When I first visited Japan, five years ago, I didn’t realise it would take me so long to come back. But I finally did! I only had ten days to explore, which is not nearly enough, but it was wonderful wandering around Tokyo in the autumn sun.

I visited some of my favourite places and discovered a few new ones. The beautiful days meant that I saw Mount Fuji in the distance time and again. I spent my time in busy cafés and quiet parks, huge shops with loud music and small trains with quiet people. Tokyo is a whole world.

What to see and do:

I explored some of my favourite neighbourhoods. Ginza and Nihonbashi were full of Christmas decorations. Harajuku and Omotesando were bustling with life as always. Ueno park looked picture-perfect on a sunny autumn day. Yanaka was great for exploring with its cute shops and fun cafés. 

In Shibuya, Christmas lights led to way to Yoyogi park. The Hikarie Hall is a good place to get views of the area, including the Scramble Crossing. It is free to visit, you just take a lift to the 11th floor.

Godzilla continues to look over the narrow streets in Shinjuku. Nearby, Tokyo Metropolitan Building has amazing views over Tokyo, and it’s free to visit. On a sunny day you can spot Mount Fuji in the distance.

Shimokitazawa is another fun area to explore, with lots of vintage shops, as well as plenty of restaurants.

Daikanyama is a cool neighbourhood with plenty of interesting shops and cafés. There’s a large branch of Tsutaya bookshop that you can spend hours exploring even without knowing Japanese. In the same area is the Asakusa Residence, an example of historical architecture with an amazing garden.

Although the famous fish market has moved to a new location, Tsukiji remains a great location to explore, with lots of stalls selling all sorts of food. It’s not particularly veggie-friendly (although there are a few options), but just taking in the atmosphere is great fun.

Asakusa always very busy with people shopping and eating treats on the way to Senso-ji temple. I like visiting in the evening when it’s quieter. Nearby, Kappabashi street has shop after shop of kitchen supplies, from famous Japanese knives to graters in every size and shape imaginable. 

I visited Setagaya Boroichi market, a large local market that has taken place for 400 years. Stalls sell all sorts of old and new items, as well as plenty of food and drink. Great for shopping as well as people watching.

Nearby is Komazawa, a peaceful local neighbourhood with a beautiful park that hosted some of the Olympic events in 1964.

You can carry on to Jiyugaoka, a cute area with interesting upmarket shops and restaurants. The area is known as Little Europe, and it even includes an inexplicable replica of a small Venetian canal. 

Tokyo Station is a whole city within itself, with enough shops and restaurants that you don’t even need to leave the station if you don’t want to. Character Street is full of shops selling toys and other stuff from every Japanese famous character. Nearby is Marunouchi, a beautiful area close to the Imperial Palace.

Yayoi Kusama Museum: a small but beautiful museum with plenty of amazing artworks. The bathrooms are an attraction in themselves, covered in polka dots as you’d expect in this setting. Tickets must be booked in advance.

Japanese gardens:

Koishikawa Korakuen: I had been to this garden before, but it was worth visiting again to view the autumn colours. Zen gardens are always a reminder of how Japan seamlessly connects old and new, and there’s nothing like an hour in a peaceful garden in the middle of Tokyo to remind one of this duality. Korakuen garden looks absolutely stunning in autumn, with trees in all shades of yellow to red.

Kiyosumi: this was the first Japanese garden I visited when I first came to Japan. It is a beautiful garden with lots of little details to take in. By the pond, you can spot a lone crane watching while ducks sleep in the sunshine. There is a monument to Basho, which reads:

‘The sound of a frog, jumping into an old pond’

Nowhere is a haiku more fitting.

Day trips:

Kamakura and Enoshima: I had visited Kamakura before. It’s a nice town about one hour from Tokyo, and there are many interesting temples and shrines to explore. The Great Buddha is very impressive. Hasedera has amazing views of the sea, and the red shades of autumn made for a particularly memorable visit.

Enoshima is an island a short train ride away. You walk over the bridge to explore different locations in the island. The main draw are the amazing views of Mount Fuji, so going on a clear sunny day is ideal.

Kawagoe: Located about an hour from Tokyo, Kawagoe is known as Little Edo because of its traditional architecture. It’s a good place for a day trip, as there are lots of small shops selling traditional sweets, a famous bell tower and a couple of interesting shrines to explore. 


Vegetarian food is not the norm in Japan, but many chains will have an option. There are lots of cafés around, so stopping for a drink is always a good alternative for a quick break with something light to eat.

Conveninence stores are an attraction in themselves. There’s always one around the corner, with a never-ending supply of food and snacks at cheap prices. 

