Last year, exactly 10 years after our last time traveling together to South Africa (2006), my father, my brother Lucas, and I went to Japan. We went with a group and I will report on what I think about group travels in a different post. This one should be about Tokyo and its many faces. I grouped the sights into day trips. The tours are not exactly as they were planned for our group and also don’t reflect our days in Tokyo accurately, as I would leave some things out and add other things for the next time.
Day 1: Shinjuku – Harajuku – Shibuya
For a day of Japanese contrasts, start in Shinjuku. Shinjuku is not only department stores and offices, but also home to a grand park (Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden), and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices. The train station Shinjuku is the busiest in the world, a sight in itself.
After strolling around in Shinjuku I recommend to visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices for the great view over the city and their canteen lunch. In order to enter the canteen a visitor pass is required. This again requires some Japanese or advanced improvisation skills. But it’s still definitely worth the experience and the food.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices:
Meal selection canteen:
Continue the day with visiting the Meiji Shrine. It’s possible to walk to the shrine, but better to take the train to Harajuku. The Meiji Shrine is the biggest Shinto Shrine in Tokyo located in a park. I’m quite sure that the park is worth a closer look and walk around, but it was pouring when we got there. As the shrine is actively used for Shinto ceremonies, we caught a glimpse of a wedding ceremony.
Lucas unimpressed by the weather:
Attendees of the ceremony:
Posh people will have several wedding ceremonies, including a westernised one with a Christian touch. By chance, we passed one of these parties as well on that day.
I just really like this picture:
After business quarter and Shinto traditions you can now visit Harajuku, Tokyos crazy fashion district. Although I have to say it was kind of a disappointment and I agree with those people that say Harajuku-style is dead (https://qz.com/909573/japans-wild-creative-harajuku-street-style-is-dead-long-live-uniqlo/). It was trashy and colourful and all, but not as captivating as I expected it to be. Maybe all the tourists are also part of the problem, or we just weren’t there at the right time. Anyway, plan a stop at Cookie Time, because every experience gets better with cookies and ice cream!
Shop in Harajuku:
From Harajuku walk towards Shibuya crossing. Shibuya is Tokyo like I imagined it to look like. Large streets, blinking lights everywhere, shops over shops, and many many people. Directly at Shibuya crossing you also find the statue of Hachiko the dog (that’s the one that waited for his owner day after day, I think there’s even a movie about the story).
Even though Shibuya crossing is already impressive during the day definitely wait to see it after sundown. You can drink a coffee at the huge Starbucks at the corner in the meanwhile (I really avoid Starbucks when not traveling, but it’s convenient. You are surely thirsty because of the cookies, know what to expect, and they usually have wifi).
Waiting (this shot is actually made out of Starbucks):
Me in the middle:
Day 2: Asakusa – Ueno – Sumida
Asakusa is not really among the top sights in Tokyo. I still recommend a visit and I don’t only do so because our hotel was in Asakusa.
One of the main attractions in this district ist a temple, Senso-ji, with a special gate called Hōzōmon featuring a huge red lantern. Not far away, nicely viewable from the Sumida riverbank are the headquarters of the Asahi brewery. The office building resembles a glass of beer (with foam on top). The smaller building next to it is topped with the Asahi flame, that represents the burning heart of the Asahi beer. Btw, in German beer measures Asahi classifies as drinkable.
View from our Hotel room:
Do you see a beer with foam? (Asahi brewery headquarters):
– Sorry for the awful picture quality –
Asakusa is quite close to Ueno park that hosts the National Museum, the Metropolitan Art Museum, and the Museum of Nature and Science. I visited the National Museum that exhibits for example kimonos from different time periods, traditional paintings and scrolls, weapons and decorated daggers. The museums shop is interesting as well, even though too expensive. In case you want to eat something before visiting a museum I recommend one of the sushi places around Ueno station that serve every plate for the same price (less calculations and wallet-friendly). There’s also a Hardrock Café inside the station, in case you like their food or T-shirts.
In the evening I recommend taking a look at all the different stalls in Ameyoko. You can buy literally everything ranging from fish and fruit to jeans and even kebabs. We bought green tea and a jeans jacket for Lucas.
Food stalls in Ameyoko:
When it’s dark (but before 9 pm, because things close quite early in Japan) take the train to Tokyo Skytree. The entrance fee is rather expensive (around 20€), but on cloudless days it’s more than worth it. On the top you have an amazing view over the city.
Day 3: Chuo – Ginza – Chiyoda – Akihabara
The third day in Tokyo I’d start with a visit to Tsukiji fish market in Chuo. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to go there. You have to get up really early and arrive there at about 3 am in order to be able to see the tuna auctions at around 5 am, but I think it’s an interesting visit even without the auction.
After a breakfast at the market you can go for shopping in Ginza. On Sundays some streets are closed to cars and so you can walk around more relaxed. Uniqlo which is of course not unique to Japan anymore sells some specially designed Japan shirts in its shop here. More original, but also much more expensive are souvenirs from Mitsukoshi Department Store.
As the imperial palace is not far away from Ginza, have a look at the building (from the outside) and take a walk in the surrounding area. We actually saw someone taking a walk in the palace’s gardens surrounded by a few attendants, it might have been the empress.
View from the park:
In the evening, take the train to Akihabara, supposedly the tech and nerd district of Tokyo.
I say supposedly, because it left Lucas and me slightly unimpressed. Weird for us are of course the Maid Cafés, where cosplay dressed girls serve “masters” instead of guests and are happy to help you personally with stirring your coffee. It’s said that they don’t sell any other things, but some of the advertisements for the Cafés tell a different story. The sexual features of the girls are shown in an almost aggressive way. Taking photographs is not allowed and the girls distributing flyers on the streets are also not very happy about being photographed.
If possible, and if I’m ever in Tokyo again, I would also visit a Sumo Training in the morning. Our guide was strictly against doing so, because he considered it offensive to the sportsmen. But I honestly think they probably planned in visiting times in the training schedule. And where else in the world would you be able to witness this sport?