The Harajuku area is a funky shopping mecca for travelers who want to pick up “only in Japan” goodies while exploring
Tokyo. This is a hip neighborhood that can’t be missed due to all the fun, cartoony-like and unique shops that sell everything from colorful and zany stickers (B-Side Label) to one-off fashion ideal for teenagers who like to make a statement—the multi-level shopping emporium, Laforet, is a must. Oh, and Barbie fans will want to step into the very pink flagship Barbie store. Take a break from the over-the-top shopping experience to visit the neighborhood’s Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine.
2. Tsukiji Fish Market
Scallops on a skewer for breakfast? Why not, especially when you’re making the rounds at one of the world’s busiest fish markets. Visitors to Tokyo can watch all the action at the wholesale market—or the inner market—if they get there very early, during pre-dawn times (think 3:30 a.m.), but even if one doesn’t get in to see the fish auction, there’s a lot to see in the outer market, which winds through narrow streets. Here, there are all manner of items—from fruit and vegetables to meat and sashimi knives, not to mention fish and “must-take-home” souvenirs. The various sushi counters are also tempting because sushi for breakfast doesn’t sound bad when in Tokyo, and for those who really want to do like the locals, then this experience can’t be beat.
3. Lunch Time in Ueno
Head over to Tokyo’s Ueno area, home to the Imahan restaurant (there are several in Tokyo). While sitting down for a delightful Sukiyaki meal, a Japanese dish of sliced meat, especially beef, fried rapidly with vegetables and sauce, one feels that they are taking a true respite from the Tokyo crowds. The restaurant setting itself is quite lovely, with Japanese kotatsu-style private rooms.
4. Tokyo Sky Tree
For a bird’s-eye view of Tokyo take to the skies with a ride up the Tokyo Sky Tree, the world’s tallest free-standing broadcasting tower—about 2,080 ft. That’s high, but the views are nothing short of impressive. It really gives visitors a feel as to how enormous Tokyo really is. Look through any of the panoramic windows and one sees rows upon rows of buildings in every single direction stretching all the way to the horizon. A must is walking—and taking images from—the small section of glass floor panels. There are two observatory levels—the highest is a bit less crowded and even more thrilling.
5. Senso-ji Temple
Tokyo’s oldest temple, Senso-ji, is a delight to all the senses. The scents, the architecture, the colors, the sounds at this Buddhist temple—dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion, Kannon—leave one a bit dizzy, but what a vision. This is a place where visitors want to sit back and observe—truly take it all in. First, take in the scents at the incense cauldron, then it’s time to purify oneself at the small, stone water fountain. After that quick ritual, head into the temple and don’t pass under the lanterns without noticing all the intricate details. Stay a while once inside and, of course, do like the locals and toss a coin into the coin box, bow twice, clap twice, and then bow once more before saying a short prayer. Adjacent to the temple is a Shinto shrine, the Asakusa Shrine, and in front is Nakamise-dori, a shopping street that’s considered one of Japan’s oldest shopping districts, selling everything from tourist must-haves to Edo-style crafts.
Tour Operator Intel
“Interest in Japan and Tokyo has increased significantly in the last year or two. We attribute this to several factors. First, China is losing some of its luster due to higher prices, crowded tourist sites, and pollution. With China’s ‘decline’ and the significant improvement in the exchange rate (an almost 50 percent improvement since 2012), Japan now looks like a ‘new destination’ for many travelers.”
Walter L. Keats, CTC, CMP
President, Asia Pacific Travel, Ltd.
Japan National Tourism Organization: jnto.go.jp/eng