Leaving Mt Fuji with a heavy heart, we departed from Kawaguchiko Station, by bus to Shinjuku bus terminal in Tokyo, arriving a day before the Tokyo Marathon. This journey was around 2.5 hours long, and costs us ¥3500 for two.
Ah Tokyo. Finally we had arrived!
From shanty yakitori bars, neon lit kinky girly bars to modern skyscrapers and kawaii school girls, Tokyo is the city that does not sleep. And for this same reason, neither did we.
With so little time left to explore this huge metropolis, sleep was the last thing on our minds.
We had a marathon to run, after which we would spend our days exploring the pop culture of Harajuku & Shibuya. We would be out all day roaming Tsukiji market, then spend the evenings browsing the latest electronic gadgets, anime and manga along the streets of Akihabara.
Under the guise of modern lights-big city, you could still sniff out the odd, decrepit ramen shop where chefs only cooked to please their regular customers and if you were a tourist (or looked like one) then you could certainly piss right off. In older neighbourhoods you could shop for handicrafts made just as they had been for centuries, or wander down cobblestone lanes where geisha once tread.
Such was the allure of Tokyo.. and with only 5 days to go and a full marathon to run.. we were definitely running out of time left to discover and navigate this neon-lit, surrealistic, sci-fi film set that never slumbered nor rested.
Nope, time was not on our side but we managed. So, here are our tips on 10 things to do in Tokyo, with limited time.
1. Visit Tsukiji Market
Both locations had very different vibes to them and had their own charm and fair share of excitement.
Mitsui Garden Shiodome – modern, spacious, and strategically located
One of the main reasons to stay at Mitsui Garden Shiodome (on the Oedo Line) is because it is strategically located and close to Tsukiji Market.
Before you even consider going to Tsukiji, you need to first and foremost, check the market’s online calendar to make sure it’s open. If you want to catch the auction, you need to prebook your tickets, and you need to get to the market before 5am when the action starts.
Suffice to say, we skipped the action and only got the the market at 10am on the first day. As we were a little late, the market was already a ghost town, but the shops comprising hundreds of food stalls and restaurants were still open.
The wet market shuts completely by 1pm for cleaning. We decided to go back the second morning, a little earlier than 10am this time, and were rewarded with some bustle and activity in the wet market section.
If you’re traveling by subway, the closest station is Tsukiji Shijo Station on the Oedo subway line, and second closest is Tsukiji Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya subway line (a few minutes’ walk).
This is the place to come to see Japan’s biggest marine wholesale .. we are talking octopus, rows of giant tuna, endless varieties of shellfish and tanks of live unnameable fish. About 2246 tonnes of fish, worth over 1.8 billion yen (US$15.5 million), are sold here daily; that’s 615,409 tonnes of fish, worth some US$4.25 billion a year.
Although the market is not as smelly as the ones in KL (e.g. Pudu or Imbi Market) and maybe it was winter time, and the cold blunted the pong, but you definitely don’t want to wear your nicest clothing or high heel shoes here. Waterproof boots are the best.
And also, if you are walking around, do watch out for the electric carts zipping around the narrow aisles. You will need to duck and avoid these fish merchants, not the other way around. Some of these drivers are really crabby so it’s best to keep your wits about you so you don’t get run over by their electric carts!
Moving away form the wet market and exploring the nearby alleys of the external market, you will find hundreds of little stalls sell dried fish, pickled fish, bonito fish/flakes, dried cuttlefish, pottery, cooking equipment, cutlery and packaged foods for a fraction of the prices charged at supermarkets.
bonito fish/flakes.. we bought back a whole packet of this.. still working our way through it.. !
dried cuttle fish – super delicious and pretty value for money
There are loads of tasting opportunities as well. This place is a one stop for any souvenirs you might want to bring home that’s authentically Japanese and which people can eat as well, and it also has anything you need to prepare and serve that next great Japanese meal, should you be up for the challenge.
As for the restaurants where you can sample sushi, the ever so popular ones, such as Sushi Zenmai, Sushi Dai and Sushi Diawa are always packed to the rafters and you need to queue a minimum of 1 hour if you are lucky.
