Only have a short time in Tokyo, and are curious what to do? I (Sam) was recently in the same situation while travelling to Japan on Business. Tokyo is a large city with many neighborhoods, and can seem quite overwhelming for a first timer. Once getting used to the city, it does not seem that bad at all. Having being from Long Island, just outside NYC, Jackie and I are pretty used to the urban big city environment.
Arriving (by air) in Tokyo, you will either come into Narita, or Haneda Airport. Haneda is much closer to the city than Narita, but both have convenient transportation to the city. I landed in Narita and took the Airport Limousine Bus Service to my hotel in the Akasaka Neighborhood. There are also convenient train/subway options.
Once you’ve settled in and you are ready to explore, you have many options. I will walk you through how I chose to spend my time.
I arrived in Tokyo in the evening, and wanted to experience Yakitori. Yakitori is basically skewered meat and vegetables. One of the more popular areas to have Yakitori is Omoide Yokocho (also known as ‘Memory Lane’ and ‘Piss Alley’). ‘Memory Lane’ is a small alleyway within walking distance from Shinjuku Station, which consists of small Japanese bars usually seating 10-12 people each. Don’t worry about which bar to go into, just walk through the alleyway and choose one that looks good. After a couple of beers and many skewers later, I decided to walk around Shinjuku area.
I ended up in an area known as Harajuku. Harajuku is very lively with many young adults unwinding after a long hard days work. The thing to do here is go to bars, play video games at large multi-level arcades, and also play Pachinko. Walking around the 7 story building filled with all different types of games was very interesting, with lights and sounds all around from each game. On one of the floors, was a game called Pachinko. Pachinko is Japan’s sneaky way of turning something illegal, like gambling, into something legal. The premise of the game is you win balls, which you can, in turn exchange for tokens, then at an altogether separate location, you can exchange the tokens for money. It’s kind of like an indirect way to gamble, I guess.
I woke up very early in the morning due to jetlag, which actually worked in my favor. I made my way to Senso-Ji Temple, a very popular temple in Asakusa. The Temple grounds were beautiful and extremely cultural. At the temple, I chose to perform some of the popular rituals. The water ritual is where you use a ladle to wash your hands and mouth to cleanse yourself. Next, I lit incense and put it in a large cauldron filled with sand. Finally, I drew Omikuji. The way this process works is you drop your donation in a slot, you then shake a box lightly, then choose a stick from that box, which has a Japanese number or character on it. The character should match a character also displayed on one of the many drawers. You then draw a sheet from the drawer, after reading your Omikuji (fortune), you can keep it only if it is good. If you receive a bad fortune, you should tie it to the wooden stand.
After the temple, I decided to take a stroll in Sumida Park. I was lucky enough to visit Japan during their famed Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Season. I arrived shortly after the peak, which in my opinion, was a treat. I was able to see mostly full Cherry Trees as well as, witness the romance of watching the petals fall in the wind. Also from the park, you get a fantastic view of the Tokyo Sky Tree.
After the park, I made my way to one of Tokyo’s themed cafés, The Hedgehog Café. This café is a café with coffee and food, in which you get to spend time with a buddy in the form of a hedgehog. I even got to hold a tiny baby hedgehog for a few seconds. The hedgehogs roam around your table while you drink. You may hold the hedgehogs or pet them if you like, but be careful as they have sharp spines.
Next was lunchtime, I opted for Sushi. I also decided to stop into a little restaurant on the way to sushi that had something that looked really appealing, an eel over rice bowl. After my little snack, I continued towards the sushi restaurant. I went to a place called Maguro Bito, which is a popular conveyer belt sushi shop. I sat there watching the sushi plates roll by and selecting whatever looked good. I also special ordered some other sushi from the chef, for things I wanted to try that I didn’t see pass by. At the end of the meal, the server comes and counts your colored plates to determine your bill.
After lunch, I was quite tired, so I decided to head back to the hotel to relax a bit before nighttime, but not before taking a stop at Jakotsuyu Onsen (Mineral Bath). Sorry, no pics ,as everyone in the Onsen was completely nude, a unique experience indeed! 😉
In the evening, I made my way to yet another neighborhood by the name of Shibuya. Shibuya Station is extremely complicated to navigate, but while inside on the third floor, I was able to catch a video of the famed Shibuya crossing in action. Pretty cool! After finally finding my way out of the station, I stumbled upon my dinner spot, Ichiran Ramen. Ichiran Ramen’s popularity was extremely evident by the 1.5 hour wait to get in and eat. Once you finally get in, you choose your order by selecting a ticket from a vending machine. I chose Tsukemen, a pork bone based Ramen. Very Delicious!
After dinner, I wandered around Shibuya and found my way into yet another themed café. This time it was a Maid Themed café called Maidreamin. The Maid café had servers dressed in Maid costumes serving coffee and food. When they serve you your coffee, they make you say cute/silly things. My maid had me say “delicious delicious meow meow kew” while making a heart with your hands. Also every hour or so, they put on a singing/dancing show on stage, which you are encouraged to participate in. All in all, it a little cheesy, but great fun of course!
Remainder of Trip
The remainder of my trip I was in different towns for work. Although there were not many attractions, there were still very delicious foods. I ate the following:
Shio Ramen (Salt Based Broth)
Shoyu Ramen (Soy Based Broth)
Miso Ramen (Miso Based Broth) – (sorry no pic!)
Shabu Shabu (+ Cherry Blossom flavored ice cream!)
Chicken Katsu Curry Set
Various other small plates
After working in Japan for a week, I took some time off and went to Cebu, Philippines – (read more about my adventures there in our Philippines Blog!)
I hope you enjoyed my blog on Tokyo, Japan. I only just scratched the surface of what there is to do in Japan. I plan to be back with the family in a couple years and we hope to see the following things that I did not get to see on this trip:
-The famed Tsukiji Fish Market
-Watching a Sumo Match
-Taking my video game enthusiast son to Akihabara (aka Electric Town),
-Staying at a Ryokan
-Visiting some other parts of Japan, like Kyoto.
Despite being in Japan for a relatively short time and for business purposes, I enjoyed my time there and the food was delicious as well.
Thanks for reading & keep on traveling!