There is so much to explore in the buzzing Japanese capital. Tokyo is an origami city in which each meticulous fold unveils a new amazing sightseeing. It might take you weeks to see most of it, but here are few tips to get the best of your Japanese experience.
Take it higher
There are no other ways than up when you want to take beautiful pictures of the urban skyline. But where should you go? Tokyo Tower has been for over fifty years the tallest structure in the country. The Japanese counterpart to the French Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognizable symbols of Tokyo overseas. The 333 meters-high broadcasting tower is situated in the Shiba-koen district and offers several observation decks.
Since its opening in 2012, the beautiful Tokyo Skytree with its 634 meters is currently the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure in the world after Burj Khalifa. The beautiful tower is at the center of a new shopping center: Tokyo Solamachi. Shopping AND sightseeing at the same place, what more can you ask for?
If you don’t want to spend any money to go the extra meter high, you can enjoy the free view from the observation desk at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku.
Feel the Imperial presence
The 5 km² around the Imperial Palace are strictly forbidden to the general public but are also symbolic of the place of the Imperial family in the Japanese society: central but invisible.
The current Imperial residence is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo Station. The palace was once destroyed during World War Two, and rebuilt in the same style, afterwards. You won’t be able to access to the inner grounds of the palace except on January 2 (New Year’s Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor’s Birthday). The Imperial Palace East Gardens are open to the public throughout the year except on Mondays, Fridays and special occasions. Looping around the Imperial palace makes for a great jogging site.
Look for calm and serenity
When you think about Tokyo, you might associate it with a concrete jungle. You wouldn’t be more wrong. The Japanese capital offers its stressed out and busy citizens plenty of green spaces to get their energy pumped up. Some of the best places to admire the beauty of Japanese parks are Shinjuku Gyoen, former Imperial gardens, and Yoyogi Park, with a more western style. Japanese people love to picnic so bring your blanket and snack on the beautiful lawns. And if by any chance you visit Japan during the sakura season (cherry tree blossoms), feel inspired by their beauty, compose some haiku, paint or simply take loads of pictures.
Wander around the true Tokyo
One of the most beautiful districts in Tokyo, Asakusa has kept the old Edo spirit alive. The former entertainment focal point is a visitors’ must with its traditional but still vibrant atmosphere. Located in Taito-ku along the west bank of the Sumida-gawa River, Asakusa welcomes a constant flow of visitors and worshippers coming to pray at Senso-ji Temple, dedicated to Kan’non, the goddess of mercy. The streets around the oldest religious structure in the whole city are filled with souvenirs shops and restaurants. Don’t miss out on the huge Don Quijote store which is the heaven for cheap and original presents to bring back home. If you have some extra yens to spend, you can explore the city on one of the numerous rickshaws. You will be amazed by the strength of the drivers.
Shop ’til you drop
Don’t get Lost in translation, and feel the vibe of the city by walking along fellow Tokyoites in one of the most cinematographic locations in the capital: Shibuya Crossing. 45.000 peoplecross thepedestrian scramble every half an hour, making it the world’s busiest intersection. Pay your respects to the faithful Hachiko and go spend some yens. Tokyo’s own version of Times Square is as impressive for its large screens as it is for its huge shopping centers.
Do you feel you can measure up to otaku, the ultimate Japanese geeks? Akihabara or Akiba as it is nicknamed, is all bells and whistles with its colorful ad signs covering up the buildings. In only few streets, you have access to hundreds of electronics, manga books and anime collectibles. Tokyo’s electronic town is also famous for its gaming spots and its maid cafes.
Do you prefer to be as kawaii (cute) as a Japanese trendsetter? Then there is nowhere more iconic to go shopping than Harajuku. If the area goes from the Harajuku station to Omotesando, the backstreets are where your money will fly away. Takeshita Street in particular is one of the most photographed. When your shopping spree leaves you with a craving stomach, bite in one of the surprising Japanese style crêpes or purchase some yummy candies in the location of Avril Lavigne’s latest music video Hello Kitty.
Hmm… Japanese food!
Japan is a heaven for foodies. There are so many delicacies to try that you will definitely want to come back for more. If you are only there for a few days, I would suggest you to stuff yourself with as many ramen and Japanese curries as you can. They are affordable and oh so satisfying. Sushis and sashimis are also a must-try though you can still find high quality ones almost everywhere on the planet. Conveyor-belt sushi restaurants will do the trick. If you are interested in a more cultural experience, attend a tea ceremony, or for a more modern (and pricey) kind of culinary show, try out a Teppanyaki. The okonomiyaki, yakisoba and other monjayaki prepared in front of you on this iron griddle by skillful and playful chefs are both delicious and fun.
Robot Restaurant or Neko Cafe?
Tokyo is the epicenter of quirky Asia. It is then not surprising that you would find weirdly themed cafes and restaurants all around the city.
As Japanese people rarely have the right to live with a pet, animal cafes allow them to spend some relaxing time with a more or less cuddly furry ball. Whether you like owls, dogs, rabbits or even goats, you will be able to enjoy a cup of tea while admiring or even petting your favorite animal. Neko (cat) Cafes in particular became very popular last few years and are opening all around the world. Get your purr on, at Nekorobi in Ikebukuro.
And if you want something a bit more adult friendly, without having to spend your entire budget in a maid café, head to the Robot Restaurant. Located in Shinjuku, the almost epilepsy-inducing show is hard to describe. Robots, giant panda, dancers in bikinis, fire, light, loud Japanese techno music, it is a real live anime (under acid) experience. Over the top for sure, but don’t miss out on the only-in-Japan fun!
Have you been to those places or are planning to ? Leave us a comment !