  • Ts Tantan: an old favourite, this is a popular vegan place with a few locations in Tokyo. It’s one of the best places for an easy vegan meal. It’s famous for its vegan ramen, but they also offer other options at their Jiyugaoka location.
  • Saryo Tsujiri, in one of the shopping centres around Tokyo Station is a great place to try matcha-based desserts. They serve amazing parfait in different styles accompanied by delicious houjicha. A perfect place for an indulgent break.
  • Aoyama Flower Market Tea House: a small chain with a few cafés serving delicious tea and desserts, all pretty as a picture. Their cafés are always decorated with seasonal flowers from their shops.
  • Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory: a cafe famous for its cute and delicious Totoro-shaped cream puffs. It gets busy, so it’s a good idea to arrive early.
  • Wired Bonbon: a cute cafe in Shinjuku serving a great selection of vegan parfait and other desserts.
  • Hoshino coffee: a chain that serves simple breakfast sets with their signature coffee.
  • Coco Ichibanya: a Japanese curry chain with clearly labelled vegan options.
  • Muji cafe: for those who love this minimalist shop, their cafes (located inside some of their larger outlets) are a nice place for a break, serving a small selection of dishes, including desserts.
  • Mos Burger: this fast food chain has a plant-based burger and a few other veggie options. It’s a good alternative for an easy meal and a break in exploring.


I visited some of the popular local shops, like Daiso, Tokyu Hands, Loft, Muji and Uniqlo, all of which have flagship stores with more floors than you’d ever need to see.

Sousou is a shop from Kyoto, but they also have a location in Tokyo. They have lots of colourful products, including clothes and tabi shoes.

Buying tax free in Japan is really easy, with larger stores actively promoting it. You need to spend over 5000 yen at once, and there are some eligibility criteria, but it usually works well. You need to present your passport.

How to do it:

  • When to visit: I went in early December. It’s a great time to visit as you still get the fall colours and the weather was very mild, with 15 degrees on sunny days. Every indoor place is very well heated, so it’s best to wear a light jacket.
  • Visit Japan Web: a new official app that helps make covid and immigration procedures easy when you arrive in Japan.
  • Stay: I stayed in Tosei Hotel Cocone Kanda, a comfortable place located close to Tokyo Station with plenty of convenient transport links.


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I’m a big believer that your experience of a place depends not only on the place itself, but also on where you are in your life when you visit it. And I got to Tokyo right at the perfect time!

I was never particularly interested in Japan when I was growing up, but when I first started planning my sabbatical it was at the top of my list.

The night I arrived in Tokyo, as soon as I got out of Tokyo Station and started walking to my capsule hotel, I knew this was going to be a great trip. From the start of my trip I loved everything: the bright neon signs, the cute packaging, the quietness of zen gardens and the loudness of busy streets.

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Most people I know like Kyoto better than Tokyo – Kyoto has more of what we expect traditional Japan to be: it has endless amounts of incredible temples and lots of cool restaurants and bars. And although I had a great time in Kyoto, Tokyo for me just doesn’t compare. It is the most incredible city ever.

Tokyo goes forever – I spent 23 days there and I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface. Just walking around, day or night, I’d spend hours trying to soak it all in. From the sensory overload of Shinjuku to the attractiveness of Ginza to the traditional liveliness of Asakusa, Tokyo has it all, and then some.

I’m an urban soul, and I always feel recharged when I’m in a good big city – and Tokyo is the ‘citiest’ of cities.

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I don’t really believe in perfection, but Japan gets very close. Everything works incredibly well, and given how different their culture is from that of Europe, it is amazing how easy things are.

Their famous transport network really works incredibly – and despite how busy it is, you’re really struck by how clean and quiet the trains are.

There are lots of things to make your life easy: the vending machines, convenience stores, products you never knew you needed, toilets with lots of buttons, restaurants where you place your order through a machine – everything is efficient and works.

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Japan also has an interesting dualism, being maximalist and minimalist at the same time. There’s the OTT neon signs, the kawaii cartoon characters on anything from sweets to health & safety messages, the insanity of discount stores filled floor to ceiling with all the tat in the world.

Then there’s the quiet of zen gardens, the simplicity of interior design where nothing is superfluous, the streamlined processes. Japan wouldn’t be the same without both.

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Another interesting paradox is that Japanese society, despite placing a greater emphasis on the collective, actually delivers greatness at the individual level too (of course this doesn’t apply to the exploitation of their workforce).

When you buy something in Japan, no matter how small, the rituals and formality around it always made me feel great about it – things are presented to you like they matter (even if you’re just buying a bottle of water) – and you’re treated like the only customer in the world. I’m a terrible shopper but in Japan I always felt good after buying something. This attention to detail really has a great impact on the individual experience.

