My Japan Guide

I often get asked about the things to see and do in Tokyo.


Here is an email I sent to a friend. I’ll probably update this as I go along.



In Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera is a must. It’s the biggest shrine in Kyoto and has all the trappings.

I would also suggest Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)  and Nijo Castle (which is where the Nightingale Floor was invented and implemented) .


Tokyo – it depends on what you’re into. Before you get too excited, the Legoland here isn’t overly huge, so you can skip that. It depends on what you’re into. If you’re into electronics, cameras or Anime/Manga stuff, the Akihabara is the place to go. There is an electronics shop there that takes up a full city block, plus heaps of little stores that have every adaptor, component or device that you can think of.  I would advise going there on a Sunday as they often close the street to cars on Sunday so the streets fill up with cosplayers. There’s also the Air Race on Sunday but that is a little ways out of town.



If you’re looking for somewhere to have a “WTF Japan?” moment, you can go to Harajuku/Meiji Jingu. On one side of the road you have Meiji Jingu, which is where the “modern” emperor is buried, and on the other side of the road you have Harajuku, which is where a lot of the young people hang out and has all of the fashion (both normal fashion and crazy Japanese fashion) and the artists of all varieties. Just seeing these things side-by-side is a little mind-blowing. But avoid it on the weekend – it is a human crush there when there’s no work/school.



If you’ve got a JR pass and don’t mind getting up early, then a day trip out to Nikko is worth it. It is a massive temple/shrine complex where one of the main shoguns is buried. The main temple is one of the most elaborate in the world, so if you only want to see one temple, make sure this is it. It takes about 2 hours by train but you can make a day trip out of it if you try.



Skytree is impressive; it’s the highest broadcasting tower in the world, and the views are amazing. There is also a special line for foreigners so you can skip the queues. Make sure you go up around 5-6pm ish and watch the sunset.


Depending on what you fancy, there are other options. Ueno park has lots of art galleries and museums (and also a really sad zoo) and it’s a stone’s throw from Sky Tree.


If you’re looking for more scenery kind of things, then there are a heap of parks and such. Some of the parks also have bird reserves; if you’re still shooting and want some telephoto practice let me know and I’ll find some.


If you’re looking for shopping then there are a bunch of places. Even if you’re not into shopping I suggest going to Takashimaya/Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku –

There is just so much stuff there, and Tokyu hands is like Bunnings had a kid with a stationary store. There’s also the whole Odiaba area, which also has a bit of a beach if you want to dip you toes into shipping oil mixed with a minimal amount of sea water


Best coffee you’re likely to get in Shinjuku is Blue Bottle: It’s a San Franscisco brand that has moved here. That or Excelsior (it’s a chain so there’s a few around).


Eating in Shinjuku is a pain because there is literally too much choice. It’s so convenient it’s inconvenient. I would suggest dinner in Omoide Doori (Literally “Memory Lane” but more commonly referred to as “Piss Alley”) It’s a collection of little stores that mostly have Yakitori (char-grilled Chicken Skewers) and lots to drink. It’s all cramped seating so you have no choice but to talk to people there. Since you’re a foreigner you’ve got a 50/50 chance of someone trying to strike up a conversation. Even if you’re not drinking, it’s fun to talk and then go adventuring with people that do come there to drink. I’ve had heaps of fun going there in the past when I didn’t have to get home in a hurry.



If you’re looking for more “fine dining” then every department store has a few good restaurants on the top few floors, but they can get expensive. There’s also the “safe” part of Kabukicho (Kabukcho is often called the biggest red-light district in the world. It’s partially true, but mostly it’s just for show). It’s around this area: Lots of cheap food and a completely bustling nightlife (although it gets a little seedy after 2100. Some people enjoy that part though.).



Luxury Hotels (e.g. Honeymoons)

To be honest, one of the best places I’ve stay in Japan is Fujiya onsen in Shirakawa-go:
This is just amazing. It’s in the middle of nowhere (go to Takayama Station and rent a car). Shirakawa-go was a gunpowder manufacturing village 500 years ago and practically hasn’t changed. If I put you through the Higurashi conditioning course (I believe I did) then this is where it is set.
You can also stay in the huts, but Fujiya is traditional Japanese luxury. It’s the kind of place a poet would take up residency for a year or something and do their best work. No people, great food, feels like an old Japanese castle.
Kyoto is also great, and if you’re into the history then it is worthwhile staying there a couple of nights, although it is much more of a city. I would recommend staying in Uji, just outside of the main city. It’s where the world’s first (or second) novel was written. Stay here:
One of the most famous places for the autumn leaves is Hakone, but it get pretty crowded. Still, if you hike rather than catch the trains then you can find some hidden spaces. There is a bit of a “loop” that includes a couple of mountain climbing trains, some ropeways, and a boatride across a lake.
You want to stay here:
It’s an onsen hotel on top of the mountain with some great views.
Some other options might also be Kinugawa Onsen. It’s a bit north of Tokyo but very near Nikko. Nikko’s shrines are probably some of the best in the world. If you’re into shrines and temples, then you need to see it. If you’re not into shrines and temples, then go see it anyway because then you know you’ve seen the best and hence can remove them from your bucket list.
Nikko Toshou-gu Temple:
Kinugawa Onsen Station