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Tokyo: travel guide to Harajuku - what to see and where to eat

Tokyo is the capital of Japan and is the obligatory stop for every time you come to visit the Rising Sun. It is a megalopolis that boasts over 10 million inhabitants and is always evolving: for this reason you never stop discovering it and every time you go back you always notice something different and new.

This beautiful city is the hub of Japan as it encompasses all facets of the entire country in its iconic neighborhoods.

In Tokyo we must necessarily go back in time: explaining the emotions that this city is able to give is not possible, you have to live them. Only those who have been there can understand it.

As a minimum stay, I recommend staying no less than a week: Tokyo should also be explored on foot, admired in its alleys and views. You can't hit and run, it wouldn't make any sense, especially if it's your first time here.


Before leaving:

  • Make sure you buy the pocket wi-fi from Italy and pick it up as soon as you arrive in Japan at the airport (alternatively you can have it delivered to your hotel). This tool is essential because it allows you to always stay connected to the Internet during your trip. Upon your return, you can send it by post by inserting it in the letter envelope that will be provided to you and leave it at the airport post office. The best and safest site to buy it is this.

  • Google Maps works perfectly throughout Japan, but if you want to use the site that the Japanese themselves use, download the HyperDia app (it's also in English) to find public transport timetables.

  • Japan Rail Pass: considered indispensable by many, in my opinion it is not always so. My advice is to make a precise and feasible itinerary before leaving and to calculate with HyperDia how much you will spend on transport. Very often making this purchase is useless. Otherwise, it must be bought from Italy at this site.

  • Powerbank: it is always better to buy one so as not to be left with a dead phone.

  • Cash: here's what NOT to do before leaving, exchange money in Italy. Exchange is never cheap, so it's best to exchange them as soon as you arrive at the airport. However, bring a certain amount of cash (needless to say that nobody will steal it from you) because they can understand that cards cause problems, especially at ATMs. I advise you to top up PostePay (the classic yellow one, not the Evolution one) and if you have a debit or credit card it is always better to contact your bank to warn them that you will be making payments in Japan (if you don't warn them, they could block the card) ; also ask to put the card in "worldwide payments" mode. Keep in mind that cards are used much less in Japan than in the West, so it's always good to have a certain amount of cash with you. Many restaurants only accept cash.

  • Health insurance: it is good to be careful and buy valid insurance that covers as much as possible (you never know what can happen). In Japan, healthcare is both public and private, and being outside the European Union, prices and bureaucracy are different. You can buy it here.


HOW TO GET

  • From Haneda Airport: This is the closest airport and is only 30 minutes away from the city. Although it does almost only domestic flights, over the years it has also increased international routes with various companies. The most convenient means of transportation is the Tokyo Monorail (monorail train) which goes to JR Hamamatsucho Station. Cost ¥500

  • From Narita Airport: This is Tokyo's main international airport. The most used and efficient means of transport is the Narita Express, which connects the airport with some important subway stations in Tokyo. The cost of the ticket varies according to the landing station. Cost from 3070¥ to 3250¥, 60 minutes of travel

  • From Kyoto: the best way is undoubtedly the Shinkansen. Choose between Nozomi or Mizuho, the two fastest. Cost ¥14,170, 130 minute journey


HOW TO MOVE

The best means of transport to use in Tokyo is definitely the subway.

Extremely easy to use, tidy and safe, the capital's subway is made up of numerous lines owned by different companies (Tokyo Metro and Toei Line, for a total of 13 lines), as well as JR.

There are no real subscriptions except for:

  • Tokyo subway ticket: can be used on all Tokyo Metro and Toei Lines. They can be bought on the subway and in Bic Camera shops, bringing your passport with you to show. This ticket is divided into time slots: 24h for ¥800, 48h for ¥1200 and 72h for ¥1500.

  • Common one-way ticket: valid for one day on the Tokyo Metro and Toei Lines at a cost of 900¥.

  • Tokyo combination ticket: valid for one day on Tokyo Metro, Toei Line, Toei Streetcar (Toden), Tokyo metropolitan bus, all sections of the Nippori/ Toneri Line and JR lines in central Tokyo. Cost ¥1590.


My dispassionate advice is to buy the Suica card (cost ¥1000 of which ¥500 goes on deposit) with cash, Visa or Mastercard.

It is a very practical card to top up your money on for travel on the JR, subway (Tokyo Metro, Toei, bus, Tokyo Monorail), but it does not work for the Shinkansen and airport shuttles.

It is the most comfortable way to travel because you just need to top up a certain amount of cash to travel without worries. You can find it at the machines in the stations with the Suica symbol.


WHERE TO STAY

In Tokyo it is always advisable to stay in a hotel near a subway station connected to the center or in any case well connected to the major sites of interest. This is true even if it is not the first time you visit it because this choice will save you a lot of time and money; in fact, the cost of the Tokyo subway varies based on the mileage travelled.

So, unless you really want to stay in a particular or decentralized area, the best neighborhoods to sleep are Shinjuku and Asakusa (for cheap solutions), the station area and obviously Shibuya, a neighborhood that I absolutely prefer the convenience of connections over to the bustling night life and the most amazing range of shops and restaurants.


HARAJUKU

This is Tokyo's most colorful and sparkling neighborhood, home to the most extravagant youth fashions and scene par excellence for cosplayers (who had chosen this area as their meeting place between the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s).

