Hello Tokyo! A city I’ve always dreamed of visiting, at last here I am. There is so much to see and do in Tokyo but if you have only a limited days below are the highlights of Tokyo. Check out our below itinerary for inspiration.
We start of just really want to relax after reaching Tokyo very late at night. So we decided to visit one of the icon of Tokyo which is the Train Station and Imperial palace. Something low key, so Japan and relaxing we thought. Little did we know that it is such a long walk from the station to Imperial Palace and the palace is not open for visit!
We certainly wasted half of the day here but manage to see the iconic Nihonbashi Bridge and dine the marketplace for a unique rice with soup.
Within Marunouchi there are other attraction as well that maybe less popular which include Kitte shopping centre and Tokyo International Forum. This place is actually pretty great for high-end shopping for those into it.
In Kitte, you can go to the observatory floor to see the train station from above.
JR Tokyo station is a destination in itself. From the exterior it is an architecturally interesting building. They have a ramen street here with the most famous shop being Rokurinsha.
Marunouchi is a business district and rather quite. People visited this area because it is so close to the train station. The main thing we’d like to visit is the imperial palace but as it turns out you need to make a reservation to visit so keep this in mind if you are thinking to visit the Imperial Palace Tokyo. It is also close to Tokyo tower, another iconic building of Tokyo. We start the day off late (like 12 a.m. ouch) so we rushed to see other attractions of Tokyo straight after Imperial Palace. I’m sure you are a less slack tourist/ traveler than us so you’d squeeze more things into your day for sure.
Next destination is Harajuku-Ometesando and we get here catching the train from Marunouchi. We stopped at Omotesando train station and visited the Aoyama Flower Market tearoom (more about it here).
From Ometesando, it is a pleasant walk to Harajuku. Actually there are more than one route you can take from Ometesando to Harajuku that are lines with shops, cafes and unique buildings. We were on one route than we couldn’t resist visiting other alleys that hides cute cafes and restaurants. In the end we venture to wherever our heart please visiting what caught our eyes. Harajuku is basically a ribbon shopping street with many international brands and shops along the street. Our end destination is Takeshita Dori street. Takeshita Dori street is an alley that is different from the rest of Harajuku, you can say that this is the heart of Harajuku.
If you think Harajuku will be outrageous with its fashion pieces and shops, this is where it all happens. The shops at Takeshita Dori street are unique. They sell outrageous fashion items and sky high flashy heels/boots. It also sells some of the cutest Japanese kitsch. Food are also abundant, a famous one being crepe from a flashy van or shops.
One thing we didn’t get to do that I’d love to is to visit one of the photobooth to take one of those uber cute photo stickers.
If you are a shopper you may want to stay here much longer than us. The best time to visit Harajuku is on Sunday where there will be plenty of cosplayers to people watch . We didn’t but we had a good time.
There are a lot more to Harajuku that may catch your musing. Other things you can check out in Harajuku are:
- Oriental bazaar Opposite omotesando hills that’s happening at 10:00-07:00.
- Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu Shrine
From Harajuku, we continue to walk to Shibuya. It is pretty similar to Harajuku which are ribbon shopping street full of shops and sea of people. We manage to go through the places so quick because we are not shoppers but I’d love to browse through interesting shops and eat. We did some stop over here having some Takoyaki, tried the famous Pablo Cheesecake and individual booth ramen (Ichiran). The one thing Shibuya is famous for is the iconic Shibuya crossing.
Shibuya crossing is the busiest crossing junction that hundred thousands feet stomp on every day. One of a must do is to take a picture here while everybody else are crossing all around.
And the experience is not complete without a visit to the Hachiko Statue outside the train station. Legend have it that Hachiko is a loyal dog that would always wait for its master at the train station. Even after the master had passed away, he continued to come to the train station and wait for him tirelessly. Hence they build a statue in his honour that symbolizes everlasting love and loyalty.
The Hachiko statue has become the most popular meeting point and icon of Shibuya beside the crossing.
More of Shibuya:
- Spanish Slope/ Hill to stroll located towards Parco department store.
- Love hotel hill located From station – Turn right and walk uphill.
- A lot of places to shops and Department stores that includes Tokyus, Seibu, Shibuya 109, Mark City, Marui (OIOI building), Loft, Tokyu Hands. Keep in mind that the shops in Shibuya mostly only open only till 21:00.
