Tokyo at a Glance
Transportation and Shopping in TokyoiStockphoto
Despite excellent shopping facilites in Tokyo, larger sizes may be hard to find.
Tokyo’s two airports are well connected to the public transport network. Narita Airport, the one for international flights to and from Japan, is located almost 70 kilometers east of Tokyo. Going by train to central Tokyo takes between 36 minutes and over an hour, depending on the connection you choose.
Two of the fastest lines are the Skyliner Service (fare in February 2013: ¥2,400) to Nippori, Ueno, and Tokyo Station and JR’s N’Ex (Narita Express) to Tokyo Central (fare: ca. ¥3,000 in second-class cars). The Skyliner takes 36 minutes from Narita into the city, and Narita Express is a bit slower with a travel time of 56 minutes.
Haneda Airport, on the other hand, is far closer to central Tokyo. With the JR monorail, you can reach Hamamatsuchō Station on the Yamanote Line in about 15 minutes. Since the late 1970s, Haneda has been served mainly by domestic airlines and charter flights. However, in 2010, the airport opened a new international terminal.
Late at night, between midnight and 5 am, when even the extensive train network fails you, taking a taxi is a good alternative. Taxis in Tokyo are convenient, comfortable, and safe, but also expensive. Taxi fares start at ¥710 for the first two kilometers, and the meter adds ¥90 for every 288 meters or 1 minute 45 seconds of waiting time.
Therefore most expats reserve taxis for late-night excursions and business trips. Just remember to carry a business card or map with the Japanese address of your destination with you. Most cabbies don’t speak English.
Food safety standards in Japan are mostly excellent. If you avoid eating the cheapest sushi at some dingy street-corner bar, you needn’t worry about eating out. The larger Tokyo supermarket chains might even have some imported foods available to satisfy your sudden cravings. Even if they don’t, they sell a wide range of Japanese groceries, convenience food, toiletries, and household goods.
Some supermarkets in Tokyo, such as Costco, Nissin International Supermarket, or Queen’s Isetan, specialize in catering to the foreign community, but they are not as numerous as Japanese stores and also more expensive. So the best shopping option is to buy your daily fare at a Japanese supermarket, shop for fresh produce like vegetables, seafood or meat in smaller neighborhood cornershops, and adopt a Japanese-style diet.
Groceries and supermarkets are usually open from 10:00 am to 7:00 or 8:00 pm, although opening hours vary for smaller shops. If you should run out of snacks or toothpaste in the middle of the night, there’s always a combini round the corner.
Combini is Japanese for ‘convenience store’, and Tokyo’s combini are very convenient indeed. They sell fast food, some other food items, a few toiletries, and selected household goods 24/7, although at higher prices than other shops. In any food-related emergency, just look out for the latest Family Mart, 7/11, Mini Stop, Sunkus, etc.
A combini is also a good place to stop by and quickly stock up on snacks for a daytrip or longer journey. You’ll quickly learn to appreciate their niku-man (hot meat buns), o-nigiri (rice balls), and bentō lunch boxes.
A depāto (‚department store‘) is the very opposite of the combini experience. They don’t want to attract busy commuters looking for a quick lunch or hungover students in search of coca cola and aspirin. Japanese department stores create a luxurious shopping environment for their customers, offering designer brands, gourmet food, and high-value handicraft, such as kimonos or lacquerware.
Although the conservative depāto have been losing customers to the competition for years, they are still an important part of commercial life in Japan. During your time in Tokyo, you should definitely go (window-)shopping in one of the prestigious department stores, such as Mitsukoshi.
However, there are some items that even the likes of Mitsukoshi might not have in store – and that’s larger clothes, tall-size and plus-size clothing for expats (including shoes in larger sizes). They are all much harder to find and far more expensive to buy. Take this into account when packing your suitcase for Japan.