Tokyo Part 2
There is so much to do and see (and eat!) in Tokyo. Here are some highlights from our other fun adventures there!
Gardens and Places to Wander
Tokyo Tower and Zojo-ji Temple
This orange and white Eiffel Tower look-alike has an observation deck that I didn’t pay to go up, but it’s a cool landmark and there are you can access the souvenir shops for free. The real star of this neighborhood is the Zojo-ji Temple, which is surrounded by beautiful gardens. My favorite part was to the right of the main temple, there are rows of small child-like sculptures dressed in red caps and pinwheels, which is dedicated to protecting children. This was one of the more unique temples I’ve seen and definitely worth a stop!
Hotel New Osani Gardens
Again, not a Tokyo must-see, but this hotel’s beautiful gardens are open to the public and are a nice place to walk around. There’s a cafe and teahouse inside the gardens, which would be a pretty place to sit and eat.
Nezu and Yanaka
These are two well preserved old Tokyo neighborhoods near Ueno Park. There are no high-rise buildings and it has a more residential feel, and it doesn’t feel like the rest of Tokyo at all. There are a ton of shrines all over, and the main pedestrian street Yanaka Ginza is a fun place to walk around.
These gardens are about a 15 minute walk south of the fish market and are pretty, but not a must-do. We walked around and stopped at the tea house for some matcha and a sweet, which was a nice way to enjoy the view. We had originally planned to take a boat from Hamariku to Odiaba, but our timing was off so we took the train instead. There are also river boats that go from Asakusa to Odiaba, which we didn’t get to do either.
Shinjuku National Gardens
These gardens were some of my favorite in Tokyo. It’s one of the few places where you can forget about the madness of the city. It’s minutes away from Shinjuku, one of the busiest parts of the city, but as soon as you walk in, you’re immediately transported to another world. They do charge a small entrance fee ( ¥200, which is less than $2) but I thought it was worth it.
This is a cool hipster neighborhood next to Yoyogi Park, which is much less busy and crowded than other parts of the city. There are some cool shops and cafes and it's a great place to walk around and take a break from the chaos from the rest of the city.
Odiaba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. It has a fun, beachy vibe and feels really different from the rest of the city. There’s a promenade, a mini beach, a model of the Statue of Liberty, and of course some malls. We enjoyed walking around and exploring this different part of the city.
There are so many malls around Tokyo, but Skytree is famous for its observation tower. The mall is a great place to walk around on a rainy day, and the Food Marche level is similar to the department stores, only there were English signs and lots of samples. I didn’t pay to go up the tower but enjoyed walking around the mall.
This is an indoor-outdoor shopping mall complex, that had some pretty interesting architecture and unique shops. It’s not a must-see, but a fun place to browse.
Kabuki is traditional Japanese theatre with elaborate costumes, make-up and wigs. The actors are extremely expressive in their voices and actions. An entire play is 4.5 hours, but they sell same-day tickets for Hitomaku-mi (single act, usually lasts an hour or two) for around $20. You can also get an audio-guide that provides English subtitles and background information about Kabuki. It was an interesting experience, and one act was plenty.
I arrived at Kabuki-za Theatre just after 1pm to wait in line for tickets that went on sale at 1:40. It was good I got there early because the line got long, and when they run out of seats they sell standing room only tickets. After the show, to the right outside the theatre, if you take the escalator down there’s Kabuki souvenir shops and cafes, which was fun to browse.
Tsukiji Fish Market
We wanted to go back to the fish market to try and see the wholesale part in action, but we slept in after our night of karaoke and didn’t arrive until around 11:30 and everything was mostly packed up. We did see a massive tuna being cut up, which was pretty crazy. It’s popular with tourists to try and see the 5am tuna auction, but we read that there’s another auction for luxury melons (yes, melons) that takes place at 9am. I came back on the following Monday and went to melon auction area, but it must have happened much earlier since it was clearly over by the time I got there. I got to see some of the activity in the wholesale side of the fish market and then enjoyed a sushi breakfast and delicious mochi ball.
Odeo Onsen Monogatari Koto
An onsen is a traditional Japanese bath house. There aren’t too many in Tokyo, but there’s on in Odiaba which is themed like Edo era Tokyo. They give you robes when you arrive, and there’s a central food court with shops and games and a pretty backdrop. There are also outdoor co-ed foot baths, which was nice, since most of the baths are gender segregated (and completely nude!). It was a fun and different way to spend the afternoon, but be prepared to see a whole new side of Japan!
