels are an option for those who want to travel across Japan at the lowest possible cost. Japan’s hostels have a reputation for being very clean, and very friendly. Japan itself is quite a safe country, so even families with children choose to stay in hostels in Tokyo. You’ll even find some that offer western beds and Japanese style futons, so you can experience a little more of Japanese culture while cutting costs. You can check out booking.com’s top 10 hostels here.
Apartments and Airbnb
These are a great mid-range option for travelers, and one that I highly recommend. During my first time in Japan, we stayed in several apartments, all of which ranged in price and amenities. Depending on how you like to see a country, this is a really great way to feel less like a tourist, and you’ll experience a little more of what it’s like to actually live in Japan. There are obviously thousands of apartments available, so we’d recommend going through a reputable source, like Airbnb or Booking.com.
Honourable and Unique Mentions
There are also some unusual accommodation options that you could only find in Japan. Like capsule hotels, which are exactly like they sound – walls of small capsules with enough room only for sleeping or watching the small television inside. Capsule hotels offer a very compact night’s sleep and are probably better for a night or two as opposed to your whole break. It’s a great option if you’ve nothing but a backpack holding you down!
Even cheaper (and possibly less comfortable) are manga cafes, which provide customers with seats or booths, are often open 24 hours, and sometimes offer other amenities that make them a possible “last-resort” option if you need a quick place to crash.
Finally, if you’re looking for an incredibly serene and traditional experience, you can even spend a night in a temple, soaking in traditional Buddhist traditions and enjoying the vegetarian cuisine. This accommodation is usually open to both practitioners and non-practitioners, and visitors are often allowed to watch the regular activities of the temple, like meditation and prayers. You can book some of these through places like Booking.com, Japanese Guest House, and Japanican.
Location, Location, Location
So now you’ve thought about what kind of accommodation you’d like to stay in, it’s time to think about which district you’ll choose. But surely Tokyo is Tokyo, right? Any place within this awesome city will be a great place to stay, so surely the districts don’t matter? Yes, and no. You would be right in thinking that you’ll have a good time in any one of Tokyo’s 14 districts, but if pick the right district for the kind of holiday you’d like to have you could vastly improve your trip. Which Tokyo district is the best? And where will you have the most fun? It all depends on what you like to do! We’re going to break down just a few of the city’s best districts, and hopefully, it will help make your choice that much easier.
Tokyo Station and Marunouchi Area
This is a great place to stay for several reasons. For many, it’s the first place you arrive in Tokyo following the airport, so it’s very convenient to set up base here and start exploring. It’s also a hub of activity, has great restaurants and offers museums and galleries too.
Another positive is the fact that the area surrounding Tokyo station is very open, and very easy to navigate. Even though every part of Tokyo is pretty well-connected, this area is great if you’re planning to take day trips around Tokyo as it means you can get a nice early start for those longer trips. After the complexity of Tokyo station, the calm and open Marunouchi area is a really great starting point for your Tokyo adventure.
Shinjuku is one of the most popular and vibrant areas of Tokyo, and its popularity means it’s what most people think about when they imagine Tokyo – bright lights atop tall buildings and bustling streets filled with lots of people.
East Shinjuku has everything an energetic tourist might need during their Tokyo-stay – plenty of restaurants and bars that cater to all kinds of tastes, and a very modern atmosphere. Newbies might want to be wary of the Kabukicho entertainment district here, though, as it’s thought to be pretty seedy.
A massive hub of modern-day Tokyo, Shibuya offers everything you can find in Shinjuku but with a more youth-oriented feel. This area pulses with energy, but if you’re not feeling up to the hustle, it’s still fun to sit in a café (the Starbucks has a prime viewing angle) and watch the organized chaos of the infamous Shibuya crossing.
This is also a great place to stay if you’re eager for a few late nights, as it’s definitely a part of the city that never sleeps.
If Shibuya and Shinjuku are a little too colorful and Kitschy for you, it might be worth considering Ginza, which offers a more high-end experience. It is a little more Western than you might be expecting but it is one of the most luxurious places you can spend your time in Tokyo.
