Tokyo – city of neon lights, futuristic buildings, cosplay and just general craziness! For the biggest metropolis in the world, it was a surprisingly easy, comfortable and homely-feeling trip.
When we arrived we were so exhausted and ratty from our previous 2 weeks travelling around in the heat. I’m sure we could’ve done a lot more walking around and exploring in Tokyo, but I’m pretty impressed with the huge amount we did manage!
We arrived in Tokyo after only 4 hours on the bullet train, and proceeded to drag our now very heavy bags to our apartment. I had two bags the whole journey, and it was definitely interesting carrying them up and down steps and footbridges, in extremely crowded Shibuya! Poor Rob had to keep helping me. We headed to our cute little apartment, 5 minutes from Shibuya Crossing and next door to the tastiest organic cafe. We unpacked a little then headed out into the mayhem that is Shibuya.
We wandered around the crazy neon-lit alleyways, but quickly got hungry and stopped in for an early breakfast at a curry restaurant (with real Indians!) It had the awesome vending machine ticket system which Tokyo is so renowned for. Love how quick and easy this is 🙂 Later we wandered more and headed into a few stores – Tokyu Hands (our 5th time!), Forever 21 and a few little boutiques. We absorbed the awesome vibes, crossed Shibuya Crossing a few times and then headed home for a good night’s sleep.
The next day we had a delicious organic breakfast at the cafe next door (which hilariously doubled as a baby yoga studio?!), then headed straight out to Shinjuku a few stops up on the train line.
We wanted a nice walk in the big Shinjuku Gyoen Park, but after walking towards the entrance for 45 mins we noticed signs saying it was closed due to a Dengue Fever outbreak!! Scary!! We headed back in the stifling heat towards (another) Tokyu Hands, then spent a while in Sekaido art supplies store. We had the most delicious beef burgers and fish & chips at Brooklyn Parlor, a cafe/book store/music venue. The interior was really beautiful too.
After lunch we went to the Tokyo Government Metropolitan Building Observation Deck on the 45th floor. We walked around taking in the view (and taking a few too many photos!) and also bought a few things at the central souvenir stands.
We walked around Shinjuku for a bit, but couldn’t get much of a feel for the place! Maybe because it’s a big business district? We headed towards Shinjuku Station (the busiest station in the world) but it was literally rush hour and we freaked out at the hundreds of thousands of people streaming past us! We sat outside round the corner and waited an hour for the craziness to die down a little. We ended up getting on a train bound for Ikebukuro to a huge mall so I could go to the little Kit Kat store to buy some boutique flavoured Kit Kats. Turned out rush hour doesn’t end anywhere near 7pm, and we were stuck in the middle of the train surrounded by 50 little Japanese working girls in a space about 2 metres squared! Let’s just say it’s the closest me and Rob will ever stand next to each other! It was a lot quieter heading home from Ikebukuro later.
Rob’s birthday and Akihabara
The next day was Rob’s birthday! We spent the morning wandering around Akihabara – the famous geek or Otaku district which is full of manga, anime, game and technology stores. We saw a lot of the dressed up promo maid girls and spent some time in the colourful comic and cosplay stores. Rob bought a few books and I got some Studio Ghibli art books! Very happy with that.
We spent the rest of the day in Shibuya, and had the most delicious 7 course French feast for Rob’s birthday dinner! We’d spent a while trying to choose a place, and luckily stumbled across a nice street full of waiters outside trying to tempt people inside. We spoke to a lovely older French man who spoke only French, Japanese and a tiny bit of English! Was a little difficult trying to get him to translate the all-French menu but we ended up loving everything! We had iced soups, breads, dips, cheeses, wine, delicious lamb mains and the best dessert! So glad we went in and completely stuffed ourselves with all that amazing food.
