Neo Tokyo, futuristic vending machines, funky fashion, neon signs, bright lights, enormous crowds and orderly lines. In actual fact I’m sure there is loads more about Tokyo that I don’t know because it’s not exactly a city that makes sense at all. Tokyo is a city of extremes that pretty much sums up Japan.
I’ve been to Tokyo twice now and in total I think I’ve spent about 9 days there. Once in winter during New Years celebrations and a couple of times throughout my springtime trip. If you ask me, I would prefer to visit Tokyo, but live somewhere like Kyoto instead.
Places to go
I’d say Harajuku is my favourite area of Tokyo. It’s got your regular shopping malls and then just down the laneways you can find all the weird, the market stalls and the Harajuku crêpes. The fashion is probably the most interesting thing and you can spot small groups or individuals showing off their striking get ups. Not exactly what you’d wear to a job interview, but the expression is very cool.
There are two things I want to find in every city: good brunch and good coffee. Tokyo ticked one of the boxes I suppose, but don’t go thinking you can find it anywhere!
In Harajuku, we stumbled across a Hawaiian place called Eggs n Things which did eggs benedict any which way you want from classic to maple syrup infused bacon or foie gras.
Also in Harajuku I found that good coffee exists in Japan! Cafe Luigi apparently has the first Italian coffee machine imported to Japan. I’m not sure how to prove that statement, but the coffee was up to standard, made by a barrista, not a machine and restored a little of my faith in coffee in Asia.
If you want to see Tokyo’s Electric Town with all the bright lights and video games head to Akihabara. They have a lot of skill testers, fighting games and addictive DDR/Guitar Hero type spin offs. For me, I really wanted to play the old school games I played in the arcades in Penang. You can also catch the seedy side of Japan here and go to one of the Japanese Maid bars right outside the station. I’m sure you could also find the vending machines with used school girl’s underwear if you looked hard enough.
Shinjuku is also a pretty interesting area. By day it’s probably more PC than Harajuku, but at night time you can find all the shady dealers, weird themed bars and sex shops. We tried out a prisoner themed bar in Shinjuku, but in the end it was nothing more than a creepy entrance and a bunch ghoulishly themed menu items. Next time I’m definitely going to the robot restaurant instead!
Ginza has all the fancy shops and bars, but all I really remember about the place was freezing winter wind and ridiculously overpriced and crappy Italian food.
Ueno wasn’t a bad area to find izakayas and kareoke. The places were a bit pricey, but the kareoke bar provided loads of free costumes that made for a hilarious night out. Space Hostel up nearer to Uguisudani was modern, clean and good to stay at (¥3,000 for dorms).
I stayed in Chiba for two nights out near Narita airport and it was actually quite nice. I stayed at the Omotenashi Lab near Sakura station (just ¥1,500 for a dorm) which was actually a community co-op providing food, coffee, lodging, a library and office space. It was pretty funky and there were a few temples and shrines to see as well as an original samurai house filled with hundreds of kimonos. I have a feeling there are other nice outer areas of Tokyo like Chiba.
Things to do
I can’t believe I’m writing about Shibuya here, but I found an old photo of it. If you want to go experience the chaos of a 6-way intersection walk though and on up into the Starshmucks – do me a favour and get a hot chocolate and not a coffee. From there you can see all the action, but on my second trip there I couldn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. It was more amusing to read my book and watch the tourists scurrying and fighting for the best window real estate only to take a mediocre photo or video.
If you want to get your Asian on find a place to do Purikura. I was surprised to find that there was no powder room for the guys at this place, but for a few bucks you can create some crazy memories. It’s a little scary sometimes to see how much the machines distort your body and face with Photoshop techniques and probably doesn’t help promote healthy perceptions of self, but do it, it’s funny!
Tokyo does in fact celebrate the new year in a more partying fashion rather than a religious fashion like Kyoto in places like Shinjuku and Roppongi.
I have to say though I chose the religious option heading to Meiji Jingu in Yogyogi Park next to Harajuku station. If you take the subway during the new year be prepared to be squished and contorted in ways you weren’t aware you were capable of to fit on the subway. But hey it’s all part of the Tokyo experience to take the trains at peak hour!
If you happen to be in Tokyo during the first week of January you might be able to catch the Imperial Family at the Imperial Palace. We shuffled in with thousands of Japanese just to get a glimpse of them through Pope-class bulletproof glass.
Well I think that’s about it. If you want to know more about traveling Japan in winter (tbc) or spring specifically check out the wrap ups.