In this post, we’ll continue on our journey in Tokyo and head over to Shinjuku. Shinjuku is a major commercial and administrative centre, housing the busiest railway station in the world (Shinjuku Station) and the Tokyo municipal government facilities. While we loved Shinjuku, we loved Shibuya even more; for future trips, I think we’ll use Shibuya as our home base. Continuing the same pattern from the Shibuya post, I’ll focus this post mostly on images and recommendations of where to go.
We were celebrating a birthday on this trip, so we decided to splurge a bit and wanted to stay at a 5-star hotel. Our targets were the Aman Ginza or Andaz Tokyo, however they were both fully booked for our dates. After a great experience at the Kimpton Hotel in Bangkok, we decided to try the Kimpton Hotel Shinjuku.
We were not disappointed! The room was a very reasonable size (by Tokyo standards) and the service exceptional. The breakfast (a la cart style) was incredible and up to Japan’s high standards. Every person we came across tried to make our stay as comfortable as possible. Perhaps the only downside to this hotel was that it’s a 15-minute walk to Shinjuku Station; it doesn’t sound very far, but when carrying four bags of “Made in Japan” clothing, it started to wear us down.
While we didn’t utilize the rooftop bar and other facilities, I have no doubt they’d be up to the highest standards. Every aspect of the hotel was top notch. We would definitely stay at the Kimpton Hotel Shinjuku again and would recommend it for your next visit.
I had heard about teamLab from people across the world. It seemed like every installation they created turned into the most hyped attraction in the city. When visiting Tokyo, my friends told me that we must visit teamLab. Most of my friends had seen the teamLab Borderless installation, but it’s now closed (reopening February 2024).
Instead, teamLab Planets has taken its place. Perhaps I went into the experience expecting more than I should have, but I found the installations to be interesting, creative and immersive, but certainly not amazing. I will admit however that the images we took at teamLab turned out much better than the actual experience. For social media folks, teamLab is a dream environment where every image looks surreal.
I can imagine that several people will see my images here or on facebook and decide to go for that purpose. If your goal is to capture images, or if you have children, I think teamLab Planets will be a great way to spend an afternoon, however if you’re expecting an out-of-body experience, I don’t think teamLab Planets delivers.
Plan to budget about 1.5 hours if you take a lot of pictures and want to rotate through the installations more than once. There are four major installations and two “gardens” to go through. The staff are very polite, but firm in keeping the flow of people moving. It sometimes felt rushed and a bit annoying to be ushered in and out like a herd of cows.
It was good to try out teamLab Planets one time, but I wouldn’t go back again for a second experience unless it was a special occasion where the tickets are limited to a very small group. It was just so hard to get some space to enjoy the installations and take decent images.
There are two things I can guarantee when you visit Japan: 1. You will eat lots and lots of food; and 2. You will max out your credit cards. There’s something so special with the way things are made in Japan. The care that every person along the value chain puts into a product is mesmerizing and very compelling.
Even something as simple as buying a pair of jeans turns into a unique experience that only Japan can deliver. We went to the Levi’s Tailored Shop in Harajuku. The sales associates are the most passionate denim experts I’ve come across. They know every detail of the history of the Levi’s 501 jeans and were able to guide us to the exact product we wanted.
Best of all, Levi’s and most stores carry special “Made in Japan” products. These are typically made of the highest quality materials and handcrafted with pride in Japan. I bought a pair of jeans from Levi’s using Japanese denim and customized with some cool patches from the store itself. The customized parts were completed in about an hour and I now have a very unique pair of Levi’s 511’s! On the very first day of wearing them in Hong Kong, a gentleman asked me where I got them from. Japanese craftsmanship is apparently easy to discern.
I’d recommend going to the large department stores which are nothing like department stores back in North America. These department stores carry a broad selection of clothing and accessories and have an abundance of sales associates to help you find exactly what you want and all delivered with top notch service.
Furthermore, when you get hungry, these department stores have a secret in the basement; they all have incredible food courts full of some of the best food and treats that Japan has to offer. Taking a trip to B1 in Takashimaya or Isetan will result in an unexpected and wonderful culinary journey.
Don’t forget to ask for Tax Free paperwork so that you can get part of your tax back. Most department stores will refund you on the spot after you’ve finished all your shopping. Please note that most stores will require you to obtain your refund the day of your purchase.
A trip to Tokyo is not complete without taking a walk through the beautiful Meiji Jingu shrine complex. The huge shrine park complex is an oasis in the middle of the bustling city of Tokyo. A few steps into the park and you’ll forget about any problems you have, with the lush trees, beautiful architecture and the shrine complex itself.
