Neon skyscrapers, dark alleyways, red paper lanterns, robots, cutting edge fashion and video arcades… all your Tokyo dreams are real. What makes Tokyo iconic is that it 100% has its own identity; the everday characteristics of the city, the crammed standing bars, sushi on conveyor belts, anime billboards, you won’t find anywhere else in the world (or if you do, it’s an imitation). We spent six days in Tokyo but there was so much to see and do we could easily have spent weeks more. Our recent visit cemented it for me; Tokyo is one of the world’s best cities.
Here’s what we did in Tokyo.
We arrived in Tokyo on the Tuesday evening. After checking into our airbnb, which was in the Meguro district, we met our friend Brian who is from England but now lives in Tokyo. He took us to a nearby chicken restaurant then we went to a standing bar which we absolutely loved – the concept of drinking while standing in a tiny space with as many people crammed in as possible is so unique to Japan. The excitement lead to me getting a bit carried away and having more to drink than I should…
… resulting in me being pretty hungover for most of the Wednesday. I managed to get out and about, although admittedly Tokyo’s sights that day were viewed pretty much through a hungover fog. We headed over to Shimokitazawa, Tokyo’s hipster hood, which was filled with vintage stores and record shops.
We then went over to Daikanyama to meet Brian and his girlfriend at Mexican restaurant Hacienda del Cielo. We sat outside on the balcony which had incredible panoramic views of the Tokyo skyline.
Shibuya at night
After leaving the restaurant, Paul and I wandered down to Shibuya to see the famous pedestrian crossing . Tokyo is at its most impressive at night and Shibuya is one of the areas of the city with the futuristic neon landscape look. We wandered around in awe and took lots of pictures of the famous “Shibuya scramble.”
On Thursday, Paul and I walked through the neighbourhoods near our airbnb, Meguro and Ebisu, then went to Nakano Broadway, an indoor shopping arcade which is filled with manga, anime, and collectable figure shops.
We then headed over to the Kichijoji area. By this point it had started to rain so we ducked into Harmonica-yokocho which is near the station. Harmonica-yokocho is a covered market with low ceilings and narrow alleyways which was a black market after WWII and is now filled with teeny little bars and restaurants. As the rain battered outside, we stopped at a standing bar which just about accommodated me, Paul, the barman and another lady that arrived, and via Google Translate we all got chatting. It turned out the barman was a musician and artist; he played us some of his music and pointed out the pictures on the walls he had painted. Before we left, he told us to take two of the pictures away with us! It was so kind and generous of him. You can see his work on Instagram here.
Shinjuku at night
After we left Kichijoji, we headed over to Shinjuku and did the night walking tour recommended in the Lonely Planet. Like Shibuya, Shinjuku is another dizzying, chaotic, futuristic, neon filled district that is best experienced at night. There is also a seedy part of it that is filled with “love motels” and male host bars. The latter is particularly interesting to witness, it being something you don’t really see anywhere else in the world. It’s pretty weird; all the male hosts displayed in the ads look the same – blond spiky wigs and makeup. I guess Tokyo ladies must find 80s Bon Jovi attractive.
On Friday morning we headed over to Tsukiji Market to wander around and take in the bustling atmosphere.
We then went over to the Mori Art Museum at Roppongi Hills to see the view from the Skydeck at the top of the building. When we walked out on to the deck we immediately realised the panoramic view was way more impressive than we expected, in fact, it was possibly the most impressive city view we had ever seen. We decided we had to see it at night and as the sun sets early in Tokyo we only had to wait for an hour or so. The night view of the Tokyo skyline all lit up was amazing; we even just about saw the outline of Mount Fuji as the sun set over it. We stayed for hours and took about a million photos.
We then went to meet Brian and his friend Ryan for dinner in Yurakucho. Brian had previously recommended this area to us and it didn’t disappoint. In the arches under the elevated railway tracks are restaurants packed with people dining elbow to elbow as the trains rattle overhead. Outside are narrow dark alleyways strewn with red paper lanterns. Totally Blade Runner-esque. There are a few areas like this in Tokyo which are more touristy (the Golden Gai in Shinjuku is very touristy, Piss Alley is quite touristy too) but Yurakucho was a bit more off the beaten track.
Drinking in Shibuya
After leaving Yurakucho we headed over to Shibuya to a bar called Beat Cafe where we drank til the early hours.
On Saturday, the three of us headed to Yokohama, a town just outside Tokyo which is notable for having the largest Chinatown in Japan. We wandered the streets, snacked on dumplings, drank Tsingtao and took photos of the Chinese gates and lanterns which adorned the streets.
Night in Harajuku
We headed back to Tokyo and went to Harajuku for dinner. On Brian’s recommendation, we dined in a restaurant called Sakura Tei which specialises in okonomiyaki, a kind of Japanese pancake omelette which you cook on a hot plate at your table. After dinner we went to Baird Tap Room for drinks.
On Sunday Paul and I headed over to Akihabara, the home of Tokyo’s video game/anime/cosplay culture. On Sundays they make the main street pedestrianised, allowing folk to walk on the road. We wandered around for a while and took in the huge anime billboards, the video game arcades and the maid cafes. Akihabara is famous for its maid cafes but I saw a few other weird cafes like a cat cafe and someone on the street with an owl advertising an owl cafe. I also saw quite a few people dressed up in cosplay outfits.
After Akihabara, Paul went to a football game and I went back to Harajuku to visit the Kiddy Land toy store to buy some gifts. I also walked along the Omote-sando street which has all the fancy designer stores, as well as the Takeshita Street which is the teen fashion mecca with all the funky boutiques.
On Sunday we went to meet Brian for dinner at an Izakaya in Iidabashi. He ordered our food from a screen on the wall then it was brought to the table. It’s the future! We then went to a nearby Scottish bar which had Mackie’s crisps and a dubious map of Scotland.
On Monday, our final day in Tokyo, we headed over to Ginza and went to an udon noodle restaurant.
On our final afternoon in Tokyo, just before we left for the airport, Paul went record shopping and I headed back to Shibuya crossing determined to get good pics. I spent ages at different vantage points on the ground then headed up to Excel Hotel to the 25th floor as I’d read from a few different sources online you could get a really good view from there. I’d read the trick is to walk to the lifts past the sign that says “guests only” as if you use the other lifts you can’t get to the window with the view. I stayed up at the window for a while taking pics then I went to the Starbucks that overlooks the crossing, ordered a matcha latte, and took a few more pics from there (the pic above was taken from Excel Hotel).
Then we headed the airport (a two hour subway journey before a 20 hour trip home – gah!). We managed to do a lot in our six days in Tokyo but honestly there’s so much more we didn’t do – we didn’t see any of the shrines or the parks or the museums! And there’s whole neighbourhoods we didn’t go to. Tokyo has so much to offer I could go again and again. If only time and money was no object…