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© 2018 by Callahan McKinley

TOKYO

Tokyo is easily one of my favorite cities in the world. The food is unrivaled, the people are friendly, and the history is fascinating. The city has been labeled futuristic, chaotic, and crazy. I can say with confidence that Tokyo is all of that and more. So without further ado, here are my top 10 things to do, in the city of Tokyo.

FOR A LIST OF MY FAVORITE STREET FOOD SPOTS AND RESTAURANTS, CLICK HERE

 

1. AMEYA-YOKOCHO MARKET 

The Ameya Yokocho Market is an open air market in the Taito district of Tokyo, whose name means "candy store alley" in Japanese. It's known primarily for selling a variety of food and candy (who could have guessed?), as well as vintage clothes and art.

It's a fantastic place to pick up some unique Japanese gifts, like sake flavored kit-kats or a traditional kimono. The market itself is average in size but all the items for sale are high quality and well worth stopping by for an hour or two. There's even some hidden temples you can find if you wander around long enough. 

It can get a little crowded and I would recommend going sometime in the late afternoon when the peak crowds have generally dispersed (but lets face it, this is Tokyo, everything is always crowded!). After a quick stop here you can get on a 5-minute subway ride to the best mochi in the world! (more on that later).

Price: Free!

Hours: Daily 10:00am - 8:00pm

Address: 4 Chome Ueno, 台東区 Tokyo 110-0005, Japan

2. GOLDEN GAI

This unique drinking neighborhood is located in Shinjuku and is made up of over 200 individual bars all within a two block radius! Each bar has its own theme and fits no more than 8-10 people at a time. It isn't as tourist friendly as you may think and many of the bars require membership to get in. That being said those type of bars are a relatively few in number and most welcome anyone who is looking to get drunk on Japanese beer or whiskey.

One thing that I can say for certain is that the best way to experience Golden Gai is to be adventurous. It may seem a little daunting walking into an almost empty bar with an old (unfriendly) looking Japanese bartender, but those are the places I tend to have the best experiences in! Most are friendly and love to make conversation with anyone bold enough to try. The best part is if the first place you choose isn't doing it for you, there are literally 199 more to choose from!

Price: Free! (although many bars require cover charges, its easy to avoid those if your unsure)

Hours: Daily 5:30pm - 5:00am (best days to visit are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday)

Address: 1 Chome Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0021, Japan

3. YANAKA GINZA / MOCHI

This small, hipster looking street is also in Taito and is generally quieter than the rest of Tokyo (if that's actually a thing). The street features handmade pottery, fried tempura, and clothing shops whose style can be best described as "out-there". 

As awesome as this sounds, the street isn't even the reason I come here. The real reason to visit Yanaka Ginza is to eat the best mochi in the world! Its best to show up early because they tend to sell out of the certain flavors (mango and strawberry) by midday.

Price: Varies, typically 100 yen for one mochi

Website: http://www.foodgallery.co.jp/spj/menu.html

Hours: Daily, 10:30am - 6:00pm

Address: Japan, 〒110-0001 Tōkyō-to, Taitō-ku, 台東区Yanaka, 3 Chome−3−13−1 

Mochi place: 3 Chome-7-8 Yanaka, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 110-0001, Japan

4. MEIJI SHRINE

The Meiji Shrine is located in Yoyogi park and is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. It features two massive tori gates that lead to the shrine itself, where people pay their respects and toss in coins for good luck. If you go on a weekend, chances are you'll get to see a traditional Japanese wedding take place!

During World War II, the shrine was completely destroyed by American bombers, but was rebuilt almost immediately afterward. Now it's one of the most peaceful spots in the city and a nice place to get away from all the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. 

Price: Free!

Hours: Always open

Address: 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-8557, Japan

5. TAKESHITA STREET

Takeshita street is a shopping area in Harajuku that consists almost entirely of independent shops that each have their own style and feel. Of course, the reason most come here is to catch a glimpse of Japanese cosplay enthusiasts, who typically dress up on Sundays. 

Usually a very young crowd, you never really know what to expect for this street. Whether your enjoying a delicious crepe at one of the many crepe stands, or exploring a store that only sells (slightly weird) pictures of Japanese celebrities, Takeshita street is always a fun place to explore. 

Price: Free!

Hours: All Day (Sunday for cosplay)

Address: Japan, 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya, Jingumae, 1 Chome−13−17, シャンゼール原宿1号館

6. PISS ALLEY

Wait what? Yeah you read that right. Curiously named, Piss Alley is one of the best spots in the city to try yakitori, which are grilled meat skewers. Similar to Golden Gai in terms of its setup, each restaurant seats no more than 8 people and sit you at the bar where you can watch them grill all the food right in front of you. 

