Finally, after a year of this blog and three trips to Tokyo, I am finally writing a trip guide! Yes it took me long enough, but admittedly, despite adoring the city the first time, I was far from being an expert on what’s worth doing and what’s not. Even going three times doesn’t award me the title of ‘Tokyo expert’, however, I certainly know quite a bit about Tokyo now…the best indicator: I know the Tokyo metro/JR system just as much as the London underground now 😉 So my favourite things to do in Tokyo are featured right below! Whether it’s your first time or if you’ve been a few times I hope something below peaks your interest.
Harajuku is a place that everyone will recognise – and no it’s not just a cosplayer’s heaven, quite the opposite. There are two areas that will be worth your time here, Takeshita Dori and Omotesando. Takeshita Dori is a famous street lined with cute clothing stores, beauty stores and an infinite amount of creperies. Being geared towards teenagers everything is just so quirky and at affordable prices. Around 5 of my stable knitted jumpers are from Ingni’s Harajuku store, I so wish I could order online with ease but alas I cannot so I will always stock up when I’m here <3. Also as I said, despite being overly girly in areas, there is much for all here including comic/manga stores, pop culture stores and clothing stores that specialise in meme merchandise. There is also a fantastic Cat Cafe here for those cat lovers. I originally wanted to pay a visit to the Hedgehog Cafe in Roppongi, however, due to disliking the treatment of the hedgehogs I was not going to support it. Fortunately, Bengal Forest in Harajuku took the welfare of the cats seriously. Seeing these beautiful cats in a cute environment was certainly an experience, it was nice to take part in such a Tokyo-ite activity. Please make your way to Takeshita Dori if you get the chance, it quite literally is heaven for young people.
However, if that is really not your thing, Harajuku still offers more. Omotesando is probably where you should go. It’s an area that’s certainly more upmarket, classier and for those who have more mature tastes. The streets are immaculate, most of the stores have glistening floor to ceiling glass windows and boutique stores and cafes can be found every five steps. I personally adore Omotesando. It’s certainly a bit more out of my price range than Takeshita Dori, but in an attempt to enjoy the lifestyle Omotesando offers, I always bolt for the top of Tokyu Plaza. Tokyu Plaza’s Starbucks is situated on the roof and offers beautiful views of the city, plus it offers the best drinks and cakes. Despite being a western chain it’s lovely coming up here for a break to take in some peace and quiet with gorgeous views and tasty treats – also Japanese Starbucks beats Western Starbucks by a mile with their chocolate chunk scones <3
Finally, my favourite spot in Harajuku altogether would have to be the Meiji Shrine. This is probably because the UK doesn’t have anything quite like it. This Shinto shrine, in particular, is dedicated to Emperor Meiji, and the entrance to the shrine involves walking for hundreds of steps through tree-lined paths, it’s really quite something. The sounds of cicadas and birds really make you feel immersed in nature and question whether you are actually in Tokyo, but of course, the tune of the nearby Yamanote line quickly reminds you of where you are. When you reach the shrine you can decide to have a quick walk around to appreciate it and leave, or to pay your respects properly. In the past, I have done both throughout the country, but this time, I knew I was going to do everything. Before entering I cleansed myself with the holy water, being extra careful not to spill any back into the Choyuza and to try and drink from my hands – that certainly was a feat being the clumsy person I am. Then I entered the shrine, I got myself a brand new good luck charm to replace the one I got at Mt Takao’s shrine Yakou-in and then paid my respects by throwing my coins, praying, and making a wish. But of course that wasn’t enough for me, I got an Ema and wrote down my gratitude for my life and also a few (I hope humble) wishes. Now they hang within the grounds of the shrine. Is this all really needed? Of course not, however considering the majority of the Japanese are Shinto worshippers I thought I should really sit back and appreciate the shrines properly, and maybe I might learn something…
Now a trip would not be complete without visiting Shibuya. Whether scrambling across Hachiko crossing is a goal of yours, or if you want to shop till you drop in towering department stores, you certainly won’t come here for a chilled out atmosphere. Japan is a lovely country in the sense that despite being quite busy in areas, the crowds are rarely ever unpleasant, however Shibuya is one of those places that can be. However, take that in your stride and do as the locals do. Scour Shibuya 109 (or 109 Mens) for the best deals on fashion and beauty, run into Tokyu Hands for almost anything you could imagine and Uniqlo and Muji for timeless classic Japanese stables. I’m personally a huge fan of Shibuya 109, shopping in independent Japanese chains is just so much more exciting! Once you’re done go grab a coffee in either Starbucks, L’occitane (yes they have cafes here!) or Hoshino for a quick time out and again…pretty good views! If you haven’t gathered, I really enjoy my views 😉
Shinjuku is probably the place to go if you want everything Shibuya offers but minus the tourist vibe. It’s much quieter with wider walkways and the shops too are larger as the buildings in Shinjuku are not packed as tightly. So again expect your department stores, Muji, Uniqlo and lots of other famous chains’ flagship stores both international and domestic. Shinjuku doesn’t only offer shopping, though, it offers two other very interesting districts. Golden Gai and Kabukicho. Golden Gai is an area full of tightly packed bars which serve up mainly snacky dishes rather than complete meals and are famous for their tiny size – some only seating three people! The atmosphere and appearance of Golden Gai is attractive to visitors wanting to see ‘real Japan’ and to salarymen who just want to escape the modernity of Tokyo for the night. Kabukicho is the opposite. It encompasses the modern aspect of Japanese nightlife with cheap drinks, lots of entertainment and bright lights. It’s also home to the famous Robot Restaurant! I personally prefer Golden Gai but for those who enjoy their clubbing, Kabukicho is probably for you.
