Why Taipei (Mostly) Trumps Tokyo

Why Taipei (Mostly) Trumps Tokyo

If you’ve been to both countries, the lingering Japanese influence in Taiwan is impossible to miss. In fact, depending upon where you are and what you’re doing, I’d argue that it’s more pronounced than the Chinese influence.

Yet in spite of some key similarities, today’s Taipei is very different from today’s Tokyo in many important ways. Among them that the city has its own identity, which is neither Japanese nor Chinese nor even Taiwanese. Taipei is a truly global city, in some ways more than Tokyo is.

But I’ll table the melodrama for now, and instead dive into some of the more granular ways you can compare Taipei vs Tokyo if you’re weighing trips to both or either.

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How I Came to Know both Taipei and Tokyo

The question of Taipei or Tokyo wasn’t one I used to ponder very much. As I first explored both cities in the mid-to-late 2010s, they were always very separate in my mind. Taipei, I hypothesized would be a good place to live, while Tokyo seemed like a place that would be nice to pass through often and get to know over time in a gradual but deliberate way.

This, of course, is exactly how it’s ended up playing out. Most of my love for Taipei derives form the period immediately pre-pandemic, when I moved there, and also during the first year of covid-19 when I was “trapped” there. Tokyo, meanwhile, is where I’ve landed on the majority of my 50+ trips to Japan; I’d say I spend between 5-7 nights there annually, spread throughout the year as bookends and time-outs.


Ways to Compare Taipei with Tokyo

Things to do

Certainly, Tokyo has a better-known range of attractions than Taipei, whether you go back in time at Senso-ji temple in s, or traipse amid futuristic neon in Shinjuku, Shibuya or Akihabara. Still, Taipei holds its own in the tourism department, whether you climb Xiangshan mountain at sunset to watch Taipei 101 light up, or eat your way through night markets in Shilin or at Raohe Street.

Ease of getting around

Nerdy as it sounds, public transport was probably the primary way I compared Taipei and Tokyo early on. While Tokyo’s rail system is undoubtedly larger and more sophisticated (the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway, plus the JR Lines, Tokyo Monorail, Keikyu Line and so forth), the simplicity of the Taipei MRT makes it feel much more human. It’s therefore much easier to use, even if it’s not quite as far-reaching.

Dining and nightlife

Tokyo is probably the world’s best-reputed culinary destination these days—and it deserves that distinction. Whether you want a quick ramen or conveyor-belt sushi meal, to dine in a local shokudo or a high-end Michelin-starred restaurant, everything is an option. Taipei is basically night markets and unglamorous local eateries. Nightlife-wise, however, I find Taipei to be much more fun, and much more accessible to foreigners.


Accommodation is obviously a very important consideration, whether you stay in Tokyo or Taipei, or anywhere else for that matter. In general, I’d say Tokyo wins this one. It has a wider range of hotels—from simple “business” hotels like Sotetsu Fresa Inn and APA, to higher-end ones like Hotel the Celestine and even the big-box Ritz-Carlton. It also has more of them in more parts of the city, driving prices down and availability up.

Day trips and excursions

Both of these cities are awesome for taking day trips. From Tokyo, you can visit sacred Nikko and its Tosho-gu shrine, the ancient capital of Kamakura or even Mt. Fuji itself. From Taipei, meanwhile, those who aren’t interested in hiking its own nearby volcano (Yangmingshan) can choose from any number of charming towns any cities, including Jiufen, Keelung and Wulai.


How Many Days Do You Need in Taipei? What About Tokyo?

Taipei and Tokyo share another thing in common, which I alluded to in the previous section. Namely, that while you can see most attractions within their respective city centers in a surprisingly short amount of time, it is the day trips on offer that necessitate spending a lot of time in each. As a result, in an ideal world, I’d say you should aim to spend at least five days in both Taipei and Tokyo.

We don’t live in an ideal world, of course. If we did, you wouldn’t be comparing Tokyo vs Taipei, or being faced with the possibility of having to decide between them. A more realistic idea, then, is to stay three nights in either (or both) cities. This gives you two full days for city-center sightseeing, and then invites you to decide which day trip or excursion is best, and to lean into it.

Other FAQ About Visiting Tokyo and Taipei

Is Taipei more expensive than Tokyo?

These days, due to the weakness of the Japanese yen and the relative strength of the Taiwanese dollar, I’d say that Taipei and Tokyo are pretty comparable in cost. A potential differentiator, for some travelers, is hotels—Tokyo has more of them at more numerous price points; in Taipei, it’s often better to book an Airbnb.

Is it cheaper to go to Japan or Taiwan?

For most of the past few decades, Japan was far more expensive than Taiwan. While I’d say Taiwan is still a bit cheaper than Japan, even amid the lingering weakness of the yen, there’s as close to being on par with one another as they’d been in some time.

Is Taipei Chinese or Japanese?

Taipei has many elements of both Chinese and Japanese character, but is also an increasingly international city. Yet in spite of all these influences, I would argue that Taipei is ultimately its own entity, with an identity that is Taiwanese, yes, but also something all its own.

The Bottom Line

Comparing Taipei vs Tokyo isn’t a question of good versus bad, or really even a value judgment at all. Both of these cities are worth visiting—and I trust that most of you reading this will make it to both in time. What I will say is that for a short trip (and certainly, for a first-time trip) where you want to feel more comfortable as you discover the city, and more sure of what you’ve just experienced upon leaving, Taipei is probably the “easier” option, and maybe the more satisfying one as a result. Regardless, if you need help planning your trip to Asia, I do hope you’ll consider hiring me.


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