Tokyo. A futuristic place that its miles ahead of the times. Whilst this is true , it also has a charming to it as well. Me and the girlfriend explored as much of both as we could in a week…..
First impressions were a little different to what I was imagining Tokyo to be like. The buildings were all grey, except the Tokyo sky tree and the Asahi headquarters. It was missing the craziness that you see associated with Tokyo. But after a stroll around the district that night I could begin to understand why. Asakusa is the more traditional part of Tokyo. Home to the Senso-ji temple, the oldest in Japan, as well as small market streets lined with traditional buildings. We had arrived at the start of cherry blossom season to make things better and everywhere you looked, pale pink flowers were starting to bloom. I had immediately fallen in love with Japan. After strolling round the beautifully lit temple, Golds and reds shining from every section of the temple, we headed of down one of the market streets to find some food.
Food in Japan is incredible, as I’m sure you’ll be aware. But there’s nothing more special than walking down the streets of Tokyo at night, seeing a family of Japanese walking into an unmarked restaurant and following them in (the only reason we knew was the plastic food dishes in the window). The menu as completely in Japanese, but the waitress did a fantastic job, and after a few minutes of pointing and a somewhat odd game of charades, we had 2 bowls of ramen soup on our table. The smells and tastes were mind-blowing.
The following day took us on a walk through some of the parks in the Asakusa district, the biggest being Uedo park. A huge park in the middle of a concrete landscape which had incredible feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. We walked past temples and ponds, business men on lunch breaks, past fountains with kids splashing around and older children just hanging out. A huge statue of a blue whale balancing on its nose. Barely a tourist in sight, we really felt submerged into the local scene.
Dinner that night was in incredible feast that started with a katsu curry and ended up as us visiting a 280yen restaurant. Everything for 280yen. Drinks, food, you name it. After a few portions of chicken hearts and cartilage we left, full of awe for this amazing place.
The west side of the city is home to Shibuya and a complete change of pace. As you leave the train station your hit in all of your senses, at how different this part of the city is. Huge skyscrapers plastered with huge tv screens, certainly a lot more busy and shops as far as the eye can see. The Shibuya crossing is a pretty crazy place. Every 5 minutes the lights stop the traffic and the mayhem starts. People from every corner rush across the street in a mad dash to reach the other side. At its busy points as many as 5 thousand can descend on this one crossing. After joining in the madness a few times we started to walk north to Harajuku.
Harajuku is a cool place. The cosplay capital of Tokyo. Weekends the streets are filled with people of all ages dressed as their favorite comic characters or anime idols. The shops in Harajuku are filled with all kinds of cute and crazy items, hello kitty especially. There is a huge Tamagotchi shop which whisked back memories from my childhood. The Yoyogi park nearby is a nice place for a walk, even just to escape the craziness for an hour or so. Although when we visited, they could have been a drought or maintenance as all the ponds had been drained. The park is also home to the Meiji shrine. Set in the forest of the park, it is a beautiful piece of work, that appears through the trees. A huge complex that has a massive stack of sake that has been donated to the emperor and empress.
To the north of Harajuku is Shinjuku, in my eyes, the futuristic side of Tokyo. An assault on the senses for sure. Huge buildings with massive screens advertising the latest products. Neon lights everywhere as far as the eye can see. A wide array of strange and enticing shops and restaurants. We headed to the massive electrical store. There were things in there I didn’t even realise had been invented, let alone was a need for.
The restaurants are mind blowing. Just about a restaurant for every theme imaginable. Capcom, prisons, hospitals, any nightmare you can think of. The most famous I would say is the robot restaurant. Although we didn’t eat here we did get tickets for the robot show. 2 hours of the most crazy things you can think of. Robots fighting other robots. Humans fighting robots. Lasers. Tanks. Bikini clad women. It is the most ‘Japanese’ thing you could do. A great night out for sure.
We ate in Shinjuku on a few occasions. The maid café was an odd experience. We had been told to check one out, as by all accounts, quite popular with locals. As you enter the restaurant, a Japanese girl in a maids costume comes over shows you to your table and calls you master. You have to accept her as your waitress by way of a candle ritual, and you can go ahead and order. Food was pretty good. My curry was shaped like a bear. At the end of the meal, you are invited to take a photo with your waitress and take away a keepsake (included in the price).
In the midst of all that was happening around me, I almost forgot to eat sushi in Japan. For me it didn’t seem as popular as people make out, but that could just be me. We went to a place called Genki sushi, in the Shibuya district. Was not disappointed. We were seated and an iPad given to us. Just tap what you want to order and it comes to you on a small train, direct to you table. The food was good. Had hamburger sushi. Very odd, but the rest was amazing. Glad I didn’t miss that opportunity.
The best places to eat for me was one of the back alley restaurants. Littered across the town, most have a vending machine out front in which you select your meal, get a receipt, take it inside and the chef will cook it up for you. Such an easy and quick way to order food. My absolute favorite was this tiny burger joint in Katsushika. Just an old building with a coin slot and flap on the outside wall. Pop 100 yen into the coin slot and a man inside passes you out a burger. Its like the worlds first vending machine (and Japan know there vending machines).
A stay in Tokyo wouldn’t be complete without checking out a capsule hotel. Mainly gender divided, we managed to secure a mixed pod for our last night in Japan. Super old fashioned inside the pod. Old style TVs and radios, just enough room for the pair of us. The pajamas provided looked like something your nan would wear. Unfortunately not the best nights sleep I’ve ever had but I wasn’t really expecting it either for something so small.
A few other places of note, if like me your into snowboarding, you should visit Yasakuni Dori, in the Kanda district. So many shops to buy your gear from. And all pretty good prices. Its not as expensive to buy gear here as you may think. Akihabara is another cool place to visit if you like manga and video games. Arcades and comic chops everywhere.
So that pretty much sums up in brief my time in Tokyo. Will go into more details in future posts. But for now……