On the two times I’ve been to Meiji Jingu, I’ve witnessed traditional ceremonies. It’s amazing to hear everyone in the vicinity become whisper quiet as the procession makes its way across the court. The first time I was there, it was a wedding ceremony. This time, I’m not quite sure what the ceremony was as the people looked rather somber.
I’d recommend budgeting at least two hours to enjoy Meiji Jingu, if not more. We saw people enjoying picnics in the park and hanging out under the trees.
In the previous post focused on Shibuya, I shared several restaurants that we recommend visiting. In this post, I’ll focus on a few cocktail bars that we really enjoyed.
We loved this cocktail bar. The bartender that we got to know actually studied in my hometown of Vancouver so we had a lot of fun stories to share. The cocktails were on-point and the atmosphere, perfect. The only negative is that it gets very, very busy so you’ll either need to queue or get lucky like we did on a rainy evening.
This discrete bar in Shinjuku gives the feeling that it’s small, but it’s quite a decent amount of space underground. Their cocktails were perfectly made and had very unique takes on drinks. The service was subdued but very professional; it’s a great place to go to unwind after a long day of shopping and eating.
Pay very close attention to the name of this bar as the owner is being very candid and upfront about the bar’s dimensions. In many ways, this was our most fun cocktail bar experience in Tokyo. There’s barely room for four people to sit and yet somehow, the bar filled up with eight people, all standing.
Being packed in so tight means that everyone gets to know everyone. Making new friends while travelling is one of my greatest pleasures. Hearing about other people’s countries and their lives excites me so Bar Tight provided the perfect environment to connect with strangers.
I’d suggest trying the home-made whiskey and gin. Both were excellent and very reasonably priced. Be prepared to commit to Bar Tight because once you’re inside, it’s tough to get out unless the others leave at the same time!
A lot of people used to go to Tokyo to see the fish auction at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. The Tsukiji Inner Market closed in 2018 and moved to the new location at Toyosu near Tokyo Bay. The Tsukiji Outer Market remains where the restaurants reside.
I’ll keep this short; I don’t recommend going to Toyosu Fish Market as it’s a long journey to get there and it’s now just a modern wholesale market. Even the fruit market is sterile and hyper modern. There are restaurants at Toyosu, but nothing special enough to make the journey worthwhile.
I think going to Tsukiji Outer Market may be a better option as the restaurants have more character and history to them. Many have been around in their families since the original market opened in the 1930’s.
Perhaps the only thing that made the journey somewhat worthwhile was the rooftop. You can go right to the top and hang out in the grassed rooftop. From there, you can get a view of Tokyo Tower across Tokyo Bay.
Fujifilm Square Roppongi
Being a GFX owner since the launch of the GFX50R, I had to stop by Fujifilm Square in Roppongi. It’s right on the main road in a prominent location, easily accessible by the subway. Fujifilm Square is focused on providing inspiration for photography rather than selling product, so while you can touch and try all their products, it’s not their primary purpose.
There were two galleries when we visited, one of which was forbidden from taking photos. There was also a museum of sorts for historic cameras, mostly Fujifilm, but also some noteworthy cameras from Leica and other brands. If you decide to visit, I’d recommend setting aside 30 minutes to enjoy the whole experience; I wouldn’t go to Roppongi just for Fujifilm Square, but it was a great stop on the way to Mon cher ton ton.
Every trip I’ve made to Tokyo has been an awesome one. Even after going several times, there’s always something new to try or somewhere new to explore. The Japanese people continue to be the nicest, most welcoming people on earth. Even with so much tourism, every person we met gave us a genuine warm welcome and made us feel like we should come back more often. The service remains the best in the world from the smallest shop to the largest hotels, with every detail considered in the customer experience.
The downside to all this service is that things take a bit more time than we’re accustomed to in other big cities. The desire to provide a perfect experience means that things take time and there’s no way to rush the process without coming across as inconsiderate or even rude.
One exceptional experience involved a taxi. We were trying to find a small obscure yakitori restaurant in a busy neighbourhood. We were already a few minutes late and were struggling to find the restaurant. Our taxi driver pulled over and looked through his map to try and find it; we wanted to rush him because we were already late, but we didn’t want to be inconsiderate to his efforts.
After apologizing several times, he gave in and let us get out of the taxi to find our way to the restaurant. Much to our surprise, he came running behind us 20 seconds later and took us directly to the restaurant door. After letting us off the taxi, he had parked the car, gotten out, asked locals for directions, chased us down and then guided us directly to the door. Incredible!
With all the travel we do, we find that a great trip comes down to a few ingredients: 1. Good sights; 2. Good people; 3. Good food; 4. Good shopping; and Good safety. Tokyo and Japan in general get a 10/10 on all five ingredients!
We’re already planning another trip for later this year where we’re targeting to tackle the Kumano Kodo trail! Hope you’ve enjoyed this short trip to Tokyo in 2023!