Going over next year, in to Tokyo then 8/9 days travelling, any tips welcome on all aspects
I went in 2018 for 3 weeks. I guess it depends on what you want to see but we covered the main cities.
I probably don’t need to say this but Tokyo is a MUST. Akihabara for Robots and Anime, Shibuya and Shinjuku for shopping. Lots of Disk Union and Tower Record shops as well as some smaller independent stores. Shinjuku National Park is stunning if you go in Cherry Blossom season. Koenji is good for record shops and flea markets too. Loads of great places to eat. There are ramen bars everywhere. I’d also thoroughly recommend going to the Park Hyatt Hotel (where Lost In Translation was filmed) for dinner and cocktails. The views of the city are stunning.
Kyoto has a different vibe, bit more laidback. Authentic Geishas there too. Osaka is great, a lot more NEON. Hiroshima is definitely worth a visit for historic reasons. Beautiful little town and museum, and you get to fold some paper cranes. Pretty sombre watching some of the survivors recount their experiences in the museum videos. Had me in floods. Take some tissues. I expect that Doomsday Clock is about a second to midnight now Nara is beautiful too.
Studio Ghibli Park is great if you have kids.
We also stayed in Hakone in a traditional Japanese Ryokan and did the whole Onsen / Sauna thing one night. Super fun. We were promised the best views of Fuji from there, but alas it was shrouded in mist the whole time. They call it the ‘Shy Mountain’. We did catch some AMAZING views of it though on the bullet train on our way back to Tokyo, so that was a treat. Bullet train is a MUST.
There are beautiful temples everywhere which are all well worth visiting. The Cherry Blossoms (Sakura) really are stunning too. The people are unbelievably friendly and polite, puts us to shame. I cringe at what they must think when they come over here and encounter some of the knuckle dragging pond life that we have in the uk.
It’s spotlessly clean too.
We probably did a lot of the touristy things. We even managed to fit in a sushi making course and calligraphy course on the days when it was absolutely chucking it down with rain.
Hopefully some of the others may have more specific nightclubs / restaurant / shops / sightseeing recommendations. It truly is an amazing country. Really want to go back and explore some of the more rural prefectures.
Edit: You have to try the Cherry Blossom and Bamboo Ice Creams too, as well as the 500 flavours of KitKat. Them’s the rules.
Can’t add anything to this definitive list. Just the best place ever, I wanted to come back before we’d left. Adding a few extra for Kyoto, a very cool city with lots of record & clothes shops.
Also I believe ESPO has a shop in Tokyo now if that’s your thing https://instagram.com/espokyo?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
I think we can all agree with this statement:
What he said. Can’t go wrong with this list.
More TP gold
Big old list the homie Stu 12thy sent prior to going there on my honeymoon in 2018 so some may no longer be relevant! I would highly recommend bar nightingale and bar plastic model in golden gai myself. Also if you can decipher Emerson Kitamura’s website he regularly plays in Tokyo and is incredible, saw him in a small basement bar in Shimokitazawa and it was tiptop. Kyoto is lovely and Nara was also great, definitely take a trip on the bullet train also.
Huge post sorry but have straight copied this from an email I’ve got saved -
-Chopstick cafe Shibuya (friend from Tokyo brought us here, definitely order the mackerel dish)
-Bar Nightingale - noise and experimental bar in Shinjuku
- if your there with wife/girlfriend Flamingo in Shimokitazawa really nice for vintage clothes (theres three of them very near to each other, but only one is particularly good. Im not sure how to describe which is which… but wont take long to go to all
- -JBS (jazz blues soul) in Shibuya was worth visiting for a beer , though quite touristy now. Talk quietly and generally be respectful in here as its more a listening bar than a boozers.
- ForestLimit was my favourite club. pretty underground, and closes at midnight . Can’t guarantee the music every night , so check what is on.
