A Quick Guide to Tokyo
Where do I even begin with Tokyo? I've now explored Tokyo twice and each time I reluctantly leave feeling like I had only scratched the surface of this magnetic city.
There's so much to do in Tokyo. The city itself is welcoming, it's full of life, culture and history. And no matter who you are or what you're into, there's bound to be a subculture for you.
I feel at ease in Tokyo. It's a city constantly moving and somehow, I feel totally comfortable there. It could be the anonymity of it all, being surrounded by so many. It could be the kindness that comes from the culture. It could be the organised chaos. Whatever it is, I fell in love with Tokyo back in 2009 and after returning, I've rekindled my love.
So, here's what to see, do and experience with my quick guide to Tokyo.
Check-in: Granbell Hotel
Considering the location, this place is pretty good for its price. But be warned, the rooms are tiny! Even for Japan standards. If you're travelling with more than carry on, you probably won't have anywhere to put your luggage.
In the middle of the hustle-and-bustle of Shinjuku, you'll be able to get just about anywhere with ease from Shinjuku station. There's also plenty to see, do, eat and drink in walking distance from the hotel. They also offer a rooftop bar which was closed when I was there, but sounds like a pretty cool way to wind down each day.
Although Tokyo is a huge city, it's really easy to get around using the trains.
There are two train services – the subway and JR. You need different tickets to use these two systems, but you can get around just fine by using just one of the systems. If you're moving around the country by train, you should purchase a JR Pass before you arrive. Depending on the pass you bought and when you activate it, you can use it on the JR lines.
To use the subway lines, get yourself a prepaid subway card. It makes life way easier by just touching on and off instead of buying a ticket every time you travel. You can purchase them at most train stations, from the machines you use to add money to the cards. If you have any issues, a few of the machines have an assistance button, where a person literally comes out of the machine to help you. Don't believe me, take a look!
There two two types of prepaid travel cards you can purchase, Suica and Pasmo. You can also use them to pay at some cafes, convenience stores and vending machines. Suica seemed to be the most commonly used card.
What to do
There's so much to do in Tokyo you'll find yourself busy every day. But I recommend spending a day taking in the city, as it is. It's really nice to take a day to get into the rhythm of a new city by simply seeing where the day takes you. On days you want
Meiji shrine and Yoyogi park
A very popular attraction in Tokyo, Meiji Shrine is located in Yoyogi park in Shibuya. The park alone is glorious, and worth a wander to escape the concrete jungle of city life. It's pretty incredible how peaceful it can be in Yoyogi park considering the amount of people you're surrounded by every day in Tokyo. The shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.
When you think of Tokyo, there's no doubt you're thinking about Shibuya. Think busy streets lined with tall buildings with bright and colourful aluminate signs everywhere. Head to Shibuya during dusk when the sun gets low and the colours start shining bright.
This could very well be the busiest crossing in the world. Why visit? It'll guarantee to make you feel like you're in Tokyo. It's really intriguing being surrounded by so many people, all walking in different directions and not bumping into a single shoulder. It's also a really interesting, isolating experience, showcasing the idea of anonymity in a city that's so large.
Spend some time walking around the imperial gardens, it's tranquil, serene and absolutely beautiful.
There's so much to do in Harajuku. It's known for being the hangout point for Japanese teenage subcultures. But make sure you go on a weekend or after school hours to see some funky outfits. Otherwise, it's a great area to get some shopping done! Get started at Takeshita Dori and see where the day – or the crowd – takes you.
Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa Market
In honesty, Senso-ji temple is far too touristy which really takes the culture away from the space. When you're surrounded by people pushing and prodding, pretending to understand the customs, you lose the magic. But the Asakusa markets are a fun way to spend an hour, and the perfect place to pick up some knick-knacks if that's your thing.
A fish market doesn't sound like fun, but it's definitely an authentic experience – and one that's been part of Tokyo history for centuries now. If you're an early riser, then you can watch the tuna auctions from 5:25am to 6:15am, but it's restricted to 120 visitors per day. The outer market open hours depend on the shop, but typically are open from 5am to 2pm. And the wholesale area is open for visitors between 9am and 2pm.
See Tokyo from 350m in the sky. I mean this thing towers over the rest of Tokyo. And on a particularly clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji. Although it's quite expensive to get up, I really enjoyed seeing Tokyo from this height. For those of you looking for a view without an entry fee, try the Park Hyatt bar.
Where to eat
Since Tokyo is such a large city, there's no way I could sum up the best places to eat. But there are a few tricks for eating well in Tokyo.
The very best place to get ramen is very unassuming. But I promise it's worth the awkward 'I have no idea what I'm doing' tourist moment. At most major train stations you'll find several tiny ramen restaurants where you order your meal at a vending machine. The machine spits out your food orders and you have to take them over to the service counter, choose udon or soba, take a seat until they call your order and collect it for some delicious slurping. I was really nervous to try this because I really had no idea how it worked, but was told by quite a few people that it was the very best food to eat in Tokyo. And I'm so glad I tried it because it really was one of the best meals I ate. It's an authentic, local experience I highly recommend.
Where better to eat raw fish than the fish market! Although a meal will set you back around AUD$20, it's definitely worth it if you're a fan of raw fish. It'll never be fresher than a few hours old.
On a budget
I'll be honest, I actually loved the convenience store food. And before you turn your nose on that thought, the convenience stores in Japan are nothing like I've seen before. They have freshly made sushi, noodle dishes, salads and sandwiches. Even the cup-of-noodles are great – Japan's very good at dehydrated food. So if you're on a budget, or have a dietary requirement like myself, it's a really good option.
Tokyo's getting better at coffee. I was travelling with a heavy coffee addict. He gets pretty intense headaches if he doesn't have at least one coffee every day – I blame the hospitality life. So we visited one cafe in particular every morning while in Tokyo. Verve was located in Shinjuku station, very convenient, and had very good quality coffee, with a strong focus on the filter style – my favourite. Although Verve is a business from California in the US, it was a great option for us.
Find the location here.
Have you been to Tokyo? What was your favourite thing to do there?