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Top things to do in Tokyo

08/09/2017

[Une liste synthétique et à compléter de mes lieux favoris à Tokyo, par quartiers. Vos contributions sont bienvenues en commentaires!]

 

I'm deeply in love with Tokyo - read my previous love letter or check my sketches. The beauty of Tokyo partly lays in the variety of her facets. Here's a quick list of my favourite places, sorted by area. Far from exhaustive and to be completed ! Please don't hesitate to share your own favourites in comments. 

 

Asakusa

 

 Near Senso-ji temple on a hot day of August

 

Senso-Ji Temple : the oldest buddhist temple of Tokyo, vivid, noisy and somehow lurid or mysterious and silent according to the hour of visit.
 

Asakusa Culture Tourist Information viewing deck : a beautiful view on the temple and Nakamise alleys, the Kaminarimon gate, Sumida river, Asahi Beer building and Tokyo Sky Tree. The observatory is free and half-covered, there’s also a pleasant café.
 

The banks of the Sumida : nothing very special but the walk, on both sides of the river, is pleasant and refreshing, and a famous spot for cherry-blossom viewing. There are also fireworks during the summer. On the skytree side of the river, a park offers a green rest from the concrete environment. There’s also a temple and plenty of turtles in the pond.
 

Tokyo Sky Tree : an the other side of the Sumida river, the tallest structure in Japan with an observation deck at 350 and 450 meters. I never went to the top but I like to admire it from the street.

Jakotsuyu Sento : a renovated public bath, frequented mainly by locals. Nice and simple, with a big mosaic representing Fuji-San.

 

Accomodation

Asakusa Smile hostel : well situated low budget traveller's guest house. Not very clean according to Japanese standards, for this reason it has some bad reviews on the web, but ...it has a really warm atmosphere, you'll make a lot of friends amongst the travellers and locals hanging out at the bar.
Japonica Lodge Asakusa : a camping shop that hires its show room's tents at nights ! Great situation, clean and cheap. If you buy some of the camping gear you've been trying, the price of your night will be deducted from your bill.

 

Further from Asakusa, but not so far

[Not visited yet] It's possible to attend free sumo wrestling practice (not tornament thus), without reservation at Arashio-beya in Hamacho. Details here. They have off periods, so check it.

 

Places to eat

♡ My special crush is 宮崎地どり家, a friendly "jidoriya" (chicken restaurant) that a friend made me discover, close to Asakusa post office : great cuisine from Miyazaki city, with a lot of chicken. Chicken sashimi (don't be afraid, it's good and fresh), charcoal cuisine, chicken cooked direclty in the flame, cold rice soup... It's delicious ! Here's a map to find it.

[Not visited yet]  I have also been recommended Makita  by a local for a high standard traditional japanese cuisine (kaiseki) restaurant (about 6000 - 8000 yen / person). Map here.

 

Ginza

 

 Tsukiji wholesale fish market

 

♡ Tsukiji fish market : your guidebook probably says it's been moved to another place. The move was scheduled for 2016 but has been delayed until at least autumn 2018, so don't miss it ! If you want to see the tuna auction, you have to apply in advance on the web. It starts at 5,25 AM, but since there's a limited number of people allowed to go in every day, you should arrive before (the 120 first arrived can enter).  If you're not such an early bird, you can visit the wholesale market from 10 AM to more or less 13 PM. You can then have lunch on the outer market.

 

♡ You can then walk to Hama Rikyu Gardens, an urban oasis with beautiful trees, a tidal pond and a tea pavillion. Peace, green and tradition surrounded by glass buildings. Good cherry blossom place too, with a lot of different species. 

It is connected to Asakusa by the water bus, a good way to get there or go back from there.

 

Hanami at Hama Rikyu garden

 

 

♡ Kabukiza (Ginza kabuki theater) is also closeby. You can buy a ticket for a single act in the daily program so as to get an introduction of this traditional popular japanese theater. Plot summaries and earphones in English. It is a great experience ! Costumes are gorgeous and it is possible to follow the main lines of the plot even if you don't speak Japanese. You can traditionnally eat bento while watching the play.
Here is the practical information.

 

Tokyo International Forum : a conference center with breathtaking steel and glass architecture, looking like a huge elegant vessel. You may go inside.

 

♡ Itoya : a 12 floors paper shop !! Good place to buy (or simply admire) washi paper, stationnery, travel booknotes, calligraphy supplies and so on. But you won't find a lot of special watercolour or art supplies types of papers though. One of the floor is dedicated to world map globes and on the top floor, they grow vegetables and there's a restaurant. There's also an annex. Map here.

