As a first time traveller to Tokyo, we tried to understand at least a little of the language and the culture before we visited. I’m so very glad that we did. Understanding just a dozen or so of key phrases really helped us communicate… Not only did it give us some idea of what we wanted to ask for, but it also put many Japanese people at ease and made them far more likely to speak to us in English when our Japanese invariably let us down!
I’m also very pleased we learned something about the culture. It’s safe to say we were still far too loud on the metro system, but at least we knew we had to dial it back a bit!!
So…. what did we think of Tokyo? Well, it’s fascinating, but it’s not simply a city. It’s a mega city. A city of cities. Don’t even try to contemplate a street map. What you need is this:
THIS is the only way you are ever going to get around this city!!!
Tokyo is as addictive as it is fascinating. I could imagine coming back here time after time after time and still always finding something new. Primarily because this place is enormous, but also because it feels like it is permanently evolving.
Before we cover our ‘top 5 favourites’ there are a few things I feel it’s necessary to say about Tokyo:
- Get to know the Metro. It’s the only way you are going to navigate this place! Plus it’s really good fun!!! There are stamps at many of the stations which makes it SOOO much more interesting for kids!
- Make sure you have WIFI. Without Google maps, it’s completely possible I’d still be wandering around Tokyo now – utterly lost!! J has a wonderful sense of direction, but even he would struggle here (I think… it’s perfectly possible he wouldn’t… but I know I totally would!!)
- Consider your hotel location. Don’t just jump to the conclusion that you have to be in the busiest part of town. Yes, lots of blogs will tell you to stay right n the centre to save time and expenses, but there is a lot to be said for staying a little further out. We stayed in Meguro which provided us with a wonderful hotel and spacious accommodation – and it allowed the children to explore the metro system from a (slightly!) quieter setting. There is, of course, no right or wrong… but don’t discount cheaper accommodation out of the ‘immediate’ centre! Go with what works for your family.
- Bring some snacks. We always travel with snacks but nowhere has it been more important than Japan. Don’t get me wrong, you will find foods you like, but don’t waste those first few days searching for them. You have far better things to do in Tokyo!
So, they’re our top tips of how to navigate Tokyo… Now… where to go? Again, it’s much easier to consider these in terms of metro stops: Here are our top 5.
- Ueno. Firstly, the oldest zoo in Tokyo… it does (at times) feel rather small… But with an animal loving daughter, it simply had to be done… because she’d never seen a giant panda before.
Beyond the zoo, there are wealth of museums in Ueno Park – The national museum, The museum of Western art, The museum of Nature and Science. I’ll be honest… while I’m usually a museum freak… the park itself was so lovely,
we just explored. It felt enough to simply BE here. Plus, there’s a Hard Rock Café. Can’t be beaten in our book.
- Shinjuku. Apparently Shinkuju is the busiest station in the entire world. It accommodates 3.6M passengers per day. I find it really hard to even get my head around that. The place is just so…. orderly. But, regardless, Shinjuku is not to be missed.
Obviously there is Godzilla
and the whole ‘downtown’ area. that in itself makes it worth visiting!! But there is also the most wonderful national park – the Shinjuku Gyoen. We were lucky enough to see the Cherry blossom season, but this place must be wonderful all year round.
It was also the place we stepped off the tourist trail and went in search of some real Japanese culture. Most of the workshops I found simply weren’t suitable (tea??? Not going to drink it…. Samurai?? Err… Just no!!!!!) so calligraphy was a great stop for us. G loved it! J…. he drew lots of ‘gojiras’!!!!
- Harajuku. Now THIS is where you want to come with kids! This is the hub of youth culture and the children loved it here! There are lots of independent shops, but there are also a wide range of internationally recognised brands, such as GAP. There is also a ‘large’ toy shop (I’ve put it in inverted commas because, by western standards, this is NOT a large toy shop and – while the children enjoyed browsing, neither bought anything) And, it’s impossible to ignore that what J liked best about this place is that the toy shop was on ‘Takeshita Street’. He found that beyond hilarious!!!
- Tokyo. You simply have to visit Tokyo station. The station is – I am quite sure – bigger that whole cities in other parts of the world!! Now, I have to say, Tokyo – on the whole – is a clean city. But Tokyo station and the surrounding areas are a whole different level. We actually saw a man vacuuming the streets!!
From Tokyo, you can take the Shinkansen to other cities
and you can also walk to the Imperial Palace – absolutely worth a few hours of your time!
- The ‘burbs… Everything I read said ‘stay in the centre’ but we decided not to and I’m really glad we didn’t. We really enjoyed Meguro
They are still busy, but less so and we liked both areas a great deal. Hotels aren’t as expensive and you get a lot more room for your money… When travelling with kids, the journey is just as much an adventure as the destination… so this made sense for us. Plus, Roppogni has a super cool Hard Rock Café
Will we come back???? Absolutely! It’s just a question of when!!!!! We’re so sure of it, we’ve decided to continue with our Japanese lessons so we can be a little bit more fluent next time we’re here.