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Tokyo: The City Experience

Get ready to travel to Tokyo, where tradition and modernity live side by side. Whether you are exploring the arcade-lined streets of neon Akihabara, window-shopping in the colorful Harajuku district, or stumbling upon an oasis of quiet in one of the city’s many Shinto shrines, there’s never a dull moment in Japan’s capital city. 





Let’s get the paperwork out of the way so we can focus on the fun stuff. Your passport must:

·       be valid for at least six months after your return.

·       match your name and birthday on file with EF.

·       have three blank pages available.

Non-US citizens may require a visa—visit to see if you need one.

Traveler tip: Make two photocopies of your passport - one to bring with you and one to leave at home.

Not to sound cliché, but we can’t say this enough: pack light! Check with your airline to see what size bags they allow to avoid paying any fees.

Most travelers find it easiest to go without checking bag. Here are some tips for getting as much as possible into that carry-on suitcase:

  • Wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane and pack the lighter ones. Same thing goes for jackets and heavier clothing.

  • Packing cubes or vacuum seal bags can save space and help you stay organized.

  • Make the most of your personal item by using a tote bag or backpack that you can reuse throughout the trip.

  • Roll your clothes instead of folding them. Pack the bigger items first and use smaller items like socks and underwear to fill in the gaps.

To see a full packing list, check out our Pocket Guide to Expert Travel. Just make sure you don’t forget these: 

  • Passport—bring a photo copy and leave one at home too

  • Visa (if applicable)

  • ATM card and credit card

  • Entertainment for the plane and travel days

  • Purse or small day bag with a zipper 

  • Converter/adapter for any electronics

  • Toiletries

  • Washcloth—optional, but they aren’t always available

  • Medications and a copy of any prescriptions*

  • Comfortable, casual clothingcheck the weather before you pack!

  • Dressier outfit

  • Raincoat and umbrella

  • Reusable water bottle

  • Comfortable walking shoes—for example, one pair of sneakers and one pair of sandals

  • Warm layers

  • A scarf or shawl - required when entering religious sites

  • EF's emergency numbers

    • ​Calling from within the US: 1-800-873-2250

    • Calling from abroad: 001-617-619-2913

*All medications should be in their original containers. Put medications in your carry-on bag only, in case a checked bag gets lost or delayed.

Traveler tip: You may have to remove your shoes to enter most Japanese homes, shrines and temples - make sure to pack easy to remove and comfortable shoes!

The best things in the world are free (like seeing Mount Fiji for the first time). Still, a little spending money can go a long way while you're abroad:

  • Mo' money, less problems: Budget $40 to $60 per day for pocket money. This will cover lunch each day, four dinners, souvenirs, and additional activities. If you’re an especially avid souvenir hunter, you’ll want to give yourself more wiggle room—financially and in your suitcase.

  • Currency: Japanese Yen. You can exchange money before you leave, but we recommend just withdrawing some cash from an ATM when you arrive.

  • Tips for tipping: We suggest $6-$8 per day for your Field Director. Your Group Leader will likely collect this money before you depart so that you can budget accordingly.

P.S. Be sure to let your bank know you’ll be traveling so they can put an alert on your account and inform you of any international fees.

Traver tip: Believe it or not, the most reliable place to withdraw yen using your debit card is at 7-Eleven. You can find them throughout the city.  

Imagine it: you’ve finally arrived. It’s been a few hours since you left home, but your feet are firmly planted on the ground again. Today’s challenge? Fight off jetlag and make the most of the day.

Unless you arrive at night, be prepared to hit the ground running. Staying awake on arrival day is the best way to fight jet lag and adjust to any time difference. If there are other groups on your program, you may wait at the airport for them to arrive. To make things a bit easier:

  • Pack toiletries and a change of clothes in your carry-on for when you land.

  • Stay hydrated—it helps reduce jetlag.

  • Travel in comfort, not necessarily in style, and get as much sleep as you can on the flight before.

Your dedicated Field Director—a physical and cultural guide—will be with you throughout your program. Our Field Directors work tirelessly behind the scenes to coordinate logistics like managing reservations and making sure everything flows seamlessly, so that you can enjoy your time without sweating the details. They are there to acquaint you with each new city and make sure everyone is safe, confident, and making the most of every moment.

You’ll spend very little time at your hotel (mostly catching some sleep), but you should still be aware of where you’re staying and who you’re staying there with.

  • Hotel du jour: City-hopping means hotel -hopping, but don't worry; each hotel is safe, clean, comfortable, and equipped with private bathrooms. Hotels are typically 30 to 45 minutes from the city center via public transit or bus, which comes in handy if you want to check out different areas and blend in with the locals.

  • What to expect: Hotels abroad may feature smaller rooms than you’re used to and may not have air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, television, or elevators. All the more reason to get out and explore.

  • Roomies: Unless you have opted to upgrade your room, standard accommodations mean you’ll be rooming with two or three other people of the same gender, each with your own bed.  You may even take part in an exchange program—that is, rooming with a traveler(s) from another school in your group.

