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Japan Travel Tips: Tokyo Sightseeing

Let me start this off by saying I have only seen a small portion of Tokyo. I am still confident that I could go back there for a month and not visit the same place twice. But after the three cumulative weeks I have spent in this amazing city there have definitely been some attractions that stood out above the rest and I want to do whatever I can to ensure that new visitors to Tokyo know what they should not miss.

Shibuya Crossing

Probably the most iconic part of Shibuya is its scramble crossing. Located just outside of Shibuya Station, thousands of pedestrians line up to pour into the intersection every time the lights change. It really is a sight to behold. Exploring Shibuya Crossing is the fastest way to experience what makes Tokyo unique. The organized chaos of thousands of densely packed people, deftly avoiding one another, going about their business, while being inundated with massive neon lights and advertisements.

People try to equate Shibuya Crossing with places like Times Square or Dundas Square but there really isn't anything like it. If you go to Tokyo I would highly recommend you jump into the deep end head first and make Shibuya Crossing your first stop.

To get a good view of the crossing we went up to the 2nd floor of a Starbucks on one of the corners but, this should go without saying, it was completely packed. Shibuya is a well known meeting place and a major nightlife spot so the later in the evening it gets the more packed the crossing will be. That being said, when the sun sets and all the lights are turned on the crossing is absolutely stunning and well worth fighting the crowds.

Oh also, on one of the corners of the crossing is a statue of Hachikō, the most loyal dog of all time. He would wait at the train station to greet his owner at the end of every day but one day his owner did not return because they had died. Hachikō proceeded to wait for them every day for the next 9+ years. The "Jurassic Bark" episode of Futurama is actually based on Hachikō. Every dog lover who visits Shibuya must go and pay their respects.

Center Gai

Another part of Shibuya that one should visit is Center Gai, a small pedestrian street that is informally considered the center of Shibuya. It is famous for being lined with all sorts of shopping, food, izakaya bars, cafes, etc. It is a popular meeting spot for youths and you'll usually find many different subcultures congregating there. Like Shibuya Crossing, is it another spot that delivers a concentrated dose of Tokyo directly to your senses.

Mori Tower

I agree with the Abroad in Japan YouTube channel. The greatest view in Tokyo goes to the Mori Tower. For a small admission fee you can get access to the "Sky View" on the 52nd floor. It is an observation deck that has massive floor-to-ceiling windows around the majority of the permitter of the building which give you amazing views of a large portion of Tokyo. But for only ¥500 more you can get access to the "Sky Deck" which is literally the roof of the building. From here you have a complete 360 degree view of central Tokyo. It is absolutely breathtaking and nothing like this can be found at any of the other observatories in Tokyo. If you are visiting Tokyo you must absolutely go to Mori Tower.

Tokyo Skytree

While the Mori Tower may have the greatest view in Tokyo the Skytree is a very close second. You do not get as unobstructed a view of Tokyo from the Skytree as you do from Mori tower but the two observation decks at 350 and 450 meters provide absolutely stunning views. For the 450 meter observation deck you actually traverse a spiral platform that goes up an additional five meters and contains even larger than floor to ceiling windows to give you mind blowing views of central Tokyo. If you only can get to the top of one skyscraper definitely make it Mori Tower but I say bite the bullet and make sure you get to the top of both it and the Tokyo Skytree.

Tsukiji Fish Market

The Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and truly a magnificent sight to behold. I highly recommend watching the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, not only because it is a masterpiece of film making, but because it gives you a good look inside the fish market and how critically important it is to the restaurants of Tokyo.

The primary reason we went to the Tsukiji Fish Market was because there are a number of sushi parlors right beside it and we wanted to try eating sushi from the most renowned one, Sushi Dai. We woke up at 4:30am and still ended up waiting in line for three and a half hours before we got served and do you know what? It was the greatest sushi I had ever eaten in my entire life. If you don't want to be insane like me and wait three and a half hours you still should come down to Tsukiji Fish Market and have the freshest sushi you will ever have in your whole life.

Akihabara

If you have any interest in video games, manga, anime or electronics then you must come to Akihabara. It is considered a cultural Mecca for otaku and will probably make anyone who has ever called themselves a "geek" feel completely at home.

