Before I start, I’d like to point out that I’m not a massive fan of itineraries. In my experience, it’s best to just go with the flow and not stress too much.
It’s hard to believe I’m saying this really, because I used to be the QUEEN OF PLANNING. I’m not kidding, just a glimpse of some laminated paper and a selection of highlighter pens would’ve genuinely turned me on, and if you’d given me a clipboard I would’ve carried it with pride. But times have changed, and so have I. Now, I only get an itinerary together occasionally, and the rest of the time I just sort of wing it.
As I mentioned in my previous post about pre-Japan planning, you do need to have a bit of a rough schedule in a place like Tokyo as there’s so much to see and do. I only had 5 days to explore this amazing city, and here’s how I chose to spend them.
Day 1 – Arrive & Shinjuku
I arrived at Tokyo Narita airport at about 11am and slowly made my way to the Khaosan Tokyo Ninja Hostel in Asakusabashi (sadly this has closed down now, but there are similar ones from the same Khaosan hostel chain dotted around the city).
Now, I say I travelled slowly because it took me a while to get to grips with the whole not-being-able-to-read-stuff thing on the subway. That being said, once I had my trusty map, I was fine. In fact, it’s just like the London Underground.
I was pretty impressed with my hostel too. It was cute, clean, near to the subway station and had nice comfy beds with little reading lights and privacy curtains. What more could a gal ask for? Once I’d settled in, I got chatting to another solo traveller from Singapore called Ju, so we decided to stick together and go on the hunt for sushi and drinks in Shinjuku.
Shinjuku is one of Tokyo’s liveliest districts and a great place to go when you arrive, as it gives you a real taste of what the city is all about. As you can imagine, it’s pretty touristy with lots of bright lights and loads of people, but it’s organised chaos and people are polite, so I didn’t find it too overwhelming.
We eventually stumbled across a conveyor-belt style sushi place and I had my first ever real Japanese sushi!
It wasn’t all that pricey from what I remember, and surprisingly it wasn’t too difficult choosing a vegetarian option (cucumber rolls, tofu rolls, gyoza, vegetable udon – you get the gist).
I must admit, when it comes to being a vegetarian in Japan, it’s much easier to eat at a place where you can see the food in front of you, as it means you’re less likely to have to bother/confuse the waitress with special requests or translating the menu, resulting in them secretly hating you.
Oh, FYI veggie/vegan friends. There’s a lot of fish sauce in Japanese food, so maybe write down the phrase ‘no fish sauce’ and take it with you EVERYWHERE.
And another thing. You don’t have to tip! Nor do you pay for tea or water at the table. Yes, free tea. FREE TEA. Can I just move to Tokyo now please?
Next, we went to a cat cafe. Obviously I’d already had my fill of sushi and cocktails, so a visit to a room full of cats seemed like the next natural step. I can’t remember the specific name of this cafe (I was too excited and jet-lagged to function properly), but there are plenty of them in Shinjuku so you won’t struggle to find one. We paid a small entry fee for an hour, drank some tea and enjoyed some quality cat time. Perfect.
You can’t pick them up though, so I had to resist getting grabby…
As the night was still young, we decided to explore the bars.
We found that a lot of places in the main area (the Kabukicho district) charged entrance fees just for one drink, so we opted for some of the smaller underground bars. These bars are much cheaper and very popular with the locals.
Also, a lot of these bars are British or Irish themed (we went to one called HUB), which kinda messed with my sleep-deprived mind.
Speaking of which, if you’re in this area and your budget allows, pay a visit to the famous Robot Cafe to see the show. It’s about 8,000 Yen to get in, and be prepared to see some intensely weird stuff.
Day 2 – Harajuku
The following day I ventured out early to explore Harajuku.
I initially hoped to rally up a team of girls and have them follow me round like Gwen Stefani, but sadly this didn’t happen. Still, it’s a great place to shop and perfect for wandering around aimlessly.
It reminded of Camden in London, with lots of little crooked alley-ways filled with boutique fashion shops and places to eat.
I only stayed for about an hour (it was August and BOILING HOT) but you could easily spend all afternoon there.
Located just behind Harajuku station is the Meiji-jingu Shrine, which was my next stop for the day.
I would definitely recommend a visit if you’re in Harajuku as it’s so close by, plus it’s a great introduction to Shinto shrines. Located right in the middle of a peaceful green forest, it’s a really nice place to walk around, so give yourself a couple of hours to explore it properly.
By the time I left the shrine, I was starving.
Thankfully, Meiji-jingu is located right next to Yoyogi Park, so I grabbed some sushi and an iced tea from 7-11 and had a nice little picnic for one and gave my tired, scabby, blistered feet a rest.
By the time I made it back to the hostel, the weather had gone seriously wrong and there was some pretty bad torrential rain happening. This went on for quite a few hours too, and by 8pm I was so hungry I could’ve eaten my own hand.
Out of desperation I grabbed my umbrella, braved the outdoors and ended up stumbling across the best ramen place EVER right on my doorstep.
I can’t tell you what it was called because I can’t read Japanese, but here’s a picture (which I often drool over…)
Day 3 – Day Trip/Rest Day
Sometimes when you’re travelling long-term, a day of rest is much-needed. Reasons may include jet-leg, angry blisters and a hangover.