Traveler tip: Electrical outlets in different countries may be different from the ones we're used to. Make sure you research what type of converter and/or adapter is needed for your travels! 

You should expect food and portion size to be different than what you're accustomed to at home. Kick off each day with an included continental breakfast. Two dinners will be included, too. We work with local restaurants to provide plated meals inspired by the region, giving you the opportunity to experience authentic dishes.

Whether you are an adventurous eater or craving comfort food, you can find it all in Japan.

  • Broth-based dishes and noodles of all kinds are eaten year-round, and at any time of day – don’t be surprised to see noodles in the breakfast buffet!

  • Other common dishes: chicken with curry, ramen, shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot), and of course sushi.

  • Rice and miso soup are served at most meals.

  • If you’re feeling adventurous, try the takoyaki, or fried balls of octopus.

Traveler tip: Get some noodles and slurp away! Slurping loudly is very normal when eating noodles in Japan. Some say it helps aerate the food and enhance flavor. 

Since teleportation hasn’t been invented yet, you’ll need these to get from point A to point B (and C and D and E).

  • Flights: Overnight to Tokyo and home from Tokyo.

  • Public transportation: Public transportation passes are included in Tokyo and will be the main mode of transportation for included activities and exploration time.

  • Bus: For transfers and guided sightseeings.

  • Walking: Hands down the best way to explore a new city. Be ready to walk a ton (we're talking 5-7 miles per day) to see as much as possible. 

You will explore the city of Tokyo in eight days. In order to maximize your time each day, you will leave the hotel bright and early and return some time in the evening (or later if you’re feeling adventurous). Most days will be a combination of planned activities and exploration time with some days being busier than others. You'll have a mix of time on the bus, walking, and on public transportation to get around. Be prepared to walk between 5-7 miles per day.

You'll be spending 6 nights in Tokyo. Take advantage of the time you have and familiarize yourself with the city, the neighborhoods and local spots.

Traveler tip: Arrival day will feel like the longest day on your program, we recommend sleeping on the plane as much as possible to be ready to hit the ground running.

Exploration time can vary depending on a few factors: the number of planned activities, whether or not your group has decided to add any optional excursions, and general travel variables like traffic. How you spend your exploration time is entirely up to you. You could sit in a café and people-watch, grab a few friends and discover a new part of the city, or do some souvenir shopping. On busier days, you might just have enough exploration time for a quick lunch.

Here is a rough breakdown of exploration time on your itinerary:

  • Tokyo: Half day (2), full day

There is so much to see and do, so do some research and plan ahead. If you need inspiration, here are our exploration time suggestions:

  • Visit one of the museums on your included Tokyo Museum Grutt pass

  • Visit Tokyo Skytree, one of the tallest buildings in the world

  • Spend some time in Shinjuki Gyoen National Garden

  • Go shopping at one of Tokyo’s impressive shopping malls

Traveler tip: Tokyo is an enormous city, so when thinking about what you want to do during free time you might find it helpful to narrow it down by neighborhoods. Here are a couple of our favorites:

  • Akihabara for gaming and anime

  • Harajuku for shopping

  • Yoyogi for its parks

Do learn common words and phrases:

  • Hello = Kon'nichiwa

  • Excuse me = Sumimasen

  • Thank you = Arigato

Practices for customary greetings -  be respectful. As with most forms of etiquette, it’s best to follow the lead of the person you’re with, or the person who is introducing you. Typically, the person of lower status bows first and more deeply than the elder; however, most Japanese people—especially the younger crowd—will not expect you to bow and will instead reach for a handshake. 

You should not tip at restaurants: gratuity is included in the bill and it can feel offensive or confusing if you try to tip on top of that. 

In Japan, you will not find many trash cans in public spaces. Do as the locals do and keep a plastic bag in your purse or daypack to put trash in until you see a trash can.

Public transportation in Japan is extremely efficient and can take you almost anywhere in the country with comfort and ease. Travelers can use metro trains, buses, and taxis to move between tourist areas while the bullet train (shinkansen) or planes are the best option for long-distance trips.  While the trains are extremely efficient, due to the size of major cities such as Tokyo, its common for commutes to be more than 1.5 hrs. 

Public transportation can get crowded, so be prepared to have your personal space bubble burst. It’s important to be quiet and put your phone on silent mode; additionally, you should not eat or drink anything while riding the train. 

The Japanese population is fairly homogenous, with little ethnic and racial diversity. Beauty standards tend toward light, flawless skin, a petite figure, and a quiet personality. Travelers with darker skin may encounter stares or comments from locals that indicate some ingrained prejudices, but this is in most cases driven by curiosity or misinformation and not hate. 

Please note that this guide is for the eight-day version of this program. Ask your Group Leader for details regarding the two-day extension to Kyoto.

We’re here to help

Our team has heard it all so don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions. Call us at 877-485-4184 between Monday and Friday, 9:00am-5:30pm EST.