What are some interesting things to do in Tokyo and Kyoto for 8 days?
September 13, 2011 10:14 AM   Subscribe

What are some interesting things to do in Tokyo and Kyoto for 8 days?

I'm heading to Tokyo this Saturday with a buddy of mine and we're staying for eight days with two of those in Kyoto. In Tokyo we're staying in a flat in Nakameguro which I'm told is a fairly hip area.

I spent a week in Tokyo a few years ago and while it was an awesome experience, I feel like I barely scratched the surface. So I'm looking for suggestions for not just the obligatory temples, shrines, etc., but also fun (though not high end and not in Rappongi) restaurants, bars, and shops.

We're both in our 30's and used to living in big cities so we're pretty much game for doing anything and eating anything, using whatever mode of transport necessary. Thanks in advance!
posted by Average Mario to Travel & Transportation around Japan (17 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I was just there last month and can vouch for the advice in this thread, particularly about the Yoramu Sake Bar in Kyoto. That guy knows his sake and will educate you about it. The Manga museum was interesting too.
posted by univac at 10:31 AM on September 13, 2011

For a study in contrasts, take the subway over to Harajuku Station, where you'll see hip kids dressed as everything from Elvis to anime characters, great funky shops and lots of hustle and bustle, then cross the bridge (if I remember correctly...it goes over the street) to Meiji Jingu, which is breathtakingly gorgeous, quiet, and serene.
posted by xingcat at 10:35 AM on September 13, 2011

Kyoto: daytrip to Nara!
posted by ouke at 11:33 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

See if there are any festivals, even small ones, happening while you're there. There was one we sought out and one we just happened upon, and they were both fun, and felt more special for being a temporary pleasure.

If you enjoy spending some non-urban time, we really liked hiking around Mt. Kurama. I found walking around the forest to give me a much stronger sense of "I am not anywhere near home" than the high-rises and neon did. There were a bunch of images taken straight out of a woodcut which beforehand I had assumed would have been artistic license. I bet it'd be gorgeous in the fall.

If you enjoy something a bit silly: Iwatayama Monkey Park. A related thing that I would do if I went back: feeding the deer in Nara.

My husband does some pottery so we visited the Kawai Kanjiro museum, which was also his home. It's a pleasant place if that sounds interesting.

All of those things, except the festival, we were very nearly the only non-Japanese there, so they're definitely not the typical tourist thing.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:31 PM on September 13, 2011

Kyoto: daytrip to Nara!

Just make sure you take a Kintestu "express", rather than JR, as Kintetsu gets you to Nara more quickly, and Kintetsu Station is more centrally located than JR Nara.

Nara is a good choice because it's designed for walking, and there are many things worth seeing within 20 minutes' walk of Kintetsu Station, including the "Great Buddha" of Todaiji, and the National Museum (which is itself a beautiful building.

As for Kyoto, the obvious places to go include Kawaramachi and Karasuma. There's lots of window shopping and cheap places to eat. The Starbucks at Shijo-bashi bridge is a great place for a pit stop; you can grab a coffee and then wander down to the riverbank to watch the traffic pass by on the bridge, or watch herons look for fish along the shore.

Another great walk in Kyoto is Higashiyama area to the east of Kyoto Station. You can take a bus to Kiyomizu Temple, and then wander north along pedestrian streets, eventually heading back west into town via Gion and Shijobashi.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:21 PM on September 13, 2011

Kyoto was covered quite well recently in this thread, so I'll stick to Tokyo.

I lived in Tokyo for a year and a half or so; I last visited in April last year. I seem to have enough suggestions for the place that I could write my own guidebook, so I'm breaking this into a couple of answers. Here's part 1: things to do in Tokyo itself.

- Odaiba is the place to go for weird shopping malls. Bear with me. One (Decks) has one floor given over to a recreation of 1950s Tokyo, "Daiba 1-chome Shoutengai". Next door is Aqua City, which has a mini Statue of Liberty outside, and a ramen-themed food theme park(!) on the fifth floor, which I can't believe I missed. Then there's Venus Fort, which is designed to look like Venice, with its ceiling painted to look like the sky, and its lighting changing as the day wears on to mimic the changing daylight outside. (Plus, Hello Kitty Kawaii Paradise!) And as well as the malls, there's a very large sightseeing Ferris wheel, the rather unusual Fuji-TV Building, and some weird public art. And nearby is a pretty good aquarium, the Tokyo Sea Life Center.

