Tokyo, Japan’s busy capital, mixes the ultramodern and the traditional, from neon-lit skyscrapers to historic temples. The opulent Meiji Shinto Shrine is known for its towering gate and surrounding woods. The Imperial Palace sits amid large public gardens.
The city's many museums offer exhibits ranging from classical art (in the Tokyo National Museum) to a reconstructed kabuki theater (in the Edo-Tokyo Museum).
However, our favourite and indeed the reason we chose Japan as a destination was to visit the TeamLab Digital Art Museum where artworks form one borderless world (more on that below).
Nearly 9.3 million people live in Tokyo and I'm pretty sure they all used the train system at the same time as we did! In fact, Shinjuku is the busiest train station in the world, with more than 3.6 million people using the 36 platforms and 200 exits every day. But don't let that put you off because it is signed very well and there are apps to help you navigate the train network.
We stayed at The Pullman Tamachi, which was one of the best hotels we have ever stayed at. Yes, big statement. But there was nothing we could fault with the hotel from check in to departure as you'll read about here.
Here's a basic run down of what we did.
HOP ON HOP OFF BUS
When we arrive in a city we are generally fans of the "hop on, hop off" double decker busses that guide you around the city. It helps us get your bearings for a new city and shows us places we might want to go back to in future days. Not so in Tokyo! The bus rarely stops near any points of interest. They tell you as it passes and then it stops well down the road from the point of interest. As you approach each stop, the host on the bus (why?) also talks over the commentary in your ear buds and basically says exactly the same thing as you approach and leave each stop, however because of the talking over each other, you don't generally hear what either of them are saying. So maybe give this activity a miss.
COST: Adult Around AUD$50 - too much for what it is!
One of the spots we did get off the bus, which was close to the actual attraction was Tokyo Tower which is 332.9 metres high and you can get up to two viewing platforms for 360 degree views of Tokyo. This was okay but there was a fair bit of smog so the views were not that photographable.
Top Deck Tour (150m and 250m)
Adult 2,800 yen if you buy online or 3,000 at the ticket counter.
School age Children 1,800 yen online or 2,000 yen at the ticket counter.
Main Deck (150m)
Adult 1,200 yen
School age Children 700 yen
TEAMLAB - BORDERLESS
There is a second Team Lab experience that you should also do, called TeamLab - Planets. This is a similar exhibition (at a different location to TeamLab Borderless and it's main feature in water. You leave your shoes and socks at the door for this one, but it is a fantastic sensory overload experience.
FREE NIGHT WALKING TOUR
One of the nice things Tokyo has are free night walking tours. We did the Shinjuku Night Tour. Groups of around 10-12 people meet every night at 7pm outside the Shinjuku Tourist Information Center, which is pretty easy to find. We had Hiroshi on our night who walked us around the area for 2.5 hours explaining the history behind the area, showing us Kabuki-Cho, Omoide-Yoko-Cho (Memory Lane) which is full of small eateries, one after the other that fit about 8 people in each one, mostly cooking tepinyaki, down Godzilla Road.
We also learnt about the host/hostess clubs and Hiroshi took us into the red light district to show us the "love hotels" where you can book by the hour. The tours are free, but reservation is required and tips are accepted and expected. This tour meets up at
COST Free but a tip is expected (I think we gave about 2,000 yen for the 2 of us)
WHEN Every night at 7pm (2.5 hours)
WHERE Catch the train to Shinjuku station and exit via the South East Entrance and then meet outside Shinjuku Tourist Information Centre (just type Shinjuku Tourist Information Center into google maps)
WEAR comfortable shoes - you'll be walking
WALKING AROUND HARAJUKU
Harajuku refers to the area around Tokyo's Harajuku Station, which is between Shinjuku and Shibuya on the Yamanote Line. It is the center of Japan's most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles, but we also found it very chilled and cruisey to walk around.
The focal point of Harajuku's teenage culture is Takeshita Street and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands and fast food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens and of course a really cool Onitsuka Tiger shoe shop (bought 3 pairs between us that day).
Just south of Takeshita Dori and over twice its length is Omotesando, a broad, tree lined avenue sometimes referred to as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees. Here you can find famous brand name shops, cafes and restaurants for a more adult clientele. The stylish Omotesando Hills complex was opened in 2006 and targets fashion conscious urbanites in their 30s and 40s, while Kiddy Land has hundreds of unique toys for kids of all ages.
TOKYO LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY WALKING TOUR
If you are interested in photography like me, but don't know where the best locations are to shoot during your visit, Pak is your guy. I booked him on AirBnB a couple of weeks before heading to Japan and he was terrific. He communicated well prior to the trip and even in the 24 hours leading up to the appointment.
He took me up high to shoot Shibuya Crossing that has 3,000 people use the cross walk all at once on a weekday right through dusk and into early evening showing me both Shinjuku's iconic and lesser known sights. he also gave me lots of tips and tricks along the way and even brought his tripod (at my request) so we could shoot some long exposure stuff.
Pak will adjust the tour to whatever you want to shoot actually and if we hadn't been pressed for time (I had a dinner date with the other half) then I'm sure he would have spent another hour or two with me walking around.
You can check Pak out on Instagram @tokyoscape
COST $85 per person
WEAR runners or walking shoes
We had an awesome time in Tokyo. A very busy site with hardly any traffic on the roads and lots of people on the trains. But don't get me wrong - trains are a great way to travel in Japan and there's plenty of times that you do get a seat - just not in peak hour. And remember, whenever you are on the train standing up, face the people seated, it's considered rude if you face the other way and have your bum in their face.