Tokyo | January 2019
The rushes of people, while still respectful and courteous, are just that; rushes of people. There are new sounds at every door way, shop or intersection you pass by.
Flashing lights of signs, billboards and attractions all compete for your attention, and that is just at ground level. Pick a spot and look up. The sounds and sights continue upwards for floors and floors.
Hidden stores, offices and eateries a staircase or two away.
We have never been to a place like this before.
The business men in their impeccable and admirable suits mixed in with the Kawaii culture show the diversity of this city. Everyone seems to have a distinctive dress sense which by far surpasses the boardies and thong [flip-flop] combo we are used to. You could almost feel the unique personalities of the people and the city by standing still.
People watching is at its peak here. The stores are all open and welcoming customers in to explore their seven-floors of everything and anything. The Starbucks on the corner of the famous Shibuya crossing is filled with people fighting over a bird’s eye view of the busy streets below; although you won’t find quiet in here.
Maybe it’s our inner child wanting to explore and experience more of these sights and sounds, lapping in the fun and carefree nature of the city. Maybe it’s the sense of order they have in everything they do. Or, a combination of the two.
Regardless, it’s a sensory overload, but one we surprisingly find nostalgia in. A nostalgia that has drawn us back many times more, yet we still can’t explain this city and its people. There is never enough time to explore, experience or do. There is never enough time to find out why this city has such a strong hold over us. There is only enough time to surrender to its wonder.
Welcome to Tokyo; Japan.
This time round, we flew Singapore Airlines. It’s not far from Perth so Economy or Premium Economy is our go to. Singapore is also a full service airline so you arrive comfortable and well fed. To those eyeing off the cheap Air Asia [or alike] airline tickets, don’t. Simply; Do Not.
Some dear friends of ours thought this was a good idea on our first trip. Fast forward to us all arriving and them telling us that the previous passenger had been a bit…unwell, and the airline had not cleaned the plane prior. Combine the two and our dear friend had a strangers spew bag emptied on top of her lap with nothing more than a drink token offered to her from Air Asia. Not even a bloody tissue. Also, it’s not logical financially to fly these budget airlines for flights longer than a couple of hours. You end up paying for luggage and food which works out to be the same as a full service [minus the free spew]. Don’t do it. We’ve also flown Malaysia Airlines for previous trips to Japan which is another great full-service airline options.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed at Shibuya Tobu Hotel in Shibuya. This hotel we stayed at during our first trip to Tokyo, with our second being in Shinjuku. We returned to Shibuya, and this hotel, because we preferred the cafes, shops and ease of getting around a lot more.
Shinjuku didn’t seem to have a lot of easy to walk to places that weren’t big bars or night-time disco’s [and by disco we mean something resembling a convenience store with loud music and even louder neon flashing lights]. While Shinjuku has the Robot Restaurant [cannot recommend enough], the Golden Gai and a lot of the nightlife attractions, by day we found ourselves leaving the district every day. Much easier to leave for a nights activities, rather than every day for the full day.
The Shibuya Tobu Hotel is also the perfect distance from the main centre of Shibuya; the famous Shibuya Crossing which is also where the train station is. While you wander in to the main centre, you have the chance to stop by cute cafes, local stores [including the Disney store!] and explore the area a little more, as apposed to staying right in the centre and not venturing out.
OUTSIDE OF THE HOTEL
Tokyo is one of those places where you can bounce around from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, getting lost.
Shinjuku and Shibuya are the two main areas where most people stay and explore, shopping wise. While they have ‘department’ type stores in these two districts for a lot of apparel goods, you will need to head to a particular district for specific items.
For streets and streets of random markets and vintage shops, head to the Kawaii district of Harajuku. This is where you’ll find things like Hedgehog cafes [the ones we saw and went to did a really good job of looking after the little guys, with them each having a time out after a few holds/feeds by visitors], the Monster Cafe and other animal-type cafes like owls and cats [although we didn’t bother with these].
If you’re wanting to take home a famous Japanese kitchen knife [the craftsmanship is quite spectacular] then you’ll want to head to the Kappabashi District, which is all things kitchen ares as well. Or if technology is on your hit-list, then your District is Akihabara.
All of these districts are really easily reached via train, with the ticket machines being in English as well. We just bought tickets as we needed them, while we were there, but you can pre-buy a week/month pass if you’re there for a while and think you’ll be using it a lot.
The Joneses Rating
Tokyo can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be.
There are local bars and restaurants you can explore and eat at, over the touristy or Michelin Star options and of course you can opt to not shop or do as much if you’re on a budget.
WHAT WE WOULD RETURN FOR
You could spend a moth in Tokyo and only scratch the surface. As soon as we return home from each of our trips there, we hear about something new that’s opened up or blogged about, which goes on our bucket list for the next trip.
Each of our trips, sadly, haven’t fallen on the dates the Sumo Wrestling is in Tokyo so we absolutely plan on returning to attend one of those events. It comes highly recommended from all of our friends who have managed to make it.
Word of advice – buy tickets online as soon as they are available. They will sell out and your chances of buying them on the door, the morning of, are very slim. Trust us; we tried one year and it didn’t end with us watching the event.
WHAT WE WERE HAPPY TO LEAVE
The only downside we can find with Tokyo is accommodation size. And that’s just us being picky. For the amount of people, cafes, bars, shops etc. they have packed into each neighbourhood, it’s no wonder even the hotel rooms are smaller in size.
The first time we stayed in Tokyo, we looked at some of the global chain hotels to see if we could get bigger rooms. Nope. Higher prices for about the same square metre rooms. It’s really a first world problem because they aren’t so small that you can’t easily manage two people with snowboarding gear and luggage in them.
If you don’t like, or deal well with, crowds of people, perhaps look at some of the our areas to Tokyo like Kyoto where it’s a little less busy.
TOKYO CITY GUIDE
The Joneses Tokyo
DO, DO …
Whether it’s your first or fifth trip to Tokyo, we highly recommend the Robot Restaurant.
If you think Tokyo streets are a sensory overload, wait until you step through to this world. Tip: book online prior, don’t try and buy tickets on the door that same night as you may miss out.
Make sure you get there early as well. The waiting area is wall to wall mirrors, lights and all things Tokyo, so enjoy a drink while the equally as fun band performs.
Do Drink …
The Golden Gai is a maze of petite bars. And when we say petite we mean maybe a capacity of 8 people if you are willing to squish or get in early. Don’t let that discourage you though. These bars are little pocket rockets of fun inside. Stumble from one to another along the mirroring laneways, meet other jolly travellers or locals stopping in for a drink after work.
Hit the Golden Gai up from 8 pm onwards. Some bars open at different times but that is a good baseline. Also, the ‘popular’ bars you read about are great. But they also may have an entry fee and be full of other tourists reading the same reviews as you. Just cruise, find your own and have fun.
DO EXPLORE …
The Tsukiji Market is a big ‘must do’ in Tokyo.
We actually loved the fresh fruit and other market stalls more than the fish market itself. Although, being fans of sashimi, it was certainly the freshest seafood we have ever had!
Be respectful if you visit here. Remember, these people are actually trying to work while you go and stand and watch them. Also at the time of writing this, tourists were still allowed to visit to make sure you check if that has changed before heading there.
DO VISIT …
There are peaceful parks scattered all around the city.
Sitting with the locals in complete silence, taking in nature, is quite a grounding and soulful experience.