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Places to Go

Top 12 Tokyo (and area) MUST DO List – part 4 of 5

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Part 1                   Part 2                  Part 3                    Part 5

 

This is the fourth part of my series on the most interesting things to see in Tokyo, with numbers 8-10 on my list. These are only my opinions, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them!

 

8. Check out Shibuya – If there is one place that is burned into the public’s popular perception of Japan, it is that of the insanely busy pedestrian crossing and flashing neon lights – this is Shibuya. A trip to Shibuya is made with three things in mind: shopping, partying or people watching – and you’d have a fantastic time regardless of your purpose. My recommendation? Do all three!

Even crazier at night…

Tackling Shibuya can take a few forms, as it can be a day unto itself or butted onto the end of a day that begins with Meiji Jingu, Harajuku and Omotesando. I would say anyone who can should come here twice – once during the day to actually see it and at night to see it come to life and just how busy it can get. The busy crossing of note is Hachiko Crossing, home to the faithful dog statue and meeting place for all in Tokyo. Seriously – watching hundreds of people cross the street every minute is a sight to behold.

Getting to Shibuya is easy as almost every train seems to have a stopping point here, but most will take the Yamanote loop. If you want your mind blown – make this your first stop on your first night in Tokyo.

When to Visit – All year.

 

9. Kamakura Day Trip – I cannot recommend this place highly enough (keep in mind, this list is in no particular order!) but I lament that it’s a bit of a cheat, as it’s not in Tokyo. Home to the former capital of Japan and the second largest Buddha statue in the country, Kamakura is that cool little beach town that makes for a great relaxing day away from the insanity of Tokyo proper.

 

A trove of temples in itself, the Kamakura area is great to just walk around in even if you don’t see a single temple. The giant Buddha is reachable via trolley after taking the Shonan-Shinjuku line from Shinjuku station and the temple it resides in is a shadow of its former self, having been washed away by a tsunami centuries ago. I took everyone who came to visit me here and it was definitely a highlight of their trip.

When to Visit: All year, but most beautiful (and crowded) for spring cherry blossoms.

 

To fully appreciate this irony, imagine if McDonalds and Burger King were this far apart…

10. Grab Some Matsuya or Yoshinoya – The staple fast food of Japan is one that you can enjoy without talking to anyone (ticket from vending machine!); it can be ordered and eaten in less than 7 minutes – great for catching that train to anywhere. Both restaurants are virtually identical and the price is basically the same for the same thing – a beef bowl with rice. Sure, there are other options but for under 500 yen, why mess with perfection?

When to Visit: All year – they’re businesses!

Places to Go

Top 12 Tokyo (and area) MUST DO List – part 3 of 5

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Part 1                   Part 2                     Part 4                      Part 5

This is the third part of my series on the greatest things to see in Tokyo, with numbers 6 & 7 on my list. Of course these are my opinions, but I think they can’t be missed. Enjoy!

 

6. Visit Sensoji Temple in Asakusa – The busiest temple in Tokyo is not at all what you’d expect, particularly if you’re following this list in order and you went to the Meiji shrine first. Located in an older part of Tokyo and a wee bit confusing if you don’t follow the signs (even if you follow the signs – thankfully there are very helpful attendants that can point you in the right direction!), Sensoji Temple is the temple most people think of when they speak of Tokyo.

It may seem more like a tourist trap than a place for worship and you wouldn’t be too far off the mark as surrounding the temple grounds is a bustling marketplace, and then within the temple is another market. It’s nuts. This is the place you will want to find your souvenirs if you don’t have a chance to go somewhere less touristy, and while you will see a large number of foreigners here, it’s mainly Japanese citizens making the pilgrimage. Note to sword enthusiasts – the katanas on display are all fake, no matter how expensive they are, and a pain in the butt to ship – resist the urge to buy full sized ones.

 

Just a regular day…

 

If you happen to be unlucky enough to visit Tokyo during some sort of festival (which seems to always be happening), a trip to Sensoji will be very crowded. There is a smaller temple to the right of the main temple and a peaceful koy pond to the left, which are both quite often less crowded than the main one. To get to the temple though, take the Ginza subway line or Tobu line to Asakusa station and follow (or try to) the signs.

When to Visit: All year, but aim for early on weekdays and avoid New Years.

 

7. Harakuku and Omotesando Window Shopping – Particularly well suited after a trip to Meiji Jingu, wandering into Harajuku can feel like you’re entering another realm and  considering you have to pass through a torii, you wouldn’t be far off. Harajuku is the area most associated with crazy Japanese fashion and costumes – you don’t need to buy anything or even walk into the stores to take part in the experience, just walk through the main street (or rather wade – it’s always packed) and observe the madness.

Omotesando is less extreme, more tailored towards expensive designer shops and souvenir boutiques, but just as interesting to take in. In particular is the Omotesando Hills mall which weaves back and forth like 5 or 6 levels of really expensive stores without any stairs – really remarkable just to walk into. While not as upscale as Ginza, Omotesando is a far more attractive walking destination.

