TOKYO p.1 - Shibuya / Harajuku
(Article updated to 2020)
Tokyo is the capital of Japan and is a must for every time you visit the Rising Sun. It is a megalopolis that boasts over 10 million inhabitants and is always in evolution: for this reason you never stop discovering it and every time you go back you always notice something different and new.
This wonderful city is the hub of Japan because it encompasses all aspects of the whole country in its iconic neighborhoods.
In Tokyo you must necessarily go back in time: explaining the emotions that this city manages to give is not possible, you have to live them. Only those who have been there can understand it.
As a minimum stay, I recommend staying no less than a week: Tokyo should also be turned on foot, admired in its alleys and glimpses. You can't do a hit and run, it wouldn't make any sense, especially if it's your first time here.
Kyoto is also a more dispersed city than many others (Tokyo in the first place), so plan your trips well in advance.
Make sure you buy the pocket wi-fi from Italy and pick it up as soon as you arrive in Japan at the airport (alternatively you can have it delivered to your hotel). This tool is essential because it allows you to always stay connected to the Internet during your trip. On your return, you can send it by post by inserting it in the envelope that will be given to you and leave it at the airport post office. The best and safest place to buy it is this one.
Google Maps works perfectly all over Japan, but if you want to use the site that the Japanese themselves use, download the HyperDia app (it's also in English) to find the timetables of public transport.
Japan Rail Pass: considered essential by many, in my opinion it is not always the case. My advice is to make a precise and feasible itinerary before leaving and to calculate with HyperDia how much you will spend with the means of transport. Very often making this purchase is futile. If not, it must be bought from Italy on this site.
Powerbank: always better to buy one so as not to remain with the phone down.
Money: here's what NOT to do before leaving, to exchange money in Italy. Changing is never convenient, so it's best to exchange money as soon as you arrive at the airport. However, bring a certain amount of cash money (needless to say that no one will steal it) because it can happens that the cards give problems, especially to ATMs. I recommend you top up your PostePay (the classic yellow, not the Evolution one) and if you have an ATM or a credit card it is always better to contact your bank to warn it that you will make payments in Japan (if you do not warn, they could block the card); also ask to put the card in "worldwide payments" mode on. Keep in mind that in Japan cards are used much less than in the West, so it is always good to have a certain amount of cash with you. Many restaurants only accept cash.
Health insurance: it is good to be careful and buy a valid insurance that covers as much as possible (you never know what can happen). In Japan health care is both public and private, and being outside the European Union, prices and bureaucracy are different. You can buy it here.
HOW TO GET
From Haneda airport: it is the closest airport, in fact it is only 30 minutes from the city. Although it does almost only national flights, over the years it has also increased international routes with various airlines. The most convenient form of transportation is Tokyo Monorail (monorail train) which takes you to JR Hamamatsucho station. [cost 500¥]
From Narita airport: this is the main Tokyo international airport. The most used and efficient means of transport is the Narita Express, which connects the airport with some important Tokyo subway stations. The cost of the ticket varies according to the landing station. [cost from 3070¥ to 3250¥, 60 minutes of travel]
From Kyoto: the best way is undoubtedly the Shinkansen. Choose between Nozomi or Mizuho, the two fastest. [cost 14.170¥, 130 minutes of travel]
HOW TO MOVE
The best form of transportation to use in Tokyo is definitely the subway.
Very easy to use, orderly and safe, the capital's subway is made up of numerous lines headed by different companies (Tokyo Metro and Toei Line, for a total of 13 lines), as well as the JR.
There are no real subscriptions except:
Tokyo subway ticket: can be used on the entire Tokyo Metro and Toei Line. You can buy it in the subway and Bic Camera shops, bringing with you the passport to show. This ticket is divided into time slots: 24h for 800¥, 48h for 1200¥ and 72h for 1500¥.
Common one-way ticket: valid for one day on the Tokyo Metro and Toei Line at a cost of 900¥.
Tokyo combination ticket: valid for one day on the Tokyo Metro, Toei Line, Toei Streetcar (Toden), Tokyo metropolitan bus lines, all sections of the Nippori / Toneri Line and the JR lines in central Tokyo. Cost 1590 yen.
