For this city spotlight we are taking you to the capital of Japan, Tokyo. Read the full blog to find out what things you definitely need to add to your travel itinerary.
When To Go
The best time to visit Japan is during the springtime when the cherry blossoms bloom. Since nature is sometimes fickle, there is no set day or time when the cherry blossoms will begin to bloom, but planning your trip at the end of March to the beginning of April will (probably) ensure that you will see at least a few of the beautiful pink blooms. Spring is also when the weather is most tepid; not too hot and not too cold, you’ll be able to visit the city without having to wear an oversized coat or without constantly sweating.
Photo via Live Japan
If you don’t want to be extremely crowded with the international and national tourists rushing to Tokyo for the cherry blossoms, visit in fall when the weather is just a bit warmer (averaging 70 degrees) and the fall colors fill the streets. Equally as beautiful, and a bit less crowded, visiting in autumn is something that you will never forget.
However, if you want to visit while there is snow (especially if you want to travel north to Nagano to visit the Japanese snow monkeys), the best time to go would be between November and January. On the other hand, if you want to visit in the summer, prepare to be very hot as the weather will reach up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity levels will teeter from 80% to 100%.
Where to Stay
Tokyo has about 14 neighborhoods (depending on who you ask, that number may be larger or smaller), each of which have their own vibe and sights to see. As you may know, Japan recently declared that Airbnb would not be allowed to operate within its borders, which might seem like a negative, but really is a positive. The customer service and kindness in Japan are unparalleled. Staying even at a 3-star hotel will provide you with more service, assistance, and hospitality than many 5-star hotels in the rest of the world.
- Harajuku: Staying in Harajuku will allow you to be close to the fashion center of Tokyo, where anything goes and you’ll see many people wearing vibrant, bright clothing and colorful wigs. Harajuku is a lot of fun, especially walking down the pedestrian-only Takeshita street if you’re interested in the hustle-and-bustle and crowded streets don’t bother you.
Photo via Angie and James Do Stuff
- Shibuya: Shibuya has a similar, quick-paced vibe as Harajuku. Shibuya is home to the famous Shibuya Crossing, which is considered to be the busiest intersection in the world. One walk across the street, and you’ll see why. Similar to New York’s Times Square, Shibuya Crossing has many high rise building that light up and night and rivals New York’s “city that never sleeps” moniker. Also full of delicious food, Shibuya is for the young traveler who wants to get the most out of modern Tokyo.
- Ginza: If you want to spring for comfort, stay in Ginza. Known as the high fashion capital of Tokyo, Ginza is full of high-fashion stores, upscale restaurants, and Tokyo’s most famous Kabuki theatre (the Kabukiza Theater). Staying in Ginza is great for couples who don’t mind splurging on the finer things in life.
- Ueno: Traveling with family? Ueno is your neighborhood. Budget-friendly and centered around Ueno Park, this neighborhood is full of family-friendly fun. Ueno Park is huge and is home to the Ueno Zoo (which currently has baby pandas!), the National Museum of Western Art, and the Japanese National Museum, the latter of which houses many Japanese national treasures, including “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Hokusai.
WHERE + WHAT TO EAT
Thousands of people a year flock to Japan for a unique food journey. Japan is known for so many delicious types of food: ramen, udon, sushi, shabu shabu... The list of goes on and on.
Many may not have heard of the delicious treats made in Japan before the film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which follows world-renown chef, Jiro Ono, and how he treats each piece of sushi he makes as a work of art. If you want to go to Jiro’s restaurant, you’ll have to make reservations at least a year in advance, but, luckily for us, there are many other delicious options all around the city that won’t require such extreme pre-planning.
Since there are so many great places to eat and different types of food to try, we’ll focus on just two Japanese specialties: sushi and ramen.
- Sushi: In Japan, sushi does not refer just to what we think of in the west (fish on rice), but refers to anything wrapped in rice. Vegetarians will be happy to know that almost every casual sushi restaurant offers a cucumber roll! There are literally hundreds of sushi restaurants in Tokyo, but we recommend Sushi-Ya, Sushi Dai, and Ryuma. Sushi-Ya is located in Ginza — it’s a bit hidden (you’ll have to walk down an alley to find it) — and is worth the expense. It would be wise to make a reservation through your hotel but if you come right after opening time, you should be able to take a seat without any wait. Sushi Dai buys all of its fish from the Tsukiji market, which is just a few steps away, which makes the quality unparalleled. We recommend the omakase tasting menu so that you get the chef’s favorite cuts. Lastly, Ryuma is located in Roppongi and is open until 4 AM during the weekend, making it a great place to go after a night of fun in the city. The menu changes depending on the season, but you won’t find a bad piece of food at Ryuma, so order away!
Photo via Tiny Urban Kitchen
- Ramen: Another staple you must try is ramen. For this classic dish, we recommend Mendokoro for rich miso ramen. With thick noodles and that signature gooey broth you definitely have to give this spot a try. To get to this place, the nearest stop is on Iriya Station. For a fusion between traditional and modern ramen, we recommend Ushio. Well-known for their rich broth, you’ll have to taste it to really understand what we mean. If you are looking for vegan ramen, Kyushu Jangara Ramen in Harajuku is your spot. Most places don’t take card and reservations are not accepted, so we recommend you plan accordingly.
WHAT TO SEE + DO
- Takeshita Street in Harajuku: Known as one of the busiest and liveliest shopping areas in Tokyo, adding this to your travel agenda is a must. As mentioned before, Takeshita Street is a pedestrian street lined with shops ranging from trendy clothing boutiques to cafes and restaurants. Whether you are looking for the latest fashion finds, new skincare to add to your collection, or want to visit the Daiso of your dreams, we assure that you will find everything you need and more.
Photo via Luciano Morpurgo
- Meiji Shrine: If you are still in the Harajuku area, you can make a day out of it and head over to the beautiful Meiji Shrine. As you drive up (or walk up) to the driveway, you will have to go through a lust man-made forest. In 1920 the government decided to dedicate the shrine to Emperor, who united Japan. When people found out they came together to donate saplings for the surrounding area.
After the forest, you’ll come across the Tori gate and a huge collection of painted sake barrels set there as offerings for good harvests. Once inside you’ll be able to see the prayer wall and if you're lucky, you’ll be able to witness a traditional Japanese wedding.
For history, culture, and tradition, definitely go see the most famous Shinto shrine.
- Tokyo DisneySea: If you are looking for a day full of fun and adventure, we recommend you schedule out a whole day to spend at Tokyo DisneySea. Located just outside of Tokyo, this sea-themed park welcomes over 30 million visitors a year. With seven different areas (American Waterfront, Mermaid Lagoon, Lost River Delta, Arabian Coast, Port Discovery, and Mysterious Island) spending the day exploring the park will be whole day endeavor.
This place is known for being one of the greatest parks in the world and their food options are just as amazing. We recommend you try their popcorn flavors (the weird ones) and the Gyoza Dog.
- Tsukiji Fish Market: The Tsukiji Fish Market, also known as the biggest seafood market in the world makes for a travel attraction on its own. Composed of two sections the inner and the outer markets, the outer market is the part you’ll be able to see (the inner is restricted to licensed vendors). In the outer market, you can enjoy grocery shopping and eat some of the freshest sushi you’ll ever taste.
Photo via Bloomberg
*Banner image via Truly Tokyo