I’ve been to London, Paris, New York, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer number of people in Tokyo. Our local station, Shinjuku, has the Guinness World Record for most visitors in a day… 3 million!
There was so much going on all the time – so many lights, colours, noises – it’s amazing how disorientated you feel when you can’t even read road signs! Here we made our way round recognising much more visual things like the colours of signs and the shapes of buildings we’d seen before.
From Tokyo Haneda airport we got the bus to Shinjuku Bus Station and then, somehow found our way walking to the Gracery Shinjuku Hotel (known for its model Godzilla peering out of the 8th floor). This is when it hit me that we were going to spend much of this trip feeling lost… Even the zebra crossings were crazy. At just one junction you could find yourself facing about 6 crossings in the middle or a huge one made up of them all merged together like in the photo above. There was so much to take in all at once, and when paired with jetlag, I collapsed on arrival to the room.
What to Visit:
1. Meiji Jingu Shrine:
The Meiji Jingu Shrine is a huge and beautiful shinto shrine in Tokyo, known for being one of the only shrines to offer beer and wine to the gods. Basically, if I were a shinto god, this is where I’d hang out.
We went through the cleansing ritual with water before going in and, like with many shrines, there were some small wooden tablets you could buy and hang on the tree with a written wish. If it comes true, the tradition is to come back to thank the gods. I recommend coming with guide to really understand the Shinto religion and the importance of this shrine in particular.
This area is the one for you if you’ve ever been curious about Japanese street style. Takeshita Street, also known as the ‘teen street’, is a fashion capital in its own right. It’s known for having one of Lady Gaga’s favourite shops! From cutesy tutus to grunge, and second-hand shops to full-on costumes, this area is unmissable if you’re visiting Tokyo.
Asakusa, only a short subway trip from Harajuku, is the oldest Geisha district in Tokyo and home to vibrant Sensoji, a buddhist temple. With bright red lanterns and figures of gods, this temple had a completely different feel to the shinto Meiji Jingu Shrine. Once you’ve finished your visit at the temple, follow the long lines of market stalls with endless handmade clothing, decorations, lucky charms, pastries…
I absolutely recommend coming here if you’re looking for somewhere calm, away from the hussle and bussle of city life. Formerly a noble’s garden from the Edo period, it’s a small and surprisingly silent haven in the middle of the city. We stopped in a small tea house (pictured below) to experience the ritual of drinking matcha tea. We did, however, go with the option of ice tea because of the heat! This tradition is hugely important, with very strict rules, so it was such as shame to see other tourists completely disrespecting this cultural practice. From throwing things around, to making lots of noise and laying across the area where the tea is served, as opposed to te seating around the edge. It frankly made me embarrassed to be put in the same category of ‘tourist’ as them.
Now, this shopping centre has just about everything. I don’t want to admit how many hours flew by while we were in there, but even so, we didn’t manage to get through all 6 floors. I spent particularly long examining every single aisle of the stationary floor. I suddenly became obsessive over washi tape, stickers, and calligraphy pens. The kitchen floor is also a must if you want to check out plenty of cool gadgets!
Tokyo was a massive eye-openerand much more varied than I ever expected. When people think of Tokyo, a common image is of skyscrapers and neon lights, and don’t get me wrong, the city is briming with that, but there’s so many calm green spaces or shrines which make you feel as though you’re in the countryside.
“I left my heart in Tokyo…” – Mini Viva