Travelled in: July 2016
Tokyo, Japans metropolitan capital city, an anime fans playground, a techno geeks heaven and a shopping lover’s paradise. Tokyo is one of the most innovative and exciting cities I have ever visited. Tokyo in itself has 23 different “wards”, so 23 sub regions within the city, each from what I experienced are completely different, with their own identity and purpose of visit. You have Shinjuku, the home of the world’s busiest train station, and Shibuya where you can watch the world go by at the crazy scramble crossing, or Chiyoda, where you can find Akihabara, the cities super crazy and cool electronic & anime district. Tokyo is way too big to explore in entirety in just 3 days, but we sure as hell tried to cover as much as we could in our time in this crazy cool city.
Arriving in Tokyo…
I arrived to Narita Airport with Etihad Airways on a flight from Venice via Abu Dhabi. The queues through passport were long, the airport was badly air-conditioned and the wifi didn’t seem to work, so it wasn’t the best start. Luckily British passport holders do not need a visa to enter Japan you are granted a 90-day visitor permit upon arrival, all you need to do is give your fingerprints and fill in your landing card!
From Narita airport there is the Narita Express train that connects the airport with the city in roughly 60/90 minutes depending on your destination. The cost of the ticket is around 3000 JPY. If you have purchased a Japanese Rail Pass you can activate this at the airport station and use this on this service for free. If you land in to Haneda airport your journey time to the city center is a bit quicker and there are frequent buses as well as the monorail to get in to the city.
Staying in Tokyo…
We searched for a while to find a great place to stay in Tokyo, for a reasonable price, in a good location. We really wanted an authentic Japanese experience and thought it would be great to stay with a local to truly experience Tokyo life.
We ended up booking an Airbnb private room and stayed with a cool guy called So in the Shinjuku region, close to Hatsudai station. I found this location really convenient to access other areas of the city it as is was one stop away from Shinjuka (the citys biggest stations), walking distance to some of the main attractions such Meiji Shrine and also Harajuku area. It was well connected by both the new Keio line (Hatsudai Station) and also the Oedo line (Nishi Shinjuku Gochome Station) which makes it easy to all other areas of Tokyo. The area is so safe the residents rarely lock their doors and bikes are left unchained outside the houses. We felt very at home here and it was a great and convenient base for our Tokyo trip.
Check out So’s place here.
Travelling in Tokyo…
The easiest and fastest way we found to travel around the city was by using the Tokyo Subway system. There are 13 different lines on the Tokyo subway system and you may have to change a couple of times to get to the destination you want, but they arrived every couple of minutes and are a great way to travel the city. The subway lines are not included in the Japanese Rail Pass, but you can buy a subway pass for 24, 48 and 72hr use. A 24hr pass will cost you 800 JPY. Plan your time efficiently to make your pass last longer. The pass can be bought from the airport, travel agencies and some stores in Tokyo. I purchased mine at BIC CAMERA store in Shibuya.
Alternatively, you can travel the city on the over ground JR lines, which are included in the Japanese Rail Pass and cover a lot of popular destinations in the city. There are also buses which tend to get stuck in the Tokyo traffic. One thing to note is that Taxis and even Ubers are very expensive in Tokyo compared to other cities in the world, so they are not really worth it when there are such reliable public transport options available. Walking in Tokyo is great as you get to see so many cool things, the only problem is due to the size of Tokyo it is impossible to get around quickly and can sometimes be a bit complicated to walk from A to B.
Eating in Tokyo…
The options for eating in Tokyo are endless, there are so many incredible local restaurants, alongside chains and also international cuisines. We ate well in Tokyo and for a relatively reasonable price. These were some of the restaurants we tried.
Sushi Nova, Shibuya – This was a great find for a cheap, quick and fun sushi dinner. The sushi is good, but probably not the best you’ll ever eat. Once you are seated you are presented with an ipad where you can place your order from the extensive menu (in English with pictures), once you have confirmed your order it will shoot out straight from the kitchen to your table. The dishes are very cheap starting from 108 JPY.