- Bar Bonobo was a favourite of my friends
-Best local dj’s I heard were ‘1_Drink ‘ and ‘Lil Mofo’ . I heard they are on instagram (will try get you the details)
Tip #1 - If you’re flying into Narita I recommend getting the Narita express. It’s a mission getting into town from that airport and pretty confusing if it’s your first time in Japan - especially after a long flight. Haneda is much easier
Tip #2 - Buy an IC card (like an Oyster card) - there are two types which are basically the same: Suica and Pasmo. Do this straight away to avoid faffing with paper tickets. You can use these in all major cities
Tip #3 - Hire a mobile wifi router at the airport so you can use 3G everywhere you go. This will make finding your way around 100 times easier as Google maps is a god send in Japan and international roaming is usually expensive here. Drop it off at the same place when you fly home
Tip #4 - Ensure you get a JR tourist pass for the train journeys. You need to buy this outside Japan before you leave (if flying from London - the place is in Holborn) and activate it in a JR train station once you’re in Japan. Only do this when you actually need it - ie. not when in Tokyo
Spend some time in the areas where cool Japanese kids hang out like Shimokitazawa (good for record shopping, clothes & food) & Nakameguro (boutique clothes shopping, good food/drinking & a famous sakura spot during Hanami)
Loads of great small clubs/DJ bars with good atmos and up for it crowds that go on late: Koara (in Shibuya), Bar Bonobo (near Harajuku), Aoyama Tunnel/Hachi/Oath (all in same building complex), Grassroots (in Koenji) and Forestlimit in Hatagaya
A firm favourite bar for tourists to Tokyo is JBS Bar in Shibuya - worth having a couple of beers in there but the owner is pretty grumpy these days
Lion Cafe in Shibuya - an old church with a vintage soundsystem which only plays classical music and you’re not allowed to speak - highly recommended
Nakano Broadway - a super quirky shopping centre full of relics of anime and Japanese popular culture. Not one most tourists know about and the surrounding town area of Nakano is really great too. Loads of good eating/drinking spots
This is a great site for finding out about art exhibitions across the city: http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/
- Really beautiful small city on the coast just outside Tokyo. A former capital of Japan
- The ‘onsen’ (natural hot springs) capital of Japan up in the mountains. Bit fiddly to get to but well worth it. There’s a great ‘loop’ of the sites you can do there which covers several cable cars and boats. I recommend staying at Hakone Tent - it’s a great (but a bit pricey) hostel which has an onsen in the basement.
- The best place I’ve been to for a view of Fuji-san - breathtaking! I recommend a couple of days here and staying at a hostel called Kagelow. Hire bikes from the hostel and cycle around the massive lake
- An beautiful ancient town up in the mountains - the original home of Japanese Buddhism when it came over from China. Stay in either a temple with monks, or at Koyasan Kokuu hostel. See the sights and 100% get to a meditation class
Hire a bike - it’s super easy to get around and the whole city is on a grid system
Climb to the top of the mountain at Fushimi Inari - it’s super well known but one of the most incredible sites in Japan
Wander around the Nishiki Foodmarket
- Really cute island just off the coast of Hiroshima with a famous torii gate in the ocean. Make sure you stop in Hiroshima on the way and visit the memorial museum, it’s deeply moving and important to understand the devastating impact of the a-bomb
- 100% worth visiting if you’re down south and only 15/20 mins from Kyoto on the Shinkansen. There isn’t a huge amount of cultural stuff to see, but it’s a really fun place to party and people are much more relaxed - kind of like the Bristol to Tokyo’s London. The food is amazing there - super different from how most would expect Japanese food to be. Also has two of the best record shops in Japan too: Revelation Time & Rare Groove
Below is a bunch of places my flatmate - who grew up in Tokyo until she was 20 - sent me before I left. I’ve emboldened / commented on the places I checked out.
Here’s some others…
If you haven’t already, make sure you rent a portable wifi router for the trip - and probably stock up on portable chargers as well as you’ll need to use Google maps quite a lot.
The portable wifi can be rented and returned at the airport. Think it’s something like £40 for unlimited wifi for 2 weeks. Although there are free wifi options in the street, it’s so densely populated that it rarely works - especially when there’s can be about 5 places per address. We had one router between us and split up for the day and so I discovered the hard way how difficult it was without it.
It sounds like you’ll have more time than me - I could have done with another week to be honest. Here’s a few things that stand out -
- mad department store near Shibuya
- there’s a bunch of them and apparently the one at is the best for electronic is
Shimokitazawa. I missed that but picked up loads of cheapo Japanese records at the one near Shinjuku (there’s also a Jazz one next door)
There will definitely be more headsy shops I missed due to lack of time. I suspect they might already be on your radar…
Incidentally, Shimokitazawa was worthwhile visiting. Kinda it’s own place with music piped through the streets and decent vintage clothes shops.
- the hotel from Lost in Translation is probably the most touristy thing I done in Tokyo, but didn’t feel like it and was well worth it as the views are unreal.
See below for exact spots. It helped to have a Japanese connection, but would def recommend trying the following - Google the closest as they’ll be one close by…
Okonomiyaki - I prefer the Hiroshima style, but Osaka is also decent
Ramen - had lots of different variety’s. Ichiran at Shibuya was fun for the experience
Kaikaya by the Sea
If there’s one place I’d say you HAVE to eat, it’s here. 10 course tasting menu for £30. I’m still salivating thinking about it. Probably most fun to experience if there’s a group of you or keep as a special experience for the two of you…
Tofu place -
I’m not mad for Tofu to be honest and was pretty resistant to going here, but I absolutely loved it.
