GAH where to even begin! Tokyo was insane and delicious and sensory overload and kind and tradition and modernity, all steeped together and served in a steaming melting (hot)pot.
I was there mostly for work so I spent the majority of my time at the Google office there :) But, I did manage to get about 3.5 days of sightseeing in, so here’s what I covered! I would DEFINITELY go back to see the rest of Japan. Kyoto… Osaka… Hokkaido… GAH I want everything.
Anyhoo, here’s the list!
Notable Things I Saw/Did:
Here is where you’ll find some of those famous red tori gates! They’re not as big or grand as the ones in Kyoto, but if you want to find a beautiful temple that isn’t overrun by tourists/people and tori gates, I highly recommend stopping by here!
I went to this one right after Nezu and it was awesome to see the contrast between the two. Sensō-Ji is a LOT bigger, a lot more grand, and a lot more crowded. The buildings are all gorgeous and there’s tons of food stalls and shops along the grounds. Come here to people watch as well — there were plenty of young girls dressed in traditional kimonos!
Zōjōji Temple & Tokyo Tower
My hotel was located in Shiba park, which is also where Zōjōji Temple is located. The park is really nice to walk around and it’s awesome to see Zōjōji Temple and Tokyo Tower (old and new) juxtaposed together.
I walked to both Meiji Jingu and Yoyogi Park one Saturday and it was a splendid time. Meiji Jingu is an impressive shrine as well and it’s always neat seeing all the people who come to pay their respects. The nice thing about Meiji Jingu is that it’s also located in a much larger park, Yoyogi! And Yoyogi is awesome to walk around too, while I was there I saw: Nike running club, a man blowing bubbles for half a dozen children, a cycling track, puppies, and a dude doing hip hop dance solos. It was great.
Top: Nezu Shrine // Middle: Senso-Ji Shrine // Bottom: Zōjōji Temple & Tokyo Tower (L), Meiji Shrine (R)
This is one of the more famous parks in Tokyo. There are several museums, a shrine, a zoo, and a pond. I didn’t go into any of the above, but walking around was lovely. I even watched a breakdancing show put on by the two most hilarious dudes. There’s also a main pavilion with a bunch of stands on the weekend (local artists, vendors, food carts, etc). I bought some earrings and a postcard from there, all while listening to Japanese opera being performed!
THIS garden was SO lovely. I visited on my last day and I’m SO glad I did. It costs 300 yen to enter ($3.00 USD) but inside is beautiful. Plus you get sweet juxtaposition of Japanese garden against the Tokyo cityscape!
Definitely make a stop for the people watching here. The street is packed and there are a ton of stores lining the walkway. Stop for a crepe (or an ice cream cone at ZakuZaku) and watch all the youths walk past! I also bought some cheap souvenirs from the Daiso on this street.
I came up here at night to see the city from above. The views are pretty awesome, but hopefully wait for a night that is more clear. I bet seeing it at sunset would be even more magical. Hours are generally 9:30 AM - 11:00 PM. It’s a little hard to find, so just keep walking until you see signs that point to an Observation Deck. Not sure I would go here specifically for just the observation deck, but if you’re in the Shinjuku area and find yourself nearby, definitely swing through!
Top: Ueno Park (L), Hama Rikyu Garden (C, R) //
Bottom: Takeshita St (L, C), Tokyo Metro Gov Building Observation Deck (R)
Roppongi Hills Mall (Where the Google Japan office is located)
This is a big shopping mall, lots of food nearby. Probably wouldn’t have spent too much time here if the Google Japan office wasn’t located here :P However, there are a ton of really delicious restaurants in the area (Ikekan Sushi, Afuri Ramen). You can’t really go wrong. Plus the nightlife/bar scene is POPPIN. Close(ish) to here is also where you’ll find the famous Golden Gai strip of bars, if that’s your thing.
Ginza Six (and shopping district)
If you’re into high fashion and luxury stores, Ginza is your shopping district. Meander along the streets for all the high end goodies! The department stores also have food courts in the bottom, but of course, these food courts are the high-end side too. If you want a pretty-looking dessert, stop in Ginza Six’s food basement!
