After living for almost five years in London, the thought of spending five days in the chaos of a big city like Tokyo did not scare me. That idea of greatness in the architecture, parks and billboards as opposed to the almost claustrophobic feeling you get in the narrow lines for the subway, were all feelings I already knew. What I did not know is that London, with its modest 13 million inhabitants, compared to the 38 million people leaving in Tokyo is just a whisker. I can assure you that we, in the Western World, do not know what real chaos looks like!
But Tokyo is not only the city of chaos, it is the metropolis of contradictions. You cannot smoke on the streets, and you will get heavy fines if you do, but you can smoke in bars and public places indoors. While waiting for the train or the subway, people line up mechanically in precise and definite queues but no one has ever known whether on escalators they should keep the right or the left. There are no bins for rubbish on the streets – one day to throw a plastic bottle I had to wait almost four hours – but you will never find even a piece of paper on the ground! The antiquity of places like temples, palaces or Zen gardens is opposed to unbridled modernism districts like Shinjuku (electronics) or Odaiba (a group of artificial islands with futuristic buildings). The tradition, rooted in the people, seems almost “ostentatious” with swarms of young girls who pay good money to rent a yukata (the typical kimono worn by geisha) for a ‘whole day and take selfies in every corner of the city!
Me and my beardy boy stayed in Tokyo for 5 full days, which gave us the opportunity to explore the most characteristic districts (partly following the advice of the Lonely Planet – Japan and partly following our instinct) and to do some sightseeing during the day around the capital.
In this post I will tell you our detailed itinerary for a full-immersion of three days between the districts of Tokyo. I warn you, it’s tiring but I assure it’s worth it! To intersperse a while, in the next post instead I will propose two daily trips from Tokyo.
One of the most frequent tips we came across while browsing through various travel blogs, preparing our itinerary, was to visit the Tsukiji fish market early in the morning (around 5 am), so as to witness the famous tuna auction (to access as tourists you need to book!), and then have breakfast at one of the many market stalls. Me and my beardy boy, still disoriented by the jet-lag, got up a little later and we went to the market around lunch time under an heavy incessant rain (don’t worry, you will find stalls and vendors of umbrellas everywhere: we weren’t able to resist the charm of a transparent umbrella with black handle!). The Tsukiji Market will leave you speechless: it is the largest fish market in the world (both internal and external)! They sell fish of all kinds, even oysters for various prices (300 ~ 500 JPY), sea urchins and scallops can be enjoyed instantly! Unfortunately you cannot take pictures inside, but do not despair … personally, the outdoor area is the one that impressed me the most! It’ full of small fish shops and restaurants to taste sushi of any kind, or, if you prefer ramen or fish and vegetable tempura. You will find souvenir shops every 5 meters, where you can buy your sets to prepare or serve sushi, tea-set and your personal chopsticks. For fine cuisine lovers, professional stores sell sharp hand-made kitchen knives with prices, sometimes, exceeding 5000 € :O
Walking away from the market, along the way that crosses Tokyo Station, you will get to Ginza street, the street of shops that reminded me of the 5th Avenue in NYC. Here you will find all the big names! The touch of Japanese culture is certainly not missing, with a huge shopping center with 2 big Hello Kitty to welcome you at the entrance. Even if you do not want to dip into your wallet, a walk in this area is definitely worthwhile and not too tiring.
Moreover, Ginza street will take you straight into the Maronouchi area where you will find the headquarters of the Imperial Palace (unfortunately the building is only visible from the outside while to visit the gardens you will have to book- passport is requested at the entrance!)
In front of the building you can admire two ancient bridges the Niju-bashi iron bridge and the Megane-bashi stone bridge, in addition to the perfectly trimmed lawns that have nothing to envy to the royal parks in London!
Move (this time using public transport) to the Harajuku district, Tokyo’s fashion district where you can see all the latest trends of the Eastern world and walk among Japanese hipster. Head straight for the Meiji-Jingu, the most important Shinto shrine in Tokyo, dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.
The territory is covered by a forest of 120,000 trees of 300 different species. The Meiji Jingu is a really impressive place to visit, surrounded by several torii. The biggest one is 12 m high and it was built in the trunk of a Japanese cypress of 1500 years.
Tip: if you visit Tokyo in June, do not miss the irises garden (500 JPY) where you can walk and relax or stop and meditate in the banks along the ponds. Walking around you’ll certainly come across groups of tourists standing motionless with their arm extended: do not worry, thery not crazy: they are waiting for the cute little birds that come to rest on them, try it too! Following the path through the trees you will reach the Meiji Shrine. Such a calm and peaceful place in the middle of a metropolis like Tokyo seems almost absurd!
If you are not too tired yet, but instead you feel recharged by the walk through the trees, head back toward Harajuku Station and continue to Takeshita-dori (Takeshita Street), the most stravagant shopping street in Tokyo where you will meet girls with absurd clothes eating the famous Takeshita Street crepes. Walk down the street in between the many souvenir shops trying to disengage from the thousands of teenagers and sellers who scream at the entrance of every store in an attempt to convince you to buy, until you reach Omote-sando.
