T h e L e g e n d s A r e T r u e
Like so many, I've grown up watching Anime & reading Manga, all my toys were made in japan and their written language looked like some coded hieroglyphics far more complex than our Latin alphabet. Then I saw images of the country’s sprawling mega city Tokyo & dreamed of one day going. Everything about Japan's culture, cuisine & religion(s) seemed fascinating, modern and alien. So of course when deciding on a city break destination, I had to go. Before booking I carried out extensive research. I planned & rammed an insane itinerary into 2 weeks and took a no holds barred approach to achieving 100% completion. Gladly, Tokyo didn’t disappoint. The people, the tech, the history, the Architecture and food were all beyond expectation. Although be warned, one to two weeks may not be enough, If you live in Europe or the US its a long trip to make for a short break and it’s so vast you’ll want to give each place a generous amount time to explore at a leisurely pace. I'll need another visit to see the districts I missed and leave Tokyo to make use of Japan's environmental advantages such as Skiing on Hakuba's powdered snow or Onsen bathing in Kusatsu's volcanic springs.
In this iteration of the travel guides/reviews I'll cover the Shiodome, Travelling in Tokyo, The Conrad Hotel, Hamarikyu Gardens, The Sumida River, Shinjuku, Akihabara, Ueno, Ginza, Kabukicho, Shibuya & the Tsukiji Fish Market. Plus money, tips & general ways to enhance your stay. Once read I hope you’ll be inspired to make the trip too. N.B Take plenty cash & allocate ample reserve space in your suitcase. Tokyo, as a retail & consumer playground is generally expensive & the pound or dollar won't take you far.
S h i o d o m e
This is where I stayed & for very good reason! Which I'll detail later on. Shiodome is a business & skycraper district. Home to the Conrad Hotel and a few others. Close by is Tokyo's 5th Avenue & Oxford Street equivalent Ginza. You'll also find the world's largest fish market Tsukiji Market close by (soon to be relocated). The Shiodome renovated area re-opened to the public in 2002 & is now one of Tokyo's most modern districts. Similar to London's Canary Wharf. Spend a while in Shiodome & you'll soon notice the proliferation of black suits, white shirts, black ties & spit shined black shoes. You'll hear Japanese and American businessmen talking mergers, acquisitions & stock options, overtly too. I'd eavesdrop during my breakfast buffet whilst taking in views of the skyline through newly cleaned floor to ceiling windows. Walk around the precinct & you be rewarded with modern art & excellent examples of architectural design, photogenic from all angles. I even found a traditional English pub a few minutes from the Conrad. Tokyo features quite a few emulations of English pubs and American grills to give expats & tourists a little taste of home.
T r a v e l i n g i n T o k y o
Nearby subway station "Shimbashi" is along the JR Yamanote main line, perfect for navigating your way across the other main areas of Tokyo. The Subway system in Tokyo is simple and quite easy to navigate. All maps & signs are written in both Japanese and English. As you can see below, the JR line loops continuously around popular tourist destinations making it difficult to get lost
When you arrive simply purchase one of three time period passes. A 24hr , 48hr or 72hr pass. This will cover the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines that cover over 200 stations throughout the city. This is your "Tokyo Tourist" pass. which can only be purchased with your foreign passport. If you're travelling to a specific destination i.e dinner reservations or any other booking, a taxi is the best way to go so you're not wasting time navigating, & you're partner isn't left standing around or walking long distances in her dress & heels. However, be warned. Tokyo taxis are not cheap. Most journeys I made from one area to the next, all within the city where between £15 -£20.00 as standard.
T h e C o n r a d H o t e l
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The Conrad occupies the 28th -37th floors of the behemoth Shiodome skyscraper, featuring a visionary minimal aesthetic, art installations and sophisticated lobby. After a few pops of the ear you exit the lift and emerge into an expansive reception. To your right sits a grand piano where jazz pianists entertain an open plan bar/restaurant & seating area with lounge sofas, armchairs & huge floor to ceiling windows over looking the bay area of the Sumida River, Hamarikyu Gardens and it's famous tea house. The rooms have a distinctive Japanese touch, varnished long wood grain surfaces, plush carpets, his & hers sinks, standing shower, huge double bath with a glass wall separating the bedroom & the bathroom, Business work desk, flat screen TV & window ledge chaise-Longue. Not to mention Japan's infamous modernists toilets with control panels. If you choose to dine here before or after an evening out you'll dine at the Michelin Star "Gordon Ramsay" on the 28th Floor. délicieux!
H a m a r i k y u G a r d e n s
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Close by is the sprawling Hamarikyu Gardens. A huge parkland similar to New York’s Central Park in that you’re surrounded near the entrance by sky scrapers. As you wonder further in you’ll find enchanting pathways, lush foliage some of which is labelled as centuries old! but the main attraction in the park is most definitely the famous 'Nakajima No Ochaya', an authentic 17th Century Shogun Tea Hut that sits majestically within a huge pond to the east of the park.