There are all sorts of shopping complexes ranging from buildings crammed full of independent stores to the massive Yodobashi Akiba department store which will literally have any electronic device you could ever imagine. There are also dozens of arcades full of all sorts of games such as UFO Catchers or Chunithm or Monster Hunter Spirits and everything in between. One thing about arcades in Japan that will blow your minds is multiplayer games are much more common. You'll routinely find 10+ of the exact same machine so friends can get together and play games with each other.

Super Potato and other retro game stores

If you are a fan of retro video games then I call to your attention to some specific stores in Akihabara, such as Super Potato, that will absolutely make your day. We picked up over a dozen Super Famicom titles while we were there but you need to visit these places much like you would a museum to see the games of a simpler time. We saw old Atari, Sega and Nintendo consoles not to mention a working Virtual Boy.

Hamarikyu Gardens

The Hamarikyu Gardens are a five minute walk from Shiodome Station which is one of the primary stations you would use travel to Odaiba. However before you lose yourself in that futuristic part of Tokyo I highly recommend you lose yourself in this Daimyō styled garden complete with a tidal pond, teahouse, plum garden, 300 year old pine tree and even two preserved recreational duck hunting grounds.

Odaiba

The Odaiba district is a truly amazing part of Tokyo that has so many attractions you could easily spend multiple days trying seeing them all. There is shopping at DECKS Tokyo Beach, Aqua City or Diver City which contains The Gundam Base Tokyo store. From the northern edge of the island you can see the Rainbow Bridge, a replica of the Statue of Liberty and the Fuji TV building, all of which look amazing when illuminated at night. There is the life-sized, 20 meter tall Gundam as well as the Daikanransha, a gigantic ferris wheel. And if you feel like stretching your brain you can visit the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation a.k.a the Miraikan, home to the Geo-Cosmos, a globe of the Earth comprised of thousands of little OLED screens capable of projecting any information they wish.

Joypolis

One of my favourite parts of Odaiba was easily Joypolis, an indoor amusement park that is home to a rollercoaster coaster named the Gekion Live Coaster. For ¥4000 you can get a "passport ticket" which gives you unlimited access to all of the rides including more vomit inducing rides such as the Halfpipe Tokyo or the Storm-G bobsled simulator. There are also a number of interactive games to play as well as a number of UFO catcher machines stuffed with all sorts of Sega merchandise.

Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine

So here is something I didn't know until I went there but Tokyo actually has greenery. I know right? I thought it was just a concrete jungle but there is actually a massive forest right in the middle of Tokyo called Yoyogi Park. If you walk to the center of the park there is only greenery as far as the eye can see and you can easily forget that you are even in Tokyo.

Yoyogi Park also hosts the Meiji Shrine, a beautiful shrine that sits along a wonderful walking trail which takes you deep into the heart of the park.

Ueno Park

Ueno Park is a beautiful and spacious public park located just outside of Ueno Station. It is home to a number of museums and shrines such as the Tokyo National Museum or the Ueno Tōshō-gū. There are over 800 cherry trees in the park which makes it a prime location for cherry blossom season. Shinobazu Pond occupies almost 40 acres of the park of which a large portion is full of water lilies such that when they are in bloom you can barely see the water. To top it all off Japan's oldest zoo, the Ueno Zoo, is here and contains hundreds of species including a crocodile, asian arowanas, aye-ayes, elephants, hippos, sea lions, a polar bear and even a giant panda. Definitely pick a day and spend it roaming around Ueno Park.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Shinjuku Gyoen is another beautiful garden right in the heart of Shinjuku. It is packed full of hundreds of trees from all over the planet. Massive bald cypress trees next to a dense deciduous forest made for bird watching. Rows of sycamore trees encapsulating a rosebed full of dozens of varieties of roses. Over 1500 cherry blossom trees and even a greenhouse containing a truly startling number of plants. There is even a large promenade that stretches the entire northern edge of the park which was completely covered with leaves in the autumn. If you luck out and visit during November you can even see chrysanthemums on display in full bloom.

Robot Restaurant

The Robot Restaurant is incredibly hard to describe without spoiling the surprise of it. You can read my take on it at the end of my day 9 recap of our 2016 vacation but I almost think that everyone should go into it not knowing what to expect. If you are interested in a cabaret involving animatronics and lasers then just stop reading now and buy your tickets.

