Tokyo is busy, colorful, bright and wonderful. The Japanese capital will blow your mind and it just takes getting off the plane to realize that. At first, the excess of billboards, lights and signs you cannot read will overwhelm you. But you’ll be soon marveled by the whole thing and will definitely miss it when you return home. Tokyo is a big city and comparable to New York or London in terms of the trillion things there are to do; it’s just never ending. My goal is to give you an overview of the main attractions to visit as a tourist with no time to spare. Hope you enjoy Tokyo as much as I did!
Visit the world’s most famous fish market
Tsukiji Fish Market, located in the neighborhood of Ginza, is the biggest fish and seafood market in the world. It’s most famous because of the tuna auction that takes place here everyday at dawn. Visitors are allowed to the tuna auction but be warned that it requires you to queue at inconvenient hours of the night (before 3AM depending on the time of year). Alternatively, you can go early in the morning (around 8AM) to browse the market stalls and have some sushi for breakfast. As to which stall to eat in, Daiwa Sushi and Sushi Dai are the most popular ones. If the queues are way too long, just try any other; all of them are wonderful and probably the best sushi you will ever have! For full details, including opening times, check this article.
It’s freezing in London, but that didn’t prevent the Canary Wharf Winter Lights guys from creating free entertainment for Londoners. Canary Wharf Winter Lights features 30 amazing light installations throughout Canary Wharf: sculptures, structures and installations from some of the most innovative artists and designers worldwide. It is actually really cool so get your warmest coat and get ready for a 1-2 hr stroll full of light! Do hurry as it is just two weeks long.
How much: It’s FREE, ain’t London cool?
When: Until Friday 27th of January 2017, from 4pm to 9pm
Where: Canary Wharf tube station Jubilee Line. See map of attractions below:
Ovo: egg shaped sculpture that shoots of vapor – great photo material
Angels of Freedom: Lighted angel wings that change their color and make a nice postcard
The garden of floating words: the name says it all
Light bench: another self explanatory name
Cathedral of Mirrors: 12 towers with moving lights that respond to visitors using sensors
Water wall: a mist screen with constantly moving objects, also allows visitors to interact and paint on the mist canvas by moving
Huge Reeds: vertical tubes with light sapping top to bottom
AND MY TWO FAVORITES
Horizontal Interference: horizontal lighted straps linking trees in a psychedelically marvelous way
Bloom: cute little balls of light and sound which coordinate themselves with changes in ambiance
DON’T MISS THIS! If you did, were curious about it and got this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. And hey, you’ll make it next year! I’m sure there will be another one. Last year we had Lumiere in Kings Cross in January, this year Winter Lights at Canary Wharf…we’ll need to wait until 2018 then!
If you want to see the full list of installations/sculptures you can always visit the Official website.
Visiting for the first time: 12 things to know before going to Japan
Japan is a wonderful country, you’ll soon fall in love with it’s culture and how different it is from the “Western World”. If you are traveling to this destination soon and would like to know a little bit more in order to not be caught off guard or be out of line, here are a few things to know.
Greeting = bowing & eye contact to be avoided
Hugging, touching or even hand shakes are generally a no-no in Japan. What instead? Bowing! You may not be used to this custom but you’ll be in no time. The lower the bow the more respect shown; there are books about bowing but no need to read them. Just do it! You won’t be off. Also, Japanese consider prolonged eye contact to be rude. The rule is keep it to 25%!
English is extremely limited
This was the case all over Japan, but don’t worry, you’ll get by. Many times the people I interacted with understood me and just nodded and pointed out where what I needed was, or mentioned some basic words in English. Worst case scenario, use google translate and show the word in Japanese. It’s really handy to know or understand some basic words though, I literally used “arigato gozaimasu” (a-ree-ga-tou go-zai-mass), which means thank you, every five seconds.
