Study: How US Travelers perceive Tokyo

This year more than 1.3 million people will travel from the USA to Japan (JNTO, 2018). Outside of Asia, that's more Americans than travelers from all of Europe combined!

From reimagined sushi (California roll), western Anime (Avatar: The Last Airbender), and even a Tokyo-inspired Los Angeles dystopia (Blade Runner), viewing Japan through an American lens has produced some interesting results over the years.

To learn how the US view Japan's capital in today's world, we asked over 1,000 Americans what first comes to mind when they think of ‘Tokyo, Japan’.


Overall sentiment of responses was favorable (96.2%), with the majority of top responses being 'food' (21.80%) and pop culture (15.53%). We also learned that most respondents associated Tokyo with the city's size and population (16.84%). Surprisingly, Tokyo's neon lights and technology were recalled by only 6.18% of those surveyed.


21.8 percent of Americans surveyed said that when they heard Tokyo, they thought food. Japan has beautiful cuisine and a food culture to match.

"A lifetime isn't long enough to begin to understand the restaurant scene in Tokyo." Thierry Marais, Ritz Carlton Tokyo

According to locals and frequent tourists alike, Tokyo’s business district, Shinjuku is the place for food. Bustling with an overload of restaurants serving up fresh, traditional food, Shinjuku is known for its ramen. There are more traditional parts of Tokyo like Kanda, Nihombashi and Asakusa where you’ll find quaint family-run restaurants serving up tempura and soba buckwheat noodles… yum!


From cute anime to dinosaur monsters, Tokyo’s huge pop culture scene hasn’t gone unnoticed. More than one in ten (14.78%) respondents had a pop culture reference ping like a lightbulb above their head.

The overwhelmingly large response in pop culture was ‘Godzilla’ and second to the giant monster himself was 'anime'. A 12-metre tall Godzilla stands proudly in the Shinjuku district at the Hotel Gracery. The 80-tonne statue can be seen from behind buildings on Yasukuni Street.

Other popular responses included Hello Kitty, Lost in Translation, King Kong, Kill Bill, and Pokémon.


'Tokyo Drift' related responses took out their own category with 9.36 percent of respondents immediately thinking about slick paint jobs and that burnt rubber smell. The American produced film "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" was released back in 2006 and has evidently left a lasting impression on how American audiences perceive Tokyo.

Tokyo is the motherland of drifting. Street racing became a huge underground culture in Tokyo with their ‘Mid Night Club’ running from 1987 to 1999. One of the most strict and exclusive racing clubs in history, one of their requirements for membership was to have a car capable of exceeding 160 mph in speed. Like you could’ve guessed, street racing is illegal in Tokyo but it’s said if you head out here in the late hours of night/early hours of morning you may see some racing.


‘The population’ came in strong with responses relating to Tokyo's size, overcrowdedness, and traffic coming to mind. Tokyo is also known for being huge and its plethora of skyscrapers doesn’t hinder that reputation. The giant city comes in at #6 in the world when ranked in terms of population and #5 by total number of skyscrapers (147).


Surprisingly, Tokyo's popular robotic bars, nightclubs, and technological innovation are not the first things that come to mind when Americans think 'Tokyo'.

With answers like ‘electronics’, and ‘neon lights’ each receiving strong responses, Tokyo is the futuristic capital of the Asia Pacific. Tokyo is known for its lights. So much so that tourists don’t view them as an overload of advertising – they think it’s beautiful … and it is. Shinjuku and Shibuya are flooded with these LED and neon signs but a lesser known district is Akihabara. It’s said to be a haven for gaming and electronics and locals say it’s ever evolving and the skyline just keeps getting brighter.


Of course, the Japanese culture ranked highly with people fascinated by traditional Tokyo heritage with answers like “geishas”, “samurais” and “lanterns”. While not specific to the capital, rather the entire country, Tokyo represents over 9 million people in the city over 37 million in the greater region. With the highest population density in the world, it’s no wonder people are in awe of the city - even the greater New York metropolitan area doesn’t compete!

There was also some mixed sentiment responses that highlight Tokyo’s past and present. For some people (2.14%), the thoughts of World War II are fresh in the minds of some Americans who recalled answers such as atomic bomb and the Pearl Harbor Attack. Of course, Japan’s relations with the US are a lot more civil and Tokyo is one of the safest tourist destinations in the world. In fact, almost 4% provided positive words such as “fun”, “clean” and “beautiful”. And it’s easy to see why, with a backdrop as naturally beautiful as Mt Fuji, complementing the city’s cosmopolitan skyline!


Based on historical data, the best months to book a cheap flight from New York to Tokyo is from January to April with savings of up to 15% below average price. October is the cheapest month to travel (-19% below average) while travel in July and December will see a premium of up to 26% above average ticket prices.

The best amount of time to book in advance is 6 months ahead of your desired dates, if you want to spend 14% less than the average ticket price. If you’re feeling impulsive, you could save around 9% by booking 3 weeks in advance.

Best times to book flights to Tokyo:

  • If you’re an early riser, it pays off to book at 5am for the best average ticket price
  • Sundays are the best day of the week, and the best day to buy cheaper flights
  • If you can help it, avoid booking between 7-10pm


This study was conducted online between 17 October 2018 and 31 October 2018.

The total sample was 1,411 distributed throughout the United States, as follows:

18-24: 110
25-34: 268
35-44: 293
45-54: 289
55-64: 278
65+:   172

Age, gender and region quotas were applied to the sample.

Following the completion of interviewing, the data was weighted by age, gender and region to accurately reflect USA population estimates.