- I expect you went to Asakusa the last time you visited. Did you see the Flamme d'Or and Tokyo Sky Tree (still under construction, but already Japan's tallest tower)? And how about the kitchen district, Kappabashi-dori, a couple of streets away?

- Tokyo's gardens are lovely. Try Shinjuku Gyoen, Hamarikyu, Koishikawa Korakuen Garden, which has some particularly attractive bridges (and where I saw a kingfisher!), or the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens.

- The parks are also great; as well as the Meiji Shrine, which has already been mentioned, I particularly like Hibiya Park, which has interesting objects scattered throughout. (Notice the "Bell of Liberty" on that map, for instance.) Close by is the Wadakura Fountain Park, and of course the Imperial Palace.

- Ueno Zoo is one of just a handful of zoos in the world with giant pandas.

- The Ghibli Museum is a delight, even if you haven't seen any of the films, and the area it's in is quite interesting to wander around and contrast with central Tokyo (it's more of a residential suburb). Everyone tells you you have to buy a ticket months in advance, but I went twice, and both times I just walked into the Mitaka JTB, they said "Studio Ghibli?", I said "Hai", and they sold me a ticket for immediate entry. However, apparently JTB no longer sells the tickets, and you'd have to get them at a branch of Lawson instead.

- The observation deck of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower has an outdoor section, and it's quite special to be out in the open so high up. The Mori Art Museum, at the top of the tower, is also well worth a look if the current exhibition interests you (and not if it doesn't, because there isn't a permanent collection): here's the exhibition schedule.

- If you prefer your views from on high to come without an admission fee, the Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku is the place to go; both towers give you great views of the city and the mountains.

- The Nihonbashi bridge is astonishing: it's a beautiful, famous, classic bridge, familiar from ukiyo-e prints, and they've gone and built a massive flyover over the top of it!

- The kite museum, which is tiny, and the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which is huge, are both well worth a look.

- Finally, the sumo's on at the moment. I don't know if you'd be able to get tickets, but it's a pretty great experience.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:44 PM on September 13, 2011 [9 favorites]

Brilliant suggestions!

FYI ManyLeggedCreature I was able to buy Ghibli tix in the JTB office in San Francisco, no problem.
posted by Average Mario at 1:54 PM on September 13, 2011

OK, second monster answer: things to do near Tokyo.

An hour west of Shinjuku is Mount Takao. It's a nice, gentle mountain, with hiking trails, a chairlift and a funicular, shrines and temples, lots of trees, lots of wildlife, and a monkey park (though I think the one in Kyoto is supposed to be rather more interactive) with a garden. On a clear day, it also has some stunning views of Fuji. And you might just be in time for the "Beer Mount", a summer-only beer garden on an observation deck near the top of the chairlift and funicular.

The train station you need to get to for Takao is Takaosanguchi. Opposite the station is a Trick Art Museum, which is good fun. Take a friend and a camera.

Heading north from Tokyo, there's Nikko: temples aplenty, a crying dragon, the monkeys who see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil, an interesting art museum, some really atmospheric woods, and a brewery (sorry, Japanese-only site).

Heading south, you've got Kamakura, Enoshima and Yokohama:

Kamakura has more temples, and a very large Buddha - and Kita-Kamakura is wooded and peaceful - but what I would particularly recommend is the beach, to see the flocks of black kites circling and swooping (don't bring food!), and Hokoku-ji, the Bamboo Temple, which is stunningly peaceful. Take a look at the shops along the main street, too: my personal favourite sells beautiful wooden items, everything from chopsticks to ornate puzzle boxes.

Enoshima is an island connected to the mainland by a causeway. It has lots of dragons about the place, yet more black kites, cliffs and rock pools, and a subtropical hilltop garden with great views back towards Fujisawa and out towards Fuji. If you're there at sunset, go up the tower in the garden and watch the sun go down not quite over Fuji. To get to Enoshima, take a train to Ofuna and then take the fantastic Shonan monorail to the end of the line, in Fujisawa. Monoraaaaail! Try to make sure you're in the front carriage.

