Hey Tokyo travellers! I’m Rhiannon and I’m a Tokyo newbie. I stayed in Tokyo for 2 months, so here is a little about my time in Japan and the things I think everyone must-see, hopefully, giving you guys some pointers so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did. Make your own mistakes – it’s more fun!
Tokyo is big. There’s a lot to see, so saying ‘here are five things that you MUST do to really KNOW Tokyo’ feels a little reductive. A lot of people live and work in Tokyo and they all have their own ‘version’ of it. Crazy, right!?
That being said, I’ve certainly got my favorite places. And in the spirit of Flip Guide — an app that takes your personal preference into account! — here’s an idea of where I would take you if I was going to give you, the reader, a private tour.
There’s so much to do on Takeshita Street in Harajuku that I can’t put it all to paper (or webpage). It’s a great place to start your Tokyo experience, because it’s not quite as overwhelming as, say, Shinjuku or Shibuya, but it also gives you a taster of what Tokyo is like — crowded, varied and filled to the brim with restaurants and shops.
There’s something cool on every floor of every building, to the point that looking up something on Google Maps can feel like a fool’s errand. It’s better to just wander and get carried along with the crowd. Make sure you grab a crepe, though, either from Marion Crepes or Angel’s Heart.
Meiji Jingu Shrine
I came to Tokyo last September with some uni friends and this was the first place I took them as I felt this was a definite must-see. It felt like the ideal counterpoint to the hustle-and-bustle of Takeshita Dori. My favourite thing about Meiji Jingu is the number of people from all over the world who congregate here to pray and reflect. While some temples or shrines can have their atmosphere ruined by overcrowding, this one is great whenever.
Make sure you write an ‘ema’ (a votive tablet) when you visit. They’re only 500 yen each and are a vital part of the experience. I could spend hours flipping through what other people have written. It can be an intimate and emotional thing to read the ‘ema’, because visitors really confide in them, detailing all their greatest hopes and fears. And then sometimes you’ll come across one that a kid wrote that simply says ‘I love lego’. And that’s why it’s so special.
Studio Ghibli Museum
Getting tickets to this amazing museum is a needlessly complicated process. You can buy them online through various channels (they’re released on the first day of every month for the following four months) or you can buy them from a Lawson convenience store, where they’re released on the tenth day of every month. Don’t ask me why.
It’s weird, but it’s definitely worth the effort. The museum is cozy, cute and undeniably ‘Ghibli’, situated as it is in a beautiful old house in Mitaka. With gorgeous memorabilia and exclusive animations, it’s on the list of Tokyo must-sees for any self-respecting Totoro fan. Don’t expect Disney-style madness. Oh, and definitely check out some of the cute cafes in the Mitaka area after you’re done.
Shinjuku at night
Shibuya’s cool, but I love me some Shinjuku action. Why? Well, it’s just an astonishingly vibrant place. It’s also everything you’d expect from Tokyo and more. Even the station has a buzz about it. Getting the last train home from Shinjuku is a mad-dash-kind-of-panic that you won’t forget in a hurry.
Food, drinks, huge department stores… Sure, it’s a little seedy, and sure, you have to try extra hard not to end up in a tourist trap, but that’s part of Shinjuku’s thrill. Go to karaoke. Visit Golden Gai. Whip out your Flip Guide app and visit some of my favourite bars in the area, like Bar 3 and LG Bar. Shinjuku is crazy, but in a wonderful way — and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Hiking at Mt. Takao
If you’re done with the city and like the outdoors, escape the rat-race with a short trip out to Mt. Takao. Bring comfortable shoes if you’re into hiking, but bear in mind that there’s also a chair lift (so no need to panic if you’re a more sedentary type). When you get to the top, you’ll have a spectacular view and you’ll also be able to take advantage of a variety of cafes and restaurants. There’s even a little park with monkeys in it (which I didn’t visit, partly because I’m terrified of monkeys, partly because it was closed).
After your hike, visit the nearby bathhouse. It’s right next to the station and it’s a cheap and authentically Japanese way to unwind. But hang on, Rhiannon. Don’t you have to get naked in a Japanese bathhouse? Yeah, you do. I promise that after five minutes of awkwardness you’ll be as loud and proud as everyone else. If you have tattoos and are looking for some bath houses/onsen options that are tattoo friendly, check out our blog on Thermae-Yu and give it a try.
So, that’s where I’d take you. Do you have your own recommendations? Think I’ve totally missed the mark? Let me know in the comments!