Tokyo and I have a complicated relationship and I realized it had a lot to do with the fact that it reminds me so much of NYC (which I am forever conflicted about). Everyone I had spoken to said Tokyo was incredible and life-changing, and while I could see the potential, my experience left me confused and wanting more…but maybe that’s what this place is about?
Stay: Finding a place to stay in Tokyo proved to be very trickier than I anticipated. Not only is lodging expensive, but Tokyo recently passed some new laws that could impact accommodations for travelers, so I highly recommend reading all the policies before you book anything. We were left stranded on our first day without a place to stay after booking a double-bed room at Moxy Hotel Marriott (terrible service, would NOT recommend). According to the rules, they charge per person, not by room or bed (even though I had called twice in advance to let them know there were 3 of us and they never said it was an issue). The hotel was so strict and unaccommodating, they wouldn’t even allow us to go up to the room even after checking in and paying for a night so that we could put our stuff somewhere. We ended up cancelling the entire reservation since they wouldn’t allow more than 2 people to a room and we were still charged despite the policies being unclear. We ended up finding an AirBnb in Shinjuku which worked out to be a much better location, but it was definitely a stressful start to our trip. Save yourself the last minute headache and be sure to double check with your accommodations about rules & regulations!
Transportation: Most people in the city us public transportation to get around in Tokyo and while the transit system is the most efficient way, it can be a bit confusing and not as cheap as you would think. Apple Maps, Google Maps, the Subway app, and Google Translate were our bestfriends in navigating. Taxis are also available, but can get pricey. To avoid getting tangled in trying to get around, make sure you research the areas so that you can walk to attractions as well. Plan your visit ahead of time and map out what you want to do in relation to where you’re staying to save on time and money!
Shop: Shopping in Tokyo, like most things there, is expensive but you can find some really unique things in popular areas like Harajuku. Hypebeasts will love the alleyways with streetstyle boutiques and rare sneaker stores and you might even find a celebrity or two casually strolling (shout out Rita Ora).
Eat: Forever my favorite topic and probably the only reason I would go back to Tokyo is the food. Everything I admired about Japanese culture presented itself through the thoughtful and high-quality dishes we experienced. It was all delicious. Literally everything. However, finding good food is complicated if you have any dietary restrictions. Most of the great ramen is pork based and finding halal, vegan or gluten-free options can be difficult. Be mindful of the differences in food culture as well. For example some places require each person order something, others have spending minimums, cash only requirements, and many places are not as receptive to substitutions or changes to menu items. While the Japanese are the most gracious hosts, they also take a lot of pride in their work and it can be perceived as rude or insulting to ask them to change their dishes. Totally undeerstandable, but also a challenge if you can’t eat something specific. Some of my most memorable restaurants in Tokyo include Aoyoama Flower Market, Coco Curry House, A Happy Pancake, Little Bird Cafe (gluten free), and T’s TanTan Noodle (vegan ramen).
Experiences: There is so much to do in a city such as Tokyo and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out what’s worth checking out. The teamLab Borderless exhibit is an interactive digital art installation and honestly one of my favorite parts about the trip. While I’ve done a few different types of interactive installations, this was a surreal experience and well worth the trip. Make sure to purchase your tickets in advance and plan ahead because the trains from Shinjuku to Odaiba do take awhile to navigate. Also, there are multiple teamLab experiences, so make sure you’re selecting the right one and not ending up at the wrong building like us LOL. We also wanted to try the Mario Kart treks through different parts of the city, but didn’t get a chance. These tours are pricey, require reservations, and you need to have a international drivers license to drive a go-kart. If you’re visiting during cherry blossom season, be sure to check out Shinjuku National Garden. Other attractions include robot restaurants, the Sensoji temple, various live animal cafes, the popular Shibuya crossing, Harajuku, Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo Tower, and Roppongi Hills. There is literally so much to do, so don’t hesitate to ask locals and definitely take the time to plan ahead!
Overall I am really grateful to experience Tokyo in the way that I did and it taught me a lot about planning, travelling, rolling with the punches and just being able to navigate a whole new world. It definitely wasn’t an easy trip, but that only adds to the wonder of this incredible city. I plan on visiting Japan again soon, but I may venture out of Tokyo into Kyoto and other places to get a better representation of what Japan is all about — which is suspect is so much more than just Tokyo.
I love you Tokyo, but it’s complicated.