Originally posted to Tumblr on Dec 02, 2015. Revised for WordPress. All images are mine.
The Bare Basics and First Impressions:
I was worried I’d be disappointed by Tokyo because it’s one of those dream destinations. How much hype is too much, before the idea of a place becomes better than the place itself?
I had nothing to worry about. Tokyo is everything I hoped it would be and more.
First of all, I’ve come to the conclusion that Japanese food is the best in all of Asia. Not just because of the sushi, either. (But I ate a lot of sushi. A lot. Oh my god. I had sushi 3 out of the 5 days I spent here and I don’t regret it for a second).
After Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, one of my immediate thoughts was that it was strange to be in such a wealthy place again. It’s glitzy, sleek, and expensive. Going back to first world price tags was the real culture shock here.
There is so much to see. Many of the iconic tourist spots are just shopping districts, but Tokyo has tons of museums, parks, landmarks, temples and shrines. It’s easy to mix up your itinerary with a bit of shopping, some time outdoors, some history and culture. And lots of food. Lots of wandering and people watching.
I absolutely loved Tokyo. It’s such a huge, exciting, distinct place with drama and style and weirdness. I have to come back one day.
My 5-Day Itinerary:
Day 1: I spent the night in the airport, so I decided to take it slow and just explore the area I was staying in, Asakusa. This is a historical neighborhood characterized by temples and “old” streets that have purposely been preserved to retain an ancient, pre-modern look.
The main things to do here are – 1. visit Sensoji Temple, which is beautiful; 2. see the five-storied pagoda right next to it; 3. explore the long shopping street, Nakamise, that leads to the temple from Kaminarimon Gate. This is the place to get souvenirs and sweets, along with the surrounding neighborhood. You can spend hours just walking around this area. The Sky Tree is also nearby, across the river; it’s Tokyo’s tallest building and you can go up to the observatory for a view of the city.
Day 2 was all about Harajuku and the Shibuya & Shinjuku areas. The Meiji shrine is here, and it’s beautiful. It feels separate from the city because you have to take a short hike through a serene wooded area to reach it. Harajuku is really all about shopping and people watching. It’s best to come on a weekend for the latter, because that’s when the younger crowd – the really fashionable and theatrical ones – come around.
There are also some fun concept cafes & restaurants in this area, like the owl cafe (which I couldn’t resist visiting), the monster cafe, the robot restaurant, etc. For food, I went to one of those conveyor belt sushi places, Heiroku Sushi, and would absolutely recommend it.
Day 3 started with even more sushi. I went down to the Tsukiji fish market at about 10am and walked around a bit. But the market wasn’t really the point, for me. The point is that, if you find the fruit & vegetable market right next to the fish market warehouse, there’s a block of restaurants beside that. This is supposedly the best place to eat sushi in all of Tokyo. These restaurants are open early in the morning and close at noon – they get the freshest fish, straight from the market next door.
This was the most expensive meal I had on my entire trip, but it was totally worth it. The sushi was as fresh as it gets, tasted amazing, and came with the experience of sitting in this tiny restaurant where the only seats are crowded around the sushi bar. The chef prepares your order in front of you and then passes it over the counter onto your plate. Every one of these restaurants has a line out the door, but it’s worth the wait if you’re a sushi person.
Full and happy, I headed to Odaiba next. Among many other things, this is where the Miraikan is located – the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. It’s divided into sections on technology, medicine, and the environment. To my unabashed nerdy joy, it included lots of robots and lots of space stuff! They do ASIMO demonstrations, too (that’s the Honda robot; it talks and sings and walks around, and is very cute). There are tons of interactive exhibits, which makes it great for kids or easily entertained adults. I spent a solid 2.5 hours there.
On Day 4 I took it slow again, because the previous three days were packed (by my standards). I went to Ginza first, which is where you go if you want to shop for very expensive brand name things. For me, that makes it perfect for window shopping and admiring the architecture. This is the location of the Kabukiza, where you can watch a kabuki performance some days – it was closed when I went, but it’s an impressive site, a Tokyo landmark.
Then I swung over to Akihabara, which is the land of electronics, anime merch, and kind of gross cafes with the waitresses all dressed in maid costumes. I’m not a fan of otaku culture (anime: yes; otaku: no) so I didn’t find it very compelling. It’s just one of those iconic touristy spots you have to visit once and snap a photo of. I ended the day by revisiting Sensoji Temple in the evening. They light it up at night and it’s gorgeous.
On Day 5 my original plan involved leaving Tokyo and moving to Kyoto – but I stayed an extra day because I was able to snag a ticket to the Ghibli Museum, which, let me tell you, is a Big Deal. I slept in that day and then headed to Mitaka, the neighborhood where the museum is located. It looks very much like the setting of a Ghibli film. It’s small, quiet, residential, with a big park in the middle. Think of green space,
leaves changing colors, quirky cafes dotting the slow roads.
The museum? It was MAGICAL. I wandered around in a haze of childish excitement and nostalgic waves of emotion. The building itself is gorgeous, inside and out; the exhibits are informative, whimsical, and aesthetically pleasing. At the bottom level you can (and should) watch a 20-minute short film, and on the roof there’s a replica of the Laputa robot you can take pictures with. I went through each exhibit twice and still didn’t want to leave.
I left for Kyoto on the evening of day 5 via overnight bus. For more on that, follow the link.
There are endless things to do in Tokyo, so prioritize! Don’t try to do everything. I loved the temples and the museums – and, of course, the food. This post could’ve been titled “Five Days in Food Heaven” if my culinary writing abilities would produce anything other than “om nom nom sushi yeeeessssssss.”
I didn’t let the time limit and the variety of options pressure me into packing too much into my schedule. I took things slow, did two or three things per day, and allowed myself time to wander and people-watch. I have plenty left to see on a return visit, but I’m satisfied with what I got to do during this week.