This tiny cocktail bar in Ginza doesn't have a menu. They ask you what you like and come up with delicious creations to meet every taste. Pricey but a great experience.
Tokyo has two Oktoberfest festivals – one in the fall and one in June. We were impressed with the selection of German beers, which were just as pricey as in Munich. It was hilarious to see a German band perform Beatles songs in Japan, and we had a great time.
There’s a small dive bar in Roppongi that’s known for its excellent 80's rock cover band. We were lucky to be exposed to them in London, when they came for a private show that we got invited to. It was fun to see them in their own territory, and the people-watching at the bar is amazing as well.
There are karaoke parlors all over the city, and it was high on our bucket list for our time here. You have a private room and a phone to order your drinks. This one also had tambourines and costumes, which we obviously had to utilize. It definitely makes for a fun night out in Tokyo!
This is a karaoke bar where you sing in front of the whole bar and there's a live band behind you. This was one of our most fun nights out in Tokyo and this place is not to be missed! Even if you're not interested in singing, it's really fun and entertaining to watch everyone else!
Food Halls: Daimaru, Matsuya Ginza, and Takashimaya
All the big department stores have these huge basement level food halls they call depachika. They have rows and rows of beautiful and delicious looking treats. It’s fun to walk around admiring all the foods and guessing what it is. They have a mixture of Japanese and western sweets, as well as regular food like sushi, bento boxes, tempura and salad bars. Lucky for us, Diamaru (one of the big ones) is right next door to our hotel, so we’ve spent a lot of time down there. Other great stores are Matsuya Ginza and Takashimaya.
Abura Soba Shinjuku (Shinjuku) - Delicious soba noodles. You order at a vending machine and they bring you a huge bowl of hot, saucy noodles.
Andy’s (Tokyo Station) - This restaurant is under the rail tracks and is run by a Brit, and they get fresh fish daily from Tsukiji Market. It’s kind of a divey place, but the fish was fresh and delicious. They have homemade chu-hais, with shochu, soda water, and fresh grapefruit.
Ramen Street (Tokyo Station) - In the basement of Tokyo Station there’s a “Ramen Street” with a ton of small restaurants. Rokurinsya always has a line and was well worth the wait.
Din Tai Fung (Tokyo Station) - This restaurant was right under our hotel and has fantastic Shanghai style soup dumplings. They have branches all over the world and is well regarded internationally.
Kamachiku (Nezu/ Ueno Park) - This restaurant is in an old, beautiful building and has a very traditional feel to it. They serve udon, which are thick noodles that you dip in broth.
Yakiniku An Grill (Roppongi) - Yakiniku is when they bring you raw meat and you grill it yourself at the table. This place has an all-you-can-eat menu which was delicious!
On-Yasi (Roppongi) - Shabu shabu is when they bring you raw meat that you cook yourself in hot broth at the table. They also bring out veggies, noodles and other stuff that you can throw into the pot. They also have an all-you-can-eat menu, and it was one of our favorite meals in Tokyo!
Holehole cafe@diner (Ginza) - Hawaiian meets Japanese meets delicious.
Okinomikayak Yai Yai (Harajuku) - Okonomiyaki are savory Japanese pancakes), and they cook them on the grill in front of you. Bonus points for having turtles swimming in a bowl outside the restaurant.
Ippudo Ramen (all over) - This ramen chain has made its way to NYC and always has a crazy line. No wait in Tokyo, but the food amazing and the ambiance is a bit nicer than lots of the other ramen joints.
Ichiran Ramen (all over) - This is another ramen chain that's gone international. You have to be prepared to wait in line, but it's worth it. You order at a vending machine and then are brought to a cubicle at the counter. You slide your order sheet through a window, and after they bring you your food, they close the window so you can "focus" on the meal.
Our go-to places for when we need a break from Japanese are Mucho Mexican, Bubby's and Sarabeth's (the later two are the same as the US-based restaurants!). Good to know you can still get great brunch in Tokyo! David's Deli is also really great Israeli food.
And of course, we ate plenty of sushi too!
Stay tuned for our last blog post... Hong Kong and Singapore!