I've been lucky enough to travel many times to Tokyo while my husband has been visiting for business.
Not only would it be a crime not to take advantage of the hotel room, especially as Tokyo is incredibly expensive, but I really love being there. I usually book the cheapest flights I can get and go along with him. I spend the days sightseeing and just enjoying the bustle of the city and occasionally in the evening I even get to have dinner with my husband, assuming he doesn't have work obligations...
Its a really easy city to get around and to be a solo traveller in.
Here is my list of the top ten things to do on a first visit to Tokyo...
First thing to do is to ride the Tokyo Metro. I've talked about the Tokyo Metro in my post Tokyo Top Tips and I can't tell you enough how easy and convenient the Tokyo Metro is. Its the quickest way to get around the city and if you get a PASMO card at the start of you trip its very cheap too. There are downloadable apps to help you navigate the system.
Meiji-Jingu is Tokyo’s grandest Shinto shrine and is situated in Yoyogi Park next to Harijuku Metro Station. Meiji-jingu is a very calming place to visit. Even the walk through the park to the shrine is peaceful as there is a ban on any kind of noise producing activities, even jogging is banned here.
The huge 12m wooden torii gate at the entrance was apparently made from a 1500-year-old Taiwanese cyprus tree
The shrine itself is quite small but well worth visiting. The gardens are close to the busy area of Harijuku and Omotosando and are quite a nice escape from the craziness of these shopping districts. The gardens look amazing in June when the irises are all in bloom.
Senso-ji Temple is probably Tokyo’s most visited temple. Inside is a golden image of Kannon (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy), which, was allegedly pulled out of the nearby Sumida-gawa by two fishermen in AD 628.
The entrance to the temple complex is through a huge red Kaminari-mon or Thunder Gate.
There is a small shopping street running up to the temple with lots of touristy gifts and crafts. At the end of this street is a five story pagoda and a huge incense couldron. People can been seen rubbing the smoke from the incense onto their clothes and faces. Apparently this is said to bring good health.
Shibuya Crossing is probably the world’s busiest road crossing. The crossing in front of Shibuya Station is also known as ‘The Scramble’. When the lights change people cross from all sides at the same time. and the chaos with the bright lights of Shibuya and the noise really give the 'This is Tokyo' feel I anticipated on my first trip here. Take a look at this You Tube Video. The best spot to sit and enjoy this is in the window seats of Starbucks right at the junction... if you can get a seat !! Here is another interesting video with more info about Shibuya/Hachiko.
The junction is most fun in the evening when you will bump into Japans colourful teenagers dressed for a night out. Theer are also lots of really good Ramen noodle bars nearby.
Ueno Park is a huge public park next to Ueno Station.
In the park grounds you will also find the Kaneiji Temple, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo National Museum, The National Science Museum, The Museum for Western Art and Ueno Zoo.
You can literally spend days here. The park is so big you can easily find a quiet bench to sit and read on or watch the world go by.
This is one of the spots I visit on every trip to Tokyo. There is a huge lake I like to sit beside. The water lilies are beautiful when they are flowering.
Ueno Park is also one of Tokyo's most popular Cherry Blossom spots with thousands of trees lining the main pathway. The Cherry Blossom season is usually late March and early April.
Tokyo Sky Tree opened in May 2012 and is the world’s tallest ‘free-standing tower’ at 634m. There are two observation decks, at 350m and 450m. You can see more stuff during daylight hours – and on a clear day you can see all the way to Mt Fuji – but at night it is really special too with all the city lights.
The ticket counter is on the 4th floor usually has a sign to tell you how long the wait is and also what the visibility is.. Avoid the weekend if possible as there are often long queues.
If you get a chance to see a Sumo competition whilst in Tokyo - take it. Beforehand you can also visit the fascinating Sumo Museum to see sumo-related objects from the Edo period to the present.
If you are in Tokyo in January, May or September you should try to get tickets to the Grand Tournament at Tokyo's Kokugikan.
