Tokyo & Kyoto Travel Guide.
I’m excited to finally share a glimpse into our trip to Japan in September! We booked the trip spontaneously based off a great flight deal and our time in Tokyo and Kyoto ended up being two of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. A little video to recap our trip:
I’ve already shared a bit of overall advice about visiting Japan but the best advice I can give you is to go. Seriously. Don’t think about it too much, don’t stress the language barrier, don’t plan out every aspect of your day. Just go. Experience a culture that is so different but so easy, and truly soak it all in.
We started our trip in Tokyo and made the most out of each day by traveling around the city on the subway and walking quite a bit. We’d pick a few things we thought could be fun and then improvise in between destinations thanks to having a pocket wifi router from our Airbnb which made it easy to use Google Maps and research places to do and eat while we were out and about. A few favorites in Tokyo:
- Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Daiwa: Trust me, this is worth waking up at 4 AM for (which I almost didn’t believe and tried to convince B that we should just skip it and sleep). The Tsukiji fish market is like no other and is home to a gazillion different types of fish and sea creatures. Be on the lookout for giant, prized tunas and grab the most amazing sushi of your life at Sushi Daiwa (skip Sushi Dai, which is more famous but the lines are crazy and the experience will be the same at Daiwa) for breakfast while you wait for the full fish market to open to the general public.
- Robot Restaurant: Ultra touristy (you’ll find no actual Japanese people in here) but worth it for just how insane the entire experience is. If you’re looking for over the top, crazy shit that you just won’t see anywhere else, a night at the Robot Restaurant is a must. Eat beforehand though, the food didn’t look great!
- Tokyo Skytree: Tokyo is massive but to truly understand just how big the city is, you have to see it from above. Skip the ultra long lines thanks to the special Fast Skytree ticket for international visitors (have your passport on hand!). Fun fact: the Tokyo Skytree is the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure 😉
- Mimi Rabbit Cafe in Ikebukuro: Tokyo is full of animal cafes and while cats aren’t quite my thing, visiting a rabbit cafe was very high on my priority things to do while in Japan (hey, don’t judge!). The entire experience is just weird and amazing – Mimi Rabbit Cafe is hidden in a busy shopping area of Ikebukuro and very well organized so you can get lots of bunny time while knowing the animals are treated very well.
- Genki Sushi in Shibuya: Sushi of the future! After sitting down you’ll use an iPad to order your sushi and with the press of a button, it’ll be delivered to you quickly via a train system (you can see it in our video!). The sushi is actually really good and extremely affordable and the entire experience makes for a fun dinner.
- Meiji Jingu: Zen in the middle of Tokyo’s craziness. Meiji is a perfect morning stop before many shops and restaurants open at 11 AM and is really beautiful and quiet. It’s amazing that something so calm is tucked away within such a huge city!
- Shibuya Crossing: The most insane intersection in the world. Watch it in action from the 2nd story of the Starbucks (perfect spot for grabbing a timelapse video!) and then try it out for yourself by entering the massive crosswalk with hundreds of other people with each light change.
- Takeshita Dori Street in Harajuku: Harajuku has gotten a lot of attention thanks to Gwen Stefani’s obsession with its over the top outfits and culture. Takeshita Dori is packed full of boutiques with all of the bright colors and accessories you could ever need to dress like a Harajuku girl.
- Akihabara: Also known as the Electric Town, Akihabara is home to a ton of huge electronics stores and arcades. Be sure to go inside some of the stores to see just how massive they are and stop in an arcade for photobooth pictures and to try your luck at one of the gazillion crane games. Be sure to save a few coins to grab the most kawaii gachapon you spot!
- Mikkeller Tokyo: Beer lovers, rejoice! Mikkeller recently opened up its Tokyo location which makes for a really cool spot to grab a beer and mingle with both tourists and locals.
- Good Town Doughnuts in Harajuku: Donuts in Japan? Really, Cait? Yes. Really. I like to consider myself a donut connoisseur and these were among the best I’ve ever had. Good Town has New York City vibes (they even have an American toilet in the restroom) and has that Brooklyn cool with great donuts in unique flavors.
- Harajuku Gyōza-rō: If you’re suffering from noodle overload (it happens), take a break and feast on gyoza while in Harajuku. Order at least one of everything on the menu and grab a beer for a really affordable, totally delicious lunch.
After 4 days in Tokyo we took the bullet train to Kyoto and stayed in an absolutely amazing Airbnb that was a fully restored machiya, complete with its own mini zen garden and bikes for us to use to get around. Admittedly I didn’t account for not being able to do much in Kyoto after dark and our time there was pretty short, so we jammed a lot into a few days to see as much as possible while we were there:
- Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine: Hands down one of the most incredible and simply breathtaking places. The shrine is famous for its thousands of bright orange torri gates and roaming mountain trails leading to a summit. Wear comfortable shoes and carve out time to do the complete hike – it takes about 2-3 hours and can be steep in parts.
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest: Another simply gorgeous spot in Kyoto – visit the bamboo forest early in the day to beat the crowds. The towering bamboo is especially beautiful in the sunlight and feels completely serene.
- Kinkaku-ji Temple: Also known as “The Golden Temple”, it’s one of Kyoto’s most iconic temples because of its pure gold leaf exterior. Fun fact? The current temple is a replica built in 1955; Kinkaku-ji has actually been burnt to the ground twice, once during the Onin War and later by a monk that went insane.
- Ryoan-ji Temple: You know those tabletop rock zen gardens? Take that and multiply it by 1000 and you get Ryoan-ji, which is a meticulously groomed rock zen garden. There isn’t a ton to see at this temple but it’s worth the quick stop to pause for a moment and find some zen within your day of sightseeing.
- Ninna-ji Temple: If you’re looking for a more low-key temple, Ninnaji is a great spot because of it’s amazing gardens, five story tall pagoda and tranquil vibes – it was less crowded than some of the other temples making it a nice place to quietly walk around without feeling rushed.
I cannot recommend visiting Japan enough – we had a wonderful experience booking apartments to stay at through Airbnb and navigating around using mass transit throughout our trip. The politeness of Japanese culture takes the intimidation out of the language barrier as everyone really does their best to communicate and are extremely forgiving about gesture communications as long as please and thank you are involved.
Have any other questions? Ask away! I’d love to help and seriously can’t wait to go back to Tokyo again one day.