Tokyo is one of the busiest cities in the world. While places in Tokyo can get super crowded, the Japanese have found ways to maintain calm and order. Part 2 of your Tokyo itinerary makes the most of exploring this busyness. From the stalls of Asakusa to the shops of Tokyo station... there's a plethora of sights and culture to take in. Oh - and don't forget the ramen, sushi, and beer!
(1) and (2) Begin the day at Asakusa
If there is one tourist site to go while in Tokyo, it would have to be Asakusa! Housed in the middle of the modern city, Asakusa transports you back to a time of history and tradition. The highlight of the site is Senso-ji, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo built back in 645 AD. Visitors come to the temple to learn a part of Japanese history, as well as to attend the many festivals that now occur here throughout the year.
Leading up to the temple is a shopping street known as the Nakamise street, which is lined with over 90 open shops selling crafts, souvenirs, and treats. Spend time here to pick up some gifts for friends and family back home, but also to try out all the latest and tasiest Japanese snacks. From freshly made mochi to red bean taiyaki to matcha-flavored anything, this is the place that foodies dream of! There are lots of smaller shops and restaurants all along the side streets as well - just be sure to save room for lunch!
(3) Views and Shopping at Tokyo Skytree
From the history and traditions of Asakusa, just a 10-minute cab ride brings you back to the modern city life of Tokyo to the tallest structure in Japan when it was completed in 2011. Tokyo Skytree is an architectural marvel that is not to be missed. Rising over 2,000 feet, the tower has observation decks for visitors that offer expansive unobstructed views of the entire city. On clear days, you can even see Mt.Fuji from here!
Besides amazing views, Tokyo Skytree also offers some of the best shopping and restaurants in all of the city. International and Japanese brands line up the shopping mall at the base of the tower, and there's even a food hall area with confectionary stores. Shop to your heart's content as there's bound to be something here for everyone's taste.
(4) Grab lunch at Rokurinsha
After all the walking and shopping in the morning, it's the perfect time to get some lunch to refuel. Rokurinsha is located on the 6th floor of Tokyo Skytree. You can't miss it - it's the one with the longest line. Rokurinsha is best known for their tsukemen, or dipping noodles. The noodles are wide, curly, and have a more chewy consistency. You order the ramen at the vending machine by the door and wait to be told where to sit. Once you finish your noodles, you will be offered a choice of soups to add to your bowl. I recommend the one with yuzu - a little lighter, more tart flavor after a nice hefty bowl of noodles.
Pro tip - Look, tsukemen isn't for everyone and the line at Rokurinsha is LONG (although the one at Tokyo Skytree is much shorter than the branch in Tokyo Station). If you know it's not something that you would like... go to one of the many other restaurants in Tokyo Skytree, including the ones on the 31st floor which offer a great view. If you love tsukemen or are down to try something new... then go early (like before it even opens early).
(5) Explore Tokyo Station - buy some whisky, take home some souvenirs, relax over a flight of beer
[credit: Live Japan]
Tokyo Station is the biggest, busiest transportation hub in Tokyo. The station and the surrounding area has gone through some major construction in the last few years. You can probably spend all day exploring Tokyo Station and its neighboring buildings.
But if you don't have all that time... here are the 3 things I love doing at the Tokyo station:
Check out the Japanese liquor selection at Liquors Hasegawa Honten - located in the basement level of Tokyo station. This place has an enormous selection of Japanese liquor you can't find anywhere in the world. Prices are reasonable. And if you're a fan of Japanese whisky - you most certainly can't miss this place!
Pick up souvenirs. Here's the thing with large train stations in Japan... people pick up food and souvenir at the station (on their way to the train or home). This means, they have a LOT of options. Tokyo Station has an entire area dedicated to confectionary - stalls after stalls, selling all different kinds of cookies, candies, mochi... intricately wrapped into the most beautiful packages.
Enjoy a beer flight at Hitachino Brewing Lab. The Hitachino Nest brand with its distinctive owl logo now boasts the biggest sales worldwide of Japanese craft beer. They have a beer garden on the rooftop of Tokyo Station, with ten varieties of beer on tap... and these beer are good!
Surrounding Tokyo station are other less hectic tourist attractions of note:
- The Tokyo International Forum is one of the city's many architectural highlights
- Tokyo Imperial Palace, the residence of Japan's Imperial Family, stands on the former site of Edo Castle. The outer area of the palace grounds with its moats and walls can be reached in a five minute walk from Tokyo Station
- Nakadori Avenue is a tree lined shopping street running between the large shopping and office buildings. The street is lined by cafes, fashion boutiques and other shops
- Kitte (Japanese for postal stamp) is a shopping and dining complex on the lower floors of the JP Tower next to Tokyo Station. The first four floors feature over 70 stores selling mostly fashion and interior goods, while the top two floors contain restaurants and a rooftop garden with views out over Tokyo Station
(6) Tokyu Hands Tokyo store
I am absolutely fascinated with the respect that Japanese chefs have for the culinary arts. Japanese chefs are known to spend their entire lives mastering a single dish. That's why, it's no surprise that they also have the most incredible culinary tools. Tokyu Hands is a one-stop shop for all sorts of goodies. Its "Tokyo Store" branch is directly connected to the Tokyo Station, and has 3 floors (floor 8 to 10). I love going here to buy home goods and cooking utensils. Last time I went, I brought back engraved chopsticks as souvenirs! If cooking isn't your thing - Tokyu Hands also has a variety of stationary, accessories, electronics, and many other products unique to Japan.
(7) Enjoy a stress-free sushi dinner at Nemuro Hanamaru Sushi
In any other country in the world, I'd never recommend conveyer belt sushi. But in the motherland of sushi... conveyer belt sushi is top notch. Another reason why conveyer belt sushi is amazing... you don't need to speak the language or ask for an English menu. See what you like, take what you like, eat what you like.
Nemuro Hanamaru Sushi is one of the best conveyer belt sushi chains. It has gained popularity amongst locals and tourists alike because many of the ingredients are seasonal products from Nemuro, Hokkaido (aka SUPER SUPER FRESH). Just because it's that fresh, doesn't mean you have to pay an arm and a leg for it - prices are ridiculously affordable (ranging from about $1.50 to $7 USD a plate). High quality, low price... no wonder there's normally a long wait!
If conveyer belt sushi is really not your thing... try Nemuro Hanamaru's stand-up sushi bar in the basement level of the Tokyu Plaza Ginza building (it's right off of the Ginza station). Also, note that this place does not take reservations.
[Credit: Yahoo Lifestyle]