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. 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!

  2. 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.


  3. 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

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

Share Your Thoughts