I fell in love with Tokyo the day I arrived. The city is futuristic, with sleekly poised modern high rises, and equally cherished ancient structures and honored relics from its past.
Temples gently interrupt the modern architecture with grace as you wander through the streets. Nature is abundant in the city, with many wide and lush parks scattered throughout its corridors.
Tokyo is such a pristine city, I instantly began a love affair with the Japanese culture and the innate sense of ritual. From the smell of incense wafting through the temples, to the smell of freshly charred street food in the fish market – Tokyo is a unique contrast of its rich history and culture beautifully woven together with the innovation and sophistication of modern architecture and pop culture.
If you haven’t fallen in love with ramen, soba + udon yet, you will while in Tokyo. Definitely go to a ramen place for lunch one day – I looked on the Eater Guide to Ramen in each neighborhood, and it never disappointed.
RAMEN – Ramen noodles are made from wheat, are much thinner and longer than udon and have a nice chewy bite when cooked. You’ll usually find them served in a tasty broth.
UDON – Chewy and soft, these thick wheat noodles are usually pale white by comparison to ramen. Udon has a neutral flavour, so they make a good choice for strongly flavoured dishes.
SOBA – These noodles are made from buckwheat flour or a combination of buckwheat and wheat flour.
Well, need I say more – find traditional and our typical westernized version of sushi.
THE KILL BILL RESTAURANT
Gonpachi – This restaurant inspired the movie Kill Bill – it was really fun, and more lively than many of the traditional restaurants, but is definitely more Americanized than most of the dining experiences in Tokyo. Since we were on tour with a band for this trip, this is where the record label took us – a favorite of musicians. I felt like I was back on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. The atmosphere was lively and fun and you really feel like you walked onto the Kill Bill movie set.
TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
This is a stop to tantalize all of the senses! Walk around the Tsukiji Fish Market – make sure to go first thing in the morning to experience all of the traditional sights and sounds of the market, then plan on having lunch there. We found an amazing hole-in-the wall sushi place that was excellent. I also bought some beautiful tea pots and sake sets here, as there are lots of great ceramics at the market. I was the only one brave enough to try the squid jerky, and it was quite good!
This is a must- see at night. The lights and sounds of Shibuya crossing were really wild and you can feel and see all of the energy of Tokyo here.
You have to experience Karaoke after dinner one night! There are so many great Karaoke bars around the city and it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
TEMPLES + THE MEJI SHRINE
A visit to Tokyo means a visit to the Meiji shrine. However, there are so many beautiful shrines and temples in the city, don’t feel like you need to see them all. We happened upon so many beautiful temples just walking around between our destinations.
Meiji Jingu Shrine is a Shinto shrine located in Shibuya, Tokyo. The shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji was instrumental in opening Japan to the outside world after a long period of self-imposed isolation. The shrine is also sometimes called just Meiji Jingu or Meiji Shrine and is Tokyo’s largest and most famous Shinto shrine.
Sake barrels at the Meji shrine
An interesting sight at Meiji Jingu Shrine is this huge collection of sake barrels. They are called kazaridaru in Japanese and are a decorative display. Sake traditionally has been a connection between the gods and people in Japan. These sake barrels are offered every year to the enshrined deities at Meiji Jingu Shrine. They have been donated by sake brewers from around Japan to the shrine with the sake being used for shrine ceremonies and festivals.
If you have the time, and are up for a day trip, one of my favorite things we did was to take the train (about an hour) to the small seaside town Kamakuru. Here you will find a giant buddha statue, many stunning temples with tea houses, and a bamboo forest at Hokokuji temple. We had one of my favorite traditional Japanese meals here at Kamakura Matsubara-an.
A Tea House in Kamakuru
Ginza is the affluent shopping district in Tokyo, home to the city’s chicest boutiques and department stores.
This is a must stop if you like to shop like I do, known for its international fashion houses, cafes and restaurants. Many Japanese and international high fashion designers set up shop here, including Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons, Rick Owens, Neil Barrett, Miu Miu, and Prada, and you will also find boutiques such as Bathing Ape and James Perse here.
Go to Harajuku to people watch – it’s not the best shopping in the city by my account, but it is worth a walk through to explore.
I loved shopping at one of Tokyo’s best known thrift stores, CHICAGO, with multiple locations throughout the city. Search through racks of vintage kimonos to find the perfect one – I opted for two – a more formal traditional kimono, and a more casual, shorter one to wear over jeans and a t-shirt back in the states.
Make sure you have the address of your hotel in your phone, or grab a business card from the hotel to show to the taxis, as many of them do not speak English and it can be challenging to communicate and find your way back.
We attempted taking the train around Tokyo, but this proved very confusing, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you or someone you are with can read Japanese.
Make dinner reservations before you visit, as many of the city’s top restaurants are booked and hard to get into.