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A friend of mine is travelling to Tokyo for a few days and asked me for some advice. As I wanted to write this down anyway, I thought I’d turn this into a blog post (and write in English) so that it may be of use to some other people as well. I spend a total of 9 days in Tokyo spread over a few weeks earlier this year and visited every major district. As always, I adhered to my beloved Lonely Planet guide which served me exceptionally well. The following is a list of my personal highlights, accompanied by photographs I took. The full Flickr album can be found here.
This city is massive, it truly is what the word ‚vastness‘ was created for. The scale of it is indescribable, overwhelming and mind-blowing. You will not be able to see everything, you will always be surprised, there will be something interesting to look at in every corner. Embrace it, go with the flow, occasionally stop to look at stuff, keep your eyes open. For some, this can be exhausting because of the traffic, the lights and the waves of people coming out of the train stations, for others it will be pure joy.
The following things are amazing and will leave you wondering why your country can’t get this shit done: Public transportation, food quality, safety, cleanliness, noise level (relative to the amount of traffic and people).
Travel and food tips:
- 7/11: ATM, snacks, WiFi – all you need while travelling, all located in one place, available 24/7. I love these shops. Try the double-pancakes with maple sirup in between and all the crazy ice cream brands, but stay away from the cheese.
- Apart from Sushi and Rāmen (duh) you should absolutely try this: Tempura, Yakitori, Shabu-shabu, Yakiniku, raw Tuna (see Tsukiji). Go for burgers (with rice-based buns) at Moss Burger. If you don’t go to Osaka, also try Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki in Tokyo.
- Public transport: Get a Suica. This card, similar to London’s Oyster card, can be purchased and charged at almost every station. It is then used for „checking in“ and out at the train stations. The cheapest fare is calculated and charged automatically when you leave a station. It costs only 250 yen (+ a deposit), but saves tons of time when using the metro and trains plus you get a cheaper fare.
The touristy places and activities I recommend:
- Shibuya Crossing: It is as mesmerising as promised. Go at night and during the day if you have the time. If you can only come once, go at night. View the crossing from the second level of Shibuya station or the Starbucks
- Tsukiji fish market: I went to the old location, can’t say anything about the new one that is going to open this year. I did not go to the tuna auction that is held every morning around 5. Instead I went there around 9 when the market officially opens to the public. Be careful, it is very crowded and hectic. After that, go to a nearby restaurant and eat fresh tuna
- Akihabara: Enjoy all the lights, game shops and all the weirdness that’s in the air. Go to an owl or cat café if you want, but check the websites way ahead of your visit for available time slots
- Tokyo Sky Tree: The view is mind-blowing. Pay the price, stay for the sunset, enjoy the moment. It’s worth it. If you want to save money, head for the (free) Tokyo Metropolitan Government building instead
- Yanaka: Located near Ueno-kōen, this is just one of the traditional Tokyo neighbourhoods you can visit. There is also the ex-geisha-quarter Kagurazaka near Tokyo Dome and the hip, artsy Shimo-Kitazawa located a few train stations from Shibuya. All of these are full of interesting spots, nice shops and let you get a glimpse of the ‚real‘ Tokyoites‘ life
- Spend half a day in Ueno-kōen, get a bento for a lunch in the park and visit 1 or 2 museums. My recommendations are the Toyko National Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (western art) in that order
- If you have the time visit Kōkyo (Imperial Palace; you can’t get close or enter it) and Kōkyo Higashi-Gyoen (the east garden of the Imperial Palace), watch a baseball game at Tokyo Dome and stroll through Shinjuku at night
- take your time to relax for an hour in a nice garden, for example at Koishikawa Kōrakuen near Tokyo Dome or Hama-Rikyū Onshi-Teien near Tsukiji
If you like architecture (and some more museums):
- National Art Center in Roppongi – great museum with fascinating architecture. My absolute favourite, I could move into that place. Check out the lovely store in the basement for great gifts and stationary
- Omote-sandō: This shopping mall in Roppongi is one of a kind. Marvellous architecture.
- 21_21 Design Sight: Another nice museum (on design) in Roppongi, housed in an equally interesting shell
- Tokyo International Forum: Fascinating complex. Go to the top floor of the main building and just explore this conference and event center for a bit. Sometimes there are food trucks on the main plaza
- Japanese originals: Loft, Uniqlo and Muji (visit all these in Ginza)
- Don Quijote (for the crazy experience)
If you have seen ‚Lost in Translation‘, definitely check out the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, go to the 52nd floor and order a cocktail named after the movie in the hotel bar.