My dispassionate advice is to buy the Suica card (cost 1000¥ of which 500¥ go on deposit) with cash, Visa or Mastercard.
This is a very practical rechargeable card to top up your money for travel on the JR, subway (Tokyo Metro, Toei, buses, Tokyo Monorail), but it does not work for Shinkansen and airport shuttles.
It is the most comfortable way to travel because you only need to top up a certain amount of cash to travel without worries. You can find it at the machines in the stations with the Suica symbol.
WHERE TO STAY
In Tokyo it is always advisable to stay in a hotel near a subway stop connected to the center or in any case well connected to the major sites of interest. This is true even if it is not the first time you visit it because this choice will save you a lot of time and money; the cost of the Tokyo subway in fact varies based on the mileage traveled.
So, unless you really want to stay in a particular or decentralized area, the best neighborhoods to sleep are Shinjuku and Asakusa (for economic solutions), the station area and of course Shibuya, a neighborhood that I prefer the absolute, convenience for the connections beyond to the lively nightlife and the most incredible offer of shops and restaurants.
This is by far my favorite neighborhood in Tokyo. Maybe because Hachiko is here, or maybe because all the trends and fashions that fascinated me during my teenage years were born here (I was a great manga reader and in those days I was a fan of Mihona Fuji's Gals!), the fact is that in Shibuya there is a unique, youthful, trendy but also and above all unpredictable air.
Here there are many meeting places that have become iconic, essential places for any tourist and traveler, but moving away and walking the side streets you will come across dreamlike views, characteristic alleys full of izakaya that will leave you speechless.
WHAT TO SEE
SHIBUYA CROSS It is no coincidence that this is the most crowded and famous intersection in the world, on the other hand to photograph it people come from all over the world! At every hour of the day, but also at night, many people flock to the street to cross the pedestrian crossings. There are strategic observation points where you can be fascinated by this human anthill, such as the famous Shibuya Starbucks.
STATUE OF HACHIKO A few steps from the Shibuya intersection and the subway exit (small note: Hachiko has an exit that bears his name) there is the statue of the most famous dog in Japan, a symbol of loyalty. Among Japanese young people it has always been a meeting point par excellence, but since American cinema has made it famous worldwide, more and more people have visited it.
SHIBUYA 109 The center of the youth fashions of the moment, it is a real institution. It boasts dozens of stores on 10 floors (at the bottom there are bars and restaurants) and is the perfect place to make unique purchases since the brands you will find here are almost all Japanese, impossible to find abroad. [opening 10 am - 9 pm]
TOKYU HANDS It is a huge department store where you can buy the most varied design objects, for the kitchen, do it yourself or travel. There are actually many in Tokyo but this is particularly large and well stocked. [opening 10 am - 9 pm]
MEGA DON QUIOTE SHIBUYA If it is the first time that you enter and experience a slight headache, rest assured, it is more than normal. This huge shop is a chaos of objects, lights, jingles and people. Here you will find everything, but really everything: from sweets, to skin products, make-up, household and kitchen items, but also clothing, detergents, suitcases and much more. At an affordable price. [open 24h]
ROPE Finding this shop is not really easy, but with a little patience you will arrive at your destination. Visiting Rope means entering the last "temple" of a very specific Japan and which perhaps (or perhaps not, who knows) is disappearing because of the laws adopted following the arrest of dozens of girls in Tokyo alone who practiced enjo kōsai. This term was coined in the mid-90s to indicate the practice of escorts by very young girls who very often resulted in full relationships with much older men, in exchange for gifts and money. The life of Japanese students has always been characterized by hard study and work to try to pave the way for the future. The lack of leisure and money to spend on itself has led many of them to do enjo kōsai. Linked to this phenomenon is that of the shops that in the 90s and up to most of the early 2000s depopulated in Tokyo, shops where these girls sold their used underwear (burusera), but also clothes, shoes, photographs and even spit and urine. These shops were so popular that over the years they have become a real social problem. Rope is the last officially existing shop where young students can sell their clothes, just as they used to sell body secretions or act as escorts. Located near the Love Hotel Hill (it is worth taking a walk here, at the level of anthropological study), Rope is certainly an unconventional destination, almost unknown if not for lovers of the genre but that will give you the opportunity to know a Japan evidently still tied to certain dynamics. Regarding this topic, I invite you to document yourself on a cinematographic level because several directors have dealt with this phenomenon.