Located in Shinjuku, It's meant for people trying to have an authentic Japanese meal with good food, cheap drinks, and quick service. NOT for a romantic, long, sit down dinner. Quick tip, if it's cold out try some hot sake, its delicious! If you're scared about eating mystery meat some useful phrases for ordering are: 

  • Tsukune (つくね), chicken meatballs

  • Tebasaki (手羽先), chicken wing

  • Toriniku, all white meat on skewer

  • Asuparabekon, asparagus wrapped in bacon

  • Butabara, pork belly

  • ippon — one stick, nihon — two sticks, sanbon — three sticks, yonhon — four sticks

Price: Varies, I spent about 2,000 yen including drinks for two people

Hours: Typically 5:00pm - 12:00am

Address: Japan, 〒160-0023 Tokyo, Shinjuku, 1 Chome−2, 13 ナガセ西新宿ビル

7. SHIMO-KITAZAWA

Shimo-kitazawa is usually referred to as the "hipster" neighborhood of Tokyo. Full of live music bars, trendy shopping, and popular with university students. I only went at night so I can't speak to its daytime appearance, but at night it's off the hook! Besides having my all-time favorite restaurant in the world (I've been to over 30+ countries), the live music scene has some of the best bars in Tokyo. 

The restaurant I mentioned as being my favorite in the world is called Shirube, an authentic Japanese izakaya restaurant that serves just about everything in the Japanese diet. I had the set menu for 800 yen, eight courses, and all-you-can-drink for two hours! great atmosphere, staff, and of course food. After dinner, there are a couple of good bars you can try, notably Little Soul Cafe, Shelter (live rock music), and Music Bar RPM (Japanese Jazz).

Price: Free 

Hours: Always open

Address: 2 Chome-23 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tōkyō-to 155-0031, Japan

Shirube Restaurant: Japan, 〒155-0031 Tōkyō-to, Setagaya-ku, 世田谷区Kitazawa, 2 Chome−2−18−2

Open: 5:30pm - 12:00am

You can check out a list of all my favorite restaurants and street food spots here.

8. TSUKIJI FISH MARKET

Ever wanted to see where the entire world's fish supply comes from? Then head over to Tsukiji, where you can see where it all begins. This sprawling market is the largest wholesale fish market in the world, employing over 60,000 people, and raking in $6 billion USD a year!

The market is open all day but to really see it in action you have to go as a early as possible, starting around 10:00am. If you want the ultimate experience, go for the tuna auction which happens at 5:00am. You get to watch professional Japanese auctioneer's bid on the most prized fish in the world, the tuna. Each fish can weigh up to 600lbs and can fetch over $1 million USD in auction!

If you do decide to get up early for the auction, which I recommend, it's best to Uber there as the metro won't be open yet. You should get to the market around 4:00am because only 120 people are admitted each day, and it would definitely ruin your day if you didn't make the cut. 

Price: Free!

Hours: Tuna Auction starts 5:00am, Wholesale market opens at 10:00am

Address: Japan, 〒104-0045 Tokyo, Chuo, Tsukiji, 5 Chome−2−1

9. SUMO WRESTLING

Japan is the only country where Sumo Wrestling is practiced professionally, and the only place you can witness this insane sport in action! There are only six tournaments a year: 

          January, May, September, in Tokyo

          March, in Osaka

          July, in Nagaoya

          November, in Fukuoka

 

However you can watch a practice match anytime during the year (except the week before a tournament) for free! There are a number of Sumo stables that allow visitors such as the Ootake stable, Arashio Beya stable, and the Hakkaku stable. Other stables also accept visitors but some require a fluent Japanese speaker to setup the visit. 

If your unsure where to go, just pick a stable and call ahead to see if they accept visitors on that particular day. If you do end up going to a practice, make sure to bring a box of crackers, tea, or sweets for the wrestlers (its not necessary, but polite and greatly appreciated!)

Price: Free (just call before hand)

Hours: Typically between 7:00am - 10:00am

Address: List of Sumo Stables in Tokyo

10. SHIBUYA / RAMEN

The Shibuya crossing is one of the most famous intersections in the world. As weird as that might sound, it will all make sense when you see it in action. The lights turn green and hundreds of people are sent scrambling in all directions. The neighborhood itself also has the most energy of any place in Tokyo, filled with hundreds of shops and restaurants that make it the de-facto hub of Tokyo.

 

The food in Shibuya is to die for. Make sure you hit ラーメン穀雨 (no english name) for the most amazing ramen you'll ever consume, 麺屋武蔵 武骨外伝 (again, no english name) for a noodle lunch, and 魚がし日本一 立喰寿司 渋谷道玄坂店 for stand up sushi.

Price: Free

Hours: All day

Address: First ramen place: Japan, 〒150-0031 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, 渋谷区Sakuragaokachō, 29−5

                Noddle Lunch: 2 Chome-8-5 Dōgenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0043, Japan

                Stand up sushi: 2 Chome-9-1 Dōgenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0043, Japan

 

WHERE TO STAY?

As I mentioned earlier in this article, there are three main areas of Tokyo that are worth staying in. Number one is Shibuya, great restaurants, central location, and round the clock energy makes this one of the most active places to stay in the city. As usual I'll recommend Airbnb for lodging.

 

The second district is Shimo-kitazawa which is a little quieter, more out of the way, but attracts a younger crowd. Stay here for great nightlife, live music, and restaurants.

The last place I might recommend staying in is Shinjuku, which is probably the cheapest area of Tokyo and also just one metro stop from Shibuya. There isn't as much happening here (although both Golden Gai and Piss alley are here) but it's still centrally located and a cheaper area to stay in. 

If anyone is interested, this is the Airbnb I stayed in. It ended up being a hostel which was not quite what I was expecting but here it is anyway: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/9423947

 

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