Tokyo – it’s a busy, bustling, energetic place, and it’s unlike anything you’re likely to have experienced before. So, if you’d like to get outside of your comfort zone to embrace a city that is guaranteed to exceed your expectations, here’s how to spend five nights in Tokyo.
Tokyo is a huge place… vast enough to still have plenty left to see and do after your five nights are up. So, if you really want to make the most of the trip, consider visiting two or three neighborhoods a day. Places such as Shibuya, Harajuku, Ebisu and Shinjuku are sprawling, so you’re best off using public transport. Tokyo’s subway is a game-changer and, once you’ve mastered it, the entire city will open up to you. Spend a little bit of time researching how it works before you go, and ask a member of staff if you need some help understanding the maps, signs, and platforms.
Where to stay
There are a number of options when it comes to finding hotels in Tokyo, so make it easier for yourself by defining your budget. If you have a bigger budget, check into a luxury hotel such as the Park Hyatt – it’s currently Tokyo’s number one hotel, and with good reason. Lost in Translation was filmed here, so expect to enjoy those incredible skyline views. It’s a hotel that’s synonymous with luxury and discretion, and you might really enjoy live jazz in the New York bar every night.
At the lower end of the budget, there are plenty of hotels where you’ll enjoy a high standard of accommodation despite the smaller price tag, and don’t forget to consider a green hotel for an eco-friendly choice; Hotel Niwa is popular, as is the E Hotel Higashi Shinjuku. Or, seeing as you have five nights, why not try out more than one?
Where to shop
If you like to shop, you’ll be spoiled for choice here. There are major department stores, global brands, and plenty of independent boutiques and businesses to check out, but here are a handful of places to get started:
Tokyu Food show – this is located in the basement of the Tokyu department store (next to the east exit of the Shibuya Station), offering some seriously tasty food. You’ll find everything from traditional dishes like dumplings and sashimi, to sweet treats, fruits, and sandwiches. There’s an awful lot to sample, so go with an empty stomach and pace yourself!
Tokyu Hands – this store is great for homeware and stationery and, as it’s spread across lots of floors, you can easily while away many hours here just browsing the items on offer. If this kind of store ticks the boxes for you; check out Loft as well, nicknamed Shibuya’s ‘secret souvenir’ store.
J’Antiques – this is one of the most highly rated vintage stores in Japan, so if you’re into design, art, or interiors, you’ll love this place. Funnily enough, it actually sells vintage American goods as opposed to Japanese goods, so if you’re a fan of retro American furniture or fashion, you’ll definitely find a souvenir to bring back home. It’s on 2-25-13 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku, and is open from 12pm until 10pm.
Where to eat and drink
The best sushi in Tokyo is found in Ginza at Sushi Tokami. There are only ten seats available in the restaurant but the standard of the sushi truly is among the best you’ll find on the planet. Ten pieces of sushi with soup and an appetizer cost less than $50.
However, if it’s tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlets) you’re after, many people believe Marugo serves the best in Japan and, if the waiting lines are anything to go by, it probably is! You may have to wait up to half an hour to get a seat, but it’s certainly worth it – the pork is tender, succulent and juicy, the portions are large and the service is excellent. Of course, you shouldn’t visit Tokyo without trying Ramen, and rumor has it that some of Tokyo’s best Ramen is to be found in Tokyo station. Head to the Tokyo Ramen Street and get in line at Rokurinsha – they serve thick noodles tsukemen-style with dipping sauce.
But what about where to drink? Well, Jumanji 55 in Roppongi is great fun, and it’s very cheap (which could be ideal if you want your food and drink budget to stretch for five nights). For under $10, you can drink as much as you like for up to four hours, enjoying excellent service while you sample the drinks. Soak up the Asian music and snap a few photos of the interior – it’s not a place you’ll forget in a hurry. Or, for something a little more mellow, check out Bar Track in Ebisu – you’ll find a collection of rare Japanese whiskies, (as well as Scotch and US whiskies) to enjoy against the backdrop of old blues records.
What else to do
Seeing as you have five nights, why not use Tokyo as a base to explore from? Kyoto isn’t far away if you take the Shinkansen ‘bullet’ train, and it’s well worth exploring, as the city has a totally different vibe to Tokyo. Book yourself a hotel, or for a more authentic Japanese experience (and a change of pace from the hotels in Tokyo), head to a traditional Japanese inn. You’ll sleep on mats on the floor and get a first-hand taste of what it means to live in a minimalist interior.
While you’re in Kyoto, explore Nijō Castle – it’s spectacular (and again, very minimalist), listening out for the ‘nightingale corridors’ with floorboards that squeak like nightingales as you walk across them. Satisfy a rumbling stomach with a trip to the Nishiki Market – a dish called Takoyaki is mouth-watering, and features fluffy balls of egg batter with octopus, ginger and spring onion, smothered with Takoyaki sauce and dried skipjack tuna. Delicious!
Make sure you keep an eye out for
While you’re in Tokyo, keep an eye out for cherry blossoms. If you head here at the right time of the year (April and May), you’ll see the world-famous cherry blossoms in full bloom. Shinjuku Gyoen (a park that’s almost 150 acres in size) is a truly beautiful place to see the blossoms but, even in the off-season, Tokyo’s green spaces are a real treat. Spend some time walking the parks of the city – Hamarikyu Gardens, the Royal Palace East Garden, and Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Gardens are among some of the most pleasant.
Also, it’s not a ‘thing’ to see as such, but once you’re aware of it, you’ll see it everywhere… ‘kawaii’ means cute in Japanese, and is a prominent aspect of Japanese culture and entertainment. You’ll see examples of kawaii in designs all over Tokyo, on everything from baked goods to guard rails, with products decorated with hearts, flowers, stars and rainbows.
Finally, before you board the plane and fly off on your vacation, check out a map that features all of the food, drink and entertainment venues you want to see while you’re in Tokyo. You might find it handy to drop a ‘pin’ on each of these places in advance, so that you don’t struggle navigating the city once you arrive.
Enjoy your time in Tokyo – it’s going to be incredible!