Park Hyatt 52nd floor view
Daytime view from Park Hyatt’s 52nd floor

I’ve never been interested in traveling to Tokyo.

Why spend money to go to just another city, right? In fact, I’ve honestly never thought about traveling to any part of Japan. It didn’t interest me.

A couple months ago, though, my friend Renae said she wanted to go to Tokyo during vacation. For some reason, the idea excited me.

So Renae and I went, along with The Husband and our other friend, Justin. We found affordable flights on Skyscanner, so we took the plunge. The four of us really didn’t know what to expect.

Five days in Tokyo ended up being one of my favorite vacations of all time.

I could rant for hours about all the things I loved about Tokyo. But for your sake, here is the list of my 10 favorite things about this city.

Imperial Palace gardens

10. The Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace is the main residence of the Emperor. Fun fact: You can only get into the inner grounds on January 2nd and December 23rd. If you visit during any other time, you’re pretty much just walking around gardens.

That was good news for me. I love gardens! Walking around the Imperial Palace’s gardens was a relaxing first outing of the trip.

Imperial Palace
The group with a very kind woman in traditional Japanese clothing at the Imperial Palace

9. Politeness

Guys. The Japanese are so polite!

I don’t think this aspect of Japanese culture would have struck me so much if I hadn’t been living in China for the last seven months. The Chinese are considered quite “rude,” by Western standards. That is to say, they don’t stand in line. They stare. They spit in public. That’s just the culture.

In Japan, everyone queued! It was like I was in freakin’ Britain! People even apologized when they bumped into me. It was magical.

My favorite part of their politeness was the cleanliness. Our hostel was surprisingly clean for its low price. The streets were spotless.

Incidentally, I’m very confused as to how the streets were so clean, because I could not find public trash cans anywhere! Where does everyone throw away their garbage, if they don’t throw it on the streets? It’s a mystery to me.

I think Japanese politeness can be attributed to the fact that Japan is all about its rules. There are rules, and they must be adhered to. You can get away with anything in China. In Tokyo, I kept forgetting that I actually had to wait at crosswalks. It’s every man for himself on the streets of Shenzhen, where I live.

Meiji Shrine
In front of the Meiji Shrine entrance

8. The Meiji Shrine

The Meiji Shrine was built to honor Emporer Meiji and Empress Shoken.

I particularly enjoyed the dozens of barrels of sake and wine at the shrine. One day, when I die, I request that barrels of alcohol be dedicated to a monument on my behalf!

It’s also just a really pretty, peaceful area to walk around. You can write prayers and leave them at the shrine.

Japanese school children

7. School Children

I hate kids.

Except in Asia. Goodness gracious, they are cutie patooties! I teach grades 1, 2, and 3 in China. While grade 3 students are monsters, I just can’t get enough of the younger kids. They are the cutest things.

Well, Japanese schools have taken cuteness to a whole new level.

Above is a picture of primary school boys. Don’t they look as though they’re headed out on a little safari?! The girls wear similar hats, as well as skirts, which just makes them look like they are in a Japanese rendition of the film “Madeline.”

6. Crazy Outfits

I’m sorry, this is the one point I don’t have a corresponding picture for. Once upon a time, I would have sneakily snapped photos of Japanese couples with matching blue hair.

However, after living in China, I’m much more sensitive about sneaking pictures. Chinese people are always taking pictures of my friends and me, because they don’t see foreigners very often. At first, it was a little silly, but now it gets exhausting.

I understand that there’s just a cultural difference. Chinese people don’t consider it rude. But I still feel a little violated.

(I know what you’re thinking. “Um, Laura Grace, you sneaked that photo of the school children!” Well, actually … Justin did that. Also, they are SO ADORABLE, and we are only human!)

So I have no photos. But man, oh man. Crazy hair. Clunky shoes. Epic cross dressing. People in harlequin-esque makeup. Lots of paisley. It was amazing.

In fact, we saw Willow Smith, Will Smith’s daughter, on a photo shoot. It was such a low-key shoot that I didn’t initially realize it was her. She was wearing an AC/DC shirt, a wild black skirt, huge red headphones, and had multicolored hair. We crossed paths with her at a crosswalk, and she was dressed just as crazy as any Japanese person. She was just walking really exaggeratedly. I assumed she was just an expat on drugs.

Nope. Not drugs. Photo shoot. Sorry for assuming that about you, Willow.

Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing

5. Shibuya

There is so much going on in Shibuya … I don’t even know where to begin.

Here, you’ll find Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. Fellow Americans we met in Tokyo who live there said it’s particularly ridiculous when it rains. Hundreds of people crossing paths, all with huge umbrellas, bumping into each other? Talk about a nightmare.

Shibuya is a great place to shop and witness Tokyo’s crazy fashionistas. It’s also where the nightlife is.


4. Akihabara

Akihabara is the part of Tokyo that fulfills every expectation you had about Japanese “nerd culture.”

Trading card stores. Anime collectible figurines shops. Comic book stores. Six-story sex shops. Maid cafes. Arcades. A weird casino with nothing but hundreds of anime-themed slot machines.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a nerd, go to Akihabara! It represents a huge part of Japanese culture.

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
On the gondola, passing over the sulfur from the volcano.

3. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

This national park is a couple hours outside of Tokyo’s city center. I must say, I recommend spending two days here. Book a room at one of the hotels in the park. We tried to do everything in one day, and it was exhausting. You take a train to the park, then another train to different spots in the park. Eventually, you have to get on a cable car to go any further. Then a gondola. Then a bus. That’s a lot of time on public transportation.

Although it was tiring, it was nice to get out of the city for a day. I prefer to experience at least a little bit of nature when I travel.

The group split up and did our own things. The Husband and I spent time in natural hot springs. We took the gondola over an active volcano, which may have been stinky, but it was beautiful. When we got off the gondola, we saw Mount Fuji in the distance. It was surreal.

Park Hyatt view

2. Park Hyatt

Our last night in the city, we had drinks on the 41st floor of Park Hyatt Hotel. What a perfect ending to the trip!

We got to soak up one of the greatest views of Tokyo. For $40 each, we got unlimited drinks from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Initially, $40 sounded like a lot. But the cocktails are amazing. I’ve never loved a cosmopolitan, but I loved this cosmopolitan!

If you only want one drink and an even better view, go to the 52nd floor. There is less seating available, but you can pay $20 for one cocktail and enjoy an epic view of the city at nighttime.

Sushi in Tokyo

1. Food

I used to go into a trip with the mindset, “I will only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, if it means I can afford to do other things while I’m here.”

Now I pretty much have the opposite mindset. Eating is always at the top of my priority list when I travel! Especially in a place like Tokyo.

Sushi. Ramen. My first Kobe beef. The list goes on.

Tokyo is a foodie’s paradise. I probably gained five pounds in five days, but it was worth every bite.

Have you been to Tokyo? What was your favorite part?

***Note: This post contains affiliate links. Because I love it when Skyscanner helps me afford tickets!