So if time is not on your side (as with us, since we were moving to Shinjuku that afternoon), you might want to opt for the less famous restaurants – we wandered down this strip that did amazing kaisen-don, aka. sashimi rice bowl.
Try the Lady Don. It is a must order – succulent prawns that were so sweet I swore they were soaked in sugar (nah, of course not, but you get what I mean) and fat, juicy slabs of expertly carved sashimi blocks of tuna, salmon and glistening, plump salmon roe. Explosions of sweet-salty, umami filled sacs in every mouthful, shoveled down with that sweet, sticky Japanese rice.. Ah definitely an experience not to be missed! And it all set us back by only ¥1000 for this bowl. Super value for money.
We OD-ed on sashimi.. because there was just so much of it, everwhere you turned
Never seen more gleeful smiles than these .. so pleased with the morning’s ‘haul’
Freshly shucked oysters.. one is never enough – super addictive
Apparently the wet market is moving in 2016 – not sure if this is true, but if it is, then it might be a good idea to check it out before then.
2. Visit Akihabara
Akihabara is the destination for anime, manga, maid cafes, themed restaurants, and the latest electronic gadgetry.
It is THE place for local and international otaku (diehard fan) culture for anime and manga. There are numerous stores specializing in anime, manga, card games, retro video games, figurines, and other collectibles.
With limited time, we didn’t have the opportunity to visit the unique maid cafes where adorable girls dress up in a french maid attire, and play the roles of a very attentive host to pamper patrons. No hanky-panky, of course:P
We did drop-by to the mega electronics store giant, Yodobashi. With over 7 floors of electronic goods, you will be trapped in the building for awhile even though all you wanted was a battery.
Shoppers and bargain hunters will definitely be overwhelmed by the array of choices, not only at Yodobashi, but together with the smaller shops spread around Akihabara.
3. Run a Marathon
Running the Tokyo Marathon on the 22nd of Feb 2o15 was a big part of coming to Tokyo in the first place. It was an amazing experience.. you may read our account here as well on the Tokyo Marathon 2015.
4. Stay at the Prince Shinjuku Hotel
The Prince Hotel in Shinjuku is a 5-minute walk from Shinjuku Station. Located in the center of Kabuki-cho, the reason why we picked this hotel via Agoda, was because it was located in one of Japan’s best entertainment districts.
It definitely provided us with easy and quick access to food and restaurants, major areas of Tokyo, as well as the best in shopping and entertainment.
The 2nd floor of the hotel has access to the Seibu Shinjuku Station, and the hotel is a 5-minute walk to the various Shinjuku train stations for JR lines, subways, and private railways. Later we would take the Narita Express from here, back to Terminal 2, to catch our flight back to KL.
Peak hour in the subway – holy smokes.. don’t lose your partner or your way!
The hotel is conveniently located within 20 minutes of major Tokyo districts such as Ginza, Marunouchi, and Kasumigaseki as well. Built in 1977, Shinjuku Prince Hotel has several restaurants, a bar/lounge, and a coffee shop/café. Business amenities include wireless Internet access, a computer station, business services, and banquet and meeting facilities totaling 2,045 square feet (190 square meters).
Additional amenities include multilingual staff, air conditioning in public areas, tour assistance, and gift shops/newsstands. Massages are available (advanced reservations are required). Amenities featured in soundproofed guestrooms include air conditioning and clock radios. Guestrooms have 32-inch LCD televisions with pay movies. All rooms have desks and complimentary wireless Internet access. All guestrooms have refrigerators. Bathrooms feature shower/tub combinations and deep-soaking tubs.
We picked the more luxurious deluxe double room and it wasn’t cheap, as it was peak season in Tokyo, but it certainly was great value for money and perfect for us!
Check out the fine dining restaurant Fuga, on the top floor as well that does great Contemporary cuisine and has a spectacular view of Shinjuku below. This area is specially allocate to dining, a bar Lounge, Private room, and my favourite being the Premium Pair Seats, that’s really romantic for couples;)
View of Shinjuku from our room as well as from the restaurant
A nice big bed and extra space that’s rare in Tokyo, prime location hotels. Premium Pair Seats with a magnificent view while you eat!
