We visited Tokyo for a week, at the beginning of our trip, then for another 2 days at the end. I was already fascinated by this giant metropolis the first time around, but it was only when we came back that I knew I truly felt enchanted.
At first, Tokyo’s size and constant flow of energy can feel a bit overwhelming, even for an avid city dweller like I (jet lag and a bad cold may not have helped me in processing the overflow of new information sent my way).
With time, you learn to discover and enjoy it one piece at a time. You figure out it’s best to spend a little more time in each different neighborhood, rather than rush to see the sights.
Here are ten photos that illustrate the places I preferred:
This particular cityscape can be viewed near Okachimachi train station.
Tokyo is in many parts what could pass as a futuristic city, especially in Odaiba. Setting sight upon this jumble of train tracks, bridges and skyscrapers, what came to mind was a movie decor for a film set in the year 2200, but filmed in 1987. A somewhat retro vision of futurism if you will.
Every guide book covering Tokyo features this famous fish market and its’ surrounding neighborhood in their list of things not to be missed. The market in itself is not very tourist friendly, being that tourists aren’t the ones who’ll be buying loads of fish. You may get knocked down by one of the hundreds of electric carts whizzing through the narrow aisles, or frowned at by blasé employees. Can’t blame them, stories of rude tourists being openly disrespectful have been widely reported (especially in the Japanese media). However, the visit is most definitely worth those inconveniences.
The Tsukiji fish market is the biggest fish market in the world, and the variety of species sold here is simply astounding. Once you’ve covered the indoor market, there are plenty of stalls, shops and restaurants to be discovered outside the main premises.
Tokyo’s transportation system may seem intimidating at first and with reason since it is one of the most complex in the world with dozens of subway and train lines crisscrossing and looping throughout the city. However, once you’ve understood how it works, you’ll realize how simple and user-friendly it really is.
My boyfriend and I loved riding the train, because it was a good place to sit down and observe the individuals around us. The Yamanote line that loops around the center of the city, as well as the Monorail line to Odaiba both serve good views of the city and great opportunities to sit down and do some people-watching.
One tip I wish I’d been told beforehand is that you should always pay the cheapest fare when buying your ticket. The price of your ride depends on the distance, the line and the importance of the station to which you’ll be traveling. You’ll most likely be buying your tickets piece per piece. Machines are aplenty and English service is offered, but more often than not, maps indicating the fares for different stations will not be translated into romaji (latin alphabet). Thus, you should choose the cheapest price. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you’ll have to insert your ticket into the gate and it will indicate if an additional fare needs to be paid. There are fare adjustment machines that will tell you how much you need to pay.
Shibuya is another optimal spot for people watching. Perhaps the best one in the world! I don’t suggest stopping right in the middle of the street as you may end up getting trampled by the continual flow of people. It is, after all, the busiest street crossing in the world. The neighborhood famously caters first and foremost to youth, so this is where you’ll witness upcoming trends and daring styles (which can be entertaining even for those that aren’t generally interested in fashion).
If you’d like to contemplate the hordes of people while sitting down, head to the second floor of the Starbucks coffee shop, where you’ll be treated to a great view while you sip on your green tea latté.
Harajuku is another consumerist wonderland aimed mainly at teens. It’s a great place to shop for all budgets.
The main attraction is pedestrian street Takeshita Dori, which is lined with dozens of stores that sell anything to create a nice funky outfit. Venture off to the side streets and not only will you be delivered from the crowds, but you’ll also be able to discover more stores, great restaurants and a wonderfully creative exhibition space ( Tokyo Design Festa).
Most of Omotesando Dori is also located in the Harajuku neighborhood but feels like another world when compared to Takeshita Dori. This is where the high class fashionistas come to shop. You won’t find any plastic animal-shaped trinkets or neon colored bras here! (unless Dior or Prada make them fashionable).
Omotesando Dori is an excellent street to take a nice quiet stroll on a warm Sunday afternoon. Architecture aficionados are in for a treat, as many of the world’s most highly regarded architects have designed buildings here (Tadao Ando, Mario Botta, Jun Aoki, Herzog & De Meuron).
Tip: The Louis Vuitton Store hosts art exhibits in its’ Espace Louis Vuitton. The focus is on contemporary and conceptual art. Be sure to check out upcoming exhibits on their website.
Yoyogi Park is where Tokyoites come to play on Sundays. It is here that you will find the famed Harajuku teens, all dressed up in cosplay style. Not too far from those gothic lolitas and Sailor Moon wannabes, the Rockabilly gang set up camp for a day of dancing and showing off the coolest styles and biggest attitudes. Take a seat nearby and enjoy the show for a few minutes before heading towards Meiji Jingu shrine.
Located in Mitaka, a quiet suburb town, Ghibli museum is a veritable wonderland for kids of all ages (is 25 too old to be a kid? I think not!). For those unfamiliar with Japanese anime, Ghibli is a film studio, helmed by legendary film director and animator Hayao Miyazaki. The master himself designed this magical house as an exhibition space that often makes us visitors feel as if we’ve walked into his own personal office, and his own imagination.
His is a world of constant childlike wonder coupled along with tiny specs of realism and melancholy. The films he creates are aimed at children but look to send strong, largely positive messages about the world and it’s natural environment that could serve as lessons and subjects of questioning for adults too.
Tickets are reasonably priced but must be bought in advance, because the number of daily visitors is limited so to keep the crowds reasonable. Canadian tourists must buy their tickets here.
Anyone who has some free time on a sunny day must go to Ueno Park. It is a wonderful place in all seasons. When we went in August, we were lucky to see some lotus flowers in bloom on Shinobazu pond. The park also hosts many of the city’s biggest museums (Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art museum, Western art museum). In the spring, it is a prime viewing spot for cherry blossoms.
Akihabara district is where all the otaku (hardcore manga and anime fans) meet, hence the colorful facades and businesses that cater to the needs of this particular demographic, like Maid cafés, concert halls and specialized stores.
The area also holds its’ nickname ‘Electric city’ for the hundreds of electronic shops that line its’ narrow alleys and the large branches of popular chain stores like Laox.