Tokyo is the capital of Japan. Over 12 million people just in the official metropolitan area, Tokyo is the core of the most populated urban city in the world, Greater Tokyo, which has a population of 35 million people. This huge, wealthy and fascinating metropolitan city brings high technology visions of the future side by side with glimpses of old Japan, and has something for everyone.
Here are the 10 must do things when you visit Tokyo! 🙂
1) Meiji Shrine
Meiji Jingu is located in the Shibuya area west Tokyo. The park is situated on the right when you exit the metro station at Jingu Mae . Its main attraction besides the wonderful well maintained grounds is the Temple and Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife Shoken.
It’s a wonderful place that shows the history and tradition and maybe you will be fortunate enough to witness a Japanese wedding! Anyone who is eager to learn more about that period of Japanese history should pay a visit to the Temple and shrine. You will simply love that place and there is no need to take a guided tour.
The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and he has to wonder through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end. Begin the trip with a good spiritual call at Meiji Shrine! 🙂
2) Sensoji Asakusa Kannon Temple
Sensoji also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple, is a Buddhist temple located in Asakusa district. It is one of Tokyo’s most colorful, vibrant and popular temples in Japan.
The legend says that in the AD 628, two brothers fished a statue of Kannon (goddess of mercy) out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to the brothers. Therefore, Sensoji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in AD 645, making it the oldest temple in Tokyo.
So I was happy to meet a friend, Mio Yamada (whom I met in Athens, Greece) to show me around. Such a fantastic place for photo opportunities and spiritual experience.
There were some nice shopping alleys along the way from Kaminarimon (thunder gate) to Sensoji Temple. I bought quite a few stuff and souvenirs from the shopping alley! There are loads of souvenir type stalls/shops with a great selection of merchandise. We found the shopkeepers and people of the area very welcoming and helpful compared with other areas of Tokyo. All ages seemed to be enjoying the area.
Asakusa is also one place where you can take a traditional Japanese rickshaw ride. They are available in front of the temple, where you are pleasantly trundled around the neighborhood in an antique-looking, huge-wheeled rickshaw by young muscular bare-legged Japanese man wearing traditional shorts, happi coat and headband. I did come across some women doing rickshaw as a job too. Price starts at 3,000 yen each (up to 2 pax) for a 20 minutes ride.
3) Harajuku Shopping Street
Your journey in Harajuku begins, naturally at the JR Harajuku station on the Yamanote line. You’ll notice that this station is not nearly the sprawling center as some of the other Yamanote line stops.. On one side of the tracks you’ll see the greenery of Yoyogi Park. As you depart the station and head towards Takeshita Street, the familiar crowds of one of the larger stations will emerge and most likely you can follow the crowd of teenagers and tourists to get there.
For the young and fashionable teenager, spending time in Harajuku (原宿) on the weekends is practically a necessity. Harajuku is just directly opposite Meiji Shrine gate. Approximately 10 minutes walk.
This is the main shopping drag of Harajuku’s fashion world. A narrow, pedestrian-only street, practically every nook and cranny is filled with things. You can expect this area to be pretty tourist heavy, and the added bonus of that is that some of the store clerks will speak some rudimentary English.
One of my favorite stops along this street is the 100 yen shop, not far from the main entrance of the station on the left side of the road if you’re heading away from the station. The 100 yen shops do carry a lot of great souvenir gifts and funky items for friends and family back home. If you’ve got room in your luggage, the housewares section usually has nice ceramics, Japanese style plates and sake pitchers.
4) Akihabara Anime District
Akihabara is a unique area. You may find the peculiar atmosphere nowhere else in the world. You can enjoy bustling streets with specialty shops of electric appliances and Japanese pop culture. It is the town for Otaku which means a person who has the intensity or a lot of knowledge about one field, such as computers, games, comics, or animations. Only here you will have a chance to visit the “world famous” theme cafe such as Maid’s Cafe, Cat’s Cafe etc…
Many girls (maids or cats) keep giving me brochures and wanting me to go into their cafe and they will sit and chat with me for 30 minutes for approx $50. The concept is kinda weird, but I have to give Cat’s Cafe a try (being instructed by my brother Ryan). I choose the cafe with the most people and less sleazy one. haha
5) Mass Scrambling Experience At The Shibuya Crossing
Adjacent to Hachiko Plaza is arguably one of the coolest intersections you will ever see in your life. You always see Shibuya Crossing mainly in the movies or documentary! Such as Resident Evil! Shibuya Crossing is remarkable for the massive of people crossing the junctions, blazing neon lights and enormous video screens, which sometimes display live videos of the street scene. The energy of the place is enough to stop you dead in your tracks while you loudly proclaim to yourself, ‘Wow – Finally… this is real! I’m in Tokyo!’ 🙂
It would be a shame to come to Tokyo and not take a walk across the famous intersection. On clear evenings, the surrounding area is packed with shoppers, students, young couples and commuters. When the lights turn red at this busy junction, they all turn red at the same time in every direction. Traffic stops completely and pedestrians surge into the intersection from all sides. You can observe this moment of organized chaos from the second-story window of the Starbucks in the Tsutaya building on the crossing’s north side.