 

 

Ueno
 

♡ Ueno Park : a huge public park in central Tokyo, home to plenty of temples, museums, galleries, a zoo, street artists, etc. Of course also one of the most popular cherry-blossom spots. I especially like the Shinobazu Pond filled with waterlilies and its island with an octogonal Benten-dō (temple dedicated to the goddess Benten). The National Museum is a wonderful place too, not too big but with well-presented collections of national treasures of the finest quality.

 

The compassionate Goddess Kannon in a temple of Ueno

 

♡ Ameyayokocho : a bustling market disctrict running south from Ueno Station. Clothes,  fruits, vegetables, fresh fish, tofu, jewelry, golf gear...You can buy almot everything. Many street stalls and restaurants as well. 

 

A bit outside Ueno, but not far:

[Not visited yet] Ochanomizu :  a neighborhood famous for its music instruments stores. The banks of river Kanda look attractive too.

 

Yanaka
 

Haiku writing in the garden of Shikian House

 

An old historic area with a big pleasant cemetery (take care of the mosquitos though), plenty of temples and a few old wooden houses.
 

♡ Shikian house, the tiny wooden house and garden of Masaoka Shiki ( a haiku poet) is also full of charm.

 

[Not visited yet] I haven't been able to visit SCAI the Bathhouse  (a contemporary art gallery located in a former bathhouse) yet, but I'm sure it's worth, with both Japanese and international artists.


There used to be a place in Yanaka from which you could see Fuji-San, but eventhough your guidebook may still mention it, it does not exist anymore since a recent construction is now hiding the view. However, the temple closeby is very beautiful.

 

Shibuya

A  fashion district and nightlife area essentially frequented by young people.

The famous Shibuya crossing, in front of Shibuya Station. The most busiest crossing in the world, very beautiful to watch, almost like a dance performance. You can admire it from the station, from the Starbuck's cafe overlooking it, ... do you know other spots?

Nezu Museum : between Shibuya Station and Roppongi hills, a marvelous collection of Japanese and Asian art : painting, calligraphy, sculpture, metalwork, ceramics, lacquerware, wooden and bamboo craft, textiles, armor, tea ceremony ware,... And a delightful garden.

 

Meiji Shrine : shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, in a peaceful forest at the heart of the city. There are more than 300 species of trees, all donated from all over Japan when the shrine was founded. Don't miss the barrels of sake. recently, the main buildings of the shrine were not visible because of restauration. But the place is still worth, and if you go there on weekends, you are very likely to be able to see a shinto wedding procession.

 

Harajuku : cosplayers and "lolitas" area. For a peaceful rest, you can go to Starbucks Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku...they have an amazing "rooftop" terrace. Map here.

[Not visited yet] Design Festa Gallery : eclectic pluridisciplinary gallery welcoming exhibitions that change all the time, by all kind of artists regardless of their age, career, nationality, language or medium, and taking no commisssion on the sales (I guess they pay a rental fee though). Website here.

 

Ota Museum of Art : an ukiyo-e museum where works on display change every month according to a thematic exhibition (when I went there the theme was "animals", this September they display the full collection of  “One Hundred Views of the Moon” works by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, in October they'll show the famous "36 Views of Mount Fuji" by Hokusai). Check the themes here !

 

[Not visited yet]  The National Noh Theatre is located in Shibuya. Nogaku perfomances might be less accessible than kabuki, but I'd love to try some day. here's their English website.

 

[Not visited yet]  Yoyogi Park

 

A bit outside Shibuya but not so far:
♡ Gyoza Shack : this fusion gyoza cuisine place discovered thanks to my friends' recommandation is located close to Sangen-Jaya station. Their japanese gyozas stuffed with western influenced ingredients are really special and excellent ! Check their website here

[Not visited yet] Utsukushi No Yu Onsen : this city onsen close to Takaido station seems a little luxuous, but still quite cheap (900 yens), and the outdoor bath looks gorgeous. An English review here + pictures on their japanese website.

 

Shinjuku

 

 

Animated business and nightlife area.

 

♡ Tokyo City hall : located in the NS building, great panoramic view on the city from the 29th floor, it's free and by clear weather you can spot Fuji-San.

 

♡ Godzilla’s head statue,  mounted on top of the hotel Gracery Shinjuku

 

♡ Shinjuku Marui Q-court : free access garden on the rootftop of Shinjugu Marui’s building, perfect to have a rest from the overwhelming agitation of Shinjuku.