Here you can partake in traditional "Matcha Tea" tasting. Both the park & surrounding area is a great walk if you’re looking for horticultural, architectural or general landscape shots/scenes. If fitness is your thing, this makes Shiodome an excellent place to stay as the park is ideal for jogging. You may not have such easy access to an open space quite like this in other parts of the city. Plus, it's a great location for picnics & and escaping the city bustle as there are calming bay area views of the Sumida River & cherry blossom trees that seem to last a little longer than the ones found in Ueno Park (see further down).
You don't need to book in advance at the tea hut, but as it's a popular destination you may want to either arrive early or allocate some queuing time during the day. You'll be handed a guide upon entry and a host will see to your needs, assisting you if need be. The atmosphere is calm & orderly as Matcha Tea appeals more to an older audience. Although busy, no discernible conversations can be heard as people speak so quietly, or at least they did whilst we were there. Matcha tea confectionery is an acquired taste, but you can see how it's flavours work with the tea. The term "when in Rome" very much applies here. Like onsen bathing there's an etiquette that should be adhered to. My advice would be to embrace the experience, show respect and not embarrass yourself or who/where you represent.
T h e S u m i d a R i v e r
If you head towards the northwest of the park from the entrance you arrive at a pier where you can travel along the Sumida River via a range of water bus options. The Yakatabune, an old style boat with charming timeless characteristics from a bygone era (the style we opted for). Or the modern & elaborately designed Himiko & Hotaluna boats. They were designed by Leiji Matsumoto, a legendary Anime & Manga creator. N.B Its travel options like these that further support Shiodome as a great place to stay when visiting Tokyo.
You can travel to Odaiba & enjoy it's swimmable sandy beaches, Statue of Liberty replica & Tokyo Disney Land. Or head over to nearby Kasai Rinkai Park and explore it's Tokyo Sea Life Park Aquarium. Alternatively you could head in the opposite direction towards Asakusa for a taste of Edo Tokyo via it's traditional Japanease townscape and temples. If you head to there (Asakusa) during May you can observe the world's most elaborate Shinto festival at Sanja Matsuri. Or you could head to Hinode Pier to check out it's observatory's awesome panoramic views of the city.
S h i n j u k u
Metropolitan magnificence, cool restaurants, shops, nightlife and of course, late night arcades! My girlfriend & I hit Shinjuku the night we landed to celebrate our anniversary & dine at the famous New York Jazz Bar & Grill. Featured in “Lost In Translation”. An excellent depiction of the city’s atmosphere, if you haven’t seen it, do so before you go. From the restaurant’s bar you’ll have one the best views at night.
T h e P a r k H y a t t N e w Y o r k J a z z B a r & G r i l l
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Rooftop red blinking lights stretch far off into the horizon suspended above a schematic of slow moving headlights. Around you is the sound of coffee shop & party jazz with aromas of perfume, cigars smoke, spices and the gentle ambiance of bustling conversation. The crowd is eclectic, hipster, corporate, artsy, Bohemian, take your pick. For me, I’d arrived, I was just where I wanted to be with whom I wanted to be there with. After years of wanting, i'd finally made it! The food isn't bad either. The prices are what you'd expect for Tokyo. Not over the top but not cheap either. Luckily we landed a window seat in the non-smoking section. Once you've finished your meal head over to the band and keep an eagle eye out for the best seats in the house. They're highly coveted & people sitting there know it. If you do mange to land seats, chill, relax and take your sweet time.
T h e P i t I n n
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The following day I made a late night trip back to Shinjuku to experience the Jazz Pit Inn or Shinjuku Pit Inn as Tokyo is a globally recognised jazz capital. Anime enthusiasts will recall jazz themes from Metropolis, Ghost in the shell 2 innocence & the awesome Cowboy Bebop.
Cowboy Bebop Opening Scene (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Go4J1RaeuM).
The Pit Inn is a must-do for any jazz or live performance fan. It's namesake more than likely comes from it's location. To find the Pit Inn you must traverse an unassuming alleyway with no apparent signage, descend below ground level a few empty flights of stairs before you find it. The walls are lined with black & white posters and framed pictures of all the great Jazz pioneers. The room is dull lit and suitably misty. You can still smoke indoors here so the feel of an original Jazz Pit is exactly what you get. Bring cigars! Your ticket gets you a complimentary Whiskey or Bourbon of your choice to ensure you have some degree of inebriation to accompany your impending jazz intoxication.
You can order hot dogs, fries and other hot food bites if you wish. The crowd is an eclectic mix of generations. The youngest were all dressed sharp & preppy, older gentlemen looking quintessentially jazz-ish with thick knit wear, John Lennon’s and cigarettes hanging off the lip (literally). Then there were those in printed Hawaiian & tie die shirts. In Tokyo fashion is a big deal. Unlike anywhere I've seen before, both mainstream and obscure subculture styles feature everywhere as bold unashamed personal statements. I looked around and felt completely at peace with my surroundings. "I could so live in Tokyo!" or at least would love to own an apartment here.
