Japan. The land of video games and anime. Two things I absolutely adore like a religion when I was a kid. Oh, I dreamt of someday visiting this holy land of all things I love. I would not be able to fulfill this dream until 2012; by then, most of the fanboy in me was chipped away. Staying strictly in Tokyo, I still find the place enchanting as a fulfillment of a childhood dream, nevertheless.
With a plan return trip to Japan in March 2016 for 14-days; staying mostly in Tokyo, and surrounding region, with a few days in Kyoto this time. I cannot help but to reflect on my experience there and things I hope to do.
Firstly, I remember entering Shinjuku station for the first time after landing from the airport during the late evening rush hour. I felt that all of Tokyo was at this station; incredibly intimidating. Let’s just say I followed my seasoned travel friend like a hawk until we made it out of the station.
After checking in at the Hyatt Regency Tokyo, we went straight to Kabukicho district, in Shinjuku, for our first meal to my friend’s favorite 24-hour spot, Iwamoto-Q; a tendon and soba joint located in the heart of the red light district of Tokyo. Not saying this was the best tendon place, but it’s convenient and good. This spot would be our go to place late at night throughout the trip.
One thing you will immediately notice will be that many places will have vending machines outside where you place your order before coming in, which is great since you can avoid the awkward communication barrier if you can’t speak Japanese, like me.
As with the rest of my experience of Tokyo, there are a couple of places I really enjoy visiting and would suggest for those looking for recommendations while in Tokyo.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This is the governing headquarters of 23 wards that makes up Tokyo. Located in Shinjuku, the true main draw to this building, which resembles a Gothic cathedral, is the FREE observatory at the top of the building that gives you a nice view of Tokyo. Look for signs that point you to designated elevators. I suggest going to the SOUTH tower as this has the best view, in my opinion.
Sensoji Temple. One of Tokyo’s most popular Buddhist temple, and the oldest, is located in Asakusa. The temple and Kaminarimon, a giant gate with an equally giant red lantern, are nice but I enjoy Nakamise, the vendor filled road that leads to the temple, the most. Souvenirs and snacks everywhere! Make sure to check out the branching roads to the sides. My favorite thing there was melon pan.
Kanda Yabusoba. This might be my favorite restaurant during my trip; the atmosphere and quality was top notch. Located in Akihabara, across the Kanda River, sits this one story joint with a zen garden outside that makes you feel you walking into an Edo-era restaurant. They make their own buckwheat soba noodles. They’re famous for their duck soba soup and ten-seiro soba. As a side note, has been recently rebuilt after a fire a few years ago. I don’t know if the garden outside is still here.
Alcatraz ER. This was an interesting experience to say at least. The name says it all, imagine being locked up in a small cell while be served by nurses and doctors. It is definitely a novelty experience; not the place for fine dining. I’m sure there are better theme restaurants by now, but if you’re looking for a crazy and unique experience, you might want to check this place out.
Gardens. Tokyo has the most gardens I’ve seen in any city, there was like a garden on every block. We visited many of them since my friend was a photographer – the photos from this post are from him – but I missed the most popular garden, Shinjuku Gyoen, when I went off on my own one day. Of the gardens I did visited, I would recommend Rikugien and Koishikawa Korakuen. Rikugien has a lovely, scenic stone bridge (Togetsukyo), while Koishikawa Korakuen is just a very pretty garden with many different sections of plants to observe – it even has a small rice paddy.
Edo Tokyo Museum. Not big on museums, but this one was more enjoyable than I thought. Showcasing the Edo, and some World War, period of Tokyo, this museum is worth a few hours if you have time to spare. My favorite exhibitions were the little town models with small figurines; the details on these models were extraordinary. As an extra, the building itself is quite unique.
Of course, these are just the short list of attractions that stood out to me besides the usual attractions. We visited Shibuya crossing, Odaiba island, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Tsukiji Market, Imperial Palace, and even a cat cafe where you pay to pet cats. I feel most people will visit these sites without recommendation; okay, maybe not the cat cafe in Shibuya.
Besides the attractions, I was really addicted to Japanese vending machines throughout Tokyo. The first thing I did when I left Shinjuku station was buy a hot drink from a vending machine to keep warm; a hot drink from a vending machine. Japanese vending machines serve both hot and cold drinks, from the same machine. This feature, for whatever reason, totally amazed me.
Edit: Watch this video on the vending machines in Japan.
Another thing, try Yoshinoya in Japan. Beef bowls, or gyudon, are quite popular in Japan with various chains. I had them with raw eggs, which creates a rich texture, which is something you cannot get in the United States. in addition, Shakey’s Japan was surprising good; they had interesting toppings and a lovely thin pizza crust, plus it’s all you can eat.
I did wished to venture out on my own more. I wanted to check out the coffee scene there – I only visited two coffee joints, Streamer Coffee and Cafe de I’Ambre – since I hear 80% of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee beans are exported to Japan. I got my coffee fix from the vending machines on most days since I didn’t want to slow anyone down with my addiction.
Regardless, this post is getting a bit longer than I thought so I’ll split it up. In the next one, I’ll take a look at the places I wanted to check out in the 2016 trip; only months away.