I spent four days in Tokyo after gallivanting all around Japan for almost two weeks. At this point, we were feeling the effects of all that travel, so we took it pretty easy in our last stop in Japan. Tokyo is massive. In fact, it is the largest metropolis in the world. The second largest being New York City. With so many things to do and see, Tokyo could have easily been the only place that we stayed in our two weeks in Japan, and we still would have had plenty to do! We fit as much as possible into those last four days, and really enjoyed ourselves.
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Where to Stay
We stayed in Okubo, which is a neighborhood in Shinjuku and has an extensive Korean population. If you want to eat Korean food while you are in Tokyo, I would suggest coming to Okubo. There is also a lot of shopping. I spent way too much money on skin care products at Tony Moly. There are several hostels in this area, but we stayed at Hikari House. It is conveniently located near Shin-Okubo station but is also close enough to walk into the heart of Shinjuku. Shin-Okubo Station is much easier to travel from that Shinjuku Station, which is arguably the busiest train station in Japan. We generally opted for walking to dinner most nights, and I even walked all the way to the National Garden one morning.
Rewinding a bit, when we first arrived in Japan we stayed at a place called Wise Owl Hostels. This hostel is in Chuo, Tokyo, also known as Chuo City. Ginza is the most popular area of this district. I want to mention this hostel because it is located in a quieter location than the previous one. If you want to stay in a more calm area, Wise Owl Hostels would be a good option for you. It is quiet, but it is located just around the corner from a train station, so you can easily set off on your adventures each day.
When people are planning on visiting Tokyo, they typically already know what parts of the city they are planning to frequent. Shinjuku is one such place. Shinjuku is a special ward in Tokyo and is home to so many Japanese landmarks. There is really something for everyone in Shinjuku. It is where you will find the infamous Robot Restaurant. The tallest skyscrapers in Tokyo are located in Shinjuku. You will also find almost any kind of food, the nightlife district of Golden Gai, the red light and entertainment district of Kabukicho, the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, and so much shopping.
Shopping in Shinjuku
We spent a lot of time shopping once we got back to Tokyo. We were at our last hostel and no longer needed to worry about lugging around a bunch of souvenirs. Honestly, the best advice I read before leaving on this trip was to end your trip in Tokyo and do all of your shopping there. Genius. One shop that you will see frequently in Japan is Don Quijote, frequently referred to as Donki. This is a discount store where you can find anything from groceries to electronics to clothing. You can find all sorts of unique items at Donki at a reasonable price.
If you are an electronics lover, the store for you is BIC Camera. With a floor for each category of electronic, you can find pretty much anything here for a good price. I was a bit overwhelmed, to be honest. If you know what you want, I would suggest having a game plan before coming into this store so that you can get in and get out without being caught up somewhere.
My personal favorite shopping experience was at the Takashimaya Department store, specifically at Tokyu Hands Shinjuku. This shop has so many fun and unique items. It is a home goods store with an emphasis on DIY crafts. We spent a lot of time perusing the aisles and finding fun little crafts that were easy enough to pack and take home. This store is intriguing and you can definitely spend a lot of time here.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Shinjuku Gyoen is the official garden of the Imperial family. The park is huge and is a stark contrast to the massive skyscrapers that loom nearby. The gardens are a popular place for hanami or cherry blossom viewing. There is a small fee to enter, but your ticket lasts all day if you want to leave and come back. I strolled through the gardens early in the morning and walked through some of the different gardens that are inspired by other cultures.
There are a couple of places within the park where you can buy refreshments. I saw a wedding party taking photos, groups of middle-aged women walking together, people like myself who were walking solo, runners, children, you name it, I saw it. If you need a break from the big city, visit the National Garden to surround yourself with nature for a while before returning. I tend to need a break from crowds, so the gardens were a welcome diversion for me.
I spent considerably less time in Shibuya but had to experience the busiest intersection in the world. The Shibuya scramble is famous and is featured in pretty much any movie that has a scene in Tokyo. Another famous landmark near Shibuya Station is the Hachiko statue. This famous meeting place features a statue of an Akita, who used to wait patiently for his owner at Shibuya station in the 1920s and continued to wait for him even after his owner passed away. Hachiko is a symbol or loyalty and fidelity in Japan. They even call him chuken-Hachiko, meaning “faithful dog Hachiko”. Recently there has been a cat that likes to sleep between the legs of the Hachiko statue. Someone had even placed a little bed for the cat when we visited. Hopefully, you are lucky enough to see this little guy who loves the company of Hachiko!
We only spent an evening in Odaiba, but I really loved it. Odaiba is a man-made island in the Tokyo bay that is a major shopping and entertainment area. We went to see the giant Gundam, however, it had just been taken down in order to replace it with a new one. We did get to see Tokyo’s Statue of Liberty, or Goddess of Liberty. You can get an amazing view of the Rainbow bridge, and all of Tokyo really. The main shops we came to visit were Hello Kitty Japan, Donguri Garden, and the Gundam shops. We saw them all!
