Japan: Tokyo

Tokyo,  how I missed you – my Japan journey all started with you after all! Seven years ago when I first walked your streets as a young, wide-eyed, know-it-all, I was captivated by your power to mesmerize. I knew I would one day return and attempt to recreate that memorable trip.

Like watching any good movie for the first time, a lot of that ‘first-time awe’ is only ever experienced once. But maybe this time I could see something new that I didn’t experience the first time or maybe it would be like rewatching the Matrix movie again at a later age in life and “get it”.  I was young then and didn’t understand much of what I was watching, but the slow-motion bullet scenes were pretty great! So, I wanted to see if this Tokyo retake would carry that same sentiment.

Here is my top 10 list of things to do from my first time in Tokyo (this is also a good list for any first time travelers to Tokyo):

  • Tsukiji Fish Market
  • Sumo wrestling (Ryogoku Kokugikan)
  • Tokyo Sky Tree or Tokyo Tower
  • Asakusa (Senso-ji)
  • Shibuya Crossing
  • Harajuku
  • Nakano Broadway or Akihabara
  • Odaiba
  • Ghibli Museum
  • Ueno Park or Yoyogi Park (during cherry blossom season – early April)

The highlighted places are ones I went to several years ago, but I knew I would not make them all this time around because I only intended on spending a couple of days in Tokyo. The highlight of this trip was, of course, my Nagano Trip from a day prior.

Since I only had a couple of days to work with, I had to modify the original list. Here’s the list of this trip’s stops:

First up and also one of my originals from years prior was Tsukiji Fish Market.  I had to make it out to this one, especially with rumor of the fish market’s move in the near future looming ahead; I knew I couldn’t leave this chaotic place out of my itinerary.

I arrived at the fish market really early to catch the tuna auction and get some good pictures in before the rest of the tourists crowded this joint. To make the cut-off in entering the fish market tuna auction guests must arrive early to secure a spot. The real issue is arriving on time: the trains don’t start running until after 5:30 a.m, which doesn’t help since the queue line starts before 2-3 a.m. Actual entrance times are between 5:30 – 6:00 a.m. So taking a taxi from the hotel, crashing at a anime cafe or a 24-hour restaurant (like Jonathan’s nearby) are the only options.

It may not look it from the pictures, but believe me – Tsukiji Fish Market is chaotic. As the biggest and busiest fish market in the world you will have to stay on your toes in order to keep them! High volume foot traffic and forklifts make this place really hectic, but now add these narrow walkways —crazy!

The best part of going to the fish market is, of course, the chance to eat fresh sea food! You really can’t go wrong with any restaurant in this area, as they are all pretty great. Still, Sushi Dai (best sushi) is usually the best rated restaurant to check out.

A trip to Tokyo isn’t quite complete without a quick stop to Akiba. I do have to admit that Akihabara wasn’t as fascinating this time around. But that could be because I am older or  because I came by during the day when it’s less impressive, those bright lights really make this place shine! One thing that seemed different was the various street vendors selling anime figures and such in the back streets, I don’t remember that from before.

Next on the list was Asakusa. Now this place is a must when traveling to Tokyo. It was just as overcrowded  as I remember! This place is a total tourist trap for buying souvenirs but if you are on a tight schedule and not too fussy about paying full tourist prices then maybe this is as good as it gets. Do try out some of the food stalls, as you can find a decent variety of tasty goodies while on the go.

Next up was the craziness of Shinjuku and Harajuku. By now I was already feeling a bit tired but since I only had one more full day and much to see I had to keep moving. Tokyo is huge and the amount of things to see and do seem endless. Then you come across an odd place known as: the Robot Restaurant, it’s not really a restaurant and there aren’t any real robots, so what the heck is it? It’s an overpriced acid trip on stage with no rhyme or reason, that’s what it is! Walking through Harajuku reminds me of why I wouldn’t want to live in Tokyo. Just like Tokyo, Harajuku, is crammed with people and everything is way expensive.

And finally it was time to slow down some, get dinner in Roppongi, get back to my 1980’s style capsule hotel and check out for the night! Phew, what a day! I saw and did so much, I was feeling truly exhausted; this sightseeing trip to Tokyo is some serious work!!

As you can imagine the tiredness I felt caught up to me and I overslept!! I had plans to go to the Tokyo Sky Tree but opted out of it since I really didn’t want to spend the extra cash plus I’m much more a fan of the classic: Tokyo Tower. But neither of those made the cut this time around. For my final full day I decided to hit up a couple of old favorites. Shibuya and Odaiba, here I come.

The Tokyo classics! The Shibuya Inu Statue and the Pedestrian Scramble. If you have never seen the scramble in person then you haven’t been to Tokyo! To get a better view of this chaotic yet controlled scramble grab a drink at the Starbucks across the street and take a seat to admire this well orchestrated scurry come to life. You can also get a good view from the department store upper floors outside Shibuya Station. This place really is a Tokyo must.

And last but certainly not least was Odaiba. This artificial island always has something going on. There was a Gundam show, an illumination display and some sort of Minions Concert the day I went. Check and see what events they are having if you plan to visit and make the most of this place. At night you can get a good view of the Rainbow Bridge and hopefully see the light show on the Gundam Statue like I did.

I had a great time on this trip. It wasn’t as good as my first time to Tokyo but it was still a memorable visit. I attended a sumo match the first time around and really wished I had recreated that memory again to really round off this trip, but oh well, next time!

As I have said before in my other posts, I’ve always been a budget traveler, looking to save on costs wherever I could. This trip to Tokyo was no exception. Behind the scenes I typically pack a lunch or buy convenient store food: tuna onigiri is always my go-to. I usually have two to three of them with me ready to give me a pick me up. I seldom go to sit down restaurants while traveling alone to save on cost and time. I ride the non-reserve bullet train, I don’t splurge on unnecessary things and I usually have an itinerary and budget in mind.

I hope that any of this helps you plan your future Tokyo trip. Happy travels!

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