If you’re like me who grew up watching “Oh Tokyo!” on TV back in the 90s, or woke up at 8am every Saturday to catch Akazukin Cha-cha on Cartoon Network, you’ve probably dreamt of visiting Japan one day, more specifically Tokyo.
When the time came for me to finally see Tokyo and better yet during Spring, I spent
hours, nay, days researching on where to go, what to see, optimizing routes. I made sure to make stops at places that are unique to Tokyo, to take in as much of the cherry blossoms as possible. Not to mention the additional nerdy stuff my brother and I are into.
By the way, as much as possible make sure you’ve got a Sunday included as Yoyogi park is not to be missed on those days!
Day 0: Planning
Starting with the basics, make sure you have the ability to enter Japan: whether that means obtaining a visa, or having a passport that enables to visit visa-free.
Next, remember that cash is king in Japan! While bigger multi-chain stores take credit cards, most shops only accept cash. Buying train tickets from automated machines or making use of coin lockers accept cash only as well, so make sure you have enough paper to tide you over, or withdraw money from ATMs in 7-11s.
As for accommodation, I booked us an Airbnb within the west side of Shinjuku, a good 10-15 minute walk to Shinjuku itself! It also came with a pocket wifi we were free to use.
By the way, if you don’t have an Airbnb account, do sign up via my referral link and get a discount here: https://www.airbnb.com/c/kimchil13
I’ve also heard of good things from booking.com. I’ve used them for other bookings elsewhere so feel free to use my referral link and get 10% off: www.booking.com/s/52_6/3202be90
Lastly for transportation, I’ve never used a JR Pass as I find that it doesn’t seem worth it since we tend to focus on a single region (more like a city or two) when in Japan. Instead, we get ourselves IC cards that’s similar to Oyster/Octopus cards that basically store whatever money you put in. Easy-peasy, not necessarily the cheapest but it is the most hassle-free.
Day 1: Tsukiji Market to Odaiba
Assuming you start with a full day, head to Tsukiji Market for some sushi, among other fishy meals within the area.
At the time, the actual market hadn’t moved yet so we chanced upon vendors selling seafood and cleaning up on our way to the more touristy area. In the end, we went inside Sushimaru, a small sushi restaurant that seats up to 12 people and had one of the best fish meals in my life. They even had large blow-torched oysters and fish shots that are live tiny fish placed in a shot glass, mixed with a bit of soy sauce for the brave.
teamLab also has a permanent exhibition near the area called borderless. It’s one of the most instagrammed locations but more importantly, it’s an interactive digital art museum that’s sure to inspire.
By afternoon, visit Meguro river as cherry blossom season just started. If you’re up to it, you could also head to Kyu Asakura house within the vicinity, a Meiji-Taisho era house that’s been deemed as cultural property open to the public.
Hopefully, the Meguro river spring illumination is happening, so spending a few more hours here until sundown is an option, with numerous foodstalls and cafes to keep you company.
If there’s still time and you’re into Gundam, you can’t skip the Gundam Unicorn at Odaiba’s Diver City Mall. Watch him transform his helmet from the signature Gundam to the Unicorn version within every 30 minutes from 7:30pm to 9:30pm. Visit the small shop nearby or head into the mall and go up top to the Gundam Base. You could continue on to view Rainbow Bridge or end the day!
Day 2: Shibuya
Walk Shibuya Crossing and get lost in the crowd on your way to the Hachiko Memorial Statue. Enjoy watching countless others as they go their way at the world’s busiest intersection.
Visit Meiji Shrine and take in the beauty of the park and some fresh air. If you’re lucky, you might chance upon a wedding.
You could either visit Takeshita Street first for some shopping if you can as it’s always packed, or provided it’s a Sunday, head to Yoyogi Park & Harajuku Bridge to watch people practice & perform, not limited to: Elvis/rockabilly dancers, jazz players, folk drumming, vaudeville comedians, and generally locals drinking and picnicking under the many cherry trees in bloom.
