heading to tokyo

In a few weeks, my wife and I are head­ing to Tokyo for a week. (It’s one of the three trips my she won while com­pet­ing on Top Chef All Stars.) I had so much luck get­ting sug­ges­tions and rec­om­men­da­tions from read­ers as we pre­pared for our trip to Ams­ter­dam, that I thought that I’d try this again.

I have just started to do my travel research, but I would really appre­ci­ate you leav­ing a com­ment with your rec­om­men­da­tions and/or sug­ges­tions for things to do, must see attrac­tions, inter­est­ing places to go in the city, shop­ping, good day trips out of the city, and — of course — good eats. Also, if you’ve vis­ited Tokyo and blogged about it, please share the link in the comments.

Oh…I am also curi­ous about the lan­guage issue/barrier. Can I get by with Eng­lish, or should I cram to learn some Japan­ese in the next three weeks?



17 thoughts on “heading to tokyo

  1. Christie Glascoe Crowder says:

    That’s amaz­ing! I hope you have a won­der­ful trip and can’t wait to read about your adventures!

  2. As a tourist, you’ll want to see the Impe­r­ial Palace and Tokyo Tower, but I’m more of a ‘walk­ing around’ kind of guy.  Just stand­ing in Shibuya/Shinjuku are expe­ri­ences in of them­selves.  I lived in Japan for 5 years, but not in Tokyo — and when I went, it was usu­ally to eat.  I def­i­nitely sug­gest you ask the hotel staff; they’ll know the best local places to eat.  You def­i­nitely want to try an iza­kaya, yakiniku, and, if you’re espe­cially hun­gry, find a ‘tabe-hodai’ (all you can eat).  The key to food in Japan is to go where peo­ple are lin­ing up (and they DO line up); also, lunch is typ­i­cally a really choice at most places; they’ll do a prix fixe at many places for 1500 yen or so.

    As far as Eng­lish goes, in Tokyo you shouldn’t have a prob­lem.  Any touristy area will have peo­ple who speak Eng­lish and other for­eign­ers, but like any coun­try, know­ing words like ‘please’ (one­gai shi­masu) and ‘thank you’ (ari­gato goza­imasu) go a long way, espe­cially in Japan.  Are you plan­ning on leav­ing the Tokyo area?  I lived in Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka, so I’m more famil­iar with central/Western Japan.

    • Hi Brian. Thanks for the great infor­ma­tion. Carla and I like to walk around and get lost in a new place (as long as we can resur­face). I appre­ci­ate that tip about look­ing for places with lines. Inter­est­ingly, lines would deter most peo­ple, but I’m pretty patient…especially when I’m on vacation.

      We may look into going to Kyoto for a day, or overnight.

      Thanks again. Cheers!

  3. Karyn says:

    Matthew, you likely know this already, but I highly rec­om­mend a trip to Tsuk­iji Fish Mar­ket. Get there early early early. I also sug­gest going to a Japan­ese bath­house. You will be clean *and* relaxed. Remem­ber to wash thor­oughly first before dip­ping into the var­i­ous pools.

    • Thank you, Karyn. Sev­eral peo­ple have men­tioned the Tsuk­iji Fish Mar­ket, includ­ing catch­ing break­fast. It’s now on the list, for sure.

      Thanks for the tip about the bath­houses. I guess that I knew about them, but didn’t think about it as a “go to” spot. Off to look dig into that online.


  4. Joanndurr says:

    My daugh­ter in law is Japan­ese and she and my son have lived near Tokyo for the past 5 years. We have vis­ited three times and love Tokyo! No need to lean Japan­ese — all signs are in Eng­lish and the train sys­tem is easy t o man­age. Make sure to see Hara­juku, Aoyama and ask your hotel concierge to arrange a visit to the fish mar­ket. I’m sure Carla would love it! Also go to the rooftop bar at theP­ark Hyatt in Shin­juku to chan­nel Bill Murray’s angst from “Lost in Trans­la­tion“
    If you have time take the Shinkansen to Kyoto, about a3 hour ride. It is stun­ningly beau­ti­ful
    Have fun!
    JoAnn Durr

