Okay first things first – I cannot believe we didn’t watch Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift before coming to Japan… Oh well, movie viewing for when we’re fighting off the jet lag at home 🏎
As I mentioned here, Paul and I tackled Tokyo by neighbourhood so I decided to share some stories and snaps to this amazing city by ‘hood as well.
Before I get started, one lesson learned – if you’re claustrophobic do not take the subway in Tokyo during rush hour. Paul had a meeting at 9:30 so we decided to get to the area early and find coffee. Well, 8:30am on a downtown bound train was hilarious. I mean, take the population of Canada, cram it into a city and put them on a tiny train. That said, the Toronto-level of rush hour aggression was totally absent. At one station a gentlemen had to get out and just threw those elbows up and pushed people out of the way like it was his morning dance. No anger, no apologizes, its just the way it needs to be done. Toronto, we can learn a thing or two when it comes to transit etiquette.
This is an area I explored on my own. Given the jet lagged/sleep deprived haze I was, in navigating my way to this part of town was surprisingly easy (and thank goodness for the most conveniently located Starbucks outside of the subway station 🙏🏻).
Now I was in Ginza with a mission – to find Itoya, a store devoted to stationary, pens, notebooks, desk/organizational trinkets and more! Not exactly Paul’s cup of tea, which made it perfect for my solo day in Tokyo. I lurked every crevice of that place and fell in love with its adorable commitment to office supplies. So much kawaii tucked into every corner of this shop.
After obsessing over paper, pens and notebooks I snaked my way through the side streets of Ginza until I eventually wound up back on the main drag in front of the (gigantic!) Uniqlo flagship store, complete with a robot greeting you at the entrance. When you’re hungry hit up the food hall in the basement of Mitsukoshi for anything from sushi to delicious Japanese desserts.
Tsukiji Fish Market
So we didn’t do much of downtown Tokyo (by this mean I mean the area around the Imperial Palace). With a full itinerary for both Tokyo and Japan, we were pretty choosey about which areas we wanted to explore. That said, after Paul’s meeting we did make our way over to the Tsujiki Fish Market. Waiting in lines is not really our thing, so we knew early on that we’d skip the tuna auction (I mean, getting into a line at 2.30am for something that doesn’t start until 5.30am and you still may not get in? Not for me).
Instead we opted to just walk around the market and grab some sushi in the area. This is a working market and a MAJOR tourist spot, so expect crowds and high prices. Paul grabbed some delicious grilled tuna in the market and after a failed attempt at finding Sushi Daiwa we wandered the nearby streets until tucking ourselves into a small little sushi joint for our first nigiri of the trip. As expected, it was delicious.
The heaping bowl of delicious noodles at Yamanhan Udon gave me life on my first day in Tokyo (key google searches when you’re exhausted and looking for food: cheap, udon, English menu haha).
The Naka Meguro River is a prime spot for viewing cherry blossoms (aka Sakura). It’s totally different than the hanami* parties you encounter at major parks and cherry blossom viewing spots, but strolling along the river under a pink cloud of incredible smelling flowers is truly something else.
*hanami = flower viewing, or the act of enjoying cherry blossoms
Ramen is obviously essential eating when you’re travelling to Japan and we were set on finding the perfect bowl of noodles to satiate this craving. Well we found it at Afuri. Tucked away near Ebisu station this place gives you the full experience, including placing your order from a machine at the front of the restaurant (pro tip: not sure how to use the machine? Let the person behind you go first so you can watch and learn). The diner-like restaurant gave us a full view of the delicious process and the ramen they deliver is the perfect balance of salty, unctuous broth with phenomenally textured noodles. BRB getting my drool bib while I think about this place…
This is where I would live if I ever moved to Tokyo. I feel in love with this neighbourhood. Hard. It has a Santa Monica vibe to it with adorable little shops perched on hilly streets.
We ate takoyaki at a little stand hidden on a side street Paul wanted to explore and it was incredible. Just one guy making one thing, really, really well.
