Every year when I go to Japan, I reserve half of my luggage for souvenirs. Which includes lots of food, stationaries, beauty products, clothes and actual souvenirs for family and friends. It can be overwhelming for some people to enter one of those 100 yen stores (everything for a hundred yen) or Donki Hotte that’s literally packed with billions of different types of everything. So here’s a list to give you an idea of what kind of things you might want to take back home.
It’s tough to pick just one product or brand because they are all fantastic at a reasonable price. You probably won’t recognise the majority of the brands like Lulumun, Kanebo, Isehan and many others, but you don’t have to remember their names because as my friends say, “If it’s from Japan, then it’s good quality.” So if you find something that you are interested in, buy it!
I usually stock up on face masks, nail polish and eyeliners since I always run out of them and every time I go shopping, I find a new collection. Especially of face masks with funny designs like ninjas, Pokemon, animals and so on. They barely take any space in your luggage so you can go nuts and have a spa party back home.
Another product that I can’t live without is the Shiseido Tsubaki hair set. This is the only shampoo and conditioner that works for my thick Asian hair and it is the only product that makes it shiny and smooth. The incredible aspect of this product is that it’s suitable for every type of hair, many of my friends and family have tried it and they all love it.
Most of the “must buy” clothes from Japan are for winter- comfy clothes that keep you warm. Cotton socks and kigurumi (onesies) are the most fun to shop for because there are soooo many different types that they have stores specialised in just them. With all kinds of cute designs like cartoons, every single Disney characters, animals and cool patterns. The onesies might take some space in your luggage, but they are totally worth it once you see how cosy they are.
Uniqlo store – This high tech clothing store never fails to amuse me with their practical clothes. They have ultra-light rain and winter jackets that can fit into a bag the size of your fist! No more struggling to fit your massive jacket inside your luggage! This excellent Japanese brand also has a collection of HEATTECH thermal clothes with so many products like cardigans, leggings, bra tops, shirts and even blankets.
In Japan, there are equally as many non-eatable products as there are eatable ones. If you go to a supermarket wanting to get a snack, you’ll probably spend about an hour and a half picking one because the choices are endless. There is something for every taste, mix and even cooking style – like fried chocolate which is pretty yummy and crispy.
I usually pack my luggage with wasabi snacks, yakisoba instant noodles, and sauces with sesame and for yakisoba and barbecue.
I’m not the biggest sweet tooth and I don’t eat sweets very often, but I can’t resist Japanese sugary snacks. Like this heart-shaped Genji mini pie that melts in your mouth and basically every candy by Meiji and Glico. Like the classic Pocky chocolate sticks and the cute mountain and mushroom-shaped chocolates, Takenoko No Sato.
I have recently become obsessed with this matcha (green tea) Kit Kat, which was a surprise to me mixing green tea and chocolate but they actually fit perfectly together.
Akihabara is the most famous area in Tokyo to shop for electronics because of the department stores located there, but you can find Bic Camera, Yamada Denki and Yodobashi Camera, at all the main streets of the city as well. Other general department stores like Tokyū Hands and Loft have their own electronic floors with massive sections dedicated to just phone covers and accessories to try.
Being half Japanese I’ve spent a lot of time in the streets of Tokyo and every time I’m there I fall more and more in love with this city. It’s a real wonderland that never sleeps and never stops changing. Every corner and street is full of endless things to do and new adventures.
If I were to make a list of all the awesome places in Tokyo it would be longer than an Encyclopedia serie, so here is a list of my current favorite places.
Shibuya – The heart of the city
Lock up- A prison themed restaurant where you are chained and taken to your “cell” by a cop. The food and the drinks come in insane servings, like drinks mannequin’s head or fried chicken on a little cage. At every couple of hours, a prisoner escapes and with the lights off, the staff has to look for the escaper…before he finds you.
Alcatraz ER– Alcatraz is similar to Lock Up, but with an asylum twist. They have crazy doctors and nurses walking around serving the dishes.
Kin no-kuna- A chain of Izakaya (Japanese tapas) style restaurants where you can order and try literally any Japanese dish in small portions.
