Tokyo for First-Timers - United Hub

Tokyo for first-timers

By Nick Harper

With a population of more than 9 million people, Tokyo is the most populous city on the planet. A vast, sometimes chaotic, neon-soaked playground that never sleeps, the city can feel daunting to the first-time visitor. Yet Tokyo is surprisingly manageable, as its 23 'wards' are easy to navigate via the city's world-class transportation system.

With so many options, knowing where to go and what to see on your first visit isn't easy. To help guide your trip, consider the following tips — enough to fill a few days in the city.

Getting into the city

Most international flights arrive into Narita International Airport (NRT) located just 37 miles outside Tokyo, but we also have international flights arriving arriving into Haneda International Airport (HND) from San Francisco, and starting March 28, 2020, new nonstop service will operate from Chicago, Los Angeles, NewYork/Newark, and Washington D.C. (subject to Government approval). From Narita, the city center can be easily reached by bus, train or taxi. The quickest option is the JR Narita Express (NEX), which takes about 60 minutes and departs twice every hour. From Haneda, Tokyo is located less than 30 minutes from this airport and can easily be reached by bus, train or taxi

Some international flights arrive into Haneda Airport, also located outside the city center and easily connected through public transportation.

Tokyo U-Bahn

Where to stay

In a city so vast, you'll need to check in somewhere close to the main attractions or close to Tokyo's subway stations — the quickest and cheapest way to navigate the center. (Note: Taxis are the only form of transportation that runs all night but can be expensive.) Shinjuku, Ginza, Shibuya, Roppongi and Tokyo Station are excellent areas to stay with multiple hotel options and subway stops.

While it's possible to find accommodation to suit even the tightest of budgets, Tokyo does glitz very well. If your budget allows it, book at least one night in luxury — The Ritz Carlton, The Peninsula Tokyo and Aman Tokyo are just three opulent options among many. For added kudos, live like a movie star and check in at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, the hotel featured in the movie, Lost In Translation.

What to see and do

Seeing everything Tokyo has to offer requires more than a few days, but if you only have a few days, the following should be toward the top of your must-see list. To get your bearings and appreciate the size and scale of the city, visit one of Tokyo's many observation decks. At 2,080 ft tall, the Tokyo Skytree is currently the highest in the city, but Tokyo Tower and Toranomon Hills are also impressive. For the full neon-lit effect, head up at night.

Embrace your jet lag, rise crazy early and head for Tsukiji Market, not for the fruit, vegetables or flowers on sale there, but for the seafood. The world's biggest seafood market is an experience not to be missed, particularly its live tuna auctions that begin at 5 a.m. You'll have to visit soon though: beginning in November of 2018, the iconic market will reopen slightly further east as Toyosu Fish Market.

Shibuya Crossing from top view in Tokyo

In Tokyo, all roads seemingly lead to Shibuya Crossing — possibly the busiest intersection in the world. When the lights turn red, hundreds and often thousands set off in all directions. Walking, dodging and even taking selfies is an art form in itself.

For a sense of the city's history, add Tokyo's largest and most famous shinto shrine to your itinerary. Meiji Jingu is surrounded by 175 acres of forest in central Tokyo and reached via a long forest path marked by towering gates (torii). The city's oldest and most photographed temple is Sensoji Temple, accessed through the massive Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate).

If you're limited on time, you'll need to choose museums wisely. The best of a broad bunch is the Tokyo National Museum. It houses the world's largest collection of Japanese art, including Buddhist statues, vibrant kimonos and samurai swords. Visit the Tokyo National Museum and you're on the doorstep of one of Tokyo's best green spaces. Ueno Park is also home to Ueno Zoo, which opened in 1882 and allows you to get up close with its giant panda bears.

Sensoji Temple around Asakusa area in Japan


To experience Kabuki-classical Japanese dance-drama, head to the grand Kabukiza Theater in Ginza. It offers three performances a day or, if you just want to stop by, one-act tickets. Alternatively, you might prefer to witness the national sport of Sumo Wrestling in all its glory. Ryoguku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall) hosts Grand Tournaments in January, May and September, each spread across 15 days. If you visit outside of these tournament times, it's possible to take a tour of a sumo 'stable' and watch the athletes in action.

