Tokyo Trip Report
I went on an awesome trip to Tokyo, and as so many of you are also Japan-fans I wanted to share my Tokyo trip report with you! I hope it’ll be useful for anyone planning a trip or looking for things to do in Tokyo.
UPDATE: Watch lots of videos about Tokyo on my YouTube channel! www.youtube.com/cakeswithfaces
This was my second visit, so there were some things I didn’t do again, and some things I missed before that I managed to catch up on! If you’re planning a holiday and have any questions, get in touch on Facebook or Twitter, or via the comments at the bottom of the page.
Visiting for the second time was just as much fun as the first time, and was a lot easier as I knew partly what to expect, where to go and didn’t worry so much about whether I’d be able to understand anything. This time I could speak more Japanese and read Hiragana and Katakana, which I couldn’t at all the first time. It felt like such an achievement to be able to read a few signs, and translate items on menus.
Mid June is the rainy season, and our trip finished on the 10th, but we were really lucky as there was no rain at all! It was 28 degrees every day and, as is traditional for someone pale like me, I got sunburnt on the first day. We stayed in Shinjuku in the E Hotel Higashi Shinjuku – a great location because there are so many restaurants, shops and bars within walking distance.
One of my favourite places in Tokyo – well-known as an otaku paradise! It’s full of shops selling electronic goods, anime figures and merchandise, and arcades with video games, pachinko, claw machines and purikira (photo booths). The claw machines mostly cost 100 yen to play and tempt you with anime figures that are impossible to pick up with their weak claws. I also saw some more bizarre claw machines with boxer shorts, and even breakfast cereal as the prizes! The gachapon (capsule machines) are also exciting because, unlike in the UK, they contain prizes that you actually want – like small anime figures, charms and badges, for 100-400 yen.
Another highlight of Akihabara is the maid cafes – there are so many of them, with maids standing on the street handing out flyers. I didn’t visit one this time, but before I went to @home which was a lot of fun.
I bought quite a few anime figures, including the full set of K-On London figures, and some cute stacking blindbox figures from Kotobukiya, from Toaru Majutsu no Index II. In the UK we pay a premium for importing the figures, so on the whole they cost a lot less than they would have at home and there’s so much more choice. It’s worth shopping around – I managed to pick up some really good ex-claw machine figures for around £10 each! We had to throw most of the boxes away to cram them all into our suitcase!
We had lunch at Sushi Go Round, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant on the main street. My friends loved the selection of fish nigiri – there wasn’t much for vegetarians but they made me some kappamaki (cucumber rolls) on request, and the bill was ridiculously low, even for a huge stack of plates!
Imperial Palace Gardens
The gardens are a great place to escape the city. Most of them are free to walk around, and you can see various outbuildings, including an old samurai house. The section that houses the palace itself is closed to the public, but they tease you with a glimpse of it across a bridge. We ended up walking for miles trying to find the bridge, only to find we’d walked around the entire perimeter of the gardens (not recommended!).
Studio Ghibli Museum
I’m sure this is a must for most anime fans visiting Japan, but I hadn’t been there before. It’s not in Central Tokyo, so you have to take a train from Shinjuku, then a short bus ride to the museum. It was smaller and less corporate than I was expecting, but that made it all the more magical. The building reminded me of Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona. You’re not allowed to take photos, so I won’t spoil the surprise for anyone going!
Government Building Observation Deck
There are several observation decks around the city, but the one in the Metropolitan Government Building is free. It’s open till late, so we went along after dinner, following miles of tunnels from Shinjuku Station (there’s an amazing network of tunnels and shopping centres linked to metro stations in Tokyo, which highlights the density of the city – 6-8 floors above ground and even more going on below!). The view at night was amazing and beautiful – miles of twinkling buildings stretching as far as you can see in every direction.
Another great place to search for anime figures. Nakano Broadway is a shopping centre right by Nakano Station – it looks a bit dated but contains lots of shops selling figures, new and secondhand at bargain prices. You really could spend ages searching through them all. Next to the shopping centre is a maze of tiny streets with hundreds of places to eat, and more maid cafes. I searched for a themed cake shop I’d found on the internet, run by a man who dresses up as Captain Jack Sparrow every day, but alas it was closed down. Not all of the streets have names in Japan so it can be really difficult to find places. Definitely print out a map if there’s anywhere in particular that you want to find, or download an app with maps that work offline.
My other favourite place in Tokyo! Harajuku is famous for alternative fashion. It’s a bit like Camden in London, but better! The guide books recommend going on Sunday for people-watching, but it can get extremely crowded at the weekend, which makes it difficult to look round properly. During the week it was a lot better for shopping, and we went back at the weekend to experience the atmosphere.
The main street is the famous Takeshita Dori, which has lots of tiny side streets to explore. There are so many cute shops – I took loads of pictures of signs and shopfronts. My top recommendation is Body Line, which is on the first floor (look for the sign and the outdoor staircase). They sell lolita-style dresses, skirts and shoes – all really cute and completely affordable – they’re not from the top brands so it’s not for everyone, but I think they’re fantastic! I bought a yukata-style strawberry dress, a lolita-style dress with waffle pattern, and a skirt with chocolate biscuits on. There are also several stores from ACDC, who I met at Hyper Japan, with really colourful skirts and hoodies.
We also went to Laforet, a department store with a floor full of stores from the really famous brands you see in Japanese magazines like Kera and Gothic Lolita Bible, including Angelic Pretty and Alice and the Pirates. Their dresses are beautiful but really expensive – but it was fun to look.
