What Tokyo Newbies Cannot Miss
Traveling Back to the Future in Japan
“Japan isn’t a place. It is a planet.” ~ Murad Osmann
Tokyo was a city that amazed me from the moment I stepped off the plane in Narita Airport. Discover all the best things to see and do in this amazing city!
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Welcome to Tokyo!
After a dreadful 10-hour delay at Newark Airport, I finally arrived in Tokyo at 2am the next day and literally did not sleep that night due to all of the excitement. I was finally in TOKYO!!!
A few things to know about Tokyo are that it is the capital of Japan and is the most populated metropolitan area in the world. (I honestly did not know how populated Japan was until I was actually exploring in the larger cities, especially Tokyo.)
When you arrive in Tokyo, one of the first things you will notice is that there are vending machines literally everywhere! I was amazed by everything these vending machines offered from green tea to still and sparking water as well as ice cream to ramen. You will even find vending machines in the middle of mountains, rural areas and highways!
Another thing to note about Tokyo before you arrive is that it is similar to New York City, but on a futuristic level. There is neon everywhere; they offer high-tech toilets that heat up (even in public areas), an amazing mass transit system, incredible (and healthy) food and robot restaurants and bars! It is seriously amazing!!! Also, the country is pristinely clean. (Even their garbage trucks roam around sounding like the all American ice cream man!)
What Areas to Stay In:
Tokyo is a big city and offers many neighborhoods and districts with different cultures. If you are a newbie to Tokyo, I highly recommend staying in one of the city’s more popular areas such as Shinjuku (like I did), Akihabara, Shibuya or even Harajuku. It is easier to roam around and find restaurants, shops and places to go out at night.
What You Cannot Miss:
Visit the Observation Deck at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
One of the first stops during my time in Tokyo was to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. This wondrous 800-foot building has two towers that offer an observatory deck that provides outstanding panoramic views of Tokyo and beyond.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building was the tallest building in the city until the Midtown Tower overtook it in 2007. I was amazed by all of the wonderful views! When the weather is beautiful and clear, you could see famous landmarks such as Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Dome and even Mount Fuji! Unfortunately, the day I visited this building, it was cloudy. I guess I could still say I saw some amazing buildings!
In addition to great views, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building also offers a café to enjoy a comforting green tea and snack as well as a souvenir shop.
I visited the North Observatory, which is open later at night so that you could catch views of Tokyo’s sparkling lights.
Walk through Meiji Shrine:
Located right outside of the popular Harajuku area is the peaceful Meiji Shrine. This beautiful Shinto shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken.
When we first arrived, we walked through the enchanting Yoyogi Park, which is a large forested area adjacent to the Meiji Shrine. Because it was the heart of summertime, the cicadas were alive and loud in Japan. I will admit that it was tough to find quietness in this forest because of the cicadas, but the beauty made up for it!
After entering the Meiji Shrine grounds, a large torii gate stands before you. From there, you will find colorful sake casks, beautiful gardens and so much more. One thing you will notice when you visit Shinto shrines in Japan are Ema, a wooden wishing or prayer plaque that can be purchased and hung up within the grounds. You could pray or wish for anything and they make for beautiful decoration! I love the concept behind this idea.
Another important thing to note before you enter the shrine is to wash your hands to purify and show your respect. There are purification fountains near the shrine’s entrance. There is fresh water and ladles and what you are supposed to do is scoop up the water, cup your hand and directly release it from the ladle to your hand. Make sure you wash both hands! You will also need to do this at Buddhist temples, but I go into that later in this article.
When you pray at a shrine, you throw a coin, usually 50 to 100 yen into an offering box. If there is a bell or gong, you ring it firmly for a few times and then you bow twice, clap your hands twice and then bow again. After that, you pray.
During the time I was at Meiji Shrine, I also got to witness a wedding ceremony.
Embrace the Crowds and Savor Cool Treats in Harajuku:
Harajuku is a buzzing area in Tokyo known for its trendy fashion boutiques, cosplay shops, out-of-world foodie options, small bars, cute cafés, makeup stores and colorful street art. The famous Takeshita Street is the most crowded street in Tokyo and it takes a lot of patience to walk through. Even though I am not a big fan of crowds, I thought it was so much fun being part of it all! There were Japanese pop songs playing, local teenagers hanging out and tourists enjoying the ambiance.
I visited Harajuku during lunchtime and was amazed by all of the amazing foodie options to choose from. Below is a list of some popular food items and places to go to:
- Cotton Candy at Totti Candy Factory
- Baby Bottle Soda at Sweet XO
- Crepes at any stand
- Udon at Hanamaru Udon
- Shaved Ice at any stand
Another popular thing to do in Japan is visit an animal café. A popular type of animal café in Japan is a cat café. There are also dog (I went to one in Osaka), hedgehog, reptile, owl, bunny and Corgi cafés plus many more. The best place to find an animal café in Tokyo is in Harajuku.
Admire the Tokyo Imperial Palace
Home to the Emperor of Japan, the Tokyo Imperial Palace is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park surrounded by moats and beautiful stone walls. It is only a hop, skip and a jump from the famous Tokyo Station and used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun.
