1. Eat Sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market
When it came to planning our Japan trip, food was probably one of the parts we anticipated the most, since we absolutely LOVE Japanese food and somehow always end up eating sushi and ramen when we get dinner together.
The Tsujiki Fish Market is an institution in Tokyo, and you absolutely cannot miss coming here and grabbing a delicious, fresh bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the market. We read up a fair share about what to expect before our trip, and we took the advice from many of our friends and family to come extra early to wait in line for both the early morning tuna auction and for the popular sushi hot spots that have become so famous that lines begin well over 3 hours before the restaurants even open. It was our first night in Tokyo, and since we had plenty of rest on the plane, we decided to venture out at 3am with the goal of eating at Sushi Dai at the fish market (one of the most famous sushi restaurants here, to say the least). It was such an interesting experience to see shop owners and workers pushing and driving carts everywhere to transport fresh fish and merchandise across the market, and at some points we even felt nervous walking to our destination because there was so much action happening in the dead of night. The line for Sushi Dai at 3:30 am (for a 5:30am opening) was already at 50+ people, and we made the unfortunate decision to skip eating there since we were tight on time for what we had planned that day. We ended up eating elsewhere that also had fresh and delicious sushi, but had no wait. You really can't go wrong with any place to eat at Tsujiki, which is a very beautiful thing for any sushi and seafood lover. If you can't make it to Sushi Dai, try Daiwa Sushi next door, which also boasts great reviews!
24/7 sushi anyone? Try Sushizanmai Bekkan, which is where we ended up deciding to eat after a morning scramble since we were pressed for time for the rest of our day. It wasn't Sushi Dai, but the sushi was solid, fresh and delicious!
2. Shop Until You Drop in Ginza
Ginza is a district of Chūō, Tokyo and is actually the first place we headed to after arriving in Tokyo on our first day. Here, you will find all the big brand name shops (Louis Vuitton, Shiseido, Saint Laurent, etc.) along with smaller one-of-a-kind boutiques, stationary stores, and snack shops that will leave you stopping every 10 feet to explore. We loved strolling down the almost half mile main shopping street, but when we finally found the Uniqlo flagship store, our heart probably skipped a few beats. Seriously, 12 floors of glory, and we were all about it! The sizing of the clothes in Japan are actually very different and run much smaller than back in the States, so we definitely picked up a few items for work wardrobes since it's difficult to find perfect fitting petite clothes in NYC.
Ginza would easily keep you entertained for hours given that it is quite a shopping paradise, so make sure you hold your wallet tight!
3. Be Mesmerized at Tokyo Plaza
The Tokyo Plaza Omotesando Harajuku is a impressive mall in Harajuku and is the work of art of award-winning architect, Hiroshi Nakamura (Fun fact: Nakamura also played a part in the architectural design of the new terminals at Haneda Airport). The entrance into the fashion mall complex boasts a kalediscope of mirrors that is absolutely entrancing, and we definitely recommend stopping by if you are visiting Harajuku, whether it’s to admire the architecture, shop at the dozen of jewelry and clothing boutiques inside, or to simply admire the beautiful architecture of this fashion fortress.
4. Survive Takeshita Street!
Walking down Takeshita Street was by far one of the most stressful and fun experiences we had in Harajuku. It's easily one of the most crowded places we visited on our entire trip, since there is so much to to see, eat and shop on this one tiny cramped street right near Harajuku Station. You'll find everything from the typical Japanese trinket/souvenir shops and character cafes to crepe vendors and makeup shops. The easiest way to get right to Takeshita Street? Take the JR line to Harajuku Station!
Totti Candy Factory
Thanks to @taramilktea on Instagram, we became obsessed with finding this gigantic rainbow cotton candy. Our quest led us all the way to the Totti Candy Factory at Takeshita Street, and trust us, it wasn't even that easy to buy it for $9 after we spotted the store. We got a ticket with a time stamp outside from someone who works at Totti, and had to come back 30 minutes later in order to enter the tiny store! The funniest part of the day was definitely when we tried to carry it all the way to the end of the street to take a photo with the main street sign, and a few bugs may or may not have found themselves in the cotton candy since we held it up in the air for so long. Oops!
5. Get a Drink From a Vending Machine!
Did you know that there are over 5.5 MILLION vending machines in Japan? You can practically find one on every street corner, and the options of what you can get are endless. Japan i known for having vending machines where you can get everything from electronics and noodles, to normal treats like candy and a wide array of beverages.
Between the both of us, we probably tried a good dozen of the drinks at various vending machines around the country. (At parks, on train platforms, on the street; you name it, we had a drink there). Our personal favorites include the coconut milk (very hard to find in the machines), classic brewed green tea, milk tea, and a peculiar looking pear drink that turned out to be pretty delicious. We love how convenient and accessible these machines are, so we never found ourselves looking too far if we were thirsty throughout the day. The best part is that every drink will cost you less than 200 yen (about $2 USD). Along these lines, we totally recommend checking out the local 7-Elevens for cool snacks and drinks to stock up on for your hotel room or to bring back home as souvenirs!
6. Visit an Owl Cafe - Owl Village (Harajuku)
Owl cafes are very well known in Japan, and we decided pretty last minute that we wanted to experience going to one since we wouldn’t get the opportunity to back home like we would for a cat cafe, which are more popular. We found a spot via a quick Google search, and ended up visiting Owl Village in Harajuku since we were in the area already. The session was 1 hour long, and we had about half an hour inside the room with about 8 owls. Every place is different, but Owl Village allows 10 people per session, which makes the room pretty cramped since it isn't very spacious to begin with. We had the opportunity to pet and even hold a few owls on our arms (using a glove and help from the staff). It was actually very fun and we eventually warmed up to the owls, though they looked intimidating when we first walked in. Admission prices range (we paid around less than $20USD), but most will include a drink (the cafe part haha) and certain amount of time to take photos, pet, and learn about the owls!
Tip: Make a reservation in advanced (most places allow you to do this online or via email) since the most popular ones get booked up and cannot take walk-ins.
7. Cross Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing, which is rumored to be the busiest intersection in the world, is certainly something you cannot miss during a visit to Tokyo. Shibuya Crossing definitely feels like the beating heart of the city, especially around rush hour time when locals and tourists alike come from all different directions to cross the intersection. While it may feel hectic and at times, a bit claustrophobic during the peak hours of the intersection, when thousands of people cross in a matter of seconds in 50 different directions, it is interesting and exciting to watch from a distance.
Tip: If you want a really cool undisturbed view of the entire crossing from a slight bird-eyes view, head to the second floor Starbucks across from 109 Men's for a mesmerizing experience. The lights will change every couple of minutes, and you can see the scramble from a perspective you could never get being on the street!
Take a look at our Shibuya Crossing lookbook here!
8. Make a Wish at Sensoji Temple
The first temple we visited in Japan, Sensō-ji Temple, is one of the most well known and popular destinations in the country, as it is the oldest temple in Tokyo, founded in 628. Sensō-ji attracts crowds of over 30 million a year, so we can only imagine how busy it was during Golden Week earlier in May, when tourism is at its peak! There is also a shopping street called Nakamise only 200 meters away from the main temple, so spare some time to walk around, shop and eat on your visit as well!
Check out more about our time at Sensoji and for more pictures of this beautiful place in our lookbook here.
9. Day Trip to Ashikaga Flower Park
Our original plan included a visit to the Kawachi Fuji Gardens in Kitakyushu to see the gorgeous wisteria blooms this season, but when we realized that it would be a bit too out of our way given our short time in Japan, we headed to Ashikaga Flower Park instead, which was only about 45 minutes away from the center of Tokyo. You can read all about the flower park in our lookbook, but we recommend reading their very thorough website to check out when the best peak times are to see these beautiful blooms. You will also find detailed transportation information, which will spare you some stress when it comes to figuring out how to get there.
10. Take in the Bright Lights of Shinjuku
Shinjuku is a special ward of Tokyo that is known for being a bustling business, shopping, and entertainment area around Shinjuku Station. We decided come visit on our last night in Tokyo, walking around and enjoying the colorful scenery for hours before heading out for the evening. Shinjuku station is actually the world's busiest railway station, handling over 2 million passengers/day. You can't even begin to imagine how crowded it is here! Check out this site for a list of things to do in the daytime.
Robot Restaurant (Left): Although we didn't get a chance to dine at the famous Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, we definitely recommend looking into getting a reservation for your trip. This themed restaurant/bar doubles as an evening pop-cultural show, complete with robots, dancers, and lasers. Talk about a unique experience! Check out their TripAdvisor page here!
Ichiran Ramen (Shibuya)
This ramen institution is a chain in Japan that we would like to claim has the best ramen that we have ever had! Ichiran is known for it's unique style of dining, since guests order their meals via "vending machines" before waiting in another line for current guests to finish their meals. This is definitely not the place for large groups, since the concept is to eat the ramen in your own little cubicle with collapsible walls on both sides (if you decide to come with a friend or two and don't want to eat in total silence and isolation). In front of you, you will place the ticket you received from the machine, and someone in the kitchen area behind the curtain will grab it and prepare your ramen in record speed. You have the option to purchase "Kae-dama" (aka an extra serving of noodles) while placing your initial ramen order, but if you decide once you are seated that you could carb up a little more with leftover soup, you can also get your kae-dama later as well. We waited about 30 minutes on a early weeknight evening, so we recommend coming during non-peak dining hours if you're looking for a spot without a hefty wait time.
Ikinari Steak actually just opened a New York restaurant not too long ago, and both of us ate at its East Village location with our friends a few months back without realizing that we would be able to try the original Ikinari on our trip! If you are unfamiliar with Ikinari, it is a Japanese steakhouse chain that is famous for its unique dining experience since you eat standing up! The whole process is pretty simple: After you are "seated" or rather shown to your standing spot, you are given menus and can order your side dishes. You can then order your meat at a separate counter, where they will cut the raw beef according to how many grams you ask for, and you will then be asked you how you want your steak cooked. Both restaurants have always recommended "rare" to be the most popular and most delicious option. When the steak is delivered to your table along with the side dishes, dig in (but don't forget to add some of the delicious, warm sauce and condiments right on your table!). The menu at the location we dined at in Tokyo was a bit different than the one back at home, though we found everything else (including the decor, sauces, and entire dining experience) to be identical! We thought it would be fun to compare the real thing to what we had back in the Big Apple, and guess what, it tastes pretty damn similar!
Tip: Order the garlic rice. Seriously.
If you know anything about, you will know that we are pretty much obsessed when it comes to matcha. So believe it when we tell you that one of the things we were most excited for in Japan was to drink and eat our weights' worth of matcha lattes and ice cream! We visited Veloce cafe probably around 4-5 times during our week and half, since we happened to find this chain everywhere and found their prices to be the cheapest around (say goodbye to $2.75 matcha lattes in NYC). If you're feeling fancy, go for a matcha latte float, and sip until your heart is content.
Genki Sushi is pretty much an institution in Japan, and we heard from more than one friend that we should come here for a cool and unique sushi experience. Don't get us wrong, the sushi itself was alright (hard to give it such high marks after hitting up the fish market for a fresh sushi breakfast), but the experience of ordering and receiving our food was by far the funnest part! At Genki sushi, you order your food from a menu on the screen of your own personal tablet. When you're satisfied with your order, just hit the order button and your sushi will come flying out on a conveyor belt right in front of you in a matter of a few minutes. Prices are super reasonable here, so you can go for a couple of rounds of sushi fun without breaking the bank.
What was your favorite part about this post? Do you have any Tokyo recommendations that you want to share? Leave us a comment below! We'd love to hear your thoughts :)