Tokyo Guide: Ginza

Our last full day in Tokyo was spent in Ginza. Itoya is a stationary lover’s dream. However, most of Ginza is geared towards high fashion shopping. It’s a bit like shopping along 5th Avenue in New York City. As a result, it was probably my least favorite suburb in Tokyo.

The highlight of the day was the Meishu Center Sake Testing Bar. We sampled three different sakes. I don’t usually drink alcohol (at all really), but these sakes were amazing. We brought two 750mL bottles home. We would have brought more, but U.S. Customs caps each passenger with 1L of alcohol.

Ginza 1Ginza 2


Tokyo Guide: Tsukiji Fish Market and Imperial Palace East Gardens

We spent Christmas morning in the hectic Tsukiji Fish Market. The sights and smells make this market an absolute must. The crowds are intense, but it’s all part of the experience. We did not attend the early morning auction (I don’t even think it was open the day we went). However, you are welcome to explore the inner market after 9am. The fishermen are winding down for the day by cleaning out their stalls, but there’s still enough action to make it worth checking out. Just a heads up, photos are not allowed.

The Tsukiji Uogashi building is also worth a visit. The bottom floor is an indoor fish market. The upper floor has a restaurant and a rooftop terrace with excellent views of the market.

Our next stop was the Imperial Palace. Honestly, you can’t see much from the edge of the park. We snapped a few pictures and then walked over to the Imperial Palace East Gardens. Just be prepared- it’s a bit of a hike to go from the palace to the heart of the gardens, but it’s worth it!


Tokyo Guide: Gotoku-ji Temple and Shimokitazawa

We spent Christmas Eve (Christmas Day if you ask my Hispanic husband) exploring the Gotoku-ji Temple. This is another must-do! The highlight is the plethora of lucky cats, but the adjoining cemetery is spectacular. If you’re looking for souvenirs, there is shop on site selling the lucky cats. We brought home four of them and still wish we had more.

Next stop was Shimokitazawa, where we spent a couple of hours exploring the local shops, such as Darwin Room, Chicago, and Flamingo. None of the shops stood out as spectacular, but you can’t go wrong exploring a Tokyo neighborhood.

We then headed back to Shinjuku and to stop at Bingoya Craft Shop. This is a great place for quality souvenirs, ranging from hand-painted pottery to children’s toys. The owners were extremely helpful, detailing the cultural significance of each piece we purchased.

We then walked the mile back to our hotel, squirreling our way through the local neighborhoods. It allowed us to see glimpses of Japanese life away from the tourist circuit.

Tokyo Guide: Nakameguro and Daikanyama

We began our day in Nakameguro, where we stumbled across a quaint pottery shop. The shop is unmarked, but it’s a must. The owner was delightful- even giving us red house slippers while we shopped. The store is just past JTB tours when coming from the Naka-Meguro subway station. It will be on your left-hand side, across from a florist.

We then headed to J’Antiques. This place reeked of pretentious hipster. I was followed into every room by the staff. Chalk it up to white privilege back home, but it was not something I was accustomed to. We left almost immediately.

Brick and Mortar was probably one of our favorite shops in Nakameguro. Even if you don’t buy anything, it is fun to peruse the beautiful home goods sold there.

We eventually headed towards Daikanyama, which blends seamlessly with Nakameguro. Cocca is a must for any fabric lover.

We initially compiled a lengthy list of shops to visit in these two districts. However, I recommend narrowing it down to just a few. Then spend the rest of your time exploring! You can’t go wrong with either of these neighborhoods.

Tokyo Guide: Shinjuku

My husband wore ill-fitting shoes during the first few days of our trip. Consequently, we took a day to rest his feet, choosing to stay within a few miles of the hotel. The highlight of the day was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It is open daily (except Monday) from 9:00-16:00. For a mere ¥200, you will gain access to over 100 acres of perfectly manicured gardens. This place is massive. You could easily lose a day here.

Tokyo Guide: Harajuku and Shibuya

Meiji Jingu was one of my favorite stops of the whole trip. If you are looking for a tranquil escape, head there shortly after the sun rises. The gates are absolutely breathtaking and will dwarf even the tallest person. When you reach the shrine, watch for the sun glistening off the copper-plated roof. It is beautiful!

We then headed to the Inner Gardens within Meiji Jingu (¥500 admission fee). It was a great opportunity to sit and relax. However, we soon found out that Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens are far superior.

After our serene respite in Meiji Jingu, we headed to Takeshita Street in Harajuku. We then attempted to visit Fethers Goffa, but unfortunately it was closed when we arrived. However, it was a great excuse to explore Harajuku beyond Takeshita Street. Plus, the exterior of the shop is gorgeous!

Next stop was Design Festa Gallery– an absolutely must-do. The building itself is a piece of art. Inside, you’ll find a variety of art and a postcard collection that rivals Itoya in Ginza. Make sure to bring ample cash! We would have done some serious damage at this gallery if they had accepted credit cards.

Although Koenji is known for its vintage clothing, my favorite spot was Chicago in Harajuku. We went to this branch twice during our trip. The selection is great. And their prices are even better! They offer tax-free shopping, but I would not do this again. The cashier filled out a form, which she then folded and stapled in my husband’s passport. She placed a small stamp overlapping the form and his passport. I am Type-A and anxious. I was uncomfortable with someone outside of immigration leaving marks on his passport. Additionally, we had to place the items in our carry-on luggage when we left Japan in case immigration officers wanted to verify our purchases. We saved $10. It was not worth it at all.

