Tokyo, Japan’s busy capital, is a thriving metropolis that mixes the ultramodern with the traditional, from neon-lit skyscrapers to temples steeped in history. It has everything you could ask of a city – a rich, cosmopolitan dining scene, more cafes and bars than you could possibly visit in your entire lifetime, sensational public transport and grassy parks. But the best part…it’s ultra clean and safe. Before you head off on your globetrotting adventure in the rural village of Kobuchizawa, why not spend some time getting acquainted with Japanese culture in the country’s vibrant capital.
SIGHTS AND ACTIVITIES
So the first thing you should probably know about Tokyo is this: you cannot possibly see everything it has to offer in one day! Here are just a few things we recommend you don’t miss on your visit. And we recommend you jump on a bus tour – we recommend Hato bus – to help you get your bearings and learn some things along the way.
Times Square eat your heart out! This is an unquestioned must-visit for any trip to the city and is guaranteed to give you a ‘Wow, I’m in Tokyo!’ feeling. Famously known as ‘The Scramble’, the intersection just outside the station is an embodiment of Tokyo itself: action in all directions. Take in the view over the crossing from the Starbucks on the second floor of the Q-front building across the street.
If you’re like me and like seeing and getting a feel for a city from a great height, then you should visit Tokyo Sky Tree, the world’s tallest ‘free-standing tower’. There are two observation decks, at 350m and 450m, so let’s just hope you don’t suffer from vertigo! You can see more during the day (even Mt Fuji up to 100km away if the visibility is favourable), but it’s at night that Tokyo appears truly magical.
Every manner of food is sold here, but it’s seafood that this market is most famous for. Up to 2000 tonnes of seafood is traded here on a daily basis. Make sure you check the market’s online calendar before you head there to check it’s open, then go go GO. Visitors begin pitching up for one of the 120 allotted places for viewing the tuna auctions from 3.30am! But don’t worry, if you show up later in the morning there’s still plenty to see.
This is Tokyo’s most visited temple and enshrines a golden image of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Entrance to the temple complex is through the Thunder Gate and a steady stream of worshippers visit all year round. In front of the temple is a large incense cauldron, the smoke from which is said to bestow health…you’ll most likely see people rubbing it into their bodies through their clothes.
Also, don’t forget Tokyo is home to the ‘happiest place on earth’…Disneyland! If you have a few days in the city why not relive your childhood dreams and have some fun in this kingdom of magic!
PLACES TO EAT
Noodles, miso soup and sushi as far as the eye can see. Honestly, take you pick of thousands of restaurants in the city, you can’t go wrong. Don’t be a nancy, give every food a try!
This is a place that should be intimidating for travellers, but it isn’t at all! The friendly staff go out of their way to explain the menu in English, and the food is simply heaven! Try the kitsune raclette (deep fried tofu stuffed with raclette cheese).
Perhaps Tokyo’s most famous sushi bar, you can expect to queue for over an hour here. So why have we included it? Because as soon as the first piece of sushi touches your lips, you will be in heaven. Yep, it’s that good and made right there in front of you. It’s located in Tsukiji Market so you can take in the sights and sounds of the market while eating quite possibly the best sushi of your life!
These days, Maisen is pretty much universally acknowledged as one of the best tonkatsu houses in the city. Breaded, deep fried pork cutlets…it’s melt-in-your-mouth divine. There’s a sit-down restaurant or of you’re on the go, grab a delicious tonkatsu sandwich from their takeaway window!
If you’re after noodles then look no further than this little atmospheric noodle joint. There is almost always a wait, but it’s definitely worth it. Just note, you have to purchase your order from the vending machine inside, then claim your spot at the end of the line.
We like to recommend this hotel to our globetrotters when they visit Tokyo. The rooms are comfortable and Japanese-style Yukata robes and slippers are provided. Located in Shinjuku’s skyscraper district, it gives you sweeping panoramic views of the skyline. Oh and I almost forgot to mention, there’s a free shuttle to Disneyland on offer as well!
Please be advised in the lead up to the 2020 Olympics, Tokyo is experiencing a hotel building boom and there are new hotels opening almost every day. If you advise Tanaka san (your guide) of your budget and area you want to stay in Tokyo he will be happy to provide recommendations.
OTHER RECOMMENDED ADDITIONS TO YOUR GLOBETROTTING ADVENTURE
We recently received a hot tip from a globetrotter who recommended if time permits after your ride, you could take the train from Kobuchizawa further down the Chou line to Matsumoto, then catch a bus to Takayama over the Alpine Route. Takayama is a beautiful traditional Japanese city in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture and it boasts one of Japan’s most atmospheric townscapes and best-loved festivals. Set amidst a stunning landscape, Meiji-era inns, hillside shrines and temples, and a pretty riverside setting beckon you. Give yourself a day or two to enjoy it all, then it’s an easy train ride back to Tokyo, with a change in the city of Nagoya. This trip comes highly recommended from a fellow globetrotter!
Reference: Lonely Planet
Image credits: International Traveller Magazine; Why Not Travel Now; Tokyo Times; travelience.com; Agustin Rafael Reyes