Izakaya is popular by salarymen that go there after work for some dinner and drinks with their coworkers.
Yoshinoya & Sukiya– A delicious and traditional Japanese “fast food” chain restaurant. I recommend the Gyudon bowl of thin sliced meat with onions, Japanese sauce and rice or the grilled salmon with rice and miso soup.
Mos Burger- This is not your typical burger joint. Here you can get fresh and all-natural burgers, kakiage, shrimp, Hokkaido croquette, butterfly prawns and others. Some burgers even come with rice buns instead of bread and the breakfast ones with French toast.
Genki restaurant- An electronic sushi place right in the middle of Shibuya. This is always the first place I go to eat when I get to the city.
British Hubs Pub– A British-style pub that you can find in several areas of the city. The best thing about this place is that they have jumbo size drinks that you can get of any of their large variety of cocktails…and happy hour until seven.
Womb– A big underground warehouse club east of Shibuya. The place looks small from the outside but it has three dance floors, lockers, several bars and great drinks. You will not want to leave the dance floor amongst the laser lights.
Things to do
Karaoke: You can’t go to Tokyo and not try karaoke at its birthplace. Guaranteed fun with a group of friends at your own room with drinks and food. At some karaoke places like Big Echo, you can rent costumes while you perform.
Airport express train- To get to the airport from the city I suggest taking the train from Shibuya. It costs €50 ($60) and it only takes an hour.
Shibuya Crossing- Shibuya is also home to the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world between the train station, which is also a great meeting point. The statue of Hachiko, the famous Shiba Inu dog is also located here.
Roppongi hills is the fanciest residency neighbourhood in Tokyo, filled with beautiful modern buildings, but it is also one of the main clubbing areas. Here you can hop from club to bar and see as many places as you can. Walking from Shibuya to Roppongi takes about 20 minutes but the view and the small bars along the way are worth it. Roppongi also has a great view of the Tokyo Tower.
Restaurants & Cafes
Eggcellent– A delicious egg-themed restaurant perfect for brunch. Their menu consists of all types of egg dishes with pancakes, toast and others. Including delicious coffee, juices and detox waters.
Sushi No Midori- Delicious and fresh traditional sushi prepared right in front of you. This place is great for a delicious dinner and pre sake drinks.
AgeHa- The biggest club in Tokyo feating three dance floors, several bars and an outdoor pool area. AgeHa is not exactly in Shibuya, but there is a free shuttle from the central station every half hour.
Esprit: A club lit by a high-tech disco ball and LED lights has great music and drinks. This place is the first thing you see when stepping out of Roppongi Station The place is always hosted by DJs so make sure to make a reservation before your trip.
V2 Tokyo– Partying on the top floor of the Roppongi Roa Building with a 360-degree panorama view of the Tokyo’s skyline. The club has good drinks and you can dance to a mixture of EDM, House, R&B music.
Things to do
Museums & galleries: Savoir Vivre, Suntory Museum of Art, Mori Art Museum and the National Art Center hold exhibitions on Japanese artisanal products like pottery, paintings and modern art.
Snoopy Museum of Tokyo: If you are a Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts fan, make sure to go to their cute exhibitions and Café Blanket.
Harajuku & Takeshita- Kawaii madness
You know those cute Japanese girls dressed in colorful costumes you see in the movies? This is the place. Everything here is cute, colorful, full of cartoons and craziness. Modern young Japanese culture.
Things to do
Purikura– A photo booth where you can take the ultimate kawaii photos. After taking the picture, you have about 10 minutes to do whatever you want with the pictures like adding stickers and putting a silly background.
Meiji Shrine- One of my favourite places in the city. Full of nature, history and peace. It’s incredible how such a huge park can be so quiet when its surrounded by so much buzz.
Café & restaurants
MoCHA Cat Café– An afternoon tea with a delicious cake surrounded by cuddly cats? How much better can it get?
Japanese crepe– These cute crepes may seem just for show but wait until you try the matcha cheesecake and my favourite, tuna with lettuce.
