This was our last full day in Tokyo. Tear! There are so many things we didn’t get a chance to see yet – the Tokyo Tower, the Tsukiji Fish Market, Ginza, and on and on – but instead of seeing brand new parts of town, we decided to return to the Akihabara area, one of our favorite places on the trip. We wanted to pick up extra gifts and see a few things we didn’t have time for the first time around including a visit to the Pokemon Center in the Sunshine City Mall!
The place was decked out for Halloween with loads of specialty items. This place is like Candyland for Pokemon fanatics, so of course I picked up a haul of plushies, socks, hats, cards and other gifts for my Pokemon-crazed family back home. Love this place!
The grounds of the Imperial Palace are stately and vast. So vast, in fact, we actually got lost looking for the palace itself, and I’m not entirely sure that we ever found it. The grounds that we did see, however, were impressive and perfectly manicured. The Imperial Palace is the residence of Japan’s Imperial family. TOURIST TIP: The east grounds are open to the public, but a guided tour of the inner grounds require a reservation ahead of time, which we didn’t have.
After leaving the grounds, it’s worth taking a short walk to view the facade of Tokyo Station (if you haven’t passed through already). It’s one of Japan’s busiest railway stations. We walked through the business district and stopped for lunch at a yakitori restaurant where we slipped into the culture by slipping off our shoes. The restaurant catered to the working crowd and the staff spoke little English. We fumbled our way through as humbly, and politely, as we could, pointing at something on the menu and hoping for the best. Luckily, we were in Tokyo and every meal was amazing, this one included. We walked away completely happy and grateful for the experience of being totally out of our element. It gave me a new perspective on the challenges facing foreigners to my country.
For the most part, Diver City is your run of the mill shopping center with one notable (and larger-than-life-size) difference: a giant-ass statue of the robot Gundam. The mall is located on the man-made island of Odaiba. If shopping and robots aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other tourist attractions including a ferris wheel, a statue of liberty replica, and a beach.
This was one of my favorite days in Tokyo. Clothes, cosmetics and souvenir shopping in Shibuya! We walked across the district’s famous pedestrian scramble, which is known as one of the busiest crosswalks in the world (pictured above). It was a totally shameless, grin-inducing tourist moment. I think we went back and fourth 2 or 3 times and then – just like they tell you to do in the travel books – we went up to the second floor of a nearby Starbucks to get a timelapse video of the insane, walking-every-which-way mob of people.
Before the shopping spree began, we made a stop at the statue I have been so desperate to pay my respects to: the Akita Hachiko. He’s remembered for his steadfast loyalty, and the story goes that for nine years after his owner’s death, Hachiko would go to Shibuya station every day to wait for his beloved master, just as he had done when his owner was alive. It was an emotional moment for me, and I’m so grateful that I finally got the chance to see the statue in person.
If you’re into fashion or clothes, you have to make a stop at Shibuya 109 in Shibuya. It’s one of the trendiest places to shop in Tokyo. It’s like a mall for boutique shops. Makeup, shoes, clothing, and accessory stores spiral around inside the tower. It’s eye candy for the fashionista. There’s also a separate tower just for men’s clothing. Some other stores I’d recommend include Uniqlo (for clothing) and Loft (for beautiful stationary and souvenir home goods like chopsticks and sake cups).
This was an awesome sushi spot for lunch. You can order on a touch screen at your table (in English) and, like magic, your sushi appears in front of you on a conveyor belt. It was our favorite sushi spot in all of Tokyo!
From ultra-modern electronics to ancient temples, we covered a lot of ground – and many centuries – on our second day in Tokyo.
One of the biggest goals of this trip was to track down elusive video games in Akihabara Electric Town, the “nerd capitol” of Tokyo. This district of the city is famous for its stores dedicated to video games, gadgets, anime, j-pop, k-pop, and – for some reason – a whole lot of claw game arcades. The cramped shops run for blocks and they’re stacked several stories high. After some intense hunting and exploring my huz finally struck gold and found the game he came for.
