Tokyo, there’s really no place like it. My words, video, and photos will never do the endless excitement and energy of the city justice. As a hardcore lover of Japanese cuisine, entertainment, and culture, Tokyo was our first stop in the country. It’s a place I will dedicate a longer visit to next time. Three days was just not enough to see everything on my list! We didn’t get to see a lot on the east side of the city, so we mostly roamed the west. We stayed in Shinjuku and had an easy time getting everywhere we needed with our JR passes. With that said, here are my recommendations on what to eat, see, and experience in Tokyo on a short trip.
What To See
- Shibuya Crossing: one of Tokyo’s most busy intersections is an icon, and definitely fun to experience. It rained during our visit so it wasn’t as crowded as normal, but seeing hundreds of umbrellas bob up and down was just as cool.
- Hachikō Statue: every dog lover can appreciate the tale of loyal Hachikō. The story and film bring a tear to my eye, every time. I’ve always had a soft spot for Akitas, too. This is a quick tourist attraction to tick off your list and is located right next to Shibuya Crossing.
- Meiji Shrine: accessible from both the Shibuya and Harajuku JR stations, this monument is a must-see. The main hall was under renovations when we visited, but the grounds were equally as stunning to walk through. My favorite part was the colorful sake barrel display – I had never seen anything like it before!
- Tokyo Imperial Palace & East Gardens: as we visited Tokyo in late March, we caught the first signs of cherry blossoms and the best display of them here. There were a handful of sakura trees ranging in vivid white to bubblegum pink, but I know the display in early to mid April would be even more stunning. The grounds are huge so allow yourself ample time to explore.
What To Eat
- Numazuko Sushi Shinjuku: don’t let the conveyor belt fool you, the fish here was not only affordable but also high quality! The conveyor belt had a never ending selection of fresh and delicious nigiri, including my favorites, otoro (fatty tuna) and ibodai (butterfish). Numazuko was our first meal in Japan and it will probably be my first again when I next visit Tokyo.
- Ichiran Ramen: this ramen place has been getting a ton of buzz lately because it offers a solo dining experience one could only conceive in densely populated Tokyo. Once inside, you walk down a long flight of stairs to a vending machine where you order your ramen, sides, and drinks. A series of coupons print and you hand them to the staff who will take you to a spot at the counter when it opens up. There are partitions on your left and right, separating your space from your neighbors. You can remove the partition if dining with a friend, but the edge facing the kitchen will close with a curtain after your food is served. It’s a transactional restaurant experience which I think is innovative and efficient. Not only that, the ramen was incredible. I opted for the double chasu pork ramen with extra mushrooms. Definitely one of my favorite ramens of all time.
- Harajuku Gyōza Rō: this place puts everything I previously knew about gyoza to shame. They offer a simplistic menu of two types of dumplings, prepared either steamed or pan fried, plus a few different side dishes. The classic steamed dumplings here were my favorite, and I could have easily skipped out on the sides knowing they’d be so yummy. Steamed gyoza and cold beer, that’s all this girl needs.
- Inchinisan: if you like the at-table grilling experience, this place is awesome. Their tonkatsu was some of the best I’ve ever tasted, not only the quality of meat but all the side dishes that come with it. This place is a total hole in the wall so there can be a short line, but the restaurant has a small capacity to begin with. It can get a bit smokey inside since it is underground, but this was definitely one of the tiny Tokyo restaurant experiences I needed to have.
- Tsukiji Fish Market: My first impression of Tsukiji was that it was a complete tourist trap. We wandered the crowds of people until we could find the prepared food stalls which took some time. The only specific vendor I had on my list was unagi on a stick (not the actual name), and luckily we found the one! The unagi was delicious and a generous portion for ¥200 per skewer. A lot of the stalls have the same items (fish croquettes, nigiri, soft serve), but we found an unique inari vendor that was outstanding. If you visit the market, just have a little patience in browsing and finding what looks most appetizing to you. The lines are definitely on par with the SF Ferry Building, which is what I’m used to at home. And make sure you enjoy at least one matcha or sakura mochi soft serve cone!
Where To Drink
- Reissue Cafe: if you’re looking for kawaii cappuccino art, this is your spot. They make both 3D and 2D cappuccinos based on artwork you show them. Naturally, my sister and I chose Studio Ghibli favorites Totoro (from My Neighbor Totoro) and No-Face (from Spirited Away). Quick tip: make a reservation here, sit back, relax, and enjoy some cake while your drinks are made.
- Nissan Crossing Cafe: where else in the world could you get a GTR cappuccino but Japan? I’m more of a Subaru fangirl myself, but I do fantasize about driving a GTR one day. Nissan Crossing is a car showroom, prototype museum, and cafe all in one. Definitely a unique spot to grab an afternoon pick-me-up.
- Blue Bottle Coffee Shinjuku: yes, I came halfway around the world to get the same coffee I get at home. BB makes an amazing latte and it tasted just like at home. The cafe is also beautifully minimal. There’s no place like home… I mean Shinjuku.
- Verve Coffee Shinjuku: a taste of Santa Cruz right inside Shinjuku JR station! If you prefer Verve to Blue Bottle, you have options! The Verve cafe has much more of a California vibe than Blue Bottle, but they also have local and seasonal treats like sakura lattes on the menu.
- Hitachino Brewing Lab: although we just got a Hitachino location in SF, I had to visit their location in Akihabara. I’m a huge fan of the Hitachino White Ale, which is a beer I recommend to anyone who says they don’t like beer. Seriously, I challenge you to NOT like. The patio is the perfect place to watch the sunset over the electric neighborhood while you sip on a sampler.
Like this post? Be sure to read some of my other travel or Asia posts for more inspiration. Look out for my Kyoto and Osaka guides coming soon! A lot more travel content is to follow as I narrow in on my 30 by Thirty travel challenge.