Normally, I’d gate-keep, but I’m that one person who returns from a vacation and suddenly everything is about that vacation. In this case, it’s Tokyo, Japan. The eccentric city of Tokyo merges the ancient and ultra-modern so seamlessly, making it a highly sought-after vacation destination for travelers.
For Hawai‘i residents in particular, Japan has been a prime vacation spot, given its unconventional appeal and only being a painless 9-hour plane ride away. Having had the privilege to visit the city’s busy, tech-driven streets, eclectic array of markets, and tranquil temples for a week last August, I am happy to share my experience and recommend some must-visit spots for every traveler to indulge in. Tokyo in August was undeniably hot, so it might not be the ideal month to go exploring, but this guide has recommendations suitable for any time of the year. While a week is only a brief time for a city that could easily overfill an itinerary, it was more than enough time for me to have an unforgettable experience.
1. Senso-Ji Temple
The Senso-Ji Temple is one of Tokyo’s oldest temples. Located in the historic Asakusa district, the Buddhist sanctuary is a tranquil safe space away from the chaos of central Tokyo. The Kaminarimon gate, with a monolithic lantern, welcomes visitors and leads them through Nakamise Street, which is lined with many traditional shops. At night, the temple exudes this ethereal ambiance as the various structures are beautifully lit, giving the whole temple a mesmerizing glow. Visiting Senso-Ji at night is an entirely different experience, a deeply tranquil one that offers a deeper connection to the more archaic Tokyo.
2. Tokyo Sky Tree
Just two stops away by train from the Senso-Ji Temple is the Tokyo Sky Tree. It is one of the tallest standing broadcasting towers in the world. Visitors to the Sky Tree can ascend to the tower’s observation deck for views, and on clear days, these views stretch all the way to Mount Fuji. Other than the panoramic views, the first few floors of the tower is an entire mall (Tokyo Solamachi) with a labyrinth of many shops that caters to a wide range of tastes and budgets.
3. Tsukiji Outer Fish Market
For those who are hungry, the Tukiji Outer Fish Market is deemed a culinary paradise for all seafood enthusiasts. The market is overfilled with shops selling fresh catches of the day, exotic marine food, and a delectable array of street food stalls. Exploring this labyrinth could easily take up an entire afternoon, where one can see sushi being made in front of them and discover rare seafood dishes that aren’t commonly found elsewhere. The Tukiji Outer Fish Market is not only a place for food, but an experience that all five senses can feast on.
4. Shibuya Crossing At Night
The Shibuya Crossing is often referred to as the ‘Times Square of Tokyo’. It is such a mesmerizing place to be in, but is most fun at night. In the midst of the plethora of neon lights and giant screens, a sea of pedestrians can be seen flooding all directions of this intersection. It’s a wonderfully chaotic scene that is such an electrifying display of urban nightlife.
5. Shinjuku Garden
In the heart of the Shinjuku District, the Shinjuku Garden (Shinjuku Gyoen) is a place of serenity intertwined with natural beauty. The garden harmonizes a beautiful French landscape with traditional Japanese. In the middle of the garden is a Starbucks, where one can enjoy the cool air conditioning if the heat outdoors becomes too intolerable. With its elegant bridges built over its serene lakes, the garden is a refreshing stop away from the urban hustle.
6. Mori Art Museum
One can’t truly enjoy Tokyo’s artistic realm without visiting a museum. In the Roppongi Hills is the Mori Art Museum that stands as a landmark for a lot of contemporary Japanese art and culture. There are a lot of art installations, sculptures, and interactive displays that make this a must-visit place for art enthusiasts or anyone looking to explore innovative artistic expressions.
7. Tokyo Tower
Taking inspiration from the Eiffel Tower but painted in a distinct white and orange, the Tokyo Tower is a symbol of post-war growth. Unlike in Paris, you won’t have to worry about having your valuables stolen here! Visitors can take an elevator to its observation decks to witness breathtaking views of the city. At night, the tower becomes an even more beautiful landmark as its lights shimmer, casting an inviting glow that can be seen from miles away.
For Hawai‘i residents, Japan’s capital is just a mere 9-hour flight away, and it’s a unique opportunity to fully indulge in an eccentric city that resonates with familiar elements to the lifestyle we’re accustomed to here. Tokyo is a city of many contrasts, effortlessly weaving deep-rooted traditions with impressive modernity. From ancient temples to towering skyscrapers, the city offers a multitude of experiences waiting to be explored.