Tokyo is absolutely everything you imagine it to be. Crazy, bright, loud, people and wild. Tokyo is fast, futuristic, weird, and a total mash up of skyscrapers, urban metropolis and culture. Nestled in between towering buildings you will still find shrines, Torii gates and zen. Tokyo 100% lives up to the hype you have heard about. There is no place like it & I already miss the weird and wonderful ways. I thought that the city would be intimidating at first, but it felt friendly. The people smile, they help with your bags and when you look lost, they do their absolute best to help you on your way.
Our flight was great. From Queenstown to Sydney to Tokyo Narita. Here we picked up our JR Rail passes from the airport office and waited for the Narita express to take us through to Shinjuku station. I booked all our hotels on booking.com so I could keep track of our stay’s in the app. Google maps offline will be your best friend in Japan to find your accommodation and also train routes and times. Stepping out of the station was like stepping into a futuristic world. Japan truly comes alive at night and we were hit straight in the face with bursts of neon, bustling streets, and food, oh the food options are plentiful, especially at night. The hotel was just a short ten-minute walk from the station and the perfect base for our first three days in Japan. The rooms are typically Japanese, small, quaint but everything you need. If you have never been to Japan get ready to have your mind blown by the toilets, the options are endless and quite frankly it ruins your toilet time forever as soon as you leave and get back to your boring old porcelain throne.
Before touching down in Japan, I compiled a small itinerary to make sure we both saw exactly what we wanted to see while here. Arriving late at night meant we could quickly grab some food and get up to explore early the next day. Our first morning in Tokyo gave us our first Japanese bakery, this then became our morning routine, sampling baked goods in every town and city. The bakeries here are amazing and a cheap way to fill up before you start your day. What we didn’t realise is that Japan doesn’t wake as early as we do, we found getting up at 7-8 am was great but nothing got going till at least 9 or even 10 am, however, this worked in our favourite at some of the popular ‘photo’ spots around the country.
Day 1 Tokyo
I thought that navigating the trains would be hard, yes, the first few times it takes a little getting used to but in no time you will be a pro at flashing that JR pass and finding your platform like everyone else and if you’re not, just ask someone, it’s that easy.
We spent day one exploring Shibuya, the crazy crossing, Harajuku which I loved and the Meiji shrine & Sake barrel shrine which leads you on a beautiful forest walk right in the middle of the city. We managed to tick off the day one list pretty quickly so after the shrine we made way for the Metropolitan government building. On the 42nd or something floor, there is a free observatory deck, this is free and honestly, we couldn’t believe it. We arrived about an hour before sunset and it was magical. We could see for miles, the city unfolding below, the HUGE park we just walked through and faintly in the distance we could see the mountains.
After falling in love with Tokyo from the sky, we fell in love again, deep into the bottom of a bowl of freshly cooked delicious Ramen. This was also our first time using a vending ticket machine ordering thing. You insert your money, tap some buttons, collect your ticket, hand them to the chef inside and hope that what you think you ordered arrives in front of you. Most of the time it did for us, sometimes I got meat, so I just switched it over to Robbie’s bowl. Honestly, nothing compares to the Ramen dishes in Japan.
Day 2 Tokyo
Drizzly, drizzly day 2 in Tokyo. We packed for this though and will never let a drop of rain spoil our fun. We got up and out pretty early for day 2, wanting to see as much as we possibly could before heading south and exploring more of this crazy land. As well as our bakery missions our mornings also included finding a vending machine. In Japan, vending machines are everywhere and they sell everything. You can even get a hot drink, from a vending machine, mind blown. Every day Robbie sampled a new green tea or coffee combo from a machine. I particularly liked the hot cans of tea, more so I could warm up my hands during the early hours of the morning. Today was our last full day in Tokyo, so we got up early to fit everything in. Once your JR Pass is activated you can use it on some local trains int he big cities. The Yamanote Line is the line you need in Tokyo and it’s completely free to use. All the main stops are on this route, Shinjuku, Yoyogi Park, Shibuya, Harajuku, Ueno Park, and Tokyo Station.
We jumped on the train and took a drizzly walk around Ueno park, this is the place to be in Cherry Blossom season and Autumn, however, our rainy day made it a little dull. I had heard about a pond where you could hire rowing boats so that where we headed. Upon arrival said the pond was full to the brim with bulrush plants and weeds, today was not our day. We sheltered from the rain and planned our next stop. Robbie wanted to visit the old Tokyo town, a historic market town on the outskirts of the city so off we went to explore. Now we are not 100% sure if where we ended up was the place Robbie wanted to be, but it was a pretty cool street none the less. Very quiet, very local and full of cute little shops and some incredible food stalls. This is where we had our first bento box and it was pretty damn good. Yanaka Ginza is also home to some quaint tea shops. We walked into what we thought was someone’s front room. A tiny old Japanese lady made us a cup of tea, we paid her money and left.
After more wandering in the rain we thought to check out Tokyo Station and the Imperial palace, the Emperor lives here, and it felt like we should see this place before we left. It would be like visiting London foe the first time and not dropping in to see where old Lizzie lives. The place is so heavily guarded, and you walk in and out different sides of the palace, no running, no waiting around, just get in and out. It was a very odd experience, but we went, we did it and back on the top of our list was to find more food. During the daytime, we kept our meals light, meaning we didn’t sit down in restaurants or cafes to eat. The selection in the supermarkets for food is bloody good. The sushi is amazing, and there is a great choice for some hot treats too, however not many veggie options. We stuck to a couple of pieces of sushi, a little snack and a hot drink. Our lunch typically costs around $15 a day for both of us.
I felt like we had so much time in Tokyo and pretty much ticked off everything we wanted to see in the first couple of days. We took the afternoon to slowly walk around Shibuya, exploring the back roads and finding some weird as shops to meander in and out of. The famous Shibuya crossing doesn’t get less boring, you can cross it so many times and each time is as crazy as the last. The Starbucks opposite is also an excellent place to get photos and watch the crossing from above. We indulged in many a Christmas themed coffee from Starbucks all over Japan. The Harajuku area was my favourite. The shops are crazy, the people dressed up are brilliant and every third store is a crepe stand and I am all for that. One of my Tokyo must do’s was to find those crazy photo-booths. Nestled under the bustling streets of Harajuku is a photo-booth mecca. We picked the brightest craziest one, smashed loads of buttons, posed three times, hit the screen a few times and the reward… an amazingly bright crazy A5 photo decorated with stickers and cartoons. Well worth the $5 I say.
As night time rolls around in Tokyo so do the people. The streets are packed, the ramen houses have queue down the street and the lights are so bright, leading you down streets missed in the daytime. We spent our last evening contemplating the robot show, a burly Aussie guy confirmed it was not worth the money, so we settled for Mario kart in the arcades and a walking donut tour of Shinjuku.
Mount Fuji was the next destination on our route and having booked our train tickets at the JR office in the daytime left us nothing to do but pack and get some sleep before departing Tokyo, very, very early.
Our top things to do in Tokyo
– Cross the Shibuya Crossing
– Explore the crazy Harajuku shopping streets
– Order Ramen from a ticketed machine & enjoy with the locals
– Play Mario Kart in the arcades
– Walk through Yoyogi park & find the sake barrel shrine
– Jump on the Yamanote JR line and explore Tokyo
– Head up the Metropolitan Government building to the free viewing deck
– Walk through Ueno park whatever the season
– Grab supermarket sushi and people watch in the city (Familymart & 7/11 are the best)
– Find a vending machine and get your hot green tea fix
– Pay a little visit to Hachiko and google the story after, grab your tissues.