I’m back with travel tips and tricks! This time, I thought I’d share more about the Japanese city I’ve spent the most time in – Tokyo. It’s probably the most talked about city in Japan, and maybe the most “touristy” city (except, seriously, how can an entire city be “touristy”?), but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fantastic city to visit (and live in).
If you’re headed to Japan for the first time, you should know that it’s crowded. Tokyo, in particular, is crowded. Avoid commute times if at all possible – it is not fun to be stuck in a large stream of commuters. If you can’t avoid commute time, at least try to stay out of the way. Locals know how to navigate the large train stations and not be a nuisance to the steady flow of people. Tourists, on the other hand, do not. Just walk with the flow of the traffic and hope for the best. Or just stay out of the way, period. 🙂
Now, with that said, Tokyo is a beautiful city. Full of great people, food and sights. It’s a great place to learn about history, and you can find entertainment in so many shapes and forms. Here are some of my tips and recommendations:
Tokyo, for all of it’s urban-ness, is a great place for parks and gardens. You can check out smaller, local places like Senzokuike (a pond and park area) or go to a larger one like Rikugien (there’s a small entrance fee, but it’s only a few dollars).
Perhaps it’s a stereotype, but many Japanese people love going to museums and seeing works of art. Japan also has museums about everything from food (ranging from cup noodles to wine and cheese) to movies (like the Studio Ghibli) and everything in between. Japan knows how to put together museum exhibits. It may cost money to attend most exhibits, but I can guarantee you’re in for a treat! Museums will be particularly excellent if you’re traveling with kids.
Museums to check out:
Studio Ghibli (I’ve never been, but I’ve always wanted to go)
Tokyo National Museum
The National Art Center (their recent exhibit on Mucha was fantastic)
Even if you don’t go to the ones above, I’m positive that you’ll find a museum of interest. There’s everything from a currency museum to folk crafts and even a Madame Tussaud’s!
3. Tokyo Disneyland + DisneySea
I know what you’re thinking; Disneyland is American. It’s true, but it’s also true that a lot of Japanese people love Disney and many adults love visiting on the weekends and evenings. It’s a date spot and has a uniquely Japanese feel – at least in its souvenirs and foods, it’s different from the American theme parks.
I would say that the rides seem a bit tamer, but if you’re a Disney fan, I’d highly recommend going! DisneySea only exists in Japan and features the movies and themes from the sea-centered Disney stories.
Extra note: The Disney hotels around the park also have pretty good deals if you look at places like Booking.com!
4. Bookstores + Karaoke + Game Centers
I’m lumping bookstores, game centers, and karaoke together because they are some of the distinctive Japanese stores that I love and miss in the US. First of all, Japanese bookstores don’t seem to be having the same crisis that we have in the States. The large-scale bookstores, in particular, appear to be doing quite well as they occupy multi-storied buildings and are always full of customers.
To be fair, many people in Japan go to bookstores to read rather than purchase the items. Still, I’ve always seen a steady stream of customers in the actual cashier lines. Anyway, even if you don’t read Japanese, it should be a fun cultural experience to meander the aisles of Japanese bookstores!
Karaoke joints are also quite popular in Japan. You can find them near all the major train stations with bright lights, and again, multiple stories. I have yet to find an American karaoke place that lives up to the ones in Japan.
Game Centers. What can I say about them, aside from the fact that they were my childhood? They’re incredibly colorful, brightly lit and so much fun. While we have arcades in the US as well, they are nothing compared to the ones they have in Tokyo and Japan in general.
Like every city, Tokyo has magnificent neighborhoods to walk around. You’ll find tourists and locals in every part of town, so just pick the ones that appeal to you. As a teenager, I loved exploring Harajuku (Takeshita street has some quality rock-band t-shirts and random trinkets that you never know you needed). Most recently, I’ve spent a lot of time in Asakusa (great for souvenir shopping, visiting the famous temple and food). I also went to Shitamachi (the old downtown) for the first time this spring. Shibuya, the famous area for shopping and ridiculously crowded intersections, is also fantastic for shopping and people watching.