My next adventure is coming up soon and I am anxious to explore Europe over the summer. Still, I must admit I’m quite hung up on Japan, and the best way to give this adventure closure and move on to the next (at least for now, but I’ll be back, Japan.) is to end where it all started: the incredible city of Tokyo.
Tokyo, Tokyo. It is a city unlike any other, with so many faces, colours and lifestyles. I have never been anywhere that comes even close to how crazy this place is. There’s never a dull moment, never a dull place. They say New York City is the city that never sleeps (don’t get me wrong, NY is great!), but Tokyo could easily give it a run for its money. There’s always something to find because there’s so much of everything, so many people, so much life, and here is a list of the places that you can’t miss when visiting Tokyo.
Akihabara Electric Town
Akihabara Electric Town is equal parts incredible by day and by night. Boasting with anime cartoons, manga, crazy electronics and the most technology you’ve ever seen in your life in a single place. It is the home of the “otaku” universe and J-pop culture and it is a fantastic place to explore. At night, the buildings light up the street in colourful letters, colours and intricate manga drawings, welcoming you to this unique universe it’s built.
The most impressive electronics store is Yodobashi, hosting something like 7 floors (I don’t recall the exact number but there were many floors) full of electronics and genius employees who will help you find just what you’re looking for.
A great place to explore either day or night, it lets you see a unique side of Tokyo that you won’t find anywhere else in the city. If you’re into electronics, photography, or just want to discover weird gadgets, this is the place to head over to.
If you’d like to visit museums while in Tokyo, then let it be this one. I am not a big fan of visiting museums, but the Edo-Tokyo Museum’s layout is impressive. It is the most impeccable museum setup I’ve ever seen, including a life-size replica of Nihonbashi bridge, laying out in very detailed full-scale and miniature models how Tokyo transitioned from feudal city to what it is today. There are audio guides available for those who wish to dig a bit further into the history and the displays, and it is definitely worth at least a quick visit.
If you’re visiting Edo-Tokyo Museum, don’t miss out on the fantastic Hot Pot restaurant nearby, Kirishima Chanko. It’s very local, very delicious, and a great place to enjoy a fantastic meal after the museum.
Imperial Palace Gardens
Although visitors are not allowed into the Imperial Palace itself, the gardens around it are quite impressive and a great place for a relaxing stroll. During cherry blossom season, this place is blooming with colour. You can view the famous iron and stone bridges, as well as the watchtowers, from the southwest corner and access. You can also access the East Garden for free:
There are several tours available to visit the grounds, or you can visit on your own, taking reservations between a month and four days in advance, so book them long-before your trip.
Senso-ji, Meiji Jingu, Toshogushaden Karamonmae and Hie Jinja
These four temples were my favourites out of the ones I visited in Tokyo, each one reflecting a different face of spirituality in Tokyo, and telling of its centuries-old history and faith in the midst of the super-modern city. You can read more about each of them on this post.
Tokyo Skytree may seem overrated but it really isn’t. Not only is the structure amazing, but the view from above is something. You can view Mt. Fuji from up there on a clear day. Depending on the pass you buy, you line up in the queue and are boosted to the top in the super-fast elevators. Once at the top, you can walk 360 to view the expanse of the city from above.
There’s a restaurant, as well as a kind-of cafeteria area where they serve ice-cream with beans. Yes, beans. I don’t know how common this is in the rest of the world but I’d never seen, heard or imagined ice-cream with beans in my life, and I must admit I didn’t dare try them, but a fellow traveller did and they were apparently quite alright.
I loveeeeee this place. Takeshita Dori is a shopping street in the Harajuku area full of insane things like pizza shirts (not literally), panda-bear shaped sweatshirts and victorian-era dresses. It’s full of lights, packed with people and probably one of the most crowded places I visited in Tokyo, and here you can enjoy these amazing crepes that have cake and ice-cream inside.
There is also a three-story Daiso store, the equivalent to a dollar store, where you can stock up on pretty much anything for ¥100. It is worth a visit, if not for shopping, for the atmosphere and of course, the crepes.
Tsukiji Fish Market
This is a place you most-definitely cannot miss out on in Tokyo. If you can make it and get up the strength to get up at 3 a.m. to watch the auctions it has become famous for and that are increasingly becoming more popular among travellers, go. If you can’t then visit in the day! In the morning you can visit the outdoor market, where they sell all kinds of fish and other weird sea-creatures, as well as great street food. If you’re feeling adventurous, a lot of the stalls have samples for you to try. The best thing I tried in the market was a mixed seafood dish served and cooked on a clam, but everything was delicious. You can view the photo story here.
Shibuya and Shinjuku
These two areas of Tokyo are great to walk and explore.
In Shibuya, the hub of shopping and youthful nightlife, there are great dining places and fantastic sights full of neon signs and bright screens. It is the home of the Hachiko dog statue, as well as the famous Shibuya crossing, the busiest in the world, bustling with some of the world’s biggest brands. It is really stunning to be at the crossing with the thousands of people who cross it every day, and a great place to get that ‘Tokyo feeling’ in the first days of your visit.
Shinjuku has the world’s busiest train station and is one of the city’s largest nightlife districts. There are any places to visit in the area (I suggest looking up Lonely Planet’s guide to Shinjuku), including the famous Golden Gai alleys and the Harmonica-yokocho lantern-covered market.
GOLDEN TIP FOR TRAVELLERS IN SHINJUKU: Do not go to the Japanese Sword Museum, it’s a major tourist trap.
Tokyo National Museum
This is Japan’s oldest museum and if you’re planning on visiting museums this should also be one of them. The museum displays thousands of ancient Japanese artefacts (katanas, samurai armour, ceramics,) and impressive wooden statues like the ones below, as well as tapestries, manuscripts, poetry and paintings.
It has over 3,000 objects in display in the main gallery and 100,000 in its possession, including 87 National Treasures 634 Cultural Heritage artefacts. There are many galleries you can visit hosting different exhibitions and permanent displays, as well as the annual cherry blossom expo during blossom season.
Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens
These gardens were built in the Edo period and they are one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in Tokyo, with crystalline ponds and green hills and vibrant flora creating unique landscapes and an incredibly solemn setting. It is one of the very few places in Japan that have been designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty and Special Historic Site of the country by the Cultural Assets Preservation Act. In the gardens you can find small temples, the famous Tsuten-kyo bridge and Engetsu-kyo or Full Moon bridge, and the Weeping Cherry.
With this post I bid farewell to Japan; let this be my promise to return one day and continue exploring. For now, on to the next one.