Hello everyone! First of all, let me thank you for allowing me to share my experiences and recommendations in Tokyo – one of the world’s greatest cities. My name is Nicolas Wauters and I’m originally from Brussels.
My interest in Japan has been with me for a while now. As a child born in the 80s, I grew up with the arrival of video games and manga in Europe. I played a lot of video games (maybe too much) and Japan was known as the place to visit because of this. My initial vision of the country was only linked to this hobby. Life can be unexpected sometimes – so in 2007, I went to a travel agency in Brussels and bought a plane ticket to visit Tokyo.
Before I flew to Japan, I met a Japanese girl in Brussels which sparked a love story. This love story evolved into a life-changing decision. After five years of long distance and taking many trips to Japan, my wife asked me to join her in the country. I established myself here in September 2013 and a few moments later I created my tour company Tokyo Trip.
The first thing I noticed when I moved to Japan was that tourists looked lost in the city with its complex metro lines. At this moment, I decided to become a tour guide and start my company. I was then searching for photos to add to my website but it was hard to find good ones on a limited budget. That’s why I decided to take them myself. Over time, the need for website photos turned into a hobby, then a passion and finally photography changed into an additional activity to my tour guide work.
Why Japan is Such a Great Country
In my opinion, the world is becoming similar. Wherever you go, you’ll find the same McDonalds, Zara and other international brands. Many countries have English as an unofficial language. But Japan has maintained its culture due to it being an island. When you first arrive at the airport, you’ll know what I mean. English is only practiced by a few and the country forged itself unique traditions that can’t be found anywhere else.
Moreover, you can add the kindness of its population and the sweetness of its cities. The quietness and security of Japan makes discovering it enjoyable, during every period of the year. Even a massive city like Tokyo has its own distinct culture and immersing yourself in it is so much fun!
For your first trip, Tokyo is a must-visit as well as Mt Fuji, Kyoto, Hiroshima and the Japanese Alps (Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa). There are so many places to visit in Japan that you can go from the north in Hokkaido, with its wonderful winter landscapes, to the south to Kyushu (Fukuoka, Kumamoto,Kagoshima). If I had to recommend a specific destination to visit, out of all my discoveries, it would be Mount Koya. This is the one place that touched me the most. Here, Buddhism was implanted in Japan and I can only be full of admiration while walking through its majestic temples.
My favorite place to shoot photography, though, is Tokyo. I try to escape from the popular posts of Tokyo on Instagram – with people being the subject in a moody way – by focusing on the city as a subject. Most of the time, I try to capture the city with no people in it. What’s amazing is that everyday you pass by an architectural masterpiece. It can be modern or traditional but the sheer beauty of it will stop you in your tracks!
10 Cool Things To Do in Tokyo
1. See the City from an Observation Deck
Tokyo boasts spectacular observation decks offering breathtaking vistas of its skyline. Tokyo Skytree, standing at 634 meters, is a standout. Its Tembo Deck and Galleria provide panoramic views from 350 and 450 meters, respectively, showcasing Tokyo’s seemingly endless urban sprawl. Another gem is the Mori Tower’s observation deck in Roppongi Hills, offering a 360-degree view from 250 meters high. Each deck immerses visitors in Tokyo’s dynamic landscape, from towering skyscrapers to historic landmarks.
2. Have a Ramen Lunch with the Salarymen
Visiting Tokyo is incomplete without indulging in its local cuisine, particularly at lunchtime amidst the salarymen. Ramen, a dish known for its rich broth and tender noodles, offers a savory journey through Tokyo’s culinary landscape. Beyond its flavors, sampling ramen during lunch provides an immersive cultural experience where one can witness the city’s pulse. Amidst salarymen slurping noodles hurriedly, one can grasp the essence of Tokyo’s bustling work culture and communal dining traditions.
3. Relax at a Cat Cafe for Something Different
These cafes provide an escape from the city, allowing patrons to relax in a cozy atmosphere surrounded by adorable cats. Guests can enjoy beverages while interacting with friendly and well-cared-for kitties, which is especially therapeutic for those missing their pets or seeking stress relief. The concept originated in Taiwan, but blossomed in Japan, and has since gained popularity worldwide. Tokyo’s cat cafes offer a unique opportunity for animal lovers to experience the joy of feline companionship.
4. Visit Tokyo’s Temples and Shrines
Tokyo’s temples and shrines offer travelers a profound insight into Japan’s rich culture and religious practices. These sanctuaries serve as windows into Japanese spirituality, fostering an understanding of Shintoism and Buddhism. Meiji Shrine, nestled by Yoyogi Park, honors Emperor Meiji, epitomizing Shinto reverence. Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo’s oldest temple, captivates with its vibrant colors and historic significance. By exploring these sites, visitors delve into rituals like purification, prayer and fortune-telling – grasping the essence of Japanese belief systems.
