Tokyo has to be one of the most mental and futuristic cities on the planet. Before I decided to come to Korea, I watched Lost in Translation so many times and was in awe of this completely foreign place. Oddly enough, that movie is one of the reasons why I decided to come to East Asia. I wanted to experience streets glowing with neon lights and feel lost in a strange place. So last year, I took advantage of the 5 day Lunar New Year holiday to finally visit Tokyo! Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer vastness of the city- there is so much to see that it can be overwhelming and I feel like I hardly even scratched the surface! Despite the fact I’m no Tokyo expert, trust me that you shouldn’t leave without……
Losing your Mind at the Robot Restaurant
If you really want to experience something you will never experience in any other city EVER, you need to check out the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. Although it says “restaurant” in the name, don’t come here for the food- it’s just overpriced bento boxes similar to what you’d pick up in a 7/11. Come for the dancing, fighting robots! I don’t want to ruin the surprise or give too much away, so that’s all I’m going to tell you about it!
Geeking out at Akihabara
This neighbourhood is the geek capital of Tokyo. You’ll find streets and streets filled with huge anime, manga and electronic shops- the shops filled with young, single guys lusting after expensive anime figurines. You really need to come here to witness Japanese geek subculture for yourself!
Experiencing So Much Cuteness you Want to Die at a Maid Cafe
While you’re in Akihabara, make sure you visit one of the many Maid Cafes! When you arrive, you will be greeted by a maid who will show you to your table and treat you like royalty and show off her cuteness to you. Our maid talked us through the menu, giggling and letting us know which things she would draw on for us. Like, if we ordered a cappuccino she could draw a bunny or teddy on top. I was boring and went for an iced americano, sorry cute maid!
Before you can eat your food, you need to “bless” it and do a dance and shout “moy moy kyoon” which is a Japanese expression to describe the feeling your heart makes when you are in love. Seriously, too much cutenes!! You can pay extra to play games with maids or take a photo together. I opted for the photo (with props, of course) but there were lots of young single Japanese guys playing Uno or Hungry Hippos with the maids.
Expect to see young, single guys everywhere in Akihabara. Again, another insight into Japan’s unique subculture.
Edit: When I visited I had no idea that the girls in the Maid Cafes were often much younger than 18. Therefore, I would refrain from visiting. I’ll leave you with this post from Donna at Haute Culture. Do your homework and make your own mind up about it!
Eating Super Fresh Sushi
Before I came to Tokyo, I was so scared of proper sushi! I’d had California and maki rolls before but never eaten raw fish. My first night in Tokyo, I visited a sushi restaurant but avoided all raw fish. By my final night, I was brave enough to try it and I loved it! I’ve since had sushi back in Korea but it’s nowhere near as fresh and tasty. My personal favourites are fatty salmon, red tuna and eel. Yum!
Navigating Ramen Street
Japan’s other ubiquitous dish- ramen! This is nothing like the pre-packaged stuff, instead, expect really fresh noodles, meat and pickled vegetables in a rich bone broth. The city is full of ramen restaurants and it’s hard to know which are the best. To make things easier, pay a visit to the ramen street under Tokyo Station. The best and most popular vendors from around the city have opened shop down here. Just head to the shop with the longest queue!
Trying to Catch a Glimpse of Mount Fuji
The elusive Mount Fuji is the quintessential image most people have in their head when they think about Japan, and no visit is complete without trying to catch a glimpse of it. Due to the icy conditions, the mountain itself is only open for hiking in July and August. Unfortunately, when I was there the weather was pretty cloudy so I didn’t make the journey out to see it. I did kind of see a faint outline of it from the top of Tokyo Skytree if I squinted really hard and held my head in the right position and put my sunglasses over my camera lens and zoomed as far as I could…. Yeah, so I didn’t really see it. I would definitely love to in the future though, and if you get the chance to, you should too!
