Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Tokyo list


It's hard to believe that a few weeks ago we were traipsing through Tokyo, gorging on sushi and raiding our favourite convenience stores like nobody's business. It was a whirlwind tour but, as always, a pleasure.

Tokyo has got to be one of the best cities around - cute, organised chaos at it's finest. When I lived in Japan I was an hour and a bit out of Tokyo, so it was easy to pop in for the day. I loved how there was so much to stumble upon. So many 'You've got to be kidding me/ Only in Japan' moments to brighten the day.

Anyway, while it's fresh in my mind, and since Nadine is headed that way in February, I thought I'd create 'the Tokyo list'. It's hardly comprehensive, just some of the things I love about the city. If you have any additions, please comment!




Without further ado, the Tokyo list...
  • Books that will make you think Japan is amazing: Lost Japan (don't read the author's other book, Dogs and Demons - that will make you hate Japan); Memoirs of a Geisha (of course); Shogun (though it's far too long and I never finished it, I still enjoyed reading it on a train trip across Japan).
  • Neighbourhoods to wander around: Harajuku is always a winner, especially if you've never been before. It's good to go to Harajuku station, take the Takeshita Dori exit (yes, it is a funny name) and head through Takeshita Dori (street). There are tons of cute and absurd shops to look at, and strangely, many out of control creperies. Or you can take the other exit and check out the Meiji Jingu Koen. From there you can head to Omotesando. I'm not sure of the latest places, but there are usually fab cafes and bars springing up to explore. From Omotesando, go towards Shibuya through Aoyama. There are great back streets around here. In Shibuya I always go to Loft and Tokyu Hands department stores to stock up on art supplies.
  • I haven't been, but I've heard Kichijoji is good for cafes and boutique shopping.
  • If you're lucky enough to be in Tokyo in spring, it's essential to go to Ueno Park for a hanami - a cherry blossom viewing/ alcohol-fueled picnic, though you can drink whatever you fancy. Ueno also has some old-school back alleys worth wandering around.
  • Asakasa has a huge temple and big red gate - great for pictures. It also feels really old world Japan and is good for souvenirs. There's this paper shop on one of the side streets that I love, but can't remember the exact coordinates, sorry!. Last time I was here was during a summer festival and had some delicious yakisoba off a street stall and some ice cold Asahi - amazing. From Asakasa you can catch a boat somewhere - not sure where, it's just nice to ride the boat. 
  • Shinjuku is the crazy, bustling area that's worth a stroll. If it were in any other country you'd not want to walk here alone at night, but since it's Japan I always felt perfectly safe. Ignorance is also bliss.
  • I've heard lots about the Tsukiiji fish market, but never quite made it, though not for lack of effort. Hint: make sure you confirm it's open on the day you decide to go.
  • Dan recommends Yoyogi Park on a Sunday, when all the cos-play goth teenagers come out to play. 
  • Essential Experiences:  The main things I miss about Japan, hands down, are karaoke and onsen. Please karaoke when in Japan, it's amazing. Also, onsen - or public hot spring baths - are so relaxing. The Japanese really know how to bathe, and although it can be strange getting naked with a bunch of strangers, get over it, ignore everyone else, and just enjoy your mineral bath.
  • Favourite food groups:  Sushi is always what comes to mind when you think of Japan, but there's so much more to taste. I can't recommend any specific restaurants, but ask around for the best local places for okonomiyaki (seafood infused, savoury, kind-of pancake), yakitori, shabu-shabu (cook the meat, veg and tofu in boiling water on your own table) and yakiniku (cook the meat on the hot plate in the middle of your table). I also love convenience store food. Try the salmon onigiri (a triangle rice ball thing covered in seaweed - better than it sounds). Also, don't snub department store or train station building food. Some of the best restaurants are on the top floor of a train station!
  • For a taste of Seattle (or just good coffee), head to Zoka's coffee shop.
    • Accomodation: I've stayed at the Ryokan Kangetsu twice and have always been pleasantly surprised. It's budget, but peaceful, charming and clean budget. They also have a rooftop onsen for ladies that tips the scale in their favour.
    Well, it's a pretty vague guide, but hope it's a start. I'd really love to get other suggestions, so let me know what I'm missing...

    8 comments:

    Jenny said...

    If I ever go to Tokyo I'll be sure to refer back to this! Thanks alisha.

    And sadly the photos jeff took of avonlea didn't turn out and he deleted them before I saw them :(

    La Dolce Vita said...

    Hi Alisha!

    Great review...and very useful for us. We are going to Japan for 3 weeks next August (1st time!), and Tokyo is our first visit.

    So, as you have much to suggest, we are waiting for new tips about Tokyo!!! :))

    alisha said...

    Mario and Ely, I think you guys will love Tokyo! And if you have any tips for Northern Italy, I'd love to hear them as my in-laws are visiting in July.

    Jess Fouche said...

    Fun! Makes me want to go... I was there once, only for a day- picture if you will a scraggly, skinny group of travelers fresh off the plane from Nepal (a very un-stylish but beautifully rugged country) and all of us girls were wearing some kind of yack wool sweater that smelled kind of like a yack, because it was the only thing that was clean enough to wear, along with some Nepali skirts and cheap flip flops. We had fun that day but I remember feeling sorely out of place!!:)

    I Love hearing about your travels!

    alisha said...

    Jess, I know that feeling. I spent a day in Tokyo after outreach in Chiang Mai and felt like such a hippy in perfectly polished Tokyo. But the thought of you all yakked out makes me smile. :)

    Nadine said...

    Thank you Alisha, this is perfect!! I'm going to print it out and take it with me. Thank you! You are awesome!

    La Dolce Vita said...

    Sure, I can help your in-laws planning a visit here! For sure in northern Italy I would suggest first of all: Venice. Then I would visit Verona, some little villages around the Garda Lake like Malcesine, Riva del Garda, Limone and Salò (all lovely in July!). A short visit here in the Alps is also nice, if they like mountain. Otherwise I would move to Milan (big city, but with good shopping and great monuments) and then south to Cinque Terre and at the end I wouldn't miss Tuscany. It's all to see in Tuscany, but in my opinion the highlights are Firenze, Siena and the Chianti area (Montepulciano, Pienza, Arezzo). Anyway, if they need specifìc advices or want help for planning and look for hotels/pensions/apartments I can help. Give them my email address: mrmariello@yahoo.it

    Of course, now we want more about Tokyo!!!! I am starting reading the Lonely Planet guide about Japan!

    As I will be right in London for 4 days next month, do you suggest any places where I can find something interesting in preparation to my trip to Japan? I remember you made a nice post about Japan in London...I should go and check it out again!

    alisha said...

    Mario, thanks so much for your Italian suggestions - I've sent them on to my in-laws and it's very helpful.

    To get you in the mood for Japan while you're in London, I definitely recommend Soseki restaurant in the city near the Gherkin as well as Japan Centre, which has moved down the street from its old location but is still near Piccadilly Circus. Soseki is top end and Japan Centre sushi is cheap and cheerful, so take your pick.

    Hmm...also, I've sure you've watched Lost in Translation, but I love that movie. Enjoy London. :)

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