If you came to shop, you're in luck. Nakamise Dori and Omotesando Avenue are shopping musts for different things, the former for souvenirs, the latter for boutique stores along Tokyo's version of the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Follow Omotesando until you reach Harajuku, where Tokyo's trailblazing tribes ferment their new and ever more daring fashion statements.

Despite being so densely populated, Tokyo is a city of many green spaces. Visit in spring and you'll see the city (and country) covered in pink blossoms —hanami season. Many of the city's parks and green spaces are in full color as winter gives way to spring. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Chidorigafuchi and Ueno Park are three jaw-dropping options.

Mt. Fuji with fall colors in Japan.

Last but not least is Mount Fuji, Japan's highest and most prominent mountain. While it's tempting to make the journey out to Mount Fuji, 60 miles southwest of the city, you really need a full day to scale its 12,388-foot-high summit to experience it properly. If time is tight, but you really want to experience that view, the solution is easy. An hour north of Tokyo is Fujimi Terrace in the Kanto region. It's not the only place affording views of the iconic mountain, but it's considered the best and worth the journey.

Where to eat

While Tokyo proudly boasts more Michelin stars than any other city, that's not what makes eating here such a life-affirming experience. More important than the fact you can eat the best sushi in your life made by one of the city's most celebrated chefs is that the greatest ramen noodles or yakitori (grilled chicken) you'll ever eat can be served by a street vendor in the middle of nowhere.

Sushi on a wooden set.

For the highest of the high end, try three-Michelin-starred Kanda, if you can reserve one of the eight seats along its wooden counter. For surely the cheapest Michelin-starred food you'll ever taste, try ramen restaurant Tsuta — but expect long, long lines.

Alternatively, but every bit as good, look for a neighborhood izakaya — a cross between a tapas bar and an English pub — to eat and drink like (and with) the locals. Kushirokuya, Kagaya and Gonpachi are excellent options — the latter reputedly an inspiration for the movie Kill Bill's iconic fight scene.

Wherever and whatever you eat, be aware that in almost all restaurants, tipping is not expected.

When to visit

Spring and autumn are the best times to visit, with the city in full color. Plus, during both seasons, rainfall is low and temperatures are mild. It's best to avoid mid-June to mid-July during the city's rainy season.

Getting there

United Airlines offers customers more nonstop fights to Tokyo than any US carrier, flying into both Haneda and Narita airports. For details and to book your tip, visit united.com or use the United app. Don't forget to share your story on social media with the #MyUnitedJourney hashtag once you arrive.

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Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

United works with partners to send food to USDA food bank

By The Hub team, July 23, 2020

In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.

"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."

United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.

Jessica Kimbrough named Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

By The Hub team, July 10, 2020

Jessica Kimbrough, currently Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, will take on the new role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Managing Director.

Jessica assumes this new and expanded position to focus on global inclusion and equity as part of our enhanced commitment to ensure best practices across the business to strengthen our culture.

In this role, Jessica will be responsible for helping United redefine our efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion – ensuring that our programs and approach are strategic, integrated and outcome-oriented, while we continue to build a culture that reflects our core values. She will report to Human Resources and Labor Relations EVP Kate Gebo.

"Jessica's appointment to this role is another critical step our executive team is taking to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion remains a top priority at United," said CEO Scott Kirby. "Given her drive, experience and commitment to champion collaboration and allyship among our employee business resource groups, she is uniquely qualified to take on this position and I look forward to working closely with her."

As Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, Jessica worked closely with senior management to create and maintain positive labor relations among our unionized workforce, providing counsel on labor litigation, negotiations, contract administration, organizing issues and managing attorneys who represent United in labor relations. Previously, she served as Labor and Employment Counsel in our legal department.

Jessica has a passion for creating a pipeline of diverse lawyers and leaders, and was honored as one of Chicago Defender's "Women of Excellence" for excellence in her career and civic engagement in 2017. She currently serves as President of uIMPACT, our women's employee business resource group.

Jessica's new role is effective immediately.

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