Hanging out in Harajuku
Much like Akihabara, Harajuku is the place to come if you really want to check out Japanese subcultures. This is probably the best place I’ve ever been for people watching. The girls have such amazing, unique fashion sense! Takeshita Street is the main place where all of the action happens. You’ll find lots of shops catering to Harajuku girls and creperies which seem to be really popular here! Expect it to be extremely busy on weekends!
Spotting Elvis impersonators at Yoyogi Park
Just around the corner from Takeshita Street is Yoyogi Park. As is to be expected in a big city, Tokyo is full to the brim with creative types. Pair this with astronomical rent prices and you’ll understand why so many people are using public parks as their own open-air rehearsal studios. Here you’ll find lots of wannabe J-Pop groups, break dancers and acrobats doing there thing on a Sunday. When I was there I spotted some competing Elvis impersonators at the entrance and later learned that they are a bit of a permanent fixture! Never in a million years did I ever think I would walk into a park to see professional, competing, Asian Elvis impersonators! Another “Only in Tokyo” kind of thing!
Crossing at One of the Most Iconic Crosswalks in the World
Crossing the road might not seem like a very exciting thing to do in one of the most mental cities in the world, but crossing at the famous Shibuya Crosswalk is something that just has to be done! Wait until the traffic lights turn red, then watch pedestrians spill out onto the road from every direction. For a coffee with a view, check out the main Shibuya Starbucks, which overlooks the crosswalk. If you have the chance to go on a rainy day, go and see the moving procession of umbrellas!
Gazing at Neon Lights
Shinjuku is the main downtown, business area of Tokyo and you’ll more than likely end up here at some point during your visit. To really see Shinjuku at it’s best you should come at night and see the sky lit up with neon lights.
Having a Few at Golden Gait
The Golden Gait is one of the only parts of Tokyo that wasn’t blown up in the war and one of the only places you can see old Tokyo in the city. As if that wasn’t reason enough to visit, the area is filled with hundreds of tiny bars, stacked on top of each other. Choose one, squeeze in and spend the night sipping on sake with the locals.
Top tip- experience another unique aspect of Japanese culture by spending the night at Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan!
Finding your Zen at a Temple or Shrine
While a trip to Tokyo is absolutely amazing, it’s not exactly a relaxing place! Trying to decipher the subway, eating unusual food, being surrounded by neon lights and crazy fashion can all take its toll and you need to find a bit of zen. Although a lot of the temples can be packed with tourists, they can still provide a bit of peaceful relief from city life. While I was there, I was actually lucky enough to witness a wedding at the Meiji Shrine, near Harajuku. Even if you aren’t as lucky as I was, it’s without a doubt a lovely place to walk around and have a breather!
Experiencing Rush Hour (Tokyo Style)
If you’re brave, jump on a commuter train at rush hour. Train conductors literally push all of the passengers into the train until the doors can close. It really does take being squashed like a tin of sardines to a whole new level! I do not recommend this if you are claustrophobic, or don’t like people invading your personal space!
Trying to Get a Game of Pachinko
Pachinko, a game similar to pinball, is REALLY popular in Japan. So popular that I even saw loads of Pachinko Parlours on a tiny Japanese fishing island not far from the Korean Coast! Gambling for cash is illegal in Japan so this game is a bit of a loophole in the system. Instead, winners try to collect balls which they can exchange for prizes, but there is a bit of controversy over the matter as there are said to be secret vendor shops who will exchange ball tokens for cash. I tried to get some balls so I could try and play myself, but could not for the life of me figure out what the process was! Expect to see lots of Japanese men who have been sitting for hours on end trying to get lucky!
I’m pretty sure I haven’t even scratched the surface on all of the things that you can do in Tokyo but if you only have a few days in the capital, this lift should definitely provide you some amusement and a nice insight into the modern day culture of this weird and wonderful city.
Planning an Asian adventure?
Don’t miss Osaka- here’s what not to miss!
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Not sure what city to visit? Why not throw in a trip to Seoul as well- another futuristic super city not to miss!
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If you’ve been to Tokyo, let me know your tips for first-time visitors! Anything else not to miss?
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