The one piece of advice I would give is buy your tickets online ahead of time so when you get there you can simply pick them up. The Robot Restaurant is located in Shinjuku which is not an unsafe area but it is more seedy than the majority of Tokyo. It is the type of place where people will be trying to offer you free drinks to come into their restaurant and then pressuring you to buy more after jacking up the price because you are a foreigner. The Yakuza also operate bars in Kabukichō (Shinjuku's red-light district) and the sex industry is alive and well there so don't be surprised if you get propositioned. I'm not trying to say this to scare you out of visiting Shinjuku. It is more of a heads up so you aren't surprised or caught of guard if you decide to go out for a night there. Keep you wits about you and you will be perfectly fine.

Golden Gai

Before you go and get your brain melted at the Robot Restaurant might I suggest you first get a drink at Golden Gai. It is a small network of six alleyways in Shinjuku that contain over 200 bars which only seat six to twelve people at a time. During our trip we found a quaint bar helmed by a bartender named Yasu who welcomed our party with open arms and plyed us with all the whisky we could drink.

Word of warning, Golden Gai was the first place we experienced blatant discrimination because we were foreigners. We got turned down by four or five bars before we found Yasu's so just be prepared.

Kit Kat Chocolatory

Most people don't know that the Japanese people are absolutely crazy about Kit Kats. There have been hundreds of unique flavours of Kit Kat sold in Japan that never make it out of the country. While we were there we had the stereotypical green tea or mochi Kit Kats to the absolutely bizarre sake Kit Kat. Yes they were actually alcoholic and extremely delicious. Also check out this bizarre video from the Abroad in Japan YouTube channel. They tried to make sushi Kit Kat! What an age we live in.

The Japanese love Kit Kat so much that there are actually standalone Kit Kat stores called Chocolatory which sell these wide ranging flavours. So if you have a sweet tooth I would highly recommend you locate your nearest chocolatory and buy some of these delicious Kit Kats.

Nakano Broadway

Nakano Broadway is a shopping complex in Nakano that focuses on anime and manga merchandise. It is essentially nirvana for any otaku. You'll find rare anime, obscure manga, figurines, music CDs, vintage video games, clothing, hell you can even find VHS tapes here. We came across a store that only sold Godzilla memorabilia for fucks sake! If you have any shred of the geek or nerd gene in you then you must come check out Nakano Broadway.

I don't know why I am calling this store out specifically since it is almost impossible to miss but there is a chain called Mandarake that has TWELVE separate stores inside Nakano Broadway. Each store deals in a specific otaku subculture. But keep your eyes peeled because one of those stores focuses on hentai (cartoon porn) that you may not want to find yourselves browsing through.

VR Zone Shinjuku

If you are a fan of virtual reality then you should probably add VR Zone Shinjuku to your lists of things to try. It is a massive arcade that makes use of HTC Vive goggles and various accessories to completely immerse you in the games you are playing. Check out this video to get an idea of what is possible.

Of all the games that are available I would recommend Mario Kart VR and fishing the most. Avoid "Dinosaur Survival Run Jungle of Despair" at all costs and be aware that while the intro for "Evangelion VR The Throne of Souls" is incredibly fun the gameplay is very boring and may not be worth the long wait. I wished that we would have tried Dragon Ball VR instead.

KIDDY LAND

KIDDY LAND is another one of those bizarrely specialized stores that will cater to anyone who loves cute, squishy, kawaii things. It is essentially five floors of Funassyi, Pusheen, Rilakkuma, Studio Ghibli, Snoopy, Disney, etc.

Elsie almost died when she walked into this store so if you have two X chromosomes you probably want to head here and I'll admit that even my Y chromosome had a lot of fun.

Sunshine 60 Skyscraper

Because Elsie and I are such big Pokémon fans we had to visit the Pokémon Center in Ikebukuro which was located inside the Sunshine 60 skyscraper. It just so happened there was an amazing sushi bar in the building that gave us one of our best views of Tokyo. There also is an observation deck on the top floor (the 60th) that gives you a panoramic view of Tokyo. If you are in Ikebukuro and looking for an amazing view look no further than Sunshine 60.

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