Golden Gai is pretty fun place to wander around. Make sure you find Bar Nightinggale - they were banging out the new Errorsmith album when I was there.
I didn’t do any of the soundbars unfortunately, but there’s an RA article which seems to cover all bases there.
Club-wise, I guess it depends who’s playing but I gather Contact and Vent are where it’s at.
We stayed in a capsule hotel when we were there - which was fun and I’d recommend doing for a night. Cheap too -
It was pretty ancient and touristy, for lack of time, we missed the temples, but they seemed spectacular and there’s a great walking route called the Philosophers Walk - which was pretty bonny likesay.
On that note, if you do have time to visit Nara - which is about an hour away, I’d recommend doing that and feeding the deer in the park.
That’s about everything off the top of my head. Beginning to feel sad about not being there anymore as I recount all this…
Brilliant! This is what you need. Wish I’d had something like this when I went.
We flew into Narita and it was a bit of a mission as you say, but nothing can prepare you for that first glimpse of Tokyo as it comes into view. Breathtaking green spaces and brightly lit buildings. Still got my PASMO card in a scrapbook somewhere.
Miyajima is great too, forgot about that. There are miniature deer everywhere. They’re so cute and tame.
The Okonomiyaki was immense. Not found anywhere in the UK that does it. I’m sure there are places. It would be an absolute hit at Wagamama / Tampopo etc if they added it to the menu. We had it in our hotel a few times in Hiroshima. My mouth is literally watering thinking about it.
We had an earthquake one night while we there, our beds were literally skating across the room. My mate slept through the entire thing?! Absolutely bonkers. They have a ridiculous amount of them per year (something like 1,500). Our receptionist said the following morning “we’d like to offer our sincere condolences for the earthquake”. They’re such humble and lovely people.
We got a coach somewhere one day (can’t for the life of me remember where), and we stopped at a service station on the way for lunch. As we left to continue our journey, every single member of staff (chefs, cleaners, till operators etc) came outside to wave us off.
It was the best holiday I’ve ever had hands down. Hope you have a great time when you go.
Bugger! Posted it twice. See above.
Get a fresh shirt and tie from a vending machine after spending a night on a park bench
I spent three weeks on holiday in Japan in 2005. I was actually in Hiroshima for the 50th anniversary of the bomb which was a surreal experience. Definitely up there with my favourite places to visit, I love Japan so much I’m currently using Duolingo to learn Japanese in the hope I can return one day. I would second the train pass, this was extremely useful.
I would also add Takayama as a place to visit. A beautiful small town in the mountains. The train ride up was lovely, the food was great, mountain vegetables a highlight! The Inro & Netsuke museum there was definitely well worth visiting, they’re the intricately carved and lacquered pill boxes and toggles that people used to hang over their belts.
There’s something so magical about the way that Japanese people go about life with so much care and attention to detail in everything that they do. This is what has most stayed with me from the experience and is something which I still aspire to today.
Lots of netsuke for sale at the flea markets too. I brought some back as souvenirs for friends and family.
I taught English out there 02/03 and was in Nagoya (sprawling metropolis about half way between Tokyo and Osaka). Probably not worth a visit on a holiday as its fairly industrial/business focused and believe it was pretty much destroyed in WW2 before being rebuilt. Birthplace of pachinko though I think.
So I echo the things already said and can’t really recommend specifics, Shinkansen anywhere is a must. Service and attention to detail is generally first class… You’ll find yourself sort of semi-bowing when you return home whilst saying thanks! Earthquakes or tremors happen loads although they were building a monorail opposite my school at the time so some of the shakes could’ve been from that.
Food… And this maybe controversial to the connoisseurs… I spent an inordinate amount of time and money in a place called CoCo Ichiban, curry rice chain place. It’s probably the Japanese equivalent of a Hungry Horse, hardly hand-crafted sashimi but I loved it especially after a few Sapporo black stars. I think there’s one in London but have never been.
Going into a convenience store is great too, take time to look around - stuff you wouldn’t see anywhere else like crunchy little fish in packs to have with a beer. Sushi triangle thingys too.
It’s one of those places where you really feel like a foreigner (in a good way). I hope that hasn’t changed too much in our globalised world. Would love to go back. Have a great trip.
Would also add that I didn’t feel threatened once, was out at all hours but no air of menace that prevails over here after dark.
