When I used to think of Tokyo, I would imagine gizmos and gadgets, hustle and bustle, bright lights, and neon signs. And sure, Tokyo has that in spades. But, it’s also home to some of the most incredible and peaceful areas I’ve ever been to, which I most certainly was not expecting.
We spent 10 days exploring this popular city, and I was instantly surprised to find that, even though it is big and bustling, the city has a real calm about it. I never felt like I was in anyone’s way. The streets are clean and tidy (seriously, not a cigarette butt or abandoned coffee cup to be found). And everyone is so friendly and welcoming.
It’s also really quiet, which is one of the things about Japan that I still find fascinating. Put 30 people in a room or train carriage in Melbourne, and you’d be lucky to hear yourself think. In Japan, you can hear a yen drop.
Speaking of trains, the transport system in Tokyo is incredible. It’s really easy to navigate, and you can get almost anywhere in a short space of time. I’ve never been so keen to jump on a train or take public transport (in Melbourne, I try and avoid it as much as humanly possible). But, surprisingly, the city of Tokyo is also extremely walkable. We’d often forgo trains in favour of walking through neighbouring areas, with the bonus of seeing a lot more along the way.
In a nutshell, Tokyo is like a whole bunch of smaller cities connected to form one. Each area we visited felt quite different from the next, but they were all home to a wonderful mix of old and new. So, what are some of the things you simply must do in Tokyo? Read on to find out.
6 things you simply must do in Tokyo
1. Explore beautiful Gardens
Tokyo is home to two of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever visited – and many more that I didn’t get a chance to see. Carefully manicured with wide open spaces, calming ponds teeming with koi, and perfect little trees and shrubs dotted around the place. If it weren’t for the skyline in the distance, you’d easily forget you were in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Shinjuku
Rikugien Gardens, Komagome
2. Visit peaceful Shrines
Shrines are such an important part of Japanese culture. They’re sacred places steeped in tradition, regularly visited by locals and tourists alike.
Meiji Shrine, Shibuya
Housed within a large parkland area, Meiji Shrine, in particular, is incredible. I can’t really describe it, but as soon as we entered the grounds, a feeling of complete calm and tranquillity came over me. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Asakusa Shrine, Asakusa
Asakusa Shrine can be found among the bustling streets of Asakusa. Before you get to the shrine itself, you’ll need to pass through the strip of stalls offering tempting treats, souvenirs, and a wonderful mix of delicacies and odds and ends.
3. Discover incredible Parks
There are so many wonderful parks in Tokyo – in fact, you’re likely to find one in nearly every area in the city. For such a big and bustling city, Tokyo has a lot of green spaces, perfect for wandering, relaxing, or just admiring nature.
Ueno Park and Zoo, Ueno
Yoyogi Park, Shibuya / Harajuku
4. Get lost at TeamLab
It’s a little out of the way, but I highly recommend a trip to Shin-Toyosu for the TeamLab experience. A digital art museum, there are two different installations available: Planet and Borderless. We opted for Planet, which offers four exhibition spaces and seven creative artworks.
You guys, this place is amazing!
I won’t give too many spoilers, but each room is completely different, offering a mix of tangible and digital elements to create an immersive experience. It was really hard to photograph, but one room, for example, was filled (up to our calves) with water that looked like a pond with koi swimming around. It was so life-like, I couldn’t help but reach out to try and touch them, even while knowing they weren’t really there.
5. Check out these neighbourhoods
Of course, any visit to Tokyo requires checking out some of the more traditional tourist hot-spots, too. Like, visiting the following areas…
Akihabara is a techy paradise! This is where you’re guaranteed to find all of your gizmos and gadgets, bright lights, and neon signs. As avid gamers, we came here to check out stores such as Super Potato – famous for its collection of retro consoles and games. There was so much nostalgia in this store alone, let me tell you! From Nintendo 64’s in perfect condition to GameBoy games as far as the eye could see. Literal heaven.
Harajuku has always been high on my list of Tokyo must-sees. Unfortunately during our visit, we didn’t see so many of the Harajuku girls the area is famous for, dressed up in all manner of costumes, but it was worth a visit for Takeshita Street alone.
We also checked out Cat Street, which is a really neat laneway offering funky boutique fashion stores. It’s also where I tried my first takoyaki street food, and was not disappointed.
Think Shibuya, and you automatically think of Shibuya Crossing. Honestly, unless the footpaths are completely crowded with people, it’s not all that obvious you’re standing on one of the most photographed crossings in the world. Time of day probably has a lot to do with it!
Not only the home of Godzilla himself, Shinjuku also boasts Takashimaya Times Square. We opted to stay in Shinjuku during our time in Tokyo, mostly due to its central location. Everything was super handy, there was so much to see and do, and the streets are really safe. I never felt uncomfortable wandering, even at night.
6. Eat all the food
I can’t do a blog post and not include some dining options, now can I?! I’ll admit, we weren’t overly adventurous with our meals in Tokyo. Mostly because we were on a budget, but also there were just so many options! But here are some of the places we tried during our stay.
Coffees and Cakes (aka Breakfast)
Overall, I found coffee shops quite expensive in Tokyo. I’m talking at least $6 AUD for a latte. But, most of the coffees we had were made well, so there’s that. Japan is well-known for its set (or combo) meals, which usually work out cheaper, so we often opted for those instead.
Beck’s Coffee Shop, Akihabara
Café du Riche, Shinjuku – definitely on the expensive side.
Dotour – you can find these coffee shops all over the place, but the coffee is just okay.
McDonalds – if you’ve never had a Japanese McMuffin before, you’re missing out!
Nico Cafe – cute little coffee shop that makes amazing coffee.
Light Meals and Snacks
Crepes – there are so many crepe stalls, you really can’t go wrong.
Family Mart – seriously my favourite shop in all of Japan. Family Marts are like mini supermarkets but way better. Their sushi is fresh and delicious, and overall the stores are really inexpensive. We’d often save a lot of money by purchasing a bunch of food and having dinner at our hotel.
Takoyaki stall – you can find these all over the place.
Bonsalute KABUKI, Shinjuku – an Italian restaurant in the heart of Shinjuku. This place was so good! We could even see the chef making our pizza from where we were sitting.
Hokkaido is Dekkaido, Shinjuku – I wrote the name of this place down, but can’t find any information for it online! It was in our hotel complex and offered delicious food good for sharing. We ordered a few plates such as crispy chicken, salad, and rice. So good we ate here twice.
JS Burgers, Shinjuku – good old American fare here. Delicious burgers, salads, and iced teas.
Uobei Sushi – I found out about this place thanks to Little Grey Box, and it became a fast favourite of ours! A sushi train where each seat has its own ordering screen and the food comes right out to you. Affordable, fun, and so yummy!
Ever since leaving Tokyo, I’ve been dreaming of going back! There is just so much to see and do, and we barely scratched the surface during our 10 days. We saw a whole lot of nature, greenery, and calm spaces, which I certainly wasn’t expecting from such a huge and popular city.
I must admit, it kind of made me love my time there even more!
Have you visited Tokyo before?
What was your highlight? Anything else we simply must do on our next trip?