Smoking cigarettes on the streets is not allowed
I mean it is, but only in designated areas which is quite funny. What surprised me is that some bars do allow you to smoke inside (or have designated areas). Normal restaurants don’t.
Tipping is non-existent
Although this may sound crazy for some, specially Americans, it’s true. In a few occasions I dared to give a tip. I already knew about the tipping etiquette but just said f* it, I’ll try. Every time they insistently turned it down, even if they had just given me a free tour. Mind boggling, isn’t it?
Say hi to chopsticks!
You will probably find no alternatives in most places, so do try to learn how to use them. There is chopstick etiquette as well, but I didn’t know about it and I was fine – just don’t do crazy stuff with them.
Cherry blossom season
The cherry blossom season or “Sakura” forecast is usually released mid Jan–but generally the season opens somewhere in Japan early March and closes somewhere else in Japan in late April. Keep in mind that the season in each location is usually shorter. If you are serious about seeing the cherries, research: just google “cherry blossom forecast”.
Toilets are amazingly technologic
Seriously, definitely something you haven’t seen before, they splash water in various different forms, intensities, temperatures, throw air – you can heat your toilet seat, and the funniest one, you can trigger soothing water noises or flushing noises. You’ll also see that most of them are from a brand called “TOTO”, it’s kind of a monopoly they have. So funny.
Matcha, matcha, matchaaaa….
Matcha is becoming increasingly popular worldwide but the matcha frenzy is a million times bigger in Japan! There is matcha everything: latte, ice latte, ice cream, all sort of candies, cakes, biscuits…the offer is just never ending. Make sure you try it all!
Cash is king
Despite being one of the most technologic countries in the world, cash is still the most common form of payment. 90% of the hotels I stayed in had to be paid in cash, some stores don’t accept credit cards, and some ATMs don’t accept foreign cards, so I personally exchanged money in advance and would recommend you to do the same.
Tokyo is within the most expensive cities in the world, and I found Japan in general very expensive compared to London which is were I live, mainly when it comes to accommodation and eating out. However supermarkets are really cheap so the convenience stores such as Seven Eleven, Lawson & Family Mart quickly became my best friends. Also, big supermarkets sell quite good sushi and food for low prices so do check them out.
No trash cans
Japanese consider eating while walking to be rude and trash cans in crowded areas to be dangerous, hence you’ll find it very difficult to throw your trash on the streets. Hold on to your trash until you find one!
You’ll notice no one talks on the subway. Talking loudly in public places is considered rude, so keep a low voice. Also, there are women only carriages on the subway which you will easily identify by a sign on the floor, just be alert.
Havana was the first city I visited in Cuba and was definitely one of the highlights of my Cuba trip. Everything you hear about Cuba comes alive in Havana, but you realize it’s much more than what you heard! Riding from the airport I couldn’t help having my eyes wide open while watching the old buildings and the colorful cars. It’s like a different world, actually it’s like being in a different time: exactly 6 years ago. See below all the best things to do in Havana as well as accommodation advice.
Walk around Havana Vieja
One of the 15 municipalities of the city, Havana Vieja (or Old Havana) is probably what will pop to your mind when you think about a postcard of Havana. All I recommend is walking, walking, walking and getting it all in. This is the most touristy place of the city so you’ll find lots of restaurants and souvenirs.
Admire the beautiful Capitolio and then walk through the Parque Central where you’ll be able to get a ride on a Taxi Particular. These are the famous 1950 cars that make Cuba what it is. These taxis are shared so don’t be surprised if someone gets in! Take a good look at the buildings at Plaza de la Catedral. Next to it you’ll find the Castillo de la Real Fuerza. After that, go to the Plaza de Armas where you’ll find a book market full of hidden gems from the times of the “Revolución”. My favorite photo spots were the Plaza Vieja, and the Museo de la Farmacia Habanera which is an old but picturesque pharmacy.
You can obviously do all this on your own but as I always say walking tours are a great way to get history in, specially if you just arrive to a place. I recommend booking this one.