A Metropolitan Masterpiece
THE QUICK FIX
Tokyo is in a class of it’s own. From the never ending busyness of Shibuya, to the peaceful shrines in the heart of the city, there is simply no other place like it on earth. It's hectic. It's busy. It's crowded. It's loud. It's absolutely amazing.
Where you stay in Tokyo is essential in order to maximize your time in the cosmopolitan city. During peak season, expect to pay top dollar for a hotel room. My family decided to go with an Airbnb for our short 3 days in the city, a more affordable option if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly sleeping arrangement. We stayed in the Shinjuku area, which was a fantastic spot within walking distance to shops, nightlife, food, and the subway stations when you need to go a little further.
While the Tsukiji Fish Market was closed the day we went, the outside market beyond the tuna docks and auctions were open with some incredible street-side seafood to taste. For under 1000 yen, you can get your hands on any combination of fresh tuna, shrimps, salmon, and my parents favourite, scallops with uni. There were lots of small sashimi restaurants to wander into and have lunch in as well. Another favourite of my family were the small ramen shops scattered all around the city. If you find yourself on the go, check out the variety of ramen shops gathered inside Tokyo Station on ‘Tokyo Ramen Street’ for a superb bite of some of the best noodles money can buy. When it comes to food, it’s great, and it’s everywhere. Don’t use my list, simply hop into any restaurant near you that looks appetizing, and dig in.
The experiences are endless in Tokyo. You could come back time and time again and never run out of new streets to see and things to do. My stay was way too short and only the tip of the Tokyo iceberg. Nonetheless, here are a few of my highlights and recommendations.
Harajuku Park/Meiji Shrine
Undoubtedly one of my highlights of Tokyo. The busyness of the city disappears behind large trees and nature as you wander the rocky paths into the park. Pass the famous wall brightly coloured Sake barrels and under the arches on your way to Meiji Shrine. In addition to the opportunity to observe and partake in sacred Japanese customs and traditions, take the time to really soak in the atmosphere. It is incredibly rare and special to find such a serene place in the middle of bustling metropolis.
Shopping. This area is home to many luxury designers and international retailers. Our family’s highlight was the flagship UNIQLO, all 12 floors of it. As a foreign visitor - don’t forget to bring your passport with you on your shopping day! Keep an eye out for the ‘TAX FREE’ logo on many storefronts where you can enjoy a tax break on a total purchase at a single store over 5000 yen. Keep in mind that these goods may not be used until departure from Japan, and can be subject to inspection at your port of exit.
Shibuya is home to the busiest and most famous intersection in the world, a sight you truly have to see to believe. In a matter of seconds, watch as the entire street becomes flooded with hundreds of people crossing in multiple directions, including diagonally, and within just as many seconds, the street fills with cars again. There is a Starbucks on one of the corners with second floor tables and chairs overlooking the intersection. Seats are hard to get right by the window, but grab a bite, be patient, and it will be worth your while.
Take Tokyo as an opportunity to visit the second tallest manmade structure on planet earth. TOKYO SKYTREE is as gorgeous and intimidatingly tall as it sounds. There are two main ticket tiers to purchase, one that takes you to the Tembo Deck, which is the first observation deck standing 350 meters high, and the second takes you to Tembo Gallery, the second observation deck 100m higher. Our family stuck to the first observation deck and did not buy the combo package as it was fairly expensive to go all the way to the top. Once you’re high above the city, there is an incredible view of the seemingly endless amounts of buildings and roads spreading all the way to the horizon line.
It is almost inevitable to at one point or another conquer the subway lines. A slew of rainbow lines criss cross all over the maps, but rest assured, once you get a handle on it, it's actually fairly easy and affordable to get around. For those taking transit occasionally on their trip, as we did, purchase a SUICA or PASMO card to tap on all ‘IC’ readers. It’s pay as you go, but will save you time looking for cash to buy paper tickets every trip. The 500 yen deposit on the cards are also refundable as well on your way out of the city! Generally speaking, the day passes and bundles are only worthwhile if you plan on commuting a lot in a short amount of time. However, take advantage of the density of the city and how much there is to see in each are of the city, and save on transportation money as well!
LANGUAGE & CULTURE
While menus and billboards are strictly Japanese, you will find that all locals, regardless of any language barrier, are incredibly welcoming and willing to help as best as they can. If you're a strictly English speaker, it can be tough at first, but pointing at pictures or showing translations on your phone are usually the easiest ways to get the help you need.
The city of Tokyo is incredibly busy, even overwhelming and chaotic, but in the most beautiful, amazing, and organized way. This New York-esque playground and metropolis has everything you could need for a city escape. An unbelievable bucket list worthy adventure.