My Favorite 24 Things to do Tokyo, Japan
My Favorite 24 Things to do Tokyo, Japan - Understand
Tokyo needs no introduction. This massive metropolis stands for the rise of Japan from World War Two to one of the richest nations on earth. Tokyo is where the money is invested into mind-boggling infrastructure and skyscrapers. The city is home to more than 13 million inhabitants and space comes at a huge premium here.
Japan has gotten a little less expensive, with the yen hovering much above 100 to the US dollar but it is still an expensive place. Budget as much as you would for New York City or San Francisco for accommodation, food and transport.
Take it slow in Tokyo; there is so much to see, it's like a country on its own. It might be a good idea to move hotels so your commute to interesting areas is shorter. You can spend weeks in Tokyo and still would discover new things.
The Japanese are sticklers for rules but they are nicer about it than most places that aspire to be perfect. Expect things to work perfectly in Japan, often at the expense of making any good sense.
Tokyo is focused on making $$$ - the city is commercial first, culinary second. If you think large US cities have too many commuters to a downtown work area, well, Tokyo beats them all with armies of similarly dressed men and women streaming into office towers every morning. It can feel unreal at times.
My Favorite 24 Things to do Tokyo, Japan - Get Around
There are big fans of subways/metro systems - I'm usually not one of them. While the Tokyo Metro works well and is clean, it still means long walks, sweaty tunnels and a cryptic system to decipher for tickets and directions. However, it works well and rarely breaks down - the big problem is, you guessed it, the manic crowds at rush hour that WILL make you claustrophobic.
Uber is in town but the local taxi mafia has reduced it to an expensive limo service that makes most rides $50++. There are plenty of taxis and taxi apps but expect $30-$50 for a 20-minute ride - too much for my taste.
It isn't straightforward to rent a car in Japan if you don't have a local driving license. Traffic flows pretty well but parking isn't easy.
You will end up walking a lot in Tokyo; the sidewalks are excellent and the crossings are all well-marked. But the heat, the crowds and the confusing crossing options and many levels of subway tunnels and walking tunnels can be frustrating.
My Favorite 24 Things to do Tokyo, Japan - Safety
Crime basically does not exist in Japan. Japan is a country of total groupthink - to commit a crime would be to leave the group and that is just a very rare occurrence. There is organized crime (more a business) but you won't see it.
I know this is not politically correct to say but Japan has too little crime - why? Nobody likes to be a victim of crime but it also makes use of personal freedoms and those seem very rare in Japan.
My Favorite 24 Things to do Tokyo, Japan - Connectivity
Internet connections in Japan are famously fast. Tokyo adds a level of speed to this. Expect connections to be at least 30 Mbit in most places. However, getting connected can often involve many steps/sign-ups and deciphering Japanese.
My Favorite 24 Things to do Tokyo, Japan - Pollution
Although a big city, Tokyo is as clean as you can make it in a big city. While the air can be hazy and there can be smog coming over from China, in general, air and noise pollution is minimal.
My Favorite 24 Things to do Tokyo, Japan - Sights
Tokyo isn't ideal for sightseeing. It is expensive, the sights are spread out, and transport isn't easy, so that means a lot of time spent walking and it is crowded. Kyoto (the old capital) is a much better place to sightsee and experience Japanese culture at its best.
Imperial Palace (皇居)
Is it just me or is this place always closed? It is a long sweaty walk to get there and then you can barely get up to the gate.
Meiji Shrine (明治神宮)
This beautiful shrine is part of a large wooded area in the middle of Tokyo. Yes, it means a long walk but it is very calming and the shrine provides a wonderful photo opportunity.
KITTE Garden (屋上庭園 KITTEガーデン)
The rooftop outdoors area at the KITTE shopping mall provides wonderful views of Tokyo Station. Just ask for it if you get confused.
Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing & Shinjuku Pedestrian Crossing
Pedestrian crossings are a sight to be seen in Japan - the sheer amount of people streaming from every corner into the wide streets is mesmerizing. It is easy to get lost (and maybe this is why we came in the first place).
My Favorite 24 Things to do Tokyo, Japan - Eat & Drink
In my opinion, this is where Tokyo comes out to shine. The sheer number of restaurants, eateries and coffee shops that are mostly not parts of chains is mesmerizing. I do like Japanese cuisine and even if you do not, there is so much to discover in Tokyo.
