Updated: January 15, 2020 (added: new eateries & sim card tips)
Updated: September 18, 2017 (added: “list of other places we’ve been”)
Updated: July 12, 2017 (added: “things to do”)
THINGS TO DO AND EAT IN TOKYO:
I originally had most of these tips and eateries in the “Japan Guide” but I decided to separate the two regions we visited (Kantō and Kansai). Here you can find a few helpful tips and the places we went to in Tokyo and surrounding areas:
Continue reading and scroll down to the bottom of this post, to find the link to the Kansai Region Guide (Osaka, Kyoto & etc.) or you can go to the “Destinations” tab above.
“Hyperdia” app – You can download it from the App Store or Google play store. It was a lifesaver when I needed to get from train station to train station.
Japan Rail Pass – Highly recommended if you plan on going across the country, and pays for itself when you take a round trip bullet train ride. It’s not necessary to buy a whole 14-day or 21-day pass, if you manage your time wisely. We only needed a 7-day pass even though our trip was longer than that. But, it also depends on how long your stay in Japan is and where you’re trying to go. You must order it within 3 months of your trip, not earlier! The voucher can be exchanged at a number of office locations, and you can even book your future bullet train rides there too. In the end, you can save lotsss if you plan on taking JR trains everywhere.
Pocket Wifi – You will need this, if you don’t plan on getting completely lost. Google Maps worked in most areas we were in, so we relied on pocket wifi for navigation. We purchased it along with our Japan Rail Pass and picked up the Pocket Wifi at the post office in the airport.
SIM Card – If you’d rather not carry a pocket wifi around, and don’t want the hassle of returning it at the end of your trip, a SIM card is another option! We opted for this during our last trip (Fall ’19). We ordered it online through the same website as the Japan Rail Pass, and had it shipped to us in the U.S., before our travel dates. When we got to the airport, all we needed to do was follow the instructions on the brochure, that was sent along with it. Then, we were good to go! It was nice not having to rush and find a post office or kiosk, to return the pocket wifi. The SIM card is also available at any telecommunciations booth when you arrive at the airport!
Suica IC card – This is a pre-paid money card that’s used for getting around and shopping. Instead of buying a ticket at the vending machine every time, you can load this card and touch it to the ticket gate. The fare will automatically be deducted when you scan it again to leave. It can also be used for trains, subways, buses, and even to make purchases at some stores.
Things to do in Kantō Region (Tokyo, Kanagawa & etc.):
Tokyo DisneySea – The only DisneySea in the world! This is probably my favorite Disney theme park so far. Be sure you try the Toy Story’s alien mochi! Their unique flavored popcorn is also a must. I think the flavors change each season, but our favorites were the herb-tomato and curry! The flavored beers are nice too. You can get a pamphlet at the ticket booth, that will show you what their current offerings are (only in Japanese.)
Sakura Viewing – If you happen to go during cherry blossom season, there’s many parks where you can enjoy the seas of pink and white blooms! Ueno Park is one of the most popular places to view it. We found that the best places were the hidden ones off the beaten path. The trees were less disturbed by tourists and looked more full and pretty.
Tokyo City View – There’s plenty of places you can see views of the entire city, but we chose to go to the Tokyo City View in Roppongi Hills. We were originally planning on going to the sky deck, but ended up going to the Marvel Exhibition instead. It was only a floor below the sky deck and we were still able see the same views.
Tokyo Skytree – Instead of paying to go up the Tokyo Skytree, we opted to view it from Sumida River. We spent hours just people watching and relaxing by the river. There’s a cafe nearby that sells food and drinks (including beer). As the sun goes down, you’ll start to see the lights change on the tower.
Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum – I felt like this was a little gimmicky, but it’s okay to go to if you’ve never been. We did enjoy the atmosphere of this “museum”. It felt like we went back in time! There’s about eight ramen shops that you can try, each with different styles of ramen. Some even offer half-sizes (listed under “mini ramen”)! Tickets for the meals can be purchased at the vending machines, in front of each store. There’s an admission fee of 310 yen before you enter.
Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa – Known as Tokyo’s oldest temple. Expect huge crowds! There’s lots of gift shops and food vendors in this area. You can also find the best melon pan in one of the alleys!
Shopping – We found that we did the most shopping in Shibuya and Harajuku areas. If you’re into brands like Bape, Supreme, Atmos and etc., Tokyo is the best place to go!
Akihabara – A district in Tokyo known as “Electric Town” because of its many electronic shops. It is the center of Japan’s Otaku culture. If you’re into anime and manga, this is the area to be in!
Other places we’ve been:
Ueno Park, Shibuya Crossing, Harajuku, Koreatown, Roppongi Hills, DiverCity, Tokyo Tower, Super Autobacs, Upgarage, Taito Station (games), Sega Arcade, Pokemon Center, Takeshita Street, Shopping (Supreme, Undefeated, Bape, Atmos, etc.), Gundam Front
Places to eat in Kantō Region (Tokyo, Kanagawa & etc.):
Gyukatsu Motomura – Deep-fried breaded beef cutlet goodness! This was one of my favorite places we tried. It comes with unlimited cabbage and a stone grill for you to cook the beef cutlets on. Each piece went perfectly with the wasabi and sauce selections. We went in before the lunch rush and came out to a veryyyy long line! So I recommend going early, if possible!
Afuri Ramen – We went in expecting to taste the usual, but this was definitely far from it. I ordered the “Kara-tsuyu Tsukemen” dipping ramen, which consisted of a chicken and dashi based soup. When I took my first bite, wow, there was an explosion of flavors! I didn’t thoroughly read the menu when I chose an item off the list. All I knew was that I didn’t feel like eating an entire bowl of hot soup, and I wanted something spicy. It had the perfect amount of heat that was tolerable for me to eat. The Yuzu Ratanmen was the other one we ordered and it reminded me of my mom’s version of Thai Hot Pot because of the tangy, citrus flavor. They were both good! I’ll probably be keeping this one on my list for our next visit. Thanks for the recommendation, Richard!!