When it comes to Japan, many want to visit purely for the pop culture: the Anime, Manga, gaming, technology, models etc and the first place that springs to mind is Akihabara. Whilst being a great place to visit and being spectacular at night, I’ve always struggled to grab what I want from there. Plus it’s so overcrowded at times even if you do find what you want, you could be queuing for ages. Which is why I recommend Nakano. It’s quieter and much more understated with Nakano Broadway being the main attraction here. This shopping mall isn’t tailoured towards day-to-day shopping, but rather items for hobbyists. Any anime/manga merchandise can be found here, including older discontinued items at low prices. Many toys and collectibles from the early 2000s all the way back to the 1960s can also be found here. Finally, many other models can be found here too including train sets and various commercial and war-plane models. I now have three models from Nakano all for under 10,000 yen <3 It really is a wonderful place for bargain hunters! However the nearby Sunshine Mall also is pleasant, it gives you a glimpse into what town centres in small towns look like, and it is home to my favourite curry house on the planet: Temma Curry. I loved it so much after stumbling across it in January I knew I was coming back in September for some more <3
I’ve already mentioned how the Meiji Shrine has my heart, and although it’s beautiful and surrounded by nature, sometimes you just want magnificence and splendour. Asakusa is where you need to go to experience traditional Tokyo. The focal point being the Buddhist Senso-Ji temple. It’s striking red colours, lanterns and ‘guardians’ are stunning and you’re transported back to Edo (somewhat ;)). The temple itself is beautiful with handpainted ceilings that would give the illusion of it being very old. However, this temple was only built in the 1950s as the original was destroyed during World War II. Fortunately, it completely replicates the original and is now a much stronger structure. The temple isn’t all that needs to be seen. Nakamase-dori is the street that takes you to the temple and so various Japanese crafts can be purchased here. There is also an interesting eatery here located above the station called Wa-ta-mi. It serves up lots of snacky dishes at affordable prices, meaning you can try lots of Japanese dishes in small quantities to make up a meal. What I really recommend which I did not actually do is to explore the wider area around the temple. YouTuber Taylor has made a fantastic vlog all about Asakusa’s wider area and vlogged a rickshaw ride which looked wonderful which I’ll link here. I really recommend giving her vlogs a watch as they are not just useful in terms of planning activities but she’s honestly so kind and interesting to watch – and in person too! Her kindness and happiness are so infectious, I’m so glad I got the pleasure of meeting her <3
For a day out full of free and cheap activities, I say head to Ueno park. It’s home to a countless number of museums and beautiful scenery. The park also hosts a number of events throughout the year for free so go check out what’s going on when you’re there! The spotlight for me though was the zoo. I had just been to China but lacked the time to go and see Pandas in their native country. However, Ueno zoo is home to two pandas: Shin and Ri-Ri. Both of which were adorably clumsy, fidgety and lazy. I was glad to see the staff make a lot of effort to try and keep the area around their enclosure quiet, I know some zoos sometimes disregard the happiness of the animals to impress the visitors instead. Fortunately, that isn’t the case with Ueno Zoo <3 I also adored seeing the otters, owls, and aye-ayes. It had been so long that I had seen these creatures it was such a treat, I felt like a child all over again. What’s best about this, is that the zoo only charges 600 yen to enter, and some tourist guides/leaflets will bring the price down even more. For a relaxed, entertaining but cheap day out I really recommend Ueno park.
Now you’ve had a lot of wonderful places thrown at you, most of which being very well known. However, I’m now going to introduce you to somewhere a little bit off the beaten path: Yanaka. Although not completely unknown, it’s certainly not a haven for tourists. It’s one of the few districts of Tokyo to still have buildings that were built prior to World War II – since most were destroyed by the war of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Meaning it truly is ‘old town’ Tokyo. What appealed to me was the fact that it is home to many of the city’s stray cats. Many take refuge in the huge cemetery as it’s quiet and there is much shelter. The locals have taken this in stride and have made it so cats can be seen everywhere. Whether that be in the treats you eat, the items you buy or the signs and statues dotted about – you cannot escape them! Although it wasn’t only the allure of cats that brought me here, but the fact I could experience ‘old town’ Japan again. I got to experience much of that in places such as Hiroshima, but in Tokyo, it’s certainly not easy to find. Again if you want a relaxing morning or afternoon and want to experience what Tokyo is like to its residents, make a trip to Yanaka.
