Ria spent 3 years teaching English to kids in southwest Japan. She loves helping travelers make the most of their time in the country.
Japan has tons to offer, but unfortunately, many people never bother going outside the jam-packed, sometimes-suffocating Tokyo metro area. That's not to say that Tokyo isn't worth visiting – in fact, it's truly one of the greatest cities in the world, in some ways. However, Tokyo is surprisingly overrated, especially if you want to experience Japanese culture in deeper ways than just visiting shrines and shopping.
5 Reasons Not to Visit Tokyo
If you've already visited Tokyo once, or if you care about nature and people more than you care about history and buildings, there might be better ways for you to spend your travel budget.
Here are five reasons to consider skipping Tokyo and visiting other Japanese cities instead.
1. The Crowds Can Be Overwhelming.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Shinjuku Station is the world's busiest train station, with 3.5 million visitors per day. As you can imagine, rush hour through this station gets really intense. Even smaller stations throughout the city get impossibly packed during peak times, and with a language barrier adding to the stress, it can be very overwhelming for tourists.
Key tourist sites like Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Tower, and Shibuya Crossing can be difficult to enjoy when you're dodging selfie sticks or waiting an hour in line for admission. While you can avoid some crowds by doing research on what times and seasons to avoid, sometimes there's no avoiding crowds in a city as big as Tokyo. Even taking day trips outside of Tokyo can be surprisingly busy, as many locals also seek to escape the crush of bodies.
2. The Hotels and Bars Are Expensive.
While restaurant prices in Tokyo aren't bad, hotels can be miserably expensive. This is especially true now that the Japanese government has cracked down on AirBnBs, increasing the paperwork and licensing AirBnB owners must complete. Unless you're willing to stay in a capsule hotel, you're probably going to spend twice as much on lodging in Tokyo as you would in other Japanese cities.
It's also more common for bars in Tokyo to charge hefty cover charges. That tiny, quaint bar you just stumbled into has rent to pay – and they can't make ends meet charging $4 per beer! While there are some cheap bars in Tokyo, especially in Shinjuku's Golden Gai, they tend to attract crowds and aren't always worth the hassle.
Bonus: if you miss the last train and end up stuck far from your hotel, it's probably cheaper to shell out for a few hours at an internet cafe than pay the absurdly high taxi fare to get back. (Luckily, the trains start running again about 4:30 a.m., but who wants to be awake then?) Taxis elsewhere in Japan aren't cheap either, but you're less likely to end up a $50 taxi ride away from your hotel.
3. It's a Concrete Jungle.
Though Tokyo has better parks than many cities its size, it's still a giant city, and you have to venture pretty far out to find good hiking, surfing, and cycling spots. Even the major parks like Ueno Park and Yoyogi Park feel inadequate when compared to what the rest of Japan has to offer. There's no good surfing nearby, either, especially since Tokyo Bay doesn't get strong waves. You could venture out and up the coast, but it's hard to plan a day trip around that when the weather could change at any time!
Even if you don't care for nature much, it's easy to start to feel a little suffocated in Tokyo. The neon-tinged excitement of Shinjuku and Shibuya starts to grow old after a few days when there are no mountains, valleys, and winding country roads to break up the scenery.
4. Many of the Locals Are Unfriendly.
Japanese culture prioritizes hospitality, but with how many tourists Tokyo gets, the everyday businessmen and restaurant staff are sometimes just a little tired of dealing with tourists. It doesn't help that Tokyo's work culture is more intense and draining than that of other areas, in part thanks to the number of international headquarters present. If you use your broken Japanese to strike up a conversation at a bar, don't be surprised when it fizzles out after a few sentences.
In other cities in Japan, you're more likely to get casual questions about where you're from, what your interests are, and what brought you to their city. Even large cities like Fukuoka and Sapporo don't get nearly as many foreigners as Tokyo, so locals' curiosity often gets the better of them. If you're used to Western notions of friendliness and conversation, you'll probably feel like a fish out of water in Tokyo, unless you go into a really small bar off the beaten path.
5. It Feels Just Like Most Other Big Cities.
Walking down the street in Tokyo feels just like walking down the street in New York City, except with Japanese written on the signs, less music, and the smell of ramen instead of hot dogs. Yes, there is important history in Tokyo, and it's a treasure trove in terms of subculture-related attractions and shopping. However, you can get those things in every other city in Japan as well.
To be fair, Tokyo is also much cleaner and safer than most cities around the world, and the public transit actually runs pretty well instead of randomly catching on fire. However, thanks to the corporate atmosphere draining the life from most of its residents and the crush of tourists every day, Tokyo ultimately is just a big city that happens to be in Japan. It doesn't have the humor of Osaka, the charm of Sapporo, or the resilient spirit of Hiroshima. It's too much of everything crammed into one place – and that means you might be better off spreading out your adventure and seeing what other Japanese cities have to offer.
© 2019 Ria Fritz
Liz Westwood from UK on July 06, 2019:
I guess similar points could be made of other big cities around the world. Can you truly visit France by only seeing Paris or the UK by only seeing London? Probably not if you want to see a country at its best.