This is another way evocative of the big names in which it is worth take a walk.. we walked up to cat Street, another cute street full of emerging designer stores and brands that I definitely recommend if you are in the mood for some shopping!
Walking (if you still haven’t had enough) for another 15 minutes, you will arrive at the famous Shibuya crossing.
It feels like getting inside a video game, with a fabulous jingle starting from traffic lights, big screens and neon lights around the buildings and people crossing the length and breadth diagonally! Try to stop at the center of the crossing while thousands of people will graze in every direction! If you’re here at dinner time, take a trip to the Food Market of Shibuya, where the food is discounted after 17:00 (we had dinner with sushi for two spending about 1000 JPY!). Just near the crossing there is a monument dedicated to Hachiko, the dog who became famous for his enormous loyalty to the owner, too cute!
Head to the Akasusa district, and go down the path bordered by shops that follow each other straight through the front door of the Senso-ji temple. You will run into hundreds of (fake) geishas, and school children with the characteristic white shirt and blue skirt/pants as you may have seen on Sailor Moon.
Once arrived at the temple, try the typical Fortune tickets. With 100 JPY you can buy a card that tells you your future fortune, you have to read it (the back is in English!) and pray to the gods to achieve it (if you have had a positive luck) or not realize it (if you have had bad luck). The ticket is then folded and tied up like a steel wire belt and arranged in front of the temple.
Move to Ueno Park, where, besides the usual gold Shinto temple (Tosho-gu), you can admire the lake’s largest water lilies you have ever seen. In another area of the park you can also rent the lovely swan shaped boats for a ride in the pond!
Leaving the park (we came across a boy band playing live in front of tens of crazy girls: D) continue on foot towards Nippori station. Walking in that direction (don’t worry it’s not too grim!) you will cross the Yanaka cemetery, where the play of light through the trees is truly charming.
Move, this time with the metro / train to Akihabara (electric or cities), which is precisely the area of electronics and anime.
In Akihabara there are not so many discounts on laptops, mobile phones and cameras (the prices are the same as those found in Italy and Europe), but you will definitely find any accessory or electronic item you possibly want. And if you pay well attention while walking on the streets, you’ll also find some -not very common in the western world- domestic animals!
In this district, you can also fully appreciate the world of manga and comics, but be careful when you enter the shops … usually the last floor is entirely dedicated to video games (manga style!) and adult items: O
Continuing your walk, do not miss a visit to Shinjuku, the district of neon lights inside which you will find Kabuchico, the more transgressive district of the city, originally run by the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia), full of salt gaming (Pachinko) and local strippers.
The third day of this full immersion in the Japanese capital is – inevitably, you will feel super tired if you followed the route to the letter – much more relaxing and peaceful.
Start your day by heading towards Roppongi. This district is frequented by tourists mainly in the evening because of the many discos, (be careful, because every cocktail bar or pub has usually an entrance fee – ranging between 400 and 1000 JPY, not including drink), but if you want to make a tour of art galleries or a nice brunch American-style it is definitely the place for you! Take a tour in the area and get to the Roppongi Hills, a housing estate with lots of parks, restaurants and shops that surround the Mori Tower, a skyscraper of 54 floors that culminates with the Tokyo City View, where you can admire (fog permitting) a panoramic view of the city.
Reach the Shimbashi station (by metro / train or bus), then take the monorail towards Yurikamome Odaiba direction. This is another very famous Tokyo neighbourhood, its size is closer to a city within a city 🙂 Futuristic Odaiba is in fact an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, and – if I can tell you my opinion- falls for sure in my top 3 of this trip / tour of Japan. The train that takes you to the island will give you a pretty good idea of the majesty and greatness of Tokyo!
If you, as we did, will go to Odaiba at sunset, I am pretty sure you will be amazed! The infinite and spectacular Rainbow Bridge with the multitude of skyscrapers that seem to emerge from the water, while the sun is hiding behind illuminating the edges, presents a truly spectacular view!
And there’s more: in Odaiba you can take pictures with a scaled down version of the Statue of Liberty, a giant reproduction (18 meters!) of the great Gundam robot or in front of a very bizarre Fuji TV building, on which are projected animated neon lights, that reminded us of the pacman game!
Take a ride in the middle of a park with a futuristic design that leads to the artificial beach, cool off with a beer by the sea (you know, it is strange to say!) and go for a spin in the vast shopping center Aqua City, before retiring, for the day, by dining in one of the delicious ethnic restaurants!
I hope the route will be of help, and above all that the photos gave you an idea of the immense beauty of this city! Many thanks to Fabrizio (aka Faffi -my beardy boy! -) for helping me the pics and the article! <3 You will find more photos on his instagram profile @donassist and using the hashtag #sarigatojapan <3
Next week I will propose another article with 2 day trips from Tokyo!
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