I'm off to Japan on Friday (!!!) and am currently doing some last minute research about what to do when I'm there. Although I've been to Japan a few times now, there's endless amounts of awesome things to do and see that always makes each visit just as interesting as the last.
Now, I don't want to try and suggest a weekend in Tokyo is really enough time to explore the city, but hopefully this guide will provide a little inspiration for those short on time when traveling. Have you been to Tokyo? Let me know your must-visit spots!
Where to stay
Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo
I mean, just look at this place, right? Maybe one day I'll be able to afford to stay in a place like this. It's close to Tokyo station, has enormous rooms, and stunning views, what more could you want?
The Edo Sakura
If you're looking to stay somewhere a little more traditional (and that won't break your budget), The Edo Sakura could be a great option. Located in Ueno, it's a little out of the main action of Tokyo but still surrounded by plenty of great restaurants and a gorgeous park. And look at that onsen!
Want more suggestions? I've stayed at the following hotels in Tokyo and can personally recommend them: Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu, Shinjuku Prince Hotel, and Citadines Central Shinjuku Tokyo.
What to see
This museum was founded in 1941 to preserve and display Japanese and East Asian antique art from the collection of its founder, Kaichiro Nezu. It re-opened in October of 2009, newly designed by Kengo Kuma. The expanse of this open, relaxing space is an enjoyable place to appreciate art. The lush 17,000 square meters of Japanese garden creates an oasis in the city where you can take pleasure in the passage of the seasons.
Whether you're familiar with Studio Ghibli catalogue or not (and if not - please fix that ASAP), a visit to the beautiful, whimsical Ghibli Museum is a must. The museum offers a glimpse into the wonderful minds of those who work at Studio Ghibli, most notably the incomparable Hayao Miyazaki. The museum houses both permanent and temporary exhibitions, so there's always something new to see! I spoke about the Ghibli Museum in greater detail last time I was in Japan if you want more information. Tickets should be pre-purchased before you go to Japan.
There's plenty of beautiful gardens in Tokyo, but Shinjuku Gyoen is my favourite. Pack a picnic and come here for lunch!
Where to eat
Even if you’re not a fan of beer, this is an excellent place to get a taste of izakaya-style eating. And if you do like beer – well, welcome to paradise. I tell everyone I know who goes to Japan to check this place out, and everyone always comes back singing its praises.
If you’re in Japan, chances are you’ll want at least one sushi experience. And what better way to experience it by doing so in a sushi train restaurant where your food comes whizzing directly to you at lightning fast speed. Despite the novelty, the sushi here is also ridiculously tasty.
There’s a store in Melbourne called Harajuku Crepes, which I’ve been obsessed with for some time now. The varieties are extravagant (have you ever wanted a piece of cheesecake in your crepe?), but this is nothing compares to the crepes sold in Japan (specifically Harajuku). With 50 varieties or more available at each vendor, you’ll be coming back multiple times during your stay to try new flavours. I dream about these crepes!
Family Mart and other convenience stores
Please, hear me out with this one! Convenience stores in Japan are actually amazing. They have a huge range of tasty treats you can pick up for lunch while you’re out and about, which means you can save your yen for dinner (or that amazing dress you saw for sale in Shibuya). Seriously, they have onigiri (so many flavours!), sushi, sandwiches, hot food, salads, baked goods, and so. many. sweet. treats. If you’ve ever wanted to sample seasonal Kit Kat’s that are sold only in Japan, this is your chance.
Where to shop
I’ve clearly been showing my bias towards the Shibuya/Harajuku area of Tokyo in this article, but what can I say – I love it! And one of my favourite things about it is Cat street: a pedestrian only street that connects both areas. Here you’ll find indie and vintage shops and cafes you could quite literally spend hours exploring.
Food, snacks, makeup, souvenirs, cooking ingredients, cosplay, clothes, electronics, travel items...it's all here! You’ll find so many things here that you didn’t know you needed, and if you’re not careful may end up with a suitcase full of accessories for making cute lunchbox lunches. There's over 160 locations around in Japan, and in Tokyo you can find them everywhere, from Asakusa and Akihabara.
Yep, another place in Harajuku. But this place is a must! This multi-level emporium contains numerous small boutiques selling clothes and accessories aimed at young wearers of garish, eccentric fashion. This is another place where you can easily waste away hours looking at pretty things. Oh, and make sure to obey the ‘no photo’ signs when you see them!