This post is part of a series on the highlights from our 2017 trip to Japan. You can find the other posts here!
We spent about 5 days in Tokyo – 2 at the beginning, and 3 at the end. Tokyo is a pretty amazing place, and there was so much going on that it was impossible to see it all – but here are some of the highlights!
Dannii and I have only seen a handful of Studio Ghibli films, but after reading up a bit about the Ghibli Museum, we knew we had to go!
You do have to book and pay online in advance, but you then get to exchange your booking confirmation for beautiful tickets which are strips of film from Ghibli movies! Your ticket also gets you a seat in the Saturn Theatre to watch an original short film. As far as I can tell, the short films are all in Japanese (no subtitles!), but the language barrier is no impediment to enjoying the beauty of the animation and music.
You’re not allowed to take photos inside the Museum, so these outdoor photos will have to suffice as an example of the pure wonder and whimsy that was the Museum. It was a beautiful place to explore and learn about the creative process that results in Ghibli movies. We spent almost a whole day there to soak in the whole experience, and loved every minute.
There are six sumo tournaments held in Japan each year – three in Tokyo, and one each in Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. Our trip happened to coincide with the dates of the September tournament in Tokyo, so we bought tickets for one day of the tournament through BuySumoTickets.com.
I’m not really a ‘sports’ person, but I really enjoyed watching the sumo tournament! The bouts can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. As the day wears on and the higher ranked wrestlers perform, the atmosphere in the stadium swells and electrifies. If you’ve never watched sumo before, I would definitely recommend spending one afternoon at a tournament if the dates line up!
Mangekyo by Drum Tao
One of the cool things that we ended up booking last-minute (as in, purchasing tickets online while waiting at the airport to board our flight!) was tickets to Mangekyo, a show by Taiko group Drum Tao!
It’s hard to describe the performance, but it was a pretty amazing display of musicianship and athleticism! Drum Tao recently performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert – you can check out the video below to get a taste of their show!
Shopping and exploring
One of my favourite experiences in Tokyo was heading to Kakimori, a lovely little boutique stationery shop, where I made my own custom notebook!
The shop itself is full of lovely stationery, and you can try every single pen in the store before you decide on ‘the one’! And If you’re into fountain pens, you can also visit Ink Stand, which just just a few doors down the road, where you can blend your own custom ink colour.
As for the custom notebooks – you can select everything from the covers and closures to the type of spiral binding. You can also mix and match different types of paper or even envelopes to include inside of your notebook.
Once you have made all of your selections, the very friendly staff will make your notebook right then and there! If the store is busy, you might have to wait a little while – but that’s enough time to keep browsing the other stationery on offer in-store, or take a short walk to Dandelion Chocolate for a drink and a snack (see the next section for more on Dandelion Chocolate!)
The notebook I made featured a fabric front cover and a paper/board back cover, a leather button closure and gold spiral binding, with a cream embossed envelope and grid paper inside. I’m using the notebook to collect beautiful and inspirational quotes, and I just love it.
If you do end up going to Kakimori and have a bit of time to kill while they make your custom notebook, head to Dandelion Chocolate just a short walk away for something delicious!
Dandelion Chocolate started in San Francisco, and has opened three locations in Japan. The Tokyo factory/cafe is a haven of delicious chocolate drinks and treats, and you can even watch workers making and wrapping small-batch chocolate bars while you sip on one of the smoothest, most delicious hot chocolates you have ever tasted.
Our favourite treat was the ‘frozen hot chocolate’, an amazing cold drink that was thick, rich, and utterly delightful!
Arguably the most famous thing about Shibuya is the Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world. It is definitely quite a sight! We were there on a weekend, so it wasn’t quite as busy as we’d heard – but still pretty interesting to watch!
We also really loved exploring the shopping district around Shibuya station – a great place to browse and people-watch.
Like Shinjuku, Harajuku was a fascinating area to just walk around and experience. It was pretty crowded and busy, but there were so many unique stores to check out! One of my favourite places was Kiddy Land, a massive 6-level toy store that has every toy imaginable – including one level called ‘Snoopy World’ dedicated to merchandise featuring everyone’s favourite beagle! Such a great place to get some unique gifts for the kids (or kids-at-heart) in your life!
If you’re a stationery addict, then add a trip to Ginza Itoya to your list! There are two buildings making up this 100-year old stationery/lifestyle store, one with 6 floors and the other with a whopping 12, including a cafe!
Itoya has an impressive range of Japanese stationery, paper, craft supplies and home goods. I spent a good few hours wandering each floor admiring everything, and we left with a pretty hefty bag of purchases and a much lighter wallet!
Other things to see and do
While the attractions and places above were our favourite things from the Tokyo leg of our trip, we also did a bunch of other fun things that deserve a mention in this ‘Highlights’ series. So here is a quick list of other things to see and do in Tokyo!
Learn about Tokyo’s history at the Edo-Tokyo Museum
The permanent exhibition at the Edo-Tokyo Museum is a great way to learn about various aspects of life in Tokyo from the Edo Period to recent decades!
Visit Sensoji in Asakusa
Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, built in the 7th century, is Tokyo’s oldest temple, and definitely worth a visit.
Meet a robot or two at the Miraikan
The Miraikan, also known as the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, is a fascinating place to explore if you’re interested in robotics, advanced technology, and space exploration!
Akihabara, Japan’s electric town, is home to hundreds of electronics stores and shops devoted to anime and manga – a great place to explore!
Admire the view from the top of the Metropolitan Government Office
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building offers pretty amazing panoramic views of Tokyo and the surrounding area from its observation decks – and it’s free!
Of course, there’s plenty more to see and do in Tokyo, but I hope that this list of the highlights from our trip has been helpful for you! Next up – highlights from Hakone, Miyajima and Hiroshima!