For the independent traveler Tokyo is the dream destination of a lifetime. No matter what you are looking for, the city is sure to have. But do not let the world’s largest urban area intimidate you. By far, the best way to see Tokyo is to hop on a train or subway. With some pre-planning, it’s really not difficult to master the train system and navigate around the city like a true Tokyoite.
Every weekday the various rail systems transport approximately twenty million people throughout the Tokyo area. Although that number is staggering, Tokyo's system is efficient, reliable and almost always on time. It is recommended you avoid the early morning rush hour between 7am and 9am. I like to call this time of day 'organized chaos' - but other than the slight frenzy of commuters, you can usually move around the city with ease.
Prior to your trip, I highly recommend becoming familiar with the major station maps. This will help you effectively navigate to and from the seven different private rail lines and Japan Railway (JR) routes.
There is so much to see, deciding can be a little overwhelming at first. With this in mind, I have listed below a small sampling of interesting attractions within Tokyo.
After arriving in Tokyo, you'll want to get rid of your heavy luggage so you can zip around the city with ease. Fortunately there are baggage-forwarding centers at both Narita and Haneda airport, as well as in major train stations, which can deliver your luggage straight to your hotel. If traveling light, consider using one of the many coin lockers found at the stations or major attractions. These lockers are secure and safe, but always make sure to keep valuable items with you just in case.
Once you are rid of the extra weight, take the Tokyo Metro line and head to Toyosu Station for a glimpse into the galaxy. Just across the street from the station you will find the Teamlab Tokyo Planets museum. Once entering, you take off your shoes and walk through water. Truly an unforgettable experience, this exhibition showcases a sight, sound, and touch experience that will bring your senses alive. The exhibit runs through to the Fall of 2020, so be sure check their site for up-to-date information.
By now you may be ready for some lunch, so let's head across town to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. As you might already know, the famous fish market has gone through some changes recently but don't fear! Tsukiji Fish Market still open for business with only the inner market (auction site) having moved to a new location. The streets here are packed with fresh seafood restaurants and all types of souvenir shops. To get to the market, take the metro line to Tsukiji Station. Now comes the hard part: selecting the restaurant. The choices here are unlimited, needless to say the sushi outstanding and will have your mouth watering. It's also good to note that there are many other dishes available which also cater to vegetarian diets.
Next we will take a train to Asakusa Station and walk along historic Nakamise Street. Get immersed in the traditional setting, as the streets lead up to Sensoji Temple - the oldest and the most photographed temple in Tokyo. Although it is always crowded, it's still worth checking out. Walk a few blocks over to the Sumida River and find the Cafe Meursault. Grab a table upstairs next to the panoramic windows for a great view of the unique golden Asahi Group Headquarters Building just across the river. The cake menu will have your mouth watering along and with a large selection of drinks, it's the best place to spend the evening. Observe the beautiful sunset across the river before grabbing the train back to Hamamatsucho. Just a two-minute walk from the Kanasugibashi exit of Hamamatsucho Station is Devil Craft Pizza, a western style micro-brewery. Enjoy some brews with names like Devil Juice, Fire & Fury, Affable Evil, and some titles I cannot mention. A great ending before our next action packed day.
In the morning we will head to TEPIA Advanced Technology Gallery close to Gaiemmae station. Before taking the tour, be sure to view the twenty minute video on how Tokyo Skytree was built - it is an architectural feat unlike anything you have ever seen. The tour will welcome you into the world of robotics - something that has become synonymous with Japanese culture. Be amazed as you are introduced to robotic security guards, production robots and even a cuddly sea lion cub used to comfort children and the elderly. There is also another exhibition where you can try out various electronic experiments.
For lunch, head across town to Ryogoku station - the home of Sumo wrestling. Hananomai restaurant is just a few blocks from the station and will let you join in on the Sumo fun as it is a unique Sumo themed with a real dohyo (ring) just like the ones used in matches! Become a Sumo wrestler for the day and enjoy testing out the same types of food the wrestlers eat. It's sure to be a memorable experience and if you’re lucky some wrestlers are known to appear and put on a demonstration.
Kamiyacho Station is our next stop and is located very close to Tokyo Tower. Here, buried deep within the Kikai Shinko Kaikan government building, you will find the super secret Ninja training center. Don’t tell anyone, but here the head of the Musashi Ninja Clan, Shibata Suzak, will give you a hands-on ninja experience - including wearing that all important Ninja costume. For more information, check out a previous Japan Travel article about my experience.
Once you've brushed up on your ninja skills, head over to Harajuku Station to check out the Jin-Gu Restaurant Ramen experience. Swap your shiraken for an apron, as you get to enter the kitchen and cook up some delicious ramen with a professional chef guiding you all of the way. Of course the best part of all is bringing your masterpiece back to your table to savour every bite.
Later in the evening use the Toei Oedo Line get off at Daimon Station in Hamamatsucho and walk 5 minutes north to the My Stay Hotel Premier and the Morimoto restaurant. Go to the left of the front desk and enter for one of the top ten culinary experiences in Japan, Washoku and Kushiage cuisine. Washoku consist of fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth while Kushiage is deep-fried food pieces on bamboo sticks. The food is very tasty and their wine choices are never ending.
Day or night, whatever your pleasure or vice, let Tokyo's trains take you there. There’s so much to explore around every station in Tokyo, so just dive right in and start to discover more than you could have ever imagined - the city is yours.