Kawaii Monster Café– This place is exactly what the name suggests, an explosion of kawaiiness. It’s like stepping inside a real-life Willy Wonka factory.
Omotesandō – Shopping Boulevard
Omotesando is a great place to walk around and observe the beautiful architecture and
Things to do
Modern Architecture- The beautiful three-lined boulevard is the most elegant and high-class area in Tokyo. With a beautiful collision of modern and ancient architecture, each building is individually extravagant to its brand. The Roppongi Hills is a beautiful mall designed by Tadao Ando with a spiral slope at the centre of the building.
Shopping & department stores- Known as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées, the streets are full boutiques and other fabulous stores. At the end of the street crossing with Harajuku is the Tokyu Plaza Mall with an incredible mirror escalator and a beautiful roof garden with a view.
Kintan Yakiniku Terrace Garden– This area has great large yakiniku restaurants with a great view of the city.
Aoyama Flower Market Tea House– Not only is this place a beautiful flower market, but it is also a tea house where you can have brunch, afternoon tea and lunch amongst the flowers.
Ginza – Futuristic
Ginza is one of the oldest and most modern parts of Tokyo with beautiful architecture, traditional Japanese stores that had been there for centuries, cute café and restaurants.
Restaurants & cafes
Tsukiji Fish Market- Biggest seafood market in Japan, the best place to eat authentic seafood. This place is only open in the mornings from 5.00AM until early afternoon. If you want to watch the famous Fish Auction, wake up even earlier because it starts at 3.00AM. The market is usually closed on Sundays, holidays and most Wednesdays.
Toriba Coffee- In a city full of beautiful shrines, this café is considered to be a shrine of coffee. The place serves an incredible selection of international beans at a beautiful location with flower walls.
Things to do
Shopping & department stores: Ginza is full of great department stores like Matsuya, Mitsukoshi, Wako, Tokyu Plaza and Dover Street Market by Rei Kawabuko. Ginza also has stores of incredible Japanese brands like Uniqlo, Shiseido, Comme des Garçons and others.
Toy Stores- Sanrio (Hello Kitty & Co.) World and Hakuhinkan, Tokyo’s biggest toy shop with a multi-storey emporium of endless amounts of toys. Here you can find endless amounts of cute toys with a Japanese twist.
Shinjuku- Red light district of Tokyo
Shinjuku is one of the liveliest and craziest parts of the city. It’s full of bars, restaurants and nightclubs
Golden Gai (Piss Aley) & Omoide Yokocho- An ancient and lively alley full of small open-front bars, perfect for drinks and light dining. These bars offer yakitori, skewered meats that are prepared right in front of you.
TIP: Some of these small bars are locals-only so when you first walk into a place and the owner shows you crossed fingers it means you should go have a drink at another place.
Sanagi– A super hip lounge right under Shinjuku’s southeast exit and completely decorated with modern art. Where you can get delicious drinks and food at their food court-like area.
Things to do
Ninja Trick House- Learn how ninjas lived back in the day and all the secret ways they hid from their enemies in their houses.
Samurai Museum- This unique museum tells you everything you have always wondered about the mysterious lives of samurais.
Gyoen park- An authentic Japanese garden in the middle of Shinjuku with koi fish and romantic gazebos.
Robot Restaurant- This restaurant is probably the craziest restaurants I’ve ever been to in my life (apart from Kawaii Monster Café). While you eat a delicious dinner, robot princesses and giant robots put on a show with lots of lights and music.
Ichiran– A great ramen fast food place also located at the central station. The line can be long at times, but this place is definitely worth it.
Katsukara Takashimaya– This place has a great Tonkatsu dish, which is a Japanese bowl of fried pork with rice and a special Japanese-style barbecue sauce.
Before you embark on a trip to Tokyo there are a couple of awesome things you need to be aware of and a lot of awesome things you need to plan so you don’t miss out on.
English has become much more common in Tokyo as preparation for the Olympics in 2020, but in small places it is better to know some useful phrases:
こんにちは – Kinnichiwa – Hello/ Good evening!
おはようございます- Ohayo – Good morning!
