If you want the quick version of this trip, check out my Youtube video:
A Trip to Tokyo 2016
Neon lights, green tea kit kats, manga, girl groups with 30-or-so members, Pokemon, Ghibli and of course temples. Tokyo is vivid, chaotic and exciting. In Japan, modern and traditional values co-exist and nowhere exemplifies this more than Tokyo. An Imperial Palace surrounded by skyscrapers. The bustling fashion-centric streets of Harajuku just 5 mins walk away from Meiji shrine. It offers the very best of both worlds. I returned to Tokyo for 3 and a half days to tick off some things I’d missed last time and to relive its electric atmosphere.
Arrive in Asakusa
We arrived at Sakura Hostel in Asakusa based in the northern part of the city. The hostel was perfect for a few days. It’s closer to the airport than other areas in Tokyo (1hr on the Keisei Express from Narita Airport). Whilst Tokyo has only a few main temples, the hostel is just down the road from Senso-ji, arguably the cities’ most impressive one and the Sky Tree, one the tallest buildings in the world.
Day 1: Shibuya, Harajuku & Shinjuku
1. Shibuya Crossing
Probably the most famous crossing in the world. After the scramble we grabbed lunch at Genki Sushi. Whilst you can get sushi anywhere I mention this because this place is a quirky sushi eating experience. Pick your sushi on a personal touch screen and the plate comes whizzing directly to you on a rail. It’s fun, utterly delicious and cheap!
2. Meiji-jingu and Takeshita-dori
To grab some traditional culture we went to Meiji shrine. A group of Japanese students gave us a free tour round because they wanted to practice their English. It reminded me of the time Allison and I were in Nara where the same thing happened. If someone approached me in the U.K. or elsewhere I’d be suspicious. How much would this tour cost me? What do they want? but after going to Japan a couple times I’ve become trusting. That’s not to say I’m uncautious, but people there are just super friendly and its great! After our brief encounter we then left for Takeshita-dori, an area where the Lolitas and alternative characters of Tokyo hang out to flaunt their style. You may be dissapointed if you’re expecting to see hoards of crazy outfits. I only saw a few but I love this area because it captures young Japan. It’s cuteness overload and completely OTT.
3. Metropolitan Government Building
It was a quick stop at the Metropolitan Goverment Buiding for a view of Tokyo at night. The best part is it’s free! Tokyo Tower is good if you want a retro feel and Sky Tree is cool because its one of the tallest in the world. However, if you’re on a tight budget like I was this is certainly worth a visit.
For neon lights there’s no better area. We went to find Golden Gai, a famous little street filled with teeney weeney bars. However, we failed to locate this gem. Shinjuku is mad. If you have the time, getting lost in this area is really fun.
Day 3: Ryogoku, Akihabara & Shibuya
1. Sumo Training
This is not the season for Sumo Wrestling but the hostel exclusively organises an opportunity to watch their training. I know very little about Sumo but this was the best experience we had in Tokyo. This sport isn’t just about being big boned or eating cake. It was intense, the heirachy between the players and the coach was blatant and for a full 2.30 hours I was hooked. With only 8 people allowed to watch, its intimate and was without doubt the highlight of the trip.
2. Owl Cafe
After an intense morning we lightened things up with a trip to the Owl Cafe. You can’t grab coffee there but you can sit in a room of owls. Where else in the world could I do this other than Tokyo? It is questionable whether this is okay for the animals but I’d be lieing if I didn’t say I enjoyed it as a one off. We went to Akiba Fukurou in Akihabara, you need to book online at this one 3 days in advance. There are other owl cafe’s around the city which I’ve heard are more flexible with walk-ins.
3. Shibuya (at night)
Shibuya is great in the day but comes to life at night. Whilst it’s fun to be part of the moving crowd, if you’re looking for a better view, head to the Starbucks right by it.
Day 4: Ginza & Shimo-kitazawa
1. Tsukiji Fish Market
Has lots of fish… if you go early enough. We were lazy so only caught the Outer Markets which are still great to see. If you want to catch the Tuna Auction though you best be there for 4-5am.
Was I in New York? Ginza feels like 5th Avenue and is the flashy, designer area. Whilst I obviously couldn’t afford anything, we did find a gem of a stationery store called Itoya. It has 12 floors of stationery goodness, the 8th floor being just Japanese crafts with the prettiest prints and rainbow wall of origami paper. If you’re into pens, paper and unecessary cute things that you don’t really need, well this the place for you.
We went to this area because it was dubbed as the ‘trendy’ place to be. Shimo-kitazawa is full of quirky cafes, vintage shops and little restaurants and is its own little town. For the first time since I’ve lived abroad it really felt quite British! The layout reminded me of a small country town but its quirks made it almost Northern Quarter-esque in Manchester.
4. Robot Restaurant
No trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to the Robot Restaurant. It was bright, crazy, surreal and wonderful. Robots, real life anime, the wild horse from Shinjuku. I didn’t really know what was going on but it was everything that I wanted. If teaching fails I think I’ve found my calling in life.
Day 5: Harajuku, Imperial Palace & Narita Airport
We returned to Harajuku for some last minute shopping. Ometo-sando is the fancier side of the area. We came across a shop called Kiddy Land which was full of Pokemon, Adventure Time, Star Wars, Disney, Ghibli and Moomin merchandise to name a few. I’m a massive child.
2. Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace is cool to see if it’s your first time in Japan and one of the first things you do but otherwise its not really that special. There is a really cool picture spot with a double bridge which is worth a look if you have time.
3. Narita Aiport
Then it was off home. It was a rushed day fitting everything in that Tokyo had to offer. We ran around Tokyo with our bags in the hope of catching the train to the airport in time. The rush although stressful at the time really sums up Tokyo’s non-stop atmosphere. There is little time to rest, its crazy, traditional, eccentric and tiring but everything you could ever want from Japan in one incredible city.