Japan is one of those bucket-list destinations that Canadians always dream of visiting but often never get to for fear of distance and affordability. But did you know that thanks to its diverse offerings, Tokyo is doable on a budget? Plus, it’s super-clean, friendly and has a stellar reputation for customer service, three things every traveller values and looks for in a destination.
In this edition of Friday Five, we sit down with Shinichiro Kawai, Director, Tokyo Tourism Representative, Toronto Office, to discuss all the reasons to visit Tokyo this year and next, the best time to go, and the things that would surprise most Canadians when getting there.
In 2017, 13.8 million visitors arrived in Tokyo, which is a 5.1% increase from 2016. From Canada, a total of 306,591visitors arrived in Japan (11.9% increase from 2016). As a majority of Canadian travellers visit Tokyo during their Japan trip, the number of visitors to Tokyo is very close to the above number (306,591).
The Canadian market is very important to Tokyo. The number of U.S. visitors to Japan in 2017 was about 1.4 million. Considering the population of the U.S. is 10 times bigger than Canada, proportionally, more Canadian people are visiting Japan/Tokyo. If you compare that with European countries, only England sends the same number of travellers to Japan (about 310,000), with countries like Italy, France and Germany lagging behind Canada.
The high-season in Tokyo is spring (especially during the cherry blossom season) and autumn (fall colour season). The best and most popular time for Canadians to visit Tokyo, by far, is during the cherry blossom season, which occurs from the middle of March into early April, depending on each year’s climate conditions. The fall colour season is also very popular among Canadian travellers. A lot of people find summer a bit too hot and humid. Some winter sports fans in Canada visit Japan for ski trips, and on their way to ski resorts they’ll enjoy a few days in Tokyo. They enjoy the contrast of Tokyo with the experience of mountain ski resorts.
Many Canadian travellers are pleasantly surprised with its cleanliness. In spite of the fact that it’s one of the largest and busiest metropolitan cities in the world, everywhere you go you won’t find litter, etc.
Canadian travellers also praise the quality of service, no matter where they visit (hotels, izakayas, convenience stores, train stations, etc. This comes from the Japanese tradition of ‘Omotenashi’, which means hospitality spirit in Japanese.
What makes Tokyo so unique is its contrast between Old and New. In the middle of Shinjuku (one of the biggest entertainment and shopping areas in Tokyo), you will find the serenity of Shinjuku Gyoen, a traditional Japanese garden and park, dates back to the Edo period.
It’s true that Japan is one of the long-haul destinations. But you will be surprised that things are much cheaper in Japan than they are in Toronto. For accommodations, there is a variety of options including Minshuku (bed and breakfast type), Airbnb, capsule hotels (there are a number of women-only capsule hotels, too), and guest houses (popular with backpackers).
Meals in Tokyo are quite affordable. For lunch, if you can enjoy high-quality dishes ranging from Japanese traditional Udon, Soba to a variety of international dishes, all at affordable prices. Sales tax in Tokyo is only 8% and you don’t need to pay any tips. You should also try one of the convenience stores (called ‘Combini’) where unlike the ones in Canada you can count on freshly prepared meals, bento boxes, coffee and a variety of snacks.