Tokyo’s streetscapes look like something out of a video game — from the giant screens in Shibuya to the neon lights in Shinjuku. The pop culture is seen vibrantly throughout the city — whether its the giant robot in Odaibo, Hello Kitty and various characters painted throughout the city, or even the newest anime or manga on the shelves in Akihabara.
Tokyo pushes the boundaries of what is possible as it continues to build even taller skyscrapers in its already densely populated, earthquake prone land. The neon lights and modern skyscrapers are juxtaposed with wooden shanty bars, lantern-lit yakitori stalls and quiet alleys. Below the surface of this futuristic city, it is devoted to calm, to civility and order. You see this in charmed gardens, peaceful temples and shrines dotted throughout the city.
We had an action packed three and a half days in Tokyo, and between the metro and a lot of walking, we managed to fit in quite a bit.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
This garden is like the Central Park of Tokyo – the 144-acre park is filled with gardens, a greenhouse, a couple tearooms and a gorgeous Taiwanese Pavilion perched above the pond. It’s a great place for a morning walk.
A fancy shopping complex designed by Yoshio Taniguchi. It’s a mixture of international brands and native designers, all pretty luxury. But if you keep going up, you’ll find a selection of restaurants and a rooftop garden.
This is the area’s most important temple for the last 1,400 years. It’s worth a visit just for the atmosphere, as it’s filled with Japanese visitors dressed in kimonos performing their rituals. There are a number of street stalls along the gates walking in, and there’s also the five-story Gojunoto Pagoda and shinto shrine beside the temple.
Tsukiji Fish Market
While many make the morning trek to see the tuna auctions, I had done so before and we just visited for some amazingly fresh sushi. It’s pretty cool to walk around the narrow rows, where there are plenty of street stalls cooking up various fresh seafood delicacies as well as sushi bars in the alleyways.
One of Tokyo’s oldest shrines set in lush greenery and picturesque shrine arches. Legend suggests that it was first founded in Sendagi by Price Osu.
We went for a stroll in Yoyogi Park in Shibuya and into Meiji shrine, devoted to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.
Tokyo Sky Tree
Recognized as the world’s tallest tower, we made our way up to 450 meters to take in the view this twisting spire.
Cat Cafe Mocha
There are almost 20 different cats roaming around this cafe. Take off your shoes, wash your hands and enter the world that the cats own. Sip on a beverage while you hang out with the cats, and of course, if you want their attention, buy them a treat.
Kit Kat Chocolatory
While it may be American, the Japanese love their kit kat flavours. Get everything from strawberry to matcha to sweet potato and passion fruit.
While walking through Roppongi, I stumbled upon a temporary museum devoted to the one and only, Snoopy. The museum displays illustrations, personal sketches and all kinds of Peanuts related items from Charles Schulz.
Originally built as a defensive fort, it is now an all-leisure destination with great views of the Tokyo skyline. There are shopping malls, a huge gaming center, a digital art museum, an experience devoted to Toyoto and the Palette Town Ferris wheel, soaring 115 meters in the sky.
Famous as computer city, with Yodobashi electronics being the largest electronics store in the world. It now boasts a number of arcades as well as stores devoted to anime and manga, perfect for any geek.
Samurai culture is a big part of the history and culture of Japan and this museum is a great way to understand it. Samurai’s believe that honour was more important than their own lives, and the beauty of the samurai spirit can be seen in the armor and swords. This museum provides an english tour, a chance to see real samari armour and swords, and even experience a demonstration.
Aside from all the neighborhoods and attractions, a big part of experiencing Japanese culture is the cuisine. Tokyo has more Michelin star restaurants than any other city and it’s no surprise. It has an amazing mix — everything from some of the best sushi, made my legendary chefs using the finest, seasonal fish to small street stalls serving perfect homemade soba noodles, with the utmost attention and detail. We were fortunate to have a local friend suggesting the best places, so we managed to squeeze in many amazing meals:
A typical Sushi edomae sushi, where we had amazing omakase.
Katsukura Shinjuku Takashimaya
If you are looking for a quality and filling meal, this specialty pork cutlet shop is a perfect place to bite on some cripsy tonkatsu.
This is a famous tempura place in Shinjuku. It’s lightly fried and just perfect tempura, where you dip the seafood and veggies in various dipping sauces.
A modern izakaya restaurant famous for being the set for Kill Bill. We had a delicious meal of yakitori and sake, and the atmosphere is a lot of fun!
Just before leaving Japan later in the trip, we booked a 12-course omakase lunch here and it was wonderful. Can’t recommend this enough.