You could either tour the palace by yourself (like I did) or book a private tour through TripAdvisor.
Have Fun in Akihabara Electric Town
Anime is HUGE in Japan and almost every Japanese individual loves it! If you go to Japan not knowing what anime is, then you will shortly discover what it is the moment you step off of the plane. Anime is a style of hand drawn and computer animation originating or associated with Japan. Some of the most popular and iconic examples of anime are Pokémon, Hello Kitty and Dragon Ball Z to name a few.
Tokyo’s Akihabara is the infamous hotspot of everything anime-related! Don’t worry though, you don’t have to know anime or indulge yourself in it to have a good time in Akihabara; it is important to at least appreciate it and live in the moment.
Akihabara is also known as Electric Town since it features hundreds of different arcades (Club Sega is highly popular), video game shops, Kawaii-inspired photo booths and so much more! My new friends and I had such a fun time taking photos, playing Mario Cart and winning prizes!
Find Peace at Sensō-ji Temple
Known as Tokyo’s most colorful Buddhist temple, Sensō-ji Temple dates back to 645. When you first approach the temple, you enter through Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), which is the symbol of Tokyo.
After walking through the gates, you will then enter a street called Nakamise that consists of numerous street vendors selling everything from crab on a stick to fresh fruit and sake stands to gift shops. It is the perfect place to grab lunch or an afternoon snack.
Throughout the year, numerous events are held at Sensō-ji Temple. The largest of them all is Sanja Matsuri, the annual festival of the Asakusa Shrine that is held in May.
Just like when you pray at a Shinto shrine, there is also a standard process when you pray at a Buddhist temple. You throw a coin in the offering box. Ring the temple gong a few times and instead of clapping, you press your hands together in front of your chest and pray quietly. When you are done praying, make sure you bow once.
In addition, there is also a beautiful pagoda to admire at Sensō-ji Temple. Even if you haven’t gone to Japan, you have probably seen photos of pagodas in Google Images of this wonderful country. It is a tiered tower with gorgeous details.
Have the Time of Your Life in Shinjuku
Shinjuku is one of the liveliest areas in Tokyo. It is a large entertainment, business and shopping area around the world’s busiest railway station that handles more than two million passengers daily.
Known as the area with all neon lights, it is in Shinjuku where you will find Tokyo’s best karaoke bars, pubs, shops, robot bars and theaters, restaurants, gaming arcades and so much more. I was so happy that my hotel was located in Shinjuku because it was easy for me to hop around the area. I had the time of my life doing karaoke, going Japanese pub crawling, eating amazing food (such as grilled chicken on a stick, pictured below) and attending my first robot show!
Robots, Robots, Everywhere in Shinjuku!
Located in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho District (also known as Tokyo’s red light district, but obviously not like the one in Amsterdam), is the famous Robot Restaurant. As a place that mainly attracts tourists, I highly recommend not missing out on this fun and colorful cabaret-style show.
In order for you to attend the robot show, you will need to make a reservation. You could find deals and make reservations online on TripAdvisor.
Prior to attending the robot show, I honestly did not know what to expect. When the time finally came, the actual robot show was insane! There were lights, sparkles, dancing, anime, robots and so much more. It is everything you will only really find in Tokyo. I had such a blast!
Be Apart of the Zebra Crossing in Shibuya
The area of Shibuya is famous for the iconic zebra crossing, which you have probably seen online at some point. Located only a few train stops from Shinjuku, you could find the area where you can spot a swarm of people flood a cross walk from four sides.
In addition to the famous cross walk, you could also find illuminated shops, restaurants and bars at Center Gai Street. It is surely an exciting experience for all!
Say Hello to Gundam in Odaiba
In 1979, a Japanese television series called Mobile Suit Gundam debuted building a 50 billion yen trademark consisting of movies, mangas, novels, video games, toys and more. Nowadays, a Gundam statue stands at the main entrance of Diver City in Tokyo’s Odaiba neighborhood.
The iconic Gundam statue is lit up every night from 5pm to 11pm with steam coming out of its chest. During the hours of 7:30pm, 8:30pm and 9:30pm, you can watch Gundam test his pilot skills against the 105’ x 37’ backdrop projected on the Diver City Tokyo wall behind him. In addition, you could also experience the Gundam Front Tokyo on the seventh floor of Diver City. (You could find great deals to Gundam Front Tokyo on TripAdvisor.)
In addition to visiting Gundam, it was awesome to walk over the Rainbow Bridge, enjoy the views from Seaside Park and also see the Japanese Statue of Liberty.
Click here to discover more events going on in Tokyo.
Overall, I LOVED Tokyo! The local people were super friendly and accommodating; no matter where I went in the city, I felt safe (Tokyo is perfect for solo female travelers); there is something for everyone and the food and entertainment were amazing!
If you have any questions about my time in Tokyo or my trip to Japan in general, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, contact me via social media or leave a comment below.
(Side Note: The summer 2020 Olympic Games will be held in Tokyo. It is a great opportunity to get there if you haven’t been already.)
Happy Travels and Kanpai (Cheers)!
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