Tokyu Department Store (Food Show)
If you’re not looking for a high end shopping experience, go to the Tokyu Department Store in Shibuya. Technically speaking, usually all the big train stations also have department stores in them. The basement of the department stores (or as they call it, the “Food Show”) is where all the food is. Some of it is groceries-style, some of it is already prepared. If you go near the end of the day, the prepared foods will be anywhere between 20-50% off! I went here to the Shibuya store twice to get Dorayaki (pancake-like cake stuffed with sweet creams or red bean paste) filled with chestnut cream. UNREAL. DELICIOUS. And definitely worth a stop if you’re hungry!
Technically the fish market has closed its doors in this location and moved, but you can still visit the area and see tons of stuff! There’s many stalls open selling fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, and prepared fish/seafood. Come for the sights and smells, leave with a full tummy and newfound appreciation for all things seafood.
Above are scenes from the Fish Market
Different examples of the foods you can buy at the food courts in department stores. The right-most photo is Dorayaki filled with chestnut cream. YUM.
Tokyo has a lot of animal cafes since apartments are so small and people usually don’t have the time or space to care for pets. There are cafes with cats, dogs, owls, and even hedgehogs. I went to a hedgehog cafe just to see what it was like. You pay for 30 min or 60 min session and get to play with the animals. To be honest… I don’t think I would go, or recommend anyone stop by. It seems particularly cruel to the animals as they’re kept in cages and then handled by probably hundreds of humans a day. Stop by if you want (it’s definitely an experience), but just be prepared for the realities!
Arigato Food Tour (ask for Ryan!)
I signed up for a food tour with Arigato and it was awesome. Definitely pricey (and also partly subsidized by my work per diem), but I thought it was a lot of fun, very informative, and definitely a ton of food. I did the Shibuya Street Food Tour with Ryan! I also hear the Shimbasi Hidden Gem Tour is awesome.
7-11, Lawsons, or ANY convenience stores
Go to these little convenience stores and get a rice ball. THEY WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. My favorite ones were the flaked tuna filling and the soft boiled egg filling. SO good. SO cheap. Why can’t these exist in the US!?
*I didn’t personally do this, but would be amiss if I didn’t mention it as it’s in literally every guide out there…. Go do it, and tell me how it went. Don’t go if you’re prone to migraines or get triggered by flashing lights and loud noises!
I stayed in Prince Park Tower Hotel, which was GORGEOUS, but expensive (thank you, Google). After the work week ended and I checked out, I headed to the Emblem Hostel Nishirai in Adachi. It was a great hostel (SUPER clean, super great amenities, friendly staff) but is pretty far outside of city center so I’m not sure I would recommend if you don’t want to travel far on the train every day!
I hear people recommend staying in Shibuya or Shinjuku (the west side of town) if you’re into food/nightlife. East side of town has more of the historical stuffs. But… either way, getting around Tokyo is pretty easy via train!
Views from my fancy hotel room (thanks again Google!). I forgot to take photos of my hostel :(
Mostly I used the train! The train system can be complicated if you’re not used to public transportation, but every station has many transit maps. I used Google Maps throughout my trip, and they are very helpful in telling you:
(a) what direction the train you want to catch is going (end station)
(b) what platform it is located on
(c) what exit to take once you get off the train
Try to keep these things in mind, but if you forget or if you mess up, try to just go along with the crowd. The train stations are extremely crowded and it’s pretty easy to tell where the exits are just based on what direction the crowd is moving.
Lyfts and Ubers aren’t really a thing in Tokyo, so put those apps away. Instead, taxis are plentiful and pretty easy to hail. Just stand in the street and raise your hand (but don’t whistle or yell, this isn’t NYC). However, taxis in Tokyo are EXPENSIVE, so I would definitely only use them if you’re going a short distance and are short on time. Otherwise, you can get most places in Tokyo via train!
Japanese Foods to Try:
Sushi (double duh) & sashimi
Soba — buckwheat noodles, can be eaten cold or hot!
