Tokyo has so much to offer: breathtaking views, sincere people, remarkable food. We were blessed to experience some incredible adventures in this colorful city. Here’s how we filled our days:
We had time to kill before the patisserie we were after was open for the day (priorities), so we found ourselves wandering towards the Imperial Palace. This was our first taste of traditional Japanese architecture and it was quite impressive. The surrounding gardens were vast and beautiful.
Asakusa: Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Market
We traveled to Japan during Golden Week (a collection of Japanese holidays) which meant there were far more Japanese tourists than western tourists. Asakusa was mobbed with people, but the market was the best we experienced during our trip. We’re not usually ones for souvenirs, but it’s where we picked up little gifts like ornamented chopsticks and sake sets to bring home. And being towered over by such intricate and dramatic temples was quite memorable.
Ginza is often referred to as the 5th Avenue or the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo. It shimmers at night, full of glitz and lights and fashion. My inner diva loved it. Ginza is lively in the evening, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars to discover. I loved just walking around this part of town taking in all of my surroundings.
Enoshima Island is south of Tokyo. It was about an hour and a half journey on a few trains and shuttles to get there. And it was so worth it. The sandy beaches were flocked with Japanese tourists enjoying the hottest day of the week. When you get on the island you’re almost immediately pitched uphill with streets and paths guiding you to the top. Along the way are eateries, tiny shops, and incredible views. If you’re lucky (we were!) you’re able to see Mt. Fuji across the water. Oftentimes it’s too foggy to see its shape in the distance. It was the perfect day trip to experience Japan outside of the city.
Ueno Park and Zoo
Ueno Park is a huge, public park in Tokyo. It has museums, gardens, the zoo, and a slew of other attractions. We visited this park a few times for the zoo and the peony garden, both of which I’d highly recommend. The zoo had an abundance of exhibits (get ready to queue up if you want to see the pandas!), and we were able to catch it on a day it was free to the public. The peony garden housed colors and varieties of peonies I hadn’t seen before. It was a nice change of pace to leisurely wander through rows of stunning flowers.
Shinjuku is definitely the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. There are lofty buildings and streets in every direction. We found getting around Shinjuku took some practice, but we got the hang of it quick enough (thank you, Google maps). Shinjuku has a lot to offer for a wide range of people. Our favorite parts of the area were the Calico Cat Cafe (obviously) and the New York Bar in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. The city utilizes the height of their buildings with so many shops and businesses located higher off the street. You really have to look up to see what’s around. The cat cafe was located a few stories up and was exactly as it sounds: cats running, meowing, and climbing about as you drink coffee. You can buy food to feed them (necessary) and then bask in the joy that is cats. The New York Bar is most recognized for its role in Lost in Translation. It provides some striking views of the city, and the drinks and service were exceptional.
I knew I wanted to take a cooking class while in Tokyo, and after searching online for some options I found Simply Oishii. Our instructor was Miyuki Suyari, a very welcoming teacher full of knowledge to share. She speaks perfect English (maybe better than me), and all of her classes take place in her home in Meguro. There were a total of three of us in the class. We learned how to make two different designs of decorative sushi, a flower and a frog. She also taught us how to make traditional dashi and miso soup, and we all shared the meal together complete with cups of matcha. Miyuki was kind enough to bring Andre and I to the grocery store to explain to us many of the items we wouldn’t normally find in other countries. I loved how we were able to immerse ourselves in the culture in a way we hadn’t before.
Drinks in Golden Gai
Golden Gai is a section of alleyways in Shinjuku lined with bar after bar. I’m not sure if “bar” is the right word. Drinking alcove? These bars are tiny, little rooms with 6-8 bar stools in each. We found that you typically pay a cover of about 500 yen, then each drink is 700 yen. You essentially pick a bar and stay put (probably because you struggle to get out if you’re sitting at the innermost stool). We shared a bar with a couple others and the bartender, told jokes in broken English and Japanese, drank a few too many, and sang Queen together. It’s a good time. You should go.
We stayed at the Villa Fontaine Shiodome and we would highly recommend it. It was perfectly located near highly utilized subway stations, it was very clean and welcoming, and the staff were beyond accommodating. We were very comfortable throughout our entire stay.
I didn’t realize so much of my heart would be left in Tokyo. We have so much of Japan yet to explore, so you’ll be sure to see us visiting this captivating country in the future.