There are two perfect times of the year to visit Japan: the blossom season in March when the city is awash with pastel petals – and the start of Autumn in November when leaves turn from green to red, brown and orange and the sun is still out keeping the city warm and bright.
In November my husband visited Japan for an awesome kid-free weeks break, here’s my top 10 things to do while in Tokyo and Kyoto.
We stayed at the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, which is a stunning hotel with one of the most famous bars – a popular hang out with the Cities suit crowd post work. The New York Bar is famous for its role in the movie “Lost in Translation” where Bill Murry met Scarlet Johansen. It is a little out of the way for a tourist, but a stunning property nether the less .
Another great hotel located in the Ginza area in the heart of the shopping district and over looking the stunning Imperial Palace is The Peninsula Tokyo.
There are so many wonderful areas to shop in Tokyo – one of my favourite stores was the Harrods of Japan – Isetan in Shinjuku. The food hall is out of this world so get ready work up an appetite in the store. The kids toy section is great too, not just for shopping, but also if you have kids in tow, let them roam around and enjoy what’s on offer.
Harajuku has a split personality with two parallel shopping streets that cater to very different shoppers. Omotesando, known as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysees, is a tree lined avenue with upscale boutiques, cafes and several leading designer brand shops. Takeshita Dori, on the other hand, is a center of youth fashion and counter culture found along a narrow street crammed with shops and cafes targeting the younger, teenage crowd.
The Ginza area features high end department stores, boutiques, art galleries and designer brand stores. Nearly every leading Japanese and international brand name fashion and cosmetics company has a presence here.
Ginza Six is the newest and largest shopping complex. In addition to 241 boutiques, the luxury mall houses restaurants, a basement food floor, rooftop shrine, garden, and a Noh theater. But Ginza Six is especially proud of its temporary and permanent art installations, curated by the Mori Art Museum
Another great store for men and women fashion is multi brand store United Arrows found in many of the shopping districts, its your bricks and mortar Net-a-Porter.
Shibuya Station is another large shopping district that is the birthplace of many of Japan’s youth fashion trends. It is home to some well known, trend setting clothing store.
Street Food: They say in Japan that some of the best cuisine is available under the railway tracks in Ginza and now I’ve tried it I know that they’re right! Small, quaint, vibrant and insanely busy cafes sell the best yakatori we tasted in Japan – teamed with a beer and edamame for approx AED 30 for the total bill – you cant go wrong!
Fine Dining: When traveling we always try to fit in a restaurant from the Top 50 in the World or a Michelin Star. Seeing as it was my hubbies 40th we managed to get a reservation at Leffervescence, a Michelin Star Restaurant offering French/Japanese cuisine. A disciple of both Michel Bras and Heston Blumenthal, Shinobu Namae applies well-honed European technique to sensational Japanese ingredients at this slick Minato restaurant. The 11-course tasting menu that most diners opt for changes regularly and is built around seasonal and sometimes esoteric Japanese ingredients, although some produce of Western origin gets a look-in too.
Another fabulous restaurant is Seryna which is located in Shinjuku its the finest Kobe Beef Teppenyaki. Melt in your mouth Kobe Beef and for the seafood lovers, teppenyaki lobster and prawns. YUM!
Harajuku has a great Wolfgang puck express restaurant – think 5 star dining on- the-go.
For a late drink or 10 Golden Gai in Shinjuku is a warren of tiny bars and when I say tiny, I mean tiny – maximum people which can fit inside is about 5. Each bar is full of personality, you have to visit a couple to see for yourself. One bar which we had a drink in had a photo of John Mayor and Katy Perry on the wall. The famous duo had drank all night in the bar with the staff not knowing who they were or in fact could even speak English too. They only realized who they where once they sang (after a few drinks) and tourists spotted them.
4. Shibuya Crossing
It would be a shame to visit Tokyo and not take a walk across the famous intersection outside Shibuya Station. When the lights turn red at this busy junction, they all turn red at the same time in every direction. Traffic stops completely and pedestrians surge into the intersection from all sides. Grab a coffee in Shibuya Starbucks as the view is pretty good.
