Your Most Pressing Tokyo Questions Answered

By Johanna Read; Updated September 26, 2017

Essential Tokyo

Your Most Pressing Tokyo Questions Answered

A visit to Tokyo can seem intimidating for those who have never been. Common misconceptions are that it is difficult to travel here because of the language barrier, cost, immense size of the city, crowds and the complexity of Japanese etiquette. Have no fear, most visitors to Japan find it much easier than expected. These essentials will help first-time visitors feel comfortable.

Q: What does Tokyo mean?

A: The word Tokyo means east and capital in Japanese, or "eastern capital." The city received this name in 1868 when Tokyo became the imperial capital, named by Emperor Meiji.

Q: What was Tokyo called before?

A: Tokyo’s original name was Edo, meaning estuary. It began as a fishing village but grew to be one of the world’s largest cities in the 18th century. It became the seat of government in 1603, thanks to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu making the city the headquarters of his rule, and became the official capital of Japan in 1868. The city’s full name is Tokyo Metropolis, as the city of Tokyo and the Tokyo Prefecture merged in 1943. Technically, Tokyo is no longer a city but a metropolitan prefecture, and each of its 23 wards is governed as if it were an individual city.

Q: Where is Tokyo located?

A: Tokyo is on the east coast of Japan’s largest island of Honshu, the island which separates the Sea of Japan from the northern Pacific Ocean.

Q: What are the longitude and latitude of Tokyo?

A: Tokyo is found at 139.69 longitude and 35.69 latitude, and the city sits at about 145 feet above sea level. Tokyo's latitude is similar to that of Seattle and Paris.

Q: What is the population of Tokyo?

A: Tokyo’s estimated population is 13.5 million. With the addition of the people living in Tokyo’s greater metropolitan area, the population grows to over 36 million, giving it the status of the world’s most populous metropolitan area. The island of Honshu, on which Tokyo sits, is the second-most populous island in the world, after Java, Indonesia.

Q: What is the weather like in Tokyo?

A: While Japan does get the occasional typhoon in summer, Tokyo’s climate is generally pleasant all year round. Summers can be hot and humid, with temperatures as high as the mid-90s, and it is often rainy from late June into July before the summer sun appears more consistently. Autumns have beautiful foliage colors starting in late October, and fall temperatures are warm with dropping humidity. Tokyo can see some snow from December to January, but temperatures may range from below freezing to the high 60s. By May, spring is firmly established.

Q: Is Tokyo safe?

A: Tokyo is known as the safest big city in the world, and, in fact, received that honor from The Economist in 2015. The most likely trouble a tourist will get into is breaking one of the rules that make such a populous city run smoothly. For example, it’s against the law to take photos of police officers and to use mobile phones on the Tokyo subway. Police can request visitors to produce their passport at any time, and penalties for carrying or using recreational drugs of any kind are severe. Driving on the congested streets can be dangerous for the inexperienced.

While Japanese etiquette is complex, citizens are forgiving of mistakes and don't expect international visitors to know all the rules. As in any country, following the lead of others usually sets the right course. Egregious errors are few, but include being loud, aggressive, and disrespectful of others and of Japan.

Q: What is there to do in Tokyo?

A: A city the size of Tokyo is overflowing with things to see and do, whether visiting old Tokyo’s temples and shrines or exploring more modern Tokyo. One of the first things many visitors notice is Tokyo’s skyscrapers, including its two tallest buildings:

  • Tokyo Skytree: An observation and broadcasting tower, the Tokyo Skytree is over 2,000 feet tall and is the tallest building in Japan. Visitors can buy tickets to see the views from the observation decks on the 350th and 450th floors. The tower is lit up each night.
  • Tokyo Tower: In the center of the city, the Tokyo Tower is Japan’s second-tallest building at 1,092 feet tall. It looks like a modern Eiffel Tower in red and white. Due to ongoing renovations, some areas of the tower will be closed until spring 2019. Whether taking the stairs or the elevator, visitors need a ticket to go up the tower.

Disney is also very popular in Tokyo, with three Disney Resort areas all linked by the Disney monorail:

  • Tokyo Disneyland: Japan’s first Disney park opened in 1983. Many of its rides are similar to the American Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, and include Pirates of the Caribbean, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Star Tours and Space Mountain. The World Bazaar, rather than Main Street USA, ushers guests into the park.
  • Tokyo DisneySea: Opening in 2001, this park has a nautical adventure theme with attractions including Venetian gondolas, the Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania! and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The park is divided into seven areas including the Lost River Delta, Mermaid Lagoon and Mysterious Island.
  • Ikspiari: Resembling Downtown Disney, Ikspiari has 140 shops and restaurants, including Bon Voyage!, the official Disney store. International visitors can get discounts via a Welcome Card, obtained by showing a passport.

Another popular outing in Tokyo is Odaiba, an artificial island that has been turned into a shopping, dining and entertainment complex. The island has two museums, a Ferris wheel, and a hot spring theme park. Access from the city is via the Rainbow Bridge, a two-story walkable bridge that is a popular symbol of Tokyo.

Be sure to spend time exploring Tokyo away from the crowds. Get out of the busy tourist and business districts like Ginza and Shinjuku and experience a more real Japan, which is less crowded and less expensive. Look for temples and green spaces like Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens and Yoyogi Park. Never hard to find are friendly Japanese citizens who will provide assistance if needed and who will appreciate all attempts at speaking Japanese, even if it’s just konnichiwa (hello) and domo arigatou gozaimasu (a polite form of thank you very much).

About the Author

Johanna Read