1. The METRO closes at 11pm. It’s the cheapest way (next to walking) to get around the city so try to use the metro as much as possible to save those Yens. If you’re out partying late, you can either wait until 5AM for the trains to start running again or take an expensive taxi ride back to your hotel.
2. Hire a private car and driver. This is where convenience sets in. Since I was travelling with my family of 20, we hired a shuttle bus to bring us everywhere for a set price and at our own pace and time.
3. LEFT IS RIGHT. People walk on the left side when crossing the street and on elevators, they stand on the left and walk on the right.
4. Lost in the big city? The locals would be more than willing to show you the way. I once asked a stranger where the nearest metro is and he decided to lead us there. I told him that he didn’t have to but he insisted to walk with us even if it was out of his way and 10-15 minutes away. It was the same when we got in the metro, a group of teenagers gladly walked with us to show us where to go. Manners and etiquette are of high importance to the Japanese. They really are that nice and proper.
5. No need to tip. Saying “thank you” is enough for them so save your cash for other expenses because cash is king in Tokyo. You’ll need it.
CAN’T MISS THIS!
TOKYO IMPERIAL PALACE
The palace is the main residence of the emperor of Japan. Although the palace is closed to the public except for two days (January 2 for the New Year’s greeting and December 3 for the emperor’s birthday), you can still visit the grounds but only up to the outside garden where you can view the Nijubashi (the two bridges that form an entrance to the palace grounds).
The Meiji shrine is dedicated to the 19th century Emperor Meiji, who opened Japan’s doors to the West.
Upon entering the Meiji grounds, calmness swiftly fills the air as you find yourself walking on a path surrounded by a forest.
Every shrine has a Torii gate that is usually made of wood.
Before entering any shrine, it is important to head to the purification trough to wash your hands and mouth for cleansing.
The main hall and offering hall are two buildings merged into one with a huge open space in the center.
In the offering hall, visitors can write their wishes on a wooden plate (EMA) and leave them hanging on the tree in hopes that their wishes will come true.
This is Tokyo’s version of the Eiffel tower.
It serves a communications and observation tower and it is the second tallest structure in Japan, next to the Tokyo Skytree, at 333 meters.
RYŌGOKU KOKUGIKAN SUMO HALL
I have always wanted to watch a live sumo fight and I was thrilled when we were told our next stop was Tokyo’s national sumo hall.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t sumo season when we went there but that did not stop us from pretending to be sumo wrestlers out in the cold anyway!
Pretty cool too that we saw a sumo wrestler walking around and he was nice enough to take a photo with us. Sumo wrestlers have celebrity status in Japan so here’s my photo with a local celebrity!
Sumo wrestling tournaments (also called Honbasho) happen three times a year–HATSU BASHO (new year) on January, NATSU BASHO (summer) on May, and AKI BASHO (autumn) on September.
Make sure to plan your trip accordingly if you want to witness a sumo match!
SENSOJI – ASAKUSA SHRINE
Built in 645, Sensoji is not only Tokyo’s oldest temple but also the most popular and most colorful.
Before reaching the shrine, you would have to pass through a shopping strip where you can purchase souvenirs and traditional merchandise.
There are other interesting temples and statues of Buddha around the Sensoji grounds.
NISONBUTSU (A Pair of Buddha) : The figure on the right is said to bring mercy to worshipers, the one on the left, wisdom.
BENTEN-DO TEMPLE : Enshrining Benzai-ten (The goddess of fortune)
The world-famous pedestrian lane.
Shibuya is known for the scramble crossing where people cross and flood the streets from all directions when the stop lights halt all vehicles.
The crossing is located in front of the Shibuya station Hachikō exit and in between them is the famous Hachikō statue.
Hachikō was an Akita dog who was known for his loyalty to his owner even after his owner’s death. And yes, I cried in the movie.
Shibuya is also a shopping district that caters to Japan’s youth and a major nightlife spot for Japan’s young at heart.
TOKYO’S TASTEBUD TICKLERS
THEMED ENTERTAINMENT CAFES/RESTAURANTS
If you and your growling stomach are looking to be immersed in a fantasy world, Tokyo has lots of themed entertainment cafes and restaurants for you to choose from–from vampire cafes, fairy cafes, maid cafes, etc.
While walking at Akihabara St., we stumbled upon a cafe at the Akihabara Electric Town-Exit Store called MAIDREAMIN.
Unfortunately, no photos and videos of the maids and the cafe are allowed to be taken inside BUT you can photograph your food and yourselves–ha, loopholes!
There is also an entrance fee of 500 Yen, not consumable. You pay for the experience after all.
The place was screaming KAWAII (cute) with waitresses in maid’s costumes and their magical words to make your food more delicious–true story.
Upon entering the cafe, the maid seats you and does a short dream candle ceremony where she whispers to the candle that she puts on your table. Since we weren’t really hungry, we just ordered potato crisps and our maid even magically made our chips more delicious–or so she claims.
If you order their special dish, the maids will put on a performance on stage. Luckily enough, someone else did and we got to see the show!
Though Kawaii, the crowd was rather questionable. Looking around, majority of the customers were kids and old men (if you know what I mean).
TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
If you’re out to experience authentic Japanese food, it can’t get fresher than in Tsukiji.