If like me, you’re slightly directionally challenged, then you will find Shinjuku station a tad confusing, to say the least. However, once you exit and find the looming shillouette of the Prince hotel, it’s easy to navigate back to it!
5. Shop at Harajuku
Harajuku.. wold famous for lolita cuteness and OTT (over the top) Japanese style dressing which resembles a mix of youth culture and extreme street fashion.
I love the shopping here. Things are not as expensive as in high end Ginza, and you get to browse the fashion stores as you check out interestingly clad sales personal, as well as the young hipsters on the street. Great bargains on well manufactured fashion is what we noticed when visiting a variety of stores.
This is also the place to look for a bargain at the 100 yen shops (dollar stores). Definitely a place to visit if you are a trend setter and a big time fashionista yourself.
And believe it or not, the Japanese girls have perfected the art of dodging cameras. Without even looking at you, they know when a camera lens or a mobile phone is pointed in their direction, and they promptly dodge or look away/hide, till the camera man tires of waiting, and just walks away. Such skill!
6. Experience the Shibuya Crossing
There’s this long standing joke between me and Cumi. He looks at me and goes “I’ll meet you at the Shibuya Crossing”. Well, that has got to be the world’s most unfortunate meeting place if you ask me. Total chaos.. or should I say, organized chaos.
Rumoured to be the world’s busiest intersection, this crossing is epic. Located just outside of the Shibuya Station, folks call this, ‘The Scramble’. Neon lights, and video screens set the backdrop for the crossing, where the ‘green’ is given for pedestrians to cross, and they come from all directions at once, yet still manage to never once collide into each other. Some even have their eyes glued to the mobile phone as they do this!
If you want a relatively good shot, without climbing why up high, then the Starbucks on the 2nd floor of the Q-front building is a good spot. It gives you are straight on view of The Scramble. The intersection is most impressive after dark, and so here we are.. witnessing the most amazing human crossing in our lives.
7. Eat at a Yakitori Bar
So we arrived in Shinjuku, and checked into our hotel. After which we promptly felt the familiar rumbling in our bellies.. it was time to go look for some grub.
We chanced upon this street, that was situated next to the tracks of the west side of Shinjuku Station. We didn’t know what it was called but it had dozens of little shops – from ramen to yakitori, and the energy and vibe coming from these little shops that sometimes sat no more than 12 people, was amazing.
Later we found out that this section was called Memory Lane (Omoide Yokocho) or colloquially as Piss Alley (Shonben Yokocho) for its lack of restrooms prior to being rebuilt after a fire in 1999.
So, we were here twice. Once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. In the afternoon we check out this ramen shop and the noodles while simple, were really tasty. It only set us back by 450 per bowl. Later that evening we returned for the yakitori bar.
Now, if you get there late, you will notice that most of the bars are full. Grown men and women, man in suits, cramped up against the bar where the chef cooks free-style for his guests, it’s really a sight to behold. If two folks finish and slip out, then that is your queue to slip into their seats. And be quick about it, or you may lose your spot.
Cold mugs of beer, Grilled skewers of yakitori, motsu-nabe (offal) and hormone-yaki (organ meats) eaten in a rather boisterous fashion, in a rather run-down and cramped atmosphere is what’s so compelling about this place. These smoky joints are open 24 hours and not all have English menu’s. Be prepared to point at what you want to eat – I find this method very effective in Japan. Most menus are pretty standard and you get to choose from Tsukune- chicken meatballs, Tebasaki chicken wings, Toriniku, all white meat on skewer, Leek wrapped in slices of bacon or Pork belly with leek. Intestines, gizzard and hearts are also on most menus. Some of the yakitori bars looked like they served seafood, but we doubted the freshness of it, as it looked like it had been dead for a long time. Unfortunately, we wanted to get a seat at one Yakitori bar and they just outrightly did not want to serve us, saving the spot for their regulars. We had to pick another which wasn’t our first choice to have our first round of yakitori at.
