I have been in Japan for four months and so far I have not yet left Tokyo. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that I have not had much time off of work, I have not had much money to travel, and, the biggest reason of all, I’m still in the process of exploring Tokyo itself.
Every weekend I try to do something new – whether it’s going to temples or shrines, trying out the taxi system, or having the ride of my life. There is always something exciting to do here and I reckon that I have not even uncovered an eighth of the city’s wonders.
But there is a method to my madness. I have certain techniques to finding things to do in this huge and diverse city… and I’m about to share five of them with you…
Please note: These techniques can be used to explore any large city with a good public transport system.
1. Google Maps
Gone are the days of pinning a map to the wall and throwing a dart to see where you should travel to (if those days even existed). Now, thanks to the traveler’s miracle – Google Maps – we have a much more detailed terrain to throw our darts at.
But how do we throw our metaphorical darts on Google Maps, I hear you ask?
Well what I do here is pick a station – any station – that is within a reasonable distance from my home. I then zoom in real close and a whole bunch of little pins start popping up. Well, ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve used Google Maps before (as I’m sure you all have), you can click on those pins to get more information about what’s there. In fact, there is a little key that you can use to know what each pin means. You can then save your favourite spots and use the directions to tool to find the best way to get there.
Even if you’re not the plan-out-my-entire-day type of person, you can still make use of Google Maps when you’ve gotten lost after a particularly complicated exploration adventure. Indeed, you can use it to find your way home, or to a nice cheap hotel nearby. You can even use the Google Maps Review service that let’s you know if the local hotel is a haunt for local murderers.
2. Travel Websites
Speaking of Google, there are plenty of travel websites that are only a Google search away. Type in any city, the area you want to to to, and what you would like to do. Generally, a few websites should pop up at the top of your search page. However, I would recommend using more than one website and maybe cross checking to see if these places are actually worth going to.
Personally, I swear by four websites: Time Out Tokyo, Trip Advisor Tokyo, Japan Guide, and, my personal favourite, Tokyo Cheapo. The great thing about Tokyo Cheapo, as the name implies, is that it shows you all of the cheap events and attractions all around Tokyo. I have used this many times to find great out-of-the-way restaurants, free museums, temples and shrines, as well as some great events.
These websites are great if you’re a love-to-plan-out-my-whole-day type of person (like me). And even if you’re not, you can still use these websites as a starting point – a way to find events, or at least the cost of traveling to one particular area. The websites also offer some excellent information about Tokyo and different tips and tricks for exploring the city.So make sure you check them out if your ever come to Japan.
Hands up: Who like treasure hunting? Well why not go treasure hunting in the middle of a vastly populated city? Impossible, you say? Well let me introduce Geocaching.
Geocaching is essentially modern day treasure hunting, and although I have not yet done it myself in Japan, I think it’s a great way to explore any city, town, or even wild, overgrown areas. Basically, geocaches are ‘treasure chests’ that come in varying sizes and are hidden almost anywhere in the world. All you have to do is sign up to their website, find the nearest geocach, and go!
What’s great about geocaching is that you get to explore out-of-the-way places – whether it’s exploring a residential area, a teeming city centre, or a calming forest area. And while you’re out geocaching,you could easily stumble into tucked away little areas that most tourists never visit. You could find some excellent local restaurant or discover a tiny little trinket store – you never know what you might find.
You can find all the information you need on the geocaching website, and I reckon that it is a great way to find out-of-the-way and out-of-the-ordinary places in any city or area.
Although many of the above websites have their own apps, I felt that there are many different ‘app only’ apps that can be used in very creative ways – as you can utilise them to not only explore the city, but also to meet interesting people along the way.
There are your typical apps like Meetups where you can choose your interests and meetup with like-minded people in any given area. These apps are of course good for finding different events that most tourists will not be aware of (and of course they’re in many different languages). However, you can also use other types of apps, like Tinder and OKCupid, to meet people in the city that you are visiting and maybe find some locals to show you around. Now I haven’t done this personally, but I knew this Swiss woman who did this using Tinder – she didn’t lead anyone on, but she would use it to meet locals and go to places that aren’t in most guidebooks.
There’s also a great app that I occasionally use called HelloTalk. This app not only connects you with people whose language you’re trying to learn, but it also connects you with people in many different areas. Therefore, you can use it to make friends in any city and maybe meet up with some interesting people in interesting places.
5. Just Go
Although I am a ‘plan-out-my-day’ type of person, there’s nothing that I enjoy more than occasionally just winging it. Just going around the city without any serious planning. It’s true that I might have some idea of the area that I would like to visit, but generally I will just walk around on the streets and enter any shop, restaurant, or entertainment center that takes my fancy.
In fact, the best way to ‘just go’ in Tokyo is to either rent a bicycle for the day, or take the train and get off at some random stop. I have explored the areas around almost every one of my train stops on my way to work – even if there is nothing about that place in any guidebook, there are still plenty of things to see and do.
Just make sure that if you do decide to use any of these methods that you still keep your Google Maps with you in case you get lost and need help getting back home. It might also be a good idea to bring a phrasebook with you in case you get lost in an area with no English speakers… This can happen, even in the heart of Tokyo.