I have been hearing about Japan since childhood days through the famous Bollywood song “Mera Joota hai Japani” (My shoes are from Japan)..I am sure some of you can relate to this. Finally I had a chance to visit Japan last month with the awesome team of Suno 1024, a Bollywood radio station in Dubai (Suno Terminal 1024). They ran an on air contest for the UAE listeners for the chance to win a fully paid expense trip to Japan and I landed up in Tokyo with 40 other listeners. In this piece, I will mainly talk about the places to visit around Japan.
Capital city of Japan is a charismatic city that mixes the ultra-modern and Japanese tradition with a perfect blend. We stayed at Shinagawa Prince Tokyo hotel located near Shinagawa train station, a neat and comfortable hotel.
Public transport and walking around is very common in Japan. Since we were travelling with a big group, everything was covered by Bus in Tokyo except the night life.
Some of the things to do in Tokyo:
Tokyo Tower It’s a lovely location to take some great pictures. However the observatory deck was quite ok. If you have seen At The Top Burj Khalifa or Eiffel Tower you are not going to find it very fascinating. But definitely go there in the evening to get some cool shots of the tower.
Tokyo SkyTree For the best views of Tokyo, head to the Tokyo SkyTree, the second tallest structure in the world (following Burj Khalifa). Though a bit pricey (¥3000+), you won’t find better views of Tokyo than from the SkyTree observation deck. The SkyTree is open until late, though you should plan your visit as it tends to get packed with tourists and local “lover birds” looking to enjoy the twinkling lights that is Tokyo by night.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Ignore the uncharismatic name and head straight to the top for the best ‘free views’ of Tokyo. Though not as majestic as the SkyTree, The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building gives almost as impressive views of Tokyo for the budget travel. And if you’re lucky enough, the elusive Mt Fuji may be visible in the distance.
Shibuya crossing The famous intersection outside Shibuya Station, the area is packed with shoppers, young crowd and commuters. It is known as the scramble crossing as when the lights turn red at this busy junction, they all turn red at the same time in every direction. Traffic stops completely and pedestrians surge into the intersection from all sides, like marbles spilling out of a box.
Shinjuku The world’s biggest and busiest station, an area around it is full of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. This area is home to a large number of skyscrapers like the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and many leading hotels like the Hyatt’s and Hilton.
What is easily missed is the tiny yet serene park found on the back side of Shinjuku Station. Where people can grab a coffee and relax for a few minutes. The panoramic view of the high-rise buildings all around really makes you appreciate this little oasis in world’s largest station.
Sensō-ji is Tokyo’s oldest (A.D 645) and one of the most visited temples in the city. The temple complex, set in the Asakusa area, is packed with people seeking good fortune, paying their respects in various Buddhist and Shinto traditions, and of course, tourists. The temple can be reached from multiple entrances, but most people clearly favour passing through Hōzōmon gate and through the crowded markets of the temple complex (known as Nakamise) selling souvenirs, Yukata (traditional Japanese clothes) and fortunes.
Roppongi Street is one of the most controversial entertainment areas in Tokyo as it goes from classy to sleazy, you got to be a bit careful here. However it is a great area to explore night life where every 2nd or 3rd stop is a Karaoke bar, Club , Pub or Japanese restaurants serving sea food. Entry is like (¥3000), for men and for ladies (¥1000), or sometimes even free entry.
Harajuku Let’s call it a trendy area! Located in between the world’s busiest station and the world’s craziest intersection, Harajuku is a must visit for anyone visiting Tokyo for the first or tenth time. With souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, high-end brand shops and yes even “cat-cafés” one could easily spend a day “hanging out” in Harajuku. Explore a little harder and you’ll be rewarded with gems like; ”Comune 246”. Call it a ‘food court’ or a ‘beer garden’ you can enjoy both food and drinks from around the world while taking a break from being a tourist.
Yoyogi Park One could describe it as one of the lungs of Tokyo. This massive green oasis with giant Torii gates (traditional Japanese gates) scattered across the avenues of the park is literally a breath of fresh air for anyone overwhelmed by Tokyo’s endlessness. Yoyogi Park is the perfect escape for anyone looking to escape the concrete jungle outside and enjoy the green, watch cosplay and/or other street performers. The park is home to Meiji Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Today it’s not unusual to see couples getting married in temple complex.
Kagurazaka This area is cosy, no doubt about that! Small, walkable, charming and full of food. Kagurazaka is famed for is many restaurants, cafés and other eateries. It’s the perfect place to end your day of exploring Tokyo.
Street Food Japanese have mastered the art of street food and every corner of the city has a 7/11 you can pick up quick snacks and packed food (value for money)
Sushi trains Most people who live in larger cities have either heard of, or even eaten at a sushi train restaurant. Well in Japan they’re everywhere! Dotted across any Japanese city you’ll find these tiny restaurant/bars where colour coded plates of sushi move past the patrons on a miniature conveyer belt. Pick up any plate you fancy or special order directly from the chef preparing them. The colour of the plate determines the price of the sushi on it. Familiarise yourself with basic Japanese restaurant phrases as the chef will most likely not speak English. It’s also worth noting that unlimited green tea is always included.
Konamonoya Gouda Seek and you shall find. This restaurant is hidden away in the lanes of Kagurazaka (just of the main street, Waseda Dori). They specialise in ‘Okonomiyaki’ which literally translates “Grilled as you like it” and is a Japanese pancake that you can fill with what ever you like. The restaurant has both tables and booths (for a bit more privacy) and every table has grill. Stay with me! Order your food and you simply get the raw ingredients. Now the fun starts. You cook your own food right there and then. The waitresses are very attentive and will gladly show you how. This isn’t just dinner, it’s an experience. Adding to the amazing food, experience and ambience was the incredibly friendly and attentive staff who bowed lower than I’ve ever seen as we were leaving. Definitely a must visit if you’re in Kagurazaka.
Mount Fuji It’s a full day affair from Tokyo . Loved the weather at Mount Fuji…it was just so dreamy. It is Japan’s tallest peak at about 3,776 meters. A known pilgrimage site for centuries, it’s considered one of Japan’s 3 sacred mountains. We couldn’t go right on top of the mountain as it opens up only in July/August. Do find a day for it.
Some of the other places one can explore are Meiji Jinju Shrine, Imperial Palace Plaza, Ginza shopping district, Asakusa Kannon Temple ＆ Nakamise Shopping Arcade.