Sushizanmai, Tsukijiekimae – After a visit to the world famous Tokyo Tsukiji fish market, we were obviously in search of some great sushi for lunch, and we found it. This restaurant is actually a chain so you can find them all over Japan, but it was highly rated on trip advisor so we decided to give it a go, plus it was a lot more reasonably priced compared to some of the other smaller independent restaurants. There are options of sushi platters as well as orders per dish on the menu. My boyfriend chose the tuna platter, costing 3000 JPY for 12 pieces of mixed fresh tuna sushi with a side of miso soup. Not being a huge tuna fan I ordered some separate dishes which worked out cheaper than a platter. The sushi was very good and fresh, made right in front of you and they will always ask you if it is ok to add wasabi. The restaurant had a great atmosphere and in typical Japanese style, they announce your arrival and departure to the restaurant and the chefs are more than happy to chat to you about their sushi making.
Kurikoan, Kagurazaka – Check this place out for one of those incredible Taiyaki fishes I mentioned in my Japan top tips. My first encounter of this delicious pancakey, custardy snack was here…
Toriyoshi Shoten, Harajuku – If you are a big fan of Katsu curry then this is the place to go! I think this place is a chain, but we visited the one near Harajuku area. Surprisingly Katsu curry is actually not so easy to find in Japan, and we stumbled across this place purely by chance. It has a very reasonably priced menu of Ton Katsu platters, but I had to order my favourite Chicken Katsu Curry and it did not disappoint!
Maidreamin, Akihabara – No trip to Tokyo would be complete without a trip to a famous maid café in the anime Akihabara district. I can honestly say this was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. The restaurant we chose was the chain café maidreamin, they have numerous restaurants in the area offering a unique experience in a dream world setting with all singing, all dancing maid waitresses and a fantasy menu. They offer you a “package” which consists of a meal, dessert, performance and photo with the maids… it is all a bit of an overpriced tourist trap, so we didn’t chose this and just opted for a fantasy ice cream, but we did get to experience a show during out visit which I can only describe as brilliantly crazy!
Shopping in Tokyo…
There are so many great places to shop in Tokyo, so many cool new brands to discover and a whole load of random gadgets and gizmos to buy. For me at the time of my trip the exchange rate of £ to JPY was not so good, so shopping in Japan seemed very expensive. My favourite areas though to browse the shops were Harajuku – so many cute little streets lined with mid-range boutiques and brands I was yet to discover, there are also a lot of vintage shops which sell quite high end brands, but they generally come with a bit of a price tag. The best places to go to find beauty steals were the crazy drug stores which sell numerous Japanese and international beauty brands at cheap prices. I bought a great mascara (Isehan Kiss Me Heroine) which I wish I’d stocked up on now seeing as we can’t get it in the UK. For electrical goods the obvious place is Akihabara. For souvenirs your best bet is in touristy areas such as Shibuya. Also check out Daiso for a random Japanese bargain.
2.5 Days & 3 Nights in Tokyo: My Itinerary…
I landed in Tokyo around 2pm, my boyfriend was flying in from Hong Kong later that evening so I had planned to go shopping and do some exploring whilst I was waiting for his arrival. Unfortunately, due to long queues at passport control in the airport and a rather long train ride in to Tokyo, with a very heavy backpack, I didn’t actually arrive at my accommodation until about 6pm. After an 18hour journey I was obviously exhausted so just ended up going to the local Ramen shop for a quick dinner, then getting in to bed until my boyfriend arrived around midnight. Something to think about if your trip to Tokyo is short make sure you factor in a bit more time to get through passport control and in to the city from the airport as I ended up losing out on half a day due to unexpected travel times and long queues.
Meiji Shrine – Located within Yoyogi park in the Harajuku area, the Meiji shrine is a popular & free tourist attraction in Tokyo. The shrine was built in the 1920s and is dedicated to the Emporer Meiji. If you have time in Tokyo it’s a nice thing to see in a nice setting, but I personally didn’t think it was the most impressive place I visited in Japan compared to some of the temples & shrines in Kyoto.