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The Japanese people I met along the way were always interested to know my impressions of Japan and asked if I was having a good time – which of course I was. They seemed eager to please and to ensure I had a good experience.

Japanese people are discreet, but they are also helpful – without asking I was quickly shown how to do something or where to go on a number of occasions.

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I had the most wonderful time in Japan. It’s a magical country that is a whole world in itself. After one month, I still felt in awe at the smallest things like the potholes decorated with cherry blossoms or the way things always work.

This was the trip of a lifetime, and I would love to go back, but as they say in Lost in Translation:

“Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.”

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EATING, SHOPPING, GETTING AROUND: How to plan a trip to Japan (part 2)

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Japan is famous for its reliable public transport network, and it really works very well.

Metro: In cities the metro and urban rail systems are the easiest way to get around. There are plenty of trains and signage is good. Rush hour (which seems to be from 6pm until forever) is insanely busy, but you can always get on a train as people push themselves in.

Bus: Buses are very good and easy to use when you are on board. You pay with your metro card and there are usually digital displays showing upcoming stops. The tricky thing is to find the right bus to take, as there are sometimes many stops next to each other with only Japanese signs.

Google Maps: I did pretty much all of my journeys with Google Maps, and it worked really well. You get options of different lines and cost of the trip, as well as train times (which is very useful when more than one line stops at the same platform). The only difficulty was with some buses as Google Maps wasn’t very good at showing bus stops. But overall I’d have spent a lot more time thinking of how to get to places if it weren’t for Google Maps.

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The best way to pay for your trips is to use a metro card (Pasmo or Suica) which you can get at ticket machines. Journey prices vary depending on the distance, but with a card you just top up a few thousand yen and recharge when you run out (they even have machines inside the barriers in case you run out of credit during a trip).


Tokyo has an intricate metro and train system, but it’s not too difficult to navigate. The stations are often huge (Shinjuku receives 3 million commuters every day, making it the busiest station in the world), with lots of shops and restaurants both in and outside the barriers.

Most popular areas will have a few metro stations, and the JR Yamanote line is a circular line that goes around many of the main areas of Tokyo. The city is very flat so you can also cover a lot on foot, which is a great way of discovering little streets off the beaten track.

There is no weekly or monthly pass covering all types of transportation, so topping up a metro card is the easiest option.

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Buying a JR Pass is the best option for those travelling around Japan. It is a train pass that covers all Japan Rail (JR) trains, some Shinkansen (bullet trains) and some urban trains. There are options for 7, 14 or 21 days. I bought the 21-day option at £387 because I was doing two long Shinkansen trips and that in itself already covered the cost of the pass.

I also used it in shorter trips and lots around Tokyo (it covers the Yamanote line which is very useful). It is definitely a good thing to buy if you’re doing any Shinkansen trips.

You need to buy it before you get to Japan (although at the moment they’re trialling selling it in some places there), and you exchange it once you get there. It’s very easy to use an you can find all the info here.

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Having a data plan on my phone from the moment I arrived in Japan made a huge difference for my trip. You can buy different plans on arrival at Narita Airport.

I bought the Docomo SIM for Y6500 for 30 days including 5GB, and for me that was a good option. There are many kiosks with different offers so I kind of chose randomly, but there’s a good guide here.

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Some hotels and Airbnbs give you portable WiFi devices which are also an alternative, but from my experience these aren’t always reliable so I was happy to have my own data plan as a backup.

Tokyo stations, large shops and convenience stores often have WiFi spots.

Because Japanese addresses are tricky to understand, if you’re looking for specific places such as restaurants you definitely need reliable access to the internet, so I wouldn’t risk going without to save money.

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Given how different Japan is from Europe, they really make it easy for you to do things.

Vending machines are everywhere (most selling soft drinks), as are convenience stores – locally known as combini – which are great places to find unusual snacks and drinks. They are open 24h and sell everything you may need. After a while you start to prefer specific snacks from specific shops (Lawson, 7 Eleven and Family Mart are the most common).

Coin lockers are another great Japanese ubiquity. Available in most stations, it is the simplest way to store your luggage (or shopping) while you explore the city.

All of the above can often be paid with your metro card, which is a nice and easy thing to do.

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Japan is famously expensive, but you actually don’t need to spend that much to do things once you’re there.

My main expenses were plane tickets (cheap at around £450), my rail pass (21 days for almost £400) and accommodation (between £20-£35 per night, which is not a lot but I did stay there just over one month). So I spent most before I actually got there.

