Exploring Harajuku is more than just walking down the famed Takeshita Dori Street. There are so many side alleys and hidden shops you need to explore to get a real sense of what Harajuku is all about and not just the touristy side of things. I’ve tried to make this list an easy to follow walking path from the station so you don’t have to backtrack too much!
Japan has the reputation of being unique, quirky and sometimes even flat out weird. But not weird in a bad, but weird in a good way. These unique experiences which are synonymous with Tokyo are the reason some people make the trip out there. While I would always advise you pair your adventures in Japan with some traditional experiences as well, I do completely understand those who want to find all the most bizarre activities this country has to offer. Here are my favourite weird and wonderful places and adventures to can find in Tokyo!
Travelling to Japan as a first timer is a daunting experience. Going to a city where they don't use the Roman alphabet, let alone speak the language, is just one more hurdle which can make those first few hours in the city all that more confusing and intimidating. But trust me, Japan is one of the most incredible cities in the world and the kind people you'll find there are always more than happy to help you out with any pickle you might find yourself in. That being said, after many "first times" in Japan, I've plotted my top tips to ensure your first few hours there go as smoothly as possible, and you've set yourself up for success for the rest of your trip to Japan!
When visiting the famed area of Asakusa and the Sensoji shrine you're bound to work up an appetite! Luckily, Nakamise Shopping Street and the side streets around it, have a plethora of amazing street foods to choose from. I decided to make a day of this the last time I visited. Come HUNGRY because there are so many different things you NEED to try! This one area offers up so many traditional Japanese street foods, each one costing only a dollar or so. You can easily spend under $15 for an entire 10-course meal! There are plenty of food tours of this area, but it's so easy to do it yourself. While having a guide is a great way to ask questions and find out more from a local's perspective about the area, doing it on your own means it's up to you to find your way around and interact with the locals yourself.
When you think of visiting Japan, no doubt one of the first things you'll imagine is walking into an ancient temple, painted bright vermillion, the smells of incense wafting the air. One of the most iconic of these temples is Sensoji in Asakusa, Tokyo. Perhaps the most visited temple in Tokyo, Sensoji is also the oldest temple in the city with over half millennia of stories to tell.
In the cosy, seaside village of Yokohama, you'll find the fabled Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. Although it's dubbed a "museum", the experience you'll have is more in line with a trip to Epcot. The museum is almost like visiting a food-themed amusement park which sends you back in time in tastes and visuals.
About an hour from Tokyo lies the seaside town of Yokohama. It is the second largest city in Japan with a population of 3.7 million. Despite being such a big city it still keeps the small town feel that it once had when it was first established. Yokohama makes for an easy day-trip from Tokyo. It’s a scenic escape with a myriad of peaceful gardens and exciting activities.
Blocks away from Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in Tokyo, you'll find Nakano. Nakano feels like the amalgamation of everything we dream about Japan being. You can find some of the best ramen shops, grandmothers dumplings, bustling Japanese shopping centers and the best in Japanese pop culture. And the best part about Nakano is that it's a low-rise neighbourhood, meaning that unlike Shinjuku with it's towering neon skyscrapers, this feels more like a quiet suburban community.
The first morning in Kyoto we decided to venture outside the city and visit one of Kyoto's most popular sights: the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Heralded as being one of the "most beautiful groves on earth" and designated a "National Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty" by Japan, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a place unlike anywhere else. It's a place where you can escape yourself, as long as you manage to escape the throngs of tourists as well.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to do a bunch of psychedelic drugs in the year 2200? Well, wonder no more because the Robot Restaurant here in Tokyo is here to show you! The "restaurant" isn't really a restaurant at all. What it is, is a futuristic, energetic, vibrant, exciting, surprising and overall insane display modern, Japanese cabaret.
Inside the bamboo forest, you'll come across Tenryuji temple. The temple grounds are known as being one of the most beautiful in Japan and their famous garden, and its zen-like atmosphere was just the thing we were looking for as an to escape from the throngs of people who were started to filter into the bamboo grove.