  5. Heather Setzler says:

    Make sure you take a day trip to Hakone…take the train from Tokyo, then go up the moun­tain on cable car, then gon­dola, up to the high­est point…on a clear day, you can see Mt Fuji!!!  Then, back down the moun­tain via cable car, cross the lake (can’t remem­ber the name, but you will see this day trip in a good travel book) on a boat, then back to Tokyo on the train.  It’s a great day trip, espe­cially if you see the mas­sive, yet breath­tak­ing Fuji!  Spend a day in the Asakusa dis­trict, the only part of Tokyo that was not dev­as­tated by WWII; there is a beau­ti­ful tem­ple there. Make sure you go into one of the small restau­rants, where the door is cov­ered only by a piece of cloth…the menu will only be in Kanji, and they will not speak Eng­lish but it is an adventure…have an idea what you would like in your main course and know the Japan­ese word for it…good luck!  One other must do is to go to the Tsukigi fish market…you have to get there really early…all the action occurs between 4 and 6 a.m., I think…it is fas­ci­nat­ing; then eat awe­some sushi for break­fast at one of the stalls sur­round­ing the mar­ket.  Plan this care­fully; I think they are closed on Mon­day?       Other pieces of advice: 1. Read about Japan­ese cus­toms before you go…so they will not think you are “stu­pid Gai­jin” (foreigner)…good to know things like they don’t blow their noses in pub­lic, or eat or drink on the streets, etc.  2. Most Japan­ese in the city know some English…but they will be admire your attempts at Japan­ese (stick to small words and phrases…so you don’t say the wrong thing due to poor pro­nun­ci­a­tion :)     3.  The Japan­ese love to be helpful.…so much so, if you ask for direc­tions, and they do not know, they will try to help you any­way, and you can go off on a wild goose chase!  4. If you go any­where, have some­one write the street address in Kanji for you, so you can show it to the cab dri­ver, etc.  Most streets are not labeled, and addresses are not always dis­played.  I hope this helps you…if you have other ques­tions, feel free to email me at   I am a HUGE fan of your wife, Carla…and I am SO happy to help you guys out! I remem­ber when she won this trip on Top Chef :) Most impor­tant, have a GREAT time! 

    Heather Set­zler

    • Wow! Thanks for all the great info, Heather. I really appre­ci­ate you tak­ing time to share these tips. I clearly have lots to look up and note for the trip. I appre­ci­ate you extend­ing a help­ing hand, includ­ing offer­ing your email!

      Thanks for the kind words about Carla. She really appre­ci­ates the sup­port and feedback.Best!Matthew

      • Heather Setzler says:

        Hope you blog about the trip…can’t wait to hear about it! 

        And, I agree w/ the sug­ges­tion re: a day trip to Kyoto…it is beautiful…lots of tem­ples, gar­dens, and shops.  Go to Gion and try to catch a glimpse of a geisha or maiko!  If you can stay overnight, stay at a Ryokan, tra­di­tional Japan­ese inn, for the ulti­mate cul­tural expe­ri­ence. Enjoy!

  6. Japanesegirl says:

    I’m from Japan and I actu­ally just returned from Tokyo last week after vis­it­ing my par­ents for a month.  Sen­soji tem­ple in Asakusa and Tsuk­iji mar­ket (you have to get up super early though) are must-see if you are look­ing for tra­di­tional Japan­ese spots.  For shop­ping, since you only have one week, I would sug­gest vis­it­ing a few depart­ment stores in Ginza or Shin­juku.  Be sure to go to “depachika” (base­ment floor) while vis­it­ing depart­ment stores.  That’s where foods are sold and you will be amazed by selec­tions and qual­ity of the stuff sold there.  Also, you will find every lux­ury brand you can think of in the Ginza and Omote­sando dis­tricts.  If you want to stroll and see the urban Tokyo, go to Omote­sando, Shibuya or Marunouchi. 

    Unfor­tu­nately, with the cur­rent exchange rates, every­thing seems so expen­sive though.

    My hus­band is Amer­i­can and he doesn’t speak Japan­ese, but usu­ally he can get around Tokyo alone with no prob­lem.  Eng­lish signes are every­where, and you should be able to find some­one who speaks good enough Eng­lish to help you in the Tokyo area.

    There are too many great restau­rants in Tokyo to just pick a few.   Rop­pongi Robataya is very pop­u­lar among for­eign­ers and they never dis­ap­point. 

    Lastly, pack warm clothes!  This win­ter has been colder than usual, and you will be walk­ing out­side a lot.

    I hope you and your wife will enjoy the trip!

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