Tokyo travel guide – how we survived the sensory overload
Our travel adventures began with a two day, three night stopover in Tokyo. At Narita Airport we boarded a bus to central Tokyo, and after some confusion over the different train lines we found our way to our reasonably priced hotel in Nishi-Kasai (20 minutes from downtown Tokyo). In typical Japanese fashion the room was very compact, although somehow they managed to squeeze a bath in. We appreciated the warm toilet seats in Japan but were a bit unsure what to make of the bidet, water sounds and various other features.
On day one we headed to Harujuku to meet our tour guide for a Tokyo Localized free walking tour. The tour itself is free but you are expected to tip an optional amount at the end depending on how you rate the tour. We began at Meiju Jungu, a Shinto Shrine in Yoyogi Park which is popular for weddings and festivals. Yoyogi Park is a lovely greenspace within Tokyo's bustling metropolitan area. Our guide gave us a brief informative history of Tokyo including how it succeeded in becoming the capital during a feud with Kyoto. We were surprised to discover that the U.S were among the first Westerners to influence trade and fashion in Japan, and that Japanese were once vegetarians until an Emperor got a taste for meat and influenced the masses. We also learned the correct way to wash your hands and bow before entering a Shinto Shrine, and that asking people for small value coins in return for giving them hope that their wishes will be granted is a lucrative money spinner.
Perhaps the cool kids were all in school as we weren't lucky enough to see any of Harujuku's acclaimed fashionistas.
However, we ate a delicious Ramen noodle lunch at a local restaurant while Richie learned about his heritage from a
Nigerian girl we met on our tour. When a recent Ancestry.com DNA test revealed that Richie is 6% Nigerian he decided
to email me a strange request for $2,000 to release my unknown lottery winnings. I'm still waiting for the millions
In the afternoon we visited Shinjuku's Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, where an almost silent elevator transported us to the 45th floor for free panoramic views of Tokyo and Mt Fuji far off in the distance. It is hard to grasp the city's scale from the ground, but the vast array of high-rise buildings as far as the eye can see is evident from this vantage point.
Our next stop was Shibuya to experience its famous pedestrian crossing, also known as the "Shibuya Scramble". Possibly the biggest and busiest crosswalk in the world, people have been known to wear all kinds of crazy outfits just to walk across this road. We even witnessed some either brave or silly guys in onesies driving go-carts. We recommend Starbucks above the crossing as a great spot for viewing the shenanigans of the people below. We saw many amused onlookers observing the fun from its second floor window
After a cocktail at a local bar we used their free wi-fi to find a sushi restaurant for dinner. Uobei didn't disappoint as we ordered a variety of sushi dishes via an ipad that were delivered on a conveyor belt with no human interaction.
We started our second sightseeing day in Asukuka, passing the huge assortment of mostly tacky but cute souvenirs as we made our way to Senso-Ji temple, one of Tokyo's oldest and most visited tourist attractions. After throwing more coins to secure our good fortunes and sampling green tea ice cream, we took a short metro ride to Ameya-Yokocho outdoor market in Ueno. Some unplanned shoe retail therapy on my part followed (my excuse being I know a bargain when I see one). We then ate a set menu and Donburi lunch before moving on to our next sightseeing location, the Imperial Palace.
Although the palace is mostly inaccessible to us commoners, the East Gardens are open to the public and completely free. Bench seats were scarce, and the nearby gardeners didn't object when we took a seat in the middle of a small landscaped lawn to rest our wary feet, even if it probably wasn't encouraged. Japan doesn't observe Daylight Saving, so during the summer months later in the day is the best time to visit the gardens to avoid the midday heat. We enjoyed the cooling late afternoon breeze as we wandered around and left just before the 5pm closing time. Richard claimed he was guarding the palace in the photo below.
A trip to Tokyo wouldn't be complete without some sensory overload in Akihabara. Known as the city's electronic hub, it also boasts a scary number of maid cafes. We declined the various offers to visit one, deciding instead to sneak 1 or 2 snaps of the very young looking girls in maid attire when they weren't looking since pictures are discouraged. We crammed into a rush hour metro for a last ride back to our hotel, exhausted but happy after two days exploring one of Asia's most exciting cities.