Travel guide to Tokyo

Tokyo was the last destination from my 14 days journey visiting Japan. It was time to say good bye to the peace and quiet from Kyoto and say hello to the fast paced buzzing Tokyo! Like many capital cities in the world, Tokyo is huge and divided by popular districts all different from one to another. I spent one week exploring, walking and eating around Tokyo. Here is my travel guide.

Quick Facts

The greater Tokyo area is the #1 largest metropolitan area on the planet in terms of population. (13.6 millions)

Tokyo's literal translation means "East(ern) capital"

Unofficial culinary capital of the world, Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city in the world. 14 restaurants awarded the top three-star rating.

Vending machines can be found on every street and sell everything you can imagine.

Where to stay?

I'd recommend staying somewhere centrally located in Tokyo. This is a huge city and the last thing you want to do after a long day wandering is commuting for more than an hour to get back to your accommodation. Plus, staying in the center is cost efficient as you are traveling on shorter distances. I stayed in a Airbnb in the neighborhood of Akasaka, centrally located and close to all amenities: restaurants, bars, launderette, metro station, convenience stores,etc... My host provided me with a long list of information about the Japanese cultural etiquettes and things to do which were really helpful as it was my first time in Japan.

How to get around?

It is pretty easy to get around Tokyo using the metro. The ticket cost per unit will range from JPY 170 to JPY 310 depending on the distance you travel. All signs are in English which makes it easier, but even if you are too tired to read (you are on vacation aren't you?!), there are numbers and color codes for each subway lines, which makes it even simpler. Trust me after 1 or 2 days you will walking around like a real Tokyoite and will be able to spot in seconds the tourists who just arrived!

A good thing to know is that there are two metro operators in Tokyo: the tokyo Metro and The Government owned Toei Subway. Be aware that the ticket used on one cannot be used on the other without the purchase of a transfer ticket at an additional cost! You've been warned, plan your route carefully!

What to do?

Find out your fortune at Sensōji temple

Also known as Asakusa Kannon temple and built in the 7th Century, this is Tokyo's oldest Buddhist temple. It was built for the Goddess of Mercy. If you are a spiritual person, you can try your luck for JPY100 and find out your fortune from an "Omikuji" or "paper fortune. I really liked this area and went back twice to visit the surroundings and do some souvenirs shopping.

Once you are done, on the other side of the metro station in Asakusa, is a shopping centre where you can go to the rooftop for free and enjoy the view of the Tokyo sky tree! 

Go for a stroll at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

This is Tokyo's largest and most popular park. Located really close by Shinjuku station, you will need to pay a small fee of JPY200 to get in and visit it. This park dates back to the Edo Period from the 17th to the 19th century. It was almost completely destroyed during World War 2, but was rebuilt and re-opened in 1949 as a public park. There are 3 different gardens, I only visited the Japanese one, but was not disappointed. I really enjoyed the stroll away from the noise pollution of Tokyo's busy streets.

Go chase Godzilla in Shinjuku

Shinjuku is the exact representation of what I first imagined of Tokyo: Neon Lights, illuminated billboards on buildings, busy streets, restaurants, game shops, shopping mall. It is a buzzing district. This is Japan extravagance. There is even Godzilla on the rooftop of a building! This is also there, where is located the famous robot show restaurant, but be prepared to spend a lot of money to get in, and I think that you need to book it in advance.

So instead, if you want to blow off some steam from your frustration of not getting in I will recommend going to the Shinjuku batting centre to play some baseball. I never played it before but was really curious about it and wanted to give it a shot, and I think it went pretty well, I really enjoyed it a lot. It costs JPY300 for about 30 balls I think, but that it is a great experience and definitely a good stress relief.

Go people watching at Shibuya

It is famous for being The world's busiest Cross Road. And I can understand why. It is really impressive at peak hours to see the incredible amount of people crossing the street in all directions without even bumping into one another. The best spot to watch it is from the Starbucks coffee on the first floor, on the opposite side of Shibuya Station.

Also, at the exit of the station is located the famous dog statue of Hachiko. The legend said that he came to the station every day to meet his master who came back from work. The master, unfortunately, died in 1925, but the dog kept coming to the station until his own death 10 years later.

It's become the symbol in Japanese culture of loyalty and fidelity. To finish on a brighter note, know that the dog and the master have been reunited recently in 2015 at the faculty of the University of Tokyo with a bronze statue depicting Ueno, the master, returning to meet Hachiko.

