Destination: Tokyo | Japan
Tokyo is kwaai #KAWAII!
Spoiler Alert: this article contains information regarding the awesomeness that is Tokyo. When considering a visit to Tokyo, I strongly recommend that you make sure you have a child/dog/delicious monster et al waiting for you back home, since the temptation not to return may get the better of you.
Why? This year, Tokyo was voted the best city in Asia, and it’s easy to see why. Did you know that there are 14 million people living in Tokyo. What amazes me more, is how clean, orderly, friendly and respectful the Japanese are, all while dressed more ‘shap-shap’ than what you will ever be. I’m sorry, but it’s true…they were just born this way - no point even trying to compete!
Tokyo is a modern city, yet it carries its history and traditions into the present. Despite all the bustle, traffic and high rise buildings, the city remains highly cultural. So if you are a ‘gaijin’ like me i.e: outsider/alien, you’ll need a few tips to navigate their customs and traditions whilst visiting.
But first, I must answer this burning question once and for all: Why is fruit so expensive?
Are they gold plated and encrusted with jewels, one might think? Well, in Japan a fruit is not a snack to be devoured. Here, fruit is regarded as a precious gift, especially if you want to impress or show gratitude to someone. I mean, we are talking up to a R1000 a mango here, people!!! The fruit also has to adhere to regulations that come with being a luxury item, which means, if you want to export fruit to Japan, you gotta compare apples to apples and send only your best ones. Logistically speaking, Japan also doesn’t have the space to grow fruit crops, so the fruit farming is done on small scale. All of this, combined with how bloody well the Japanese do everything, the fruit in question would have been cultivated with love, probably donned in a custom made cotton hat, whilst being gently massaged by gloved farmers. So, if I come back in my next life as a fruit in Japan, I will take it! At least I will be blemish free for once in my life and living the good life in Tokyo, albeit short-lived.
With that settled, let me tell you about our favourite places and top tips when in Tokyo.
1) Shopping up a storm in the Shibuya district
Up to 3000 people cross the world famous Shibuya Crossing at any one time and doing so for the first time, is a rite of passage into Tokyo! Many of those crossing are tourists taking photos, selfies, time lapses, doing fashion shoots, and I kid you not, police are even now looking to arrest 5 guys who placed a bed in the middle of the crossing. How can the police not understand the importance of being insta-famous?!?
For a bird’s eye view of this crossing, you can pay 300 yen at the Magnet Building. However, there are some free viewing platforms as well. This will give you a great idea of where to start shopping and in so doing, get to know the lay of the land! You have to approach this strategically, shopping here is not for sissies. If shopping were a competitor sport, Shibuya would the biggest arena on earth, so best you get ready, set GO!!
Shibuya station handles a mind-blowing 2.4 million people a DAY…so you need to have your wits about you. Once in Shibuya you can visit department stores like Shibuya 109, Tokyu Hands and Loft. From there you can meander up to Omote Sando Street and Harajuku, where you will find anything from top end designers to the famous Takeshita-Dori. The amount of money you spend is your business, but I INSIST that you buy a crepe from one of the many stalls in Harajuku. Thank me later.
2) TeamLab Borderless Art Museum
With millions of people from around the world adding this destination to their bucket list, you can’t go wrong doing the same. You can justify flying to Tokyo just for this, in case you were looking for any more reasons! This is Tokyo’s newest Instagrammable hot spot and once you step inside, you are whisked away to an interactive and all immersive digital art world. Images aren’t merely projected onto the walls, they are creations in their own right…they grow, evolve, chase and transition. This is unlike anything you have ever seen before, and to describe it, is almost impossible. Check out their website here.
Remember to buy your tickets online (here is the link) and well in advance, as they are in high demand. Be sure to wear flat shoes (for all the jumping, sliding and climbing you will be doing), and preferably pants (if you want to protect your modesty since some of the floors are actual mirrors). A good tip: wear light coloured clothing for better photos, you will see what I mean when you go!
3) Tokyo After Dark
Most people have heard about the nightlife in Tokyo, from themed bars to stroking cats at a price. The Izakayas come in a variety of crazy…so if you are into an owl roosting on your head while eating, being locked up and fed prison food, or being served sake by a ninja, well, there is sure to be a spot just for you. We won’t tell anyone if you paid top dollar to cuddle a hedgehog!
The Golden Gai in Shinjuku is a must! These narrow alleys are lined with of hundreds of tiny bars dating back from post-war Japan, big enough for 10 people at most. Since most of the bars charge a cover charge, with drinks at around 800 yen each, it does get a bit pricey. While you are there, check out the rest of the Kabukicho area, also known as the pleasure district…if you catch my drift - my Tokyo drift!
4) Ueno Area
Ueno, pronounced ‘when-oh’, offers a great day out. When-oh one is in Ueno, one must know where-oh to go. In the park you will find many magnificent art museums (Western and Japanese) – each a ‘must see’, even if just for the buildings alone. The entire park packs a cultural punch, and one can see why many Japanese come to the park to unwind and meet up with friends. Down the road from the park, you’ll find a great shopping arcade called Ameyoko. Open air stalls selling fresh fish, oysters and other typically Japanese merchandise abound. Again, I must warn you… if you like to shop, I fear for you. My credit card was making it rain…
5) Day trips outside Tokyo: Izu Peninsula
There are many day trips outside of Tokyo that are well worth taking. Places such as Hakone, Mt Takao, and Nikko, which are all easily accessible by train or bus. However, this time round, we decided to do the Izu peninsula, which is best explored by car. Due to this fact, it is not as touristy as the rest of the places, and is actually a bit of a ‘best kept secret’ amongst the Japanese. Izu has a cool surfer vibe, lush greenery and many onsens (public bathouses). So, if you love nature, the ocean and beautiful coastal drives at sunset, then this is the place for you. Highlights are the incredible MOA art museum. The building alone is a masterpiece.
On the journey back we marvelled at the Amalfi-like coastline of Atami, and if you are really really lucky, Mt Fuji-San will grace you with her presence!
For now, that wraps up some of my favourite things to do in Tokyo, while keeping in mind that it is almost impossible to pin down a city like Tokyo. Tokyoites can never be pinned down …they are quick to catch onto trends and have an incredible sense for always moving forward, with constantly changing appearances and seeking out novelties. Their inventive spirit and insatiable curiosity, make this city and its people a metropolis you couldn’t imagine even in your wildest dreams.
If you need any further justification to go, call me. I’ll be the one sitting in the corner nursing my credit card back to health!
Cheerio, Henk & Suna (Team TSA)