Tokyo is a frenetic, eccentric, wild city that everyone needs to visit at least once. Like Amsterdam, Tokyo is a land of opposites, but way more extreme. In fact, everything in Tokyo is extreme. It’s a city that conjures up unique, conflicting feelings; I somehow simultaneously never felt more at peace, and hyper with over-stimulation. In the true spirit of Tokyo, the stark opposites somehow blend effortlessly. I have no idea how, and I’ve stopped questioning it.
Anyone who knows me in real life can tell you that Japan has long been my dream destination. I mean, how could it not be? Japan is the land of Pokemon, Tekken, sushi, and everything I loved as a child!
At the ripe-old age of seven, I started teaching myself origami, how to make sushi, and even started teaching myself Japanese. I had longed to go to this Mecca of my childhood, but it was a distant dream restricted by the green demon: money. When I saved nearly 50% on my flight to visit family in Macau, I decided to use the money saved to visit the seemingly mythical land of Tokyo.
This city is too large to do in a short period of time, but here’s how to squeeze the highlights of Tokyo in three days.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Oak Hotel Edo, right off the Morishita stop on the Oedo/Shinjuku lines of the JR train. This hostel is 15 minutes outside the centre, but for a last-minute booking at ¥3000 ($26) a night, it wasn’t bad at all.
Tokyo accommodation is notoriously expensive. For something young and trendy, stay in Roppongi Hills or Harajuku. To be blinded by lights and bankrupt by shopping, stay in Shinjuku or Ginza. For something out of the way but more traditional, stay in Asakusa. If you want the true (and cheap) Japanese experience, test your claustrophobia by sleeping in a capsule hotel! (Not my photo)
What to Eat
Japanese convenience stores are a lifesaver; they serve high-quality food at super low prices.
I ate three large salmon omusubi (seaweed-wrapped rice balls filled with meat) for breakfast, for ¥300 ($2.50) in total. Lunch can run you ¥700-¥1200, and dinner ¥1000-¥1600. If you want to eat on a budget, get fresh meals from convenience stores for lunch or dinner. It’ll save you a lot of money, and the meals are healthy and delicious. Also, vending machines are everywhere in Tokyo, so hot/cold drinks will never be more than 500 feet away.
Despite Tokyo being a behemoth of a city, it has one of the easiest and most efficient metro systems in the world: the JR line. Fares can go from ¥80-¥400+ depending on how close or far you need to go. The metro in Tokyo is the best for people-watching; every day you’ll see someone bizarre or unforgettable on it. You can also take the metro from the airport to your hotel, even if you fly into the Narita airport, 90 minutes outside Tokyo.
Start your day off by taking the JR train and stopping at the Shibuya station. Walk south to see the famous Shibuya Crossing, the world’s largest and busiest intersection. For a younger vibe, go further south to Roppongi Hills, where you can go karaoke-ing with the locals! I went to a karaoke bar here expecting everyone to be drunkenly butchering their favourite songs; never one to sing seriously I was going to do the same. I then learned that the Japanese take karaoke very seriously and my dreams of making a fool of myself in this country were ruined.
If you get intimidated from karaoke, you can’t miss the Tokyo Tower, a massive 1092 foot (taller than the Eiffel Tower!) structure. For more shopping, take out a bank loan and shop at the expensive yet iconic Ginza strip. Finally, blind yourself with the lights of the epicentre of Tokyo, the Shinjuku district and head out to one of its many of its famous arcades, clubs, bars, etc.
Relieve the insanity of modern Tokyo with a morning at the famous Senso-ji Temple. Established in 645 AD, it’s the oldest temple in Tokyo and one of the oldest in Japan. The temple and its surrounding traditional shops were a deep red; a shade of red with a history of bloodshed and passion. After, explore the traditional bathhouse culture at the Jyakotsuyu Onsen and soak in the hot, volcanic ash-infused, black spring water. You can then head to the Chiyoda district to take a free tour of the Imperial Palace, the residence of the current Emperor. It was initially built in the 7th century, but was reconstructed in the late 1800’s.
However, the peaceful benevolence traditional Japan is so well-known for can be found at the Meiji Jingju, a forest in the middle of Harajuku. Legends say that this forest holds the spirit of Emperor Meiji, the one who brought Japan to the modern age. Observe the shrine, write a prayer to him for ¥444, and the priests will ceremonially send your prayer to the spirits. Let the spirit of Meiji and his wife fill your soul with an otherworldly tranquility.
Crazy Kawaii Tokyo
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Tokyo is weird, but that’s what makes it so unique and memorable. Dive straight into Harajuku, the fashion haven of Tokyo with eccentric, fearless style at every corner. As soon as you get off the JR Line, indulge in Japan’s animal-cafe culture at the Mocha Cat Cafe. For the most surreal lunch of your life, walk to Kawaii Monster to eat surrounded by trippy machine animals, swirly floors, and towering costumed waitresses. After lunch, check out Harajuku’s famous thrift shops such as BerBerJin for streetwear and Dog for avant-garde fashion. At night, take the subway to Shinjuku and go to Robot Restaurant, a blindingly extra light show filled with dancers, 10-foot robots, and an flurry of disorienting noises.
Tokyo is one of the most unique places on this planet. It has something for everyone whether they’re seeking tradition, the infamous craziness of the city, or if they just want a normal cosmopolitan experience. It’s a city that must be experienced in all it’s organised messiness to be understood. It’s a place that fulfilled all my childhood dreams, and it exceeded every expectation I had. I’m so happy to have finally been able to experience this country, and I’m already planning my next trip there!
Have you been to Tokyo? If so, what were your favourite things there? Let me know in the comments below!