Hello Kitty Japan and the Gundam shop are located inside of Diver City Japan, which is very close to the Goddess of Liberty statue and the train station. Donguri Garden, which is a Studio Ghibli shop, is located inside the Venus Fort shopping mall, which is a part of Palette Town. This is a very popular and different shopping area. I have honestly never seen anything like it before. The inside of Venus Fort is designed like something from another part of the world with intricate fountains and ceilings that look like the night sky. It is kind of like walking into a museum rather than a mall. In fact, we walked into the lower level, which was a car museum.
Asakusa, located in northeastern Tokyo, has more of a historical vibe. You will find Sensoji, a popular Buddhist temple, in this area. Nakamise street leads up to Sensoji. This street is full of shops of local specialties and the usual touristy souvenir items. I found a lovely set of chopsticks and some other cute items here. It is very crowded, so I recommend going here early in the day so that you don’t get overwhelmed by people.
Sensoji Temple has an enormous presence. The Kaminarimon, or Thunder Gate, is the entrance, which leads you down Nakamise Street and then through Hozomon Gate which stands before the temple’s main hall and a five-storied pagoda. The Asakusa Shrine stands to the left of the temple. I know that there are many events that take place at Sensoji Temple throughout the year. If your trip lines up with an event it could be an amazing experience!
Located in Southern Tokyo, Tokyo Tower stands in splendor. Tokyo Tower is the tallest self-supported steel tower in the world, standing thirteen meters taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which it is modeled after. It was the tallest structure in Japan until the Tokyo Skytree overtook it in 2012. You can pay to go up the tower to experience great views of the city. The top of the tower was closed when we were there, so we decided not to go up halfway. Instead, we grabbed a quick snack and drinks at the Tokyo Tower Highball Garden. I had a pizza and beer, while my brother chose to enjoy a highball, a cocktail of whiskey and club soda. It was a really beautiful day to just walk around and gaze up at the tower.
Electronics, anime, and video gamers rejoice at the chance to visit Akihabara or Electric City in Tokyo. The center for Japan’s Otaku culture is Akihabara with many shops dedicated to anime and manga. We just wandered through shops and got lost for a while. You can find so many little treasures here. We found video game stores with games that we thought to be long-lost. There are stores dedicated to figurines of anime characters. Some shops are multi-storied, and you can find a level for whatever kind of nerd you may be. My brother and I fit right in here. There are literally hundreds of electronics stores that cater to whatever you may be looking for. You can also find themed cafes in the area, such as maid cafes and a popular Gundam cafe. Let your inner nerd out in Akihabara!
Staying in the otaku theme, Ikebukuro in Northern Tokyo is a smaller otaku center of Japan. Ikebukuro caters more to female otakus with butler cafes, cosplay, and manga shops. The main attraction of this area is Sunshine City, a large entertainment and shopping complex. We went specifically for Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo, the largest Pokemon Center in Japan. This store is massive. If you love or even just like Pokemon, walking into this store will age you Benjamin Button style until you are a pre-teen pokemon trainer running around the store with glee. I had way too much fun here. As we were leaving the store and Sunshine City, we happened to catch the end of a J-Pop performance, which was an incredible experience just seeing the die-hard fans of this girl group. You never know what you will get to see in Tokyo so make sure to pay attention!
Studio Ghibli Museum, Mitaka
This is one of the highlights of Japan for me. I have loved Studio Ghibli movies since I was a kid, and this museum did not disappoint. You have to buy the tickets on specific days, so make sure to plan ahead if you want to visit. Information about tickets can be found here. You will take a train to Mitaka Station where you can catch a bus to the Museum. The bus really stands out as it is yellow, and just screams Studio Ghibli. There is no photography permitted inside of the museum, so you can only snap some shots from the outside.
The museum tour starts with a screening of an original short film that you can only see inside the museum. They are only in Japanese, but the one I saw didn’t have any dialogue so it didn’t really matter. Then you walk through what I consider to be the mind of Hayao Miyazaki and see how so many beloved films came to life. There is a great gift shop inside and a little cafe outside that you can enjoy. This is a kid-friendly museum, but adults will have a great time as well. Sit inside the cat bus, flip through some of Miyazaki’s original sketchbooks, and just be a kid as you take in this museum with a giddy feeling.
There is so much more to do in Tokyo that I was unable to experience. I already have a list of things to do on my next visit to Japan! If you are planning a trip to Japan in the near future, be sure to read my article Getting Around in Japan to learn more about transportation in Japan. It can get confusing! Read through some of my other posts about Japan if you are looking for ideas for your trip.