With the 2020 Olympics taking place in Tokyo, all eyes will soon be on this incredible city that artfully mixes the ultramodern and the traditional. Just wandering around beneath the sky-high towers and colorful bright lights of this city is an immersive experience in itself, but these are a few stops I think you should add along the way!
1. Harajuku District
This is the fashion district of Tokyo and it’s everything you’re hoping for—bright colors, outfits that are practically animé, cutesy snacks, bustling streets, and an endless array of shops worth getting lost in.
Takeshita Street is the center of teenage culture and the best place to hunt for trendy and colorful fashion items at surprisingly affordable prices. There are also bright signs everywhere calling you toward cafes and street food stands that take shopping food way beyond a food court pretzel.
There are also higher-end stores on the backstreets like Omotesando Street and Meiji Street. This is where you’ll find large shopping malls, including the famous Laforet.
2. Fluffy Pancakes
This is the most fun you will probably ever have eating anything. Ever. Calling these pancakes fluffy is a bit of an understatement…they are lighter-than-air and thicker than a hamburger with the consistency of angel food cake. And they are oh so fun to jiggle.
Stop by Gram in the Harajuku district to put your name on the reservation list and be prepared to shop around for a bit before returning at your allotted time. What can I say? Fluffiness is in high demand.
When shopping your way through Harajuku inevitably works up your appetite, dumplings are the solution, and Harajuku Gyoza Lou is the place to get them. We stumbled upon this place because there was a line and that’s usually a good sign…embrace the herd mentality.
There are just two styles of gyoza dumplings available at this no-frills eatery–fried or steamed–and they’re as tasty as they are affordable (just ¥290 for six). Order lots of both cause your dumpling days are all downhill from here.
4. Tsukiji Fish Market
The Tsukiji wholesale fish market opened in 1935 and quickly established itself as the biggest fish and seafood market in the world. This city staple was actually moved to a new location just a few months after I visited, and is now called Toyosu fish market.
You will still be able to experience wandering through one of the largest fish markets out there and (if you’re more ambitious than I was) the famous early morning tuna auctions will still be happening over at the new location, beginning at 4:30 a.m. daily.
5. Shibuya Crossing
This is a crosswalk. But, believe me, it’s one worth seeing. We’re talking Abbey Road status.
It’s the largest cross walk in the world at the center of what is basically the Times Square of Tokyo. People are constantly pouring across the street from all directions and meet in the middle in a frantic mess, bumping, side stepping and swerving around each other as they try to cross. It’s crazy when you’re in the herd, but actually quite soothing to watch from above, so be sure you experience both. Unquestionably a must-visit.
I have no doubt you will stumble upon the most amazing sushi wherever you go in this town, but one thing you should keep and eye out for is 回転寿司 (Kaiten-Sushi) or sushi-go-round! You know, the sushi that comes around on a conveyer belt? It’s a fun experience and a cheap, modern way to get you raw fish fix. Just grab whatever looks good going by and stack up your plates! They have different colored rims that indicate the price, so the plate stack acts as your bill.
I met up with a friend in Tokyo at Katsumidori Seibu Shibuya, a little spot on the 8th floor of the Shibuya Seibu Department Store right near Shibuya Crossing. There are lots of other spots to choose from, but this one will do the trick if you find yourself nearby!
7. Tokyo Tower
This Eiffel-inspired lattice tower stands out against the skyline with its white and international orange coloring. Make your way to the top for a great view of the city and a peek at Mount Fuji from afar.
Just a short walk away from here are the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, which is a beautiful stroll to take if you want to get a dose of peace in some greenery away from the speed of the city.
8. Tokyo DisneySea
If you have limited time in Tokyo, I understand wanting to spend every minute soaking up the city, but spending a day in Disneyland is actually a great way to experience Japanese culture. Disney is extremely popular in Japan. And this is the place to become Part of [Their] World.
There are two parks: Disneyland and DisneySea. If you’re not doing both, DisneySea is definitely the move. It’s the only theme park of its kind, and they went full-on Under the Sea. Instead of a princess castle as the focal point of the park, it has a volcano at its center, which erupts throughout the day.
The park is divided into seven nautically-themed sections: Mediterranean Harbor, American Waterfront, Lost River Delta, Port Discovery, Mermaid Lagoon, Arabian Coast, and Mysterious Island. They each have their own unique vibe and (best of all) their own unique flavor of popcorn! Each is delightful and matches the theme. My personal favorite was the milk chocolate popcorn near a little Cape Cod, but you should really try them all.
Enjoy this terrific town and have fun jiggling your pancakes!