The Uproxx 2023 Fall Travel Hot List is online! Visit here for the full experience!
Japan is one of those far-flung international destinations (when traveling from the United States) that everyone you meet seems to want to visit. I was certainly looking forward to going, as I’m obsessed with sushi and have favorited countless Instagram posts showcasing the country’s trendy shops and museums over the years. Plus, I love spa culture and my desire to visit an onsen was very high.
I’m thrilled to announce that this spring my trip to Japan finally came to fruition and I was so right to have it on my travel list. Tokyo, in particular, was a highlight — and is booming since its post-pandemic reopening in October 2022. That’s probably why the Kardashian and D’Amelio families were there at the same time as me.
While there are so many restaurants (both famous and hole-in-the-wall), markets, neighborhoods and things to see when visiting Tokyo, I’ve put together my guide – coming from a new visitor and based in USA. traveler – so you don’t have to figure it all out yourself. Read on for my top recommendations!
PART I — WHERE TO PLAY
Even if you’re not a “museum” person like me, a trip to teamLab Planets in Tokyo is an experience like no other. It is an interactive art installation that uses digital technology. Expect to enter different themed rooms such as “the infinite crystal universe” and “the expansion of three-dimensional existence in space transformation”.
Each installation surprises your senses in a fun and creative way, plus it makes for a perfect photo op. My only advice: buy your ticket (around $25) for a time slot as early as possible to avoid the crowds. Why visit in 2023? New installations were launched this year, including my favorite, called the ‘Floating Flower Garden’, made up of 13,000 live orchids that float above people as they approach.
The Electric City of Akihabara
When you think of the futuristic aspects of Tokyo that you see in movies, this is the neighborhood that fits it. Akihabara, also known as “Electric Town”, is a bustling hub in central Tokyo filled with electronics stores, ranging from tiny street stalls to huge department stores like Yodobashi Multimedia Akiba. The cool thing is that you can also find stores specializing in anime and video games (like old school gameboys), including Super Potato, known for its collection of retro games.
Asakusa, not far from Akihabara, is one of the old districts of downtown Tokyo with its oldest Buddhist temple, Sensō-ji temple. Its history dates back 1,400 years and is dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion. Today it is one of the most popular temples in Tokyo. While there, be sure to walk through the boutique-filled Nakamise-dori Street, visit the five-story pagoda, and take a photo in front of the Kaminarimon Gate.
This is where the nightlife comes in. Golden Gai, in the Shinjuku district, is an area known for its tiny bars. This is a must-visit for partygoers, as this is where the true essence of Tokyo’s party culture comes to life. Most bars seat no more than six people, maybe less, and you can have drinks and meat skewers while socializing with locals and travelers.
We wandered around Piss Alley, a famous izakaya street, and sat at a few places, each with something fun and unique to offer.
PART II — WHERE TO EAT
Tsukiji Fish Market
Other foodies are paying attention to this one. The moment I entered Tsukiji Fish Market, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There are a wide variety of foods to try at an affordable price, but bring cash! Some of my favorite dishes that I tried were the grilled eel (unagi), sea urchin, fatty tuna bowl, strawberry mochi, and wagyu beef.
I ended up coming here three times during my five days in Tokyo, which is probably more than the typical visitor. I have no regrets.
Ichiran Ramen is one of the most famous Tonkotsu (pork-based broth) ramen restaurants in Japan. It’s the perfect place for a solo ramen dining experience and is perfect for introverts, as each diner has their own booth and orders via machine. Once your food is ready, the waiter opens the stand, hands you your ramen and leaves you to enjoy yourself.
The ramen can be customized to your liking (with options to top it off with a boiled egg and green onions, for example), or you can choose from a preset menu.
Uogashi Nihon-Ichi (standing sushi bar)
When you’re in Tokyo, eating at a local sushi restaurant with friendly chefs is a must. Uogashi Nihon-Ichi is a stand-up sushi bar that offers fresh, inexpensive sushi prepared right in front of you. This is a more active establishment, filled with locals enjoying lunch during a busy work day. There are also several locations around the city, so you can try this sushi concept in almost any neighborhood you find yourself in.
Lawson, the popular convenience store in Japan, is America’s equivalent of 9/11, but… hear me out. The egg salad sandwich was one of the best things I tried in Tokyo. It can be found pre-packaged in the refrigerated section, alongside onigiri rice balls, bento boxes and sushi rolls. It’s so moist because it’s made with a special milk bun and seasoned with the beloved Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise.
PART III — WHERE TO SLEEP
If you’re looking for budget-friendly, convenient and trendier accommodation, OMO3 Tokyo Akasaka by Hoshino Resorts is for you. The best part about staying here is that you are equipped with an “OMO Ranger” who takes you on tours (for only $5-10) throughout the Akasaka district. For example, I did the “Amazing Akasaka Walk” which ended with a visit to Kakureya where the owner, a former geisha, served us her welcome drinks and homemade snacks.
For a pick-me-up, there is a cafe directly connected to the property, The Ueshima Coffee Shop, which offers a relaxing place to take a break, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Nightly rates start at just $27.
To experience true authentic Japanese hospitality, HOSHINOYA Tokyo brings complete zen to the city center. It is a traditional ryokan with an on-site natural onsen fed directly by hot springs located almost 1,500 meters below the hotel. As much as I enjoyed exploring the city, I had to tear myself away from the hotel because I never felt more comfortable. Everything about the property – its architecture, aesthetics, amenities, services and food – is unmistakably Japanese.
Guests can also participate in traditional tea ceremonies or rooftop kenjutsu practice at sunrise. Amenities include 24/7 room service, coffee and tea in common areas, concierge services, thermal spa, flat-screen TVs and more. Plan to participate in seasonal programs here, like picking and eating mushrooms in fall or a yuzu citrus-scented bath in winter.
Nightly room rates start at around $600.
The Imperial Hotel
Entering the Imperial Hotel is like entering a real royal palace. It’s over-the-top in the best way imaginable and suitable for any type of traveler. The property opened in 1890 with a rich history behind it and is located just south of the Imperial Palace Park. Rooms are located in the main building or the gleaming tower, and many overlook the 40-acre Hibiya Park, the palace, and the Ginza district. There are several restaurants on site, ranging from French, Chinese and American to kaiseki and sushi. The design is more traditional, incorporating parts of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs from 1923.
I loved waking up in the heart of the city with easy access to all the best sights. My advice: enjoy the delicious buffet breakfast and don’t forget to have a drink at the Old Imperial Bar.
Room rates here start at around $260.
WHY VISIT TOKYO IN FALL 2023?
Hoshino Resorts is offering guests free travel medical insurance until the end of 2023.
New hotels opening this fall, including Janu Tokyo and TRUNK(HOTEL) YOYOGI Park.
This October, more than four million cosmos will bloom at Showa Kinen Park in Tokyo, forming a 200,000 square foot blanket of color. The Cosmos Festival runs from September to October with flower picking events, workshops and photo spots dotted around the park for the perfect Instagram moment.
From Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south, you can taste ramen from all over Japan at Tokyo Ramen Festa 2023, from October 26 to November 5. This food festival is the largest outdoor ramen event in the country, featuring ramen-themed dishes. programs, magazines and specialized stores.