Sorry it’s been a long time again. Despite being on maternity leave, I’ve of course had very, very little free time. But I’ve been wanting to get my Tokyo recaps (from our trip nearly a year ago now? jeez!) up SO badly so I’m somehow making the time now.
However, no matter what I possibly write, I think the best recap of Tokyo is this video below, which sold us on this destination:
As I previously mentioned, last June we spent 3.5 days in Tokyo, took the Shinkansen train to Kyoto, then returned for 2.5 more days in Tokyo. Unfortunately our itinerary, and especially our food choices*, were impacted by my extreme pregnancy nausea, but we still managed to have a good time.
(*One of my worst food aversions was Noodles so we missed out on Udon, Ramen, and vegan fan-favorite restaurant T’s Tan Tan).
Lucky for my exhausted self, I didn’t feel like there were a million things that we needed to “DO” in Tokyo. For us, Tokyo was just about exploring the various neighborhoods and observing as much as we could. Some of the best experiences were as simple as:
- Riding the crowded train from the Shinjuku neighborhood on a Saturday Night
- Watching ridiculous dating shows from our hotel room TV (complete with picture-in-picture audience reactions, Japan’s version of a laugh-track)
- Walking through the endless halls of food stands in Tokyo Station during the weekday lunch-hour rush
- Spending hours in some of the largest department stores I’ve ever seen – one with half a floor devoted solely to food gift baskets!
- and seeing what a popular form of transportation bicycles are, especially for families – with Moms often having a kid on the front and one on the back!
Here are some of the things we ate, saw & did (somewhat arranged by area) with more to come in an eventual Part 2 post!
Before the trip, I was most interested in seeing the Harajuku area of Tokyo – the hub of Japanese youth culture and fashion. I was looking forward to great people-watching and fun shopping. I’m not sure if it’s because we were there on a weekday, or because I was exhausted and pregnant, but I found the area, especially the main drag of Takeshita Street, to be extremely underwhelming. Though I suppose I can see how it would appeal to youth – we primarily saw vendors selling flimsy t-shirts with tacky slogans and edibles of mall-food-court quality, with an emphasis on ice-cream cones and french fries – which I would have loved as a teenager.
Our venture to the Harajuku part of town was well worth it though – while we were in the neighborhood we also visited a famous temple and had some good eats. First, the temple!
It was so surprising to enter the grounds of Meiji Shrine – such a large, peaceful forested area right in the middle of the bustling city. We really enjoyed strolling around and lucked out that our visit in mid-June coincided with the annual blooming of the Irises.
I really enjoyed the simple, healthy food at this small and sunny vegan spot just a few blocks from Takeshita street. The hand-written English menu presented us with 3 options – their famous veggie burger platter, a curry, and the chef’s daily special.
We ordered the burger (like a delicious homemade meatball with red sauce atop a few spaghetti strands) and the chef’s special (a spicy mixed veggie dish), both of which came with brown rice, a generous salad, and a tasty broth. The food was delicious, light, and comforting and definitely tasted homemade.
It’s a weird word to describe a temple, but Sensoji Temple, in the center of the city, was FUN. A carnival-like atmosphere surrounded the temple with rows and rows of vendors selling souvenirs and snacks. While there were a few chintzy shops mixed in, I thought the goods were of surprisingly high quality for such a touristy location.
At the temple itself, the incense smoke added mystique as we paid a few yen to select a numbered stick corresponding to the drawer containing our written fortunes (which were in both Japanese and English).
Just a few blocks from Sensoji is the Kappabashi neighborhood which is known for kitchen goods. Block after block was full of shops specializing in various kitchen wares including utensils, knives, ceramics, pots/pans, etc.
Also, any John Oliver fan knows that Japan has Mascots for everything. Below, meet Kappa, the duck-like mascot of Kappabashi.
After visiting both the temple and Kitchen town we were hungry! We headed back in the direction of Sensoji and the train and stopped into Sekai Cafe, a sunny veg-friendly spot. There were only a few vegan options but they were good ones. We especially loved the “Salad Plate” (below, right) that came with hot bread, marinated tomatoes, and roasted potatoes.
The staff also were super-friendly and spoke excellent english.
Shibuya was one of my favorite places in Tokyo and we found ourselves here numerous times throughout our trip for the fantastic shopping and generally fun vibe.
The intersection right outside of the Shibuya train station is famous as one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world. Crossing the street here is definitely something one must do when visiting Tokyo – this picture doesn’t quite do it justice!
Major Bummer, in the center of Shibuya we enjoyed an amazing vegan bar/restaurant called “The Hang Out”, but according to Happy Cow it has recently closed (though possibly may reopen in a new location).
This place was a really laid back bar with good music and an artsy/surfer feel. Can you believe that beautiful salad below was acquired in a bar?
As I mentioned above, Shibuya was great for shopping. But so was Kappabashi. And Sensoji Shrine. And the Ginza neighborhood. And heck, there were department stores (some of them 7 or 8 stories tall) and malls everywhere we went and they were ALL amazing.
Back home, I honestly don’t like shopping -I find it frustrating so I rarely visit stores and order everything online. But in Japan – I could not get enough! Once we went into a mall solely because we needed a bathroom… then we got distracted and wound up shopping there until the stores were closing!
I hear shopping for clothes in Japan can be frustrating for Westerners, but we barely looked at any clothes. Food shopping was frustrating for me as I couldn’t read any of the labels. But stationary stores, houseware stores, etc… were amongst the best I’ve ever seen, with reasonable prices too. Of special/random note, all of our hotels had long-length Japanese hand-towels – we loved these as when used for washcloths it was extra easy to shimmy scrub our backs – so we bought lots of those, plus beautiful stationery and fun silverware
I hope you enjoyed reading about some of our experiences in Tokyo. More to come in an upcoming post, including a fantstic foodie experience in the home of a local cookbook author!
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you ever been to Tokyo?
Which spot do you think you’d most enjoy?