My trip to Japan last November was life-changing to say the least. Japan was on the very top of my bucket list of places to hit, and I am so happy to report it did not disappoint in the slightest. No amount of pictures, literature, or videos can fully prepare you for the colorful, unique culture of Japan. However, I wanted to share some of the highlights of my trip in case you are planning a trip. I can’t wait to return – there’s so much I left untouched.
In my opinion, the best way to see this incredible is to map out the attractions, restaurants, shopping, etc that most appeal to you then explore neighborhood by neighborhood. This city is HUGE so you don’t want to be taking multiple trips back and forth in a day to sightsee (I know from personal experience). For the Tokyo newbie, I’ve broke down the city into my 5 favorite neighborhoods. I really think each of these are a “must see” and will set your planning off on the right foot.
Let me know if you take any of my suggestions!
Asakusa – Center of Spirituality
I recommend starting your trip in Tokyo’s oldest neighborhood, Asakusa. The main attraction holds Asakusa Shrine and Sensō-ji (completed in 645). These are the picturesque shrines and pagodas you picture in your mind when you think of Japan. There is also a great market to shop for souvenirs, but this area is extremely busy with tourist so it is best to arrive extremely early! Do not miss this neighborhood however! It’s a great place to start and get an understanding of how far the city has evolved over time.
Tsukiji Fish Market
So it’s your second day in Tokyo and your still incredibly jet-lagged. I HIGHLY recommend waking up at 3am (or not going to sleep at all) and heading to the fish market to see the tuna auctions. However, I require a solid 10 hours of sleep a night and wasn’t able to make it this first trip. If you can do this, please do! I’ve heard it’s 100% worth it and have SO much regret. Although we didn’t go at 3am, we did head over at 8am to Tsukiji to start Day 2. The shops surrounding the market sell fish and sushi until they run out so it is best to show up early. My friend and I started off with tamagoyaki (omelet on a stick) from Yamachō. I did not know an egg could taste so good. Definitely a must-visit. Next, we paced through the sushi restaurants and found a counter that wish two female chefs. These ladies looked like two iron chefs. We were instantly intrigued and knew we had found the spot. We waited for seats to open up and were blown away by the fresh tuna and shiso placed before us. Honestly, this was the best meal of my life. There was not a name of this stand, and it said not to take pictures but I snagged one for you guys anyways (bottom right). Find this stand. Eat here. Thank me later.
*UPDATE – Tsukiji Fish Market has officially closed and moved to Toyosu (press release here). You can attend the fish auctions there but apparently many of the restaurants are still at Tsukiji. I recommend visiting Tsukiji first because many of the stores seemed resistant to change when I visited.
After fueling up on fresh seafood, walk over to the posh neighborhood of Ginza for some mid-day shopping. Ginza has a wonderful department store called Tokyu Plaza. This isn’t your average shopping destination. When you look above, you will see an art installation from famed artist Yayoi Kusama. I quickly fell in love with her work during our trip. I highly recommend taking the escalators all the way to the top floor to admire the red polka-dotted pumpkins and see the impressive Tsutaya bookstore. I’m not usually one to rave about bookstores but this one is worth the hike to the top. After spending an hour at the bookstore (believe me, it will happen), exit Tokyu and you will find yourself in front of the world’s largest UNIQLO. You’re welcome…
Flashback 13 years ago… Gwen Stefani was touring the world with her “Harajuku Lovers” tour, and I somehow lucked out and attended the concert in Nashville because one of my best friend’s invited me to tag along with her. I screamed my heart out because I was obsessed with everything about the costuming, set-design and world of Harajuku that Gwen shared. Walking through the whimsical streets of Harajuku was absolutely thrilling for me. The fashion is so adventurous and not pretentious at all. It is incredibly playful and fun with a lot of emphasis on color. What makes the Harajuku style unique, however, is there is a hint of punk interwoven in the outfits that you will see put together. The Harajuku style is mostly popular among Japanese teenagers. This is definitely a neighborhood you will want to walk through. There are a ton of sweets shops (frozen yogurt, bubble tea) but not a lot of restaurants. At the end of Harajuku, there are some incredible vintage shops too!
Last but not least, Shibuya is the center of modern Tokyo. Shibuya crossing is the busiest intersection in the world, we honestly spent an hour here just observing the crowds rush by and walking through the crosswalk ourselves. It’s truly spectacular. There are countless world-class restaurants and shops in Shibuya and Shinjuku. Trust me, this area does not sleep. This is going to sound INCREDIBLY odd but one of my favorite spots in this area is called “Piss Alley.” I wish I was kidding with this name. It is honestly the cutest place that hosts tiny little restaurants that seat only a few people. Show up here on the earlier side so you don’t have to wait for a table. These are quintessential izakayas, or restaurants that specialize in small plates and drinks. Perfect way to start a night out in Tokyo.
Hope you enjoyed this guide! Continuously adding and modifying my recs so please comment what you would like to hear more or less of!