Get out of bed and find your nearest combini to get some breakfast because you have a busy day ahead. Your first stop is Tokyo Metropolitan Government building lookout (open weekdays 8am-6:45pm)
There are lots of great places to see a view of the city below and this one is as good as any and it’s FREE. Located a 10-15min walk from the West exit of Shinjuku station it’s easy to access too. This is the side of Shinjuku where you can see lots of business people going about their day and the skyscraper district is fun to walk through. Head up to the top to get a great view of the city below. If the weather is clear you might even see Mt. Fuji off in the distance. A truly breathtaking way to get a handle on how big the city really is.
From here you can wander back to the Shinjuku station area and take the train to the next stop, Harajuku. Before you head into the fashion district, walk through Yoyogi Park and see the beautiful Meiji Shrine. This is an oasis of nature and a spiritual place to refresh your mind and spirit. Chill at a park bench for a while and see how the people of Tokyo enjoy this little peaceful place in the middle of this vibrant and busy city.
Now you are refreshed and ready to join the throngs of people walking the streets of Harajuku and Omotesando. Most people equate Harajuku with Takeshita Street which is the most famous place in the area. Also a victim of it’s success in that it is a very crowded and touristic place. That said, if you pop down a side street or two you can still see the ‘lolita’ fashion and other subcultures of style. There is also one of the biggest 100 yen stores in Japan at Daiso. If you are new to the 100 yen store fun, you have to stop in, if only to get some cheap souvenirs.
From here wander towards the Omotesando area where cheap fast fashion retailers give way to more upscale brand names and you can see the demographic change pretty fast from otaku teens to classy ladies clutching the latest brand bags. Make sure to check out the really well designed Omotesando Hills shopping centre while you are in the area.
Now it’s time to head to Shibuya Station, and if your legs are not tired yet, I recommend to stroll along a nice shopping street to get there. Once arrived at Shibuya you should head straight for the scramble crossing and maybe even grab a coffee at the Starbucks overlooking it. After your refreshment, time to walk along “Senta gaya” (centre street) and check out the cool shops and the flurry of activity of the Udagawacho district. You may want to check out the famous Tokyu Hands store or Don Quiote. Depending on the time of day it might even be time to grab an afternoon beer or a bite to eat. There are so many options in this area that you will be spoilt for choice.
This would be a busy day with a lot of walking so you could even cut it into two days, but if you were the super energetic type, you might from here get back on the train and head to Shinjuku again to see the East side of Shinjuku station which is where you find the Kabukicho area and Golden Gai drinking area.
Kabukicho is one of the most dodgy areas in Japan and has a population of Japanese mafia (yakuza) so please tread lightly here. In fact if anyone tries to solicit you to go to their bar, it’s probably not a good idea to go as a tourist as there have been incidents where people are overcharged for drinks and have trouble getting out of it. Just tell people you are already meeting friends elsewhere and they should leave you alone.
Golden Gai is one of those places that are definitely worth checking out as it has an amazing atmosphere at night. As for the bars themselves, they can be small, smokey and expensive but if you are a true bar fly you will appreciate them. More and more are catering to tourists so feel free to check one or two bars out but don’t expect too much. I often just buy a can of beer from the convenience store and stroll around. Not super classy I know but hey.
I realize now that I finished writing this piece that you could easily do the same day in reverse starting at Shibuya and going through Harajuku to Tokyo Metropolitan building in the early evening (closes 6:45pm, not open Sat & Sun) but if you don’t mind a little back tracking I think that Shibuya is more alive in the early evening than in the morning. In fact most shops don’t open till 10-11am anyway.
I hope you can enjoy this fun filled day on the West side of Tokyo. Let me know in the comments below is this worked for you or if you have any recommendations for our readers.