Wandering around Japan Part 5… Tokyo

Night view from Ikebukuro Hotel

We finished our trip to Japan by staying in Tokyo for 4 nights. Our hotel was based in the Ikebukuro area and had great transport links all over the city. My first and lasting impression of Tokyo is that it is super huge! I would describe it as being 12 cities in one as every area we went too was different and felt like its own city. It was awesome and overwhelming – I definitely need to go back!

Day view from Ikebukuro Hotel

The first night in Tokyo our guide took us to Shinjuku. It has the busiest train station in the world and for a first trip out in the city is really a way to see Tokyo in reality. We visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to get a night-time view of the area. It was amazing to see all lit up, but not good for photography as it was brightly lit inside and even with the help of a scarf the reflections in the windows would not disappear. It was free to go up and makes considering visiting one of the towers in the city not as essential. We then headed towards the entertainment area and found a small restaurant that our guide had booked out for our group.

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Shinjuku

After dinner we wandered around the area seeing the bright lights and big city vibe. It was amazing in Kabukicho with so many shops, arcades and restaurants really making it atmospheric. It was still above 20 degrees in the evening making it really comfortable to walk around for an extended period. It was bustling with business people, locals and tourists and I could have easily found somewhere to people watch for a while.

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Shinjuku

The next full day in Tokyo our guide took us all over the city and it allowed us to get used to the transport system ready for our solo explorations for the rest of the trip. We got the train from Ikebukuro and headed to Korakuen on the Marunouchi Line. We stopped at Tokyo Dome City and went up another government building (which I have completely forgotten the name of and don’t seem to have written it down) for another free view. We marvelled at the theme park set up in the middle of a city as we wandered towards Ueno.

Tokyo Dome City

Ueno is the cultural centre of Tokyo with the park (Ueno-keon) at the very centre. It is full of many museums and when I go back I would like to make time to visit the Tokyo National Museum as there was not enough time to fit everything in.

Cat in Ueno-Koen

We walked  through the park and I spotted my first outdoors cats on the trip. We didn’t see many cats or dogs at all and it made sense to find all the animal cafes as the concentration of people make the city not a great place to have pets I imagine.

Post box cat in Ueno-Koen

We then walked to Asakusa which is home to the most visited temple in Tokyo, the Senso-ji. The legend is that a statue/image of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy (Kannon) was pulled from the river by two fishermen in AD 628. You can get a great view of the entrance to the temple by going in the tourist information centre and up to the viewing platform. The entrance is lined by lots of little shops and stalls selling all sorts of trinkets.

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Senso-ji in Asakusa

This was a lunch spot and I managed to find a okonomiyaki place to take my mum to where we cooked it ourselves. It was ace and is something I said I must learn to cook when I got home (and I already have). They bring out a bowl full of all the ingredients and you mix it all together then cook on the hot plate set into the table. Simple and amazing!

Okonomiyaki at Asakusa

We then got back on the train and headed to Shibuya. It is the centre of the city’s teen culture and is full of bright colours and amazingly dressed people. We came out of the station and watch the Shibuya crossing from above. It is said to be one of the world’s busiest crossing as when the traffic stops people head in all directions to get where they are going. It was fun to watch and again when I come back I will get a seat in the Starbucks looking right over the crossing and watch the world god by.

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Shibuya Crossing

We also got to see people playing real life Mario Cart as we were waiting at the crossing. It looked amazing, but not something I would be brave enough to do!

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Mario Cart at Shibuya Crossing

If you find yourself at the crossing you will come across the statue of Hachiko, the dog that waited at the station everyday to meet his master and continued for another 10 years after his master died in 1925. Nowadays you’ll find a cat upstaging Hachiko for an excellent photo opportunity. He looks like a stray, but his owner pops him up there everyday. He was very friendly.

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Hachiko Statue at Shibuya Crossing

In the late afternoon we headed to Harajuku to Meiji-jingu. It is Tokyo’s grandest shrine with this amazing wooden Torii gate at the entrance, created from 1500 year old cypress trees. It is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken and was constructed in 1920, but destroyed in the second world war and had to be rebuilt in 1958.

