A visit to Tokyo is an endless feast for the senses. A stroll along Takashiyama in Harajuku indulges you to a parade of characters with outrageous hairstyles and daring outfits. Breakfast in Tsukiji treats you to the early morning bustle of the port and a burst of flavors in your mouth. And then there’s Shibuya, the world’s busiest intersection, where you get to cross the road with a hundred others, surrounded by the buzz of city traffic, billboards, and daily life.
Tokyo is certainly a mecca to all those who crave the adrenaline rush of a trip to a big city. But what if you want to have a relaxing trip instead? Is it possible?
Yes, it is possible to have a relaxing holiday in Tokyo, as long as you prepare for it. Here are tips to help you unwind in one of the busiest places in the world.
Choose a good location
When preparing for a relaxing stay, location is everything.
Tokyo’s energy and sense of urgency are infectious. If you find yourself in the midst of its workaholic crowd, you’ll surely fall in step with their rhythm. If you want to relax, go somewhere relaxing.
If you want to experience the modern, cosmopolitan Tokyo – but prefer it to be several notches more chill than Shinjuku – stay in a ward like Minato. You’ll be within walking distance of shopping sites like Ginza and Akasaka, and walking further along the Sumida river can bring you to Tsukiji and all the way to the cultural district of Asakusa.
Minato is indeed a business district as it houses several embassies and shopping districts, but is not as hectic as the mini megacities of Shibuya or Shinjuku. It is, however, pretty central, so if you’re in need of stimulation, the rest of Tokyo is only a train ride away.
For luxurious and truly relaxing stays, check out The Prince Park Tower (twin rooms start at USD 220) and Park Hotel Tokyo (twin rooms start at USD 200). For a great budget option, check out Zabutton Hostel (beds start at USD 35). If you’re traveling soon or ready to book your stay, check out these real-time deals for accommodations in Minato ward – you’ll find helpful reviews there as well.
If you’ve already hit the tourist spots on a previous trip or don’t mind having a more offbeat experience, stay in a neighborhood away from the usual tourist spots. One of my personal favorites is Kichijoji. You’ll have the beautiful Inokashira Park and the Ghibli museum a few meters away, as well as an entire block of novelty shops and quaint cafes at your disposal. On the other end of the Inokashira Line, you’ll find Shimokitazawa where you’ll find more of the same creative vibe plus wonderful vintage shops.
While public transportation in Tokyo is very efficient and convenient, it can get pretty hectic and can add to your travel stress. Choose to stay in a good location where you can walk to most of the places you want to check out.
The quickest way to ease away the travel stress is to give your body a treat. This is something you can do on your first day in Tokyo.
Relax as the locals do – visit an onsen or hot spring and spend an hour soothing your tensions away. Check out Oedo Onsen Monogatari, an onsen-inspired theme park. If you’re unsure what to expect, you can read this guide to Japanese bathing etiquette before you go.
If you’d rather work on your hair or nails instead, book an appointment in one of Tokyo’s upscale salons. It’s not cheap but a new look is certainly a great souvenir – and can drastically reduce the number of outtakes when you go for photo shoots around the city.
Instead of eating just to survive a day’s worth of sightseeing, make the meal the main attraction.
If you’re into Japanese pop culture, try some of these themed restaurants: Ninja Akasaka in Akasaka Tokyu Plaza which is a recreation of a ninja fortress; Robot Restaurant where your meal comes with a pretty bizarre but nonetheless interesting show; or for something more cuddly, try a cat café like Neko Café Hapineko in Shibuya.
If you want to combine sightseeing with a great meal, book a dinner cruise like this one, which will bring you to the city’s best spots for night lights.
If you want to take the experience one step further, book a cooking class and come home from your holiday with a new delicious skill. Check out Cooking with Mari or if you want to be ahead of the class, get her recipe book here. You can also learn to make sushi at Tsukiji – plus you get to eat it, too.
Connect with nature
One of the wonderful things about Tokyo is that there’s always a green space nearby. Visit one of the many parks in the city. Some of my favorites include Inokashira Park, Shinjuku Park and Yoyogi Park.
You can also set aside a day to hike up Takao-san. This is a mountain just outside Tokyo. Take a scenic route on the ascent (personally I like the Inariyama Trail), have a bowl of udon at the peak, then take the cultural route (main route / Trail 1) on your way back down. Here are the different routes you could take. Take note of the seasonal recommendations.
Ditch the schedule
Have blocks of time where you have nothing scheduled. Don’t set an alarm to wake up and take as much time getting ready to go out.
Walk towards the general direction of a park or a café, and go where your legs take you. Sit down on a park bench and watch people or read a book.
Beat the tourists
Visit tourist sites in the morning, and if possible, book your ticket in advance so you can avoid the long queues.
Having less stuff on you can make a big difference. Opt for a small and light day bag when you’re out exploring Tokyo.
Trade your bulky photography gear for a compact camera (I use Nikon P330 and I love it to bits). Japan is certainly a photogenic country and it can be hard to leave your camera behind. But carrying a heavy DSLR can really take away from your sense of adventure and you can feel pressured to always be on the lookout for a good photo.
My advice is to bring a lightweight compact camera instead. Keep it in your day bag and as it weighs almost nothing, it won’t be a constant reminder to keep clicking and documenting, and you can spend your time enjoying the moment. And if something photo-worthy does come up, you can easily fish it from your bag, take your snap, and go back to your relaxing holiday.
Put away the bucket list
On the last day of my first trip to Tokyo, I was walking around the Imperial Palace with a Japanese friend I had met a few days earlier. Instead of admiring the beautiful gardens and moats of the palace, I was woefully listing all the sights I haven’t seen. At one point, he took out his phone, tapped on it, then showed me images of sights around Tokyo from the Internet.
“There. You’ve seen them,” he said. We laughed at my silliness and I started paying more attention – to my surroundings, to his fascinating stories about the imperial buildings, and to the way the moon illuminated the moats.
The best way to enjoy your holiday in Tokyo is to make your trip less about checking off a list and more about making memories.
* * *
I hope these ideas help you have a more relaxing trip in Tokyo. Remember: you don’t have to tick off all the must-dos and must-sees in one go. Savor the experience and make great memories!
Lastly, here’s a map of all the places I mentioned in this guide. Enjoy!