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On the day to day I found things pretty cheap: a metro ride will cost less than £1.50, entrance to temples and museums is usually around Y500 and food is cheap at combini or restaurant chains. Things to buy are also usually cheaper than in the UK.

Tokyo Cheapo is a great website with lots of tips on how to save money and free things to do.

I spent a lot of my time in Tokyo just walking around and taking it all in, which doesn’t really cost anything. So I found that Japan wasn’t a particularly expensive country and you can definitely save money – but of course there are plenty of options to splurge if you want to.

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Japan is a shopping paradise, and even though I’m not one for shopping, I still visited tons of shops, bought some things (mostly pens and bath salts) and was fascinated by the insane amount of things to buy. You often walk into a shop only to discover it actually covers many floors.

There are countless articles and videos about where to buy stuff, but my favourite shops were:

  • Tokyu Hands and Loft: both had tons of all sorts of products and particularly great stationery supplies;
  • Muji and Uniqlo: even though you get these in the UK, they have different products in Japan (Muji has lots of yummy snacks) and are worth a visit.

Discount shops such as Daiso and Don Quijote are good for the prices, but they are often very busy and chaotic – not the best shopping experience.

Things are overall reasonably priced and good quality, and you can find lots of interesting things to buy.

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I knew that Japanese food wasn’t going to be veggie-friendly, so I did a lot of research in advance. The fact that Japan is also full of amazing restaurants, street food and cafes makes it harder – it’s just not a place that lets you forget about food.

Restaurants in Japan often specialise in one thing, so a sushi restaurant may really only serve sushi – which means it’s best to look for places that specialise in something which usually has veggie options.

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Self-catering was a huge help, as were Happy Cow’s recommendations. We did find quite a few great options for veggie places all over Tokyo and Kyoto, and although they weren’t particularly expensive as compared to the UK, these were not everyday options.

Some cheap restaurants do have a few veggie options: Coco Ichibanya, a popular Japanese curry house have a full vegan menu (curries for about Y700); Saizeriya, an Italian-ish family restaurant has veggie pizza and pasta for as little as Y299 and a small glass of wine for Y100; Tenya Tendon has veggie tempura (a bit greasy) for around Y500.

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Combini have plenty of veggie snacks (but not many meals), including onigiri (rice balls) which are often labelled in English and a good selection of baked goods. I also found that Muji had a great selection of yummy snacks – a bit more expensive than at combini, but also better quality.

One thing about buying snacks is that in Japan you’re not supposed to eat in public transportation or while walking – so you need to find a place where to sit and eat your food too.

Also useful was Google Translate, which gives you the option to look up images and translate them, which allowed me to check ingredient lists with a good success rate.

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But despite Japanese food not being particularly veggie-friendly, I did find they had an enormous amount of options for coffee and pastry places – from cheap cafe chains to fancy bakeries. These are great for a break and were reliably good, so I preferred to look out for dessert places.

A great find was Milk, that has a stall at Shinjuku station serving the creamiest soft-serve (for Y500). I also tried itayaki (a fish-shaped sweet pancake filled with custard or bean paste) and mochi (a sweet made of rice flour filled with different flavours – the traditional ones like red bean paste are vegan). And Harajuku is full of sweets and snack places.

So although veggies and vegans do miss out on some of the impressive array of Japanese food, doing some research makes it easier, and you definitely get to try a good range of different things.

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SOLO TRAVEL AND A CAPSULE HOTEL: How to plan a trip to Japan (part 1)

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Despite travelling a lot, I felt I needed to do lots of research before going to Japan, and I definitely think that helped. I bought an old Lonely Planet guide, and also used Japan Guide and Tokyo Cheapo a lot, as well as watching LOTS of youtube videos (I really like Abroad in Japan).

I really think the research I did helped, particularly with logistics around transportation, money and understanding how some things work. It was also good to get some inspiration, and the Monocle guide book for Tokyo has the best recommendations, many of them off the beaten track.

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Booking flights in advance is essential for getting a good deal on a trip to Japan. BA sales offer direct flights from £620 but tickets are limited and you need to be flexible with dates.

I flew with Turkish Airlines (which is often the cheapest company for long haul), and got a great price around £450 from Gatwick airport. With a stop in Istanbul, the total time of my journey was around 16h.

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There’s a lot to see in Japan but I really wanted to experience Tokyo life, so I decided not to do much travelling. I spent 23 days in Tokyo, 6 days in Kyoto and 3 days in Nara. I also did a day trip to Kamakura and Yokohama.

To me this was the right balance as I got to see lots of Tokyo – although I still feel I could spend months there and not see it all! I also had plenty of time in Nara and Kyoto, which was good as I didn’t want to rush anything.