Harajuku – I loved this area! Home of the Harajuku girls and some fantastic shopping streets, the atmosphere in Harajuku was brilliant. Takeshita St is the most popular shopping street for teen culture fashion, its many crepe stands and vintage clothing stores. The street is buzzing with people and shop assistants screaming out their current promotions in typical Japanese fashion. Another area I found particularly charismatic in Harajuku was Jingu-mae, a number of narrow streets lined with boutique shops and trendy cafes, a great place to stop for lunch.
Shibuya – An easy walk from Harajuku and home to the world famous scramble crossing, Shibuya is classed as one of the most colourful and busy districts in Tokyo. It is a great place to sit and people watch from the Starbucks that sits above the crossing. There are many shops and restaurants in the area and it is particularly buzzy in the evenings! On the corner you will also find the famous department store Shibuya 109, 9 floors filled with trendy boutiques. If you don’t appreciate the sound of the Japanese language at high volumes, maybe don’t visit this store as you will be overwhelmed by the noise of shop assistants battling with each other to promote their stores latest offers.
Imperial Palace Gardens – The gardens of Tokyos Imperial Palace are a great place to visit to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. You will feel very zen taking a strole though the green gardens, whilst you have a great view of the city as a backdrop. One thing to note is that you can’t actually enter to the Imperial Palace – we did not realise this and wasted a good hour trying to find the entrance! The gardens are free to visit, weirdly you get given a token upon entrance that you have to give back when you leave… we didn’t quite figure out exactly what this was for.
Kagurazaka – Based around a long shopping and dining street lined with Japanese lanterns it is a beautiful setting to visit around sunset and grab some dinner in one of its many restaurants. Also home to many Geisha houses, take a turn down some of the side streets to see if you can catch a sighting of a Geisha girl… There is also a celebration for the Kagurazaka Awa Odori Festival in this area on the fourth weekend of every month, unfortunately I was in Tokyo one week too early so missed out on experiencing this.
Metropolitan Government Building – There are many places in Tokyo you can visit to get a good view of the city from above in all its glory, but most of these charge an entrance fee. The Metropolitan Government Buildings located a walk away from Shinjuku is a great free attraction where you can get a panoramic view of the city from above, on a clear day you can see as far as Mt Fuji. There are 2 viewing decks on the 45th floor in the North and South towers of the building. We were recommended to go up the North Tower and the view was very impressive, although the queues can get very long, we waited around 30 minutes before we got to the elevator to go up.
Tsukuji Market – The most famous fish market in Tokyo, the best time to visit this wholesale fish market and see it in full swing is in the very early hours of the morning where you can watch the tuna auction and see local retailers come and buy their fresh fish for the day. Unfortunately, we got here as the market was closing so we missed a lot of the action, but the smell still lingered so we got a good sense of what would have happened earlier in the morning. Surrounding the market are hundreds of restaurants selling fresh fish and sushi, well worth a visit for a super fresh sushi lunch. Check out the menu before you go in to a restaurant though as some of them can get pretty pricey for very basic dishes.
Ginza – A short walk away from Tsukuji is Ginza, the famous high end fashion district. We just passed through on our way to Akihabara, but if you are on no budget and love high end designer shopping, this is the place for you!
Akihabara – In my opinion one of the most interesting places to visit in Tokyo… you will find street upon street lined with technology, anime, cos play and sex shops along with the crazy maid cafes I mentioned earlier and many other creative dining options such as a hot dog shop… Akihabara is great place to get lost in a fantasy land for a couple of hours. Make sure to check out M’s seven floor sex shop, even if it is just for a good giggle at the photos on the wall.
Ryogoku – Home to Tokyos sumo hall, unfortunately the arena wasn’t open to the public viewing when we were there, nor was there any tournaments on so our visit was a bit wasted, but still a cool place to go and check out. Even better if there is an event you can go and watch!
Asakusa – A walk down the river from Ryogoku, the Asakusa district was another of my faves, the atmosphere felt so authentic and traditionally Japanese. You get an amazing view of the Tokyo Sky Tree from here and the cute streets are great for a picturesque evening wander and visit to the Sensoji Bhuddist temple. There are also some street food style restaurants here which we didn’t see so much in any other area of Tokyo, so this is a good place to stop for an authentic local Japanese dinner.