Our trip to Japan begins by the capital Tokyo from the arrival at Narita airport. Welcome to the sun rising country! So excited, one of my favorite country when I was a child! we were there in winter time but temperatures were acceptable, around 12 degrees. It was totally fine to spend some time outside then and discover the wonders of this country.
Landing in Tokyo, lost in translation?
When we arrive at Narita airport, we choose the quick train line to get directly to city centre. It is a bit more expensive than the other one but it is very relaxing to take the quickest one after hours of flight, with the Jetstar company (no included meal inside!) The Japanese megalopolis is extremely spread…
We arrive to our ryokan when we spend the first nights at Tokyo at nightime, around 10.00 pm. It is very near by Tagadobaba train station. Thus it is very well located near the bustling areas of Shinsuku and Shibuya, all three stations on the circular train line, the “green line” Yamanote line. Our ryokan is managed by “Japanese Grandma”, quite worried seeing us soaked after looking for her place after long minutes under heavy rain in Tokyo, after hours of flight, as her ryokan could be damaged by our looks of drenched dogs! Starting well…
Modern Tokyo in Shibuya, Shinzuku, Harajuku…
Tokyo is very attractive as the capital keeps its own identity. Mix of old centennial Japanese traditions helped by the relative isolationism of the country and the very low level of immigration as well as modernity, the city seems to be more advanced than our western metropolis. Indeed, what is shocking for us at first glance is the absolute cleanliness of the town, despite around 40 millions people living in the big Tokyo including remote suburbs. But as strange as it can be, impossible to find a bin anywhere! Where do they throw away their rubbish??
A very clean city, easy to breathe
The first stop is of course the famous pedestrian crossing near Shibuya station, here seen from the subway in the above picture! Must to do even if here the photo was taken during a public holiday, so pretty quiet
We continue our trip towards Harajuku, the streets of cosplays, due to the young people wearing costumes of local manga or video games heroes. Very lively, you are able to see typical attractions in this bustling suburb: cat or hedgehog bars, owls, mangas libraries and book shops…
Do you want to see some owls?
Tokyo by night
After walking around the young and dynamic Tokyo, here we are in the very buzzing area of Shinzuku by night. Ici here it is a festival of lights and sounds, colors and smells of ramens, noodles or other Japanese food! Local work until very late, that’s why they also mainly live by night time! Streets are packed, and people use to eat outside a lot: it’s cheap and usually kitchen in apartments are not very big…much easier to meet with friends in good restaurant/bars outside! Everything open till very late, such as famous arcade video games places or manga libraries which can be open 24hrs a day!
Show off in Tokyo, which seems to never sleep!
The robot restaurant, often elected as one of the things to be done when you are in Tokyo in every tourist guide is very fun and attractive with is front window full of lights and sounds. Unfortunately we couldn’t assist to a show but the very kitch spectacle seems to be a must-do if you can! Located in Shinzuku.
Other suburbs need to be visited such as Odaiba. Quite far away from Shinzuku and the city center, near Tokyo bay, we can go to it with the fast train, the automatic subway riding at an impressive speed! Sit in the first wagon in order to benefit from the sight and looks like you are in a video game with the train slaloming between skyscrapers! A real futuristic suburb, Odaiba is focusing many architectural and technological projects and you will be amazed by more than one! If you come by nighttime, you could admire the amazing colors of the Rainbow bridge and the small statue of Liberty, but also benefit from a very enjoyable peaceful environment. Indeed, the bay is somehow far from the city and going there requires time, motivation and willing to pay an expensive train ticket for the speed train. But it is worth admiring the wonderful urban landscape and in ideal place to have a quiet romantic dinner with an amazing 360 degrees view over the bay and the river. So we didn’t see this place from daytime but imagine it is as magic as it can be at nighttime! And you can find theme parks over there, great for kids! There is also a huge complex of onsen baths, very recommended if you time.
Then we decide to visit another face of Tokyo, a more traditional one.
Rituals and customs are respected in the temples and allow all generations to be together worshiping. Very important from a social point of view, religious meetings are very important basis of the national solidarity.
Asakusa, one of the biggest and busiest temple in Tokyo and easy to understand why! Young and adults, locals and tourists love that place and many street food are right next to the temple, as souvenirs shops. It is still a very active religious place and we can see Japanese are still very devotee and fervent to their shinto culture and religion.
The geek Tokyo at Akhihabara
One of our preferred areas, where geeks, manga or video games fans are gathering and where you could try the strange maid cafes (where young girls are the waitress wearing student or manga costumes)…
A gastronomic experience
Lot of food to taste in Tokyo! Unfortunately we couldn’t go to the fish market, the world’s biggest one, but we went to several restaurants in town (included a good French one near Ueno park!). As said earlier, Japanese people don’t very often at home (small apartments, cheap restaurants) and restaurants/bars are ideal to get social, between friends and colleagues (often indispensable to get a promotion or get along well with your boss!). The paradox is there are not much sushi bars and you really have to read your tourist guide to find a good one! Unlike noodle and ramen bars, everywhere (as many people don’t have much time and eat on the go) and considered as fast food restaurants. But yes, we are sushi persons and it is possible to find great fresh fish places, just look for them carefully!
Tokyo food to taste absolutely!
The typical and traditional areas of Golden Gais, near Shinzuku is the place to be if you want to go for a drink in Tokyo, for the evening. Indeed, unlike big avenues full of lights and sounds in Shinzuku, Golden Gais are made of narrow and dark streets, as it you were in the beginning of XXth century! And the tiny bars serving Asahi, Sapporo beers, sakes or other typical Japanese drinks are very cute and interesting. You can speak with locals but be careful, you have to drink or leave! Indeed, with max 4/5 people inside (very small I told you!), you have to drink quick and well as many of these bars struggle to survive, an expensive rent not helping in the middle of Tokyo center and the competition seems to be fierce among all of them…but one of our preferred experiences in Tokyo!
Lastly, the modern suburb near Tokyo tower. At sunset, the colors are amazing. Once again, we are surprised by the lack of pollution and rubbish in this big city, despite the fact it is almost impossible to find a bin to throw away anything! Don’t know how the locals do?
To conclude, we loved Tokyo and we are sad to leave it..This huge metropolis is very diverse with different and complimentary suburbs suitable to all your needs. Si working and living in Tokyo seem to be difficult (work-life balance with very long hours and hierarchy very strict – see Amelie Nothomb’s bestseller – cost of living, lack of space…), discovering Tokyo is delightful and a must do for every first travel to the sun rising country
Where did we sleep?
- Tama Ryokan: A Ryokan, a traditional typical Japanese accomodation, nested in the heart of the center, in Tagadobaba, only subway stations away from the bustling areas of Shinzuku and Shibuya! A real good finding with a very reasonable price, would recommend it. However the elderly Japanese family managing this hotel (the grandmother above all) will be always behind you to check you don’t damage anything at their place. And wear your slippers!
- Zabutton Hostel: A nice cafe-hotel in Tokyo, near the subway and the center. As every hostel in Tokyo, it is small and narrow…But regarding the price it is not too bad but not as typical as the previous accomodation. You receive a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate when you check-in.
Bonus, Tokyo in video!