At three in the afternoon the scenery around us started to transform.
Gone was the countryside. Away were the scattered towns. The quick glimpse of Mount Fuji was now a memory. The views from every window was now a sea of flashing lights and concrete.
The doors of our train silently glided open and closed. Our personal space became a parade of shoulders brushing shoulders.
Kristen, Jack, and myself weren’t in Kyoto anymore.
We were now in Tokyo.
My only knowledge of this city was through movies like Lost in Translation, Godzilla, and Akira. Sharing a cup of miso with Scarlett Johansson was unlikely. New experiences and feeling like a stranger in a strange place was looking probable.
Somewhere else in the city were our friends Rich and Stella. Jimmy would be joining us the following day. The Kyoto crew was about to reunite for a double dip in Japan’s capital.
Thanks to great company, proper research, and excellent recommendations from friends or family, we ended up with plenty of happy memories.
Tokyo offers countless activities. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and not know how to plan a vacation there. Hopefully this blog post will help guide future visitors.
Where to Stay in Tokyo
Tokyo is immense, so which ward should be a proper home base? Through our experience, the best wards to stay in Tokyo are Shibuya and Shinjuku. These are the commercial epicenters of the city which vibrate with lights, people, and energy. Countless bars, restaurants, and attractions are all within short train rides or walking distance. It’s also possible to stay in quiet neighborhoods in these areas.
What to Do in Tokyo
What can one do here? The answer is simple: Everything and anything. Here are some highlights from our time there:
Noshing The Night Away
In Tokyo, one can feast like it’s a public holiday. Our two favorite places for ramen were Ichiran (Shibuya) and AFURI (Harajuku). Expect lines and to feed cash into a machine that resembles a jukebox. Genki Sushi (Shibuya) is a conveyer belt spot that’s inexpensive with a lively atmosphere. Every order is typed into a tablet and delivered on rocket-ships. Tsunahachi (Shinjuku) is where one should go if they’re craving tempura. Jae, a buddy who lives in Seoul, visited us in Tokyo and one place we ate at was Seirinkan (Meguro City). This is a pizzeria that brings Neapolitan flavors to Japan.
Continuing the theme of satiating one’s appetite, an iconic institution in Shinjuku is Memory Lane. This is a complex of bars and restaurants ideal for someone looking to hide from the clamor of society.
Connected through narrow passageways, Memory Lane was established shortly after the second World War. Up until 1999 there weren’t any public restrooms here, so an alternative nickname to many is “Piss Alley.” Currently, over one hundred and fifty businesses operate in this tight quarters area.
On various occasions we took a late night stroll here and discovered an intimate bar that specialized in yakitori and pickled hornets. Order some grilled chicken rectum and cleanse the palate with a cure for a hairless chest. Coincidentally, next door was a soba noodle restaurant. It was so good that I ordered two bowls in one sitting.
Looking for asylum and a chilled beer at the same time? You’re in luck! Similar to Memory Lane but less cordial, welcome to Golden Gai. Also in Shinjuku, it’s an immense grid of bars that are squeezed together. Most of the bars are cozy and connected via winding streets and mysterious alleyways.
Entering Golden Gai is similar to playing roulette: Some businesses charge “foreigner fees” and some might be filled with dubious locals looking to create trouble. The majority are perfectly fine and you can enjoy a beer with complimentary snacks. Either way, there’s a lot of character.
Occasionally it’s a appropriate for a viking queen to fire lasers from a machine gun at an attacking robot dinosaur. Enter the Robot Restaurant in Kabukicho and the vibe will be similar to a scene from a Mad Max musical. Robot Shows happen daily and sell out quickly. Expect a decent sized line but it’s worth it. Beaming lights, dancing neon samurais, and commanding drum lines are a perfect way to kick off the day.
Lawson, FamilyMart or 7-Eleven?
When one visits Japan it’s almost a guarantee that they’re going to eat ramen or drink sake. It’s also certain that they’ll frequent a convenience store at least a hundred times.
Three Japanese-owned chains are Lawson, FamilyMart and 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven dominates the convenience store market with almost three thousand locations in Tokyo alone. A street corner in Tokyo without at least one 24-hour store is similar to a house without a mailbox.
During our stay in Tokyo we visited so many Lawsons, 7-Elevens, and FamilyMarts that eventually we held heated debates about which company we liked best. Are you with team Lawson or team FamlyMart? We all agreed that Lawson people probably shouldn’t share a tempura with 7-Eleven people.
Drinking coffee in a regular old Starbucks has become boring in Tokyo. The Harajuku ward offers a fresh alternative: Animal cafes. Jack, Kristen, and I visited an owl cafe one afternoon. We interacted with a dozen owls after sipping on matcha tea. If owls aren’t your thing then cat, hedgehog, puppy, and bunny cafes are scattered all over the city.
Additionally, Tokyo offers a hip Gundam Cafe for enthusiasts of the mecha anime series Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. The Akihabara ward is home to yet another themed cafe: Maid cafes.
Entering a maid cafe is like getting a small taste of being treated like a royal. These are like any other restaurant except all the waitresses are donning maid costumes and addressing you as “master” or “mistress”. Every table had it’s own “servant” and overall it was a strange interaction but something that everyone should do once. Alternatively, butler cafes also exist but aren’t nearly as popular.
This isn’t our complete list of activities, but it’s a good starting point for anyone about to explore Tokyo.
Thanks to everyone who gave us tips for enjoying Tokyo. If Rich and Stella are reading this, sorry for not putting a photo of you guys here. It wasn’t anything personal, I simply didn’t have any. I had a great time with you both!
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If you have any questions or have something to add, then please leave a comment or send me a message.
Once again, you’re looking fantastic.
Keep up the great work and have a wonderful day.