Later it was blessing in disguise because we found a better place, just outside of Omoide Yokocho.
8. Walk around Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu)
Yoyogi Park in Shibuya is one of the largest parks in Tokyo. Located adjacent to Meiji Shrine and Harajuku, it is more world famous for its weekend activities where many cosplayers, and amateur singers come out to ‘play’ and strut their stuff.
During the week, the park becomes somewhat sedated unless its early Spring when Sakura flowers bloom, drawing locals and visitors out to view and picnic.
Meiji Shrine is located in the same forest was built in early 1921 in honor of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken. The shrine is divided to Naien, and Gaien. Naien, the inner section houses the shrine buildings and a museum containing royalty artifacts.
Gaien is the outer precinct, which has a sports facilities (built for 1956 Tokyo Olympics), the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery showcasing 80 large murals depicting historically significant events involving Emperor Meiji, and the Meiji Memorial Hall. Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine is accessible via Harajuku Station.
9. Window shop in Ginza
Ginza is the place to visit for high end shopping. It’s the place to see classy ladies step out of luxury cars as they nip into Shiseido for make up or Mikimoto for the latest string of pearls.
It spans from 1-Chome (block) to 8-Chome, where well-established Japanese shops and famous brand name shops from around the world stand side by side on Chuo-dori, the district’s main street, Namiki-dori which runs parallel to Chuo-dori, Suzuran-dori and other streets.
The Kabuki-za Theater where the Japanese traditional theatrical art known as “Kabuki” is performed, is located to the west of the intersection at 4-Chome, on the way towards the neighboring Tsukiji district.
Nihonbashi is a bridge over the Nihonbashi-gawa River on the north side of Chuo-ku. It was the point of origin for Japan’s five main streets, and the area prospered during the Edo Period in the 17th century.
It still bears a bronze signpost with the words “Origin of Roads in Japan,” and it serves as the reference point for all roads in the country. The Nihonbashi area, which is adjacent to Ginza, is dotted with a number of major department stores and other shops with long histories that date well back into the Edo Period. Up until the Great Kanto Earthquake occurred in 1923, there was also a fish market along the river that thrived by catering to the shops and people of Tokyo.
10. Party all night in Roppongi & Shinjuku
If you’re single and you want to have a good night out drinking and chasing members of the opposite or same sex (which ever rocks your boat), then sure Roppongi is an absolutely fantastic place to do it.
Roppongi is a section of Tokyo’s Minato ward infamous for its nightlife, much of which is geared squarely at foreigners. But Roppongi has been also respectable again even among the Japanese thanks to the opening of Roppongi Hills in 2003, a massive shopping and dining complex. The area around Roppongi to the south and west is known as Azabu. This area is generally quieter than Roppongi but have also absorbed some of its vibrant commercial activity and nightlife.
Shinjuku is divided into Higashi (east) and Nishi (west) Shinjuku by the train lines that run through Shinjuku Station on the Yamanote Line. Nishi Shinjuku in particular exudes wealth and power with its towering skyscrapers. One of the most eyecatching is Kenzo Tange’s inspired citadel, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings, or ‘Tocho’, daily home to 13,000 bureaucrats.
After dark from fine dining, to rowdy pubs, from sex and sleaze to one of the world’s most vibrant gay entertainment districts. The residential areas of Yotsuya and Ichigaya, with their many small restaurants and drinking establishments, lie to the east. Kagurazaka, one of Tokyo’s last remaining hanamachi (geisha districts), is also home to some of the city’s most authentic French and Italian restaurants.
And that concludes our top 10 Things to Do in Tokyo!
For the entire Japan adventure, check out the following posts :
Fuji Onsenji Yumedono Ryokan & Mt Fuji
10 Adventures in Nagoya
10 Ways to Experience Kyoto
10 Things to do in Osaka
How To Navigate Japan’s Train & Subway System plus getting ‘Connected’
The Sunny Side of Travel Blogging, Part 2 – Tokyo Marathon 2015
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