When I decided to visit Japan, I was afraid of getting lost and being overwhelmed by the masses of people. This was especially true concerning Tokyo, the capital city of Japan with a population of 13 million. I am coming from a small country, and the city where I live my whole life has only around half a million people, so it sounded kind of intimidating.
To my surprise, there was really nothing to worry about. Tokyo is easy to navigate, the English signs are everywhere, and the people are kind. There were indeed many people, and the trains could get really crowded. But you don’t need to worry about thieves or other criminals or people who would bother you in any way. Maybe I was just lucky, but I did not have any bad experience with the local people. Japan is a really safe country and that applies to Tokyo too.
I visited Tokyo in May 2016 with my boyfriend. It was at the end of our 3 weeks trip around Japan so I already had an idea what to expect. Nevertheless, Tokyo is a city that has grown on me and is unique among the other places in Japan I have visited.
Concerning some practical information, we chose to stay at an AirBnB apartment. Hotels in Tokyo are expensive, and the rooms are really small. I was thoroughly satisfied with our small apartment near Shinjuku. Staying at a private apartment will give you the feeling of experiencing the life of a local, which will no hotel give you. I definitely recommend trying it.
You can travel the city with train or metro quite comfortably (not counting the sometimes tightly packed compartments). We have actually traveled only by train and did not use metro at all. For a few days our JR passes (discount ticket for trains belonging to japanese Railways) were still valid, so we tried to make as much use of them as possible. The last two days we had to buy the ordinary train tickets, which you can get from the ticket machines located at the train stations.
We ate at small inconspicuous restaurants which we encountered while walking through the city. We were trying to save money so we did not enter any posh establishments. If you are looking for a filling budget meal you can definitely find it in Tokyo too. Actually the best meal in Tokyo was our last meal. We had a tendon with warm soba noodles in miso broth in a small joint near Takeshita Street, which was full of locals. We had to wait for a few minutes outside before being seated, but it was definitely worth it. If you are wondering what is Tendon, it’s tempura fried vegetables and seafood over rice. It was absolutely delicious.
Now let’s get to the things to see in this exciting city.
One of my favourite places in Tokyo is Takeshita Dori, the bustling street full of shops, crepe stands, and colorful people walking by. I must admit I loved the fantastic crepes most of all. The glass vitrines with bright plastic imitations of crepes filled with delicious looking fruit and other fillings will surely catch your attention. I tried crepes from three different stands, and all were fantastic. If you plan to buy some Japanese clothes as a souvenir, I recommend browsing the local shops. It’s a display of the current Japanese fashion from the cute lolita dresses to more casual pieces. You will surely find here something you will want to take home.
Near the Takeshita Dori is Tokyo’s largest shrine – the Meiji Shrine dedicated to the Japanese Emperor Meiji and the Empress. It’s located in a large green park, which is literally a forest inside the city. It’s wonderful to escape the bustle of the largest city in the country and enjoy the walk among the tall trees and peaceful shrines. There are always a lot of tourists and locals strolling by but the atmosphere is still much more quiet than in the busy streets. If you have already visited the beautiful shrines and temples in Kyoto or the flamboyant shrines of Nikko, you might know what to expect. But the Meiji Shrine is still really impressive.
A pleasant experience was also the visit to the Ueno Zoo. The park is large and the animals are mostly kept in spacious and clean pens. I was lucky to see the two resident pandas up close just when they were eating their daily batch of bamboo. The ice bears were in an active mood too, running around and chasing each other around their coop. If you like watching animals, I definitely recommend to visit this zoo.
If you have more days in Tokyo, it’s a good idea to make a day trip to Kamakura. Kamakura is a smaller town with many charming temples. You can get there by train from Tokyo, which will take about an hour. The main attraction is the giant buddha statue and many charming temples, which can remind you of a smaller Kyoto. Here you can also satisfy your craving for sea and the beach. However, when we visited at the end of May the beach looked really uninviting. The yellow sand was covered in seaweed and various trash washed ashore from the sea. Maybe they clean it up in summer once the season begins, but for us the only beach we visited in Japan was really disappointing.
Akihabara is the definition of what most of people think of when you say Tokyo. This district also called the Electric Town is full of high buildings illuminated by neon lights, large stores filled with the newest electronics, otaku shops specializing in anime and manga goods, and the cute if a bit strange maid cafes.
We spent about two hours exploring one of the tall shopping centers, each floor dedicated to a different merchandise. There was a floor full of anime action figures, from the well known characters like Naruto and Gundam to the more enigmatic figures. We discovered life sized dolls you could build yourself by choosing their head, chest, legs, and other parts. One floor was a large manga shop, half the floor was separated and full of erotic comics. If you are looking for a big pillow with a naked anime girl, this is the place to go. Other floors were full of various electronics like cameras, notebooks, and phones.
We even managed to get inside one maid cafe, which is an unusual kind of restaurant where you are served by girls dressed as maids who will treat you as their master. When we entered, one of the maids was singing a song, which you can order with your food. It all seemed kind of silly. The price just for getting seated seemed too high for us, so we eventually left. Still I am glad I got a glimpse at this peculiar part of Japanese culture.
Tokyo has many more attractions which we did not have time to visit. I did not get to see the Fuji from the Tokyo Tower, visit the Sensoji Shrine in Asakusa, or experience the morning tuna auction in Tsukiji Fish Market. I hope I will return to Tokyo one day and see all this wonderful city has to offer.