Things to do in Tokyo

Recently, a friend with an upcoming trip to Tokyo reached out to me for itinerary suggestions. I was more than happy to oblige because Tokyo is one of my favorite places to explore. The first time I visited Tokyo was for a study abroad program at Sophia University. Last November, I returned to Japan with my partner and a group of our friends. Previously on my blog, I shared various sites to see in Kyoto and my visit to Lake Ashi.

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Sensoji Temple & Asakusa Shrine – the grounds house Sensoji (a buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon), Asakusa Shrine (a shinto shrine), and the iconic Kaminari Gate through which tourists enter the complex. There is also Nakamise, a strip of tourist shops and tasty Japanese snacks. Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple. This is one of my favorite destinations in Tokyo and I highly recommend visiting for the history, architecture, and Nakamise shops. Located outside of this complex is Shin-Nakamise Street, which has even more shops and snack options.

Takeshita dori – a quirky, narrow street in Harajuku with many independent fashion shops, cute boutiques, and cafes. The Sundays are especially lively, and many people come and dress up in stylish and trendy outfits. Once turning onto any of the nearby main streets, you will find larger chain stores and also Yoyogi Koen (park). It’s close to Harajuku Station and Meijijingu-mae Station.

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Meiji Shrine – a Shinto shrine that was built for Emperor Meiji during the early 1900s. The spacious paths have massive wooden torii and are lined with trees. On the complex besides the main sanctuary and shrine, is an expansive wall made entirely of sake barrels. Within the evergreen forest’s cool shade, the grounds immerse visitors within nature. The Shrine Since it’s across the street from Takeshita dori, it’s accessible by Meijijingu-mae Station and Harajuku Station.

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Zozoji Temple and Tokyo Tower area – this is a great area to wander Tokyo. I enjoy the visual juxtaposition of Zozoji temple with Tokyo Tower in the background. There’s usually a Sweet Potato vendor at the base of Zozoji Temple’s stairs. If you continue past the Jisho statues and prayers at Zozoji temple, you will find Tokyo Tower.

553363_10151854305308797_1121811822_n.jpgThe Imperial Palace East Gardens – was previously the site of Edo Castle, which was Japan’s second capital city. Much of the original structures are gone, except for some gates, guardhouses, and moats. Currently, the the site is now home to the Emperor, and tourists have access to wander around the outer areas and park.

Every Sunday, the streets before the grounds are closed for free cycling. However access to the public, main part of the Imperial Palace ends at 3:30pm on Sundays. There is a sidewalk that circles the grounds, but is popular with runners.

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View from Observatory at Roppongi Hills

Roppongi Hills & Observatory – shopping mall with a variety of restaurants, the Mori Art Museum, a garden and an outdoor area has light shows during the summer, and the Observatory that features a promising view of Tokyo’s skyline. When you purchase a ticket to the Observatory, it includes access to the Museum, and for an additional fee you can include the Sky deck. Mount Fuji is visible on clear days from the Observatory. There are bars in the observatory section, but they are expensive (think $16 or $18 for a cocktail).(including Tokyo tower and sometimes Mount Fuji). Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Sky tree also provide great views of the city.

  • Although it’s expensive, I’d recommend going to the Moon Lounge in the evening. Requesting a table by the window is incredibly expensive, so we settled on a seat at the bar that still provided a decent view of the city. I ordered the Gesyoku a mixed drink with red wine.
  • The Shinjuku Metropolitan Center offers a free view of the city. In my opinion, the Observatory or the Shinjuku Metropolitan Center offer better views than Tokyo Tower.

Odaiba – is a man-made island located in southern Tokyo that has arcade games, amusement rides, several shopping malls, and restaurants. Here is a comprehensive guide to all of the different attractions and sites. Fortunately, I visited DiverCity Tokyo Plaza twice, the first time was with the RX-78-2 Gundam in 2012 and most recently saw the Unicorn Gundam in 2017.