Yokohama is another huge city, but it feels quite different from Tokyo. I particularly like the futuristic Minato Mirai area, where you'll find the Landmark Tower (potential for yet another great Fuji view), and the area around Yamashita Park.

Finally, southwest of Tokyo, there's Hakone. There's a lot to see and do around there, and the one time I went, I didn't actually manage to get as far as any of the really famous stuff, because the Hakone Open-Air Museum - a large sculpture park - turned out to be so good that I spent the whole afternoon there. Strongly recommended.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:02 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was in Kyoto last month and did a lovely walking tour from the train station lead by an English-speaking guide. It was a five hour tour (lots of sitting down interspersed with the walking) and cost, I think, 2,000 Yen. Might have been 1500. There were just five of us on the tour, so lots of chances to ask individual questions, and she interpreted for us talking to artisans and so on that we met so we could ask them questions too. Apart from one temple, it was all off-the-beaten-path stuff - old workshops where men were doing pottery or painting fans, sweet makers, tea houses, etc. It runs most weekdays (maybe every day) and there are flyers about it in the tourist info and around the station.
posted by lollusc at 3:20 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I live in Kyoto, and I'll try to think of some cool stuff. Basically, all of Tokyo was bombed out in WWII, while Kyoto was spared, so if you are into old temples and shrines, then Kyoto will be your fix. One of my favorites is Fushimi-Inari, which is a huuuuge shrine complex built onto a mountainside. Good for light hiking while gawking. There's also Kiyomizu-temple, which is a total tourist trap but just incredibly awesome nonetheless. It's also fun just to walk around the Teramachi area around Sanjo.

I would skip the daytrip to Nara, especially if you only have two days in Kyoto. Nara is actually a pretty boring place. It does have some old temples and history, but Kyoto beats it hands-down in those categories anyway.
posted by zachawry at 3:29 PM on September 13, 2011

A few restaurant and pub recommendations.


For traditional Japanese food, I can't recommend anywhere specific, because everywhere I ate was good: chain izakayas, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, expensive upmarket izakayas and sushi restaurants, you name it. I conclude that you'd be unlucky to be disappointed; and places serving Japanese food are ubiquitous. Mmm.

When it comes to Japanese-style Chinese food, I would try that ramen theme park on Odaiba. Just for the sake of curiosity. And if you go to Nikko, you could stop on your way back at Utsonomiya, which is famous for its gyoza. Finally, tantanmen, a spicy red pork/sesame ramen soup, is something to try if you get the chance, because it's hard to find outside Japan; I'd recommend keeping an eye out for it.

On to other cuisines:

T.Y. Harbor Brewery, on Tennozu Isle near(ish) Shinagawa, offers delicious food (try to leave space for dessert), beers brewed on site, and an appealing wine list. Here's a review.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar in Shinagawa may seem like an unlikely suggestion - going to Japan to eat American food? - but the deep-fried Japanese oysters are incredible.

There's a chain of Thai restaurants called Tinun; the one I went to repeatedly is on Aoyama-dori. The sign says "Tasty Thai Dining", and it's a basement restaurant on the right-hand side of Aoyama-dori as you walk away from Shibuya. It doesn't look very promising from the outside, but the food is stellar. Try the tom kha kai!


Not so much my thing; I'm a little too quiet for bars. I have a few pub recommendations, though, if that's of any interest. There's the cosy Aldgate in Shibuya, a British-style pub with very drinkable real ale from Japanese and other brewers: here's a review. There's Belgo, a very popular Belgian beer bar, also in Shibuya. And then there's the Cat & Cask Tavern out in Kanamecho, a small local pub (run by an Englishman but frequented mostly by Japanese) which prides itself on its beer.

PS: I forgot to mention Kawagoe in my list of day trip destinations. It's half an hour or so northwest of Tokyo, and it's notable because it still has streets of Edo-era buildings. It's very photogenic.

(... and re zachawry's comment: unless there's been a dramatic change, what Nara has that Kyoto doesn't is roaming herds of very tame sacred deer... though I do agree that two days is a bit short to fit both places in.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:15 PM on September 13, 2011

And finally: shopping.

