It is often intimidating visiting a new country. There is so much to think about that often we leave planning things to do and places to go to the last minute. It is often overwhelming scrolling through the masses of information online, so today I have created a concise list of 10 things you need to do during your first trip to Tokyo. This list contains not only places where you can appreciate Japan’s modern and contemporary culture but also places where you can explore Japan’s traditional culture and history. All of my recommendations of places to go and see vary in price (with some even being free) so there is something for everyone from the student on a tight budget to the ones who are willing to spend a bit more.
Go to Shibuya and see the Shibuya Crossing
Before last year I had never visited Shibuya. However, it quickly became a place that I frequently returned to when I was living in Tokyo. This is because Shibuya has such a vibrant energy to it. You will see many tourists visiting Shibuya because of the famous ‘Scramble Crossing’ which is according to Lonely Planet is believed to be the ‘busiest intersection in the world’. It is really an amazing sight to see, especially seeing it from the top of Shibuya train station. It’s an absolutely perfect photograph opportunity. In addition to this, Shibuya is filled with a variety of department stores and individual shops so there is something for everyone. I would recommend visiting Shibuya109, a massive department store which stocks a variety of trendy Japanese clothing brands such as Wego and make up shops such as Etude House. Shibuya is also filled with tons of restaurants and bars, therefore making it the perfect destination during the day and during the night. Remember to go and take a photo with the Hachiko statue (the dog who waited for his master everyday at the train station) which is located right next to the exit of Shibuya train station. Personally, I feel visiting Shibuya should be one of the top things on your list as it really does encapsulate everything you imagine Tokyo to be. It is modern, busy and full of life. A place with so much to do and see. Perfect for getting some shopping done, eating some excellent Japanese food and seeing the hustle and bustle of Tokyo first hand.
Visit different Shrines & Temples
Japan undoubtedly has an fascinating modern/pop culture but it is also important to explore and respect the historical and more traditional side. What I love about Japan and Tokyo is the fact there are so many shrines and temples to visit. On my trip last year, I realised how important it is to respect and visit these shrines and temples. Visiting a shrine or temple in Japan is such an unique and insightful experience. Do make an effort to visit the local ones as well as the bigger and more famous shrines. I will probably dedicate another more detailed post to my favourite shrines in Tokyo. You can even make a day out of going to see the different temples and shrines. For example, Senso-ji in Asakusa (the oldest temple in Tokyo) has an array of shops and restaurants surrounding its entrance. There is so much to see in the temple itself and outside making it a great destination and place to visit. Meiji-Jingu (shrine) in Harajuku is another place I recommend seeing. It is located in a forest making the experience feel even more beautiful. One of my personal favourites is the Hanazono Jinja shrine located in Shinjuku. This shrine was right next to the language school which I attended. It was a stunning shrine and in the cherry blossom season, it looked even more magnificent. If you are interested about learning about more local shrines and temples in Tokyo, keep your eyes out for my upcoming post about them.
See Tokyo from the heights
I believe that Japan has one of the most beautiful and breath-taking skylines I have ever seen. Tokyo has many viewing platforms such as the popular Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower and the Shinjuku Metropolitan Government Building. Personally, I have not yet been to Tokyo Skytree but it is the highest viewing platform in Tokyo. Around the tower itself, there is a massive shopping complex so Tokyo Skytree (though more expensive then the other two options) is a great option if you want to do some shopping as well as see Tokyo from the heights. When I last went to Japan, I went to Tokyo Tower. We paid ¥900 and were able to go the second highest viewing platform (as the top one was under refurbishment) . On the bottom floor of Tokyo Tower, there are a few gifts shops as well if you are looking to buy some gifts for friends or family. The best time to go is around just before 6pm because this is when the sun sets and you can take some beautiful photos of the gorgeous pink tone sky and as a bonus, you even get to see the breath-taking night view of Tokyo with its amount of neon lights. It was actual quite emotional standing there looking at the night view and taking it all in. If you are on a tight budget another recommendation I have is the Shinjuku Government Building. It is free to enter and it is less busy than Skytree and Tokyo Tower. This means you can take in the sights better and have a better chance of getting that perfect photo. When I visited, I went around 10am and the line was so short, I only waited around 10 minutes. It is really worth going not only because it is free but because it is also has various gift shops which sells traditional and local Japanese treats and food which would make a perfect gift.
Visit the Ghibli Museum
Arguably, the Ghibli Museum has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tokyo. See the world of Ghibli and the imagination of Hayao Miyazaki come to life right in front of your eyes. This museum is perfect for those of all ages. Although it is a little bit of a trek to get there, it is completely worth it. I went to this museum in 2009, so a lot may have changed since then. However, the most memorable part was being invited to the cinema inside the museum where you were able to see an exclusive short film made by Studio Ghibli. I remember I was lucky enough to see a short film about the Catbus from my Neighbour Totoro but I know that they change the film shown every so often. This is the perfect place to get all your Ghibli goods as well. There is a massive gift shop which even sells some exclusive products. The price for this museum is ￥1,000 for those 19 years and older. It is important to remember that this museum is very popular. Therefore, if you would like to go, I would recommend booking at least a couple months in advance. Go on the website to see what is available and what is the best method to purchase these tickets.