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Sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market – this marketplace is one of the oldest and largest fish markets globally. If you’re able to arrive at 5am, you can watch the infamous tuna auctions. Although I waited over 10 minutes to order sake (salmon) sushi in the outdoor area of the market, it was honestly the best sushi I’ve ever eaten.

Shibuya – experience of the mayhem of the overwhelming intersection before Shibuya Station. When all of the stop lights turn red, pedestrians surge across.

Kabuki or Noh theatre – if you’re a fan of theatre you should spare time to see a show.

  • Kabuki is known for it’s all men acting crew with dramatic make-up and decorative costumes. It also has detailed stage designs typically with features like with a bridge built into the audience, moving platforms, and trapdoors for stunts.
  • Noh is a classical musical drama with symbolic plots. The actors use their movements to present the story with minimal dialogue.
  • While I enjoyed Noh more than Kabuki, I felt the quality and design of kabuki outweighs the more simplified Noh shows. Moreover, Kabuki shows tend to be 3 to 4 hours in length, and Noh are much shorter. While both shows will be in Japanese, you should have the option to either listen to an English translation on a headset or follow along on a transcription of the show.

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    Visit in 2012 to Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland – it explains itself, however I loved my day here because it felt like a compact version of Disney World. However at Tokyo Disney, there are more adorable souvenirs and main characters walking around obliged to take photos.

I was ecstatic when I met Mickey Mouse and he took a photo with me. In addition to Disneyland, there’s also Disney Sea.

Miyazaki Museum – any fans of Miyazaki movies should tour this museum. While I haven’t had the chance to visit, it is on my bucket list for when I return. Unfortunately the only ways to purchase tickets are at a kiosk in Family Mart/Lawson’s (but usually needs to be done weeks in advance since they’re typically sold out) or with an overpriced tour online.

Things to do in Kyoto, Japan

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Walking within the torii at Fushimi Inari

During my 8 day adventure through Japan, I explored Kyoto for three days in early November. Three days was not enough time. The city instilled me with a desire to return one day and visit more of it’s ancient sites.

Fushimi Inari is a Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. There are many protective Fox Statues along the trails of the shrine. It’s located on a mountain, and is easily accessible from the JR Nara Line at Kyoto Station. This site also has free entry and is virtually always open. It’s best to go early in the morning because the pathways of red torii became quickly congested with fellow tourists.

 

Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Pure Water Temple) is a wooden Buddhist temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a balcony overlooking Kyoto. We were fortunate to visit here during November, when all of the trees were bright with peak autumn colors. A diminutive statue of Kannon sits inside the temple’s Main Hall. While not the quickest route, we took the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station and walked about 20 minutes to reach this temple.

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View of Kyoto from Kyomizu-dera

 

Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka are streets sloping downhill from Kiyomizu-dera Temple and into the heart of Gion’s historical district. The streets, architecture, and occasional Geisha promises to transport any tourist back in time. You can also spot Yasaka Pagoda from this area (not featured in the image below).

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Kinkakuji’s reflection in the pond

 

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavillion) is another iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan, but is distant from the main city. The Zen pavilion is layered in gold leaf and on calm days, you can witness it’s stark reflection in the pond. While the most inexpensive way to visit is by bus, we were pressed for time and took the metro to Kitaoji Station and then hired a taxi for a 10 minute ride.

 

Arashiyama is a town located in western Kyoto that’s infamous for it’s Bamboo Forest (a UNESCO World Heritage site). However it also has hiking trails, the Togetsukyō Bridge with gorgeous views of the river, shops, restaurants, and Tenryuji Temple another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Bridge in Arashiyama

 

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Nara is another popular tourist destination known for its Park. Inside of Nara Park are an abundance of sacred deer that will bow at you if you feed them crackers,
and also Todaiji Temple. Crackers can be bought everywhere in the park, but practice caution with some of the deer because they tend to nibble on everything. It takes approximately 30 to 40 minutes one way via metro from Kyoto Central Station.

