The Many Activities of Tokyo

Tokyo. That crazy, electric, energetic city. It’s huge, it’s crowded, its subway map alone is overwhelming, and I freaking love the place.

I spent more time in Tokyo than anywhere since Buenos Aires – 10 days in total – so again it’s hard to know where to begin. Tokyo was my introduction to Japan and a break in the middle; I was there for my first six days and returned for my final four days on Honshu (the main island of Japan) before going to Kyushu. In those 10 days I felt like I got to know at least part of the giant metropolis through wandering its neighborhoods, mastering (I think?) its subway, tasting its food, and seeing its tourist attractions.

To truly understand the love I have for Tokyo, you just have to go. I’ll try my best to imbue the feeling I got from the city into my description of it, but it’s really just the energy of the place that is so addictive. Even after 10 days I’m itching to go back, and I know I’m not the only traveler who feels that you can never have enough time in Tokyo. It has so much to offer from calm park days to jam-packed tourist attractions that I can’t imagine ever being bored there. To go day by day would take way too long and probably bore even my most avid readers (hi Grandma!) so I’ll give a highlights overview of what I did there.

I walked. Extensively. From the hostel to Shinjuku to see the multi-story glowing signs hanging off the sides of buildings advertising restaurants on the 9th floor and I don’t even know what else. Through the shops of Harajuku and Shibuya, pausing at one of the busiest Starbucks in the world to watch one of the most-crossed intersections in the world flood with people and just as quickly empty out for cars, on repeat. (Except around 4 in the morning when we had the intersection more or less to ourselves, a stark contrast to the daytime insanity and a fun way to pass the time between leaving the bars and going to the fish market.) Through Ueno park at dawn and midday to see and take many pictures of the sakura (cherry blossoms) in various states of bloom, and to visit the Tokyo National Museum to brush up on my Asian art and cultural history. And finally around Asakusa to take in the remaining traditional Japanese buildings from the Edo period, including the popular Sensoji Temple, a relic from a time before the flashing lights took over Tokyo.

I ate. Japanese food might be my favorite in the world. The fresh sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market is among the best I’ve ever had, but really you can’t go wrong in any sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Then there’s the donburi places – including my favorite meal in Tokyo, tuna don at a random street corner restaurant in Shinjuku – and the udon and soba noodle places. And the yakatori street – Memory Lane – where we adventurously ordered the 10 skewer plate and tried everything from liver to heart to intestines to skin. I will never eat intestines again, this was worse than eating tarantulas. So maybe not all Japanese food is my favorite… The most fun part about eating in Japan though is the crazy types of places you can eat. First there’s the different ways to order: from a vending machine – insert money, push button, bring receipt to counter, receive food – or by pushing a button at our table, alerting a waiter that we were ready (brilliant). Then there’s the theme restaurants: we went to a maid cafe, where our waitress called Matt Master and me Princess and our food was shaped like a bear; Capcom bar, where diners can play Street Fighter while enjoying their game-named food and drinks; and Alcatraz E.R., the prison/hospital themed restaurant that serves drinks in an IV or other ways that may be best left to your imagination. Even food is an adventure in Tokyo.

I played. First around the city in the arcades, where we attempted to be DJs and drummers, went deaf in the Pachinko halls, and relived middle school birthday parties at laser light bowling (I kicked Matt’s ass while bowling the best game of my life). Then on a rollercoaster that wove its way through a building in the middle of the city; 30 seconds of zipping around with an amazing view of Tokyo. Then we went to Tokyo Disneyland. In my opinion, Tokyo Disney is halfway between California Disneyland and Florida Disneyworld in terms of size and rides – it has all the favorites like Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and of course Its a Small World – but far surpassed both in terms of line length. 3 hours was the norm for Thunder, Space or Splash Mountain and didn’t waver all day. When any line was under 100 minutes we were actually excited, that was short. Even so, nothing can diminish the fun of a day at Disneyland. We also watched some other people play: first at the Tokyo Dome, where I did my duty as an American and brought French Matt to his first ever baseball game, and we both marveled at the fans who were nothing like what I’m used to at baseball games, with their organized chants and movements; and then at a sumo stable where we watched a morning sumo wrestling practice.

I drank. No visit to Tokyo is complete without nightlife. We united with the Haas group (again!) for costumes and private room karaoke. We went to a club till the subways started running again (subways shut down from midnight to 5 am, so…). We pretended we were Bill Murray and Scarlet Johanssen at the New York Bar on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt, a fitting farewell on both Matt’s and my last nights in Tokyo. And my personal favorite, we bar hopped around Golden Gai, a small 3 blocks filled with 200 tiny bars. From our favorite generous pouring sake place to a raucous beer joint serving international brews from Anchor to Bah Bah Bah, there is something for everyone.

I feel like this post is just scratching the surface of my time in Tokyo; each neighborhood, the Giants game, Disneyland, Golden Gai, and the Fish Market could all have their own entries. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up writing some addendums to this post on any of those. But hopefully I’ve at least been able to paint a picture of the sheer variety of ways to enjoy yourself in Tokyo. I had a fantastic time there and am so happy it was my introduction to the quirky, modern, efficient, beautiful, spirited country of Japan.

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2 comments

  1. you’re of course welcome to come back before your final take off! haha. How did you get in on a sumo practice? I want to go so badly!!

    Also need your bar list of golden gai 🙂

    Miyajima was amazing. So happy I went. Hiked misen this morning before taking the 5 hour train back home

    1. Haha thanks, if for some reason I make it back that way you’ll be the first to know 🙂

      I wish I had the names of any of the bars in Golden Gai! The trick is just to wander. We always narrowed it down to what bar didn’t charge a cover and went from there. The sake bar is no cover, in the second block about halfway. Really nice young bartender, quiet place, bar lined with big sake bottles. The rowdier place (where the friendly bartender will let you DJ) did have a cover unfortunately but they had a sign out front for Anchor Steam so I couldn’t resist. It was on the third block away from the main street. There were other good ones too though that were upstairs. Just pick one and go in!

      For sumo we got super lucky – when we got off the subway at Ryogoku we asked three guys walking down the street and one of them led us there. We had to wind our way through the neighborhood and were the first people at the place. A group of tourists arrived about an hour later to watch, so I think you could do an organized tour. We wouldn’t have found it on our own.

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