Some of the must-sees and dos for first-timers to the city of Tokyo, Japan
See the Tokyo Tower
If Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo has this monument. I arrived into Tokyo late at night, and soon realized the hotel was not located near a busy area. I was too lazy to travel out, so my first meal in Tokyo was a… gourmet meal of cheesy curry cup noodles. Fancy. But I was lucky enough to score a room that faced the Tokyo Tower, and at night it lit up beautifully.
The next day I went up the tower with a couple of colleagues, and had a bird’s eye view of Tokyo city. That was alright enough, but I much preferred enjoying the orangey glow of the tower at night.
Right next door to the Tokyo Tower is the Zojoji Temple. This temple was a surprise find for me; I went in simply because it was right by the hotel. It was larger than expected and held a lot of impressive artefacts. Keep a lookout for the colourful stone jizo figurines. While cute in appearance, its meaning is unfortunate – the jizo symbolizes children who died before their parents.
Yoyogi Park for Meiji Jingu
Nestled in the middle of a bustling city is the nature retreat, Yoyogi Park. Within Yoyogi, there’s a lovely temple, Meiji Jingu. If you visit on a weekend, there’s a very high chance of witnessing a traditional Shinto wedding. It’s a popular site, so be prepared for crowds. At the entrance of the temple, there’s a man-made well where you can follow through a water purification ritual. Refreshingly fun, if anything. If you’re into lucky charms, you can get one at a shrine within.
“Harajuku girls you got some wicked style,” crooned Gwen Stefani in my head as I sauntered through this street. Close by to Yoyogi Park is Harajuku, best visited on a weekend when the most colourful cosplayers are out and about.
Take some Purikuras – photo booth stickers – for the fun of it. Japan has some gnarly purikura machines which enlarge your eyes and lips, whether you want it to or not.
Crepes are the snack du jour here. Have some fancy-flavoured crepes at the many bright pink stands here. The one I had had a whole cheesecake just stuffed in there. It was glorious.
Like Harajuku, Omotesando is centrally-located. If Harajuku is the quirkier, younger sibling, Omotesando is its cooler older sister who brunches and have afternoon tea.
Between the two, I preferred Omotesando, simply for the concentration of fabulous café finds here. I had my first taste of Ricotta Pancakes at Bill’s, and till today I say it was the best, fluffiest, tastiest ricotta pancakes I’ve ever had in life. I went to Bill’s while in Seoul, South Korea too – and that outlet disappointed me so hard. Of course, Omotesando Koffee was worth the trip there. Though the original little hideaway café has closed down, it has been reborn as Koffee Mameya.
The Shibuya Crossing is iconic. It’s a four-way pedestrian crossing that’s supposedly the busiest intersection in the world. The Starbucks and L’Occitane café there were apparently the go-to place to view the crossing, but they were both so crowded that I couldn’t be bothered. I thought it was just as fine (and free) to watch it from ground level.
If you’re trying to get a photo in the middle of the action, good luck. This was the best I could muster:
Close to this, is the famous Hachiko Statue. Hachiko is a dog in Japanese folklore famous for being so loyal to his owner that even after the owner’s passed on, Hachiko still awaits his return at the train station.
Shibuya itself is a shopping district with tall shopping mall buildings where you can spend hours exploring.
Shinjuku, in my opinion, is the nightlife epicentre of Tokyo. It’s wild here. The entire street ignites with dizzying neon lights everywhere. Besides bars, I spotted a few 24-hour restaurants here.
I also walked through what looked like a red light district – I believed it was the infamous Kabukicho – though I didn’t realise this until much later. A lot of the clubs were decked out in cutesy barbie pink. I didn’t realise I was in a red light district until I looked at the posters out front proper.
I also passed by a couple of “host clubs”. Geared towards women, the clubs were easily recognisable by the well-groomed men with perfectly manicured hair waiting outside. In any case, I could walk down feeling perfectly safe. Seems like it’s a touristy area too.
For some old school Japanese culture, head to Asakusa. This town is the traditional enclave of Tokyo. Sensoji Temple is a popular point of visit in Asakusa. Asakusa can be easily explored by foot, and I personally enjoyed just walking through the marketplace which sold traditional souvenirs.
You can often see ladies in kimonos walking about here too, and there are kimono rental shops for those wanting to get the full Japanese experience. An interesting fixture here are the rickshaws pulled by men in traditional Japanese garb. Though I found the rickshaw pullers more of the main attraction, they’re there to offer a guided tour of the best of Asakusa.
Ginza is an upscale part of Tokyo, basically where you find your high-end boutiques here. Although I wouldn’t typically make my way here – the only reason I ended up here was due to a company dinner. It was interesting to walk past the luxury boutiques, all tastefully decorated and competing to see who catches the most attention.
The number one reason you would head to the Tsukiji Market would be to come for the early morning tuna bidding. I’m not that big a fan of fish markets, much less wake up early for them, so my sole reason was to eat. There are so many sushi establishments in Tsukiji, that I feel like it would be hard and unforgiving to have any misses.
The restaurant I went to were called Tsukiji Sushi Sen. I had an amazing Chirashi-don – a huge heaping bowl of the freshest raw seafood stacked atop rice. I spent about an hour just trawling the market after that. Come October 2018, Tsukiji Market will be moving to Toyosu. The city has plans to convert the current Tsukiji into a food and restaurant concept area.
My favourite coffee in Tokyo was at Turett Coffee, near Tsukiji. I highly recommend a quick stop over if you’re in the vicinity.
Chilling with owls in Tokyo
Tokyo is known for its cafes and one my most memorable experiences was at Fukuro No Mise, an owl café.
For 2,000 Yen, you get an hour with the owls, a drink of choice, and even an owl souvenir to bring home. It was one of my most memorable experiences in Tokyo.
I’m not going to go into whether this was ethical, I was here a couple years ago and I thought the owls were extremely well-cared for. That’s my unprofessional opinion though. The café was dim and kept quiet, with strict banning of any harsh light or flash photography. They were also rotated regularly. And yes, these owls will poop – on you, if it so pleases them.
They allow a very limited amount of people in each time, so you need to reserve a spot. Make your way before it opens, reserve a spot according to the time slots available, make a full payment, and then come back 10 minutes earlier before your time commences. Apparently if you’re late, you’re not allowed in. No refunds. A fantastic feature of the cafe is that they have a lot of instructional placards in English, so you don’t have to feel lost.
Exit 10 from Tokyo Metro Tsukishima Station, cross the street and cross another tiny street on the right, you’ll arrive at a supermarket. It’s located right behind this supermarket. It’s a rather unassuming entrance, just look out for bright green grills out front:
Go to Tokyo Disneyland
Tokyo’s Disneyland is supposedly Disneyland on steroids. I’ve never been to any other Disneylands, but I definitely thought I was on the happiest place on Earth. As much as I love theme parks, I hate waiting in line a lot more. I only came to watch the parade – which was as whimsical and fantastical as you’d expect. The tickets were a lot cheaper if you were to go in just the evening.
Nikko is a must-visit and an easy daytrip away from Tokyo. If you have more days, spare a couple of overnighters in Nikko. I also made the daytrip to Kawaguchiko for the Shibasakura Festival and for a glimpse of Mount Fuji.