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I’d love to go back to Japan and travel some more – Osaka, Hiroshima and Nikko would be at the top of my list – but I would also come back just to stay in Tokyo again.

Travelling around Japan is easy so if you’re planning a trip across the country you can cover a lot of ground by train.

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I spent the whole of October in Japan and that was a good time to go. Summers are supposed to be really hot and spring can get very busy because of cherry blossom season. Autumn temperatures are perfect for exploring at around 15-20 degrees, although I did get over 27 degrees in Kyoto! You also get to see the autumn tints, and particularly in Kyoto that is really nice.

Tokyo is very rainy, which is evident by the amount of umbrellas on sale everywhere and stands where to leave your umbrella when you go into a shop. I did get a particularly bad week when it rained a lot (it was typhoon season), but in general the weather was good. I’d definitely visit in October again.

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I spent one month in Japan, and most of that time I was by myself – my husband joined me for one week. I have no problem with travelling alone in general (only exceptions would be places considered unsafe for women), but Japan is actually a great place for solo travel.

Firstly, Japan is very safe, so I never needed to worry about walking alone at night or anything like that. But the best thing about Japan is there people there seem to do a lot of things alone, so it feels very normal to do things by yourself. This is most evident in restaurants and cafes which always have individual tables and no one thinks it’s weird to get a table for one.

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And everywhere you go, from shops to museums to gardens, there are lots and lots of people by themselves – so even though I’m happy to do things alone it made me really aware that doing things solo is a much bigger part of Japanese rather than European culture.

This made me more at ease, as I knew that I could go anywhere by myself and would be just one more in the crowd of people doing things by themselves.

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For the first few nights on my stay in Tokyo, I decided to book a capsule hotel. I spent four nights at Oak Cabin (£18 per night), which was cheap and centrally located.

The capsule itself was nice and cozy, and the facilities were great: there was a big lounge and kitchen area, spotless and well-equipped showers and bathroom. The downside was the noise during the night – many people arrive late or are jet-lagged, so there’s always some noise (earplugs are essential).

All in all I enjoyed the experience – it’s not very different from staying in a hostel, and it’s a good option if you’re alone in Tokyo.

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After I got back from my Kyoto trip I spent 20 nights at an Airbnb. Accommodation in Tokyo can be expensive if you’re travelling alone, but you can find good options on Airbnb.

The key thing is to decide at which area you want to stay – I wanted somewhere close to Shinjuku and the place I chose was only a short metro ride away. I found that facilities in Japan are generally of a high standard, and every place I stayed at was very well-equipped.

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QUIET PONDS AND MANICURED TREES: Exploring magical zen gardens in Tokyo

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Traditional Japanese Gardens are great places to relax in Tokyo. They’re usually not very busy and visited mostly by locals.

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I decided to visit this place as it was close to where I was staying. What a wonderful surprise!

This is a picture-perfect XIX century Japanese garden, and you can spend a couple of hours taking in the manicured landscape, watching tortoises and carp laze about and having a picnic with a view (tickets Y150). This was the first Japanese garden I visit and one of my favourites.

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I visited Koishikawa Korakuen Garden (ticket Y300) at the end of my Japanese adventure, and it was one of my favourite places!

This is a massive Japanese garden full of little gems – waterfalls, red bridges, lakes, fruits trees etc. I visited on a beautiful sunny day in early November, when you could catch the red tint of autumn leaves which made it the perfect time for a visit.

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The place is pretty big, so you can spend an hour or two exploring and having a snack enjoying the view.

Japanese gardens are always amazing, but this one was probably my favourite!

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Rikugien Garden (tickets Y300) is inspired by scenes in Japanese poems. It is a large garden full of little places to explore, including a human-made hill with great views over the garden and a little waterfall.

It’s located in a quiet neighbourhood but definitely worth the trip.

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Close to Tsukiji Market, Hamarikyu is a nice green area in central Tokyo (tickets Y300). The place is really big, with many ponds (filled with water from Tokyo Bay), traditional buildings and cafes.

As it covers a large area, it’s more like an urban park than a garden, and as you take in the quiet atmosphere you also see the contrasting skyscrapers nearby.

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Gyoen Garden (tickets Y200) is another place to escape the madness. It’s a quiet garden right by Shinjuku with lots of different areas, including a traditional Japanese garden. It’s the perfect place to recharge with a picnic.

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Tokyo doesn’t have many green areas, but its gardens really are the best!


Tokyo has lots of different areas, but many visitors don’t get to explore much outside the tourist trail. These are some cool places I went to in Tokyo:

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Even before I went to Japan I knew I wanted to visit the Ghibli Museum, but it was still better than I expected!

