I Can’t Help to Fall in Love with TOKYO
Tokyo was our final destination during our trip to Asia (check our big resume here). We can’t deny how excited we were about it. Actually, it was a sad and happy moment at the same time: sad because it would be time to end our 2 and a half months travelling around and happy because going to Tokyo was definitely on our bucket list of dreams coming true. The day had arrived and we had no clue that all of our expectations were wrong.
Big in Japan, alright!
We landed in the beautiful Tokyo around seven in the morning and it was super easy to go from the airport to the city centre. Tokyo has a great public transportation and the subway takes you everywhere. It is impressive, clean and organized.
Our hotel was very well located in an area called Hamamatsucho, at the Minato neighbourhood, and few blocks away from the Tokyo Tower. We headed straight to the Hotel because we wanted to see if there was any chance to have already a free room (which was a no) or if at least we could leave our luggage there (which was a yes). So, after we dropped the bags we had two physical needs: hunger and sleepness. The first one was quickly solved with a 7Eleven nearby. We were super excited about all those different snacks there. I miss them, indeed. If you are going to Japan for the first time, give yourself some time to enjoy those kinds of shops and don’t be afraid to try out the stuff. For the second need, we would have to wait a bit more, so why not already starting exploring all the corners, right?
We arrived in Tokyo on a Friday morning, so we expected the city to be very busy. When you think of Tokyo the first thing that comes to your head is a large number of people and a very crowded city. To our surprise, not even a single car was on the streets. The same goes for people: we didn’t see a single person walking around. We started to walk from our Hotel to the Imperial Palace and we could count in our fingers how many people we crossed on the way. What was that empty Tokyo? Were we in the right city? Later on our travel, we found out that the city is pretty empty and spacious in most parts. There were like 2 or 3 neighbourhoods with those big crowds. But wait, we are going to get there.
Oh, some grass!
Almost arriving at the Imperial Palace there was this huge grass field, some trees and some soft sun. The temperature in Tokyo was around 18ºC, which can be pretty chill if you just came from countries like Vietnam and Cambodia after dealing with near 40ºC temperatures. So, we had the perfect moment: blue sky, nice and soft grass and a warming sun. We laid down and we slept deliciously. After 3 hours we woke up just to look around and see some other people enjoying the sunny morning in the grass as well. We got up and decided to walk around until it is time to check in, even though we could easily sleep for another 3 hours on that grass.
Just by the side of the Imperial Palace, you hit the neighbourhood called Giza. While walking around was not hard to realize that it was the business centre and a fancy shopping neighbourhood. But we were still surprised that not too many people were on the streets – and it was near to the lunchtime. Talking about streets: they are extremely clean. By the way, there are no public trash cans in Tokyo and the reason is that once a man terrorized the population with bombs in the trash cans, so the government decided to take them all out to not give this chance to anyone else. So, if you travel to Tokyo, you shall hold your trash until you are back home (or Hotel) or you can go to some 7Eleven and use their trash cans.
When the time finally had come, we made our check-in and enjoyed the time to make a nice sleep. We were super tired because the night before we spent at the airport in Taipei and took a flight to Tokyo at 5 in the morning. The good thing about sleeping through the day was to wake up to see the lighted up Tokyo Tower from our hotel window. It was a nice surprise.
How many days in Tokyo?
We had only 5 days to explore Tokyo, but we wish we had much more time. Tokyo has a magical thing called “Neighbourhoods”, – I know, everywhere in the world there are neighbourhoods -, but in Tokyo, each one of them brings you to a completely different world and you might need a day or two at least to enjoy every one of them. Of course, if you just have little time like we had, you can still explore the city well and do the basics, but if you want to dig deep into that beautiful culture and learn much more about that amazing city, you might need a minimum of 15 days. We still want to do some high immersion in the city and stay there for a whole month and even travel around Japan.
What you expect vs. Reality
Crowds and more crowds
Well, we already told you about the expectation of an overcrowded city with only a little space to walk, but actually, we found a pretty empty Tokyo, with large sidewalks and peaceful points everywhere. If you want to see the crowd, you really have to go to two very specific neighbourhoods and in those areas, most of the crowd is formed by the tourists.
People being pushed inside the trains
We also used the subway a lot, because Tokyo is a big city and trying to make it just walking can be pretty tuff. There was not even one day that we saw a full train. Sometimes a little bit full, but the normal big cities full. Believe me, I had worse experiences in Sao Paulo (the city where I am from). We didn’t witness any extra full trains or platforms or the workers from the station pushing people inside so the doors can close, like in those videos we see around the internet.
Vending machines of everything
This one was actually a bit disappointing. We were walking around seeking for the weirdest vending machines and we even googled it to see if we could find anything, but for real we just saw those drinks, snacks and cigarettes vending machines. We know that the different vending machines exist, because we have friends that already used some of them, but they are not that popular and everywhere. Maybe we get luckier in the next time! If you have some tips where to find them, let us know! One thing that we found different, though, was the fact that in Japan you cannot smoke in the streets, so there were some small smoking stores full of vending machines. Of course, the air inside there was not the best and it is pretty small and crowded, but even though we head inside just to see what it was like.
This is kind of true. The teen Japanese really have a specific way of dressing and it is really cool and fun to walk around the streets and seeing all those real-life Anime. There are several subcultures types all around: the Lolitas, Gyarus, Yankiis and the very popular Visual Kei, that is the trend in the pop music culture in Japan. Also, you will find some kart cars racing in the streets of Tokyo with people dressed up in the most different ways. This is a very touristic thing to do in Tokyo, by the way, but we didn’t go for it.
