Planning a trip to Tokyo or anywhere else in Japan can be daunting because language and culture are perceived barriers for most westerners. The research can be arduous, especially for a first timer visiting Japan.
If you really do not know where to begin … join a tour. The Cultural Treasures of Japan Tour by Collette Travel was a perfect solution for me. Truthfully, although I knew bits and pieces of where I wanted to go, the experts at Collette planned and executed the perfect tour. I absolutely loved every little, BIG and delicious thing that we did!
Part of the ease of going on a tour is waking up, ready to start the day without the pressure of thinking about logistics. Everything was handled for me, seamlessly. Most often I plan my own trips, so from time to time taking a little respite is welcome. On my immersive trip to Japan I enjoyed many wonderful adventures, but for now, I’d like to share my top 10 MUST DOs for a visit to Tokyo.
Tokyo, let’s begin
Tokyo is my new favorite city in the world. The mix of ancient and modern, delicious food and trendy shopping, along with breathtaking architecture was exhilarating.
What an exciting, vibrant city! It was everything and more than I expected. I was blown away by the cleanliness, the juxtaposition of old world and contemporary architecture and the friendliness of the people.
Even if we could not speak the same language, it was easy to understand the sincere smiles of the Japanese people.
Honestly, I acted like a giddy school girl when we arrived at the Shibuya Crossing, the busiest intersection in the world. Two thousand people cross the street at every light change. The neon lights, masses of pedestrians, enormously tall buildings and flashy department stores contributed to my enthusiasm. Just standing on the corner watching the world go by was enough for me. I did need to move on though, there was far too much to see and enjoy.
Marvel at the fruit shops
Have you ever heard of a $130 cantaloupe? Seriously these were expensive melons! The shop smelled like fruity heaven, sweet with the scent of strawberries and oranges. Every piece was uniform in color and size, presented like a gift.
Be a fly on the wall at Shinagawa Station
One of the busiest train stations in Japan, it was enormous and a little intimidating but worth the visit. The station is one of the major hubs and there are people everywhere. You can grab a snack and shop. Everyone around you seems to know where they are going; I had a guide, and she was a lifesaver.
Hold your breath and jump in at Harajuku
More crowds, more color, more shopping, more excitement. It was a cascade of color, sights and smells. Although extremely crowded, the Harajuku area of Tokyo certainly skews toward the younger visitor but is a must see if you are interested in urban Japanese culture.
Walk through the Fish Market
We walked about the circumference of the Tsukiji Nippon Fish Port Market, where fishmongers yell in Japanese, crowds sample their tasty options, and the opportunities for taking photos were a bonus!
Enjoy a sushi lunch
Fresh and buttery, the sushi in Tokyo is some of the best in the world.
Walk the grounds of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace
This ancient structure is awe-inspiring. The history here was palpable and it was a great place to walk and take photos. We were there on a rainy gray day but still were impressed.
Enjoy high-end shopping in the Ginza
My favorite shop was Itoya, a 12-story, stationery store which has been open for over 100 years. Every floor offered intriguing, new, brightly colored, paper, greeting cards, home goods or personal items. Have you ever seen an entire floor devoted to fountain pens?
See Tokyo from the water and take a boat tour
Take in the sights from the water and get an entirely different perspective.
Always try the local beer
Enjoying the local food and drink is always the best way to immerse oneself in a new city.
Ride the Shinkasen!
Oh my goodness! This train goes about 180 MPH and it was an incredibly unique experience. Plan a day trip or take this high-speed train to another city in Japan.
Planning a trip to Tokyo: Final thoughts
My personal list of must-do adventures in Tokyo should keep you busy for at least three or four days. If you plan to travel there solo, this list should be helpful.
Tokyo is sophisticated, elegant, fashionable, delicious, stylish, vibrant, clean and exciting.
It is a perfect mix of fashion-forward and ancient architecture. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning!
My advice: Move planning a trip to Tokyo (and the rest of Japan) to the top of your travel list. It will astound you.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Although the city is very fast moving, a traveler can tour at whatever pace is comfortable.
- The city is so large that an abundance of luxury hotels are available at every price point.
- Although expensive, Tokyo didn’t seem to be any more expensive than visiting New York City (except for the fancy fruit!).
- Because of the long flight and its cost, it’s wise to spend 2-3 weeks in Tokyo, if possible.
- Because of language and cultural barriers, either join a tour or hire a guide. Touring on your own could be very challenging. Not everyone speaks English and a guide can help with translation.
All photo credits: Suzanne Stavert (except lede photo)
Disclosure: The author’s trip was sponsored by Colette Travel but any opinions expressed in this post are her own.
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