Number 6 – Live in Tokyo (six of Clubs) – February/March 2017
As strange as it sounds I think having a few weeks off writing has become a bit of a detriment to me. Tokyo has been immensely overwhelming, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way, and in a way I didn’t want to write anything whilst I was getting settled in. Then once I was settled in I think I got myself into a bad habit of putting things off and as such, this post is super late. I’ve actually written this out 3 times already, each time from a different perspective, trying out different styles, but none feeling quite right. So I’ve just decided to stick to what I normally do and ramble until you get bored! The six of clubs has changed somewhat from how it begun, and Japan is going to spread over a few entries as I make my way around. I’ve spent the last month in Tokyo, and as much as I’ve loved it, I’m really happy to be moving on again and seeing something new.
Having spent so long in one place, it would be silly to try and give you a rundown of every day and every activity, so I’ll split this into a few different sections. This part of my travels hasn’t only been sightseeing; I’ve actually been working whilst I’ve been in Tokyo, earning a little money and living a little more like a local. Yes I agree, you cannot really count one month as truly living in a place, but for me it has been more than enough, as will hopefully become apparent as we go. With that being said, let’s start with the tourism!
Sightseeing in Tokyo
I arrived in Tokyo exhausted after a pretty stressful night flight and my first challenge was just getting into the city. Narita airport is crazy far away from Tokyo, so when you arrive, do bear that in mind! I had to spend the first day just catching up on jet lag before exploring my local area. What follows is a bit of a rundown on a few places I saw in my first few days, whilst I was living like a tourist, with my recommendations.
- Imperial Palace – This was actually my first stop, however I made the mistake of going on a Friday, the one day of the week that the Palace is closed. When I returned however, I wasn’t at all disappointed. You can’t enter the palace itself, but the gardens are beautiful and you could quite easily spend an afternoon here with a picnic and some friends. It reminded me a lot of Central Park with the dichotomy of greenery and skyscrapers competing for your attention. To be honest, I have been really impressed with all the green spaces in Tokyo and they really take care to provide respite from the overbearing nature of one of the busiest cities in the world.
- Tokyo Government Metro Building (Shinjuku)– I found this place on tokyocheapo.com and you really need to check this place out. It is the highest viewpoint in Tokyo that you can visit for free and the views are stunning. There are two towers, and I would say that in the day, the South tower gives better views. What’s really cool though is that the north tower is open at night, meaning you can head up there to watch the sun set over the mountain area towards Mt Fuji, and then see Tokyo light up by night without having to part with any of your hard earned Yen. This was the first time I really felt overwhelmed by Tokyo. I’ve been in big cities with tall buildings before, but from this viewpoint you could really begin to understand that Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world. I am not exaggerating when I say you could not see the end of the city.
- Akihabara – The infamous ‘electric city’ is just as crazy as the pictures suggest, with a slew of neon lights and arcades galore. I visited on a Saturday and was able to attend a convention of some sort near the metro station. Here I was able to get my first experience of the female J-Pop groups that Japanese men go crazy for. I won’t say too much more about it other than everything you’ve read or heard is true. Slightly perverted, highly entertaining. If you are into games then be sure to check out Super Potato; it has a great selection of retro games.
- Harajuku – On the Sunday, I met an old friend, Joe, who took me to see Harajuku and Yoyogi park. Harajuku is pretty much a Japanese version of Camden in London; very busy, quite alternative, nowhere near as cliché as everyone expects it to be. Yoyogi park, near Harajuku, is another beautiful space in Tokyo, and I would imagine in early April, through summer, this place would be amazing; there are a lot of cherry blossoms there and lots of space for picnics and chill out days with friends. He also treated me to some of the best food I’ve had whilst I’ve been travelling. Okonomi Yaki is a Japanese savoury pancake and if you visit Japan, this is an absolute must! It was incredible.
- Shibuya/Shinjuku – Again, these places are a must visit destination, if only to say you’ve been. Shibuya crossing is utterly ridiculous, and you have to experience it at least once. There are a few other sights around Shibuya, and along with Shinjuku, these two places make up some of the most popular shopping areas in Tokyo that I visited.
- Golden Gai – This place was fun. I actually visited Golden Gai very late on during my stay in Tokyo, but it was a great night. Basically, the Golden Gai is a set of a few streets lined with small Japanese bars. When I say small, I mean tiny; most bars will fit a maximum of 5 customers in. Some of them are welcoming, whilst in others, the whole bar stops when you open the door to stare at you until you close the door again! Certain bars have their own theme, and it’s a lot of fun just weaving in and out of the different atmospheres.
