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Tokyo (Photo:Kanuman/Shutterstock)
Tokyo (Photo:Kanuman/Shutterstock)
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Cruise Critic
Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Tokyo (Yokohama)

Even if you've spent lots of time in other big cities, there is no way to adequately prepare for Tokyo. The sprawling modern metropolis has a dizzying kaleidoscope of neon lights, pachinko parlors, karaoke palaces, standing sushi bars and basement noodle restaurants dotting its busy streets.

An Imperial City, Tokyo is home to the Imperial Family, ensconced most of the year in the Imperial Palace. But unless you're in the city on January 2 or December 23, forget about visiting. It's off-limits except for New Year's Greeting Day and the emperor's birthday. But you can visit the contemplative outer gardens that surround the palace.

Such quiet spots exist throughout the city. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are great spots to stop and think about all you've seen, but don't wonder too far afield. You'll hit a high-end and name-brand shop before you see the next peaceful oasis.

The Japanese take shopping very seriously, dedicating entire districts, like high-end Ginza and electronic-centric Akihabara, to it. And their malls aren't just places to buy things, you'll find some of the best restaurants, and at one -- Skytree Town at the foot of the 2,080-foot Skytree Tower -- you'll also find an aquarium and planetarium.

Tokyo is an amazingly easy city to get around. The massive train system covers nearly every inch of the city, and though few people speak English, they will do their best to help if you just ask.

Shore Excursions

About Tokyo (Yokohama)


Pro

The terminal is an architectural masterpiece, with an observation deck, restaurants and efficient transport systems

Con

Large cruise ships can only dock at Yokohama's Osanbashi Pier, 29km south of Tokyo

Bottom Line

Modern facilities and efficient transport links provide easy access to this cutting-edge city


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Where You're Docked

Small cruise ships that can fit under the Rainbow Bridge dock at Harumi Passenger Ship Terminal on Harumi Island. The nearest train station, which is about a 30-minute walk away from the port, is the Kachidoki Station on the Toei Oedo subway line.

However, the vast majority of cruise ships dock at Osanbashi Pier in Yokohama approximately 15 miles southwest of Tokyo. The nearest train station is the Nihon-Odori station on the Minato Mirai line, about a 10-minute walk from the port.

Port Facilities

Harumi Passenger Ship Terminal, Tokyo: The Tokyo port is in an isolated part of the city, about a 30-minute walk from the nearest train station. Your best bet is to take the 05 bus from the train station straight to the cruise terminal. Inside the terminal, you'll find vending machines with drinks and snacks; free Wi-Fi also is available.

Osanbashi Cruise Terminal, Yokohama: Yokohama Port opened in 1850 as Japan's first modern, international trading port. Located about 20 miles southwest of Tokyo, it easily accommodates larger ships that can't make it under Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge -- which may be why your ship calls here.

Facilities at the port include an information desk, bathrooms, luggage lockers, a shop, cafe, restaurant and taxis.

It's best to set out on foot from the port. At the end of the pier, pop into the Silk Museum, to check out gorgeous kimonos and historic costumes. Rent your own kimono at Yokohama Kimono Station, in the same complex, then stroll the waterfront park, snapping memorable selfies. Head for the historic redbrick customs warehouses (to your right as you exit the pier), where Building No. 2 hosts a slew of shops and eateries. Still got time? Continue to the giant Ferris wheel and take a spin -- or go a bit further to the interactive Cupnoodles Museum, where you can create your own custom cup of instant ramen.

Osanbashi Cruise Terminal is about a 40-minute train ride from central Tokyo, therefore some passengers choose to spend the night before the cruise in Yokohama. Tip: If you're catching a shinkansen bullet train, you'll leave from the Shin-Yokohama station, which is different (and further from the port) than the regular train station.

Good to Know

Very few people in Tokyo speak English, so it's important to always have a map that has both Japanese and English on it. That way, if you get lost you can point to where you want to go to get, at the very least, basic directions.

