Japan America Society of Greater PhiladelphiaPosted on by Mary Popeo
As I speed toward Nagasaki in a sleek and silent shinkansen, or Japanese bullet train, I have time to reflect on my amazing week in Tokyo. Out my window I can just make out the subliminal blurriness of lush mountains and small villages, a huge change from the urban landscape I’m accustomed to. Although I only spent 6 days in Tokyo, each was jam-packed with fabulous sites, delicious food, and friendly people. Here’s an account of my exploration of Japan’s largest city.
Since my hostel was located near Shinjuku, this was the first sector of Tokyo that I opted to explore. Known for it’s towering skyscrapers, Shinjuku is a wonderful place to shop and people watch. When my acculturated friend greeted me upon my arrival in Tokyo, the first place he took me was to Shinjuku’s Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Atop the 48th floor, I saw the most amazing view of Tokyo.
Intrigued by what Shinjuku had to offer, I set off the next day to investigate on my own. After stopping by Kinokuniya bookstore to buy an up-to-date atlas from their extensive English language section, I meandered into Isetan department store. My favorite floor by far was the basement, which is like a grocery store on steroids. The scene is frenetic and overwhelming: vendors announce amazing deals in earnest bravado while jillions of people squeeze by you, impatient to reach the morsel that has caught their eye. In the end, I settled for a salad and panda-shaped manju (a sweet bun, usually with bean paste filling) and escaped to Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful park only a short walk away. Surprised to find such a peaceful place in the center of Shinjuku, I happily nibbled off my panda’s ears and watched people walking lazily by.
The next must see in Tokyo is Harajuku, the epicenter of Japanese street fashion. On Sundays, all the hip teens dress up in outlandish cosplays and roam Harajuku’s main street, Takeshita Dori. Aside from the countless clothing shops and crêpe/shaved ice stands, my favorite thing in Harajuku was Daiso. Learning that this establishment is a chain 105 yen store did nothing to lessen it’s aura of allure. Out of the 4 floors stuffed with office supplies, souvenirs, cutlery, food, and first aid supplies, everything (EVERYTHING) is 105 yen. I drooled. And shopped. So awesome. For those with a bit more money to burn, Omote-sando, the street parallel to Harajuku, offers more high-end shops. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, the whole shebang.
Although my next destination was quite a hike from my home in Shinjuku (2 hours when sticking to JR trains to accommodate my rail pass), the trip was definitely worth it. Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay, is Tokyo’s equivalent to the beach (although the water is toxic in most places). There’s a board walk, an endless shopping center, a ferris wheel, and even a life-sized Gundam robot!
However, my favorite thing about Odaiba was the onsen, Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari. Fabulous food, beautiful natural stone onsen, and for some extra cash, a wide array of massages and spa treatments. They even provide you with beautiful Japanese yukata to wear. It is difficult to keep your spending in check in a place like this. Upon entering, you are given an electronic, water-proof bracelet; when you buy something it is charged to your bracelet and you pay for everything at the end. Some tips about this onsen, and Japanese onsen in general. You are not allowed to wear a bathing suit. As in you will be naked. I was initially very uncomfortable, but my worries soon dissipated into the soothing spring water. Also, people with tattoos are not supposed to enter an onsen, so if you have a blatantly obvious one, you are, unfortunately, destined for a comfy waiting chair in the lobby.
Another area worth exploring is that of Asakasa/Ueno. In Asakasa, there is no shortage of iconic temples and touristy shops. Ueno has tons of museums, a giant park, and a baseball field where I cheered on random strangers. However, my favorite part of my day around Ueno took me off the beaten path to the residential neighborhood of Yanaka. What could have motivated me to deviate from captivating tourist attractions? None other than a 10 yen manju store.
You heard me. Selling packages of manju, mochi, and other Japanese confections, this unassuming store is actually quite well-known. After about an hour of working up an appetite (getting lost), I was rewarded by the shop owner with some complimentary ice-cold tea.
My final destination in Tokyo was perhaps my favorite: Kagurazaka, an elegant, lantern-lit shopping neighborhood with a notable French population. In the evening twilight, I enjoyed small conversation with some French café owners and munched on free samples of their freshly baked bread. I never imaged that I would be putting my 8 years of French to good use in Japan. Another delightful thing about Kagurazaka were the unmarked temples to be found down random ally ways. A simply wonderful and unexpected addition to my stay in Tokyo.
As always, thank you so much for staying tuned and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.