Harajuku and Omotesando
I was eagerly awaiting our visit to Harajuku because I was so excited to see the crazy cosplay style and the Lolita girls standing on the bridge. Unfortunately I found out they only dress up on the weekends, and the nearby huge Yoyogi Park was closed due to Dengue Fever. Sad! Apparently not many people dress up these days anyway. I was also really looking forward to Omotesando, which is a long beautiful tree-lined street likened to the Champs-Elysees. It was full of glass boutique malls and stores like Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs and Commes Des Garcon. I was looking particularly for the Kate Spade Saturday flagship – the first Saturday store to be opened. It also just happened to be the day the iPhone 6’s were released and I really wanted to hold them!
We headed first into the Tokyu Plaza with the famous architecture and walked around all the stores. We wanted breakfast at this famous pancake house by some important chef but the queue was hours long and wound down the stairs! We ended up eating scones at Starbucks instead haha. My favourite stores were the Tokyu Hands gift store (where I bought a tonne of stationery) and Tokyo’s Tokyo, a designer souvenir shop filled with beautiful accessories, beauty products, crafty things and plenty of designer anime tshirts and mugs for Rob.
Afterwards we walked up and down the main Omotesando street a few times, heading into various boutiques and designer second-hand stores. I found the Kate Spade store and bought a black goat leather bag with a gold bar across the top. Love it! I spent 30 mins in the Apple store comparing the iPhone 6 and 6+. I was very tempted by the 6+ but I think that’s just what happens when you live in Asia for a year. I ended up getting back to NZ and buying the 6 which was a much better idea.
Later we found a gallery Rob had been wanting to visit – it had a great Ukiyo-E exhibition on monsters in the Edo Period. The line work and colours were so amazing! It really inspired me to get into illustration and print making again. I wish I had the time to learn.
After Omotesando we went to the main part of Harajuku and looked at all the crazy stores. Love all the colours!
We stuffed ourselves with pizza and cocktails at an American-themed restaurant because we couldn’t find much else to eat in Ometasando, but it ended up being just what we needed. Later that evening I also bought a Comme des Garcon Play heart tshirt that I’d be wanting for a while. The store was very different and avant-garde and the customer service was a bit interesting. It definitely felt more like a gallery!
That evening we went back to Shibuya and stuffed ourselves with gourmet chocolate desserts and drinks at the Lindt Cafe. Yum! It also had some great surreal sci-fi views of lit-up trains passing by tall buildings.
Roppongi and Ginza
The next day I was looking for more views, so we went to the Mori Art Museum and Observation Deck in Roppongi Hills. It’s a really nice area full of art galleries, great architecture, food and shopping; a pity we didn’t have time to explore much more!
We walked around the observation deck for a while, saw the Tokyo Tower (the Eiffel Tower replica) and saw a doll exhibition and another large exhibition based on memories and interactions.
We also randomly had a Jim Beam drink at this Jim Beam branded bar. The design was really great so we were enticed inside.
We went to Ginza and wandered around in the rain, which was a nice refreshing change. The road was blocked off from cars until around 4.30 so it had a really nice atmosphere. We saw a great French poster exhibition by Michel Bouvet at the Ginza Graphic Gallery, and walked past all sorts of fancy stores and malls like Barneys. We had a delicious huge Indian meal in a fancy restaurant with a view of the main street. We were the only ones in there because it was a bit early, so the service was great!
We spent the next few hours in the huge Uniglo flagship with 12 massive floors! So exciting! I bought jeans, pants, shirts, scarves, socks, heaps of underwear (I love their no underwire bras), slippers and pyjamas.
We headed back to Shibuya and spent an hour in Starbucks staring at the famous crossing and people watching. It was fascinating watching the guys handing out promo flyers only to pretty girls, and being rejected so many times!
Tokyo Game Show and Odaiba Island
We spent Sunday the big Tokyo Game Show, similar to the Game Show in LA. It took over an hour to get there, even on the fast trains. It was out in East Tokyo, in the Metropolitan area rather than the city. To catch a connecting train we had to walk over a kilometre underground!