 

♡ Golden Gai : tiny old style wooden bars. It's difficult to actually enter one since they're kind of reserved for usual clients, but even just wandering in the area at night to catch some of its atmosphere is nice.

 

Sekaido : biggest art supply store of Tokyo (map)

 

[Not visited yet] Shinjuku ni-chōme : the gay area
[Not visited yet] Kabukicho : one of Tokyo's red light disctrict

 

Place to eat
Hanbey Shinjuku : Hanbey is an izaka chain that you will find throughout Japan. Food, while not being the greatest of izakaya's cuisine, is perfectly ok, and you can try a lot of strange stuff as well as less frightening classics. Hanbey restaurants are based on a "retro" theme. The decoration, music and atmosphere make you travel back to Showa times. For this reason, you should try it at least once ! Map here.

 

Akihabara

 

Between Sinjuku and Asakusa, the "electronic and manga town".
[Not visited yet] Also the good place if you want to go to a maid cafe (not sure I'll try)

 

 

Other areas of Tokyo

 

[Not visited yet] Odaiba : large artificial island in Tokyo Bay, across the Rainbow Bridge, with a lot of leisure activites, also a beach (though swimming is forbidden).

[Not visited yet] In Shinagawa (not far from Odaiba), Terrada Art Complex : free exhibition space featuring lots of local and international artists each month, website here.

Pigment store : a trendy art shop, beautifully designed by an architect, selling lots of stuff and specialised in pigment !

 

[Not visited yet] Roppongi : a nightlife discrict crowded with expats and foreigners. I'm more attracted by its "Art triangle" formed by 3 museums :  The National Art Center (Japan's largest art museum), Roppongi Hills' Mori Art Museum and Tokyo Midtown's Suntory Museum of Art.

 

[Not visited yet] Imperial Palace gardens  + Chidorigafuchi Park and MOMAT
Kitte department store Tokyo : great rooftop garden with view on Tokyo station. The store's architecture itself is stunning. Map here.

 

Narita-San Temple : vast and populat buddhist temple complex, not far from narita Airport.

 

Day excursion outside Tokyo

 

Kamakura : coastal historical city with plenty of temples, shrines, a beach... and the extraordinary Great Buddha. I love it. About 1 hour by train from Tokyo.

 

 

 

Kawaguchiko (Kawaguchi Lake) : about 1h45 by Express bus, leaving from Shinjuku or Shibuya station (it is quicker & cheaper with the bus than with the train. All the bus info is here). It's one of the 5 lakes close to Mount Fuji and you can watch him or his reflexion on the lake if the day is not cloudy (it is often cloudy though. You'll increase your chances by being there early in the morning, in late afternoon or after a rainy day). If it's clear, you can enjoy the view from the ropeway and do a short walk in the forest.
Cycling around the lake is also very enjoyable.
But the main interest, according to me, is the  Itchiku Kubota Art Museum !    ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡
Yes, dozens of hearts, enormous crush, exceptional place, this is my absolute coup de coeur, I think it may well be my favourite place in Japan ! When I went there, I had practically no idea of what is was about, and it was so impressive to discover it without preparation that I recommend people to simply go there, without looking for more information. I will just tell you that it is artistic but very accessible, not huge (1 hour can be fine, eventough last time I went there, I stayed almost 4), breathtaking, somptuous, very traditional but very unique and contemporary at the same time. For me it was not only an artistic but a truly existential experience. If there's one single museum you should see in Japan, I think it should be this one. If you want to know what it is about, check their website (and know that no picture can give you a true sense of what you will see). If you want to follow my advice and go there blindly, here are all the practical information you may need :

Saiko (Sai Lake) : another of the 5 lakes, with exceptional clean water. Smaller and and less constructed than Kawaguchiko, and close to a national park, a good camping base.

 

[Not visited yet] Nikka

Other

 

♡ Guided tour : if you would like someone to guide you around Tokyo, Nicolas Wauters is a very friendly and good guide who's lived in Tokyo for years. We hired his services for one day (we were a group of 5 people). I was dubitative at first about the interest of a guided tour covering many areas of Tokyo in only one day, but it was truly interesting and worth! He and his colleague guide in English and French, and can adapt their tours to your interests and special requests. Check their website.

 

 



 

 

 

 

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WHO AM I ?

I’m Florence, a Belgian artist temporarily living in Sapporo on Hokkaido island, in the north of Japan. This blog is dedicated to my japanese travels, artworks & projects.

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© 2017 par Florence Plissart. Créé avec Wix.com

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