Here you will find clothing with the most unique shapes, kawaii street food and vintage clothing.


TAKESHITA DORI

Very famous street in the heart of Harajuku, home to numerous fashion shops where you can buy bizarre accessories. Noteworthy are certainly Daiso (shop that sells everything for ¥100, perfect for buying souvenirs; open 09:30am - 10pm) and Body Line (very famous lolita style shop; open 11:00 - 20:00).

The girls who usually walk this street are called "Harajuku girls" and embody the essence of the style of this area of Tokyo.

Takeshita dori street harajuku Cookingwiththehamster
Takeshita dori | © Cookingwiththehamster

OMOTESANDO

Elegant tree-lined avenue, the junction point between Shibuya and Harajuku. Here you will find many shops where you can go shopping, including luxury ones (the Anglomania boutique by Vivienne Westwood is famous; open 11am - 21pm, address: 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 1 Chome−11−6 ラフォーレ原宿1F). If you are a fan of Rilakkuma and Hello Kitty then don't miss Kiddyland (open 11am - 9pm, address: 6 Chome-1-9 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001)

Vivienne Westwood Anglomania omotesando Cookingwiththehamster
Vivienne Westwood | © Cookingwiththehamster

SAILOR MOON STORE

Located inside the Laforet shopping centre, this shop is a paradise for all fans of the sailor-wearing fighter. Here you will find articles of clothing, gadgets and trinkets. The prices are decidedly high but a visit is absolutely worth it.

Opening 11am - 21pm, website, address: 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 1 Chome−11, ラフォーレ原宿B0-5階

Sailor Moon Store harajuku Cookingwiththehamster
Sailor Moon Store | © Cookingwiththehamster
Sailor Moon Store harajuku Cookingwiththehamster
Sailor Moon Store | © Cookingwiththehamster

MEIJI JINGU

It seems impossible that in the midst of so many people, traffic, music and colors there could be a real forest in the city (made up of 10,000 trees), extremely silent and evocative. We are talking about Yoyogi Park and the gardens of the Meiji Shrine, one of the most important in Tokyo. The name of this site is linked to the figure of the Meiji emperor, the first of the modern era.

Ascended to the throne at the age of only 15 during the Edo period (still feudal Japan), he put an end to the power of the shoguns by bringing it back into the hands of the emperor. From that moment he moved the capital to Tokyo and started an incredible process of modernization of the country, exposing it for the first time to the rest of the world after 200 years of total closure.

Today it is one of the busiest shrines in all of Japan and it is not uncommon to see Shinto weddings celebrated.

Open 05am - 6pm, address: 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 151-8557

Meiji Jingu tokyo Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu | © Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu tokyo Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu | © Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu tokyo Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu | © Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu tokyo Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu | © Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu tokyo Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu | © Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu tokyo Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu | © Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu tokyo Cookingwiththehamster
Meiji Jingu | © Cookingwiththehamster
Yoyogi Park | © Cookingwiththehamster
Yoyogi Park | © Cookingwiththehamster
Yoyogi Park tokyo Cookingwiththehamster
Yoyogi Park | © Cookingwiththehamster

CAT STREET

Located in a somewhat hidden area, Cat Street reserves a few surprises for second-hand clothing and design enthusiasts. Here you will breathe a completely different air from that of Takeshita Street: no gaudy lights and impossible clothes, in Cat Street everything is very tidy and "normal".


DOVE MANGIARE


SWEET BOX

Among the many corners where you can enjoy an excellent rolled crêpe there is certainly Sweet Box, located at the beginning of Takeshita Street immediately on the right.

Outside you will find reproductions of the crêpes that can be made (86 in total!), so if you have difficulty making yourself understood at the till when ordering, you can say the number of the product on display or simply take a picture. After paying you will be served immediately.

I tried the classic strawberry and whipped cream. Exquisite!


Opening 11am - 8pm, website, address: 1 Chome-17-5 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001

Sweet Box crepes harajuku Cookingwiththehamster
Sweet Box | © Cookingwiththehamster
Sweet Box crepe harajuku Cookingwiththehamster
Sweet Box | © Cookingwiththehamster

TOTTI CANDY FACTORY

Very famous shop of giant cotton candy colored in pastel shades.


Opening 10:30am - 10pm, website, address: 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 1 Chome−16−5 Ryuあぱるとまん 2F

Totti Candy Factory harajuku Cookingwiththehamster
Totti Candy Factory | © Cookingwiththehamster
Totti Candy Factory harajuku Cookingwiththehamster
Totti Candy Factory | © Cookingwiththehamster

A HAPPY PANCAKE

Now legendary place where you can taste the legendary and very soft Japanese pancakes.

Try to book in advance, otherwise you will have to queue up and the wait is often over an hour.

The bar looks more like a tea room with an open kitchen (it will be very interesting to see the preparation of your favorite desserts) and the staff is very nice and helpful.


Opening 09:30am - 07:30pm, website, address: 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 4 Chome−9−3 清原ビル B1F

A Happy Pancake shibuya Cookingwiththehamster
A Happy Pancake | © Cookingwiththehamster
A Happy Pancake shibuya  Cookingwiththehamster
A Happy Pancake | © Cookingwiththehamster
A Happy Pancake shibuya Cookingwiththehamster
A Happy Pancake | © Cookingwiththehamster
A Happy Pancake shibuya Cookingwiththehamster
A Happy Pancake | © Cookingwiththehamster


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