- Intermediateque Museum – If you are at all into science and nature then this museum will definitely be up your street. It’s a free museum that houses a collection of natural history, including some incredible skeletons of extinct animals and information in English which really helps!
- Tsukiji Fish market – I didn’t do the 5am tuna auction, but visiting this place in the morning, between 8 and 10am is super cool. The fish there is (obviously) super fresh and they give a lot of samples for free! If you are staying somewhere with a kitchen then I would recommend buying some salmon or tuna, you will not regret it! From here I actually wandered to Nakagin Capsule tower, which was featured in The Wolverine. You could even combine this with the nearby Ghibli clock to be even more efficient. Anybody familiar with anime will know Studio Ghibli, and hidden away near the bay is a brilliant clock styled after his work. Three times a day it comes alive with music and creaking motion, providing a mesmerising and strangely relaxing performance.
- Miscellaneous – The Mori Art museum is well worth a visit, especially for the special exhibitions they provide. I visited an exhibition by Yayoi Kusama, which was just amazing. I normally get bored at art galleries, but this was really good. It’s there until the 22nd May 2017, so if you are in town then check it out. There are some great parks around Tokyo, including Ueno, and Hibiya, where you could easily lose a few hours on a nice day. Also, the metro system is extensive and efficient in Tokyo. I would recommend buying a Suica card for your travel. It costs 500 yen, which you can get refunded upon return of the card, and it provides roughly 10% discount on all journeys.
Food and drink
Japanese food is incredible. There is such diversity in what you can have, but like I have said elsewhere, this is where you can separate yourself from the normal tourist. Japanese fast food restaurants are actually really good quality, cheap and a fun experience, especially when you have to order at a machine! Make sure you have sushi at least once, it’s really good quality, and quite affordable. And for a treat, as I said above, you have to try Okonomi Yaki. Each area of Japan apparently has its own version and I aim to try it in every destination. Yes it’s a little more expensive, but so worth it! If you’re feeling brave, learn the following phrase to ask what the waiter would recommend: ‘Nani-ga, o-susume desu ka?’
Alcohol in Japan isn’t cheap. The beer is pretty decent quality (they even have a Brewdog!) but prices are on par with London prices. Whiskey can be a little cheaper and Japanese whiskey is pretty awesome. Chu-Hai and sho-chu are local drinks that are sometimes mixed with fruit to make a sort of spirit + mixer. It’s cheap and quite nice to be honest!
After a few days in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, you might be craving something a little quieter. The following two day trips are well worth a visit to help you get away from Tokyo for a few hours, and also because they are great in their own right.
Lake Kawaguchiko/Mt Fuji – I really wanted to climb Fuji, but because of the time of year I was here it was just too dangerous. But if you want stunning views of the mountain, then I think you will be hard pressed to find a better location than Lake Kawaguchiko. One of the 5 lakes that surround Fuji, it is easily accessed by bus from Shinjuku station in Tokyo. Buses leave every half hour, take just less than two hours and cost 1750 yen each way. Don’t be too surprised if you can’t get on the first bus, it’s a popular route. Once you arrive at the bus terminal it’s a short walk to the lake, and on a nice day you could spend hours just wandering around, taking in the views of Fuji, and the hills surrounding the lake. It’s a seriously beautiful place.
Yokohama/Anata No Warehouse – Yokohama is around an hour south of Tokyo, and is a city in its own right. It’s a lot quieter here with some beautiful buildings, a brilliant waterfront and Asia’s largest Chinatown. There are various ways of getting there, with direct lines from Ueno, Shibuya, and a few other places. On the way back, if you are into arcades, or even just something a little strange, get the blue line from Yokohama to Kawasaki. Once at Kawasaki, head around 500m south to a place called Anata No Warehouse. This is a seriously cool arcade that has been styled on the 80s walled city of Kowloon in Hong Kong. The attention to detail is spectacular, and they have some cool games on offer as well, not that I was bothered about that at all.
As far as being a tourist goes, I think this gives you a good few recommendations from which to start. I haven’t really given you an itinerary as much as I may have done in the past as I didn’t do it in any sort of order, and with Tokyo being so big, you are going to have to change your plans based on where you are staying. I was going to continue this post to include my personal experiences of Tokyo, but I feel I’ve already rambled enough, so I will put that into a different post! Have you been to Tokyo? What would you recommend? Let us know below, and if you are planning your trip, let us know below and I’m sure if I (or anybody else) can give extra advice, we will!
Carpe That Diem!