We pair our visit to Tsukiji Fish market with Ginza as they are on the same train line and pretty close to each other. We certainly spend much more time in Tsukiji then anticipated because it turns out Tsukiji is not just a fish market, it is a food paradise.
We didn’t visit the Tuna Auction because 1. Not keen to get in the way of other people doing their business 2. I heard that you need to be there at 5am but really you need to be there at 3.am 3. We need our sleep 4. There’s no train at those time. If visiting the Tuna auction is your priority book an accommodation that is walking distance to it. There are rumors that this fish market is relocating as well so get there before it’s too late.
If you like market and rows of street food vendors you’ll love Tsukiji. There are so many alleys to walk through and countless restaurants. The one thing you must do here is to eat sushi. They have hundred of sushi shop but the biggest chained sushi restaurant there is Sushi Zanmai.
For the more specialized sushi restaurant Daiwazushi or sushi Dai in the inner market is the most popular one with incredible waiting list to enter. If you really want to try this be as early as possible – like 5.30am early.
We were there at about 11.00am and not only the line are incredibly long, they no longer accept customers. We tried another sushi restaurant instead, okame sushi which I highly recommend. Read more about it here. Of course you can try the legendary Jiro Sushi restaurant as well for the ultimate sushi experience but you have to pre-arranged the booking at least a month prior.
The popular option for sushi in Japan are Chu Toro (Fatty Tuna), omakaze (chef selection) menu, Akami (lean cut), chuo toro (medium fat Tuna), or otoro (premium fatty cut Tuna).
After spoiling our belly at Tsukiji we caught the train to Ginza. Ginza is the place to shop. It has beautiful sky scrapping buildings selling the most luxurious and other international brands. You can find brand like Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Chanel, Prada and the like abundant here. We were just walking through the street and visit one of the biggest uniqlo shop – maybe close to 10 floors of uniqlo and we shop till we drop.
The best day to visit Ginza is On Saturdays when Chuo Dori street is closed for pedestrian zone from 2-5pm. We came here stuffed so we skipped this but for food, Ginza has Yurakucho Gado shita dining which is a dining district beneath the yurakucho station. For drinks you can enjoy Japan Sapporo Beer at Lion Beer Hall located along Chuo dori street, near intersection of Mitsukoshi mall and Ginza core.
Finally we explore the neighbourhood of our accommodation which is Shinjuku.No doubt Shinjuku screams futuristic with the colourful neon board everywhere. Shinjuku is lively as well as can be seedy at night especially at Kabukicho. However, it is one of the most unique town of Tokyo and you definitely need to check it out.
There are 3 main things I wanted to visit in Shinjuku
Kabukicho is a street full of izakayas, bars and clubs. It is basically a red light districts. Izakaya is a tavern selling drinks and yakitori which is grilled meat on skewers. The one we tried and highly recommend is Hajimeya. Read more about it here.
Within Kabukicho is where the famous Robot Restaurant is located. We get ticket for this for 5,900 JPY without meal but include a free drink. It is called Robot Restaurant but it is actually a show. Unlike most show where you can eat or dine this place let you do whatever and even encourage you to drink beer. Get yourself drinks and snack before they take you downstairs. You will be first seated in the flashiest café ever with a performing robot and whatever you are consuming here you can bring downstairs to the show. From the café you will be led downstairs where one of the craziest show you’ll ever see will be happening. They run about 3 shows a days at allocated time. Discounted tickets available from your hotel/accommodation/tourist information centre. Booking is encouraged at least 1-2 days prior.
Golden Gai is where the most tiniest bar you’ll ever visit are located also known as drinking holes. It consist of 300 small bars sprawling in 3 blocks. Sitting fee is common here. It is very close to Kabukicho and turn out very close to our airbnb accommodation. So we visited Kabukicho, Golden Gai, Robot Restaurant and walk back to our place. We catch the last robot show that ends at midnight. If we hadn’t stayed there we’d probably have to get a very expensive taxi ride back so I’m glad we stayed at Shinjuku on this day.
We had explored the main neighbourhood to visit in Tokyo by now which are full of sky scrappers, neon lights and department stores. So it’s time to wind down; visit the park, temples and a low key street, Kappabashi.