You can buy the tickets up to a month in advance or you can simply turn up on the day but you need to be there EARLY. We asked our hotel concierge to buy them for us.
After each bout you can see and often meet the sumo outside the stadium. If you can find an English speaking employee, they will tell you where to go....
Rappongi is a wealthy district of Tokyo with the famous Rappongi Hills and the city's red light district. Come here in the evening and bar hop, or go for Karaoke. Rappongi is popular with Japanese and foreigners. Nearby Azabu Juban is also a very popular area with some great restaurants. Its busy during the weekend with locals and expats who live here to be close by the American School and The American Club.
Tsukiji Market although there is lots of fruit and veg sold here its the fish and the the tuna auctions that bring tourists to the site. The inner market is supposed to move in 2016 and I guess it will be difficult for tourists to visit then, but I heard they are creating a more tourist friendly market on the original site....
The tuna auctions start early and its not easy to get a space (I have never seen the auctions) I would advise checking out the online timetables before you head off. Visitors begin pitching up around 4am for one of the 120 allotted places for viewing the tuna auctions. You need to queue at the Fish Information Center. It's on a first-come, first-served basis.... so really something for the determined...hence the reason I have never been.
Later in the morning there is still plenty to see, there are wholesalers and lots of small restaurants with amazing food and even some small souvenir stalls. Everything closes down around 2-3pm. The restaurants inside the Market area are very popular with locals, you will see lots of queues. It often takes over an hours to get inside and usually the menu is fixed. If you are a real connoisseur of sushi and fish, then go for it, but I have done a few of them and never really enjoyed the meal... there are much better small restaurants on the streets immediately outside - in my opinion.
Shinkansen train... ok, so technically this is getting out of Tokyo, but it starts in Tokyo.
This is a real Japanese experience and if you hve the time I would highly recommend a trip. Not only because Osaka and Kyoto are both beautiful and very different from Japan, but riding the Shinkansen is such a cool experience.
With speeds of up to 240–320 km/h you can be in Osaka or Kyoto in just a few hours.
I hope this post has encouraged some of you to visit Tokyo. Its truly one of the most amazing cities in the world, and after London my favorite city. Here are a few other posts I have written.
There are loads more fun things to do in Japan and if there is something you think I should try on my next trip, please drop me a line through the contact form.
Whenever my husband comes home and tells me he has another business trip to Japan he barely has to finish the sentence before I am google-ing flight prices. Tokyo is one of my absolute favourite cities. From the very first time I went there I have been in love with the country.
We have been over 10 times and are always being asked for tips by friends who are going for the first time, so I thought I would turn those tips into a blog post.
The first visit to Japan can be a bit daunting. Its a big, busy, noisy city. There are signs written in Japanese everywhere and very little English is spoken outside of the tourist /ticket offices and hotels, but somehow it all works out. I've been to all of the tourist sites at least once, had mini adventures outside the city and eaten in many restaurants, most of the time I am alone, but I never really encountered any problems that couldn't be solved using a mixture of sign language and a big smile. My first bit of advice starts before you leave.... make sure you can use your bank card abroad.
A quick call to your bank should sort this out. When you arrive get cash out of Citibank at the airport. There are relatively few international bank ATM's in Tokyo. You can use Citibank and the Post Office Bank, but they are the only ones I've been able to use my assortment of credit cards at.......
Generally we get some cash and pay for everything in restaurants and shops with Visa/Mastercard.
The best way to get from the airport to your hotel is the "Friendly Shuttle Bus". The counters are in the airport just after you clear customs. The girls at the counter speak English and will point you in the right direction. Most buses do 5 or 6 stops and will drop you at the hotel door. The bus even has WiFi - though it is a little slow.
The whole area around Harajuku and Omotesando is great for people watching and shopping, especially at the weekend. Close by is Shibuya crossing and Yoyogi park with Meiji shrine. Both well worth a visit and fascinating for very different reasons.
Ueno Park is lovely to walk through, if you want to escape the craziness of the city or want to go to the Zoo.
Nearby is Ameyoko which is a great market area with some good food stalls and lots of good restaurants.