Japan appreciates the Disney franchise. Almost everywhere in Japan you will find stores selling some type of Disney goods whether it is a collaboration or Disney’s own products. Most Disney products sold in Japan are so different to what is sold in other countries. Tokyo has two Disney parks: one being the Disneyland itself and the other being Disneysea. If you can only afford one or only have the time for one, I would recommend going to Disneysea over Disneyland as no other country in the world has a Disneysea. It has such a different feel to Disneyland itself. Disneysea is home to the famous Tower of Terror, the Toy Story Ride and other rides such as the Indiana Jones ride. Made up of an array of different lands, Disneysea has something to offer everyone. I must admit the rides at Disneysea are not that ‘thrilling’. I went on the two biggest rollercoasters they had there and they were pretty tame so don’t expect a massive adrenaline rush from the rides there. Nevertheless, it is completely worth going as there is so much to do there. You can see different Disney parades on water, go and visit the characters, go and buy your Disney ears and most importantly try the cute and tasty food they have to offer. A day ticket is around ¥5000 (£35) and you can purchase these in most Disney shops located across Tokyo.
Go to Ikebukuro
Like Shibuya, the first time I visited Ikebukuro was last year. Ikebukuro is a fantastic place for shopping. It is home to a huge shopping complex known as ‘Sunshine City’ which has a wide selection of shops and a whole floor dedicated to different restaurants. If you are interested in Pokémon or Hello Kitty, Ikebukuro is home to one of the biggest Pokémon centres and a massive Hello Kitty store (seen in the photo below). If you are searching for electronic goods, Ikebukuro is also home to a Bic Camera (a famous electronic store). In Sunshine City, there is also an aquarium so there is plenty to see and do in Ikebukuro. Although it is not as famous as Harajuku and Akihabara, it is totally worth a visit.
Go to a Games Centre
Japan is famous for all its revolutionary technology. Being such a leader in the world of gaming, it is defiently worth going to a Games centre/arcade. There are many located across Tokyo including Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Shibuya. Honestly, you could spend hours in these places. There are many types of games found in these arcades. Many have the claw grabbing machines with some amazing prizes in them (apparently they are actually quite easy to win). Take some purikura as well. If you don’t know what purikura is, they are a type of photo booth which are cheap and popular among young people where you can take ‘kawaii’ style photos and edit them. They are really fun to try out with friends and at the end of it, you get a really good memory as you each get a copy of the photos taken. Another thing you must try out is the Taiko: Drum Master, it is one of the most popular games in Japan. Me and my friends honestly played a good 4/5 times, we got slightly addicted to it and also it is quite a competitive game.
Visit the famous fashion and gaming districts
If you are wanting to immerse yourself into the modern Japanese culture, then Harajuku and Akihabara are the places for you. If you are interested in fashion, Harajuku is the place to go. Harajuku is famous because of the fact there is a style known as ‘Harajuku street fashion’, a ‘kawaii’ and ‘cute’ style which many people enjoying wearing. Harajuku has an array of clothes shops, make up shops and much more. If you visit Harajuku, you must try one of the crepes. Harajuku is well known for its delicious crepes and you will find a crepe stand almost everywhere in Harajuku. If you enjoy thrifting or vintage shopping, there are plenty of thrift stores in Harajuku too. I would highly recommend going down Takeshita Dori street in the morning as after lunchtime it gets hectic and it is hard to walk down the street as it is so crowded. You could defiently spent a whole day in Harajuku shopping and eating. If you want to learn more about Japanese fashion and pop culture, you can’t miss this place out. If fashion is not really your thing and you are more into the world of gaming, manga or anime, don’t worry there is a place for you too. This place is known as Akihabara. Loaded with game centres, electric stores and maid cafes, Akihabara represents everything contemporary Japanese culture consists of. If you are into anime or manga, you need to visit Akihabara as they sell so many figures, games, manga books and even cosplaying outfits. It is a great place to walk around and have a shop. Even if you aren’t a gaming fan, Akihabara is well known for its array of electronic department stores, so if you are looking for any electrical goods, I would recommend going here.
See nature at its finest
Tokyo is home to an array of beautiful gardens and parks which are also worth visiting, especially during cherry blossom season in Spring. If you are looking for ‘cheap’ days out, I would recommend going to visit one of the many parks or gardens in Tokyo. Shinjuku Gyoen is a good place to visit, although there is a small entrance fee of ¥200, it is completely worth it as you can get some lovely photographs and see an authentic and beautiful Japanese garden. You could also go and visit Yoyogi or Ueno park. These are two very popular places to go and have a picnic during the cherry blossom season. Sometimes in Yoyogi park, there are some small Japanese food stalls which sell Japanese street food so it is worth having a walk around there and embracing all the gorgeous scenery. If you are looking for somewhere tranquil to relax or reflect, visiting one of these parks or gardens is a great option.
Learn more about Japan’s History and Culture
Tokyo has such a rich and interesting History. Being once isolated for so long from the rest of the world and going through major Westernisation during the Meiji period has meant Japan has such a diverse culture. There are so many museums around Tokyo. If you would like to spend a day walking around the different museums, I would recommend going to Ueno. Ueno is home to many museums including the National Museum of Nature and Science and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The Tokyo National Museum is a great place to start and was honestly one of my favourite places I went too during my trip last year. The Tokyo National Museum holds an array of different artefacts and artwork ranging from different periods of Japan’s history. It is a great place to visit for foreigners, as there are English guides as well. The cost of the Museum is around ¥600, so it is relatively cheap as well. You could easily spend a day just in this museum as there is so much to see and read about. Honestly, I spent hours in the gift shop itself. The gift shop stocked so many English books on Japanese history and had an array of postcards of famous Japanese artwork and much more. The Tokyo National Museum is another must-see.