As a food enthusiast, or if you like the culinary art Kappabashi is for you. It is where you can get all of your kitchen ware and cooking utensils.
From an iron waffle maker, fake food display that looks just like the real thing, fine china, to knife as sharp as a samurai sword that you can engrave, if it’s food related, you name it and you can probably find it here. It is also known as the foodie town. Kappabashi is also on the way to Asakusa where the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, Sensoji is located. Not so far distance is another iconic destination, the Tokyo Skytree tower.
Using JR pass, there’s no JR lines that goes to Asakusa hence we stopped at Ueno. Ueno in itself is actually worth exploring. It is most famous for Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo (Japan’s oldest zoo). I’d visited Ueno if we had one more day in Tokyo but we only transited here.
An interesting spot near Ueno Park that I found out later is Yanaka Ginza, a town that has an old charm and nostalgic feel. This shopping street filled with charming shops promise to make people feel like they’ve been transported back to Edo period. Another one being Ameyoko (Ameya Yokocho) which is like a maze of strips housing more than 500 shops selling almost anything.
Main destination of Asakusa is the Pagoda and Sensoji temple but actually there are a Lot of shops along the gates leading to the temple.
We walked from Kappabashi to the temple, takes about 20 minutes leisure walk stopping at many interesting foodie shops. We can actually see the Tokyo Skytree from Kappabashi so we know which direction to go.
We plan to go to the skytower at night but somehow – after staring at it for half the day we felt that that’s adequate. We didn’t go to skytower and spend the night elsewhere – Akihibara. It’s totally find to change your plan, it’s all what’s traveling is about right.
More about Tokyo Skytree:
- They open at 10-9pm
- It is one of the worlds tallest tower with Tembo deck at 350 m height and Tembo gallery at 450 m height. To enter you need separate tickets or purchase a 3000 JPY for both. (ticket for Tembo gallery must be purchased at Tembo deck ticketing office)
- Best to go at night 7.30pm – 8pm or during sunset at 5pm.
- Entrance on 4th floor of Tokyo skytree town
- Tokyo Solamachi shopping centre at the base of Skytree. Opening hours: 10-9pm
Akihibara is the electronic or also known as geeky town of Tokyo. I was expecting to see a lot of cosplayers but maybe I wasn’t there at the right time. The place is not really for me. We were dragged to a maid cafe but decided not to proceed because it just a bit too weird and it’s quite pricey.
The highlight of Akihibara for me is Maach ecute Kanda Manseibashi – one of the coolest place there in my opinion.
It’s an old train station that’s been morph into a creative space. Within mAAch ecute there is a library, several indie shops and a restaurant at the end of the tunnel. The whole thing is a train tunnel that’s been sectioned into shops.
Though you can see a lot of electronic and gadget here, it is not particularly cheaper than anywhere else but we did get a good bargain for a high quality 30 GB Toshiba memory card for our camera. At least you can be confident of the quality and some smaller gadgets maybe cheaper.
We spend the whole day at disneysea at Chiba. We bought ticket from Tourist information centre for 6,900 JPY. Make sure you take advantage of the fast pass system that is on the entry to some of the most popular rides. I had to make the hard option of choosing Disneysea and Disneyworld. Disneysea will appeal more to adults and it is actually a very romantic place. Some of the themes are more outdoor oriented and adventure focused. There’s also a parade but with a difference – it’s on the water but it is as stunning as the classing Disney parade.
If you are into anything classic I’d say Disneyland will be more suitable. On the other hand Disneysea only exist in Japan so the option is clear to me.
What I think is the coolest place to eat here is this Titanic look-alike boat that has a few restaurants on board – One of them is Teddy Roosevelt Lounge which is like a cool bar from the 1950s. Another architecturally interesting restaurant is Sakura Restaurant at American Harbour theme. All these fancy restaurants comes with a rather heavy price tag and the food can only be described as decent at best.
Another possible day trip to Fuji except that we actually stays overnight here before proceeding to Kyoto. For more about Fuji I’ve written a separate blog post here.
Do you like anime and manga?
Then you should add Nakano Broadway into your itinerary. It is open from 12-8pm and it is a mall/ arcade full of locals & 2nd hand shop selling anime, manga and many anime character figurines. Basically it is an otaku’s (anime lover) heaven.