Practical guide to Tokyo

ENFNTSTERRIBLES

Our Practical Guide for a First Visit to Tokyo

One of the cities that always captured our imagination was Tokyo. The capital of Japan is one of the most populated metropolitans in the world and has both a rich ancient and modern culture. After an isolation of nearly 200 years, Japan opened its doors for Western influences in 1854. Since then, the country, and mostly Tokyo, has rapidly changed. The Westernization but also destruction after World War II and several earthquakes have turned Tokyo into the metropolitan it is today.

If you haven’t added Tokyo to your Cities I must visit list, now is the time to do so. Are you planning on going soon? Well, lucky you… we wrote this article after our amazing trip in order to guide you in a practical way. Our main focus: “things we would like to have known before we left”.

An Introduction To Japanese Customs

Some call it a culture shock, we’d rather think of Japanese customs as the same but also completely different. Before you head east, it’s designated to be aware of the do’s and don’ts as these might (strongly) differ from what you’re used to. We made a list of the ten manners that are very different from the western ones.

1. The Japanese always stand on the left side of an escalator so others can pass by on the right side.

2. It’s not allowed to eat (not even an ice cream) or smoke in the streets, drinking is okay.

3. Leaving a tip is considered to be rude.

4. Don’t blow your nose in public.

5. You’ll hardly find any trash cans on the streets so be sure to take a bag with you. Next to the vending machines you’ll always find one to throw your empty bottles away.

6. If you take the metro, keep your voice down and don’t even think about making a phone call.

7. In a lot of places you can’t enter with shoes.

8. When you greet Japanese people, don’t give a hug, hand or kiss but bow instead.

9. Never put your chopsticks straight into a bowl of rice, this is a ritual for funerals.

10. The Japanese don’t speak English very well, so it’s designated to learn at least a few words of Japanese.

Practical guide to Tokyo
Practical guide to Tokyo

An Overview of the different neighborhoods in Tokyo

With its 2,190.93 square kilometers and 13,8 million inhabitants, Tokyo is one of the largest metropolises in the world. Unless you’re planning to stay here for at least three months, there are choices that have to be made. We made a list of the most known neighborhoods you can easily visit during a one-week vacation.

Shibuya

A shopping valhalla to which Paris simply pales in comparison: welcome to Shibuya. Basically every European luxury brand is represented in this neighborhood with stores that will make you feel amazed. Shibuya is also known as the epicenter of Japanese youth trends and has one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world.

Shinjuku

The heart of this area, Shinjuku station, is one of the busiest in the world. If you have a solution as to not get lost here, please let us know! In most cities the stations aren’t the most pleasant places to visit, in Tokyo it’s the opposite. We mean… Shinjuku station has a Balenciaga store (amongst others). Also one of the most famous streets to enjoy food is located in this neighborhood: the Omoide Yokoche alley.

Ginza

Ginza is Tokyo’s version of the Upper East Side and the most posh area of the metropolitan. While Shibuya has something cozy, Ginza is all about luxury. If you have a serious amount of cash to spend, we’re sure that you can do so here in one hour.

Akihabara

Akihabara is a mecca for electronics and gadgets. In this area you’ll find buildings filled with arcades, gadget shops and maid cafes. So, if you’re interested in fighting zombies, playing Mario Kart or being served by a Japanese girl in a maid outfit, this area is where you need to be.

Asakusa

Asakusa is Tokyo’s cultural center with Sensō-ji, the historic temple to the goddess of mercy, as its highlight. This area used to be a famous entertainment district (read: geishas, gangsters, courtesans, writers, artists, etc…) but much of it was destroyed during WWII.

Harajuku

One word that defines best Harajuku is “kawaii” (cute). If Shibuya is the center of youth culture, then Harajuku is the center of alternative youth culture (the extreme variety). It’s most famous street, Takeshita Dori, is permanently packed with young school girls and boys spending their money on rainbow colored cotton candy and flashy accessories.

Roppongi

Looking for a spot to go out? Then Roppongi is where you need to be. More specifically, the Roppongi hills and Tokyo Midtown areas, are popular places for people to get a drink. During the day, there’s the Roppongi Art Triangle, which is worth a visit.

These are the seven most “famous” neighborhoods in Tokyo, but because of the size of the metropolitan, there’s loads more to visit. We heard that Shimokitazawa, Nakameguro, Ebisu, Yanaka and Daikanyama are also very highly recommended.