ください – Kudasai – Please
さようなら – Sayonara – Goodbye
ありがとうございました – Arigato Gozaimashita – Thank you
ごめんなさい – Gomenasai – I’m Sorry
トイレはどこですか？ Toire wa dokodesu ka? – Where is the bathroom?
飲み放題 – Nomihodai – All you can drink (happy hour)
Foods & Drinks to try
Chu-hi drink – You can find these yummy alcoholic drinks at any convenient store and supermarkets. They have every single fruit favor imaginable with Zero edition which is stronger than the normal.
Ramen – If you are a fan of ramen, eating it at Tokyo station’s underground Ramen Street is ramen goals.
Shabu-shabu – Barbecue but with a Japanese twist, it is cooked inside a pot under the fire with water. Thin beef meat, Shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, thin-cut carrots, napa cabbage, tofu. Since it is cooked with hot water it is commonly eaten during the winter to warm up.
Sukiyaki – Also a barbecue with thin beef slices cooked in a pot but without water. This delicious dish includes glass noodles, green onions, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, tofu and shungiku leaves.
Okonomiyaki – Known as Japanese salty “pancakes” made out of thin sliced bacon, veggies, mayonnaise and other delicious ingredients. Going to an okonomiyaki restaurant is fun because you get to make it yourself on a hot stove table.
Yakiniku – Barbecue thin sliced meat on the grill.
Yakisoba – Fried egg noodles with pork slices, vegetables and yakisoba sauce.
Sashimi – Sashimi is actually more common and traditional
Unagi Sushi – Unagi is a river eel and the sushi contains a slice of grilled eel on top of rice with a sweet barbecue sauce. Japan waters as a lot of Unagi which makes them very fresh and wild-caught.
Yakitori – Barbecued chicken and scallions usually served on bamboo skewers.
Kebab bowl – The original Turkish dish has been adapted into a bowl, with rice on the bottom topped with kebab meat, lettuce, tomatoes and salsa sauce.
Tonkatsu– Also served in a bowl with rice but instead of beef, its friend pork with Japanese barbecue sauce.
Gyudon– The classic beef bowl, just like the others but with thin sliced beef, onions with a delicious sauce combination of soy sauce, sake, ichiban dashi and others.
Izakayas – After work tapas restaurants where businessman go to unwind with their coworkers. Every type of common Japanese dish is served here tapa-sized, including common drinks like green tea sour and honey yuzu. My favorite Izakaya chain restaurant is called Kin no Kura, where you can get all dishes and drinks for just ¥270 ($ 2,50) and all you can eat for ¥1,980 yen ($18,60). Plus you can do the ordering from a tablet menu in your own private room. There are also seafood only Izakaya’s where you can grill your own food.
Things you can only do in Japan
Onsen – Onsen are the best places to relax after a long day of exploring. Take a delicious bath on hot spring pools, take a shower Japanese style and have a delicious cup of hot green tea. Most Onsens are gender separate, unless you are staying at an Onsen hotel, where you get your own pool per room. You can find these places everywhere in the city for as cheap as ¥700 yen ($6,50 ) to very high prices, but the quality is always very good and traditional.SXLLM
Disneyland & DisneySea– Personally, I like DisneySea more than Disneyland since it has more thrilling rides than the original park. When at the park, I recommend going checking out the souvenir stores, Japan has their own toy collections that are very kawaii.
Karaoke– Singing with your friends to your favorite songs while having drinks and appetizers on a skyscraper is the exact type of fun you can get in Tokyo. Some you can even rent costumes to wear for the night and all you can drink cocktails.
Arcade- These arcades are always so much fun, full of crazy Japanese style games like the drumming game, where you have to play the drums according to summer festival songs. The graphics of all the games are so vibrant and really easy to follow.
Purikura– At these arcade places you can also find Purikura machines which are silly and fun photo booths. On the pictures you can get crazy backgrounds, filters, cartoons and other silly things. They make you look exactly like an anime character.
Shinkansen – This bullet train is the most fun and fastest way to travel within the country. From Tokyo to Shin- Osaka with the train only takes 2.20 m while by car it takes 6.26 minutes. They can be pretty pricy, but they are always on time and perfect quality. The breathtaking views of the country side and rice field make it totally worth it.