The two can be done together quite easily as they run into each other – it’s actually hard to know where one ends and the other begins!

When to Visit: All year, but busier on weekends.

Places to Go

Top 12 Tokyo (and area) MUST DO List – (part 2 of 5)

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Part 1               Part 3                Part 4              Part 5

This is the second part of my series on the best things to see in Tokyo where I look at numbers 3-5 on my list. These are just my opinions, but I think they are fantastic. Enjoy!

 

3. Climb Mount Takao – Most people think of Mount Fuji when they think of the Japanese mountain most sought after to climb and see – and they would be right. The only problem is, it’s a decent ways away from Tokyo (a few hours) and it’s not the easiest to hike. If on the other hand you’re in Tokyo and want a day out from the urban madness, Mount Takao may be your answer.

Situated about an hour outside of Tokyo by rail in the Tama area, Mount Takao is a much smaller mountain than Fuji but climbable and oh so quaint on the way up. There are six different paths you can take to reach the 800m high summit and on decent days, you can see Mount Fuji if you know where to look. The temple near the top is well worth the journey, but even if you don’t feel like hiking, there is a cable car that can do the work for you.

When to Visit: Changing leaves in Nov/Dec is worth the hike but it’s great all year.

 

4. Witness the Insanity of Akihabara – If you’re a gamer, computer enthusiast, enjoy nerding out or just want to watch those kind of people do that, head to Akihabara. Right off the Yamanote line you can see giant electronics stores, maid cafes, import games shops and all sorts of unusual things – definitely worth checking out.

 

You can spend hours just walking around most days, but if you’re there in the summer on the weekend the streets close and the magic that is cosplay takes place. For those not in the know, cosplay is when people dress up as anime/video game characters and… that’s about it. If that gets a little weird, keep walking down the main street until you hit Ueno and just relax in the serene temples – but be sure to at least see the cosplay once, if for no other reason than to shake your head.

When to Visit: Try to make it here in the summer during the weekend.

 

5. Sunset on Odaiba – The Tokyo skyline really doesn’t get enough acclaim – it is a thing of beauty, particularly at sunset. Take the fancy Yurikamome line from Shimbashi and check out the view from the Rainbow Bridge on route to the artificial island of Odaiba, home of great shopping and views. With lots of photo opportunities and a chance to just relax, you might find yourself coming back here a few times if you can!

When to Visit: Ideally suited to warm, clear days if possible.

Places to Go

Top 12 Tokyo (and area) MUST DO List – part 1 of 5

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Tokyo is one of those crazy places that everyone needs to see at once in their life. For many, it will be a huge shock to their system with the lights, sounds and people; for others it will be exactly the kind of place they’re looking for. It’s a massive city that can be intimidating if dropped into on a whim, but with some solid planning and a sense of adventure, it can be the most memorable place you’ve ever seen.

 

I spent some time there a few years ago doing the teaching thing and while I’ve long since moved on from there, the experience still sticks with me. It was a time in my life where I got to grow a lot as a person and really expand my horizons as a traveler and citizen of the world. Would I go back? As soon as I get the chance to!

 

I’m going to do the impossible thing here, which is attempt to list the things I think everyone needs to see. Now, I loathe this process because I feel like it’s cheating out the overall experience, which really is the most important thing. I started at 5 things, then realized that was just foolishness; expanded it to 10 and then added 2 more just for good measure. Take this as a guideline for your own planning and inspiration to get out there and see what truly is the most insane place in the world.

 

1. Visit Meiji Jingu – Rebuilt shortly after being destroyed in WWII bombings, this shrine is in honour of the late Meiji emperor who helped to bring Japan out of its isolationist period. Very little of what remains is an original – except the giant wooden torii that sits right in the middle, which somehow survived.

I would recommend seeing Meiji Jingu at least twice but at different times in the year if at all possible – once during a major festival to take in the crowds and festive spirit, but another during a more low key day to really bask in the tranquility of the site. When you consider how close this site is to the madness of Harajuku and Shibuya, just off the Yamanote line, its existence is all the more serene.

 

When to Visit: All year, but keep in mind New Years is quite congested.

 

Here’s the building… none of my ‘view’ shots turned out clear enough…

2. Observation Deck at the NS Building – As soon as you get to Tokyo, you may feel a tad overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city and the volume of high buildings (all the more impressive when you consider due to Tokyo’s status as an earthquake megacentre kept the largest buildings from being built until relatively recently!). There is no better way to get an idea of the magnitude of a city than by checking it out from an observation deck.

 

The government buildings located in Shinjuku offer the best view of the city and best of all – they’re free. Take the elevator up either building to the observation deck and, even if it’s a good day, you still won’t be able to see the end of the city. Madness!

 

When to Visit: Winter/early morning before the smog settles in.