Gram Cafe – You can’t go to Japan and not try the Japanese “soufflé” pancakes! Only a number of these are made each day, at certain times. We were able to get in before the crowd and tried three different items on the menu. Of course, I had to get the premium pancakes to see what the hype was about. I would see it all over social media and just had to try it for myself. The pancakes were airy and soft, it was like biting into a sweet cloud. I usually prefer waffles over pancakes, but I might give an exception to Japanese pancakes. Another notable item has to be the bananas foster pancakes. The caramelized sugar on top of the bananas just added the perfect touch. It reminded me of crème brûlée, and I LOVE crème brûlée.
Daily Chico – My goal was to try at least 1 or 2 dessert or ice cream places a day, but that didn’t happen. But it’s okay! I got to try Daily Chico and that’s all that matters. The layers of flavors consisted of: strawberry, coffee, vanilla, chocolate, cantaloupe, matcha green tea, grape, and ramune (Japanese soda). We felt like the chocolate was a little overpowering but it didn’t matter too much. All of that was forgotten once we dug into the grape and ramune flavors. Compared to all of the other ice cream shops we tried, this is in our top 3. It was a little out-of-the-way, but totally worth the trip!
Ikinari Steak – After an entire day on our feet, the last thing we needed was to end the night standing while we eat. We hardly ate that day and just wanted a solid, full meal, and this did just that. Luckily, they had a couple of tables with bar stools, which was a huge relief! Just like any steakhouse, you choose your cut and weight. We went with the Japanese domestic beef rib-eye because we prefer ribeye over sirloin. As you wait for your food, you can watch the butcher slice off your order, and weigh it on a scale. Next thing you know, your food comes out on a sizzling plate ready for you to dig in. There’s a variety of sauces and seasonings to choose from but you’d be surprised how well wasabi goes with it! (Not the cheap artificial ones.)
Tsurutontan Udon – Home of Japan’s popular udon noodle eatery. As much as I wanted to try the other dishes that were offered, I just had to stick with the classic beef udon. The clear broth was full of flavor and the noodles were perfection. The bowls here are massive but you still get to choose how much noodles you get. You get a choice between small, medium or large, but I believe the medium and large are the same prices? Correct me if I’m wrong! This was definitely a delicious meal, and was a great place for us to seek shelter from the cold and rain that day.
Kagetsudo Asakusa – If you’ve had Hong Kong style pineapple buns, then you’ll find that Japan’s melon pans are similar! Located at a small shop near Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa, you’ll find Tokyo’s best melon pan. Soft on the inside, slightly crispy on the outside, and dusted with a light coat of sugar. This was a great snack and would even be good for breakfast. They also serve it stuffed with any flavor soft serve ice cream you want! The presentation wasn’t very nice and it melted so quickly, so I didn’t get a chance to snap a photo before we devoured it. There were a few other melon pan shops in the area, but it did not compare! This was definitely our favorite location.
Ichiran Ramen – A ramen joint that’s open 24 hours! Here, you’ll insert your yen into a vending machine, and select the items you’d like to order. You’re seated in an individual booth and given a sheet to decide how you want to customize your ramen. Shortly after, you’ll receive your piping hot bowl of noodles. You can find Ichiran Ramen all around Tokyo, as well as Osaka. There’s also a location in Brooklyn, NY!
Maisen Tonkatsu – We got to try so many katsu places, but I have to say, this was one of the best ones we had. I originally wanted to get the katsu sandwiches but they were already sold out. Instead, I opted for the Kurobuta Tonkatsu and was glad I did! Kurobuta is “black pork” aka Berkshire pork. The deep fried pork cutlet had the perfect panko-crust breading, and it wasn’t greasy at all!
Gindaco – My favorite takoyaki so far (we didn’t get to try many places). It’s perfectly crispy on the outside! If you prefer the soft, ooey gooey takoyaki, this isn’t the place for you. Gindaco can also be found in Osaka.
Shirohige’s Cream Puffs – If you have time to travel outside of the city, there’s a very cute cafe bakery outside of Tokyo! Here, you can find these ADORABLE Totoro cream puffs. Some of their flavors change seasonally, but you can find flavors like vanilla custard and chocolate cream, all year-round.
Bake Cheesetart – We randomly came across this in one of the shopping centers, but it can be found all across Japan. What’s a cheesetart you ask? It’s basically a mini cheesecake, in a pastry tart crust. This creamy, cheesy filling inside of a buttery, flaky crust is surely something you shouldn’t miss! We enjoyed it both warm and freshly baked, as well as cold the following day.
Other places we’ve been:
Food: Tsukiji Fish Market, Chicken 678, Shake Shack, Gyu-kaku BBQ, Genki Revolving Sushi, Paradise Dynasty (soup dumplings), Tokyu Food Show (food hall), KFC (different type of batter, egg tarts), Kyoto Katsugyu, 7-Eleven, Lawson’s, Family Mart
Drinks: Hitachino Brewing Lab
Dessert: Croquant Chou Zakuzaku, Floresta Nature Doughnuts, Pablo Cheesetart, Dominique Ansel Bakery, The World’s Second Best Melonpan (世界で2番目においしい焼きたてメロンパンアイス渋谷店), Creme de la Creme (cream puffs), Mister Donut, Lord Stow’s Bakery (egg tarts)
You can find food and travel tips for Kansai Region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Kobe & etc) here.