5. Imperial Palace
The current Imperial Palace is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo Station. It is the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family.
The inner grounds of the palace are generally not open to the public. Only on January 2 (New Year’s Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor’s Birthday), visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial Family, who make several public appearances on a balcony.
Guided tours of the palace grounds are offered during the rest of the year, although no buildings are entered. The tours are held in Japanese, and an English pamphlet and audio guide are provided. The tours must be reserved in advance through the Imperial Household Agency. You will find all the Japanese joggers following the broad moats and park paths that surround the palace so its a busy area.
6. Meiji Jingu Shrine – Harajuku area
Meiji Jingu Shrine is Japan‘s most famous Shinto shrine, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his consort. Learn about Japan’s ancient religion as you visit the sanctuary, treasure house and other structures built of Japanese cypress with copper plates for the roofs. Such beautiful grounds and woodlands which is free for visitors to roam around (we actually watched a wedding take place while we were at the temple)
7. Observation Deck
Survey the city 202m above ground from the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – on a clear day you may catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji. Come at dusk to catch spectacular sunsets and the city burst into neon-lit action.
8. Tsukiji Market
The famous Seafood Market – around 2000 tonnes of it traded daily – that Tsukiji is most famous for. The frenetic inner market (jōnai-shijō ) is slated to move to Toyosu by late 2016; the equally fascinating outer market (jōgai-shijō ) comprising hundreds of food stalls and restaurants, will stay put.
Before setting off here check the market’s online calendar to make sure it’s open, and for instructions on attending the tuna auctions, which start around 5am.
It would be crazy to fly all the way to Japan and not visit Kyoto. Kyoto is old Japan – once the capital with quiet temples, sublime gardens, colourful shrines and geisha scurrying to secret liaisons.
From Tokyo to Kyoto its 2 hours on the bullet train which leave’s Tokyo Station every 10 minutes. I would recommend a car and a guide to met you in Kyoto to show you around as there are less English speaking people here and you will be surprised by the size of the city.
You have to visit the Gion District – this is, if you’re lucky, where you will see Geisha scurrying in the kimono’s with porcelain doll like features. We were lucky enough to see a couple running from place to place!
Such beautiful tradition wooden architecture in Gion and home to the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” You must also visit a traditional Japanese Tea house.
Kyoto’s famed ‘Golden Pavilion’, Kinkaku-ji is one of Japan’s best-known sights. The main hall, covered in brilliant gold leaf, shining above its reflecting pond is truly spectacular. But be prepared for many tourists and school excursions.
We wanted to visit a temple were we could actively see monks, yet wasn’t a tourist destinations. Our guide took us to a complex of temples, where a few are open to the public in order to support the daily upkeep of the temple – others were closed due to “Monks in Training”.
This area was called Daisen-in, and we were fortunate to meet a young monk, who was happy to chat to us.
Read my full Kyoto post http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2018/09/10/chasing-geishas-in-kyoto/
10. Ryogoku Kokugikan
What’s Japan without some Sumo? Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall is a must do authentic experience – besides wrestling there’s a whole parade in ceremonial clothes, classic move demos by former champions and much more. This can be seasonal so check with your hotel or tour guide before you head there!
A Few Tips:
I would highly recommend buying a local sim card – it costs nothing and will last you the duration of your stay. The Park Hyatt actually provided us with a mobile phone and local sim which was great as we couldn’t live without Google maps! Thanks to maps, we even managed to find the smallest hidden bar in Toyko which comes highly recommended if you like mixology.
The Japanese are beautiful peaceful, patient and very well organised people. They are polite and considerate, and happy to keep themselves to themselves but also happy to help if you need anything.
The airport offers great shopping so you can keep going right up until you board the aircraft.
Flight time from Dubai is 9 hours direct on Emirates.