SHIBUYA MARK CITY Located a few steps from the Hachiko statue, this large shopping center is worth a visit to the food court. Here it is possible to buy excellent confectionery and gastronomy products (including amazing bento boxes). There is no shortage of corners dedicated to luxury fruit. [opening 10 am - 9 pm, website, address: 1 Chome-12-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0043]
MANDARAKE Historical manga and used anime shop, this is the favorite shop of all fans of the genre. The Shibuya store, in my opinion, is the most beautiful and also the best equipped. Here you can also buy wonderful art and photography books, artbooks of the most well-known mangakas, action figures and accessories for cosplay. [opening: 12 pm - 8 pm, address: 〒150-0042 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Udagawacho, 31−2 渋 谷 BEAM B2F]
TOWER RECORDS Record store chain that in Shibuya has a huge multi-storey store where you can also buy vinyl, gadgets and magazines. [opening 10 am - 11 pm, website, address: 1 Chome-22-14 Jinnan, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0041]
WHERE TO EAT
It is impossible to starve in Shibuya - but this adage is easily applicable to almost all parts of Tokyo.
Here the gastronomic offer is really wide, there is no shortage of restaurants, bars, night clubs and food court. You are spoiled for choice!
HOSHINO COFFEE Quiet and elegant western-style Japanese cafe, perfect for an afternoon break. You can choose to sit in the smoking room on the ground floor or the non-smoking room on the upper floor. In addition of enjoying the excellent desserts, you can also have a small lunch here. Here I tried an excellent short cake accompanied by good coffee. [opening 10 am - 11 pm, website, address: 16-14 Sakuragaokachō, Shibuya City, Tōkyō-to 150-003]
まぜそば七 Small hidden ramen bar frequented exclusively by salary men and students. Here I have dined on several occasions and have tried practically all the ramen offered on the menu. Really delicious! [opening 11:30 am - 10 pm, website, address: 16-10 Sakuragaokacho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0031]
SUSHI NO MIDORI Located inside the Mark City shopping center, Sushi no Midori is one of the best known and appreciated sushi restaurants by the Japanese themselves. Famous for its fresh fish, the honest price but above all the generous portions, this place is truly an institution. I advise you to go there in advance, before opening, because it is very popular and you risk waiting even more than two hours before entering. [opening 11 am - 10 pm, website, address: 1 Chome-12-3 Dogenzaka, Shibuya City, Tokyo 107-6302]
GENKI SUSHI Kaiten sushi very famous especially among the younger ones, thanks to the really low price. The quality, in my opinion, is very low and I know several people who have been sick after eating here. Since it is very popular and still has great success, I wanted to include it equally for those who want to try the experience. But I didn't like it. [opening 11 am - 11:30 pm, website, address: 24-8 Udagawacho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0042]
J.S. CURRY SHIBUYA Excellent place near Bunkamura where you can taste a delicious Japanese curry but also declined in spicier variations. The sides are delicious, starting with the korokke (Japanese croquettes). [opening 11 am - 11 pm, website, address: 2 Chome-23-11 Dogenzaka, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0043]
GYUSHIGE Very cheap yakiniku place frequented by young people and companies of friends. The menu is vast and also offers different qualities of vegetables and kimchi to create an excellent dinner with grilled meat with Korean references. [opening: 5 pm - 12 am, website, address: 22-1 Udagawacho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0042]
STARBUCKS It is the most famous Starbucks in Japan because it is the one with an excellent view of the most famous crossroad in the world. It is not suitable for those who want to take a snack break in total tranquility as it is always hyper crowded. [opening 6:30 am - 2 am, address: 〒150-0042 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Udagawacho, 21−6 ＱＦＲＯＮＴ 1F]
TAISHOKEN MARUICHI Small ramen bar near Shibuya. The owner is very nice and his ramen is delicious. A fun sign posted in the club reads "Open late or until the broth runs out!". [address: 2-20-11 Shibuya, Shibuya 150-0002]
TIGER GYOZA HALL Large restaurant with a modern and captivating design near Shibuya, where you can enjoy delicious gyoza sipping sochu or beer. Here you can also enjoy excellent Chinese dishes. [website, address: 〒150-0042 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Udagawacho, 12−12 37- シ グ マ 第 ５ ビ ル]
It is the most colorful and sparkling district of Tokyo, home of the most extravagant youth fashions and scene par excellence for cosplayers (who between the 90s and early 2000s had chosen this area as their meeting place).
