My favourite place in the world
If I had to sum up Tokyo in three words I think I would pick: Peace, Obsessions, People. I spent about 4 days there in the summer in total, but could have easily spent a lifetime in this wonderful city. There is always something to do here, but I’m going to try and sum up my favourite parts of our trip into a little three day guide for you all. There are also a few other tips at the end about where to stay, finding food, and the language etc. so hopefully everything you need if you’re planning a trip!
Harajuku, Yoyogi Park, Meji Shrine, Aoyama Tea Rooms, Shibuya
Head over to Harajuku first thing – before breakfast ideally, as there will be plenty to indulge yourself on Takeshita Dori – the famous shopping street in the Harajuku district. Think crepe’s filled with cheesecake, candyfloss bigger than your head, and everything covered in cream and sugar.
I wrote more about Harajuku here but things not to be missed are:
‘Purikura’ photobooth machines. These are scattered all around the Harajuku shopping districts, and they basically let you turn yourself into a Japanese anime character of your creation. Add eyelashes, change your hair style, and there are stickers galore.
The Rilakkuma and Tamagotchi Department stores. Pretty much what they say on the tin but give a fantastic insight into Japanese character culture, and also great for picking up souvenirs.
Just up the road from Takeshita Street is Yoyogi Park, fantastic to wander round in itself but home to the famous Meji Shrine. Considering it is literally five minutes away, you really couldn’t find a bigger contrast to Harajuku, and this really sums up Japanese culture for me. Mania one minute, and an incredible peace the next. Wander through the park slowly, taking in the sounds of the cicada and trying not to think about the other bugs that are around. Wash your hands in the basin. Donate to the temple to make a wish, or get your fortune.
Take a wander through the district popping into whatever takes your fancy for lunch. Then find your way to the Aoyama Tea House. Here you won’t find a tea ceremony, but still you will get to drink some traditional Japanese tea in beautiful surroundings. They also have a selection of incredible desserts and I can vouch for the hot mojito as well!
Head to Shibuya, we really haven’t ventured very far today but this district is so saturated with wonderful things to do. Here you’ll find plenty of Ramen and sushi places that are affordable, and delicious. You can take in the traditional Tokyo imagery of signs, lights, vending machines without the pressure of Shinjuku on your first night!For a truly modern Japanese experience head to Uobei Sushi where you order your food on an Ipad and it gets delivered to you on your own personal sushi train! The next level conveyor belt sushi experience!
Senso-ji, Mori Museum, and lots of sake!
Get up nice and early and head to the Senso-ji temple. I didn’t manage to get many good photos of this place because by the afternoon it was far too crowded. But it is beautiful and well worth a visit. It’s also situated in the midst of a bustling market, perfect for picking up yet more souvenirs, (I did the bulk of my shopping here) and indulging in some Japanese street food for lunch! Just don’t waste your money on the orange juice that you drink from an orange – it’s a massive rip off as there is just about no juice in those things!
Head over to the Mori Art Museum. They have a viewing platform with incredible views over Tokyo. It’s not as busy or as expensive as some of the more well-known ones. It’s also situated in their temporary exhibition space so you may just be lucky enough to get a great exhibition out of your entry fee too! We were lucky enough to see a fascinating one of Studio Ghibli’s art work.
Head to Shinjuku and find the Golden Gai. A street lined with tiny bars that seat about six people. I had the best night of my trip in one of these bars, as you chat with everyone who comes in. Most have a hefty cover charge but if you find the right atmosphere you will stay there all night. Drink sake, try plum wine and ask the barman ~ if he speaks english or you speak Japanese ~ to try any other Japanese specialities they have hiding behind the bar. Bring a lot of cash as they wont take card. Stay here until close (about 6am) and don’t worry about last trains – cabs aren’t expensive.
Lie – in’s, Swan boats, Ghibli Museum, Cat Cafe’s.
Morning: Wake up late. Have Ramen for breakfast.
Head to Inokashira Park and jump in a Swan Pedalo. The novelty of this will never wear off! Although Tokyo is an impeccably clean place, they think nothing of drinking on the streets or in parks. Grab a can of Lemon Beer from one of the booths in the park and wander round. I talked more about this here – it was one of my favourite days in Tokyo!
If you are both lucky and organised, this park is home to the Ghibli museum. You’ll need to book tickets about 3 months in advance. I was not lucky or organised so I can’t feedback on the content of the museum but I certainly wish I’d had a ticket.
Now you may be able to find these the world over, but Tokyo was the origins of the Cat Cafe so I didn’t want to miss a chance to see how these things came about. I was sceptical at first, but I did my research to find one that was definitely legitimate, and made sure the cats were well looked after and happy! It was such a lovely, relaxing way to spend our last night in Tokyo before the stress of 18 hours of travel the next day kicked in. If cats aren’t your thing, Owl cafes have recently been a huge hit in the city too!
Things I didn’t do but heard were great are:
Robot Restaurant, Imperial Palace Gardens, Shimokatazawa district, Irina Bakery, Floresta Donuts.
Things I did do, and enjoyed:
Pokemon Centre (essentially a giant shop but great fun) Sangen-Jaya District (a young area, similar to east london, lots of great food and bars). ‘Piss alley’ similar to Golden Gai but for food.
Some of the best meals I had in Tokyo cost about £3 and came when we just dived under the first curtain we saw, without even looking at a menu first. Basically, don’t be afraid. If you stick to the slightly more westernised places you will end up paying a lot more, and the food quality is unlikely to be as good. The Ramen vending machine places are a right of passage and it always comes up tasting amazing – better than any ramen you’ll find anywhere else in the world, and the famous ‘piss alley’ in Shinjuku does incredible sticks.
I stayed in this air bnb and really enjoyed our stay. Hotels in Tokyo are incredibly expensive, and Air bnb is a great option. We stayed slightly out of the centre but the area itself was lively and it meant we found a whole new area of Tokyo to explore. The train systems in Tokyo are also so efficient it was incredibly quick and easy to get into the centre. The money we saved staying just 5 minutes on the train further out meant we could really enjoy other aspects of the trip, so I would highly recommend it!
Get yourself a Suica card. It works on all trains, tubes, trams and buses around the whole of Japan, and it makes it easier to not have to figure out your fare each time as the price map is a lot more confusing than the train map itself. There are loads of different types of trains in Tokyo as they are all owned by different companies but this card works on them all. All the stations are written in the Latin alphabet as well as Japanese, and announcements are also in english so getting around is a relatively easy affair if you know where you’re going.
As with all my guides if you have any recommendations please leave them in the comments below, so we can make this as comprehensive as possible for people!