As well as being full of Japan’s most popular (and expensive) department stores, you’ll find luxury boutiques and high-end restaurants with some of Tokyo’s most delicious food. Even if you’re not looking to splash a lot of cash, it’s still an exciting place to visit, although accommodation in the area will be pricier than other areas.
Ueno is a great place to stay for the culturally minded, as it’s a cluster of great museums, Ueno Zoo, and a beautiful park that peaks in popularity around springtime. It also offers a more traditional feel and has more features of “Old Tokyo” than some of the other districts we’ve already mentioned.
As well as strolling around the beautiful park, you can spend a day at each of the area’s five museums, each of which has a different point of focus. Ueno is another great place to base yourself if you’d like to take day trips out to other cities in Japan, as the nearest train station serves the north shinkansen lines.
Akihabara is a mecca for gamers, geeks, and everyone in-between, and really is a must-see for anyone visiting Japan. It’s full to the brim with arcades (you can read more about some of the best ones here), cafes, enormous electronics shops, manga and anime galore, and even “maid-cafes”.
Akihabara is accessible from anywhere in Tokyo, but if your sole purpose of visiting Japan is to spend days at the arcades and hours reading manga then it would serve you well to stay in this lively district. You’ll also have the benefit of being close to nearby district Kanda, which is known for its Shinto shrines (just in case you need a cultural break in-between marathon Mario sessions). Find out more about Akihabara’s arcade scene here.
This is one of Tokyo’s most popular districts and is best known for being a vibrant and lively hub of nightlife activity. If it’s your first trip to Japan, you’ll appreciate how foreigner-friendly this area is, and how many English-speaking staff there are. If you’re particularly nervous about the language barrier, this could be the perfect place to start your stay in Tokyo.
The area isn’t just popular with foreigners, it’s popular with some of Japan’s elite too, so you can expect high-quality food and accommodation. Roppongi mainly comes alive at night, so if you like to be tucked up in bed by 9 pm then it might not be the district for you, but if you prefer a lively nightlife that keeps going until the early hours of the morning you’ll feel at home in Roppongi.
Harajuku is home to what is considered one of Japan’s best shrines – the Meiji-jingu Shrine. It’s also where you’ll see the renowned “Harajuku Girls” – young women dressed in the craziest clothes and wildest fashions. There’s also the Kawaii Monster café, a must see if you’re looking for a psychedelic experience.
You can walk down through the crowds on Takeshita street and check out some the boutiques and kitschy shops (including a shop that caters entirely to costumes for your pets). Harajuku differs from its neighbouring districts because it’s almost European in its appearance, with no skyscrapers around, so if you’re feeling hemmed in by all the buildings then this might be the place for you.
Should I Stay In More Than One District?
With so many different ones to choose from, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. Or perhaps you’re worried that by staying in one you’ll be missing out on things happening in the other.
Thankfully, Tokyo is so well-connected that you’re never truly too far from anywhere in the city. The efficient and reliable railway service and internal metro means you can go anywhere with just a few transfers. Before I travelled to Tokyo, I researched a few journeys, hoping to prepare myself and work out some of the travel times (yes folks I’m one of the list makers). I was shocked at the amount of train and line switches I would need to do to get between one district and another, and felt a little intimidated by the whole affair. On arriving though, I quickly realised that transfers are so easy and efficient, especially when you realised that the trains are never late. Within a day or two you become adept at navigating the different lines, so don’t be intimidated if you decide to research a few of these routes yourself and they seem complicated.
Why not pick a district that caters to your main needs or wants, and then explore any other districts you like the look of via the rail system? Or you could even walk some of the way, since so many of them intersect – it’s a great way to see more of the city. Alternatively, you can choose to stay in a couple of districts, depending on the length of your trip. You could even try out a new type of accommodation in different districts, which will help expand your experience as a whole. My only advice is to pack light, you don’t want to be making a few transfers with two suitcases per person. That, and enjoy your stay in Tokyo!
*At the time of writing this article, the world is in something of a craze with COVID19, and travel is pretty much locked down. We haven’t included any average prices for the hotels we’ve mentioned, simply because they’re fluctuating so often right now. We hope you’re all keeping safe, and planning exciting trips to Japan for when things get back to normal.