Near the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama, you'll come across the entrance to the Ōkōchi Sansō Villa Gardens. After traipsing through the groves and narrowly escaping peak tourist hour, we were in need of a break from the selfie sticks and loud tour groups. Before entering we poked ours heads in the front gate. From there, it looked like there wasn't a soul inside. Immediately as we passed through the gate and started to walk up the hill, the noise from the tourists below disappeared. We could hear our footsteps on the stones below and the sound of the wind in the trees. It wasn't until the very end of the tour that we ran into another person. It was the perfect escape from the crowds below and more beautiful that we could have imagined.
One of the most iconic images of Japan has to be the bright, vermillion coloured torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto. Many people come to Fushimi Inari Taisha not knowing the scope of it. They see the images online and think it's just a few small alleyways - this is far from the whole picture. The main shrine sits at the base of the Inari mountains, but a path of thousands of torii gates behind the building leads visitors up 233 meters above sea level to visit 4 kilometres of sub-shrines finally ending at the magnificent mountain top shrine.
In my ‘11 Things to Know Before Travelling to Japan’, I tackled how the country has an amazing public transport system, that gourmet-level meals are available at convenience stores, and that their toilets are indeed as amazing as you think. What I didn’t tell you about Japan is how important the cherry blossoms are to the nation’s culture.
Many people underestimate how much there is to do while visiting Arashiyama. We were lucky enough to book off an entire day here to explore, but I think if we could have done it all over again, we would have booked a hotel to extend our time there ever more. One of the attractions that often gets overlooked is the Iwatayama Monkey Park. Many people are dissuaded when they see it's a 30-minute + hike, uphill, to where you'll see the monkeys. They either can't spare the time or can't spare the energy. But let me tell you right now - it's worth it...well worth it.
Arashiyama Village is more than the Bamboo Grove and monkey forest which surround it. Taking a walk down the busy streets and quiet laneways of the small town is an excellent way to experience Japanese culinary treats, see traditional Japanese architecture and explore some lovely shops selling souvenirs and hand made crafts.
The Philosopher's Path (or Tetsugaku-no-Michi as it is known in Japan) is one of the greatest exploratory walks you can experience in Kyoto. The Path is located in the northern area of Higashiyama at the base of Kyoto's East Mountain. It is a place to wander, to find yourself, to embrace peace and quiet and to see what makes Kyoto so unique as a city. The path follows the Lake Biwa Canal for around 29 kilometres at the base of the mountain. The trail is lined with cherry trees on either side. During the cherry blossom season, this is one of the most popular spots to come and view the spectacle.
If you're looking for a peaceful day trip from Tokyo, Enoshima is the ticket. This tiny little island off the coast is one of the most serene and beautiful places I had the chance to visit on my last trip to Japan. It was so perfect and quaint it felt like a cartoon seaside village from a Miyazaki film. Hiking up and down the island you'll be able to see stunning shrines, perfectly manicured parks, a secret garden, and if you're VERY VERY lucky, a wonderful view of Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is known as the shy mountain so don't expect to see anything but feel lucky if you do. The island itself is inaccessible to vehicles, making it an incredibly quiet location, and walking up the hills, sometimes the only sounds which can be heard the birds and wind through the trees.
If you’re looking for the busiest, liveliest, brightest, craziest area to stay while visiting Tokyo, there is no other option for you other than Shinjuku. Shinjuku is home to the world’s biggest railways station, where more than two million passengers flow through their hallways each day. Just a taste of the immensity of this mini-city.
Visiting Tokyo in the wintertime is one of Japan's best-kept secrets. So many people avoid travelling in the winter due to the cold but if you layer on those coats and scarves, you'll be treated to a Japan which is sometimes only seen by locals and those few tourists who make the effort to brave the elements. Winters in Tokyo are meant for soaking in hot springs, visiting Mount Fuji on a clear day and best of all, eating delicious winter food! Dining in Tokyo can be had for as little as under $20 or as much as over $100. I've been sure to include various price points in this list so whether you're looking for a cheap lunch or a luxurious dinner there is something for everyone!