Get lost! This is my first advice about Tokyo, which I see as the capital of a different universe, a festival of lights, skyscrapers and busy crowds that will surprise you for its strong urban identity.
There are so many things worth a visit in this massive city, but here is my list!
Spend one afternoon in Akihabara. Situated in the North-Eastern part of the city center and also known as The Electric City, Akihabara is a paradise for all those who grew up with the myth of Japanese technology, manga and video-games. This area, once known for its electronics stores, is now a concentrate of video-games, anime and action figures shops. Watch out for the maid cafés, where cosplay maid waitresses serve the clients acting as kawaii servants to their masters, and try the latest version of Mario Kart or Final Fantasy in one of the numerous arcade game rooms. Don’t miss Super Potato: this is a vintage video-game shop where you will find surviving exemplars of old Nintendo and Sega consolles, and, on the top floor, you will be able to play with late 80s / early 90s versions of Street Fighters. Definitely worth a visit if you want to flatter your nerdy side!
Visit a Museum in Ueno. Ueno is famous for its museums: the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo National Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, National Museum of Western Art, Ueno Royal Museum and Ueno Royal Museum are all here. I choose to have a walk in the park and visit the National Museum.
Get to Sensō-ji in Asakusa. Asakusa, in the North-Eastern part of the city, developed as an entertaining district during the Edo period, and lives up to its name even today. Here you will see the Kaminarimon, or Thunder Gate, that leads to Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple. On Nakamise-dōri, the street that approaches to the temple, you will find all sort of souvenirs, as the area is normally super-crowded with tourists.
Spend your morning at the fish market. The Tsukiji fish market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. It is still situated in the center of the city, as its planned move to Toyosu, initially due in November 2016, was finally postponed. Visitors are allowed to visit the wholesale area after 10am, as most of the activity takes place between 5.30 and 9.30. However, if you are keen to assist a tuna auction, you can! But you will need to wake up very early and be there at 5.00. I suggest you to read this article in order to plan your visit. Having sushi for lunch (or breakfast, if your stomach is happy to!) in Tsukiji is also a great idea, and you will find this sushi extremely different from the one you are accustomed to eat elsewhere. Much fresher and tastier! Tsukiji Wonderland, a documentary about this extraordinary market, has just been realized. Here is the trailer.
Chase the spiders on Roppongi hills. Roppongi is a rich area, and also the home of a number of modern night clubs. Many foreign embassies and internationally known companies (from The Pokémon Company to Goldman Sachs) are located here. On Roppongi hills, you will find Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider sculpture, and will also be able to look down at the city and see the Tokyo tower. Not to far from Roppongi, there is a placed called Torioyoshi Nishi Azabu, where you can eat excellent Yakitori with a nice pint of beer. My friend Akiko, who lives in Tokyo, brought me here!
Omotesando and Harajuku. Omotesando is a tree-lined avenue not far from Shibuya. Modern and newyorkesque, it is a proper shopping avenue, where you would find shops from most well-known luxury brands, but also H&M, Zara, Gap and an immense toy store called Kiddyland (make sure you check it out). Not too far, you will find Takeshita Street, one of the most famous pedestrian streets of Harajuku, and the heart of teenage style shops, from kawaii, to dark or to doll-style clothes and gadget: here you will find a bit of everything, included huge ice-creams and human-sized stuffed animals. Get lost in the atmosphere, and be surprised by the music pumped up by the loudspeakers in the street, and in the lullabies that cosplay girls will say out loud outside the shops to attract customers in. Gwen Stefani also wrote a song about the typical girls who make their shopping in Harajuku! If you are in Harajuku around lunchtime, try Harajuku Gyoza Lou! I had a great lunch at this place.
Get hypnotized by Shibuya crossing. There’s probably no need to introduce Shibuya crossing: a scramble pedestrian crossing that is said to be the busiest in the world. Get up to the Starbucks overlooking the crossing and witness it with your own eyes! The crossing is next to the Hachikō metro exit. Hachikō is the name of a dog whose statue was built next to the station, commemorating the fact that he used to wait for his master right there. This is also a famous shopping area, with Shibuya 109, Center Gai, and Shibuya Hikarie being the most famous shop, street and mall. Go up to the last floor of Hikarie to get a new perspective on the city. If you are having dinner around this area, try Gonpachi Shibuya. This restaurant inspired Quentin Tarantino for the decor of some combat scenes in Kill Bill. My friend Akiko took me here!
A walk in Yanaka. If you feel like doing something different, you can have a walk in Yanaka, a quiet, traditional area that will take you away from the noise and traffic of Tokyo. Here you can explore the neighborhood market, the little artisans’ shops, visit the cemetery or relax in one of the laid back cafés. A different experience that will make you forget the chaos of the city for a couple of hours.
View from Park Hyatt. Two loners meeting in a very random way, in the top-floor bar of a luxury hotel in Tokyo. And a melancholic Scarlett Johansson looking down at the city.
I am just describing the most iconic scenes of Lost in Translation, Sophia Coppola’s movie, set in Tokyo at the beginning of the 2000s and filmed at Park Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku. If you want to feel a little bit like Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, you should definitely try to get to Park Hyatt before dusk, and get a drink at the New York bar. The view is amazing and, along with your drink, you will see the sky changing colors and get a new perspective on Tokyo.
Discover a new sport at Ryōgoku Kokugikan, the Sumo Stadium. This sumo hall, is an indoor sporting arena located in the Yokoami neighborhood. It is used for sumo wrestling tournaments, which take place three times during the year: January, May and September. Although securing a place for one of the tournaments may be difficult (and expensive), if you are in town during one of these events you should definitely visit the area next to the stadium to experience the atmosphere, visit the sumo museum and see the young sumo wrestlers getting ready. If there are no tournaments when you are in Tokyo, you can get up early and assist to keiko (morning sumo practice) in some dedicated gym such as Arashio Beya.
Nikko or Mount Fuji are interesting locations for one-day trips from Tokyo. Nikko is known for his eccentric temple, while Mount Fuji does not need any introduction. If you are planning to visit Mount Fuji, you can book a return trip via bus from Shinkjuku, or book an excursion with a local travel agency. Make sure you book the ticket in advance because buses tend to get full pretty quickly! This is the reason why I was unable to go. But also be prepared to be disappointed because, apparently, the area near Hakone lake (from where you would see the mountain) is very foggy, which sometimes ruins the view.
Use the underground to move around in Tokyo, and keep an eye on all the office employees you will meet on the trains: you will surely notice that they seem to be wearing the same clothes, as if they were wearing a uniform. There is no need to say that if you are traveling during peak hours (like 8am) you will need to adapt to a reduced vital space, as metro carriages will be 200% full!
Tokyo is an amazing city, you would need years in order to be able to know it inside-out. However, 4/5 days will be enough for your first visit, and would allow you to see all the things that I just mentioned. I hope I will be able to go back soon, any tips for my next visit? 😉