After making our contribution at the temple of modern gadgets, we traveled west – and back in time – to the Sensō-ji Buddhist Temple in the beautiful Asakusa district. It’s the oldest temple in Tokyo, pre-dating the modern city. From the oldest temple in Tokyo to the tallest tower in the world, we hoofed it across the river to take in the enormity of the Tokyo Skytree. I regret not making the trip up, but between the lines and our aching feet, we decided to leave it for the next trip.
They talk about beginners luck, but we experienced some serious travelers luck right off the bat in Tokyo. On our first full day, we walked from our hotel to the the Meiji Shrine early in the morning on a Saturday, which happened to be the perfect time to see a traditional wedding ceremony pass by.
Harijuku: Takeshita Street
Cue the Gwen Stefani. Hey Harijuku girls, hey! The neighborhood’s famous fashion district is just a short walk from the Meiji Shrine, and a stroll down the teen pop rue was high on my Tokyo bucket list. Keep your head on a swivel to take in all the colorful shops, eateries, clothing, and billboards. And for heaven’s sake, get yourself a crepe while you’re there.
Nothing quite prepared me for the funhouse I was about to enter at the Robot Restaurant. From the moment you step foot into the labyrinth, you encounter a dizzying hall of wall-to-wall lights, mirrors and colors. Think Willie Wonka meets Liberace on acid. It’s everything you imagine Tokyo will be. The show itself, featuring dueling animatronic robots, gave me a perma-smile. It was an hour of pure joy. But perhaps my favorite part was the pre-show room where there was a robot playing pop hits on a guitar. Day One Mission: Accomplished.
Headspinning neon, to-die-for fashion, orgasmic food, offbeat entertainment, zen tranquility, time travel (I’ll explain), and lots… and lots of people.
The stories about Tokyo are all true. My husband and I just returned from a week-long vacation to the most populous metropolis in the world. Having missed the summer tourist crowds in the last week of September, we felt very much like strangers in a strange (and intimidatingly large) land, but at the same time, it was a land packed with welcoming, gentle, kind, and patient locals.
We debated taking a day trip during the week to escape the throngs of people, but we quickly discovered that there is so much to experience in Tokyo itself, including surprisingly expansive quiet spaces. Seven days wouldn’t be enough to see it all. So we decided to give ourselves plenty of time to get lost exploring the vast Blade Runner-esque city, starting with our home base on Day One: Shinjuku and Harijuku. First, some nitty gritty (and hopefully helpful) details about our arrival.
We took a direct ANA flight from Seattle to Narita airport, located about 40 miles outside Tokyo. It’s about a 9.5 hour flight. We left on a Thursday at 2pm (Seattle time) and arrived at 4pm on Friday (Tokyo Time). The mind-blowing part was on the flight home when we literally traveled back in time, leaving at 6pm Friday (Tokyo time) and arriving at 11 am Friday (Seattle time). International date line: you so crazy.
One of the most stressful decisions we had to make was how to get from the airport to our hotel. The rail lines are direct, but complex, and it wasn’t something we wanted to figure out after a long, exhausting flight. We opted to bus it. The Airport Limousine Bus Service took a little more time (about 2 hours) due to rush hour traffic, but the ticket counter is easy to find at the airport, the buses run regularly and they’re prompt. Expect to pay about $60 for two people.
The bus dropped us off at Shinjuku Station, and from there it was a relatively easy walk to our hotel, the Tokyo Stay Shinjuku. Probably our biggest tip to you future Tokyo travelers is this: Google Maps is your best friend. We would have been lost in the maze of neon alleys, but my husband used Google Maps to expertly direct us through the twinkling concrete jungle. The app was also incredibly useful in navigating the tangle of train routes. We just input where we wanted to go and it told us exactly which stations to enter and which lines to take. Stay sharp though, we still got confused and frustrated several times along the way.