Harajuku is also famous for crepes, and there are several stalls with an amazing selection of (mostly sweet) fillings – one stall had over 100! Lots of them had a whole slice of cake or cheesecake in them, as well as cream and ice cream. It was really difficult to decide which to get, but I went for cream, custard and caramel sauce, and it was delicious!
For lunch we got onigiri (rice balls), edamame and salad from a 7-Eleven (surprise: convenience store food in Japan is good to eat!) and took it to Meiji Jingu Park. We went across the famous bridge where the Harajuku girls used to hang out, and into the park. Meiji Jingu Park, with the shrine, is on the right, and Yoyogi Park is on the left. Meiji Jingu Park is mainly quiet woodland, with a shrine, and beyond that is an area that opens up into fields.
Yoyogi Park is more of a regular park, and I’ve read that since loitering on the bridge was outlawed, it’s where cosplayers and Harajuku girls can now be found. Sadly we didn’t see any, even on the Sunday, but we did see the famous rockabillies dancing, and some skaters. Yoyogi Park was full of life at the weekend, with groups of friends hanging out, playing frisbee, bands practicing and childrens’ clubs playing games – a really great atmosphere.
Odaiba is an area in Tokyo Bay with lots of things to do, including an excellent science museum that I visited the first time we went. We had lunch in an izakaya (like a pub) in one of the shopping centres, and then went on a pilgrimage to find the life-size Gundam. It was outside Diver City Tokyo – my Japanese came in handy as I asked a shopping centre assistant “Gundam wa doko ni arimasu ka?”. The Gundam really was huge. There was also a Gundam shop and cafe.
Next I was excited to go on a boat trip on the Himiko, which I’d seen online – a super-futuristic boat designed by an anime artist! It was great to see it in real life – why do all boats not look like this?! I managed to order the tickets completely in Japanese (which felt like a big achievement!), and we caught the boat at Odaiba Seaside Park pier, going up the Sumida River to Asakusa, where the pier is opposite the golden Asahi beer building.
Asakusa is an older area of the city, and the main attraction is Senso-Ji, a huge temple. The temple’s surrounded by tourist shops selling traditional Japanese souvenirs, like fans, dolls and sweets, as well as street food stalls. It was really crowded, but I enjoyed seeing some more traditional aspects of Japanese culture. The temple, with its large lantern and gardens were beautiful, and perfectly kept.
In Japan, karaoke isn’t performed on a stage, but in separate booths so only your friends are treated to your attempts at singing. If you can read katakana, you can recognise the “ka-ra-o-ke” sign everywhere – there are so many dotted around, especially in Shinjuku where we were staying. None of us are particularly talented singers, but we wanted to try out the experience, so we gathered up our nerves and booked a booth. And we had so much fun that we went back the next night! We went to Karaoke Kan, which is a chain, and it had an impressive selection of English/American songs, including rock/alternative tracks. You can order drinks and snacks on a telephone in the booth (“Biru ippai kudasai!”). It was really funny hearing other people wailing as we walked past the other booths on the way out.
In Shibuya we saw Hachiko Square, the famous zebra crossing, although it wasn’t that busy when we went on a weekday morning. We also looked round Shibuya 109, a popular fashion department store, but it wasn’t really my style. Looking for somewhere to eat, we strayed into the backstreets and came across the area with love hotels, with signs advertising the rates for overnight or just a “rest”.
Vegetarian Food in Tokyo
I don’t eat meat or fish, and being vegetarian in Tokyo is difficult, but not impossible. Most restaurants have plastic models of dishes in their windows, which give some indication of what’s on offer, and a lot of menus have photos of the food, or even english menus. It helped to know the Japanese for “I’m vegetarian, I don’t eat meat or fish” – a few places said it’s too difficult, but most offered something vegetarian. It’s easier if you go for Italian restaurants or curry, but we wanted to make the most of trying out authentic Japanese food. When there wasn’t a main meal, I went for side orders, like edamame, chips and cucumber salad at the izakaya.
I found Japanese food to be generally excellent quality and not necessarily that expensive. For example, for our first lunch we had soba noodles in soup, where you order from a vending machine and hand in your ticket at the counter to the chef, for only 380 yen (about £2.50). My favourite restaurant was an okonomiyaki place, where you cook your own on a hot plate in the middle of the table. You get a bowl of white cabbage, with what looked like mayonnaise and an egg to mix up, with your choice of toppings and sauces on the side, then fry like a pancake. It was delicious, and came out well even though I’d never tried it before. My veggie version was topped with potato and shredded ginger, and Phil had bacon, cheese and hanpen. We had no idea what hanpen was – it looked like a surgical swab – but turned out to be made of fish.
I also enjoyed searching for different flavours of Japanese Kitkats – you can see lots of photos of these in my Faceboook albums! If you’re also a Kitkat fan, it’s worth noting that the releases are seasonal and regional. There are only a couple of shops that sell a selection of flavours – I found most of mine at Narita Airport (a great way to use up your Yen!). There’s also a shop that sells all of them in Tokyo Station, but I didn’t look for that one.
There really is so much that I could write about the trip and visiting Tokyo, and my second trip certainly didn’t cure me of wanting to go back again! If you enjoyed my trip report, please support Cakes with Faces by sharing it with the links at the top of the page. And if there’s anything you’d like to hear more about or if you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!