I made my first trip to Tokyo, Japan this past December. It was a cold time of the year to go, but I was already traveling through China and I knew it would be worth the stop. I heard from friends that had previously visited, that it was an amazing city. I stayed in Tokyo a total of 3 nights and 4 full days. Although I didn’t have much time, I was able to do a lot of sightseeing and make the most out of my trip. I made sure to research in advanced the places that were “must-sees” and made a plan of how I could see 2-3 attractions per day. For first time visitors I would recommend staying at least 5 nights since traveling itself can take a toll and because of the time it takes to adjust to jet lag.
I flew into Narita airport and stayed in the “Shinjuku” district of Tokyo. The ride from the airport to the hotel was about 1.5 – 2 hours due to the traffic flow. Shinjuku District is a business area on one side and on the other side includes much of Tokyo’s nightlife scene. My hotel was located in a safe area along with other hotels in between big business buildings. It was walking distance to a Metro Station, close to shopping malls and restaurants. I would highly recommend staying in this area for first time visitors because it’s a central location and convenient starting point to get around the city.
You might hear that Shinjuku is Tokyo’s “Red Light District.” However, coming from the United States, I found it to be very mild for that term. Yes, there are show girls and nightclubs, but it’s nothing compared to Las Vegas or even some parts of Hollywood Boulevard. It is much more commercial feeling and less erotic. I went to a nightclub while I was there just to compare the differences between the states and also found it to be tame.
My favorite area in Tokyo was the Harajuku district. I’ve heard the term “Harajuku” before in terms of fashion, but did not know it was an actual area in the large city until visiting. Harajuku is the young, hip and trendy part of the city. If you’re from the states and are familiar with Los Angeles or New York, this area is like Melrose Ave. or Greenwich Village. There are shops down Harajuku St., cute coffee shops and cafes. As you continue on, you eventually reach the high-end luxury stores and nicer restaurants. Even if you have no money to shop, it’s nice to walk around the city amongst the locals and observe.
I made my way around the city entirely by subway. I have been on subways in many different cities and Tokyo’s system is my favorite. It’s extremely clean, inexpensive and efficient once you figure out how to use it. My best advice is to ask your hotel concierge for the closest stop, where you want to go and which line to take. They usually have a guide or print-out for foreign travelers that is easy to follow. The other advantage to riding the subway is you get to immerse yourself with the students and working people of Tokyo!
WARNING: make sure you pay attention to which line you’re taking when purchasing your tickets. The JR Line (the main line that takes you around the city) is NOT the subway. Make sure you purchase the correct tickets because they are not transferable.
The food is amazing in Tokyo! Truly some of the best I’ve had amongst my travels. It’s very lean so you typically never feel overwhelming full after a meal. Finding it? That may be a problem. Japan is not an English friendly country in terms of their signs. Almost everything is in symbols. No reviews or friends had told me this prior and it left me extremely frustrated when looking for places to eat. So here’s an easy tip to for finding good food: ask your hotel concierge for a list of restaurants and have them explain to you how to get there. Once we finally learned to ask, life was much easier. Our hotel provided us a list of every Japanese cuisine you could crave. Secondly, learn to match the Japanese symbols. Even when you get to the restaurant, the sign will most likely be in symbols and not in English. Match the symbols or go in and ask if it’s the correct restaurant. Lastly, I am a huge foodie and love going to places that are recommended or have high reviews. A lot of the restaurants I wanted to try were booked out. If there’s a restaurant you’ve heard of and want to try and it’s popular call before you go and book a reservation. Lastly, lastly, do yourself a favor and try the local cuisines!
SUSHI (Japanese Omelette, Fatty Tuna, Salmon Roe, Uni)
Aside from eating, I explored the streets of Ginza (The Rodeo Drive/Beverly Hills of Tokyo), Roppongi Hills (another fave!), Skytree Observation Tower and Sensoji Temple. The culture is very courteous, polite and respectful. You will often see servers or business people bowing to one another to say “Thank You” and to show respect. Women and men dress very nicely all the time. Overall, Tokyo was a phenomenal experience. I hope to go back soon and explore more historical areas of the city.
Feel free to leave comments in the comment section or write if you have more questions about Tokyo! #STAYCLASSY
Skytree Tower (2nd tallest building structure in the world)
Street Markets in front of Sensoji Temple