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Things To Do In Tokyo For An Authentic Experience

Japan is a land of contradictions. It oscillates between the past and the future and is revered for its rich traditional culture while embracing the new with vigour. From the neon-lit scrapers and shrines in Kyoto to marvels of nature such as Mount Fuji, a visit to Japan can result in a culture shock, but in an enriching way.

Tokyo

It is the quintessential big city, with busy people in monochrome formals darting around you with purpose, and snoozing on the subway as they make their way to work. On the flipside, it is also the city where people know how to unwind. The monochrome blur of office-goers is interspersed with wildly-eccentric style the Harajuku girls, and the same 9-5ers will be seen letting their hair down at night, singing at karaoke bars or playing Pachinko at gaming bars.   

If Tokyo is on your travel itinerary, here’s what we suggest you do.

Image Courtesy: Unsplash
Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Sightseeing

Shibuya Crossing

We are all acquainted with the Shibuya crossing being the busiest intersection in the world with around 3000 people crossing it at any given minute. Surrounded by tall, neon-lit buildings, this is a must-do for anyone visiting Tokyo. Walk the crossing to experience it, or if you want a bird's-eye view to see people crawling like ants, head to the nearby Starbucks, that offers you the best views. Warning: This little secret is not so secret, so be prepared to stand in the snaking queues outside the coffee shop.

Image Courtesy: Unsplash
Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Tokyo Tower

Offering panoramic views of the city, a trip to the Tokyo Tower is mandatory. Steer clear of the crowds and head there early, or make way during sunset to watch the glittering city beneath.

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Made famous by Lost in Translation, head to Park Hyatt’s New York Bar to recreate the movie. Sip on their expensive but delicious cocktails with a side of Tokyo skyline.

Image Courtesy: Unsplash
Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Parks

If you like family picnics and lazing in parks, Tokyo has some mammoth parks where you can escape the bustle of the city for some downtime. Our recommendations? Shinjuku Gyoen, the largest national garden, and Yoyogi Park, where you are likely to encounter varied artists and performers.

Cherry Blossom Views

The entire city becomes a blur of pink during cherry blossom season, and if you are timing your visit with the onset of it, then head to the following locations to get the best view: The Shinjuku Goen park, the highly ’grammable and incredibly romantic Meguro river, Sumida Park, and Ueno Park. If you find yourself in the Ueno neighborhood, visit the zoo there for Panda sighting.

Image Courtesy: Unsplash
Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Nightlife

Piss Alley or Golden Gai

Golden Gai is a dingy street off the bright and bustling Shinjuku that is dotted with ramshackle bars. A go-to for the office-goers in the area, the tiny bars don’t seat more than five people at a given time. Enjoy Japanese whiskey here, or indulge in some Shochu, which is basically lemon sour. But, be warned, here you'll have to encounter fully suited Japanese men walking the streets inebriated.

Image Courtesy: Unsplash
Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Bars at Roppongi

Roppongi is legendary for its buzzing nightlife. Go bar-hopping here or indulge in the exciting tradition of karaoke. For the uninitiated, Tokyo doesn’t do karaoke bars. They have entire buildings dedicated to karaoke, where people can book rooms by the hour with their friends, and sing the night away.  

Shrines and Temples

Sensō-ji, Asakusa

Tokyo is fast-paced and normally associated with its nightlife. But the city is brimming with shrines, of which Sensō-ji, and Meiji Jingu are a must-visit. Senso-ji is nestled in the Asakusa neighbourhood and is one of the most famous temples in the city. The area leading to the temple is a busy shopping market called Nakamise-dōri. It is lined with tiny shops selling Japanese souvenirs, matcha, black bean ice-cream, custard-filled taiyaki, and plenty of stalls selling astel-hued rice cakes.

Image Courtesy: Unsplash
Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu is right in the middle of the city in the busy Shibuya area.  A wooden torii gate invites you in, followed by a long winding path that leads to the temple. Flanked by trees, you will also see numerous barrels that hold sake and have been there for years.

Image Courtesy: Unsplash
Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Shopping

Harajuku

Home to the renowned Harajuku girls, Takeshita street in Harajuku is where all the action is packed at. Vibrant and lively, it is lined with specialty cafes like the famed cat and owl cafes. Known especially for their crepes, you cannot leave without sampling it. Head to Totti Candy for a rainbow candy floss, or to Daiso for cheap thrills.

Ginza

Ginza is the affluent shopping hub of Tokyo, brimming with high-end luxury brands such as  Louis Vuitton and Gucci. It is also home to the seven-story Uniqlo, where you can shop all your staples. This is where you spend all your money on designer wares and expertly created food.

Image Courtesy: Unsplash
Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Shimokitazawa

A short train ride away from Shibuya, Shimokitazawa is where you will find the hipsters of Tokyo. The trendy and low-key neighbourhood is known for its vintage stores, high-end and otherwise. You are likely to chance upon amazing finds at stores such as Flamingo and Chicago.

Food & Drinks

Food in Tokyo is a culinary delight. Prepare your tastebuds for a burst of sensational flavours. While ramen and sushi are a no-brainer here (and they can be ordered via a vending machine), what you must try is the yakitori, which is Japanese-style skewered chicken. If you are open to trying different kinds of meat, sample the Takoyaki, which is basically octopus balls. Trust us when we say, even their local 7-eleven offers amazing treats. Try Onigiri, which is essentially rice balls stuffed with different meat, a perfect on-the-go snack. Or keep a packet of rice crackers on you, that come in varied flavours, and are great favours for your family and friends back home.  

Wash this down with Japanese specialty drinks such as sake and shochu, or sip on the Japanese whiskeys such as Yamakazi and Hibiki.

Image Courtesy: Unsplash
Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Museums

Japan is rich in art and design, and Tokyo is definitely the design hub of Japan. If you are an art and design aficionado, then head to Yayoi Kusama Museum to view the artworks of this legendary Japanese artist. We promise you won’t be disappointed. Make sure to book in advance, since Kusama’s exhibits are almost always sold out. The National Museum of Modern Art is also a great space to take in Japanese modern art and check out the work of influential artists. Our favourite though is 21_21 Design Sight in Roppongi, a minimal museum designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

Featured Image: Unsplash

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