Tokyo in 3 Days
Konnichiwa! Hello! Good afternoon from Tokyo! I recently had a whirlwind three days in Japan's capital... three more days in Seoul, South Korea... and three more days in Beijing, China. It was a quick trip... but I planned and booked so much ahead of time that I was able to see and do SO much! I hope you enjoy the adventure and get a few travel ideas of your own!
There are so many great ways to soak up the size and scope of Tokyo's cityscape that's home to more than 13 million people! We chose to have a sky high elegant lunch in one of Tokyo's tallest buildings and then did an afternoon cruise on Tokyo Bay. If you're looking for the newest highest point, Tokyo SkyTree is your destination. You can get some of Japan's most famous sushi while you're there too! Unfortunately I am off the sushi at the moment (4.5 more months) since I'm preggers.... But we did eat some amazing Japanese signature teppanyaki cuisine, crazy cool street food, and Japanese sweet treats.
Tokyo's Fashion and Shopping
You must go to Shibuya Crossing while you are in Tokyo. It is said to be the busiest intersection in the world! Make sure to take the train here! Ya gotta ride the subways like a local! I was so impressed by the subway system there. Incredibly organized, orderly, clean, etc. And the Japanese people are absolutely lovely if you need some help getting around!
I imagine you may want to get a little retail therapy in while you're in Tokyo. Harajuku and Aoyama are the main shopping districts in Tokyo. Harajuku skews younger and Aoyama skews high end. If shopping isn’t your thing, or you broke the bank just buying a plane ticket to Tokyo, you don’t have to spend too much... there is so much to see in these neighborhoods. Fabulous cafes to sip your tea and watch the people go by. My favorite shopping neighborhood was Daikanyama. It is a bit more hipster and reminds me of my old neighborhood in New York City, the West Village. It is actually often called the 'Brooklyn on Japan's capital.' I would 100% recommend spending some time there. There are lots of cute coffee shops and cafes. We found a quirky place for dinner where if you wanted you could sit on beds that were lining the walls! If you're in search of the quirkiest, most outlandish fashion finds... just go bopping around was in Takeshita-dori. This is where the teenagers make their fashion marks with bright colors and zany styles. If you want to get as authentic as possible, make sure to check out the posh boutiques and second hand shops along the side streets.
Because the art of sumo wrestling is such a foreign concept to me, I knew I had to squeeze in a session to at least watch these gigantic athletes slap and pound each other. Unfortunately our trip did not coincide with one of the handful of tournaments they have every year. If this is a priority for you... make sure to go to this website to plan your trip around tournament dates! Visiting a sumo stable for practice is thrilling too. I made my way to Ryogoku to observe a sumo wrestling practice. It was so cool! Lots of slapping themselves and taunting one another. The training equipment they use seems archaic.... massive water jugs, hammer weights, etc. I got to meet a few of the stars and snap some pics. I will say it was incredibly HOT in there. Pack lots of water and make sure you whisper once you take your seat. These practices are taken VERY seriously and you don't want to be rude. Also be sure to take off your shoes when you walk in the building.
The biggest seafood market in the world… Tsukiiji Market. Locals and tourists alike flock to the fish on a daily basis. Massive is an understatement. The equivalent of aound US$15 million of seafood is traded daily. Early in the morning it looks almost like a symphony of bustling merchants, trucks, forklifts, handcarts, ice, and seafood of all kinds. The jazz gets going before the rooster crows in the morning… so a lot of out of town-ers make a special trip to come watch the tuna being tossed and auctioned off as the sun rises… and then have sushi and freshly shucked oysters for breakfast! If raw ain’t yo thang…and neither is dried fish or seaweed… you can opt for savory Japanese rolled omelettes, called tamagoyaki. Some even come on sticks! I ate a lot of those while I was in Tokyo! I also tried charred baby octopus on a skewer. I usually LOVE octopus... but I have to admit... it was GROSS! The outer markets around the main Tsujiki Market are really cute too. I bought a couple pottery pieces, a bowl for my mom and a little holding tray for my husband. Tsukiji Market may be a must see stop for travelers to Tokyo, but it’s a legit working space. So watch out for all the workers and their heavy equipment! Or you’ll be tuna on toast!