When I go to Tokyo, I come back with kitchen stuff, ornaments, fans, stationery (even cheap Japanese biros and notebooks are remarkably good), compact electronic things (for example, an AA-battery-powered portable charger for my iPhone that's smaller than the phone is), random little weird things, origami paper, and books. I've already mentioned a few shops, but let me add:

Tokyu Hands, repository of wonderful things. The Shibuya and Shinjuku ones are both places to lose yourself in, and I'm sure the other branches are equally fun. (Though note that kitchen stuff is typically at least 100 yen cheaper in Kappabashi-dori.)

Ito-ya, stationery store beyond compare. The flagship is in Ginza; if you visit on a Sunday, Ginza's main street is pedestrianised and the atmosphere is relaxed.

Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera and (to a slightly lesser extent) Sakuraya: all much of a muchness, and you should go into one even if you don't want electronics, just for the experience.

Along similar lines, the whole Akihabara district: I particularly like the covered markets, where men sell products of the future from tiny low-key shops from the past. I always feel displaced in time when I wander around there.

The Oriental Bazaar on Omotesando is, or at least was five years ago, the classic "must get souvenirs to take back" final stop for expats on their way home. The tourist-trap stalls near Asakusa are another good place for that sort of thing.

Department stores usually have food halls in the basement: I recommend going and looking at the fruit, partly to marvel at the sheer cost of some of the perfect apples and so forth, and partly to see if there's anything unusual you fancy buying. I found delicious rainbow kiwi in one, for instance.

Speaking of fruit, I found pineapple and melon (which you can get in fruit salad cups in the convenience stores) much, much better in Japan than they are in northwest Europe; depending on where you come from, you might also be surprised by how good they are. If the persimmon (kaki) season has started, those are also recommended.

Another place to get fruit is Ameyoko, the former black market area between Ueno and Okachimachi. Street vendors there sell fresh, juicy skewers of pineapple and melon for 100 yen or so apiece; sticky but delicious.

Finally, on the offchance that you're interested, books. For new books, there's Kinokuniya at Takashimaya Times Square, between Yoyogi and Shinjuku stations; the top floor houses foreign-language books (and there's a bridge from there to Tokyu Hands). It has particularly good sections on Japan, Japanese crafts and the Japanese language, and a similarly good stock of fiction by Japanese authors or set in Japan. And for second-hand books, there's Good Day Books in Ebisu, where I've found an implausible number of "I've been looking for this *forever*!" titles.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:19 PM on September 13, 2011

Nara is actually a pretty boring place. It does have some old temples and history, but Kyoto beats it hands-down in those categories anyway.

Go to Nara and you can stare back 1300 years in time at artifacts from the Silk Road. Can't do that in Kyoto.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:35 PM on September 13, 2011

Thanks for all the awesome suggestions. MLC I feel like I owe you a return ticket to Japan as thanks for your three epic replies!
posted by Average Mario at 9:44 PM on September 13, 2011

Go to Nara and you can stare back 1300 years in time at artifacts from the Silk Road. Can't do that in Kyoto.

Yeah, but Kyoto has temples that have been around that long that have only been rebuilt 25 times in the intervening centuries!
posted by zachawry at 9:48 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

ManyLeggedCreature covered most of my usual suggestions (Ameyoko is a treat), but check out Kappabashi dori for anything kitchen/restaurant related (plastic sushi is expensive, but fun).

For food, check out the restaurants/izakayas just south of Yurakucho Station (just south of Tokyo Station). There are some fantastic places for beer and grilled nibbles right under the tracks of the Yamanote line. The restaurants under the line itself, on the inside of the tracks (the west side) are a bit fancier/pricier, but the ones on the east side are awesome. Tables made of a slab of wood on a couple beer crates set out on the street, great food, lots of fun. We had a meetup there last year, and good times were had by many. If you like yakitori, that's a pretty great place to try it. Lots of variety, just wander until something grabs your interest.

Finally if you are at all interested in temples/history stuff, check out Sengaku-ji, conveniently located at Sengakuji Station. It's home to the cemetary holding the remains of the 47 Ronin, who were actual historical figures. There is a museum displaying some of the weapons and armor they used, with surprising amounts of English. It's a smaller temple, but in terms of the history, and the atmosphere, it's one of my favorites.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:02 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

MLC I feel like I owe you a return ticket to Japan as thanks for your three epic replies!

... Well, don't let me stop you. ;-)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:09 AM on September 14, 2011

« Older Can you explain this old convention regarding days...   |   Copyright infringement for $100, Alex Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.