6) Tokyo Tower (Eiffel Tower of Japan)
With 333 meters, the Tokyo Toweris 13 meters taller than its “brother”, the Eiffel Tower of Paris, and is the world’s tallest self-supporting steel tower. It was completed in the year 1958 as a symbol for Japan’s rebirth as a major economic power after world war II, and serves as a television and radio broadcast antenna and tourist attraction today.
I went up to see the tower at night time around 7pm. I was contemplating actually whether to go up as it costs 900 Yen (which really isn’t that bad). After the entire experience, I was glad I eventually decided to do it because the view of the city was incredible and amazing. I didn’t really understand how massive Tokyo was until I saw a 360 degree view of wall-to-wall buildings as far as the eye could see. Fortunately, it was clear beautiful sky that evening. I had some amazing shots of Tokyo Skyline. 🙂
Such experience, only when you are on top of the city! 🙂
7) Do some serious shopping at Metro and enjoy the GREAT/BEST services in the world
Japanese services are insanely excellent! The story goes…
- @ Isetan Bldg 3, service crew pointed to me Isetan Bldg 1 for the brands I wanted to find.
- @ Isetan Bldg 1 I bought a Burberry bag then proceeded to VAT centre for claims.
- @ VAT centre, my brother texted me from Singapore, saying he wanted me to buy Onitsuka Tiger for him, service manager brought me through a short distance across the street to Isetan Bldg 2 (Men’s Bldg).
- @ Istetan Bldg 2, I wanted to find more options for Onitsuka Tiger, service manager went away for 5 mins just to printe out an instruction in English for me to go to Shibuya and find other options for the Onitsuka Tiger sneakers.
- Ended up, I was touched by their service, hence I bought one @ Isetan at 8.10pm (note: Isetan closes at 8pm). The 2 service managers worried that I might missed the operating time for VAT centre to claim my gov taxes back! Both escorted me and walked across the street to Isetan Bldg 1, where the VAT centre is located.
- While walking, every service crew bowed when they saw me! For a while, I thought I am a royal family or celebrity! haha
- Both service managers waited 10 minutes for me to process my claim and escorted me out to the exit which is nearest to my hotel!
- VAT centre staff waited for me till I arrived, processed my claim, yet still with a polite smile, even though I caused them to work overtime!
Conclusion: I used to think price is more important than service quality! First time in my life, I was sooooo impressed with the GREAT service quality delivery and I was induced to purchase more indeed! Pockets burnt, but heart was touched & satisfied!
Indeed, Japan, a country with endless discovery! 🙂
8) Vegetarian in Tokyo, Japan! Endless Choice and Way Beyond Imagination
Being a vegetarian in Japan can be difficult, but with some effort and pre planning it can be very rewarding. Never at any time I was despaired in finding a veggie friendly meal, and I also had some of the most unusual and delicious meals I ever eaten. I love the foodie culture in Japan and found the food to be high quality, beautifully presented and healthy. We all know the Japanese are pretty good and take a lot of pride in their services and food quality delivery. Which never failed to amaze me everyday in Tokyo.
A few useful words and phrases when you are communicating your vegetarian meal in Japan:
yasai – vegetables
tamago – egg
katsuobushi nashi de onegai shimas – without bonito (fish) flakes please
Arimas ka? – do you have…?
Nan des ka? – what is it?
Oishikatta des – that was delicious. *This always made the local smile.
Arigato gozaimas – thank you very much
Sumimasen – excuse me
The rule of thumb is most Japanese have the concept of white meat vegetarianism. So always remember to ask them NOT to put any fish paste or white meat in your vegetarian meal especially when you are as strict in diet as me. 🙂
9) The Imperial Palace
The current Imperial Palace is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, about 5 minutes walk from Tokyo Station. It is the residence of Japanese Imperial Family.
Edo Castle used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 until 1867. In 1868, the shogunate was overthrown, and the country’s capital and Imperial Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. In 1888 construction of a new Imperial Palace was completed. The palace was once destroyed during World War Two, and rebuilt in the same style, afterwards.
The scenery is amazing, the gardens and surroundings are nice, but the real imperial palace was closed when I visited. Maybe a bit more information and sections open so you can at least see a little bit of the imperial palace. I heard the palace is rarely open for public but you are able to admire the gardens (for free) and the surrounding of the palace. In my opinion, this is still worth admiring the uniqueness of traditional Japanese architecture.
10) Getting Lost In The Big Mega City Of Tokyo
Somehow in my opinion, you need to get lost in this mega city in order to count yourself for being in Tokyo especially when you are traveling alone and commuting their public transport. haha 🙂
Also because I got so lost in the metro transport system in Tokyo, managed to speak to some amazingly courteous locals and helpful individual that guided me to the place I need to go. Due to this, I was surprised with the unexpected things that Tokyo filled me with each day. Truly a unique taste of rich Japanese culture.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber