Guide to Cultural Exploration in Tokyo, Japan
Modern-day Tokyo is a beautiful chaos of ideals from the far east clashing with influences from the west becoming one of the most unique locations in the world. The LARGEST City in the world that has it all. Incredible architecture, vast and diverse food culture, the latest trends in fashion, Mecca of anime and pop culture, the latest technology and one of the cleanest cities you will likely ever set foot in. It's the center of everything in Japan. Featuring two major international airports and the most sophisticated and punctual railway system in the world! Even with all of the advancement of time, it still preserves the culture and ways of its past and you will experience that through the kindness and welcoming attitude of the locals.
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Where to stay in Tokyo, Japan
Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo
Set in a high-rise building, this luxury hotel in Tokyo boasts chic rooms and ten restaurants.
Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo At Marunouchi
Polished hotel set in a high-rise with floor-to-ceiling windows and a French restaurant.
When you book Four Seasons through Fora, you will enjoy exclusive Four Seasons Preferred Partner benefits. Your advisor will be pleased to give you more details.
Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills
In Toranomom, one of Tokyo’s newest luxe hotels is a hit with the design crowd for its clean-line style and sky-high city views.
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Things to do in Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is a city that is very well connected. You can get almost anywhere using the subway/local train lines and trust that they will always be on time. If you choose to, cycling is a great way to get around the city and see even MORE at your own pace and get a better glimpse of daily life.
Over on the east side of Tokyo in Taito Ward is the Historical district of Asakusa and there you will find Sensō-ji temple, Tokyo's oldest temple founded in 645 AD. Gently Bow and enter through the Kaminarimon gate (Thunder Gate) south of the main temple and walk along Nakamise Dori, while sampling the delicious street food and shopping for exquisite local goods. Be sure to bow again and head on through the Hozomon Gate and into the main shrine grounds with the five-story Pagoda. Pray at the temple and don't forget to get your fortune read (Omikuji).
Street food in Ameyoko market is an experience that one must have in order to get the authentic local feel. What used to be a black market hawking American goods during the years following WWII is now a bustling market full of the city's BEST street food, clothing, cosmetics, fresh fish and more! Located in between Okachimachi and Ueno stations, running parallel to the Yamanote line, and close to both Sensō-ji temple and Ueno Park, it's definitely one of the most unique spots in the city that hasn't changed much over the decades. Grab some delicious skewered yakitori (grilled beef) while you are there.
The Mecca of Anime and the latest pop culture trends in Japan originated in Akihabara. Anime, Manga, Video Games, Cosplay and the most modern electronics, had all come from this central Tokyo district. Akihabara is probably the loudest and craziest place in the city. Bright Lights and lots of color! Grab some anime merch at COSPA, have some crane game and gachapon fun at the SEGA arcade, take selfies with maids in front of Maid Dreamin cafe and junk shop at Don Quijote, a one-of-a-kind over-stocked convenience shop that even makes NYC bodegas look bare.
Experience world-class shopping on the east side of central Tokyo in the Shibuya and Harajuku districts. From Shibuya station, cross the world-famous Shibuya crossing and venture into Center Gai, the birthplace of many Japanese fashion trends and get some new kicks at ABC Mart Grand Stage. Check out some of the latest music at Tower Records and then head over to Harajuku's Takeshita street to see the emerging fashions that draw the young and hip. For a high-end fashion adventure, stroll into the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo known as Omotesando, a beautiful kilometer-long tree-lined avenue with the leading fashion brands and high-end shopping complexes like "With Harajuku" and "Omotesando Hills".
teamlab Planets TOKYO is a one-of-a-kind museum that you should definitely consider experiencing on your trip to Tokyo. Launched in 2018 with the goal of blurring the boundary between the body and ART, visitors go through a "body immersive" experience where one takes off their shoes and socks and throws themselves into ethereal massive art spaces with others. Easily one of the most Instagrammable spaces in Tokyo where every photograph becomes food for the eyes. Don't wait too long to visit though. This exhibit space will be closing permanently at the end of 2023. Don't miss out!
Places to eat & drink in Tokyo, Japan
Breakfast in Tokyo
Path (Shibuya): Start the morning right by hitting up this industrial-chic french cafe, located within walking distance from Yoyogi park in Shibuya. Known for their famous, super-fluffy dutch pancake, an oven-baked delicacy, served piping hot is topped with uncured ham, burrata and copious amounts of maple syrup! Burn it off with a jog at Yoyogi park after.
Ginza Asashoku Labo: Not sure what you want in the morning? The "small bowl" buffet style here has a tantalizing curated spread showcasing a mix of Japanese breakfast dishes and deluxe western options. The dishes of this "Ginza Breakfast Lab" are handcrafted, use only seasonal ingredients and guests experience the fun of eating a variety of things little by little through the use of a tic-tac-toe designed 9 Sho tray (9 square tray with a different dish in each square)
Kojo (Ueno): Step into the past at one of Japan's most unique Kissatens (Japanese-style coffee Houses) an underground retro European-influenced cafe with a Showa era ambiance. This space in particular incorporated the extravagance of the 1920s and features ornate lighting fixtures, European art and a massive, Art Deco-style stained glass window. Enjoy a cappuccino and pork cutlet sandwich while listening to the classical museum being pumped out of a Yamaha electronic organ.
Lunch in Tokyo
UnagiArai (Chitose-Karasuyama): Eel is a must-have food you need to try in you are in Tokyo. Treat yourself to a very special version of it at a spot most tourists would never find. Tucked away in a really cool underground level space, west of Shibuya you'll find a really cozy space that offers private/semi-private rooms with tatami seating to enjoy the special eel on rice that comes in a very special Arita-yaki (porcelain box from Kyushu).
Kooriya Peace (Kichijoji): If you are in Tokyo during the summer months you'll definitely want something to cool you down and maybe satisfy your sweet tooth cravings at the same time. The Kakigori (shaved ice) here takes food art to a whole new level. With fine, fluffy shards of ice as a canvas for flavor, the seasonally inspired syrups and toppings transform this simple delicacy into a creation almost too beautiful to eat!
Pro Tip: Reserve early! Due to the small shop only serving 8 at a time and its popularity from the 2017 Japanese Netflix series "Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman it's not easy getting a seat but if you do consider yourself lucky!
Dinner in Tokyo
Oreryu Shio Ramen Jingu-Mae (Harajuku): At one point or another you're going to crave some ramen and even though Tokyo is home to some 20,000 ramen shops finding one that delivers on quality, is mouth-wateringly tasteful and easy to order from without knowing the language is a much tougher task. Take a break from shopping in Omotesando, head into the narrow streets of harajuku and make your way here for an amazing dinner! Munch on the Oreryu Otokomori-Ramen (with kaarage chicken) and some of the best gyoza in Tokyo, the taste is too good for words to describe.
Mutenka Yakisoba Bar Celona (Shirokane): Here you will find the most photogenic yakisoba you have ever seen. What's typically seen as a humble, cheap festival food is transformed by the highly trained chefs at Celona into a luxury yakisoba completely additive-free. Try the delicious and perfectly grilled A5 Wagyu steak paired with a glass of wine in a casual atmosphere. All of the food cooked in front of you is Teppanyaki style, everything tastes as good as it looks.
Drinks in Tokyo
Tir na nÓg (Ginza): Its name derived from Celtic mythology and translated as ‘Land of Youth', the bar transports you to a fairy tale world hidden in the streets of Ginza. Descend the narrow stairwell and you’ll find hundreds of butterflies and fairy figurines hanging from the ceiling, while the shelves along the walls are filled with tiny glass bottles of shimmery pixie dust. The dim lighting, Celtic/fairy themes present all over and the music makes this a fun night out, great for date night. Try the Mocktail (macaron cocktail) with a cotton candy straw. Hand-crafted fairy figurines are a great take-home gift!
Science Bar INCUBATOR (Shinjuku): Started by an owner who studied developmental biology, the concept behind this Avant-garde bar is to enjoy science while having some drinks. Even if you don't fully comprehend the ideas behind it, the theme is light, fun and with many contraptions all around that spark curiosity and create conversation. Take shots from a test tube, sip cocktails in an Erlenmeyer flask and enjoy appetizers heated with a bunsen burner. The bartenders' Don cool labcoats (some of them are actual scientists) and the jazz music give it a chill ambiance.
Day Trips from Tokyo in Tokyo, Japan
For day trips I will recommend places that you can get to within two hours that are entirely outside of the city but still within reach of transport by a train/bus. Below are three highlights for each location.
Nikko, Tochigi Japan (two hours from Tokyo Station in central Tokyo)
1) Edo Wonderland - Go back in time to the Edo period (1603-1867) in this smaller Disney-like theme park. where the staff dresses up in various edo style outfits (think samurai, feudal lords and women wearing kimonos) and guests get the choice to change into an edo style outfit as well so you can play your part too.
2) Canyoning and water activities on Kinugawa river. Ran by the adventure company "Nikko Jumbo", full-scale canyoning is available during the summer season (late April to early October) 2 half-day courses a day (3 hours long). Family/Kid friendly. Beginner to advanced courses.
3) Nikkō Tōshō-gū shrine - World heritage site and memorial to Tokugawa Ieyasu the first shogun of japan. By far the most lavishly decorated shrine complex in japan with more than a dozen buildings set in a Beautiful Forest. On Foggy mornings, the energy and atmosphere in the shrine is very mystifying!
Kawagoe, Saitama Japan (30 minutes from Ikebukuro station)
A charming former castle town is known as "Little Edo" featuring streets lined with centuries-old buildings and vendors selling traditional street food and crafts and is only located 30 minutes north of Tokyo. For those interested in experiencing the history and traditional culture of japan (and on a time crunch) this is definitely the sort of place you want to visit.
Be sure to pick a Kawagoe discount pass at Ikebukuro station that covers the round-trip train fare and offers discounts at select merchants.
1) Warehouse District & Candy Alley - The shop-lined streets in the streets and alleys of central Kawagoe are an architectural wonder! Nostalgic Edo era (1603-1867) buildings in a traditional clay-walled warehouse style. Walk the streets and then head over to dip your toes in the therapeutic waters at the Tsubakiya Foot Spa Tearoom and try a variety of drinks and snacks while enjoying the seasonally decorated space! Afterward, head over to Candy alley and try the delicious warabi mochi at Kashofumon Kashiyayokochoten.
2) Enjoy a boat ride under cherry blossoms on the Shingashi River behind Kawagoe’s Hikawa Shrine! Lined by over 100 beautiful cherry trees on a 500-meter stretch you'll have a paddle boat master (donning edo period festive wear) steering you over a river of pink cherry petals making it a stunning visual experience perfect for that Instagram story!
3) Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine - Nearly 1500 years old this beautiful shrine built off the banks of the Shingashi River is truly majestic and revered in the area. Known by many as the shrine with the blessing of love it draws women from around the country who want to improve their luck in love! Grab a Yukata and go through a procession of rituals that will grant you this luck which includes an Instagram-worthy ema tunnel (ema are small wooden prayer plaques) and fishing for carp-shaped omikuji (fortune slip). I recommend visitors grab the red pencil matchmaking charm (it symbolizes the red string of fate, the shorter the pencil the closer you will be to your desired partner)
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