The movie Bright Lights, Big City may be about New York, but I think the concept is much more suited to Tokyo. I’ve been very lucky to have travelled a lot over the past few years, every time falling in love with new places, but nowhere has my heart quite like Japan’s capital.
I am 100% a city girl. I love the hustle and bustle, that fact that everything’s open super late, and that you never know who you might meet or what whirlwind adventure you might end up on next. However Tokyo is unlike any other city I’ve ever been because of one major thing – the people.
I don’t think I can adequately express just how much I adore the Japanese. Although Tokyo is one of the busiest places on the planet (with a population of THIRTEEN MILLION), unlike other big cities, it never feels rushed. People just don’t hurry like they do in New York, they’re not rude like they can be in London, and they don’t push and shove you as they cram onto the subway (and we went on it during rush hour! There were white-gloved attendants stuffing people on to the train and everything!) Yes, its hectic, but I never felt uncomfortably claustrophobic like I can do in London… maybe it’s because I’m easily a foot taller than everyone else there? HA!
People say “please”, “thank you very much” and “excuse me” all the time. They smile, they nod, they offer to help you with your bags down the steps. Even at Shibuya Crossing, the busiest cross-walk on the planet, the sea of people felt almost calming, not intimidating. I really don’t think I can explain how much I love this place to you properly unless you just go! I really hope you will too because there is literally no place else like it.
OK, OK, enough gushing! What I really want to share with you today is some fun things to do in Tokyo. As I mentioned in last week’s post, we were only there for two days this time (sob) and we’d been there before so we did most of the major touristy things that time. You definitely have to visit Odaiba Island, Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Palace, the ancient Sensō-ji Temple and Ueno Park. You should also try to take part in a traditional tea ceremony or a cooking or origami class if you can. But if you’re looking for some more out-of-the-box ideas for your visit, then this is the article for you!
Kawaii Monster Cafe
I’ve been following the Kawaii Monster Cafe, a restaurant themed like the inside of a monster’s belly (yes, really!) on Instagram for a while. So of course it was one of the first things on my to do list! Located in Harajuku, the food is rainbow coloured (I had the sushi rolls with rainbow sauces and a ridiculous milkshake that I couldn’t finish, and Gareth had the melty pancakes!) and the wait staff are dressed as cyber punks.
I’m not going to lie, I kinda wanted to order everything just so I could Instagram it (I mean, come on, rainbow spaghetti are you kidding me!?) but I resisted – ha!
Halfway through our meal they made an announcement for everyone to go into the main room where they did a bizarre yet amazing performance on the musical carousel in the middle of the restaurant! Only in Japan hey?!
Also, just check out these bathrooms!
It was totally one of my favourite places we visited. There’s a 500 yen cover charge per person (approx £3) and you’re limited to 90 minutes inside.
We went at lunch time and we only had to wait about 10 minutes, but I think if you were going for dinner your wait might be a bit longer. TOTALLY WORTH IT.
Shopping in Harajuku
“Harajuku Girls, you got the wicked style
I like the way that you are
I am your biggest fan”
Gwen knows what’s up and Harajuku is everything you’ve dreamed of and more. A mecca for quirky Japanese fashion and weirdness, it is one of my favourite places in the city. At the weekends it becomes the best place to people watch, and the shopping is just too good! It’s a bit like Camden… if Camden was all cute, colourful, awesome stuff!
The focal point of Harajuku’s teenage culture is the insanely busy Takeshita Dori and its side streets which are lined with cute shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores and crepe stands. I picked up some My Melody false nails, some adornments for my trainers and a ridiculously OTT phone case.
Away from Takeshita Dori be sure to also visit LaForet, a trend-setting shopping complex, consisting of seven floors of fashion boutiques and shops, and Kiddyland which is one of the biggest and best toy stores in the city! Prepare for cuteness overload and the fact that there will probably be more adults in there than children.
We are both now obsessed with Gudetama, the lazy egg. Look him up on YouTube!
Yes, of course we bought this loo roll!
Eat fantastic food!
As I mentioned in last week’s post, the food can be up and down but it’s definitely an experience! Our favourite places that we ate in Tokyo were meal ticket restaurants (they’re pretty much all good), Sarabeth’s in Shinjuku station for pancakes, Eggs and Things in Harajuku for a Hawaiian take on eggs and pancakes (are you starting to see a theme here?) and crepes from pretty much any crepe stand.
We also loved stopping at vending machines at any opportunity for cold – or hot! – drinks. They’re everywhere, and weirdly, only stock drinks, not snacks.
