Tokyo is the most densely populated city in the world and is certainly one of the largest, busiest cities I’ve ever been to. The main thing I learned during my first visit there is that the key ‘tourist’ spots are pretty spread out across the city. This is in contrast to somewhere like New York City where you can find a lot of things packed into a small area. If you have limited time in Tokyo, it is therefore important to research, plan and prioritise ahead of arriving. Hopefully this post can help you decide on where to go and what to do when you get to Tokyo.
First up is Akihabara. It’s the most bizarre, but the most fantastical and surreal, place I have ever been. An area in eastern Tokyo, Akihabara is the city’s ‘electric town’ and is the best place to find game arcades, second-hand electronics, maid cafes and capsule toy machines. I don’t think a trip to Tokyo would be complete without walking through Akihabara.
If you’re interested in the weird and wonderful, make sure you hop on the metro to Harajuku and Shinjuku. Home of the kawaii street style, Takeshita Street is lined with crazy and cute fashion, crazy accessories, and crêpes! In Shinjuku, you can find the most bizarre but utterly delightful ‘cabaret’ show. At the Robot Restaurant, watch in awe as fabulously dressed men and women dance and sing to an audaciously loud techno beat, dueling on the back of huge robots and animatronics. This show is ridiculous, but I really enjoyed it. You need to book in advance – the easiest way (we found) was using Go Voyagin. They also often have sales on so keep an eye out for any discount codes being advertised on their website. We’ve used Go Voyagin several times for excursions in Japan and every time it’s been smooth and easy, and it’s almost always the cheapest vendor.
A trip to Japan wouldn’t be complete without visiting some temples and shrines, and one of the most impressive (and famous) is the Meiji Shrine. Located in Shibuya, it’s an exemplary form of Japanese style temple and tourists are allowed to contribute yen and make prayers/wishes. They also sell charms and fortunes on site – I got this one for good luck in educational pursuits and ended up graduating with my masters 3 months later… Meiji Shrine is very close to both Harajuku and Yoyogi Park (and Shibuya crossing is about 20 minutes away) which makes it an excellent place to visit as you can tick off lots of tourist spots in one day.
If you want to get out and see lots of Tokyo in a short space of time, I find the best mode of transport is the go kart. No, seriously.
Go karting in Tokyo is a huge thing and the folks at MariCar have several branches dotted around the city. I’ve done a couple of the routes and my recommendation would be going out of the Shinagawa office on the S-L tour during the daytime. It’s about 3 hours, only costs approx £75/$90 per person and you cover so much of the city! Our guide, JP, was really great at getting lots of good photos of our group during the tour. The only caveat worth mentioning is that this is not a ‘tour’ in the ordinary sense. It’s driving around the streets of Tokyo with real traffic (it’s not very busy at all, and all the drivers are very considerate) so don’t come expecting guided commentary. That said, our guide was great at letting us know where we were headed and pointing things out. I highly recommend this activity and I don’t think our trip to Tokyo would’ve been complete without it.
We made a great discovery during our most recent trip, and completely by accident! We were in the Shinjuku area waiting for the Monster Hunter World cafe to open and needed to kill an hour. Google Maps flagged a nearby Samurai Museum and it was awesome! They have genuine armour and swords exhibited and we were treated to a demonstration by a real, qualified samurai. It was amazing! Definitely swing by the museum you can – it’s about 1-2 hours and costs only 1,900 yen (around £14/$17). Here’s the link for more information.
Finally, if all of the noise and busyness becomes too much, consider an overnight trip to the area around Mount Fuji. Only an hour or two out of Tokyo, the biggest mountain in Japan is only visible 80-100 days a year and if you’re lucky to get a clear day, it’s an amazing sight to see. We got a coach from Shinjuku station to Fujikawaguchiko, a charming small town which serves as a great base from which to explore the mountain and surrounding area. We stayed in the Mizno Hotel and the below photo was our hotel room view. You can imagine how incredible it was to wake up to this scene. On a sunny day, I would highly recommend walking to your hotel (rather than a bus or cab) as the landscape is gorgeous and you may stumble upon some great hidden gems (such as the MONO shabu restaurant we found which was delicious and cheap). While not strictly in Toyko, a trip to Mt Fuji should definitely be on your itinerary while you’re so close!
Of course there are literally hundreds of activities you can get up to – if you don’t like the sound of these, some of my other recommendations include:
- Visit an izakaya – I can’t recommend a specific area for this as they’re dotted all over Tokyo.
- Diver City – it’s a really cool mall and the massive Gundam statue is pretty impressive
- Final Fantasy XIV and Monster Hunter World cafes – ’cause I’m a huge nerd with lots of love for both video games
- Get the train to Setagaya and spend the afternoon in this awesome suburb, including a trip to the temple of the famous ‘lucky cat’
- Imperial Palace – you can’t actually go in, but it’s really impressive to see and wander around the founds
- Tokyo Station – this is the busiest train station in the world, but the best bit about Tokyo train station is underground. ‘Ramen street’ and a bunch of character shops will greet you, something not to be missed!
Have you got any recommendations?