The area just north of Shibuya can be described as more hipster and that isn't a bad word in Japan yet. You'll see a Bondi Cafe here and right next to it is Fuglen Tokyo, which looks just like a coffee shop in Germany's Berlin and delivers delicious European-style pastries and great coffee.
The nearby CAMELBACK sandwich&espresso makes delicious breakfast sandwiches and has equally good espresso on offer.
Keep in mind that both places have VERY limited seating.
Further south is FabCafe, which doubles as a co-working place besides being a good coffee shop and eatery.
Harajuku Pedestrian Area
This pedestrianized area features tons of shops in an eclectic setting (i.e. not a mall).
Harajuku Gyoza Lou
Likely some of the best dumplings and pot stickers in town. It is cheap too!
Deus Ex Machina
This coffee shop has a serious vibe but has great coffee and matcha drinks on offer.
Streamer has several locations and makes up for the often grumpy staff with superbly done espresso drinks.
Shinjuku can have menacing crowds at times but has a number of malls and department stores for you to buy souvenirs to take home.
There are a number of Sushizanmai in town but this is one of the best. The location is fiercely hidden from the street (look for signs at an unmarked elevator and then go to 3F). I loved the fresh and simple sushi creations - so much so that we went back the next day.
Verve Coffee Roasters
Oh yes, coffee from Santa Cruz, CA has made it right into one of the trendiest and busiest areas of Tokyo. It's a small coffee shop but expect the same quality as at home.
Blue Bottle Coffee
Blue Bottle seems to have cornered the third-gen coffee shop scene in Tokyo. There are outlets everywhere you go and the lines can be menacing.
Keio Asahi Sky Beer Garden
The 9th floor of the Keio Department Store has a huge outdoor beer garden that serves a number of good beers. Come at 7PM on a Thursday or Friday and see the local office population let loose.
Roppongi feels like a slice of the Las Vegas Strip right in Tokyo. Go on a Friday evening when the corporate crowds come out in full force.
If you make it to Roppongi, stop by Ippudo for some big, heartwarming bowls of ramen for a small price tag.
The craft beer revolution is just starting in Tokyo and BrewDog is trying to capitalize on it with strong, flavorful, expensive beers.
We all flock to Japan for its sushi and Tsujihan makes the best sashimi bowls in town. They are done in front of you by the big chef himself. The best part is that it is also cheap. So come early (e.g. 4.30PM) and line up and enjoy finger-licking sushi in a fantastic atmosphere for just $10.
Tsukiji Fish Market
I have yet to make it to Tokyo's legendary fish market that is supposedly being moved later in 2018. Instructions range from 'go there early' (before sunrise) to 'go late' (after 10AM) as non-locals are not allowed during the main trading hours.
Everything is better, cleaner and more perfect in Japan. So is the Indian food. Give Dhaba India a try if you want food that isn't Japanese.
Minatoya is THE place for soba noodles in town. Soba is cold noodles in a savory sauce. The dish is just $8 here and you will wait in line 30 minutes for it.
Breadworks (and the neighboring beer garden) likely has the best view in town in a beautiful area of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. Come here for sunset or early in the morning and enjoy the view that could be London Docklands or Amsterdam.
My Favorite 24 Things to do Tokyo, Japan - Where to Stay
In Tokyo, it often makes sense to go low (e.g. a small airport hotel) or go high (use free night certificates or a program that has 'cheap' redemptions on expensive properties). Rooms tend to be smaller than you'd expect unless you go with an international chain.
Hyatt Regency Tokyo (Shinjuku)
This massive building right next to the Park Hyatt Tokyo could easily be mistaken for the Hyatt Regency Moscow. That's how similar the architecture is. The staff are friendly and the rooms are top-notch. It does not feel very luxurious though and feels more like a 'room factory'. However, there is nothing that does not work here.
ANA InterContinental Tokyo
The ANA InterContinental is a highrise in the busy Asaka area. There are multi-story freeways right outside and there are seemingly endless layers of walkways everywhere. The hotel is old but the rooms are in good condition and have a super-quiet, powerful AC. The swimming pool adds a $40 charge to your bill and the food isn't great. However, you pay for the location and (good) service.
InterContinental Tokyo Bay
The InterContinental Tokyo Bay is right at the final stop of the Haneda Monorail and you can get to the airport terminal in less than 20 minutes. However, there is not much else around there. I liked the spacious rooms and the many restaurants and shops in the same building and you ARE close to Tokyo Station here. The staff aren't the most knowledgeable and it is easy to get lost in translation.