Top thread! Screenshotting everything
Not sure if Nick the Record comes on here, but is his annual Taico festie still going? Looked amazing
Really want to go, but skinto for forseeable
Never been, but it’s on the list of places to visit - ridicoulsly because of an obsession with Japanese clothes. A few days there with an empty suitcase is a dream.
A few people I know have been and I haven’t heard a bad report about the country.
The tip above about convenience stores…my friends brought back some amazing snacks for my kids, things like chocolate covered crisps (which were just divine) packets of seaweed etc.
The whole country / culture looks fascinating.
Went to Japan for our honeymoon in 2019, very comprehensive list and advice above. My 2 cents for what it’s worth…
Naoshima - an art island about 3 hours west of Kyoto. Was an old fishing port but transformed by artists in the 80s, has random art/sculptures dotted all over, including some Kusama. Try stay in Benesse House if you can, it is very special.
Yakushima - another island at the very south of the country. We had to get a plane down but was worth it, very remote and beautiful. Fantastic onsens and hiking around the oldest forests in Japan (also the inspiration for Studio Ghlibli Princess Mononoke).
Back in the cities, highly recommend Lion Cafe in Tokyo as mentioned above, along with Upstairs Records and Bar. We spent our last night there getting loaded and spending too much on records. Also worth visiting Piss Alley, dozens and dozens of tiny old school Japanese bars in one area, lots of fun.
In Kyoto, worth checking out Hello Dolly, an old whiskey bar that only plays jazz on vinyl. Magical place. Jazzy Sport also great, record store with a rooftop bar. And if in Kyoto definitely go to Osaka for a day or even an afternoon/evening and stuff your face in the Dotombori area.
Also agree with going to the convenience stores/7 Elevens - the snack game over there is next level.
if your phone can use e-sim and is unlocked you can get apps for short term mobile phone service vs renting a pocket wifi which i found worked perfectly and meant one less thing for me to carry and charge. i used ubigi. if your phone can act as a wifi hotspot it works for multiple people to share as well, just like a pocket wifi.
relatedly, it may be iphone only, but you can get a suica card on your phone and you can add money to it using apple pay. there are some nuances though, you can’t get money back off it i don’t think. it is also necessary to toggle some setting which makes it a default transportation card. like the esim, this was really perfect for me, no extra thing to get and then carry around and worry about refilling. you can pay using suica at 7/11s and some restaurants too. just like the physical card, you just tap your phone when entering and leaving the station and it deducts whatever the ticket cost.
jr rail pass used to be a must but i think prices are increasing like 50% starting this month, there are a few sites that let you put in your itinerary and will tell you if you’ll save anything. edit: it is actually possible to buy one in person at one or two stations in tokyo but it’s more expensive than if you get it mailed to you ahead of time
public transportation is really great, had no problem taking trains or busses anywhere. i found google maps to be accurate for everything except it sometimes struggled with managing floors vertically in tokyo. pay attention to the specific entrances / exits though bc the stations can be gigantic.
+1 to visiting an onsen, hakone is the main destination not too far from tokyo but i went most recently to kusatsu for this gigantic outdoor bath (rotenburo) and loved it.
ramen is ultra cheap, ubiquitous, and filling but there are a ton of really affordable and still good quality conveyor sushi places as well. the yen is struggling in the past few years and the biggest impact for me was being able to afford nicer food than i do at home, no tipping plays a role too. most ramen places you’ll either scan a qr code and order on your phone (easy, they have english versions of the site+pictures) or it will be a vending machine with buttons and maybe not english translations, the machine prints out a little ticket with your order which you hand to an employee. i just used a translation app for any menu i couldn’t read which worked fine. conveyor sushi places will have a little tablet you order on, also with pictures + english. definitely found it rewarding to try a lot of foods that i can’t get at home too though.
there’s no end of stuff to do for any interest but visiting TeamLAB’s experiential art exhibits in Tokyo is well worth it imo. i think they are reopening the borderless exhibit in january and the planets exhibit should still be open. i went to the park hyatt but am cheap so i went some floors down from the lost in translation bar to the peak lounge and paid like 50usd for the “peak of joy” thing. it’s like a little tasting menu and unlimited drinks for 2 hours.
Just reading this amazing thread makes me even more desperate to go than I was before. Hoping to get the chance next year, fingers crossed.
My sister-in-law lives on the Bōsō Peninsula (across the bay from Tokyo), we visited for a fortnight in autumn 2018 and did Tokyo and Koyto as well. Best trip of my life without a doubt. Not much to add to this amazing thread, except that I want to go back very very badly!
If you’re in Sapporo, make sure you check out Precious Hall. Best club I’ve ever been in.