Robots and Shinjuku Nightlife
Since my time in Tokyo is limited… I had to do some research and decide what I just HAD to see… and what I could leave for next time. ;-) Something involving robots on the cutting edge made the cut. Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant has become a Tokyo mainstay so that’s where we went. Not to eat… the lights and other over-engaging stimuli, are a bit too dizzying for me to try to enjoy a meal. Instead… the robot cabaret show was on order just for a drop-in to be entertained.
It seems the Japanese have had a desire to create and utilize robots for centuries. Back in the 1600’s royalty would use miniature mechanical dolls to serve tea to their guests while keeping them entertained. Look how far they’ve come. This place is nutty. Never seen anything like it!
From sky high swanky lounges, to all night karaoke bars, to izakayas (Japanese pubs), to dance clubs in the gay quarter... If you’re looking for this mesmorizing plethora of neon hot spots for eating, drinking, and all night entertainment… Shinjuku is where you want to be. After the wild robot show we went to a lovely teppanyaki restaurant. It was a bit of a splurge but worth the extra money. It was entertaining to watch the chef's show as he prepared our prawns, scallops, and white fish on the hot griddle right in front of us!
Senso-ji Buddhist Temple
Senso-ji is Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple. It is a walk through history, 1000 years in the making, before the capital was founded itself! You don't have to spend a ton of time here but this is a MUST see! The red lanterns everywhere just make you feel like you are in the depth of Asia's soul! Along with the sacred side of things, we were bombarded by a tackiness that often surrounds tourist traps. But it was still incredibly cool to see. And of course we had to stop for sweets that tempt the taste buds and some kitchy tourist goodies to take home. I collect magnets everywhere I travel… This was the perfect place to get my booty! I got Senso-ji magnets (as always) for my refrigerator and my friend got little fans to bring home for her little girls.
Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine
Not far from the fashion district is Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s grandest Shinto shrine is set in a forest at the end of a winding lush path. It's not a tough hike, just a pretty one! As we approached the supreme, green grounds there were enormous gates that greeted us. It is with out a tourist destination but traditional worship services, rituals and festivals take place here too. In the first few days of the New Year, the site frequently gets more than three million visitors for the year's first prayers. Before making our way to the main shrine we did as the locals would do, and purified ourselves with water on our hands. We also made an offering by throwing a coin in the box, bowing, and clapping. I also bought a little wooden plaque to write a prayer on for a continued happy marriage and the health of the baby boy growing in my belly! My friend wrote about her dear mother who recently passed away. It is a special and serene place.
My friend and I didn't have a lot of time so our Imperial Palace Tokyo experience was mostly a drive by... get out and pose for a quick photo-op... The Imperial Palace is beautiful though... complete with tremendous stone walls, lush landscaping, and perfectly manicured gardens. I wish we could have done one of the famous runs around the Imperial Palace trails!
Kabuki is one of the oldest forms of performing arts still around in Tokyo today. You're probably familiar with it and just don't realize. The actors (all male) wear white face paint and the black wigs. We watched one act of the show at Tokyo’s premier Kabuki theater’s, Kabuki-za. This was a great taste of what it’s all about... but not spend an entire day missing out on other sights and sounds of Tokyo. The full Kabuki shows go on for hours. I was certainly satisfied with just a single act. This is a very popular afternoon activity for locals too. Make sure to arrive very early to reserve tickets. When we arrived to the theater it was easy to pick out where we needed to go... there was already a huge line! Also, I would recommend renting the translation equipment. The storyline was easy enough to follow because of the program, but the humor (our show was a comedy) was still a bit tough to follow. I wish I spoke fluent Japanese. The locals were rolling with laughter!!!
The Strings by Intercontinental Tokyo
We stayed in a GORGEOUS hotel, The Strings by Intercontinental TOKYO. It was quite swanky... several top shelf restaurants and an incredibly accommodating staff. Each morning we worked out in the special gym overlooking Tokyo's skyline and enjoyed intimate Japanese breakfasts. At night, we would put on our kimono robes provided by the Intercontinental. We were welcomed by some local sweet treats and cute little bears on our pillows. I made sure to take that sweet bear home to Oz to give to my little boy one day. What a story I will have to share with him. So many places on this beautiful planet he is already getting to see!!!
A big thanks to IHG for helping out with this Asia trip!