I thought Tokyo was one of those destinations that you need to see once in a lifetime. But when I visited for the first-time last May I felt in love with this city, and I want to go back over and over again. Tokyo is like a New York or Paris: there is always more to see, and it never gets boring.
If you are planning your first visit to Tokyo, here are some basics that you need to see:
My personal favorite. Colorful Buddhist temple located in the neighborhood of Asakusa. It is one of the symbols of the city of Tokyo, and the city´s oldest temple. From the outer gate, there is a beautiful shopping street, called Nakamise, that leads to the temple. This street is the perfect place to buy yukatas, a fan, or typical souvenirs.
Golden Gai: small area in Shinjuku, of narrow alleys of tiny bars and restaurants. Visit this old historic district at night to have a drink while listening to jazz or singing karaoke. I was surprised to find a place like this hidden in the busy and futuristic Shinjuku neighborhood.
Perfect for a long relaxing stroll, the Meiji Shrine and the Yoyogi Park, are in a beautiful ancient forest, right in Harajuku. It is the perfect place to take a rest from the bustle of the city, buy an amulet, or write a wish on an ema wooden plate.
For me, the most beautiful park of Tokyo, the Ueno Park is lively with tons of fun and interesting things to do. It is home of different shrines and temples, that you can discover while you stroll around its paths. Inside the park there are also five museums, including the Tokyo National Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and a Zoo. If you are lucky to visit during the cherry blossom season, this is the best place to enjoy it.
The most famous wholesale market for fish, fruits, and vegetables in Tokyo. It´s one of the largest fish markets in the world, and a major touristic spot. There are some small restaurants where you can taste the freshest sushi, but the lines are long. A cool thing to do is to attend the Tuna auctions that take place every morning at 5 AM.
It is the busiest intersection in the world, where hundreds of people cross each time. You have to walk it and take a video along the way. I also recommend to see the Crossing from above. Two good spots are the L'Occitane café and the Shibuya Hikarie mall.
Kiddy Land: who doesn´t like Hello Kitty? This toy store has floors and floors of Snoopy, Star Wars, and Hello Kitty toys, apparel, and souvenirs to take back home Japan´s favorite characters.
Kawaii Monster Cafe
This café was designed by the acclaimed modern art designer Sebastian Masuda, under the idea of a beast that swallowed Harajuku whole. It is crazy Harajuku taken to the next level. It´s a Kawaii (cute in Japanese) wonderland with installations that reminds Charlie and the chocolate meets Kpop. Five mascot Monster Girls perform on a cake-shaped merry-go-round while you enjoy your rainbow-colored meal.
Adores Game Center, Shibuya: typical Japanese Arcade, with claw machines and Photo booths that are nothing like you´ve seen before. A great way to spend a fun time with friends trying to catch a Japanese toy to take home, or make funny faces at the Purikura (Japanese photo booths).
Pet Cafés: if you want to grab a cup of coffee while petting a cute animal, there are several cafés all over Tokyo where you can do that. Cats, owls, snakes and even a goat coffee shop are some that you can visit.
Tsurutontan Roppongi, Minato: my favorite for having a huge bowl of tasty Udon noodles, sitting in a traditional tatami room. I tried one with prunes that was sublime. If you are in New York, they also have a location at Union Square.
Rated the best Ramen restaurant in Tokyo, it´s located at the Ramen street, which is underground at a big subway station. It´s a tiny joint where you need to wait at least 20 minutes for one of the 6 tables inside, to try really the best Ramen I´ve ever had.
Uobei Sushi, Shibuya: if you want to have really good sushi, there are infinite places in Tokyo to get that, but not here. This inexpensive conveyor belt sushi restaurant is for having fun, ordering on your screen the sushi that comes in a cart like a tiny bullet train.
My favorite Japanese store for apparel, home goods and stationery, the Shibuya store is a paradise for any Muji lover. It has several floors, that include a Muji Cafe that serves delicious Japanese dishes, a food market great to buy tea and Japanese candy (I´m obsessed with the Matcha covered strawberries), a kid´s section with a play area, and a workshop where you can customize your Muji apparel with fun patches and embroideries.
Tokyu Hands, Shibuya: a huge department store where you can find any Japanese item that you can think of. Great for buying beauty products, and craft supplies.
Photo: Raymond Patrick
This quiet tree-lined street is my favorite luxury district in Tokyo. Here almost every big luxury label in the world has a big over the top store, where they carry their most avant-garde lines, specially for the Japanese market. Other luxury districts are Ginza, Roppongi Hills, and Shibuya.
Aoyama: if you keep walking towards the end of Omotesando, you´ll find this more quiet neighborhood, where the coolest boutiques are. Shop at ACNE, COS, Maison Kitsune, and Beautiful People, while you watch amazing modern Japanese architecture on the street. And don´t forget to stop for a cup of coffee at Blue Bottle.
Harajuku: even if you are not into the Kawaii style, the Harajuku district is a must see in Tokyo. Walk Harajuku´s narrow streets to see teenagers from every urban tribe you can think of shopping for outfits. There are also some vintage stores that are gems worth of checking out.
See you in Tokyo!
Make sure to check out Dreaming of Japan, Cuckoo B´s newest collection inspired in our travels to the Land of the Rising Sun.