My time in Japan has been winding down, so I decided to end my time in Japan with just a few days of relaxation and enjoyment by visiting Tokyo and Yokohama before heading home to the good ‘ole US of A. I even roped in one of my newfound friends from Ritsumeikan to come along with me. (Having someone travel with you makes it all the more fun!)
Of course, trying to sightsee as much as you can in a short time in Japan is kind of nuts. Tokyo is just like New York in many ways- everything is packed into a small space yet still sprawls out so far, with lots of different neighborhoods offering very different things, all lighting up the night like a Christmas tree. Ginza, defined by ostentatious wealth, fancy buildings and top-notch designer stores as far as the eye can see; Akihabara, the otaku/nerd heaven, with giant video game and anime displays, video screens showing off new products and shows, and girls in maid costumes trying to get you into their stores as a customer; Shibuya, arguably the closest thing Tokyo has to Times Square, with a flood of people so dense you accidentally run into a rapper shooting a video in the crosswalk. (True story.) Everything is packed- even on weekdays- with tourists and salarymen running everywhere, the restaurants are completely swamped during mealtimes, and the trains are extremely packed.
All of this makes being a tourist in Tokyo a tad stressful and crazy, but the hardest part is only being able to do a cursory visit and not properly see everything you want to see. Every single well-known neighborhood in Tokyo has enough things to do that you could spend one or two days visiting them alone, and there are at least two to three dozen of them in the greater Tokyo area. There is pretty much no way you can do Tokyo justice in three days, which is what I tried to do. That said, I still had a great time.
If you ever go to Tokyo, I’d like to give a few personal recommendations, based on where I visited. First and foremost, if you’re going to Japan, you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with Japanese pop culture: you enjoy video games and arcades, anime or manga, cosplay and/or Japanese street fashion, or so on. If that’s the case, Akihabara should 100% be a top priority for you to visit. It’s the “electric town” of Tokyo, with all sorts of cool electronics, but it’s also the capital for all things “otaku”. If you want to buy something from a specific franchise, show, or even just something awesome or cute, you can find it here.
There are multiple-floor arcades with crane games, rhythm games, driving games, VR games, and even some retro arcades with 1980’s and 1990’s cabinets if you’re feeling nostalgic. There are cat cafes, maid cafés, owl cafes, otter cafes, and all sorts of other cool places for you to relax and eat (or if you want to forego the relax part of that, there’s also a robot nightclub/restaurant type place that I’ve heard is insane). It’s also a great place to pick up souvenirs to bring back home, with arguably the best collection of Japanese pop culture memorabilia as well as a variety of gag gifts if you want to make your friends laugh or gasp in outrage. (Oh, and there are TV crews in Akihabara that sometimes hang around due to the high foot traffic. I got interviewed for Japanese television for the second time, so that’s a thing.)
Next, the area around Tokyo Station would be my next recommendation. There are tons of places to eat and shop, and- if you’re willing to do some walking- there are nearly endless things to do here. You can max out your credit cards in Ginza (that high-end shopping place I mentioned), walk through a variety of museums and parks including the Imperial Palace, and check out the Nihombashi Mitsukoshi department store (the first department store in Japan, which is actually closer to an incredibly fancy mall with almost ten floors). If you want to find something to eat that is so good it’ll blow your pants off, this is the place to do it.
Lastly, my number one recommendation is to get out of Tokyo and visit Yokohama. It’s technically part of the greater Tokyo area, but it’s about an hour by train to the south, and it’s rather less touristy while being just as interesting. Just like Ginza, Yokohama seems to be a place with a lot of high-income people, so there’s tons of high-end shopping and great eateries, so you can spend away to your heart’s content. The best Chinatown in Japan is located just a few blocks from the bay in Yokohama, along with the Cup Noodle museum (yes, you read that right, and it’s awesome).
As you can see from the picture I took above, the views are absolutely insane; just walk along Minatomirai or in Yamashita Park, or stay in a hotel along that area like I did, and you’ll see what I mean. (If you’re a few stories up and it’s a somewhat clear day, you can see the Tokyo skyline pretty well, including the Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower, both during the day and at night. I took the photo above from my hotel room at the InterContinental Yokohama Grand.)
The photo above is of the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, which was a personal favorite of mine. While you’re there, you can eat tons of different kinds of ramen from all over the world in a place designed to look like a 1950’s Japanese shopping street (it’s so darn cool).
Obviously, this is a really incomplete description and definitely not the best Tokyo travel guide. I didn’t even get to see half of what I wanted to see, but this was still awesome. I’m definitely returning to Japan soon to do some sightseeing with my friends, especially since I now speak good enough broken Japanese that I can get my point across without Google Translate.
For the love of God, though, don’t make the same mistake as me and think you can do Tokyo in three days. You’ll regret not being able to do more.
I’ll do one more post so that I can say my final thoughts on Japan, but since at the time of posting this I’m back in the US, it’s going to be a retrospective. It’s been a fun ride.