D i s k U n i o n
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I hadn't finished with Shinjuku after two nights. A third was needed. This being the earlier part of the trip, I had cash to spend and Shinjuku has a variety of late night shops for after-hours consumerists. 1st stop was the well known music store and local landmark Disk Union. The great thing about Japan is you get many of the rare items you'd only otherwise find somewhere in the US, plus everything that's cool from everywhere else! I elaborate on this unprecedented level of stock in greater detail whist covering Shibuya. Returning to Disk Union, the store is definitely worth a pilgrimage for any music fan or audiophile looking for a special LP or CD to celebrate their visit to Tokyo. Also, If like me you have an affiliation or love for Street Art, then the Japanese bombs, sticker bombs & political sketches around the shop's entrance will be worthy of your admiration.
After picking up some Hendrix, Santana & Nas LP's I headed down the blade runner style high street (clean future version!) stopping in all manner of shops unfamiliar by name. N.B many signs are written in both Japanese and English. This also applies to the road and transport signs. So don't be worried about navigation, this city is tailor made for foreign spending on a grand scale.
U n i - Q l o
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Of all the stores to find I came across Uni Qlo, not knowing that Japan's Uni Qlo is nothing like the UK's. Uni Qlo is the Japanese equivalent of the UK's Johns Lewis or the US's Sears. It has multiple levels covering every modern convenience, and by convenience I mean Japanese convenience. A retail revolution covering tastes not even considered in the UK. A Tokyo must-do is pay a visit to Uniq-Qlo.
You'll find a comprehensive watch section with great models only available online back in the UK, all reasonably priced. I picked up one of the stunning Zeppelin watches pictured above. I'd wanted one for months but could only see them online back in the UK. Uni Qlo had them waiting for me in the flesh, ready to touch try and inevitably buy! You'll find an in-depth Feature here in the watch section Zeppelin GMT LZ 127 Count.
S h i n j u k u A r c a d e s
Wondering down the high street I heard the distinct sound of video games competing with the traffic for my ear's attention. Then there is was, another dream realised. I'd found my 1st Tokyo Arcade! I expected to find fellow 20 somethings hanging out, but was taken aback by the sight of briefcase welding businessmen. Clearly on their way home from the office. In London you may light a Cigar at any number of members clubs or swig of vino at a Davy's wine merchant. In Tokyo, I guess you hit the arcade & shoot stuff? I can do that!
If video games are too adolescent for your taste, you can always make your way to Shinjuku's red light district 'Kabukicho' for more adult pursuits & a plethora of alternative late night entertainment.
K a b u k i c h o
Tokyo's infamous red light district gets it's namesake from a type of traditional stage show called Kabuki. Attend an authentic Kabuki show starring one of the many coveted Kabuki actors who are Like popstars to the locals and you're in for some quite alternative entertainment.
If you have a penchant for theater, opera or burlesque, this will make some kind of sense. Otherwise it may be too left field for you. Kabuki actors are so loved by members of the crowd that shouts of excitement & praise can be heard from die hard fans when they enter the stage and execute a gesture from a well know dance routine, like Michael's Jackson' moonwalk. The premise being that these actors emulate females in their seductive performances as the beginnings of Kabuki hark back to a time when women couldn't perform. The history of Kabuki is long & complex, too long for this account. I’d suggest doing some research to help understand what’s going on onstage before you go, otherwise the whole thing may be lost on you. The night I could have booked a Kabuki show was the same night the Pitt Inn was open. Jazz over Kabuki, no brainer for me.
Kabuki shows aside, there's plenty more to see & do. The Live House ABC Hall has a 50 plus year history of breaking in Tokyo bands. Head here for an evening or Punk, Rock or Pop local style. If debauchery is what you seek, then enter any one of the host or hostess clubs. These replace prostitutes. No judgement. If adult entertainment isn't your thing then head to any number of bars found along the main Kabukicho alleyway and it's surrounding alleyways. Here you'll find quite a few pubs & bars emulating those from the UK & US as you would in Aiya Napa.
To find Kabukicho leave the JR Shinjuku via the east exit and head north along Shinjuku-Dori Ave. Move with the herds leaving the station heading towards the brightest lights up ahead & eventually you'll find an alleyway where the crowds funnel. This is main entrance. Like a fairground. The density of people along this main strip is intense. US & Aussie stag groups, glaze-eyed tourists attempting to take it all in, annoyingly stopping for photos and selfies mid flow. Many like me, just there to see rather than do. You'll get hecklers inviting you into their establishments' to 'have a good time' You need to remain steadfast as this point! One guy literally grabbed my arm & tried to pulled me into is club, if I wasn't firm footed my evening may have taken a different turn entirely.'