The museum is located in a park in Mitaka, and even from the outside the place already looks great. Inside, over three floors there are a range of exhibits about the different Studio Ghibli movies, as well as a cool shop and a cafe.

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There’s also a cinema where you watch a short film (in Japanese, but you understand the story from the context). The building is really cool with lots of little nooks and an architecture that brings the displays to life and replicates the atmosphere from Ghibli films.

Tickets cost Y1000 but need to be purchased well in advance on specific dates via this website. They sell out really quickly, which means staying up until 3 or 4am in Europe to get them when they first become available.

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I decided to follow the walking tour directions from my excellent Monocle travel guide.

Daikanyama is a cool upmarket neighbourhood full of shops and cafes. The best thing there is the flagship branch of Tsutaya bookshop – two huge floors of inspiration with books (many in English), design objects, a music shop, lounge and lots of sitting space where you can read a book with a cup of coffee. It’s a great find.

Sendagaya is an unassuming area not far from Shibuya. Here you can find little independent shops and many restaurants.

Both areas were good for seeing a chilled side of Tokyo off the beaten track.

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I was planning to visit the Edo Tokyo Museum but it was closed for refurbishment. Luckly, there was a sign nearby with directions to the Sumida Hokusai Museum, so I decided to check it out. This is a small but well put-together space, focusing on Hokusai’s life in the area around Sumida, the river that inspired many of his works (tickets Y1200 including temporary exhibitions).


Built with reclaimed land in the XIX century, Tsukishima is an island in Tokyo Bay. The area is full of cool cafes and restaurants, and little alleyways where locals live. It’s a great place to wander around for a bit, and off the beaten track.

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Gotokuji is a nice and fun temple to visit in Tokyo. It’s not as impressive as some other temples, but it’s located in a quiet neighbourhood so it’s a good place for a break. The best thing about it are the many Menekineko (cat figurines) displayed around the site. This popular luck amulet is said to have originated here and has become its symbol.

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There are a few Ain Soph restaurants in Tokyo, and we visited Ain Soph Soar in Ikebukuro. This is a cool restaurant serving international food and it’s fully vegan.

We had cheese fondue, pasta and their signature pancakes for dessert, and all of it was great. Their Moscow Mule was really delicious too (dinner for two including drinks for Y6300). It’s a great place to visit for a special meal.

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FISH MARKETS AND BIG WHEELS: Tokyo diaries part 4

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One of Tokyo’s most famous attractions is the Tsukiji fish market. People can visit the auction in the early hours of the morning, but I decided to visit the outer area of the market later instead.

Very close to the market is Tsukiji Hongwanji, a Buddhist temple which is not super-impressive but worth a quick stop.

Reaching the market you get to experience the kind of Asian street food you see on tv. You can try fresh sushi, taste local fruit and sample mochi, the famous rice sweets. There are lots of unusual vegetables for sale, although these can be very expensive. Even for a veggie, it was a great place to visit, with lots to see.

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There are many places to see Tokyo from above, and the Skytree is one of the most famous. I decided not to enter (I visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which is free instead), but spent some time exploring the area around it.

There’s a huge shopping centre under it, with lots of shops selling anything from traditional Japanese handicraft to Hello Kitty merchandise.

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Tokyo Tower is another famous observation deck. The structure looks a bit like the Eiffel Tower, but in red and white. I chose not to climb it either, but on a sunny day the view is supposed to be really good.

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The Zogoji temple is a great place to visit if you’re going to the Tokyo Tower, as you get a nice contrast of old and modern with the temple right in front of Tokyo Tower. There are also lots of little statues with bibs that are really cute and cool.

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A popular area for going out, Roppongi is a nice neighbourhood full or bars and restaurants. It’s also home to Roppongi Hills, which hosts a massive shopping cenrtre and the Mori Art Museum (ticket Y1000), a modern art museum with lots of cool exhibitions. As it’s located on the 52nd floor, you also get amazing views over the city.

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Not too far from Roppongi is Asakasa, an upmarket office area which also has some shrines – I visited Hie Shrine which was very nice.


By Tokyo Bay, Odaiba is an area with lots of shopping centres and some local attractions. The shopping centres are what you’d expect, but the massive Gundam statue in front of them is worth a visit.

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The Miraikan – National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation – is a fun place to visit (tickets Y620). There are lots of interactive scientific displays, which are exactly what you’d expect of Japanese innovation. But the main attraction is definitely Asimo, the Honda robot that can hop on one leg.

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Odaiba is also home to a Ferris wheel which was the tallest in the world when it was built. At 115m high it really is huge, and on a sunny day you get amazing views over the bay (tickets Y920).