5. Check Out the Game Centers of Tokyo
Game centers offer a fun atmosphere, featuring an array of arcade games, from classic to cutting-edge. Gaming enthusiasts will revel in the opportunity to engage with Japanese gaming culture firsthand, encountering unique titles and innovative technologies. Beyond entertainment, game centers serve as social hubs, fostering connections.
6. Go on a Shopping Spree in Tokyo
Tokyo is one of the world’s best shopping destinations, boasting diverse trends and styles to suit every taste. From avant-garde fashion in Harajuku to traditional crafts in Asakusa, Tokyo caters to all preferences. The city is a hub of innovation, with its fashion districts constantly evolving and setting global trends. Whether you seek high-end luxury brands or quirky streetwear, Tokyo’s neighborhoods like Shibuya and Ginza have it all. Even souvenir hunters will find delight in Tokyo’s vast array of keepsakes!
7. Have an Aperitif in an Izakaya
Izakaya bars offer travelers an immersive cultural experience and a chance to mingle with locals. These cozy, informal establishments serve as social hubs where patrons unwind over drinks and snacks. The relaxed atmosphere encourages conversation, making it easy to strike up a conversation with locals. Sharing small plates of local specialties fosters camaraderie, while the variety of drinks, from sake to whisky, adds to the experience. Whether solo or with companions, an Izakaya visit promises memorable encounters and the chance to forge new friendships.
8. Cross Rainbow Bridge at Night and Enjoy the View
Crossing the Rainbow Bridge at night makes for a mesmerizing adventure. As the city’s skyline twinkles in the distance, the bridge itself becomes a beacon of lights, resembling a rainbow. This juxtaposition of urban architecture against the tranquil waters of Tokyo Bay creates a stunning visual spectacle. The magical atmosphere, coupled with the panoramic views of Tokyo’s illuminated skyline, instills a sense of wonder and awe in visitors. It’s an epic journey that encapsulates the essence of Tokyo.
9. Sing with Your Friends at a Karaoke Bar
Karaoke in Tokyo with friends is an absolute blast! Imagine belting out your favorite tunes in a private room, surrounded by neon lights and good vibes. It’s like a musical adventure where inhibitions melt away, replaced by laughter. Whether you’re hitting high notes or hilariously off-key, the fun never stops. Tokyo’s karaoke scene offers an eclectic song selection, from J-pop to classic hits, ensuring there’s something for everyone.
10. Book a Tour with Us at Tokyo Trip
Entrusting one of your days with a member of Tokyo Trip is something you won’t regret! From photo tours that take you to the city’s hidden gems and picturesque viewpoints, to venturing on a day hike in Tokyo’s off the beaten track surroundings – these tours will leave you with lasting memories.
Enjoy the Food Scene of Tokyo
Tokyo has endless restaurants to choose from and food is subjective, but personally I’m a ramen lover! Make sure to inform yourself on the local food of the area you’re staying in, as it can differ. One must-try is Monjayaki – the Tokyo version of a typical recipe of Osaka called Okonomiyaki. If food is an important subject on your trip, you certainly have to spend two or three days in Osaka as well because it’s known as “The Kitchen of Japan”.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
For Tokyo, I think the area you choose to stay in is less important than the facilities such as having a metro station. If you’re going to smaller areas like Yanaka, it will be quieter but have less metro lines. Areas like Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ikebukuro offer many hotels, restaurants and metros. Staying at one of these places will help you enjoy your stay in the capital at its best. Of course, these places will be more noisy and animated. When you leave Tokyo for Kyoto or Mt Fuji, you’ll have time to relax in a quieter atmosphere.
How Many Days to Spend in Tokyo
In terms of how many days to spend in Tokyo, there is no limit. For a family trip, I recommend at least three days. You’ll be able to spend a day visiting the eastern region, another in the west and the last day checking out some museums or going shopping. Everything depends on your budget as well.
Final Tips for Your Visit to Tokyo
It’s important to have a basic understanding of Japanese customs and traditions before coming to Tokyo. Make sure to take your shoes off when going inside a house, eat with chopsticks, be respectful on the metro, and follow the guidelines at the temples/shrines. As a consequence, the locals will appreciate that you made an effort and it will enhance your experience.
Thanks for reading! I hope this Tokyo guide has inspired and informed you on how to best experience this one of a kind city. Apart from my tour website, you can follow me on Instagram and check out some of the photography that I showcase on it. We’ve also started a YouTube channel where we share our virtual walks in the streets of Tokyo and beyond. Enjoy!