The Mrs wasn't interested in Kabukicho so I was solo this evening. I'd wondered further away from the main strip & ended up in some back streets. I saw some floodlights above low rise buildings, a 5 aside pitch perhaps? a chance to play Japanese at football? As I got closer you could hear the sound of pops & claps ricocheting off the surrounding high rises. I'd found a 24hr Batting Park. Never seen one in the flesh before so I rolled up & killed an hr mucking about with some local guys. I'd have to recommend this an excellent place to hangout late night in Shinjuku. There's also a small seating area you can by bears and a flat screen for watching sports. I made a few yen placing bets over how many balls we could hit. Language doesn't appear to be a barrier when it comes to gambling. If you’ve never done this before it’s initially quite daunting. Baseballs are not soft and they’re flying at you with considerable velocity. Continuing my route back round towards to the station I found Kabukicho & Shinjuku to be such a contrast. Only a stone's throw from all the madness are shrines & temples in back alley's and side roads. I couldn't tell if these were urns of loved ones encased within a shrine, or shrines dedicated to any one of the many Shinto Gods. Either way, an inquisitive peak was quite a sombering experience.
A k i h a b a r a
Or Electric Town on account of being the go-to place for Tokyo residents to buy, sell & repair their electrical goods both 1st hand, and via the black market post World War 2. Head to Junk street west of the station past the main high street for a back alley scene straight out of Blade Runner. Tons of small boutique DIY stands & shops. This is the place you go to if you want mainly 2nd hand or aftermarket spare parts for your tech. In between Junk Street and the main high street you'll find cosplay girls & boys dressed as popular Anime icons, some of whom you're not actually allowed to photograph. Then head back east to the main high street for tax-free prices and all manner of electrical goods, every possible retro game title for pretty much any console ever made, dedicated manga & anime shops, huge arcades with multiple levels and games of every kind like the famous Club Sega. There's also seedy maid cafes, card collections, Memorabilia, figurines, you name it it's here! The epicenter of Japanese 'pop culture'. The aforementioned high street becomes completely pedestrianised on weekend and bank holiday afternoons. So head to Akihabara at this times for the best possible experience. The initiative is called 'Pedestrian Paradise & was 1st established in Ginza 1970. This seemingly endless high street becomes a highway of bodies clad with shopping bags zig zagging from one side to the next. Ridden with youngsters, as you might expect for anywhere calling itself the home of Anime.
I’d read about the Japanese sexuality being rather repressed, but a trip to Akihabara revealed an unexpected opposite. We entered a 'Maid Café' following a must-do recommendation i'd read about. Naively I hadn't researched the concept of the Maid Cafe any further. I expected a novel experience with perhaps some degree of class where the hostesses dressed as french maids in perhaps a french themed setting with french cuisine? How wrong! What we found was a dingy room that reeked of cigarettes where a small groups of older men dressed in suits sat quietly observing adolescent-looking girls dressed in tarty french maid outfits waddling alongside these men randomly giggling? We didn’t even enter. After opening the door, my partner & I took one look & made out like we were lost. Then of course there's the comics/Manga. We found a large Manga store on the ground floor of a building. I thought i‘d pick up and authentic Manga of a favoured anime, as a souvenir. Whilst walking through the store, I was slower on the uptake, but my partner realised we’d wondered into an entire section of R-rated pornographic (Hentai) comics. There were dudes standing around looking at full double page spreads of pretty obscene graphic depictions of sex acts, all quite brazenly. My partner squeezed my hand, leaned into me & said “Please get me out of here!” I found the whole thing hilarious! But wait there's more! The figurines.... We found a completely different store that sold memorabilia of pop culture icons, well known games characters & anime.
Once again, with the aim of picking up an Armored Core, Z.O.E or Neon Genesis Model. We found these amidst a whole range of other amazing model figures, some even life-size! Again perverse models of female characters, some in bondage or suggestive pornographic poses. This didn’t seem repressed, unless the aim is to express ones sexuality through model-play & not with members of the opposite sex? I don’t know, but as expected the culture was a world apart from western normalcy. Regardless of any level of disapproval, the detail one some of these models is staggering. Unfortunately I didn't have enough for the War Machine or Iron Man figures. Both would look awesome in any studio.
We then wondered into a retro game store in another building. One of many awe inspiring treats for serious retro collectors. This shop had levels to it. Each floor filled with narrow rows of metal stands densely stocked with games across all platforms. The layout reminded me of the "lots of guns" scene from the Matrix. Every title you could image and hundreds you'd never heard of. As I walked the aisles I kept telling myself next time I’m bringing an empty suitcase and a whole lot more money. Learn from my mistakes and save long before your trip. Unfortunately I'd failed to ask for the names of these stores for this post, but what's clear is that almost these games stores have a selection of titles far superior to your local Game or CEX back in the UK. So finding them won't be an issue for you. Just ask around.