Udon — thick, super chewy noodles (I tried a curry soup, but would recommend just going classic)
Miso soup — it is 100x better here than anything you’ve tried, promise
Riceballs — find this at any 7-11 or convenience store
Daifuku (mochi) — big fan of the adzuki bean one
Tonkatsu — breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. The two main types are fillet and loin. It is often served with shredded cabbage.
Yakitori — Japanese type of skewered chicken
Okonomiyaki — literally means ‘grilled as you like it’ and is a savory version of Japanese pancake, made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat/ protein and topped with a variety of condiments
Takoyaki — ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special molded pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion
Anything matcha (nom nom nom)
ROYCE chocolate (will melt in your mouth)
Ice cream — some places have crazy cute decorations, some amazing flavors, and some are CRAZY rich (25% milkfat and sooooo creamy)
LITERALLY ANYTHING JUST PUT IT ALL IN YOUR MOUTH, IT IS DELICIOUS
(Joking but not really. I didn’t have a single thing I disliked)
&& If you’re more visually/spatially inclined, here are the recs broken down by neighborhood:
Ichiran Ramen (located all over the city)
Department stores (food basements): Isetan and Takashimaya
Meiji Jingu Shrine
Takeshita Street (get a crepe and people watch!)
ZakuZaku (ice cream!)
小割烹おはし渋谷 (Kaiseki restaurant!)
Tokyu Department Store (go downstairs to the basement where the food is and get a Dorayaki with chestnut cream!)
Mostly was in the area because this was where work was, but if you find yourself here, here are some restaurants to eat at and things to see!
Afuri Ramen (or the Katsu restaurant right next to here!)
Roppongi Hills/Mori Tower
Tsukiji Fish Market
築地虎杖 別館 Sushi Restaurant
カコイ bar cacoi (amazing mixed drinks that the bartender just makes based on what you tell him)
Tsukiji Hongwanji Buddhist temple
Don Quijote Ginza (smaller, but notably much more calmer than the other ones I visited)
Ginza Six Department store
Kyubey sushi restaurant
Sasuga Ginza soba noodle shop
Tsuru TonTan UDON NOODLE Brasserie
Kagawa Ippuku Kanda
Bunkyō / Taitō
And lastly, some general tips:
Tokyo is a largely cash-based country, so always have some on hand (I have a Charles Schwab debit card that waives all foreign transaction and ATM fees!)
Wear darker colors (at least in the winter)
Learn some basic Japanese!
Tipping is not customary here.
Don Quijote and Daiso are two places that are great for cheap souvenirs/food! It’s where I got all of my kitkats and chocolates that I brought home as gifts.
Be aware and alert of your surroundings. Tokyo is very crowded and there’s tons of people walking around. Don’t shove, don’t push, don’t stand/be in the way, and don’t be rude!
(Generally) walk on the left side of the street
For escalators: you stand on the left, walk on the right
Buy a Pasmo/IC card and use it for the train (as well as a credit card in some places like parks and stores!)
Fly into Haneda Airport, if you can. Narita is where most international flights land, but it’s 1.5 hours outside Tokyo.
Use Google Maps to plan your days and transportation needs
It can be tricky making reservations at restaurants (usually over the phone, in Japanese). Ask your hotel concierge or front desk to help you!
When trying on clothes, take off your shoes (follow the etiquette!). Ladies, you’ll also be given a mask to help from makeup smearing onto the clothes.
Tap water is safe to drink!
Finding a public restroom wasn’t too big a challenge. There are many around, all pretty well maintained
Book popular destinations in advance (I didn’t do any of this since I didn’t find out I’d go to Tokyo until a couple weeks before).
Prep yourself for the wonders of the Japanese toilet. Seriously, it’s crazy.
Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world. Crime rates are extremely low! That being said, don’t leave your stuff everywhere and be careful when alone.
Well, that’s all I got for y’all!
Please let me know what you think… or if I missed anything! I had SUCH a blast in Tokyo and would highly recommend it as a place to visit. It really is a magical place.