For a glimpse into modern Tokyo, visit Odaiba. Even it’s foundation relied on modern invention – it’s an artificial island! The island provides gorgeous views of Tokyo and it’s bay, including its skyline and rainbow bridge. If you’re desperate for a beach, Odaiba is the closest you’ll get. As much as I adore amazing views, I personally recommend it for a nice place to go in the evening. Despite being modern and commercial, due to its careful planning, it’s not crowded in the slightest. High-end hotel chains like Hilton have caught onto this and have built a hotel here, fully well knowing soon everyone will want to visit and stay here. There are around 4 large entertainment centres, my favourite being Diver City – the home to the large Gundam statue. It also houses 100 yen shop Daiso, souvenir shop ‘The Daiba’ and everything you could possibly need: fantastic food and a good mix of western and domestic brands. Venus Fort is the other notable shopping centre, with its interior replicating the shopping centres of Las Vegas such as Caesars Palace and the Venetian. But if shopping is not your cup of tea, a walk around the northwest of the island followed by a meal at Tokyo Decks is extremely pleasant.
Now I’m going to recommend one of my absolute favourite things I have done in Japan and took three trips to finally achieve doing: visiting an Onsen. Odaiba Oedo Onsen Monogatari was a wonderful place. Straight away you remove your shoes, pick your Yukata (a lighter version of a Kimono) and change. Now here is where I began to get out of my comfort zone, but it was so worth it: In Japan, it is perfectly normal to walk around completely nude in front of other women. So normal it seems as though the Japanese do not even realise they are naked and chat and laugh with their friends as normal…not normal in the UK and it actually made me so nervous! But after three visits to Japan and not making it to an onsen out of anxiety, I thought ‘stuff it!’ and gave it a go. First of all, I chilled out in the foot spa with my friends, all donned in our Yukatas. It was so lovely in the rain, everyone idly chatting with hot spring steam rising to our faces. Following this, you can go inside and enjoy the traditional shops, arcades, and eateries. A few games of Mario Kart, cups of green tea and chilling on the tatami playing Pokemon Go, I realised it was getting late and had to get to the onsen. So off came the Yukata and hello public shower! I went straight to the outdoor onsen which had beautiful rock pools and wooden bath tubs. Surprisingly everyone else around me acting relaxed and ‘normal’ made me not care and I just enjoyed the experience. After a while a private wooden tub became free and I dashed straight for it – it was so wonderful at nightfall with the sound of rain pattering on the leaves and ground, I didn’t want it to end. But alas it had to, I had spent so much time outside I didn’t get time for the indoor onsen! But I had such an amazing time I really recommend going if you are in Tokyo. It’s so hard to find an onsen near Tokyo but Odaiba has one, and it’s really something! I recommend about 2-3 hours, with 3 hours if you intend to try out every type of hot spring bath available <3
Finally, just south of Tokyo in Maihama, you have to pay a visit to the Tokyo Disney Resort. Of course, just like all the other Disney Resorts, it’s home to a Disneyland park – which is pretty much a carbon copy of Orlando’s. However, it’s selling point that makes it different is its food and merchandise. With Japan loving anything that is adorable and cute, all food and merchandise here have been cute-ified! Plus the park is slightly larger than Orlando’s to support the demand of Tokyo, meaning it doesn’t feel cramped at all, even on busy days. It’s even got it’s own Stitch attraction, being a huge Lilo and Stitch fan I was heartbroken the queues were so long </3. What makes Tokyo Disney Resort amazing is Tokyo Disney Sea. It’s a unique park that encompasses various ports from around the world and fantasy. So in a sense it is a bit like Epcot, but with more emphasis on Disney characters and thrilling rides. Again the food and merchandise here are amazing, I adore being able to have various world cuisines in the park. The best plus is that tied with Shanghai even with the poor exchange rate, Tokyo Disney’s Resort is the cheapest – meaning you can enjoy Disney without worrying it’ll cost a fortune <3 Plus who doesn’t want to go to Disney when they’re away? If I’m in a city that has a Disney, I’ll be going 😉
I’ve attached my vlog just below here, just in case you would like a visual tour of Tokyo <3
Well, that’s my top spots all compiled together! I hope whether you’re a regular visitor, someone planning their first trip or just a casual reader who enjoys learning about the world that you enjoyed this post. What place on this list took your fancy? Do you prefer the busy and modern aspects of Tokyo, or the more relaxing, traditional side?