On the Matrix theme, the retail experience in Japan really isn't something you can be told. You have to see it for yourself. Their mainstream electronic stores are set out more like interactive exposes than conventional UK & US style stores. Every item you could buy was on display and ready to demo. I walked along a row of 8 different models of stylus pens, all hooked up to PC monitors for you to demo. It being Japan their tech was more advanced than ours. Gadgets I didn’t know existed. It seems like the Japanese make tech for things we don’t seem to think is worth having a tech solution for. enticing you to spend like you're at Ikea. The more you explore the more you wonder what else you may find. If you’re a geek (like me) This area is probably where you’re going to spend most of your money. In the UK we have the 'Hyper-Japan' festival to bring this amazing culture to us. If you've ever been to one in the UK then Akihabara will feel like an entire district-wide Hyper Japan. Teeming with every element of Japanese pop & subculture. In one day we barely scratched the surface.
K a n d a M y o j i n S h r i n e
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On the last day of the trip we managed to double-back to Akihabara to explore past the immediate high street & hopefully visit the Studio Ghibli Museum. Unfortunately it was closed. So we went in search of Temple i'd heard hidden away off the beaten path. The Kanda Myojin Shrine to be precise. A grand sized temple complete with gift shop & public facilities sat amongst suburban housing. Definitely worth a visit for it's spiritual & photogenic appeal. Plus, there's an off-chance you may witness a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony. To find it you'll head north towards the farthest end of the main high street, away from Akihabara Station. Take a left at the end of the main high street at a large crossroads. Walk uphill for roughly 10 mins past the 7 eleven. Then take another left after the bike shop up a footpath.
Head past this gorgeous example of a traditional Japanese home, then past a tall pillar with a bust on top where you should start to hear a gentle ambiance of crowds. Find your way past stunning traditional homes like the above, Past a large pillar with a bust sitting atop it and around a few corners, all the while heading upwards and you'll emerge at the entrance of the Kanda Myojin Shrine. Not quite Google Maps, but part of the fun is wondering around amidst all this enchanting scenery.
Would you believe my luck! A wedding ceremony had started not long before we arrived. The courtyard in front of the temple was cleared for photos of both sides of the family. Once they made their way inside the temple, tourists & locals went about their business. Genuine Edo Period architecture, vibrant colours, that signature pagoda tiling & all very well kept. If you visit Akiharaba don't get too consumed by the consumerism. These humbling experiences educate your cultural palette in ways modernism can't.
U e n o
Ueno adds a level of maturity to your trip. Away from the shops, bright lights and youthful glaze of futurism is a town dense in historical points of interest. If you land at Narita Airport you're likely to pass Ueno via train en route to many parts of the city. If you return to Tokyo for a prolonged period (months or longer), Ueno might be an ideal place to stay. In a quaint little boutique hotel or renting an apartment. Ueno offers much cheaper rental prices than the likes of Shibuya, Shimbashi or Shinjuku. It's far more suburban & neighbourly. This is partly due to area's proximity to the Demon’s Gate or Black Gate and local superstitions of 'bad luck'.
If you're religious or terribly superstitious this may be an issue for you. Otherwise take advantage of those aforementioned rental prices and overall reduced living costs. When booking hotels if I don’t know the local standards I’ll often go for well known western brands like Hilton, Novotel, intercontinental etc. However, had I come across this info beforehand I may have pitched up here. The only draw back is the location. It's a train ride away from the excitement of the nightlife scene. Also, some may prefer to retreat back to luxury & the convenience of a fully serviced hotel & spa. At least now you know of both options. Save money and have an authentic 'living in Tokyo' / boutique experience VS blow-the-bank 5* glamorous trip to Tokyo.
If you arrive during cherry blossom season (mid Mar - mid April) Ueno is where you head to. Japan’s national flower prompts celebrations during this period across the country. One of the primary reasons we chose to travel in April was to attend 'Blossom parties'. Social gatherings in places like Ueno where families & friends have mass picnics seated under cherry blossom trees. Ueno Park hosts one of the largest spectacles of this cultural event in the city along a stretch of road within the park that's lined with cherry blossom for hundreds of meters. Definitely one for the global cultural bucket list. Sadly we arrived too late. We laned April 11th, by then the cherry blossom in Ueno Park had fallen, with only a few cherry blossom trees still intact (like Hamarikyu Gardens). To ensure you don't miss out, arrive the last week of March and stay through to the 1st week of April. We were told the week before saw the last parties. Pissed! Unlike the UK at this time of year, it's quite pleasant here. Warm enough not to wear a jacket.
You'll exit the station and see the entrance to the park literally in front of you. We spent the majority of the day here as there's an awful lot to take in. If architecture, History & knowledge are your forte, Ueno should be top of your list of destinations. It's home to the Tokyo National Museum. beautiful inside and out. I won't detail the Museum's interior, Just go there! besides, exhibitions change over time.
