Visiting Japan has always been a dream for me since I was a girl watching mangas on TV.
When one of my friends suggested me to catch a flight to Tokyo over a long weekend, I jumped on the opportunity! I know it sounds crazy to go all the way to Japan for only a few days but believe me in the end it was a great decision: it was such a unique experience!
The first thing you need to know about Tokyo is the city is gigantic! For a benchmark it is almost 3 times the size of NYC.
Tokyo is well balanced between tradition and modernity, which is what makes the city so interesting! You can meet the 2 sides of Japanese culture: the beauty and peace of the temples and gardens versus the fast pace of futuristic technology.
My first recommendation would be to visit the Asakusa neighbourhood. A big garden is hosting the oldest Buddhist temple named Sensoji, recognizable by its red gigantic lantern. The area is very touristy but really worth visiting. To have a real local experience, you can do the fortune and purification rituals.
Look for the Nakamise street: it is the best place to buy traditional souvenirs (like yukatas, wooden toys, chopsticks…) and to taste some local snacks (matcha tea delights, rice crackers…).
You can even have an authentic Geisha experience by dressing-up like one and wander around the streets.
Another nice temple is Meiji shrine in Harajuku. Located in the middle of a huge park, it is perfect to have a walk after the intensity of the shopping streets. There is a cool wall of sake barrels, which is a great background for pictures!
And if you are a real fan of Japanese culture, taking some photos of torii gates is a must. I would suggest going to Nezu shrine, it is a small temple in a very beautiful and peaceful garden.
Some neighbourhoods are full of bright lights like a bigger version of Times Square.
Shinjuku is a great example: luminous signs and arcade games are everywhere!
We booked our hotel in this neighbourhood, as it is easily accessible by public transport from the airport and easy to commute to other sightseeing places.
You will find a lot of restaurants in Shinjuku, from ramen to yakitori and other Japanese delights. It is easy to find traditional restaurants with delicious food at a reasonable price. But we also wanted to treat ourselves with a fine diner at a Teppanyaki place (which means “to grill on a hot plate”). We went to Yasaiya Teppanyaki and we had amazing meat and fish grilled by a chef in front of our table.
Shinjuku is also THE place to try a robot restaurant (where robots are literally fighting)!
Shibuya area is known for its famous crossing: when the light turns green you can see a mass of people rushing to the other sides of the streets through 6 different directions. We found a good spot to witness this phenomenon at the 1st floor of the Starbucks right in front of the crossing. Make sure to come during rush hour to experience this scene at its best!
Maruyamacho Street is my recommendation for restaurants. Make sure not to go too late (preferably around 7 p.m.): it might be fully booked or closed if you come after 9 p.m.
Shibuya and Shinjuku are also popular for their shopping malls. But if you fancy to do some luxury shopping, Omotesando is the best place in Tokyo. Not only the neighbourhood is full of luxury famous brand shops (like a Japanese version of the Champs Elysees) but you will also find local designers and interesting vintage second hand luxury stores.
Just a little further you will discover the Harajuku neighbourhood. This place is the temple of teenage culture: cheap clothes and eccentric manga fashion. There I had an amazing rainbow cotton candy!
A visit to Tokyo cannot be complete without going to Tsukiji fish market, the largest wholesale fish market in the world. If you want to attend the famous tuna auction sales, make sure to be there around 3 a.m. because they only allow 120 visitors a day. If you don’t want to wake up this early, you can come in the morning and experience sushi for breakfast. It was genuinely the best sushi I have ever had: the fish was incredibly fresh and tasty! You will have to queue to get a table; but all restaurants are good there, so just choose the one with the smallest line.
You have to know that the fish market will be relocated in October 2018 and it is unclear whether the auction will be open to visitors at the new site, so make sure to go there while you still can!
Those few days in Japan made me eager to go back to explore further, and I hope you feel like it too after reading this article: this country is really full of great surprises!