During our time in Japan, we spent plenty of time visiting the tourist spots of Tokyo but but more as a tour guide to our friends and family rather than a tourist. We loved this because when life in Japan became more ‘normal’ seeing the magic of this crazy country through their eyes made it feel like the first time for us all over again. But before we left we wanted to experience being a tourist for ourselves for a few days but never got the chance.
Coming back to Japan we wanted to dedicate some time to this so we spent five nights at the Mitsui Garden Hotel Jingugaien over the New Year period.
It was the perfect base to explore western Tokyo, only two stops from Shinjuku and only one stop from Roppongi but extremely quiet, especially at night. It is conveniently located right next to Kokuritsu-Kyogijo metro station and within walking distance to Sendagaya JR station and is opposite the Japan National Stadium where the 2020 (2021) Olympics were held. As a final bonus, it has some impressive Mt. Fuji views on a clear day from the rooftop terrace and some rooms.
So during our five days dedicated to Tokyo we tried to do things we hadn’t done before so on one day we went to Shinjuku, a place we had been to many times for specific reasons but never to actually just explore. When busy it can be an assault on the senses and is one of the few places where you are reminded you are in the biggest metropolis in the world but it is a great place to walk around and shop.
At night it becomes even more exciting and vibrant with lights and sounds everywhere. It is a relatively built up area of Tokyo with a new modern feel which is unlike any other part and the lights just make this an unmissable part of the city. It’s like seeing Vegas for the first time.
On another day we walked around our hotel area which we discovered was sandwiched between Meiji Jingu Gyoen, Shinjuku Gyoen and Motoakasaka. We walked along the Chuo line to Yoyogi where we ate katsu curry for lunch (Rob was very excited) and then headed down to Meiji Jingu to see the preparations for New Year.
As you can see the Yoyogi area is much older than the Shinjuku area and therefore has a completely different feel.
2023 will be the year of the rabbit in the Japanese calendar so there were images of rabbits everywhere. The owners of Miffy will make a killing this year!
In the evening we went for food in Roppongi and enjoyed the views of Tokyo Tower from Roppongi Hills.
On New Years Eve we decided to go up Tokyo Skytree which we had never done before. We turned up on the day and queued for around 15mins. It is the tallest structure in Japan so the views are impressive… it is worth it just to see how huge Tokyo is! It stretches for miles and appears to have no end.
We did some shopping at the base of Skytree which is great for souvenirs and then we went to make some early New Year wishes at Zojoji Temple in Daimon.
Walking back to Daimon station, Rob popped into a Family Mart. Whilst I waited outside, I noticed an unusual building tucked down a small side street so we decided to check it out before we left. It turned out it was a small, local shrine that was also preparing for the New Year.
For the evening of New Years we wanted a quiet one and so we decided to walk to Akasaka to find a nice restaurant and visit Hie Shrine. Unfortunately our inner compass is shockingly inaccurate and somehow we found ourselves back in Roppongi near Midtown. So, hungry, we decided to grab a McDonalds instead (I had been missing the ebi burger which you can only get in Japan) and took some more photos before heading back to the hotel to ring in the new year with drinks over looking the city.
It was a perfect New Years Eve.
The next day we decided to partake in the Japanese tradition of watching the first sunrise of the New Year which brings you good luck. Every year I would set my alarm and look out of the window to peek at it but never found the inclination to actually get out of bed. This year I decided to fix that and made my way to the hotel roof terrace which turned out to be the perfect location to start this tradition.
New Year’s day is a big holiday in Japan so most shops and restaurants are closed. Something to be aware of as a tourist. We new this so we stocked up on snacks from the convenience store (combini) and planned a slow day walking around the city enjoying the quiet.
We decided to start in Ginza and walk down to the Imperial Palace where they were preparing for the New Year appearance of the Emperor. Thousands of people queue to see the Royal Family from the 2nd of January so they were already laying out the cones.
Our five nights flew by and we loved every second of it. We made so many new memories and we enjoyed a slightly slower pace to our holiday. Tokyo is one of the safest places in the world and one of the biggest. Each district feels like its own city and you could spend years exploring each one on foot and still not see everything. I always wanted to spend time walking around this incredible place without having to worry about catching the train home. Having a chance to dust off my camera again and take my time without watching the clock was a joy. My photography is simply a hobby and I am still very much a point and shoot kinda of person but there is something about Tokyo that helps you capture something magical and personal to you.
For our third and final part of our holiday it was time to head to Yokohama to see a friend and then finishing our trip in my favourite area of Tokyo… Odaiba.