There were hundreds of thousands of people when we got there, but luckily we didn’t have to queue for too long because it was another stifling hot muggy day. Once inside we took a lot of photos and marvelled at all the people, the exhibitors, the flashing lights and loud sounds. It was very exciting to be in this atmosphere, even though I’m not overly interested in games. There were 3 huge halls: 1 with the main companies, 1 with more indie games and things like VR to try out, and the last one with all the merch. Rob was very excited to see the presentations by Konami, but didn’t buy any of the merch because everything seems to be a bit tacky! Nothing designery like the 3A/Ashley Wood stuff he loves.
We hung around for about 2 hours but didn’t try out any of the games because the queues were ridiculous. Afterwards we ate some of our favourite udon with sweet fried tofu, then we headed out to Odaiba Island. Rob didn’t know anything about the island, and I was just guessing about which stop to get off at. Luckily we found the right one, and had a really nice evening wondering around this futuristic island. It’s in Tokyo harbour, with a view of Tokyo’s waterfront (nothing like Hong Kong’s!) We walked around near the giant lit up ferris wheel, taking in the peace and quiet and taking a lot of photos! We walked past the giant Gundam Robot statue on our way to the waterfront. It was so relaxing and the perfect temperature 🙂 Couples were just sitting on the rocky beach, eating, chatting and staring at the lights. We wanted to take a little round trip on one of the boats but just missed the last one.
We walked back to one of the big malls; DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, and watched the Gundam light show which was a surprise to us! Who knew the massive statue could move! We wondered around the mall for a few hours, taking another look at Uniqlo, some shoe stores and Village Vanguard. We waited in line for an italian pizza restaurant which luckily turned out to be really delicious. We caught the train back close to midnight, very satisfied with the day 🙂
Shimokitazawa and Disney Land
We had planned to go to the Ghibli Museum on this day but every time we tried to buy tickets something went wrong with the machine. We finally realised it’s because the tickets were all booked out weeks or months in advance! We’ll just have to go next time!
We headed out to Shimokitazawa which I’d read a lot about. People compare it to Hongdae in Seoul; sort of the arty hipster hangout with boutique shops, great food and lots of street art. Obviously we’re both really into creative stuff so we really enjoyed it there! Definitely one of our favourite parts of Tokyo. It’s so calm because the streets are too narrow to drive on properly, the walls are covered in murals, the shops and cafes are so quaint and different, and everything has an old-school vintage vibe. It was a little too run-down for my liking, but Rob got some great photos out of it.
Our first stop was a pancake house, but we ended up going to a different one that looked better! I had the most amazing pancakes we’ve had in Tokyo yet (which is saying a lot, because we ate so many great pancakes haha). I had tea pancakes with roasted pear, salted caramel and vanilla seed sauces. I also had a real rose lemonade.
We wondered around the streets for a couple of hours, taking too many photos, exploring the quiet suburban streets, spotting a few design companies (!), heading into some of the shoe shops and boutiques. I found the cutest ever boutique, Mocha, which was full of vintage and handmade dresses. I bought the sweetest little blue floral dress which I’m in love with, but it only really suits warm weather and things like going on picnics! We found (another) Village Vanguard and bought a whole bunch of stuff. I found some sought-after The Balm makeup (a big eyeshadow pallet and the eyeshadow primer), and a whole bunch of stationery.
Unfortunately we had to leave so we could get to Disneyland! We dropped off our things, had a bit of a rest, then took the long journey to Disneyland – just past Odaiba Island.
There are two parts: Disneyland and DisneySea. But you really need 2 full days to do them both and I don’t really like water parks much! We opted for the after 6pm pass which was cheaper. In hindsight we really should’ve spent the full day there, but then we wouldn’t have seen lovely Shimokitazawa!