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You can also get great views over the impressive Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Bay from the promenade next to Aqua City, which aside from the views also has an inexplicable replica of the Statue of Liberty.

Odaiba is not a must see in Tokyo but it’s worth the visit if you have many days in the city.

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Ueno is home to a large park (Uenoonshi) where street artists entertain the crowds. It’s also where you can find many different museums. It was a rainy day, so I visited the Tokyo National Museum (ticket Y620), which has a great collection of Japanese artefacts.

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In the same park is also the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, which hosts a range of free and paid modern and contemporary art exhibitions. I visited a calligraphy one which was interesting.

Near Ueno station is Ameya Yokocho, a pedestrianised market street where stalls sell lots of food and souvenirs. It’s a lively area and good for a walk.

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Not far from Ueno, Akihabara (also known as Electric Town or Akiba) is a paradise for anime and electronics fans (I am neither). It’s a weird area full of girls dressed as maids inviting you to one of the many maid cafes around (I don’t think so) and buildings covered with manga on the walls.

There are lots of electronics shops, such as the massive Yodobashi, selling all sorts of stuff.

One fun thing to do around Akiba is going to an arcade (there are many around). You can play new and old video games (I played Super Mario World), try your luck in a prize machine to get a plush toy or manga-ify yourself getting decorated photo stickers. It’s a fun thing to do for a couple of hours.

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Not far from Ueno is Yanaka, an area off the beaten path which is most interesting because it’s one of the few areas of Tokyo which weren’t destroyed in the war. The place has a completely different feel from most of the city, and it’s definitely worth checking out. Yanaka Ginza is the main street, with lots of little shops and bars.

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It was dark when I crossed the Sumida river over to Asakusa, and I got amazing views of the Skytree, Asahi Beer Hall and a full moon.

Straightaway I knew Asakusa would be just my kind of place – lots of traditional-looking streets with little shops selling food, handicraft and souvenirs. The place is full of life and you can easily spend hours losing yourself and taking it all in.

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Nearby is the impressive Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple. The place is really impressive, and it was great seeing it at night with all the lights on, even if it was already shut. You can get your fortune for Y100, which is a fun thing to do.

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I decided to go back and explore some more during the day, and it was also great. The area gets really busy, as there are lots of shops and food stalls around, but it’s fast-moving and not too crowded. I tried itayaki (Y154), which is a pancake shaped as a fish with a sweet filling (the traditional one is red bean paste, but I chose custard instead).

Senso-ji Temple is also busier during the day, but there’s more to see as everything is open.

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I knew before I went to Tokyo that I wanted to stay somewhere around Shinjuku, so I spent I lot of my time in the area.

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One of the most popular areas of Tokyo is Shinjuku. As soon as you get off the station you’re overwhelmed by neon lights, bright screens and competing loud music.

There are shops everywhere, and a massive Godzilla head watches over you. This is the Tokyo of films. In Shinjuku you can shop at popular places like Don Quijote (don’t go there, it’s a nightmare) or Tokyu Hands; you can go to tourist traps like the Robot Restaurant (I didn’t visit) and you can enjoy lots of weird and wonderful bars.

It’s a good area to explore, and if you’re based around there, you will get to know it well.

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Golden Gai is a traditional area of Shinjuku where you get hundreds of tiny little bars in a few narrow alleys. In the past it was mostly a local crowd, but when we visited it was very touristy.

There are lots and lots of bars in the area and around Shinjuku in general, so there are plenty of options. We went to From Dusk Till Dawn, which despite being mostly empty on a Friday night was a cool place with good music and friendly staff (drinks for Y700).

We also went to Capcom Bar, a videogame-themed bar where you can play games while enjoying food and drinks inspired by them. I tried the Hadouken (for Y700), which was good and looked great too. It’s a fun place to visit – even if it’s clearly very touristy it’s still an interesting experience.


A great option to see Tokyo from above is the Metropolitan Government Building. It has two observation decks (north and south) on the 45th floor and it’s amazingly free to visit (I visited twice and you need to wait a bit to get in but not much).

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You can get amazing views over the city day and night (the north tower is open until 11pm), and it’s definitely a highlight of any Tokyo trip – you get to see the city sprawling in all directions with no end in sight.

Tokyo is a whole world and this is the perfect place to spot its magnitude. I visited the south tower during the day and north tower in the evening and both were great.

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The Shibuya scramble crossing is a famous intersection which highlights how Japan is hectic and orderly at the same time. When the lights are green, up to 3,000 people can cross at the same time. It’s nice to watch it from the station and then join the crowds on the ground, which is really fun.


Shibuya is an area at the heart of Tokyo where you can get lost for a few hours exploring the place and going into shops. It’s also full of neon signs and bright lights, but a bit less gritty than Shinjuku.