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Enterance to Meiji-jingu

On the approach to the shrine the path is lined with barrels of sake and casks of whiskey.

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Sake Barrels at Meiji-jingu

It took the whole trip but I finally pursuaded my mum to join me in visiting a cat cafe and Cafe Mocha was located really close to the hotel. It was a modern and well spaced cafe and I didn’t see any cages, which I had read warnings a bout.

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Cafe Mocha

The cats were all quite sleepy, but that made it really peaceful. I could have easily sat there for a quite a while and read book, but my mum was expecting teh cats to be playful so we didn’t stay as long as I would have liked.

Cafe Mocha

There were some fun characters in the room and all accepted strokes freely and knew if they went up high they would be left alone.

Cafe Mocha

But this once just lounged right on the floor and gave the best looks!

Cafe Mocha

It is such a good idea as it keeps cats off the street and gives them a safe environment to share with people.

Cafe Mocha

That night we headed up to the top floor of a shopping centre where you can find all the restaurants you could want. We went for a teppan one and I could have a proper dessert of the Halloween variety!

Halloween Dessert in Ikebukuro

We ended what was a long day by heading up for a drink in the bar on the top floor. It was expensive, but worth it for the ambience and view.

Top floor hotel bar

The next day we had it free to explore as we wanted. I will say I preferred having a guide to take us around as it was an overwhelming city, but we had fun and had many more coffee stops than we did the previous day. We started by going to the bakery across the street for breakfast and I partook in the Halloween theme again – who would have thought it would be such a big thing in Japan?

Halloween bakery breakfast

I mapped out our day starting in Ginza the upmarket shopping district of Tokyo. We walked through the shops and stopped for coffee as we headed to the Tsukiji Market. This is still home to the fish market, but we did not fancy the super early start you would need to see the action. Instead we experience the outer market and I enjoyed some fresh tuna sushi and my mum got to have lots of fruit!

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Tsukiji Market

The market is busy, but absolutely amazing! I could have carried on wandering and trying different foods all day, but we wanted to go and experience some other neighbourhoods as well. We headed back to Ginza so that we could go in the shops that opened later than the market. There were several things that were cheaper if they offered the tourist tax discount, so worth a look!

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Tsukiji Market

We got the train to explore Akihabara as I wanted to experience the geek subculture of the district. However I was quite tired by this time and it has peaked in temperature to 30 degrees (in October!!!). We wandered through the electric town and it was fun to explore, but I would have liked a bit of help to know exactly where to go and what to see – my guide books didn’t quite have enough information.

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Akihabara

We took it easy the last night and went out with the group locally for a last meal as some of the group were heading off on an earlier flight and other had an extra week to explore. As our flight was not until the evening we pretty much had a whole day to explore more. We went to the Marunouchi area to see the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station. We didn’t end up getting to see the gardens of the palace as there was an event on, but we had a wander around the outside and went to see the old bridge entrance.

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Imperial Palace

We then headed back to Ikebukuro to explore the local area bit more before having to be back at the hotel to catch the airport bus. It’s a great and fun neighbourhood with lots of quirky aspects and some big shopping opportunities around the station. It is very worth finding a 100 yen store before you go as you can pick up fun small gifts such as origami paper.

Owls at Ikebukuro Station

I was also able to fulfil a big part of my kit kat mission by finding a chocolatory in the food hall of a big department store and came away with some posh versions of kit kats I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

Successful Kit Kat Mission

We decided to fill the last few hours by going to Sunshine City just up the road from out hotel. It has loads of entertainment things and we went to the rooftop aquarium. It was fun, but at the same time I was concerned about the lack of space the animals had, so would not go back and wouldn’t really suggest visiting. It’s quite an eye opener to go somewhere like a place you would go as a kid and see it in completely different light. I did however find a Pokemon shop and again dragged my mum in to have a wander!

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Ikebukuro Sunshine City Aquarium

Top tips for Tokyo:

  • Know you will not fit everything in to your trip and pick the things you want to do first
  • It’s a huge city so be prepared for crowds – wait until after 9am to use the trains
  • Don’t be afraid to walk between areas as it means you find other things along the way
  • Go up or down to find restaurants
  • Make the most of your guide if you have one
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