Seasonal things to try
Summer festivals (Matsuri)– During the summer, the whole country becomes a festival waiting to happen. The entire summer there are street festivals happening everywhere in specific days. Since Japan is very humid, there are festivals at night as well. Which I love because everything becomes more bright and magical. With all the lanterns, traditional food and drinks booths, dancing, singing and of course the beautiful yukatas (summer version of kimonos). These festivals usually take place at or close to temples which makes everything a billion times more special and beautiful. When you are in Japan during the summer make sure to check-out when these festivals are so you don’t miss it.
New year festival– New Year is the biggest and most important holiday in Japan, and on the first day of the year families gather together to visit Shinto shrines and make new resolutions for the upcoming year. People buy omamori which are charms that bring you luck on what you need that year such as love, money, strength, knowledge, health and so on. Then for lunch they celebrate by having a delicious special new year meal called, Osechi Ryori, served on big Bento boxes called jubako.
Transportation – During the day, rely on train, metro and busses – they are always on time, clean and there is information everywhere to help you find your way.
At night it’s better to take taxis since public transports stop working around midnight until 5AM
Get a JR metro card and fill it with money for the days you are there, it is much easier than buying a ticket every time, you can use it at the convenient stores inside the station and JR stations usually have Wi-Fi.
Take the Shinkansen bullet train to other cities, they are super comfortable and fast. Quite expensive as well, but the experience is very worth it.
Convenient stores (Family Mart, Lawson, 7Eleven…) – They are ALWAYS open and you can find them EVERYWHERE. They have literally anything you need here; food, drinks, ATM, printer, underwear, you name it.
Japan is really safe so you don’t need to worry about getting robbed. Although, girls might want to keep an eye out for men doing creepy things like trying to take a photo of underwear under the skirt, but apart from such petty crimes, they are harmless.
Always bring an ID with you, although restaurants and cafes don’t require it. University IDs are NOT accepted so make sure to bring an actual identification or driver’s license.
Best to use cash, American Express or Visa cards- Master Cards are not accepted in many places and it can be hard to find an ATM to withdraw. If you don’t have any other option, make an account at Western Union International Bank where someone can send you money from any currency.
Hotel check-in time is usually at 3PM so make to let your hotel know if you are going to be arriving early in the morning so you don’t have to walk around bamboozled to kill time.
Wi-Fi can be pretty hard to find in the city, except for several convenient stores, so make sure to purchase a wireless hotspot at the airport when you arrive so you can use it to find yourself around the big metropolitan
Electronic bathrooms can be a big surprise if you are not aware of them. Japanese toilet seats are VERY complex. Not in a bad way though, they have numerous functions and some of them even talk to you. They can play lounge music, serve as a duvet in different levels and are electrically warm. The main reason to why you should be aware of these toilets is because they are EVERYWHERE. Hotels, malls, restaurants and so on.
Yokohama (MY HOME CITY & south) – A beautiful port city, 20 minutes south of Tokyo with the Toyoko line. At Minato Mirai 21 you can spend a day at the amusement parks by the bay, Cup Noodle Museum and a landmark view of the city and mount Fuji from the 69th floor. Yokohama also has a big Chinatown and the walk from Minato Mirai to Osanbashi Port is breath taking.
Kyoto (south) – The most ancient city in Japan filled with beautiful temples, old streets and sakura trees.
Osaka (south) – A modern city similar to Tokyo but in the South.
Nara (south) – One of the oldest cities in japan full of temples and deer parks where you can feed them.
Hokkaido (all the way north) – All the way to the north, this is the best place to go skiing and other winter sports. It is also home to the Sapporo beer and the delicious Santouka ramen.
Hiroshima (south) – So much history and culture in just one city.
Okinawa (all the way south) – Beautiful beach coast with clear waters and occasional turtles in clear and blue waters.
If you want to have a spontaneous and crazy trip, Tokyo is definitely the right place. There i always something new and unexpected at every corner of this huge city that never sleeps.