We also stopped for a much needed break at Monkey Cafe, an adorable and architecturally interesting little cafe with some serious hipster vibes (and delicious coffee to boot!).
After falling in love with Daikan-Yama we made our way to Shibuya. This is one of those sights you *have* to see and even when the rain scattered people off the streets, the Shibuya scramble was still insane. Because we got caught in the rain we wound up heading to a basement food hall for dinner (salad and a baguette sandwich) and dessert (sakura and chocolate gelato, which might be the most insanely delicious thing – don’t worry, on another day I taste tested Sakura ice cream to see if it would be just as delicious – it was 😉).
We started our second day together in Shinjuku because we had to pick up our pocket wifi. Once we had this in hand we wandered the streets of Shinjuku towards Harajuku. We’re actually planning on returning to this area for a drink when we’re back in Tokyo – you just don’t get the full effect of Shinjuku during the day (though don’t fret, you’ll likely encounter a few people who kept last night’s party going).
We did however stumble upon an arcade and played an amazing game of Mario Kart! It was loud, flashy and even better than I could have imagined (and stopping at an arcade wasn’t even on my radar!).
We also stopped at one of the most highly reccomended shopping sights – Tokyu Hands. With eight floors housting everything from backpacks and bikes to beauty and electronics it literally has anything and everything you want, and some things you didn’t know you needed. I used this opportunity to snag some mascara and the blush that Jenna Lyons is obsessed with/is used on all of the J Crew models (of course – how many of you rolled your eyes?), while Paul focused on practical things like iPhone cases and a back-up battery.
I hope to update this part if we’ve made it back to Shinjuku so stay tuned!
On our walk to Harajuku we stumbled on the cutest little lunch spot, only to discover it’s actually an international cycling club: Rapha. The food and coffee is worth stopping here (so delicious), but if you’re into cycling then I imagine it’s a must see.
Once we had refuelled we headed to the heart of Harajuku – Tashita Dori (pictured above). This place is teaming with tourists, Tokyo teens and even a Harajuku girl or two. You can stop for a crepe and explore the many different shops (or even have lunch at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant 😂).
Paul and I opted to tuck ourselves into nearby Cat Street instead for a reprieve from the crush of people. No, this is not a street dedicated to Cat’s (I seriously had to convince Paul we wouldn’t be sneezing our way down a tourist hot spot), but rather a side street full of boutiques in Omote-Sando. You can find literally every designer under the sun on the main drag of Omote-Sando, on Cat Street and even in the small back streets of this area (we walked past a Christian Leboutin set back on a teeeny little side street).
We also used this opportunity to have our first conveyor belt sushi of the trip. The sushi itself was pretty good (by Japan standards #sospoiled), but the restaurant was so vibrant and full of energy it felt like we were getting a show with our snack.
From there we continued our walk to Yoyogi Park for some sakura peeping 👀 The park and the blooms were beautiful but I think we had way more fun watching all of the hanami parties taking place. There were families gathered around tables they brought, friends sharing sake and sushi, and men in suits laughing over beer with their oxfords perched at the edge of the blue mats. The act of not only taking in the Sakura but celebrating all it represents is a really special thing to witness – these transient flowers truly usher in a new season for Japan.
Pro-tip: pocket wifi
GET IT! And order yours in advance and pick it up at the airport – in the hustle and bustle leading up to our trip this was something we forgot to do; it’s not super pricey but you can definitely save by getting this done in advance). Pocket wifi changed our game here – it’s really allowed us to change our plans on the fly.
In case you’re curious, here’s how broke down our time in Tokyo:
Day 1 (aka Belinda falls in love with 8 floors of stationary)
- Naka Meguro
- Subway during rush hour
- Tsujiki Fish Market/Sushi
- Drinks in Naka Meguro
- Omote Sando
- Yoyogi Park
- Ramen at Afuri