Our favourite thing to get were the hot coffees. I don’t usually drink coffee, but English Breakfast tea is hard to come by so I made an exception. If I ever saw anything that had cute packaging, I’d usually get one too. Some were great, others were disgusting!
This one tasted of fake grape and had lumps of jelly in it! Weeeeeird.
Of course, you need to make it your mission to eat as much cute food as possible too! Why doesn’t more food in the UK have faces or ears?!
Most department stores have huge restaurant floors too, right at the top. Unlike British or American food courts, the food is actually REALLY good as well. Shops are open late (usually until 10pm) and the restaurants tend to either close with the store or stay open an extra hour.
The gaming culture in Japan is NEXT LEVEL. Couples go on dates to them, dudes in suits pop by for a quick game after work, high school kids rock up with their mates and pound fake drums and keyboards in high-decibel rhythm games. There are the usual beat’em up and racing games of course, but others that have never made it big in the rest of the world.
Gareth, of course, loved the arcades and probably would have spent his whole vacation in them if he was allowed. Even if video games aren’t your thing, you should definitely go inside a couple to experience the madness! They’re pretty much all over the city but Ikebukuro, Akihabara and Odaiba are the most popular spots. They’re hard to miss as most of them are 7+ storeys high and they’re loud as hell!
Luckily, I found something more on my level to entertain myself while Gareth was getting really good at Cross Beats – Purikura aka photo booths!
Purikura can be found all over Japan, but most often in arcades. Some of the arcades we went into even had whole floors dedicated to them which came complete with a costume hire service, changing rooms, pamper stations and “no boys allowed!” signs everywhere (boys can usually go in with girls, but they’re not allowed in unaccompanied). They’re a teenage girl oestrogen-fest for sure.
It was all a bit to much for my poor husband…
When you think of photo booths, I’m sure the thing that pops into your head are the ones you go into at the supermarket to have your passport photo taken, or if you’re really lucky an old black and white vintage one that you might find at a trendy bar or hotel. Purikura is NOTHING like these.
First off, they’re huge and they have three distinct areas each (the booth for taking the photos and two editing stations, one on either side). You start your ‘game’ by putting 400 yen (approx £2.50) in and using the external touch panel, select your backgrounds and poses. You then go into the photo taking booth, which is big enough for you and all your friends, and comes complete with a green screen behind you!
Once you’re done posing up a storm, you head to one of the editing stations to add cute stickers and graphics, write or draw on them. You can even edit your face. Most of the ones I went to automatically made me look more ‘kawaii’ (my eyes are not this big in real life, nor my chin so dainty!) but you can also add make up, enlarge your eyes, slim your face, make your skin smoother and whiter… its intense. But really, really, really fun.
Yes, I went a bit overboard. I have no regrets.
Visit Shibuya at night
Shibuya is most famous for its cross walk – the busiest in the world! Three large TV screens mounted on nearby buildings overlook the crossing, as well as many advertising signs. At night everything is lit up and it looks utterly spectacular. Definitely worth a visit for this alone but Shibuya is also a great place for shopping and night life.
Here’s what it looks like when the cross walk lights are red…
And here’s what happens when they go green!
Gawp at cherry blossoms
Spring is the most magical time to visit Japan because it’s cherry blossom (sakura) season! The blossom’s existence is brief (usually only a couple of weeks per year) which is why the Japanese are so enamoured them. People of all ages were stopping when they saw a tree in bloom to snap photos of the flowers. Super cute.
For the Japanese, the cherry blossom represents the beauty and yet fragility of life. They’re a reminder that life is a gift but that its also short. As the the cherry blossom trees bloom for such a short time each year, they serve as a visual reminder of how precious life is.
Some of the best places to see the cherry blossoms in Tokyo are Shinjuku Gyoen, Ueno Park and Chidorigafuchi.
See the view from the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
You can pay to go up the Asakusa Skytree tower to see the view of the city, or you can go up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, the tallest building in Tokyo, and see the view for free! We went at night time because we wanted to see everything all lit up, but apparently on a clear day you can sometimes see Mount Fuji!
We had to wait about 30 minutes for the lift but it was definitely worth it. There’s also a restaurant at the top of the north tower if you fancy eating your dinner with the view of the city. You’ll need to make a reservation though, we tired to do a walk-in but the wait was an hour to 90 minutes so instead we went to a meal ticket place and called it a night.
Ahh Tokyo you’re so wonderful. I hope I can visit you again sometime soon. I’ll be sharing my favourite things to do in Kyoto and Osaka next week.