Getting Around

By Rail: The best way to get around Tokyo, and surrounding suburbs like Yokohama, is the mass transit rail system, one of the most comprehensive in the world. It can be confusing, though, because there are several distinct rail companies operating within Tokyo.

The main three services: the color-coded JR East network and the Metro and Toei subway systems. There also are numerous private networks.

For tourists, the most important rail line is the JR Yamanote Line, which runs in a loop around central Tokyo. Many of the city's major sites are within this loop, and almost every other rail line, regardless of operator, intersects with a station along this route. Within the loop, in what is considered central Tokyo, the nine Metro lines and four Toei lines are your best bet for getting around. All signs (and announcements in touristy areas) are in Japanese and English.

Rail tickets must be purchased from automated vending machines, all of which offer English instructions. Fares are based on the distance you travel; one way to make traveling the rails a bit easier is to estimate how much money you think you'll be spending on the train and then purchase a prepaid fare card so you don't have to pay each time you get on the train. Try not to overload your card; you can't get back any unused money.

By Taxi: Taxis are not your least expensive option for getting around Tokyo; fares are high and congestion can be a problem. But there are some 50,000 taxis in Tokyo, which can be picked up at taxi stations at most train stations or flagged down by raising your hand when you see a vacant car (look for the lighted lamp on the top of the car). Not all taxis accept credit cards.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The yen is the official currency of Japan; coins are available in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500, while bank notes come in 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 yen. For up-to-the-minute conversions, visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com.

Credit cards are widely accepted for payments. If you want to use cash, you'll need to exchange money at an official currency office, or withdraw cash from an ATM in a post office or at a 7-Eleven store. ATMs at Japanese banks do not accept foreign country ATM or debit cards.

Language

Japanese is the official language of Tokyo, and though some people speak English, do not count on it.

Food and Drink

Like any other major metropolitan city, Tokyo offers a vast assortment of restaurants and cuisines. With that said, when in Tokyo, do as the Japanese do and indulge in sushi, dumplings and noodles at least once.

In the Mood for Sushi: The tiny Sushiryori Inose isn't the easiest restaurant to find, but it's got some of the best sushi in Tokyo. The elderly couple who runs the place is very friendly, though their English is limited. Be sure to make a reservation because it fills up quickly. (2-20-2 Higashigotanda, Shinagawa)

Uniquely Japanese: A distinctively Tokyo experience is a visit to a maid cafe, most of which are located almost exclusively in Akihabara, where young women in poufy French maid uniforms serve customers with silly deference. MaidCafe is a chain with several locations in the district. Keep in mind, they charge $20 a person just to enter the restaurant, then overcharge for basic diner food, and they don't allow you to take any pictures unless you pay extra.

Aged Elegance: The two Michelin-starred restaurant Hamadaya offers traditional Japanese cuisine served by kimono-clad waitresses embodying the grace and poise of a geisha. Eating there is like stepping back into Japan's bygone days. Diners are invited into private tatami rooms, where the decor highlights Japanese culture and excellent meals are served by attentive geisha. (3-13-5 Ningyo-cho Nihonbashi Chuo-ku; open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday)

Vegetarian Delight: Whether you're vegetarian or not, the noodles (all dishes are actually vegan) at T's TanTan Tokyostation inside Tokyo Station are worth every yen you pay -- and you don't pay that much! Be careful going during prime lunch hours or you could be waiting for up to an hour. (1-9-1 Marunouchi, Keiyo Street, Chiyoda; open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Sunday)

Shopping

Choose from a large variety of iconic Japanese souvenirs, including painted paper fans, colorful kimonos and charms of various shapes and sizes to protect against evil, provide good health or success, or bring love.

Best Cocktail

Tokyo has numerous izakayas, drinking establishments that also serve small bites with beer and sake. While craft beer and microbrews have caught on (as in most cosmopolitan areas worldwide), popular brands include Baird, Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo.

For those who have only sampled sake in an American sushi restaurant, the sheer variety of rice liquor in Japan can be overwhelming. Nigori, or unfiltered sake, is colored white instead of clear and has a sweeter taste than the clear sake that you've probably had in the U.S.