Four Days in Tokyo Just Isn’t Enough. It absolutely broke my heart that I had to give up Kyoto because of my shortened vacation leave (work reasons), but when it came down to choosing between Kyoto and Tokyo for a first-time travel in Japan, I just felt that it had to be Tokyo. I’m happy to say I have no regrets.
Planning a trip to Tokyo is, more than in any other place I’ve been to, a lesson in prioritization. Japan’s history and culture is so rich and just so… different, that everything becomes a discovery; everything just feels so wonderfully new! I find it admirable that, despite having embraced Western culture, Japan has not lost its core – even in ultramodern Tokyo. I think it is this love for their identity as a nation, this pride and self-respect, which makes the Japanese undeniably superior to most in so many ways. My initial impression of the Japanese being honest, organized, hard-working, uncompromising, self-respecting people found proof in Tokyo’s streets, buildings, food, train system, hotel room & service – just about everything.
Tokyo is a big, big city with a thousand and one things in its pocket of surprises that it really is difficult to come home disappointed, especially if you determine early on which things interest you and you’d like to see/do/eat most, i.e. with proper planning. So, here are the top things to do in Tokyo:
Shrines & Temples
Japan is still mostly Shinto/Buddhist, so temples and shrines abound. My top two would be Asakusa and Nezu shrines. The latter was particularly of interest to me because of its many red torii gates, like the ones in Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto (if you’re going to Kyoto anyway, you may skip the Nezu shrine).
Other places of interest are the Meiji shrine, where you can easily drop by on the way to Harajuku; and the Imperial Palace (make sure to book the free tour well in advance – click here).
If you have a lot of money to burn – definitely Omotesando Hills and Ginza are the way to go. If you are into anime or costume or quirky stuff – do not miss Takeshite-dori and Harajuku. Shibuya is also a very good shopping area. For cheap thrills, try the Ameyoko Market (but not really for clothes). For vintage stuff (some are very expensive), try Ragtag in Harajuku, as well as the Shimokitazawa area. For thrift shops, there are some in Harajuku as well. And of course, there’s always Uniqlo, H&M, and Forever 21 (highly unlikely for you to find anything cheaper than that).
I don’t have a list for this, because truly, everything in Tokyo is just so delicious – even Yoshinoya! And please, treat yourself and splurge on snacks and drinks in metro stations and vendo machines and the streets – I guarantee you will not regret a single thing!
Tokyo has many lovely parks – particularly, I’m guessing, during the cherry blossom season. Try Hamarikyu Park (near Tsukiji Market), Yoyogi park (particularly interesting on Sundays), and Ueno Park (where you can find so many museums all within the park).
Tokyo is a ball of so many good experiences. You can:
1 – Watch a Kabuki play in Ginza or a sumo wrestling match when it is in season;
2 – Witness the anime otaku come alive in Harajuku and Yoyogi Park during Sundays;
3 – Go to the Tsukiji market at 4am-ish to see first-hand the tuna auction that happens every morning and eat in one of the best sushi places in Tokyo (I heard – was always so plastered that was not able to wake up early)
4 – Go to Tokyo Disney which is so loved by many (though if you ask me, I still the Universal Studios better than Disneyland or Disney Sea)
5 – Eat eat eat – ramen, sushi, sashimi, yakitori, sukiyaki and the list goes on and on and on.
6 – Have fun trying random stuff in the vending machines (there are even vending machines devoted to just beer – all sorts of beer; and another having just cigarettes – all brands of cigarette)
7 – Go to mall foodcourts for relatively cheaper food, especially after 7pm. There are also a lot of “free taste” opportunity – try Mitsukoshi!
8 – Heck, even walking in the rain under the ubiquitous transparent umbrella felt so wonderful and so… Japanese!
9 – experience the wonderful chaos called the Shibuya crossing
10 – Go see Hachiko. You know, THE dog. I haven’t even seen the movie, but because it’s just in the Shibuya crossing – why not.
11 – See a bit of New York in Tokyo. It’s a replica, alright, but not of the Statue of Liberty in New York, but that of the replica in Paris. It was brought to Odaiba in the late nineties to celebrate “The French Year in Japan,” supposedly only for a year, but because it became so popular that a replica of that was then installed in Odaiba again. So, if I did my research right, it is a replica of a replica of a replica. Confusing!
12 – Meet Gundam. Speaking of Odaiba, why not drop by Diver City, one of the malls there, and meet Gundam.
13 – Go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (45th floor) in Shinjuku for a free panoramic view of the city.
14 – Bathe in an onsen. (Japanese hot spring). Naked. Naturally, these naked people are all of the same gender. If you don’t want to bathe naked, try the mixed gender onsens – good for couples, and only requires that you be in swimming attire. Honestly, ONSEN-BATHING IS THE MOST FUN THING I DID IN TOKYO. It was just so liberating and relaxing and a really wonderful de-stressor. I really hope I get to write about it soon!
15 – And of course, Mount Fuji! So sad we didn’t have enough time to see this beauty, but one day. 🙂
I’m sure you’ll find more to do and enjoy in Tokyo – let me know once you’re back, will you?
This is an entry from my old blog – for my friends who have been asking about Tokyo. Will try to write about the itinerary and hotel review soon.