If it’s the last Sunday of the month, you might also see folks partaking in the Harajuku Fashion Walk on their way to the park as well. You can check their Twitter to see when the next meet is held.
Otherwise, there’s always Cat Street next to Takeshita Street as well, a lesser-known but just as hip shopping area for you to explore. There’s also a few animal cafes around the area, I recommend cat cafes such as Cat Cafe Mocha as hedgehog and more “exotic” animal cafes may actually be harmful to the animals’ well-being.
Day 3: Asakusa & Akihabara
Start the morning by visiting Sensoji temple and taking in the more traditional atmosphere. Stroll through from Kaminarimon and browse the shops on your way to temple in kimono grab if you like! You could also visit Ueno Park if you start feeling a bit claustrophobic from the incoming crowds.
If you’re into cityscapes, head up to Tokyo Skytree as it’s not far from Asakusa.
Afterwards, nerd out at Akihabara and look for your most coveted toys. Of you’re into retro games, definitely look into Super Potato. They even have one level serving as a retro arcade. Shopping for electronics? There’s a BIC Camera and Yodobashi nearby.
Rikugien Gardens is worth visiting in the evening due to the light-up event of its giant weeping cherry tree. Be warned that you may be in for some queueing as its a hit with the locals!
Day 4: Ginza & Shinjuku
Start the day with some more cherry blossom viewing at Chidorigafuchi, at the northwest side of the Imperial Palace. You can even spot Tokyo Tower from here.
If you’re looking to do some heavy shopping, this may be the day for you! For the more upmarket consumers, Ginza would be your best bet as the whole district has luxury brands scattered all over.
Later on, head on over to Shinjuku and you could get more fresh air at Shinjuku Gyo-en, another great spot for cherry blossom viewing. There’s also a free observatory at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office.
For dinner, Omoide Yokocho/Piss Alley is a real gem worth visiting. A narrow alley lined with tiny eateries that could probably seat less than 10 people each, it’s a great place to have some yakitori and similar.
Looking to drink? A similar area, also frequented by local celebrities, called Golden Gai might be to your taste. It’s on the way from Kabukicho, Shinjuku’s nightlife and possibly red light district.
Day 5: Free Day!
While not exactly in Tokyo, venturing neighboring city Yokohama to visit Anata no Warehouse might be worth looking into. We made our way here since it’s a place I’ve been curious about since I first saw pictures of it. It’s actually modelled off the grimy cyberpunky Hong Kong streets, just like in the Ghost in the Shell OVA. Very cool.
Further in are more arcade games, with some cool 2-handed shooters and cubicles to pretend you’re piloting a gundam. A section is dedicated to lots of UFO catchers as well. Upstairs though, it’s more like a casino. That time, my mom was super into those coin pusher games, but not knowing how to play, ended up wasting a few hundred yen. Billiards and more gambling-but-not-really-we’re-circumventing games were ahead so we skipped those parts.
Another place you might enjoy, especially if you’re a Ghibli fan, is the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Tickets can be difficult to get though, as only locals can actually buy from their official site. How I personally circumvented this was through the shopping agent Bridge.jpn. If you’ve got friends/family in Japan though, you could ask them to purchase the tickets for you. Be warned that everything is purely in Japanese though.
There’s always Mt. Fuji as well, which you could do as a half-day trip or longer if you’re inclined to. You could read up on what we did here soon.
While I haven’t had the chance to visit, I’ve heard good things about the Shimokitazawa neighborhood. Artsy, indie, hipster could be used to describe the area, so expect record-shopping, vintage clothes-thrifting and flat-white drinking here.
Finally, for last-minute cheap souvenirs, Don Quijote is the answer. They’ve got several branches in Tokyo for you to visit.
I hope this guide was helpful enough but more importantly, that you enjoy your trip to Tokyo! If you’ve been to, or planning to, let me know what you’ve enjoyed most or what you’re looking forward to in the comments below. Happy trip!