This was something that was pretty surprising to us. We had the feeling that everything would be very pricy in Tokyo, like San Francisco pricy, but actually, the prices are pretty much like in Berlin. Of course, going out of Cambodia, Vietnam or Thailand and then going to Tokyo give a price shock, but not because Tokyo is expensive, but because those other countries are very cheap. Of course number two: you will find also very expensive things in Tokyo, but this is like everywhere in the world. If you are travelling on the budget and you were always afraid that Tokyo is not too affordable, you can change that and put Japan on your list. There are cheap ways of eating around there. =)
Tokyo on the Budget
If you are like us and like to travel on the budget and try to enjoy more the free things, so you will love those tips. The first one is that there is a way to see Tokyo from the top without spending a single cent. In Nishinshijuku there is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office and they have the doors open to anyone that wants to see the city from the top. This building has two towers and it is 243 meters tall. The observatory rooms are 202 meters from the floor in both towers. With clear weather, you can even see the Fuji Mountain. We have been there in May and it was pretty easy and quick to access both of the towers. We didn’t face any line and it was also not crowded on the observatories rooms. We really recommend the experience. The cool thing is that they are open until 23:00, so you can make a night and day visit! Check their website for more information.
Another thing that you can – and should! – do for free is to visit some parks and gardens. But attention, not all of them are for free. Some you have to pay a small fee to visit, but others like Yoyogi Park, Imperial Palace East Garden and Ueno Park are free of any charge. It is visiting the parks that you might understand a bit more of the Japanese soul, how they care for nature, how detailed everything is, how respectful with nature they are. It is a beautiful moment and you should save few hours to enjoy this kind of peace.
We were in a nice hotel in this neighbourhood, with an amazing view of Tokyo Tower. It has nice options for restaurants, it is very near to Ginza and there is a nice temple called Zijoji, that is the temple dedicated to the children: born or unborn. It is a very nice area!
This area is the financial-business area. It is where you are going to see the skyscrapers, the tie man and fancy woman, all rushing through the streets thinking about their next meetings. It is also there that you are going to find the fine shopping streets. It is in this district that you are going to find first-class western brands shops and also a 12 stores building from Uniqlo. From this neighbourhood is easy to walk to the Imperial Palace and Garden as well.
It is also nearby Ginza that you will find the famous Fish Market. Even if you are not going to buy anything you should go by curiosity: it is the best smelling fish market I ever been. The Japanese are so clean and so hygienic that the place doesn’t smell bad. It is impressive!
This is the electronic district. You are going to find all kinds of stores for this sector: from softwares to gaming or photography. If you are going to Tokyo for some high tech shopping, this is where you should go.
The old town of Tokyo is the charming district of Asakusa. Take a walk in the area to see how it was the old times in Tokyo and get ready for some crowd at the Nakamise Shop Street on the way to Sensoji, a famous Buddhist temple in Tokyo. A great tip is to have some snacks at the Nakamise Shop Street, they have pretty traditional stuff in there.
Another nice attraction of Asakusa is the Kappabashi Shopping Street, a one-kilometre-long avenue that is focused in the sale for the restaurant business, so if you want to have a souvenir like a nice bowl or special Chopsticks, this is the street to go. Another thing you can find there? Plastic or wax food made to illustrate the dishes at the restaurant door. They look so real that you will feel like eating them!
Also in Asakusa: the Tokyo Skytree, a 634 meters tall tower that gives you a very nice overview from the Japanese capital.
The most famous and crowded crossing in the world is in here. It is an impressive experience: the traffic light goes green and a horde of people start the crossing. When it goes red, all the crossing is over and the cars take the place. It is indeed amazing. But besides the “Shibuya’s Crossing,” it is in this neighbourhood that you will see the famous Hachiko statue. If you never watched the movie with Keanu Reeves based on the real story of Hachiko, you should. It will make you spend few tears, but you are going to fall in love with this dog.
Shibuya is also a very young and vibrant neighbourhood. It is there that the trends are born and the streets are filled with young people, restaurants, bars and many stores. Save the day for Shibuya, the neighbourhood deserves it.
The entertainment area of Tokyo. It is in Shinjuku that you are going to find all the entertainment restaurants and streets full of lights and also the tallest buildings in Tokyo are there. The area is really amusing and interesting and worth a day and a night visit. There are two very curious points in Shinjuku: the Golden Gai and Omoide Yokocho (popularly known as Piss-Alley). Both are very small areas, with few narrow, but quite long, streets full of mini restaurants (Golden Gai) and bars (Piss-Alley). They have good offers around there, but very little space. Every restaurant can accommodate around 15 people, if so! The bars look more like very small kitchens or living rooms where friends get together. Even if you don’t find a sit around there, it a must see!
This is the area between Shibuya and Shinjuku. It is all fashioned and it is also where you are going to find the Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine. Besides the peaceful park, the area is also very commercial and can have pretty busy times.
How to go around
There is a 72 hours ticket that helps a lot while touring around Tokyo, the only problem is that this ticket is very hard to find. They don’t sell it at the ticket machines and also not at all the stations. The only place we found it to buy was inside the mall of the Shinjuku station, at the 4th floor. If I can trust my memory was at the Lumine 2, but I owe you a very precise information. The problem is that I know already more than anyone working at Tokyo train stations and Police Officers. We asked all around and no one could give us a precise information. In the end, we found it by luck. But our persistence in finding this ticket was valid because it is a great value for the money. You won’t regret.
Fall in love with Tokyo
There are so many more things to talk about this incredible city, but I guess by know you had some nice overview with precious information. Just go all around and eat everything you want, because the food around there is simply amazing. I really hope that if you are planning a trip there, I could help you somehow. It is hard not to fall in love with Tokyo, it is indeed a very special place on earth.