In a city of neon lights, golden temples and sailor moon junkies, one could just about lose themselves forever. The old and the new crash together with force, juxtaposing traditional kimono covered streets with loud robot bars.
If I hadn’t experienced it, I wouldn’t believe it.
However, such a place exists and that place is Tokyo, Japan. It is a city that works hard and parties even harder. A top destination for tourists around the world, Tokyo has thousands of things to see, no matter your interests.
And after 8 months of intense sightseeing, I left Japan with a new appreciation and a whole lot of recommendations; everything from the “go-to-tour-book-musts” to the hidden gems!
Let’s start with a classic that will surely be highlighted in your Tokyo guide book. A huge landmark in the Asakusa district, Senso-ji is the city’s oldest temple, originally built in 645. Beautifully covered in red and gold, one could easily spend an entire afternoon here; marvelling at the five story pagoda, burning incense and standing below giant lanterns ornate with historical significance.
Leading to the temple itself from the Kaminarimon Gate is Nakamise Dori, an outdoor shopping area filled with stalls, selling everything from local snacks to traditional Japanese souvenirs.
DIGITAL ART MUSEUM
Very rarely do I take the time to visit a museum on my travels. However, the Digital Art Museum isn’t covered in historical exhibits, but with lights, projectors and magic. A truly immersive experience, teamLab’s focus on the digital aspects allows for stunning visuals; giant rooms filled with floating lanterns or mazes outlined by LED string lights . There are two in Tokyo: Borderless and Planets, both worth visiting to get that perfect Instagram picture!
An absolute must while visiting Tokyo is spending a day in Harajuku. A very popular neighbourhood, this district does not disappoint in terms of flair and personality. Here, you can walk the crowded road of Takeshita Street, all the while browsing the most outrageous fashions and eating sweet cotton candy whipped bigger than your head.
My personal Takeshita favourite is Cookie Time, a restaurant completely dedicated to cookie dough in different forms. For lunch, stop by Monster Café, a kawaii restaurant where everything is served with colour.
On the busier streets, indulge in western and European brands for some shopping (Alice on Wednesday is the cutest Alice in Wonderland themed shop) or relax with a 3D art latte at Reissue! Yoyogi Park is also worth a visit, housing beautiful gardens and the well known Meiji Shrine.
During my time in Tokyo, Japanese cuisine quickly became a vast market in which I learned, explored and tasted to my hearts content. Though the city is packed with thousands of great restaurants, I quickly found my favourites that I returned to time and time again.
If you love sushi, make sure to visit an establishment with a sushi train. Though I was partial to one near my apartment, Tokyo has hundreds, ideally spaced out around the city. For ramen, head to Tokyo Station’s basement to find Ramen Street, a little indoor alleyway with some of the best ramen in town. There are also some vegan only restaurants for those with dietary restrictions.
For some delicious gyozas, head to Omotesando (near Shibuya Crossing) to experience a culinary delight. Gyoza Lou serve two kinds of gyoza, one vegetarian and one not, prepared either fried or steamed, at your request (and at a super cheap price!). A very popular destination, there is often a line but it moves fairly quickly. And trust me, it is worth the wait!
If gardens and flowers interest you, consider visiting one of the many beautiful parks in Tokyo to see the autumn leaves or even better, the cherry blossoms. Commonly best in April or May, the sakura flowers at full bloom are spectacularly stunning, a perfect whirlwind of pink and white.
The sakura flowers at full bloom are spectacularly stunning, a perfect whirlwind of pink and white.
I particularly enjoyed sampling all of the seasonal inspired treats and seeing the new cherry blossom themed souvenirs that seem to appear over night in every store in town. To view these beauties, I recommend visiting either the Shinjku Gyoen National Garden or Ueno Park, both lovely in their own rights.
Before you skip down the list, let me assure you, this is not your typical Starbucks. One of six around the world, this Tokyo reserve joins those in Seattle, Shanghai, Milano, New York and Chicago.
Four floors high, you are immersed in an industrial coffee haven, boasting a avant-guard steam punk look. A giant copper cask stretches the height of the building, accented by delicate cherry blossoms floating in the air. Coffee beans jump as they travel from the first floor to the third in mazes of jumbled symphony pipes. Tea cup walls and origami ceilings dot the various floors as stylistic themed art. And that is simply the design.
What about the drinks? Whether you are searching for a new coffee concoction on the first floor, a dedicated tea lovers dream on the second or a new inspired cocktail on the third, I assure you there is something for everybody. Not to mention the delicious pastries, pizzas and breads made in house every day!
What’s not to love?
Having moved to Tokyo as a Disney performer, I could not in good conscience leave out the Tokyo Disney Resort! An absolute must for Disney and theme park lovers alike, Tokyo is home to two parks; Tokyo Disney (basically a Japanese version of Disneyland) and DisneySea, a park showcasing different ports of the world.
Though best compared to Epcot, DisneySea is unlike any other. Better suited for older children and adults, you can explore the different ports; enjoying an Italian gondola in the Mediterranean section, watching my favourite show Big Band Beat in New York, or spending time with Ariel in Triton’s Kingdom.
Many fans also enjoy meeting Duffy and ShellieMay (Mickey and Minnie’s stuffed animals) or sampling the many types of flavoured popcorn scattered around the park!
Practiced professionally solely in Japan, sumo wrestling is a full contact sport in which a wrestler tries to force his opponent outside of the circular ring. A gruelling sport on all involved, it is loved and watched by Japanese all over the country.
Different tours often include a demonstration and a meet and greet with retired sumo professionals.
In Tokyo proper, you can buy tickets to major tournaments in January, May and September in Ryogoku, the sumo district of Tokyo. If you are visiting during the off season, you can also take part in different tours, which often include a demonstration and a meet and greet with retired sumo professionals. Though not as exciting as the tournament themselves, it is a great way to learn about the sport, meet the athletes and maybe even try knocking them down yourself!
Note: It was incredibly difficult to pick only 8 things I loved in Tokyo to explain in detail! If you have more time, check out Golden Gai (I highly recommend!), the Akihabara District (and its arcades!) and some good old Japanese Karaoke!