As promised, I’ve finally sorted through our photos from our November trip to Japan – let the recaps commence! This post covers our itinerary for three days in Tokyo; I’ll also share separate posts on Kyoto, Koya-san, and Kobe. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for an interactive map of our favorite spots in Tokyo. Enjoy!
DAYS 1 – 3
Our 15-day Japanese adventure began with 3 days in Tokyo. We rented a home in Shimokita-zawa via Airbnb. The host was a bit unresponsive, but the neighborhood was terrific.
Defying all odds, Baby K managed to avoid poking a hole through the paper window coverings. He was probably distracted by the cool antique furniture throughout the home.
photo credit: Airbnb
Before we embarked on our trip, we rented a “pocket Wi-fi” (portable Wi-fi unit) through Global Advanced Comm. This provided us with unlimited Internet access for our entire 15-day trip – hooray! It’s difficult to navigate Japanese cities without Google Maps, so I highly recommend this to any foreign travelers. (Side note – why doesn’t every country offer pocket Wi-fi?!?)
For dinner our first night, after 19 hours of plane travel with a baby, we mustered the strength to walk a few blocks to the nearest 7-11 and raided the instant ramen section. Per a friend’s recommendation, we also grabbed a bag of green tea Kit Kats. (Verdict: YUM.)
The next morning, we awoke at the crack of dawn (thanks jetlag!) and mapped out public transportation to Daikanyama, where we feasted on fluffy pancakes, coffee, and fresh OJ at Ivy Place. The staff were very accommodating to our squirrelly little man, offering us a baby plate and spoon, scrambled eggs, and lots of smiles.
The restaurant is nestled amongst several boutiques, including a beautiful bookstore, called Tsutaya. If you’re in the area, drop in and allow yourself a bit of time to browse around – there’s endless books, art prints, textiles, and odds and ends that make far better souvenirs than the cheap crap hawked near the main tourist attractions.
After breakfast, we made a beeline for the Tsukiji Fish Market, the famed wholesale fish market where Jiro and his compadres closely inspect and bid on the finest tuna and seafood. The opening hours for the tuna auction are 3:30 – 6:00 AM, and only 120 visitors are permitted entry, so you can probably guess that we did not partake in that particular activity. But when we arrived later in the morning, there was still plenty of action.
I was struck by how large, crowded, and bustling the market was – I’ve been to Seattle’s Pike Place Market many times, but this one was massive, and a true working market – if you didn’t step out of the way, you’d be run over by a power shovel or forklift zooming through the narrow aisles.
By early afternoon, we were a bit claustrophobic from the swarming crowds. We sought refuge at nearby Hama-rikyu Garden, a large landscape garden along Tokyo Bay (and the perfect backdrop for our Christmas cards! 😉 . It’s hard to believe that the well-maintained park has been around since the Edo Period (1603 – 1867).
We opted for tea service inside the teahouse overlooking a large pond. For less than $10 USD, we sipped frothy matcha tea and sampled the elegant mochi (rice pastries).
The peaceful gardens, with soaring high rises as a backdrop, were the cure for our nagging jet lag.
Later that afternoon, we took a quick subway ride to Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian crossing in Japan (and maybe the world!). It was NUTS. After watching everyone else do it 4-5 times, we stepped out gingerly when the light turned green. When everyone is walking in different directions, I’m not even sure where to go – thankfully the stroller paved a little path for us.
Baby K was a great sport all day, so we tracked down the Muji department store’s play area (with the amazing wood toys I mentioned in my previous post) for him to let loose.
We wrapped up our first full day in Tokyo at Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills. The observation decks offer staggering 360-degree views of the city from above.
The city was blanketed in a peaceful, cozy fog, and we spent a good, long hour gazing out in each direction as the sun set. 13.62 million people dwell in this megapolis. The sky scrapers and high rises go on as far as your eye can see.
Caffeine is never more appreciated than on the second day of an international trip in a starkly different timezone. We started our day at a cafe on the rooftop of Tokyu Plaza Omotesando. The “patio” was really code for “awesome playground.”
The views of surrounding Omotesando didn’t suck, either.
After 20 oz of coffee Once I was human again, we hit the streets and ventured into nearby Harajuku (mecca of Japanese youth fashion, and made infamous by Gwen Stefani). Months ago, I spotted the world’s coolest cotton candy on Instagram, so we made a pilgrimage to Totti Candy Factory.
We were too shy to photograph the flamboyant costumes that abounded throughout the neighborhood, but trust me – if you’re Tokyo bound, don’t miss Harajuku.
From there, we crossed a large street and entered Yoyogi Park through this beautiful wooden torii. (Japanese toriis are gates at the entrances to Shinto shrines; they symbolize the transition from the profane to the sacred.)
On the path to the Meiji Jingu shrine is a long display of sake barrels (kazaridaru); these are donated by sake brewers across Japan as an offering to the enshrined deities. (They would also make the coolest ottomans, amiright?)
Near the shrine’s entrance is a purification fountain. Visitors fill a ladle with fresh water to cleanse their hands and mouth.
The shrine is nestled in a lush evergreen forest in the heart of Tokyo, a green oasis in the world’s 9th largest city. It’s filled with a peacefulness that is tangible.
For a small fee, you can write a wish or prayer on a placard. I’m anything if nosy, and greatly enjoyed reading the English-language placards.
We spent our last fleeting hours in Tokyo exploring our neighborhood, Shimokita-zawa. Gothamist labeled it Tokyo’s “hipster paradise,” and the people-watching and window shopping didn’t disappoint. Unlike modern Shibuya and Harajuku, where Tokyo’s large hotels are concentrated, Shimokita is made up of an eclectic hodgepodge of 2-3 story buildings that house thrift stores, divey bars and restaurants, antique booths, rabbit cafes, arcades, and impossibly cool coffee shops (including Darwin Room, a taxidermist’s paradise).
I was enchanted by the verdant produce displays outside the tiny shops – excuse me but where can I find an 18-inch eggplant in Houston?
All in all, Tokyo ranked among my favorite cities we’ve visited around the world. The fashion, architecture, endless ways to amuse oneself, top-notch transportation system, and culture were unforgettable. Three days in Tokyo were hardly enough.
I’ve mapped out our favorite spots below – have a look, and feel free to comment below or drop me an email if you have any questions!
Up next, a recap of our week in Kyoto!