After our short, activity-packed trips to Xi’an, Harbin, and Seoul, we were ready to slow things down a little. Luckily, we had 5 days to explore Tokyo! During our week in Japan, we were again amazed by how different the culture was from China despite their relative proximity. Almost everything about their lifestyle seemed the opposite of China’s. The streets and buildings were immaculately clean, and the people were always polite and orderly. No one was spitting on the street or trying to jostle their way into an already-full subway car. Instead of throwing their litter on the streets, the Japanese carefully tuck them into their purses or briefcases to be disposed of at home. And the toilets!!! No more filthy squat toilets for us! Instead, Japanese toilets gentle ambient noise when you sit down and are equipped with adjustable bidets and dryers. Such luxury. The only downside to Japanese culture was that we constantly felt like we were committing some unknown faux-paus, but who cares when everything is so clean! We took on Tokyo at a little slower pace than the rest of our trip, but still got to see a lot of this insane metropolis. Keep scrolling to hear about our highlights!
Akihabara (Electronics District)
Our first stop was pretty definitive of Tokyo – electronics, electronics, electronics! We went up and down the long street packed with video game stores, 7-story arcades with everything from claw games to VR, camera shops, all-purpose electronic stores similar to Best Buy, anything you can imagine anime/manga-related, and the ever-popular maid cafes.
Tokyo National Museum and National Museum of Western Art
After checking out modern culture at Akihabara, we headed to the art museums to experience a bit of Japan’s past. I was super disappointed to find out that The Great Wave off of Kanagawa was not on display, but still enjoyed the elaborately embroidered kimonos and the graceful rhythm of their paintings. Tommy wasn’t super interested in most of the museum, but he did like the samurai section! Afterwards he was kind enough to go to a second art museum, which was small but did have some big names (Rodin overkill) as well as an El Greco and a Berthe Morisot for me to swoon over. That night we also got Taco Bell for the first time since August 2017, which I have to say was a HUGE highlight for us.
Harajuku and Shibuya
Next, we decided to cover more quintessential Tokyo at Harajuku Street, which is known for its crazy youth fashion, and Shibuya, home to the world’s busiest street crossing. We checked out a few of the shops at Harajuku and saw a couple girls in funky doll-style outfits, but nothing as crazy as we had expected. Maybe it was because winter is too cold, or maybe it’s just become too much of a tourist destination! We took part in the “Shibuya Scramble” and also watched it from above at a nearby Starbucks. It really is nuts how many people gather at this intersection on a consistent basis. We’d watch the sidewalks fill up, flow across multiple streets, dissipate, and then the cycle would just start all over again! Here we also went to a sushi restaurant where you order on an iPad and it is delivered to you by conveyor belts. An introvert’s paradise!
Animal Café and Kawaii Monster Café
Tokyo is also really known for their animal and theme cafes! We didn’t want to shell out for a proper cat or owl café (we’d been spending quite a bit of money on Western food…), so we went to a cheaper version that was basically a petting zoo with a coffee included. They had quite a few different types of animals, including owls, hedgehogs, otters, an iguana, and a pink parrot. You could pet the owls and hedgehogs, but not most of the other animals. The owls were super soft and so beautiful, and the hedgehogs weren’t really prickly like you’d expect!
We did also check out the Kawaii (“Cute”) Monster Café, which looked like the person designing it was on an acid trip. It had a pretty psychedelic Alice in Wonderland vibe, and you could tell you were definitely paying for the crazy theme rather than the food! At one point three girls in colorful, futuristic-looking clothing came out and did a performance on a rotating cupcake stage. Definitely an interesting experience!
Traditional and Modern Architecture
While we were making our way around the city, pretty much all the buildings were modern skyscrapers. However, we did accidentally stumble upon Sensoji Temple, the oldest in Tokyo. There was a five-story pagoda, a crowded main shrine with people lined up to throw money at the altar, and a nice little park. What impressed us the most was the absolutely massive lanterns! The other unique architecture that we found was the Tokyo Skytree and the Tokyo Tower. The Skytree reminded me a little of the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, and the Tower looked like the Eiffel Tower. Both were cool, but not very original!
Overall, Tommy and I enjoyed our week in Tokyo and it was nice to have time to explore the city a little more slowly. It wasn’t as crazy or futuristic as we were expecting, but I think it’s kind of inevitable for most huge metropolises like this to lose some of their character. We did feel like we got a taste of Japanese culture – yay cleanliness and politeness!!! – and wouldn’t mind seeing more of the country if we ever got the chance. Up next on the blog, our day in Taipei! (Below – photos from Tokyo that didn’t fit in very well elsewhere)