Pontocho Alley is a narrow street along the river that boasts historical architecture like Gion. This area is close to Gion-Shijo Station and has plenty of restaurants, and fun thematic bars to explore at night. The bars are built into various floors of the buildings and can sometimes only offer limited occupancy of about 5-15 people. I wish we had more time to explore the fun bars in this area. One of my favorite bars we went to was Cafe La Siesta 8bit Edition. It’s a gamer bar with a myriad of retro consoles, hand-held games, and card games. They have a human-sized Gameboy that plays N64 and their drink menu is based off of vintage games too.

Nishiki Market is approximately a 400-year old market in downtown with over 100 stalls selling diverse foods and tourist items.

5 Reasons to Visit Ibiza in the Off Season

At the end of my final semester in March I visited Ibiza, one of the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean. One of my European friends inwardly cringed and demanded why I was going during the ‘winter’ season and not waiting for summer (ie. May to possibly September). She claimed it would be cold and there would be nothing to do, however this was not the case at all.

  1. Obviously – costs are relatively inexpensive (approx. 40-60£) compared to the tourist season (approx 128-275£). Ryanair offered an impressive last minute flight from the UK that was too good to ignore. However the lack of sun in Scotland provided additional incentive to book the trip. We found there were a variety of accommodations with fair prices.

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    Canons overlooking Old Town in Dalt Vila
  2. With a lack of tourists, the atmosphere is quiet, as opposed to coming during prime travel season (summer) in which all of the clubs are in full effect. When we visited for a few days – the vast majority of fellow traverlers were families. Areas like Dalt VilaPort San Miguel and Cala d’Hort were calm with few people. Honestly – it was the true essence of a reprieve.

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    Es Vedra photographed from Cala d’Hort Beach
  3. At the finale of March, we wore our bathing suits on the beach. In fact, I returned to Glasgow with a cherry nose and honeyed skin. At between 60-75°F, the days were comfortable enough to wear a tank paired with a skirt or shorts, but the evenings required a light jacket or jumper at around 55°F.

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    Sun slowly setting at Cala Comte on the sunset coastline
  4. During our stay, we rented a car for less than 50 euros for a full 24 hours through Avis, which included full insurance.  Most tourist sites aren’t accessible without a car. Between the two of us it was cheaper to book a car than to go on a tour that only went to 1-2 sites. We toured Cova de Can MarcaPort de San Miguel beachSan Antoni, Cala d’Hort to view Es Vedra, and Cala Comte (Cala Conte). The roads were not crowded, besides near Dalt Vila, and the majority of people were locals driving to work. This was ideal as we had downloaded the maps on my friend’s iPad, however whenever we lost satellite (85% of the journey) we relied on the combination of my roadmap, the road signs, and asked locals for directions with my basic understand of Spanish.

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    Ibiza Old Town from ferry ride to island of Formentera
  5. Although most clubs aren’t yet open during the spring – there were parties, spring festivals, and open shops around Dalt Vila. We weren’t at a loss of things to do for the duration of 3 days. I detail our 3 day itinerary in this (post), however we wished we had an additional night to visit more of the island.

However, here are somethings to keep in mind before booking a trip during the off season…

  1. Hotels or low-key shops outside of Ibiza’s immediate city centre/Old Town might be closed until summer or under construction.
  2. The busses are far and fewer in between. Instead of coming every half hour, they were scheduled to come every hour, however the busses were often late with a nonchalant tranquillo attitude. We stayed outside of Ibiza at a beach front accommodation in Playa d’en Bossa, and felt stranded whenever the bus refused to show.
  3. If you want to do sightseeing outside of Ibiza and its immediate centre, you will require a car. The bus system near Ibiza remains close to the heart of its central tourist hub. WARNING: some roads along the coastline are winding, which may make individuals susceptible to motion sickness feel ill (guilty).

Check out my 3 day itinerary here 🙂