Sensoji Temple is a must see and the small gift shops on the walk to the temple are cute, despite being a bit touristy. Go early, as its on everybody's 'to do list' and it gets crowded.
Tokyo Tower near Rappongi - you can go up the tower and get great views to Mt Fiji if its a clear day. And afterwards maybe do a little bar hopping in Rappongi.
After these recommendations what you decide to see will really depend on how much you like to walk - there are several nice parks, if you are looking to go shopping - Tokyo Hands is amazing, or if you are especially into food and want to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.
There is truly so much to see in this amazing, vibrant city. You can spend hours just wandering around and enjoy just being there. The food is amazing too. If you are not a Japanese food expert I would suggest doing a little research before-hand. There are lots of different dishes available, but most restaurants specialise in one style of cooking. A sushi restaurant won't usually sell Tonkatsu or Ramen Noodles for example. This of course rarely matters to me as I don't have to compromise when I am out and about alone, but can cause problems if you are desperate to eat sushi and your dining partner doesn't like fish...... nothing a little forward planning can't solve of course.
I have written a review of a fabulous restaurant Andy's Shin Hinomoto. I can highly recomend this place, we have probably eaten there 8 or 9 times. Its excellent.
Japan Tourist Board
When arriving at the hotel ask the concierge for the free guide that comes from the Tourist Office. Its orange. Its fabulous. It has a page for each area with the major sights listed on the opposite page.
The next thing you should do is to get a PASMO card. You load the card up with money and use it throughout Japan on the trains and buses. its like the Oyster Card in London or the Metro Card in NYC. There are instructions for buying one and using the machines on the PASMO site.
If your hotel isn't covered by the Friendly Airport Shuttle service then you can buy the PASMO at the airport and use it on the train into the city.
Now you are set to explore all over Tokyo using the amazing train system.
Tokyo Metro map looks terrifying...... but its very easy to understand. All the lines are coloured differently and all the stations are numbered. You can even get a free app for your smartphone.
When you are on the train platform the next station the train will call at is written on the wall.
There are so many things to do in Tokyo that I could write pages and pages. Some of it will interest you, most of it not. I find sightseeing to be quite personal. I love taking photos, people watching, visiting temples and finding off the beaten track places to eat, but these things may not be your cup of tea, so I won't bore you with lists of things to do, I'll just make a few recommendations...
If you are visiting Tokyo or have friends taking a trip I'd highly recommend Andy's. Visit early on in your trip - as you will probably want to come back !!
If you are given a seat at a sharing table, don't be upset, we have had some great conversations with people we have met in here. After a few sakes the locals relax and I can almost guarantee a fabulous evening and great memories.
Andy's Shin-Hinomoto. 03-3214-8021 Website
We were introduced to Andy's by some of my husband's colleagues and we have been back every time we visit Tokyo. We've taken friends and relatives there and everyone loves it.
Its easy to find under the tracks of the JR line, close to Hibiya Metro station and staggering distance from the Peninsula. Inside its low arched ceiling that rattles with every train that runs overhead adds to the overall atmosphere.
The crowd is VERY mixed. There are tourists who have heard about Andy's and cleverly managed to get a reservation, and there are business man who have come straight from the office sharing tables with groups of young Japanese out for the evening with friends. Some people come for the food and move on after dinner, many come for the evening and eat several sharing plates to absorb the large draft beers and bottles of sake. Whatever brings you to Andy's the atmosphere and friendly service will ensure yo come back again and again. A menu in English and English speaking staff is also a bonus as after a week of having mostly no idea what I have been eating its quite refreshing !!
We almost always pre-order snow crabs. These are enormous and the meat is incredibly moist. So much easier to eat than the regular crabs and their fiddly legs and served with a light vinegar dip they are perfect accompaniment to a nice sake. For those who don't like fish - there are plenty of other options on the menu. Steak with garlic and fried chicken were favourites of one or our guests. I personally love their sashimi platter. The last one we had contained the most delicious swordfish I have ever eaten.
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