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Only a short walk from the station, it might be advisable to bypass the Park & head straight to the Museum as early as possible to avoid the crowds. As you exit the museum cross the road to what i'd refer to as the bottom end of the park from your perspective, but it's geographically the north end of the park. Eat lunch here in the this huge expanse by the fountains.
From this location you'll find things in all directions. Go straight ahead (south) towards the cherry blossom road, a whole bunch of things to see like the Shinobazu Pond & it's Bentendo Temple or the Ueno Zoo. Left (east) back towards the station, or right (west) towards the Black Gate and a really pleasant suburban walk passed Ueno High School through residential streets, small local shops & towards Nippori Station. We did the above and I'd love do it all over again! It's a total visual treat!
Once you're done with the park you may want to call it a day. If there's still more in the tank then head back in the direction of the Museum and make a left turn towards the High School. You go past the Black Gate en route and then you'll come to street where you can only go left or right & they'll be residential home directly in front. Turn right and from there fin your way to Nippori station. Ask for directions if need be, but stay the path. What lies ahead is pretty awesome, worth an Instagram story or Facebook post, and definitely an education.
To say I was in my element would be an understatement. All this is literally along the route! A few homes a random shop then Bang! A temple of the legendary 47 Ronin! Some of these shrines, temples & graveyards are open to the public. You just need to arrive before they close. Depending how important seeing this is to you. 2 days might suffice rather than one. With all this around the neighbourhood, it pays to go a little off piste and see what else you can find. I was particularly mesmerised by the traditional Edo Tokyo style homes throughout the streets.
I found a road people from a near-by train station where coming from clearly on their way home. This must have been Nippori. Along the route I found what looked like a grave yard unlike anything you've seen back west. It was divided by a road completely open with no fence and there were cats everywhere like guardians of the graves. The more you looked the more you saw & the people paid them no attention, like we do pigeons.
This trek may not be for all, Doing so much walking requires very comfortable shoes! &I was wearing boots! Wearing your most comfortable & padded trainers would be a good shout!
Just before you arrive a Nippori you'll find a row of shops. I picked up some souvenir jewellry for my other half, grabbed some drinks and ticked Ueno off the itinerary. The evening sights back to Shimbashi is another treat. Tokyo arguably looks better at night & the subway lines travel elevated, through the city at parts. If you have any reserves then detour via Shibuya or Shinjuku! You only live once....
G i n z a
Tokyo's Premium high street & shopping district is where the money go to play. All the international brands you know & love condensed into a few adjacent roads. There are of course a few other things to see besides shops. Alongside high end retail brands, Ginza features great electronic stores, jewellers & restaurants. Such high-end clientele is why you don't typically see groups of young people around Ginza, unless they're wealthy of course. If you’re going to see celebrities in Tokyo, Ginza is probably where they're going to be. Whilst shopping here try not head for the brands you know. There are stores unique to Ginza like 'Star Jewellry' items are only available here & know where else in the world. Wako Annex Cake & Chocolate Shop sells some of the excellent produce that is only available here. Namely their bread, which is so highly coveted its almost always sold out.
B u n m i e d o
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Allocate a day for Ginza. Have a light breakfast so you have space to sample a variety of deserts and sushi dishes around the area. For the best Sushi head to Ginza Kyubey! If Ginza is a mecca for foodies the world over. A pilgrimage to Ginza's Bunmiedo is a must. This artisan confectioners has an esteem history back dating over 100 years. They specialise in 'Castella', a Japanese sponge cake. Over the years many have flocked to Bunmeido for castella & coffee. Bringing some back as a gift isn't a bad a idea, as long the recipient appreciates it. The castella is a wonderful treat. My partner & partook in the custom and followed it with one of the best club sandwiches & deserts I've ever had.
You'll notice most people in Ginza are either really trendy or really corporate, black suits or fashionistas. You'll also notice Ginza is extremely clean! the road, the street the walls. Almost as if they were all new. Strangely enough there were no bins! When we asked someone back at the hotel, they informed us that people in Tokyo take their rubbish home with them as littering is just uncouth. Coming from London we could all learn a few a things from the Japanese where social etiquette is concerned.
N i s s a n C r o s s i n g
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There are also exhibitions & showrooms like the Sony Center & Nissan Crossing. Both showcase histories & future concept designs. Porsche & other select brands also showcase their wares at various locations. Wondering around pays off. You never quite know what you'll find. PlayStation fans and car enthusiasts sorted! Especially if she want's to shop and you don't! The concept designs and show rooms are outstanding. The spectacle isn't just the cars themselves, it's the way they're present. Nissan Crossing in particular offers an amazing insight into the technology behind one of the world's most revolutionary manufacturers. This should definitely be on your list of must see destinations. It wouldn't make sense to detail a trip to Nissan Crossing or the Sony Center because the exhibitions change over time. Hopefully they'll keep the simulator. Before you leave head to the cafe & grab one of their signature sodas.
