Tokyo is a vibrant city. It's chaotic, but everybody moves with respect and order. Upon arrival, we discovered that the Tokyo metro system is a labyrinth. Luckily, Japanese people are happy to help. The majority of them don't speak English, but the ones that do, will stop and ask if you need help when they see your lost gaze looking at the metro map. The Tokyo metro doesn't run 24 hours so make sure you don't arrive too late at night. We could get close to our hotel but then we had to abandon our metro adventure and get a taxi for around $30.
The first thing on our to-do list was the Senso-Ji temple. It's a FREE attraction listed in all the travel guides/blogs and we thought it was the best stop to start our trip into the Japanese culture. The temple is pretty and the story behind is interesting, but there is not much to see. After the beautifully decorated entrance door, you walk along an avenue full of food and clothes stalls. Then you get to the shrine which is protected by a mesh net. The area is packed with tourists. We took a couple of photos and left. There is a cute little fortune game that you can do just outside the shrine. You'll see it. I leave it as a surprise!
If you go to Japan in summer, make sure you stay hydrated because it's hot and humid. The fruity waters sold in the metro machines are the perfect way to get the liquid that your body needs and experience different flavors. My personal favorite is peach water. It tastes like the real fruit and if you're a peach fan like me you'll love it! When it's time to fill up your stomach the best way to enjoy local food and know what you eat is picking the restaurants that have a wax model of their food behind the glass outside of the door. It's a great way to showcase what they sell. Just take a couple of photos of your choices and show them to the waiter. We tried the experience close to the Senso-Ji temple at Kamiya Bar (3rd floor) and we loved it!
The two towers of the Metropolitan Government Building have an observatory on the 45th floor. This attraction is also FREE and you will avoid the expensive ticket and long line at the Sky Tree. After that, you can take a stroll at Chuo Park. We topped off the day with a heart and stomach warming ramen bowl at Kaijin Ramen at Shinjuku Station, one of those tiny hidden places where locals go.
The Imperial Palace was another thing on our list. We just wanted to take a stroll in the gardens and we were hoping to take some photos of the palace from afar. We were looking for its majestic shape to come out from behind the trees, but we soon discovered that you can hardly see it (it's surrounded by walls and a moat). The best view of the imperial complex is from the main gate (Hibiya metro station).
At Shibuya Crossing you will understand the meaning of the expression: "sea of people." Shibuya is that huge and crowded intersection that they always show on tv when they talk about Tokyo. It's really something! We stayed there for a good 15min to take photos, time-lapses, stare at the crowd and at the giant talking billboards. I have never seen a crowd like that in my entire traveler's life. The thing that shocked me the most about Tokyo is that, despite the enormous crowds, the streets are clean and everybody acts politely, with respect. This unique way of living gives a sense of order to the chaos.
Lunch in the metro, stations and shopping malls is cheap and good (the best choice for on budget travelers). The food culture in Japan doesn't care about the place where the food is sold. The magic word is fresh and healthy EVERYWHERE.
Last but not least, visit the Harajuku neighborhood. I didn't find this in travel guides/blogs, I know about it because Gwen Stefani got inspired by the Harajuku girls style for her video and she was interviewed by Chelsea TV show about the experience. It's a colorful and vibrant neighborhood, worth seeing.
The final tip is about the metro: if you need to switch line (they belong to different private companies), exit from the ORANGE turnstile, otherwise you will have to purchase another ticket.
WHERE TO STAY:
Hotel Horidome Villa located in a quiet nice neighborhood away from touristy spots. The room was tiny but clean and the service was impeccable.