We’ve had a hot summer here in Byron Bay, so we jumped at the chance to spend some time in cooler pastures, and went and explored Tokyo for a week in mid-March, just as the Cherry Blossom trees were starting to come into bloom. What a delight!
Japan is super cool. We spent our days wondering from shop to shop, eating sushi and sashimi, drinking sake, finding lots of vintage to buy and just having our minds blown by some of the weird and wonderful things Tokyo has to offer.
One of the biggest things that stood out to us was the gentle approach Japanese people take to life. Everyone was so incredibly kind! One night one of the girls knocked her beer over while eating sushi in the most incredible and authentic restaurant along the river in Nakameguro and the man sitting on a date with his partner next to us bought her another! Each person we came across was beautiful, kind and humble.
We arrived in the evening and headed straight to Shinjuku’s infamous bar and restaurant district, Golden Gai. Like a deer in headlights, we walked around the skinny little streets looking into the tiny bars; some so small they would only fit the bartender and 4 patrons! Squeezing our way into one we enjoyed a couple of Hibiki Harmony whiskeys, and started to practice the small amount of Japanese we knew, like- Konnichiwa (hello) Arigato gozaimasu (thanks a lot); all of the important things.
We stayed in Hatsudai, one stop on the Keio line from Shinjuku; it was a really cool and convenient location. Our accommodation was interesting and a little bit different to any place we have stayed in before, being traditional Japanese style and very simple; essentially just small mattresses on straw matting on the ground. It gave us a true feeling of zen; and in hindsight it was actually something we really appreciated, especially after a long day walking around the city. A very welcomed juxtaposition. The metro system in Tokyo is pretty easy to use; it just took a couple of days to get our heads around it, as most of it was written in Japanese characters.
Spoilt with sunshine for most of the week, we were able to spend the days walking around many of the spots in Tokyo that we wanted to visit and really enjoy the springtime and crisp blue sky. We found some super cool places to shop and buy some unique pieces that we wouldn’t find at home.
Tokyo is a really fun and thriving city, and Japan is such a diverse country with so much to offer. We can’t wait to be back there eating more raw fish and enjoying all the colour of Japan.
Some cool things to do:
Visit Mori Art Gallery – on the 53rd floor of a skyscraper in Roppongi Hills, this gallery blew our minds with Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich’s exhibition. On the 52nd floor of the same building is a 360-degree view of Tokyo. We went at night time, the city in lights was a view that will be hard to forget.
Get lost in Harajuku – Famous for the extravagant style many young girls posses, Harajuku is incredibly colourful, busy and a must see. Shop along Cat Street for some unique boutiques and high-end vintage. Rag Tag was an incredible store, and lunch at Lukes Lobster was delicious – it’s pretty famous, you can’t miss it. We visited Takishita Street on a Saturday afternoon and got lost amongst the tides of human beings and rabbit burrow like shopping malls! The whole district surrounding Takishita Street was heaving and full of shops ranging from token souvenir stores to high-end fashion. Yoyogi Park, especially in Cherry Blossom time will blow your mind with the feeling of tranquillity and natural beauty in the middle of the city.
Buy cool Vintage in Shimikitizawa – The best vintage shops we came across were in a suburb called Shimikitizawa. The little streets are riddled with multiple second hand stores. We were impressed that all of the stores had their own distinctive style; from the layout of the store to music being played, the stock and staff. This part of the city seems a little bit quieter and away from the hustle and bustle.
Appreciate some fine boutiques in Daikayama – this is where we came across the most unique boutiques, some filled with handmade or one off items, and we able to buy some incredible books from the famous T bookstore, where you could easily spend half the day! We thought it was amazing, the number of stores that were stocking products predominantly made of natural fibres in Daikayama. It has a more upper class feeling to it. King George Sandwich bar is an upstairs cafe run by a couple from New York, and it is not to be missed.
Bliss out in an Onsen in Hakone – One day we ventured out of the city and visited a town famous for its natural hot springs, Hakone. An Onsen is a traditional communal bathing ritual in Japan, and is a very calm and slightly surreal experience, moving naked between different temperature natural pools amongst a wide range of women (or men, sexes are generally divided) from different backgrounds and ages groups.
Some tips from the lessons we learnt while in Tokyo (some being learnt the hard way):
- Take your passport with you when you shop to eliminate paying tax on any purchase over 5000 yen
- Don’t go anywhere too early in the morning. The city seems to be a little slow to rise; there weren’t many places open for breakfast, and we found that nothing really started happening until around midday.
- Don’t eat or sit on the streets, it’s considered rude
- Eat it all; if you can! Don’t be scared of the food. The language barrier for the most part was quite prevalent, one time ordering one serve of vegetarian ramen we were given two bowls with large pieces of pork on top. We certainly learnt the hard way. Any restaurant with the word Ichiraku in the title is going to serve only pork dishes, Izakaya is a restaurant serving seafood.
- 7/11 and Family mart have fresh sushi constantly available – it’s delicious!
- Look up! Like in many cities, the coolest and most interesting bars and restaurants were stories up - especially in Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku
- The toilet seats are warm and in some places there is a button that plays music to disguise the noise being made.