Tokyo – My Top 5 things to do and how to do
Tokyo – Capital of Japan and with a metropolitan area counting 35 million (!) inhabitants the biggest in the world where is possible to spend one week here easily without getting bored with exploring what Tokyo has to offer. I only had less than four days and due to the Golden week bad luck because some sights were closed. Nevertheless I have seen a lot of all the interesting things this megacity has to offer.
Visit Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa
As the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo Senso-ji is a famous and popular place for foreigners as wells as for the Japanese. It is recommendable to visit the temple in the morning because the temple grounds become very crowded later the day. After visiting the temple I walked through the streets around the temple where I found a lovely neighborhood with traditional Japanese houses, small shops and restaurants.
Observatory platform in the Tokyo Metropolitan government building
Just if you have not sat at the window or on the wrong side when approaching one of Tokyo’s airports visiting one of Tokyo’s observatory platforms is a must do. There are different possibilities with a wide price range. I decided to enjoy the view from the Tokyo Metropolitan government building close by the Shinjuku station. Both buildings have a observatory deck from where you can overlook the city till the Mt. Fuji if the weather is good. But the best about this place it is free of admission.
A walk through the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
For a relaxed walk away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s streets the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is an oasis in the middle of the city. Here visitors find a Japanese, a French and an English garden. In April this is one of the most popular Hanami spots (cherry blossom viewing) but also in autumn when all the different types of trees turn the color of the leaves. Make sure not to come too late because the gates closes at 4:30pm.
Walking over the famous Shibuya crossing
The intersection is just outside the Hachiko exit of the Shibuya Station and is one of the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world with about 100,000 people passing every hour. It is very impressive to watch during the day and night-time with all the lights around. For the perfect view buy a Matcha frappuccino or latte at the Starbucks in the QFront building, take a seat and watch the 2 min interval of the traffic lights.
Watching a traditional Japanese ceremonies at the Meiji shrine
Situated in the Yoyogi Park – more is a forest than a park – the Meiji Shrine can be reached by a stroll from the Harajuku station. When I reached the shrine in the afternoon the grounds were very crowded and typical Shinto activities, such as making offerings, buying charms and talisman, and two traditional Japanese weddings took place.
How to go to
Tokyo has two big airports -Tokyo Haneda and Tokyo Narita – which are connect Japan with the rest of the world. The most known airlines fly into Tokyo. After the opening of a new terminal at Haneda airport at 2010 this is the fourth biggest airport in the world. The Monorail connects the airport in 16 minutes with the city.
Narita Airport – the second biggest in Japan – is 60km away from Tokyo city. The most big air carrier operates to Narita too. The fastest connection to the city is by JR Rail in 55 min.
How to go around
The city has a very good metro systems which brings you to every place you want to go to. Tickets you can buy at every metro station at the machines which are a bit confusing in the beginning. To save time and trouble buy a rechargeable Pasmo card which also might be used in other Japanese cities. The fares for public transport vary by the distance/stops. All metro stations offer free WiFi but it took awhile until I figured out you only can use it with the Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi App which is for visitors very helpful to have. Make sure you download the app before you start exploring because Japan offers a surprisingly bad WiFi availability comparing to other countries.
The Metro maps is a huge drawing of an uncountable number of lines… at least if you stand in front and try to find out how to go from A to B. To avoid to get lost the App Tokyo Metro is very helpful to show you which lines will bring you to your destination and very important it works in offline mode.
Just if you plan to go out late nights keep in mind that the Tokyo metro does not run 24/7. Taxis are easy to find but not very cheap comparing to other industrial nations why it is helpful to have the Uber App on your phone.
Where to stay
A countless amount of hotel rooms, hostel beds, capsule hotels (mostly only for men) and Ryokans (traditional Japanese style inns) are spread all over the city.
It isn’t a secret that Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. That I realized soon when I was looking for a place to sleep. The areas Shinjuku, Shibuya and Roppongi are very popular and the locations very convenient for exploring the city but also quite expensive. I stayed in Akasaka – also a good place – in Kaisu hostel where I paid 155EUR for 4 nights in a 16 bed dorm. The price seemed to be normal in these popular areas. If you want to save money better look for a place to stay in Ueno or more up north but keep in mind that you also will spend more time and money to go from A to B by public transport. In case your budget is very low I would try to find a host on Couchsurfing. There are surprisingly many hosts in Tokyo despite the small size of the apartments. A good chance to see how the locals live and to learn more about the Japanese culture.