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Tips for Planning Travel to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Games

by Elyse Glickman

Jan 26, 2020

Photo: Elyse Glickman

Destinations / Asia

If your family scored seats to your favorite sporting events through a ticket sales lottery system for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games (July 24–Aug. 9) or Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games (Aug. 25–Sept. 6), you’ve won gold when it comes to ultimate bucket list experiences.


If you haven’t grabbed those tickets yet, you’ll have another chance to compete toward the end of this coming spring at the Tokyo 2020 official ticket website.


Japan Olympic Museum Near Stadium. Photo: Elyse Glickman


Thanks to the International Olympics Committee and the fastidious organizational savvy of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, Tokyo will not only be the happiest place on earth (Tokyo Disneyland not withstanding), but also one of the safest. At a Tokyo press conference following a preview of the new, sustainability-oriented Olympic Stadium (designed by internationally renowned architect Kengo Kuma) Tristan Lavier, a senior manager of Tokyo 2020 International Communications, advised visitors to consult the official Tokyo 2020 website and visit Japan National Tourism Office’s website dedicated to ticketholders with specific advice on how to navigate the city during the games.


  • As summer is peak travel season under normal circumstances, Lavier highlighted key common sense tips to ensure the best possible experience in Tokyo and other cities, including Sapporo, Sendai, Hokkaido and Fukushima.


  • If you haven’t done so already, book your hotel rooms and airline tickets as soon as possible, keeping in mind Tokyo’s shortage of accommodations.


  • Purchase a “PASMO” or “SUICA” transportation card, which you can reload with money easily. Both cards work for Tokyo’s subway and bus lines, as well as in the subways of other Japanese cities.


  • Consider extra “training”: Thanks to Japan’s ultra-efficient and comprehensive network of rail lines, you can stage your “base camp” in one of Tokyo’s outlying regions, where your hotel options may be more plentiful. Once you pick a spot, be sure to learn the train schedule connecting your hotel and the events you have tickets for to arrive on time.


  • If you have purchased tickets to specific events, study the maps of Tokyo ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the “Heritage Zone,” around the Shinjuku and Shibuya quarters, and the Tokyo Bay Zone and what local buses and trains go where. The majority of venues for the different events are steps away from some of the city’s best attractions and most interesting neighborhoods.


  • Even if soccer is not your sport, consider purchasing tickets to matches in Sapporo, Sendai, Hokkaido and Fukushima to not only support their re-emerging post-2011 earthquake economies, but also experience foods and culture unique to those places.

Olympic National Stadium Interior. Photo: Elyse Glickman


  • Consider adding non-Olympic sightseeing days to your trip to minimize encounters with major crowds. This can involve flying in and out of other Japanese cities (i.e. Osaka or Nagoya) and purchasing a Japan Rail Pass to get to the games in Tokyo and the other cities.


  • As July and August are the hottest months in Tokyo, pack light and accordingly. Japanese retailers Uniqlo and Mujo have websites and brick-and-mortar outposts in major U.S. cities and offer a variety of affordable and stylish moisture-wicking clothes. You can also bring fans, empty water bottles and sports towels from home, or make a shopping list of innovative cooling products and devices to purchase when you arrive.


  • Make a budget ahead of the trip and determine how much cash you may need per day for food and other essentials, as many smaller restaurants and shops do not accept credit cards.

Tokyo 2020 Cab Shinjinku. Photo: Elyse Glickman


Should you not score tickets or happen to be traveling in Japan for other reasons anytime between March 26 — the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay in Fukushima Prefecture and cherry blossom season — through the conclusion of the Paralympic Games, you will still be in a prime position to party. Leading up to the games, there will be several cultural, fine arts and performing arts events in Tokyo and elsewhere making up the Tokyo 2020 Nippon Festival, planned by the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee.


Other events under the “Flame of Recovery” banner follow the theme of Tokyo 2020 as “The Reconstruction Games.” These sport and cultural events will draw continued attention to the rebuilding of Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Kumamoto, all affected by the 2011 earthquakes and tsunami.


National Stadium. Photo: Elyse Glickman


During both Olympiads, Live Sites with giant television screens will be stationed at some of Tokyo’s most popular historic sites and neighborhoods (including Yoyogi Park, Inokashira Park and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, as well as sites in Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Kumamoto). See tokyo2020.org for details, as more sites will be added this spring. While competitions will be broadcast in real time, there will also be additional cultural programming between the games. You may also want to check out other events, like the Tokyo Tokyo Festival.


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