T h e N i c o l a s G . H a y e k C e n t e r
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Watch enthusiasts should head straight to the Nicolas G. Hayek Center for a shopping experience completely unique to Ginza. The building was designed by Shigero Ban, a well known & respected architect. The building hosts a few of the Swatch group's leading brands. Breguet, Blancpain, Glashutte Original, Jaquet Droz, Omega & of course Swatch. The Swatch shop stands out the most both in presentation and via it's entrance. You enter a glass cylindrical lift and travel down into the basement. Furthermore the lift decorated with thousands of Swatch collectible editions. You can also build custom watches their too. The other high tier brands are also presented elegantly, but none with the novelty of the Swatch shop. The Building itself is a architectural & design masterpiece. It features 4-story movable front and rear facades that slide upwards when the store opens to transform the ground floor into it's own street. The interior atrium is also lined with plants & a waterfall to bring an organic park-like experience to shoppers and those passing through what has now been dubbed 'watch street'.
S h i b u y a
The shops, the crowds, the market, the arcades, the crossing, karaoke and sheer awesomeness is almost stifling! Take a minute to look around you. Survey and absorb the neon epileptic orgasms (yes plural) of Shibuya’s horizontal technicolor light show. The atmosphere sweats futurism like no other place on earth. Completely unique. London & New York have small elements of all of multiple so you can dip from one to the other, but to be somewhere so rich in it's singular culture, purely undiluted and at the cusp of it's evolution is a privilege to behold & generally what so many come for. Before even reaching for your wallet it's best just to walk around and make note of things you like. Chances are you'll see so many things you want, you'll need to shortlist and pick the best of the best over a gyoza & yuzu cocktail.
Passing through tight alleyways you hear dings and buzzes from pinball machines, outcries of laughter from groups huddled around arcades. Similar to London. I heard MCing from some kids in the street with an amplifier, the difference here was they were surrounded by groups of other kids checking each other out, dressed from head to toe is apparel you won’t ever see back west. There were cutesy girls with umbrellas, knee high socks, long flowing extensions & wigs. Emo kids with black nail polish, dark eye shadow, spikey hair and leather Jackets. Kids that look straight of a fast & furious in provocative street wear & oversized hoodies. Then there’s the preppy smart kids with blazers, chinos, waistcoats, formal shoes and the occasional trilby hat. Shibuya is a youth culture capital so understandably they're all here.
S h i b u y a 1 0 9
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If you're a guy, girl or non-binary taking your girlfriend or non-binary partner to Shibuya for a spending spree, Shibuya 109 would be a good place to start. It's famous multiple levels of small shops wrapped around a spiral of escalators selling all the trends & accessories you could image is a treat for anyone who considers themselves any denomination of trendy. I recall one store had fashion straight out of the Fifth Element. Off white Cotton & synthetic fabrics with large piping, sweaters & jumpers with attached snoods and off centre diagonal zips and buttons. Luc Besson would most definitely approve. Others had garments made solely from sustainable materials with a very earth conscious decor. Then there was what i'd call the 'popular girls' store where being attractive must have been a pre-requisite of employment, similar to Abercrombie & Fitch. There were Denim specialist selling nothing but, guessed it Denim & loads of what i'd describe as collectible items you won't see online or anywhere else. Varsity jackets, jumpers, lingerie & more. But the most abundant products across the board are accessories, AN INSANE AMOUNT OF ACCESSORIES.
1 0 9 M e n ' s
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For the lads there's 109 Men's. The menswear equivalent. Not quite as stacked as the Girl's store mainly due to fact men tend to have less accessories option, but for someone like my me who owns a variety of men's accessories it meets expectations. The prices here are aimed at younger men with less disposable income. I didn't many western name brands either. So generally its all quite affordable. Which means you can splurge here without having to reach too far down your pocket. I came away with a trilby hat, two watches that receive compliments when they're worn. A bracelet & straight legged jeans.
A v i r e x
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After leaving 109 & traversing a few streets I cam across the Avirex store. Now this was a treat! Completely beyond my price range at this stage of the trip but something to bare in mind when returning. For those not aware Avirex specialise in vintage and modern US Air Force flight ware plus moto/racing wear. Like many American utility ware from today and yesteryear, they've become popular street wear choices for both Men & Women. They've also become collectors pieces as many are produced to mark anniversaries of battles or to commemorate pivotal fly teams or squadrons. These garments are often made from a combination of premium materials like genuine cow hide leather, sheer & stylised high strength synthetic materials. Therefore they RRP quite high & even higher on bid sites like ebay. So if have the means or opportunity to buy them 1st hand you should. They instantly up any Man's wardrobe game & make you look & feel like a boss. Unfortunately in the UK Avirex stores don't exist so you never get to see and try-on a wide variety of these gorgeous jackets & coats. Being authentic flight wear they're designed to be worn over undergarments and therefore don't fit like a regular jacket would. So sizing can be an issue if you don't how each design will fit your body type. Furthermore Avirex make jeans and a range of other apparel which also look awesome. If you're in Tokyo the Avirex store is must. For anyone looking to buy their hubby a present he'll appreciate for life, a leather & sheer aviation jacket is a lifelong piece that a man can give to his son due to the longevity of cared for leather.