(The article continues below)

 

Practical guide to Tokyo

Chuo-dori Street, Ginza

Practical guide to Tokyo

Takeshita-dori Street

Practical guide to Tokyo
Practical guide to Tokyo

Prada Store in Shibuya by Herzog and de Meuron

Practical guide to Tokyo

Sensō-ji Temple

Practical guide to Tokyo

Akihabara

What You Should Definitely Add to Your To-Do List…

Parks and Gardens

When you’re in need of an escape from the crazy busy city life, just enter one of the many parks and you’ll be overwhelmed by silence. The difference almost seems to be unreal. A must-visit is the Meiji-Shrine, located in a 70 hectares forest in Shibuya. This shrine is dedicated to the spirits of the late Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shōken. Adjacent to this green oasis you’ll find the Yoyogi Park.

Our personal favorite was the Japanese Garden in Shinjuki Gyoen National Park. It originated during the Edo period (1603-1867) as the residence of the Naitō family. Later it turned into a botanical garden, before being transferred to the Imperial family in the beginning of the 20th century. During WWII the garden was almost completely destroyed, however, it got rebuilt and reopened in 1949 as a public park.

Shopping

Tokyo basically is a paradise when you’re into high fashion and by this we mean European luxury brands. We’re not exaggerating when we say that you’ll find a flagship store on every corner of the street in Ginza, Shibuya and Shinjuku and that’s not even mentioning the shopping malls. It’s definitely nice to have a look but it shouldn’t be the reason why you head to Japan. Also, all brands are more expensive than in Europe.

A must when you want to buy anything kawaii is Takeshita Dori Avenue in Harajuku. This street is a dream come true when you’re into the colorful Japanese style of gadgets. Just a few minutes away you’ll find Cat Street, which is also worth a visit. Cat Street is a long alley of fashionable boutiques, joining Omotesando and the trendy Jinnan area of Shibuya.

For the vintage lovers, there are loads of interesting shops to be found in the neighborhoods of Harajuku, Shibuya, Shimokitazawa and Koenji. Our favorite secondhand destinations are; Boy, Ragtag, Toga XTC, Hayatochiri, Solakzade and Sokkyou.

Practical guide to Tokyo

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Practical guide to Tokyo

Meiji Jingū Shrine

Culture

When talking culture there’s simply too much to do in Tokyo during one week. Unless you can clone yourself, there are choices that will have to be made. We gave it a try to make a few lists of things you should put on your calendar.

Museums:

– The National Museum of Modern Art (designed by Le Corbusier)

– Yayoi Kusama Museum (one of the most famous Japanese female artists, specialized in sculptures and installations)

– Ghibli Museum (a tribute to the works of Japan’s most beloved animation studio)

– The National Art Center (designed by pioneering Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa)

– The Tokyo National Museum (one of the finest collections of modern Japanese art in the world)

Temples and shrines:

– Zojoji Temple (also called the “Wolverine” temple because of its appearance in The Wolverine)

– Toyokawa Inari (founded in 1441 by a Buddhist priest and rebuilt throughout history)

– Hie Shrine (a Shinto shrine located in Nagatachō)

– Nezu Shrine (a Shinto shrine located in Bunkyō ward of Tokyo)

– Gōtokuji Temple (a.k.a. the cats’ temple)

– Meiji Jingū Shrine (a Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken)

– Sensō-ji Temple (an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa)

Other things to do:

– Visit the Kokyo (Tokyo Imperial Palace, the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan)

– Go to teamLab Planets (a museum based on the “body immersive” concept)

– Eat at the Robot Restaurant (watching a robot show while dining)

– Cross the Shibuya crossing (the most crowded intersection in the world)

– Drive like Super Mario (drive a Go Kart dressed as Mario)

– Visit the Kawaii Monster Cafe

– Order ramen via a vending machine

– Have dinner at the Omoide Yokoche alley

Practical guide to Tokyo
Practical guide to Tokyo
Practical guide to Tokyo

Iconic lamp by Isamu Noguchi at the National Museum of Modern Art

Practical guide to Tokyo

National Museum of Modern Art, designed by Le Corbusier

Practical tips

1. Order your Suica / Pasmo card (both are a smart card and basically the same thing), pocket WiFi or SIM card in advance via japan-rail-pass.com. It will spare you some time when you arrive. Trains to other Japanese cities can also be booked via this website. It’s a lot cheaper when you do it in advance.

2. We can assure you that you will be in need of that Google Maps app so if you haven’t downloaded it yet, now is the time to do so.

3. Since almost nobody speaks English, the Google Translate app can come in handy too.

Practical guide to Tokyo

Photo credits: Ruth Van Soom for ENFNTS TERRIBLES

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