We then headed to Tokyu Plaza in Harajuku. The mirrors at the entrance to the mall make for incredible live photos! Talk about an Instagrammer’s paradise.

We finished the day in Shibuya, paying a visit to Hachiko and watching the scramble from Starbucks.

Tokyo Guide: Eastern Tokyo

We were able to get an early start since the Tokyo National Museum opens at 9:30am. The walk from Ueno Station is great! Don’t be afraid to walk off the main path and explore the surrounding temples. Gojo Shrine and Toshogu Shrine were my favorites. Unfortunately, the second floor of the museum was closed while we were there. This includes the “Highlights of Japanese Art” exhibition. The heater seemed to be on full blast, but thankfully there are lockers for you to store your belongings. Just make sure you have a 5 yen coin– you’ll get it back.

After the museum, we headed to 2K540 Aki-Oka Artisan Village. We had high hopes for this collection of shops, but unfortunately it did not deliver. Each shop caters to a niche market, such as custom umbrellas or designer hats. As a result, you may find one shop that piques your interest. The rest will be white noise. I recommended skipping this co-op and heading straight to 3331 Arts Chiyoda!

Housed in a former junior high school, 3331 Arts Chiyoda is a multipurpose facility complete with gift shop (credit cards accepted), gallery, café, and restaurant. It’s a must-do! Avoid Tuesdays when most of the attractions are closed.

After doing some damage in the 3331 Arts Chiyoda gift shop, we headed to Kanda Shrine, known colloquially as the “Anime Shrine.” The shrine is beautiful, but I was slightly disappointed. I was hoping to see hand drawn ema, but all were mass-produced and sold on site.

Our last stop of the day was Senso-ji. It’s insanely congested, but worth every minute. It’s another must-do, but you already knew that.

Tokyo Guide: Kichijoji and Koenji

Remember that many locally owned stores do not open until 11am or noon. Keep your eyes peeled when headed to Kichijoji Station- you should catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji! Kichijoji is saturated with inviting storefronts, mostly containing housewares and tchotchkes. The only ‘bust’ of the area was Bondo. It was cold, uninviting, and cluttered. The few items they had for sale were simple and tasteful, yet overvalued.

Koenji is a vintage clothing paradise. I must disclose that I’m not a fan of clothes shopping. I found most of the vintage clothes to be incredibly overpriced. Additionally, the vast majority were Western labels. I certainly didn’t go all the way to Japan to buy vintage American clothes. There was one notable exception- a secondhand kimono shop called Kirakuya. The owner was fabulous and treated us with such warmth and kindness. It was one of my favorite stops of the whole trip.

Tokyo: Accommodations

We stayed at the Citadines Shinjuku Hotel for approximately $160/night. There is ample space, the kitchenette is well equipped, and the staff is amazing. The hotel is situated in a quaint area of Shinjuku with many local restaurants- or even a Domino’s Pizza if you are feeling homesick. The streets hum with activity during the morning and afternoon work rushes, yet remain tranquil at night. It is a short walk to the Shinjuku-gyoemmae station on the Marunouchi Line. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is just south of the subway station. We will absolutely stay at this hotel when we return to Tokyo.

Tokyo: Tips and Tricks

This past December, we spent eight full days in Tokyo. We did a lot of things right, but we could have done a few things better.

Before leaving for Tokyo

Tip #1: Rent a Wi-Fi router. We ordered the “Premium Wi-Fi by Southbank LTE (187Mbps)” through Japan Wireless. The router was delivered to the post office at Terminal 1 of Narita airport, which is open from 8:30am to 8:00pm daily. The cost was $64 for ten days and worth every penny. It even came with an external battery charger. The package also included a prepaid and addressed return envelope. We just dropped the router in the mail the night before we left Japan!

Tip #2: Bring PLENTY of cash. Cash is by far the most commonly used form of tender. We were shocked at how many places were cash-only.

Tip #3: Download the Tokyo Metro App (a MUST) and Google Translate. Google Translate can even take pictures of Japanese characters and translate it into English.

Tip #4: If you want to experience the hipster/blogger’s Tokyo, buy the Tokyo guide by Hello Sandwich. She occasionally accepts orders for her ‘zine’ on her website. When I was researching our trip, her website was sold out of guides. However, I found one through My Cuppa Tea in Australia for $32 AUD.

Once you have arrived in Tokyo

Tip #5: Take the Narita Express to the station closest to your hotel. Instead of finagling a subway transfer with your luggage, take a cab directly to your hotel. A cab ride from Shinjuku Station to our hotel was $15.

Tip #6: Use a Suica card for the subway! It’s a reloadable card (cash only). We initially thought the day passes would be the most cost effective option for us, but we quickly realized that many of our destinations were outside of Tokyo Metro. Suica is used in a much larger area- AND you don’t have to worry if the subway is a JR, Toei, or Metro line. You can use them all and the fare will automatically be deducted. We saw a place to buy the Suica card when we bought our tickets for the Narita Express into town.

Tip #7: Always look at the maps before exiting the subway station! Look for your intended destination and the map will dictate the best exit for you. Your feet will thank you later.

Tip #8: Unless it’s the fish market or temples, don’t plan on an early start. Many of the local shops don’t open until 11am or noon.

Tip #9: Be careful with Local versus Express trains. If you’re worried about missing your stop, stay safe and wait for the local train.

Tip #10: Bring a handkerchief for drying your hands in the bathrooms!