Go see the Harajukus in Takeshita street

Harajuku district is a must do in Tokyo. It is a spot to see and be seen. Takeshita street is like a runway of a fashion show, you will see so many different fashion styles, from cosplays impersonating anime characters to a more trendy fashion look with still a spice of eccentricity, this district is considered as Japan's forward-thinking fashion capital.

Also, once you are there, stop by one of the many famous crepes shop for a quick bite, they are delicious.

Go watch the sunset at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

In every city I go to, I always try to have a good spot where to have a panoramic view of the city. Preferably for free. And I found it, the Tokyo metropolitan government building in Shinjuku is often visited by tourists for its free observation deck. The 243 m tall building has two towers and each one has an Observatory at the height of 202 m. If you have a good weather condition, you will be able to see the famous Tokyo landmarks like the mt Fuji,the Tokyo tower,the Tokyo skytree, etc...

I was lucky to arrive there for the sunset and the show was just incredible! I have seen many great sunsets, but the one from Japan are now at the top of the list. Also, if you would like to get some souvenirs and postcards, you can find them at the souvenir shop on the observation deck.

Go see the Rainbow bridge

This is a suspension bridge crossing northern Tokyo Bay between Shibaura Pier and the Odaiba waterfront. Two things come to my mind when I remember going to the rainbow bridge. First, from the photos I took, I bet you wonder, where are the rainbow colors on the Bridge? Well, it happens to be illuminated only on special occasions seasonally. So if you wish to see the illuminated rainbow, make sure to double check online before you go. The second thing was a total surprise to me. Did you know that there was a statue of Liberty in Tokyo? And there are two other replicas in Japan, one in Osaka and the other one in Shimoda. The one in Tokyo has been erected since 2000, following the French eyar of Japan (1998-1999).

What to eat?

One thing for sure is that the Japanese people don't joke with food. From food stalls in the streets to restaurant, the quality of the food is as good. Many restaurants are specialised in a single type of dish, while others offer a variety of dishes. From sushis to Tempura, rice, ramen and yakitori (grilled meat) there is food for every taste.

Personally, I went crazy on ramen noodles and sushis. The best district I would recommend is Shinjuku.

Shopping?

One thing I can safely say is that Japanse people love shopping. It is nearly impossible not to see anyone with a shopping bag in hand when walking in the streets. No wonder why it is also the fashion capital, you can see so many different fashion styles in the street which makes Tokyo what it is. You can be anyone you want to be and nobody will judge you or look at you differently. The best district for shopping depends on your budget.

The Upper East Side of Tokyo is known as Ginza, this is where you will see most of the luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Prada, Etc...

The district I'd recommend is Shibuya with the 2 separate famous 109s shopping centres. One dedicated for men and the other only for women. There are also many other shops in the area.

Finally, if you're on a low-budget, going to harajuku district on Takeshita street will allow you to get some souvenirs for cheap of Japan.

Akihabara 

You can not leave Tokyo without going to the anime district and visit the major electronic stores. First, the Yodobashi electronics stores is a huuuge shopping Centre only dedicated to electronics and accessories. Let me tell you that it is a very very very dangerous place if you are a photographer, an audio addict, or just can't resist to any kind of gadgets. My Advice to you is to go there with no money or you will end up broke in no time, even tax-free! You have been warned!

Once you're done with the electronics, you can go now to the famous anime district. Don't be surprised to see young women dressed as cosplays trying to lure you into 5-6 storeys gaming centres. If you're a big fan of Japanese comics also known as mangas, as I am, you will get back to your childhood seeing all the mangas themed related goods.  Also, I am not really a big fan of arcade game and claw crane but as you are there why not try your luck? I tried mine and after three attempts I collected a figurine from Star Wars! But be aware, these games can get you addicted very quickly.

I really enjoyed spending the whole week in Tokyo, there is still plenty that I was not able to do like for example, seeing the famous sumo wrestlers, unfortunately, I arrived at the wrong period when the tournaments were over. Or go to a baseball game, but there was none during the week I was in Tokyo, only on the weekend when I was leaving. I'd also have liked to go to Mount Fuji, but the weather conditions were not good. It all required a lot of planning in advance and well, I know that I'm not really good at planning when I'm traveling.

Nevertheless, it was a great experience, Tokyo is an amazing city and I hope that through this travel guide, I made you want to discover more. I will definitely return in the near future.

Sayonara Japan!

Safe travels