Tokyo had been on our bucket list of places to visit for a while now. After our last trip over seas, we were set on coming to Japan. We came across some pretty great flight deals to some great destinations over the past 6 months, but our hearts were really set on Tokyo. I’m glad we held out and waited. Tokyo is the most vibrant city I’ve ever been to. It’s a massive city that has so much to offer. From food to art and architecture, there is so much to do and see. It’s also one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever been to! Seriously, where was all the trash? When we began planning out what we wanted to do and see, we were a little overwhelmed. We ended up making a list of places we wanted to see and visit in addition to a list of places we wanted to eat. We then bucketed them into neighborhoods. Once that was figured out, we just spent a day in each neighborhood and picked things off that list. Kudos to Courtney who did the real planning for this trip. We had a ton of fun in Tokyo, it truly is a unique city like no other. I’ll briefly go over some of the places we stopped off on our first half of our stay. More after the jump!
We lucked out and got direct flights to and from Tokyo. We landed in Narita International Airport, which isn’t exactly close to Tokyo. If you fly into Narita, definitely plan to take an express train into Tokyo. A taxi will cost you up to $300 USD. The express train is pretty cheap and it only took about an hour to get to the heart of Tokyo. We headed straight to Minato-Ku, which would serve as our home base for the next week. First thing we did was head out for some ramen, because your first meal in Tokyo should probably be ramen or great sushi. We ended up taking a walk around Zozoji Temple, which is also a short walk from the Tokyo Tower. Both landmarks were a short walk from our hotel. After dinner, we spent some time walking around the neighborhood. Tokyo is such a vibrant city, especially at night. My favorite time of day was shooting at night when the city really lit up. That was a distinct characteristic of the city. Neighborhoods and streets that seemed quiet and empty during the day came alive at night. Our first full day was spent exploring Harajuku and Aoyama. We took the subway to Harajuku where we visited Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine. One note about the subway system in Tokyo, it’s really confusing. Part of the issue is that there are several different lines that are operated by different companies. They also base the fare on how many stops you are going. You have to scan your ticket when entering your stop and when you are leaving the station. Confession, we didn’t quite grasp this concept at first. We definitely cheated for a while. Luckily we didn’t get stopped by the police.
After spending some time at Meiji in Yoyogi park we made our way to Takeshita street. The two places are polar opposites. Obviously Yoyogi park was extremely peaceful and quiet, despite there being a pretty good number of tourists there. Takeshita street was completely different. It was extremely crowded and loud. Takeshita street is full of food stands and shops. One of the stops we made in Takeshita was at the Totti Candy Factory. This place is famous for its giant spirals of cotton candy. For some reason I suggested getting the largest one, which was definitely a mistake. It was impossible for the two of us to finish up. Unfortunately, we had to throw most of it away. After making our way through Takeshita, we headed over to the iconic Tokyu Plaza. The entrance to Tokyu Plaza has a series of mirrors that create a composite of dizzying reflections. After getting our photo op there, we continued to walk towards the beautiful Nezu Museum. The Nezu is a small art museum that also has a beautiful garden space. The collection is fairly small, but the building is beautiful, as are the garden grounds. After spending the afternoon at the Nezu, we headed towards Shibuya for dinner. We decided on Zauo, a fishing restaurant. Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like it is. This was probably the most unique dining experience we’ve ever had. You have two options on how to pay for your fish. First, you can go straight to fishing and end up paying the cost of whatever fish you end up catching. The other option is like a lottery system. You pay a price for four cards, which equates to four tries to catch a fish. The cost of the cards is equal to the cheapest fish in the pool, but if you end up catching a high end fish, you end up paying that low price. The catch (nice pun) here is that if you mess up your four attempts you have to buy another four cards. Once caught, the chefs will prepare your fish however you like. I went with sashimi and the grilled options. Courtney went for the sashimi option.
After dinner, we hit up a drinking alley in Shibuya. Drinking alleys are pretty much what they sound like. It can comprise of a short street or a few short blocks of streets all consisting of tiny bars. I mean really tiny bars. They typically sit only about 5-10 people at max. They all have different personalities as well. You might have a pub inspired bar right next to laid-back hole in the wall next to a modern cocktail bar. The positive here is that you get to easily bar hop. We got an early start the next day to make our way to Tsukiji Market. This was one of my favorite stops of the trips. Tsukiji Market is located in Ginza and takes up a few blocks. The market is packed with all kinds of food. We were able to try a few different things. My favorite had to be the chicken dumplings. We also had some amazing mochi and matcha lattes. Once we finished up at the market, we headed over to to the Hamarikyu Gardens. The best part of this park was how peaceful it was. I could only imagine how beautiful it would look once spring was at its peak. Side note on the public parks in Tokyo; a lot of them have entry fees (especially the larger ones) to enter. I don’t mind the fee, since it goes to the upkeep of the grounds, so keep that in mind if you plan to take in several of the parks. The gardens have a small tea house that sits along a lake. It only had a couple of menu items, matcha tea and traditional Japanese confectioneries. We sat down along the open windows overlooking the lake while it started to rain. It was one of the most tranquil and peaceful moments I’ve experienced. So happy that Courtney and I got to experience it. As I mentioned at the start of this journal, the trip was a blast. The first half of the trip was a blur. A good portion of the time, I couldn’t believe that we were actually there getting to experience it all. I’ll cover the second half of our trip in the next journal entry. More to come.