Harajuku is internationally famous as the place you see in photos showing Japanese girls dressed up in the weirdest outfits. The area is full of shops selling all sorts of kawaii tat. There are lots of little roads to explore and watch the local crowds – although it is very touristy so you’re really watching other tourists!

If you venture off the main roads things get a bit more interesting. I found Mojo, a hidden-away cafe serving nice pastries (two drinks and a pastry for Y1200) which was perfect for a slow break. And heading towards Omotesando is also a good option to escape the crowds.

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Meiji Jingu is an Edo temple localted in Yoyogi, a huge park next to Harajuku. The park is beautiful and so is the temple – a great place for a quiet break on a sunny day.

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A flower shop which is also a tea house is the perfect setting for an instagrammable drink. The Aoyama Flower Market Tea House is a popular place for tea with a light meal or dessert. I went on a Monday to avoid queuing (it gets very busy), and it was definitely worth the visit.

I had the Collette tea which was really good with the ‘Halloween’ eclair, very good too (both for Y1530). The whole place is decorated with plants hanging from the ceiling and little vases with flowers everywhere. A bit girly, but a perfect stop for a little treat.

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We had lunch at this nice restaurant in fancy Omotesando. It is a vegan restaurant serving delicious set lunches with local beers and yummy dessert. A bit expensive at Y3000-4000 per person, but definitely a good option for a treat.


Ebisu is a nice area just one stop from Shibuya. There you can find the Yebisu Beer Museum, a grandiose bar with a small gallery where you can learn about Yebisu beer and taste the different varieties. You can get any of their beers for just Y400 or a tasting set of three for Y800 – it’s definitely worth a visit!


Also in Ebisu we went for lunch at Rainbow Raw Food, a vegan place serving a nice selection of light meals. We had the sushi lunch set (Y1500 per person) which was really delicious – and the only time I had sushi in Japan so definitely a good thing to do.

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I spent lots of time in Tokyo, but the first area I discovered was around Ginza and Tokyo Station, as that’s where my first hotel was.

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On my first day in Tokyo, I headed to Ginza, an area full of major retailers. It’s a good area to visit, as it’s full of flagship stores and bustling with people. Nearby Nihonbashi is equally impressive. Even if you don’t like shopping, it’s interesting with lots of flagship stores.

I visited Uniqlo (spread over 13 floors!), Muji, Mitsukoshi (a famous department store) and G. Itoya (a great stationary shop). Shops around Ginza often cover many floors and have anything you need (and even more that you don’t).

Ginza is considered to be a more Western part of Tokyo, with its ample avenues. To me it’s still very much Japan, completely OTT, but a bit less hectic than Shibuya or Shinjuku.

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Tokyo Station is massive and manic, and it has lots of shops and restaurants around and inside it. It’s a useful place to visit for tickets and to get information, but it’s also an interesting stop itself.

Inside the station there’s T’s Tantan, a vegan favourite as it serves ramen (which is rarely vegan-friendly). The food was really delicious and definitely worth a visit (lunch for two including drinks for Y3000). The restaurant is located inside the JR barriers at Keiyo Street, so you need a valid ticket to get in.

Just outside Tokyo Station is Hitachino Brewing Lab, a nice bar serving Hitachino beer. You can try one of their nice beers for around Y700, or sample a float of three for Y980.

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After many days of rain there was finally a break, so we went to the Imperial Gardens (free to visit). It is one of the largest green areas in central Tokyo, and a good place to spend a few hours. There are ample green areas, an orchard, and many historical buildings which used to serve as lookout posts.

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Tokyo’s Museum of Modern Art is behind the Imperial Gardens. The place hosts many different exhibitions and you can buy different tickets – we visited the permanent collection for Y500. It is a great museum with lots of interesting artworks by Japanese artists, so definitely worth a visit to get to know their work.

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One of those things you think about doing before you go to Japan is seeing some Kabuki, and it was actually quite easy to do. Kabuki-za is a famous theatre in Ginza, and it has performances every day.

You can buy tickets on the day for a single act (the whole thing lasts four hours, so an hour-long act is enough). You join the queue about 1h30 before it starts and you get a ticket for Y1000 to Y1600 depending on the performance. You can rent an audio guide to translate it, but they also give you a written summary before it starts (all the details are on this website, look for the single act instructions).

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We went late one afternoon and it was a great experience. The theatre looks amazing and brand new, and the set and costumes are perfect – I don’t think I’ve seen this level of care in a production before.

The plays are quite old-fashioned – it’s all funny expressions and funny lines (I gather), so you only need to try it once!