On day 3 in Tokyo, I had all of the above.
So, I wisely opted for a rest day and just chilled out in my hostel, making the occasional dash to 7-11 to grab my favourite tofu noodle soup (take note herbivores).
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it yet, but it was kinda hot outside, so it was nice to have a break from the sun too.
On that note, if you’re planning a trip to Japan I’d definitely recommend going in the Spring rather than the Summer. Unless you enjoy looking like a sweaty mess that is.
If I wasn’t in such a sorry state on this day, I would’ve taken myself on a little day trip outside the city. On my list were Nikko and Kamakura, which are about an hour away from Tokyo and both included in the Japan Rail Pass (if you don’t know about the Japan Rail Pass, read this and get one PRONTO).
Day 4 – Akihabara & Shibuya
After having a decent sleep and having been healed by the power of instant noodles, I was ready for more exploring. In the morning, I headed straight for Akihabara.
If you’re into gaming and electronics, then you’ll love it here.
It’s geek central.
There’s a huge market, plus the famous Sega building and tonnes of other gaming-related stuff all in one place.
I wish I could be more specific, but sadly I’m no gamer. I was mainly there out of curiosity to see if I could find the Maid Cafe, aka Maidreamin’.
Yes, that’s right. A MAID cafe.
And no, before you assume I’m some kind of pervert, it’s not a kinky sex cafe. It’s actually even weirder.
Let’s put it this way, if you’re not keen on the colour pink and hate making cat noises, don’t go to a maid cafe. But if you love that kinda stuff and want to be 3 years old again, then definitely go to a maid cafe.
You will not regret it.
Basically, the whole place is styled in a bright pink ‘American diner’ theme and the waitresses are all dressed like Hello Kitty.
The concept comes from the Hello Kitty-style anime that’s all about celebrating childhood innocence, which means there’s a lot of singing and clapping going on.
Also, if you want to order something you have to ‘miaow’ at the waitress (I’m not even kidding) and you’ll be called by your ‘princess’ name throughout the entire meal.
Oh, and you’ll also get a lucky dip prize at the end, along with a polaroid picture with one of the ‘maids’ as a keepsake.
As you can imagine, it’s the weirdest dining experience I’ve ever had, especially as I was alone. Looking back, it would’ve been nice to have someone to sit and feel awkward with, but such is the life of the solo traveller.
I’m still glad I went, purely for the heated toilet seats and cat cake.
To recover from my bizarre morning, I headed to Shibuya. A busy central shopping district, it’s famous for the giant pedestrian crossing which you can spot in films like Lost In Translation.
I had a much-needed spending spree (you really stand out in Tokyo wearing elephant pants and broken flip flops), then I met my friend Ju for dinner at Sushi-no-midori in the Mark City Hall Plaza.
I would definitely recommend stopping by here if you’re in Shibuya, but it’s so popular in the evening that they have to use a ticket system for tables – so be prepared for a bit of a wait!
Day 5 – Asakusa, Tokyo Sky Tree & Festival Fireworks
Ah, Asakusa. Without a doubt, my favourite place in Tokyo. In fact, this was my favourite day out of all five.
If I’d had a longer stay, I would definitely have come back here just to eat more street snacks and wander around the tiny surrounding streets and souvenir shops.
The main attraction here though is the Sensoji Temple, a buddhist temple built in the 7th century. It’s beautiful a beautiful structure and well worth seeing.
Like I said, there’s a lot of street snacks and food to try around Sensoji, so make sure you have cash on you and a bit of an appetite. My favourite snack was a deep fried sweet soy bean bun.
Looks like a bogey, but tastes amazing.
By the time I finished exploring Asakusa it was late afternoon, so I headed to the Tokyo Sky Tree. It’s the tallest building in Japan and really nearby, so definitely worth visiting if you’re in Asakusa and don’t mind paying the £12 entrance fee. Sadly, my phone battery died at this point, so I have no photos of the amazing view at the top.
Nice one, Apple.
As it was my last night in Tokyo, I teamed up with my friend Ju to watch the famous summer fireworks on the Sumida River. Initially intended to ward off bad spirits as part of the Obon festival, these fireworks happen every year throughout July and August in various parts of the city, attracting thousands of people every night.
On this particular night the location was Asakusa, so we braved the crowds and managed to find a little side street surrounded by food stalls where we could sit down and enjoy the (slightly shit) view.
The atmosphere was buzzing and the fireworks were like nothing I’d ever seen before. I didn’t even know it was possible, but I witnessed SMILEY FACES and HEARTS in the sky.
I’m serious, it was like an Emoji party up there.
Once it was all over, we were starving, so we headed back towards Sensoji for some food and drinks.
This was when I had my first experience at an Izakaya which was so much fun.
An Izakaya is a bar that sells Japanese-style tapas like rice balls and tempura. They’re usually small, lively and have an outdoor area where people socialise and get very very drunk on Sake and beer together.
In other words, just my thing.
It was the perfect way to end my time in Tokyo, and the next morning I boarded the bullet train to Kyoto feeling extremely hungover.
Totally worth it though.