I was very excited when we walked around and tried to take heaps of photos, but the lighting was really bad. Our first ride was the big log flume, Splash Mountain. Unfortunately this is when all the fun and excitement stopped. The queue was so long that there was a pre-queue to get in – this should’ve been a sign for us to leave, but we stuck at it thinking we could see the end of the queue. We ended up waiting almost 2 hours, with no internet and getting very frustrated with each other. My idea was to just walk around Disneyland and maybe go on a few small rides, and see the big parade. Rob’s idea was to go on as many rides as possible, but we only had 3 1/2 hours! In the end we missed the whole parade which I was really sad about, but the log flume was kind of fun! I really hate heights and water so my hurt was beating really fast haha. Afterwards we tried to make ourselves less grumpy by eating some of the delicious flavoured popcorn (strawberry, and curry!!) We caught the fireworks and the light show movie on the castle which was actually really impressive. We went on the carousel because it had short queues, but it started pouring with rain immediately after so we ended up running around Disneyland soaking wet! We eventually left after pushing through crowds of people in the candy stores.
Edo Tokyo Museum and Ueno Park
By this time we were getting quite exhausted and frustrated at being around each other so much! We both really just wanted to be home, but were also trying to make the most of our last day. We headed out to the Edo Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku near Asakusa. It was another long journey (hey, it’s Tokyo) but we really enjoyed it when we got there. There weren’t too many people, and it was a huge and interesting museum. We spent heaps of time in the Edo part which showed a lot about different jobs, living situations etc… I didn’t realise there was a more modern part, the Tokyo part, and we were getting really tired so we didn’t spend as much time in this bit. It was so interesting with all the British Victorian influences! I wish I’d read more about it. I bought a lot of postcards, pretty vintage candy boxes and other pretty things at the gift shop.
We walked back to the station, past the main Sumo centre! There was a big Sumo Tournament on with lots of people crowding around. I completely forgot it was in this area so I was excited to accidentally bump into it. We didn’t have time to see any of the games, but hopefully next time! We even saw three Sumo Wrestlers outside!
We headed to Ueno Park which I’d heard was really beautiful, but unfortunately by this time we were really grumpy and tired so we didn’t enjoy it much. It was full of amazing huge old art and history museums which I really wanted to see, but they were all closed. Another next time. There’s just too much to do in Tokyo!
We headed back to Shibuya and spent a lot of time walking around some of the back alleys, making the most of our last evening there. We wanted a really nice Japanese dinner, but ended up going to TGI Fridays which was really funny! We always meant to go in Korea so we thought, why not?! It was pretty good comfort food though, and we left really happy especially because we had a good long chat to the young waiter who lived in Shimokitazawa.
We got home and got ready for bed, and then realised we hadn’t booked our shuttle to the airport! We were so grumpy and had to put our clothes back on to head back to the station. We ended up finally booking a shuttle after 30 mins of stressful brochure-hunting and trying to use the booking machines.
We were so happy to finally rest!
The next morning we woke up bright and happy and well-rested. We finished packing, tidied up our cute little apartment, and dragged our now overflowing bags to Shibuya station one last time. The ride to the airport was fast-ish, smooth and painless. When we got there we were a little underwhelmed by it’s small size (compared to Seoul and Hong Kong) but we really enjoyed walking around. I bought a whole bunch of green tea and cherry blossom Kit Kat boxes and we went to Cath Kidston and the Uniqlo travel store one last time.
We ate our last Udon bowl, then got on the plane to Guangzhou in China. We got a little sleep but not much! On our 5 hour layover in the Guangzhou airport we started to regret taking the cheap flights which didn’t go direct to Auckland! The airport was small, the toilets were really far away, the few food places were ridiculously expensive (Rob bought a $45 bulk bag of Reece’s Peanut Butter cups which were all squashed) and there was a crazy girl running around screaming horrible things at the top of her lungs! Very stressful, especially because there was no internet 🙁 we spent the time laughing at how horrible everything was, reading the awful Chinese news articles on the back of the trolleys, and just trying to rest.
Our flight to Auckland was a lot better, and we flew in to a nice crisp 13 degree afternoon. It was a shock after 30+ degrees in Japan, but it was great to see our families again 🙂
Overall, we’re very happy to be back (ok so we’ve been back almost 3 months), but we really want to head back to Japan again! So much excitement and such an interesting culture.