P a r c o
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Parco like Shibuya 109 is a store synonymous with youth culture. It's model is similar to that of a typical department store in that it houses numerous brands under roof over multiple floor, however instead of just selling stock from different brands it also leases and therefore supports less established brands too. This means prices aren't as high and the stock available is at the forefront of Japan's urban fashion scene. This makes Parco an essential stop-off during you're visit to Shibuya. You can also pick up other items beyond fashion too. The Store's sign has become an iconic part of the city too. Posing under it make for a quintessential Tokyo pic. Parco also offers respite and food via a selection of restaurants. We grabbed some fast food whilst making plans for the remainder of the day, but can confirm the atmosphere & energy is apparent.
Something to bare in mind for the ladies is issues with shoe sizes. My partner is a size 6 & many stores in Tokyo don't go above a size 5 on account of Japanese women generally having small feet. So if you're planning on buying Shoes for your other half (always a win!) make sure you make the size conversion. Fortunately this isn't an issue for guys as Japan is the home of the Sumo & some of these guys are huge!
The over arching premise in Shibuya is that you find everything you'll find in the west and a whole bounty of things you just don’t. Not strictly clothing, but convenience items too. Solutions for blood circulation on the feet in the form of heat patches to were under your socks & other body parts, removable sweat patches that attach to your shirts interior to cool your armpits, then dispose of at will & a ton of other random convenience items you’d expect to find at some inventors expose or 'modern living' conference. More so, they had this stuff in newsagents along the high street. Oh and the candy/sweets! To die for! Combinations of flavors foreign and strange, soda bottles with instructions how to open them...etc...etc..
T s u k i j i F i s h M a r k e t
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Visit the fish market? Not what you’d think to do on holiday right? Wrong! in the land of rising sun & birth place of global culinary sensation Sushi, you kinda need to. Specifically Tsukiji Fish Market. You may read about the tuna auction being a 'thing to do', but it's not something I’d recommend. The idea of an auction at one of the world’s largest fish markets evokes thoughts of a loud, competitive verbal brawl to claim champion tuna fish for yield & profit. Something like a Wall Street stock exchange or Athenian debate for seafood right? Wrong again! The Japanese demonstrate temperance like none other. You won’t see so much as a sigh. It’s all very civil. Not worth getting there for 5am! The public accessible areas are what you go for. See for yourself. The scale was both ridiculous & impressive.
As you can see It’s vast, catering for all permutations of seafood with the commensurate supply needed for Mega City. There are of course, a few dos & don't. Aside from not touching anything or entering restricted areas, you’ll want to wrap your shoes in plastic bags and seal them up to your ankles with sticky tape. Otherwise you’ll clear a space wherever you go for remainder of your stay in the city. The floor is saturated with fish scented water. The smell isn't that bad. Fresh fish doesn't actually smell &this is freshest fish you're ever going to see.
The earlier you can arrive the better. I made the journey pretty early (5am) & had the pleasure of negotiating the tight spaces with ease. The later it got, the more crowed it became, the more foreigners showed up & the more pissed-off the fishermen became as people inevitably get in the way. I was able to get these shots with ease because for a good two hours it was just me & the fishermen/women. At this stage everyone is quite friendly and happy to let you snap away, they may even pose & present their produce to you. Just remember they are working and trying to get shit done, and therefore don't have to entertain you by any means.
"That's not a knife..."
"That's is a knife!" Mick Dundee 1988
Despite it's magnificence, the market will be moving soon! The locals informed me the market has simply outgrown it's current location and needs more modern facilities & buildings. Although most agree anywhere else just won't be the same. So if you're a chef, foodie sushi fan or general Tokyo enthusiast, head there as soon as possible if you want to claim the experience of seeing the world's largest most famous fish market in it's 'original' home go now!
S u m m a r y
It's hard not to love Tokyo. The people are so civilised & accommodating. Any city with such a low level of crime and poverty has to be admired as clearly doing something right by it's citizens. Travel on public transport and you'll notice no one speaks on their phones. Doing so is considered rude & frowned upon. A basic & exemplary level of social etiquette you just won’t see anywhere in the west. I could only find one fault and that’s the quality of air. Tokyo in places is pretty smoggy. I found my throat turning dry it was so bad. You’ll see loads of people wearing face masks because of it. So if you suffer from Asthma take caution! If I lived here I’d have to invest in an actual face mask and consider living as far away from the city as possible. Clean air aside, I can’t wait to return & explore more districts I missed like Roppongi , Ebisu and Tokyo Central, meet more people, buy more stuff & fall further in love with the city. Tokyo? Yes, the legends are true!
Thank You Tokyo
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