Japan: Discovering Tokyo

The Statue of Liberty at Odaiba

So I really miss Japan. It's been a month since my last article about Japan and Kyoto in particular, but I think about the trip every day. Safe to say it's definitely time for my article about Tokyo.. We stayed in Tokyo for eleven days & ten nights, after four days and four nights of Kyoto. Tokyo is an amazing city - it's nothing you can prepare for, and even after ten days you feel like you haven't even seen a glimpse of the city. It's huge, versatile, different than any city you've visited and at the same time incredibly comfortable after having visited Kyoto. Perhaps it's because there's more English in menus and on the streets, but as big as it was it also made more sense to me: there are different boroughs, and each of them has its own distinct character and personality. I was amazed each and every day - this is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Roppongi Hils View Japan
View from Roppongi Hills in Roppongi

Mount Takao Foggy View Tokyo Japan
A foggy general view from the top of Mount Takao

We stayed in Akasaka, very close to Roppongi Hills and in the middle of a very lively business neighbourhood. In a lot of cities it can get quiet when the offices close and people go home - this is very different in Japan. Office workers go out for drinks and dinner with their co-workers and do this every night, especially the younger career-driven men and women. This ensured a very lively welcoming for us every evening and a lot of good eateries in the proximity of our hotel. There are a lot of expats living in the Roppongi area - Tokyo Midtown especially seemed like expat heaven to me, you could even find a Dean & Deluca there and a lot of American/European eateries. On the first few days in Tokyo we still had our Japan Rail Pass to use so we did a few day trips to some visit-worthy places just outside of Tokyo. I loved the hike on Mount Takao and was proud to reach the top and the Mount Fuji viewing deck, although sadly it was too clouded and I could only catch a very small glimpse of the silhouette of Mount Fuji. We spent half an hour enjoying the breathtaking view here, I was very overwhelmed about the beauty of Japan's nature.

Enoshima View Wishing Locks Tokyo Japan
A view on Enoshima Love Bell & the locks

Kamakura Buddha Japan Tokyo
The Great Buddha of Kamakura

We also visited Kamakura and Enoshima: two very touristy destinations, but still well worth the visit. Kamakura is home to a huge Buddha statue - The Great Buddha Of Kamakura - and a few touristy shops, but after visiting the statue we quickly traveled on to the island Enoshima. This island is dedicated to Benzaiten, the goddess of entertainment. On top of the island is a botanical garden with a cute little restaurant overlooking the ocean - but taking a walk across the island and onto the rocks near the coast line is the most beautiful part. During your walk you'll come across the infamous Love Bell, where you can hang your own customised love lock for good fortune in the love department. Couples often throw away the key to their own love lock in the ocean. And if you're up for visiting some cool residential neighbourhoods in the outskirts of Tokyo (I'd almost dare to say they seemed a little hipster), you definitely also need to check out Daikanyama and Shimokitazawa.

Shibuya Crossing Japan Day
Shibuya Crossing by day

Shibuya Crossing Japan Night
Shibuya Crossing by night

After a week our Japan Rail Pass expired, so we continued exploring Tokyo itself. This city is absolutely huge! There are so many people here & to service all of them the city is flooded with huge shopping malls, food courts and restaurants. I was surprised to see a lot of subway stations have their own mall attached to them - and mostly that all of these malls were packed with people shopping. I was amazed by the Shibuya and Ginza area - so many bright lights, so many huge buildings. Of course we had to have a coffee at the famous Starbucks overlooking the Shibuya crossing, although I must say that it was pretty crowded and full of tourists - not your usual cozy coffee break. About a million people use this crossing every day - during peak hours there are around 45000 people using it every half hour. It's almost hypnotising to watch the floods of people cross this unusual intersection with your coffee in your hand. Ginza probably has the biggest skyscrapers in the city - this is a luxury district where everything seems high-end and.. very expensive. If you want to do some fun shopping with access to a lot of Japanese brands that are still affordable, I'd strongly suggest to head to Shinjuku where there are a bunch of shopping malls just lined up next to each other. We visited Lumine 1, 2 and Est and were all knocked out after that. If you like gaming and all things electronic, your place to be is Akihabara - a crazy area full of gaming shops and cafes. Harajuku is also a very fun neighbourhood to walk through - I'd suggest starting at the beautiful Ometosando high street and exploring from there on. Shops like La Foret and Kiddy Land are a must-see! We did not do a lot of shopping in Japan as it was quite overwhelming, but I would definitely recommend to devote one or two afternoons to do so as it's quite the experience! And don't forget to take off your shoes when going into changing rooms...

Ueno Zoo Tokyo Japan
Ueno Zoo

Disneyland Sea Tokyo Hats
Funny souvenir hats in Tokyo Disneysea

There are also loads of random fun things to do in Tokyo -  we went to a planetarium (and fell asleep during a spiffy show about the universe), dined in a restaurant where you can bake your own dessert cookies on a hot plate in the middle of the table and visited the artificial island Odaiba with its own Statue Of Liberty (and the indoor Sega gaming complex Joypolis, which was pretty rad as well). We also went to Ueno zoo which was incredibly huge and situated in the middle of the vibrant district Ueno, and visited Tokyo Disneysea which had some super fun thrill rides and the funniest souvenir hats ever. And all the local girls were totally crazy about Duffy the Disneyland bear. For cat lovers there are special cat cafés where you can drink some coffee while patting some friendly cats, and if you're a fan of a cute Japanese cartoon character you'll probably be able to find a dedicated cafe to that character too. Of course we also had fun finding great places to eat in Tokyo, some great food recommendations in Tokyo are Jinnan Café in Shibuya, Genki Sushi in Shibuya, Wired Café 360 in Harajuku, J.S. Burger Cafe in Ometosando & Coco Curry House in several locations. You also absolutely must buy sushi once at one of the local supermarkets, and have some fresh tempura in a local tempura restaurant. It tastes so much better than at home!

I still have a few more special posts about Japan planned.. So stay tuned!

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