Here you will find clothing with the most unique shapes, kawaii street food and vintage clothing.
TAKESHITA DORI Famous street in the heart of Harajuku, home to numerous fashion stores where you can buy bizarre accessories. Worthy of note are definitely Daiso (shop that sells everything at 100¥, perfect for buying souvenirs; open 09:30 - 22:00) and Body Line (famous lolita style shop; open 11:00 - 20:00). The girls who are used to limestone this street are called "Harajuku girls" and embody the essence of the style of this area of Tokyo.
OMOTESANDO Elegant tree-lined avenue, the junction point between Shibuya and Harajuku. Here you will find many shops where you can shop, including luxury ones (famous is the Anglomania boutique by Vivienne Westwood; opening 11:00 - 21:00, address: 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 1 Chome − 11−6 ラ フ ォ ー レ 原宿 1F). If you are a fan of Rilakkuma and Hello Kitty then don't miss Kiddyland (opening 11 am - 9 pm, address: 6 Chome-1-9 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001)
SAILOR MOON STORE Located inside the Laforet shopping center, this shop is a paradise for all fans of the sailor fighter. Here you will find articles of clothing, gadgets and costume jewelery. The prices are definitely high but a visit is absolutely worth it. [opening 11 am - 9 pm, website, address: 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 1 Chome − 11, ラ フ ォ ー レ 原宿 B0-5 階]
MEIJI JINGU It seems impossible that in the midst of so many people, traffic, music and colors there can be a real forest in the city (consisting of 10,000 trees), very silent and evocative: these are the Yoyogi park and the Meiji Shrine gardens, one of the most important in Tokyo. The name of this site is linked to the figure of the emperor Meiji, the first of the modern era. He ascended the throne at the age of only 15 during the Edo period (still feudal era of Japan), he put an end to the power of the shoguns by bringing it back to the emperor's hands. From that moment he moved the capital to Tokyo and started an incredible process of modernization of the country, exposing it for the first time to the rest of the world after 200 years of total closure. Today it is one of the most popular shrines in all of Japan and it is not uncommon to attend the celebration of Shintoist weddings. [opening 05:00 - 18:00, address: 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 151-8557]
CAT STREET Located in a somewhat hidden area, Cat Street reserves some surprises for fans of second-hand clothing and design. Here you will breathe an air completely different from that of Takeshita Street: no gaudy lights and impossible clothes, in Cat Street everything is very neat and "normal".
WHERE TO EAT
SWEET BOX Among the many corners where you can enjoy an excellent rolled crepe there is certainly Sweet Box, which is located at the beginning of Takeshita Street immediately on the right. Outside you will find reproductions of the crêpes that can be made (86 total!), So if you have difficulty making yourself understood at the checkout when ordering, you can say the number of the product on display or simply take a photograph. After paying you will be served immediately. I tried the classic strawberries and whipped cream. Delicious! [opening 11 am - 8 pm, website, address: 1 Chome-17-5 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001]
TOTTI CANDY FACTORY Very famous shop wher to buy giant cotton candy colored in pastel shades. [opening 10:30 am - 8 pm, website, address: 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 1 Chome − 16−5 Ｒｙｕ あ ぱ る と ま ん 2F]
A HAPPY PANCAKE A legendary place to taste the legendary and very soft Japanese pancakes. Try to book in advance, otherwise you will have to queue up and often the wait is over an hour. It looks like a tea room with an open kitchen (it will be very interesting to see the preparation of your favorite desserts) and the staff is very nice and helpful. [opening 9:30 am - 17:30 pm, website, address: 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 4 Chome - 9−3 清 原 ビ ル B1F]