It is the country’s biggest wholesale market and I’ve read that early mornings here is where the action’s at especially during the tuna auction.
We arrived a little before lunchtime, checked out the seafood on display in every stall, and spent an hour lining up in Sushizanmai–NO REGRETS!
SUSHIZANMAI is part of CNN Travel’s must-try restaurants in Tokyo and it’s located inside the Tsukiji market.
The food was FANTASTIC! It had the freshest sashimi and sushi I have ever tasted and our table’s favorite was the fatty tuna which melts in your mouth. I highly recommend!
Most of the Japanese restaurants are small and this was a problem for us since we were around 20 and they won’t be able to seat us all. Since we were 3 families traveling together, we would end up eating separately on different restaurants.
CATHOLICS AND SUNDAYS
For catholics who wish to attend mass on a Sunday, there is an english-speaking Roman Catholic parish in Roponggi called the Franciscan Chapel Center (Address: 4-2-37 Roponggi, Minato-ku).
Sunday Mass schedule: 6pm (Saturday), 8am, 10am, 12 noon, and 6pm
P.S. You also get a treat after mass. We got donuts!
I love checking out the night scene in all the cities I visit and I have to say, Tokyo’s nightlife is more fun than I expected–and I already expected it to be fun!
Bars. Are. Everywhere.
Ropongi is where you should be at. It is called the nightlife capital of Tokyo where all neon lights flash before you and after 10 rounds of drinks, you’d feel like you’re in Paris—Nope, that’s the Tokyo tower, not the Eiffel!
My cousin and I joined the TOKYO PUB CRAWL on our second night and it was our 2nd time to join one.
What I love about pub crawls is that you get to meet people from all over the world who are just as clueless about where to go at night. What a great way to familiarize yourself around the area and make new friends!
On our last night, we checked out Ginza’s night scene.
I didn’t really enter any bar in Ginza since I explored that area on a Monday and it was quite lifeless–not good enough to spend my last evening at least.
BUT I did enjoy drinking my Suntory Highball (from 7-11) while walking on the street (IT’S LEGAL) and boy, one can of that drink is strong enough to get you walking on zigzags!
And we zigzagged our way to… you guessed it! ROPONGI!
I’m not sure if promos are an every night deal in Roponggi or just because it was a Monday and only a few go out but my cousin and I stumbled upon a bar that had a promo one cannot resist– 1,000 Yen for unlimited drinks all night for girls and until 11:30pm for guys (and I mean, whatever drink you want).
Lucky for my male cousin, Vinci, I was entitled to get as many drinks as I want so the moment guys got cut off the unli-drinks, I started ordering two of every drink from jagerbombs to lemondrops to scotch to the deadly tequila and the bartender did not seem to mind at all!
Since there were only few of us in the bar, everyone ended up as friends and we all went barhopping around Roponggi together–but first, “bartender, give me 5 of these… and 5 more”
Gosh, I love that bar.
Shopping wasn’t big in our itinerary since we didn’t want to blow our budget on merchandise–does not mean that it didn’t happen though.
Here are some of the shopping areas we came across:
ASAKUSA NAKAMISE SHOPPING ST.
This is where traditional merchandise, local snacks, and souvenirs are sold and it’s also the way going to the Asakusa Shrine, one of the most famous Shinto Shrines in Tokyo.
Home of high fashion brands. Some of the fashion labels even pushed it one step further and created restaurants such as the Gucci cafe and the Armani Restaurant.
Just across Harajuku, is yet another high end street with luxurious brands and it highly reminds me of the Orchard road in Singapore.
The kawaii street–where cosplayers unite.
This streets caters more to teenagers whose style vary from cute and colorful to grunge and dark.
If you’re lucky, you might come across teenagers in costumes just walking around and they’re always up for a photo sesh (insert peace sign)!
People don’t go here just to cross the famous Shibuya crossing (see: Almost every tourist’s photo of Shibuya–guilty.)
or to pose with Hachiko’s statue (still guilty).
It’s also a large shopping district and the birthplace of a lot of Japan’s youth fashion trends.
Looking for electronics? Welcome to Tokyo’s Electronic Mecca–It’s a techy wonderland!
GOTEMBA PREMIUM OUTLETS
This isn’t really part of Tokyo but it’s near. And it’s an outlet.
If you’re into luxury brands but you don’t have enough budget to splurge in Ginza or Omotesando, head over to Gotemba and get those sweet merchandise for less!
It’s best to go here after a day trip from FUJI since it is on the way back to Tokyo.
DON QUIJOTE STORE
The all-in-one store.
They have a grocery, a costume section, a souvenir section, an electronics section, an liquor section–I told you, they have everything and it’s all affordable!
This is where my family and I splurged on last minute pasalubongs (small gifts for people back at home) and where we hoarded green tea flavoured Kitkats (when it wasn’t being sold in Manila yet) and pretty much all other green tea flavoured stuff–because when in Japan, indulge in green tea.
What I love about Japan is that neighboring cities are easily accessible via trains or roads for only an hour or two away.
Tokyo is an expensive city but definitely worth the visit. The city is full of life and different personalities that it makes traveling there one heck of an experience–it’s a taste of everything!
This is my second time to visit Japan and I now have double the love for this country! Can’t wait to go back explore some more!
Enjoy Tokyo and happy travels!
xx, The Loco-in-Motion