3 days of wandering through Japan’s new world capital
Day 1: Shinjuku
Shinjuku Station is the world’s busiest railway station, connecting Japan’s five main railroads. Making Shinjuku easy to reach, the perfect place to start our Tokyo adventure.
In the station, follow the signs to the East exit, leading to Kabuchiko, Shinjuku’s entertainment- and red-light district.
Here you immediately get submersed in the characteristically loud, neon-lighted Japanese ambiance. Huge buildings lined with led screens playing everything from screaming anime girl groups to YouTube videos of cats. (No, I am not kidding.)
Follow the crowds into Godzilla street and try to spot the huge Godzilla head. Wandering around these streets will eventually lead you to either the obnoxiously expensive and loud Robot Cafe, or the quaint and interesting Samurai Museum. The latter gives regular tours in English, explaining Japan’s long and violent Samurai culture. See how feudal lords and families fought to become the empire’s shogun. Don’t miss the picture opportunity where you get to try on a real samurai suit, or a lovely kimono.
Be sure to get your game on, in one of the many Taito Stations; huge arcade halls. The one in Shinjuku covers 7 levels. The top level is women-only; everything is pink pink pink, and the main ‘games’ here are girly photo booths. Take a few pictures, add funny effects, edit them with virtual stickers, and print! Funny moments guaranteed.
After nightfall, head over to Golden Gai for drinks and dinner.
These small streets are lined with tiny bars and restaurants, most having only space for 3 or 4 people. Some of the bars don’t allow tourists, as they hold their 1 table for the regular customers. Be prepared to either pay a cover charge, or a hefty price for your drinks.
Day 2: Akihabara;
Akihabara is Geek-Heaven, with arcade halls and pop culture shops everywhere you look. The special here is the galore of maid cafes.
In a maid cafe, every man is a master, and every woman a princess. Get a super cute kawaii lunch, waited on by your own maid. The rules are clear; no touching, no pictures (except for those you buy), and no asking personal questions. Stick to those, and you will have an amazingly fun, yet weird meal with your kawaii French maid.
After another stroll, head down to one of the hedgehog cafe’s (Yes, you read that right).
For about 10 yen each, you get all the hot drinks you want, plus half an hour of playing with a HEDGEHOG! If the little stingers get bored, stressed, or don’t seem pleased in any way, they stroll back to their little hedgehog house, and your host brings out another one.
In the evening, the weird gets weirder. Get a ticket for a Kamen Joshi show. See masked girls performing the wildest J-Pop songs and dances on stages, while the crowd (purely middle-aged businessmen, swinging lightsabers) enthusiastically shouts and dances along.
See the show at P.A.R.M.S, in the Pasela Resort Akiba (7th floor);
there are 2 shows daily, and the low 1500 Yen admittance fee includes cocktails and edamame.
Day 3: Shibuya & Harajuku
Take the subway to Shibuya Station, and start out with the world-famous organized chaos of Shibuya Crossing, and grab a quick pic of the Hachiko dog statue.
Next, walk through the hipster streets towards Harajuku. We chose to head to the quaint cat-street, where you will find loads of second hand 70’s clothing stores. Nice to look, expensive to buy: an old-school Adidas hoodie sells for more than 400USD.
Walking from Shibuya towards Harajuku, we encounter this Takoyaki shop. Takoyaki are basically fried squid-balls, topped with Takoyaki sauce (similar to a sweet worcestershiresauce, which happens to be my favorite word), and mayonnaise. This is sprinkled with Bonito-shavings (a fish), which seems to move on the hot squid-balls, making the whole thing seem alive. A must try!
Cat Street then merges into Harajuku: This is where the typical Japanese anime style Lolita’s first emerged! Picture time.
Stay clear of the ‘owl-forests’, indoor fake-forests showcasing owls tied to too short strings, sitting in the light all day long.
Walking around the Harajuku station, walk through the huge wooden tori (gate), into ‘the spirit world’. When walking through such a tori, take a bow to show your respect.
Before entering the shrine, you must perform Temizu, a hand washing ritual. You will find water basins on each entrance: First rinse your left hand with the ladle, next your right hand.
Now pour water into your left hand with the ladle and use it to rinse your mouth. Rinse your left hand once more and tilt the ladle so the water trickles down and cleanses your right hand. Got all that? You’re now ready to enter the shrine!
In the Harajuku park, you will find the Meiji shrine. This complex of shrine buildings is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji, and his consort Empress Shoken.
This emperor ruled in the late 19th/early 20th century and is responsible for moving Japan’s capital from Kyoto to Tokyo.
To end our day in Harajuku, we visited the Kawaii Monster Café. This is likely the closest experience to taking acid I have ever had. The place is a mix between Alice in Wonderland and Hello Kitty. Don’t go for the food, which is very original (much like in the maid café’s), but just tastes yuki.
The experience however, you cannot miss. They have daily rotating shows, we saw our first Geiko performance here, be sure to check the website to and go when a show is on.
We stayed in the Hilton Tokyo, conveniently located on walking distance from Shinjuku, and with a direct subway connection to all locations mentioned in this blog.
They have a great breakfast buffet in The Marble Lounge, including a noodle station.
However make sure to also try the traditional Japanese breakfast in their Junisoh restaurant.
For a late night sleeping cap, we went over to the St George Bar, which had amazing live jazz music, free of charge – edamame included.