“I compared it to taking my first acid trip: Nothing was ever the same for me. I just wanted more of it. If I had to agree to live in one country, or even one city, for the rest of my life, never leaving it, I’d pick Tokyo in a second.” – Anthony Bourdain
After a late night in Kyoto last night, we pushed hard early this morning and took the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Nozomi Train from Kyoto Station to Tokyo Station.
Look to your left and you’ll pass by Mount Fuji about halfway during the 2 hour trip.
Your Shinkansen ticket includes a trip on a local JR train within Tokyo, so if they eat up your ticket by accident, grab an agent to get it back!
From door to door from our hostel in Kyoto to our hostel in Tokyo, we arrived about 3 hours later to our lodgings at Hostel Chapter 2. We settled in for a few minutes and began our day by taking the Asakusa Line from Asakusa Station to Asakusabashi Station, switching over to the Chuo-Sobu Line and taking that to Yoyogi Station.
A few minutes walk away is Meiji Shrine, one of Tokyo’s largest and most atmospheric.
If you’re keen on purifying your soul, walk to one of the fountains by the entrance and take a dipper with your right hand and pour water over your left hand. Then change hands and pour water over your right hand. Finally, change hands again, pour water into a cupped left hand, transfer that water to your mouth, rinse, and spit out the water into the trough at the foot of the fountain.
Then rinse your left hand and the dipper before putting the dipper back on the rack.
You can also make a wish by throwing a five-yen coin into the money box as an offering. If you want to go all the way, take after the locals by bowing and clapping twice to call the gods, or write your wish on a votive plaque (ema).
Japanese wedding processions also take place here all the time, weather permitting. We were lucky to catch one just as it began.
Then from the shrine we walked to Harajuku station and crossed over to Takeshita Street, the epicenter of Tokyo’s teenage subculture and home to the world’s densest concentration of Hello Kitty goods and other forms of extreme kawaiiiii!
Ironically right about a few minutes walk away stretches Omotesando, a upscale boulevard lined with trees, high-end shopping and swanky overpriced cafes that’s often compared to the Champs-Elysées in Paris.
We walked south 15 minutes along Cat Street to finally reach the legendary Shibuya Crossing Intersection, the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing:
Up to 1,000 people make a dash across a 6 point intersection in under 60 seconds.
The easiest place to get that classic photo is from the 2nd floor window of the Starbucks.
You don’t have to order anything, just be prepared to wait awhile for those coveted window spots, although we were lucky – the moment we got upstairs a couple sitting in front of the window was just about to leave.
Humanity moving with the grace of a concerto.
Of interest in Shibuya, you can try to find the Hachiko Memorial Statue that guards the crossing everyday:
For a pedestrian-only stroll nearby, walk down Center Gai:
Next door is an all-you-can-ever-want in otaku anime/manga culture at Mandarake Shibuya.
After an hour here we headed for the geographic center of Tokyo, Roppongi Hills. There’s an opportunity to watch the sunset on the 52nd floor of the Tokyo City View.
However, I opted instead to catch up with my one of my best friends from college, Todd Spitz, who met up with me after work. We had last seen each other 7 months ago during a layover in Tokyo!
After sunset we all convened for what is arguably the world’s best pizza at Savoy. It was recently featured on David Chang’s Netflix docu-series “Ugly Delicious” (Food photos below).
We then returned back to our hostel, making a quick detour to see Sensoji at night.
The next morning we headed to Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo famous for being home to the enigmatic Fuji Television Building.
More importantly, at Shayra’s recommendation we went to check out a new MORI Digital Art Installation that takes up an entire warehouse on Onaida.
We had purchased tickets a month in advance online, so we went right in and got lost in an an alternate universe:
We could have spent all day there, but soon it was almost noon so Shayra went to meet a work friend living in Tokyo, Trish stayed behind to spend a little longer time at MORI, while the rest of us took a cab to Tokyo Station for a quick lunch. Afterwards we took a stroll through Wadakura Fountain Park.
Right across the street from the fountain park is the 14th century Imperial Castle where you can get great shots of medieval Japan juxtaposed against a modern metropolis. The most famous is that of the Edo/Chiyoda Castle Ruins.
After about 20-30 minutes here we took the long walk back to the train station to take us to the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.
Within Shinjuku is the entertainment and red light district of Kabukicho. This is also the area where Bob and Charlotte say their tearful goodbye at the end of Lost In Translation.
That scene kills me every time I watch it.
Don’t believe me? I had referenced that same scene 8 years ago after my first official monsoon. Why do I feel I haven’t changed a bit?
If you want something you can only get in Japan, head to The Robot Restaurant. I’m not sure how to define it but for $50-$60 you’ll get a 90 minute show that my friend Todd says “is so un-Japanese, but also so Japanese in that this kind of show can only exist in Japan.”
In fact, most who have seen the show will tell you they can’t explain it in words. You just have to go and see it for yourself.
The late Anthony Bourdain visited here a few years back and his reaction to the show just made us more excited.
I mean take a look at the waiting room:
And the show itself? If MORI was our breakfast, The Robot Restaurant would be our 10 course dinner.
My reaction the entire time:
When it finally ends, you have 2 minutes to get to the front and take your selfies before they kick you out for the next show.
After staggering out of the Robot Restaurant without even a drop of alcohol in our system, Shayra and Angela stayed behind to explore more of Kabukicho while Kelly, Donna and I walked 20 minutes over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for their free observation deck over Tokyo on its 59th floor.
On a side-note, there are other options for views over Tokyo; you can either pay 900¥ for a view at Tokyo Tower:
…or 2000-3000¥ on the Tokyo Skytree.
However, in my opinion, the best view is about a 10 minute walk from Metropolitan Government Building at the New York Bar, located on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
Does that location sound familiar? This is also the bar where Lost In Translation was filmed.
It’s also one of Billy’s favorite movies, so he (as well as Camilla) joined me for a second visit. That’s how much we love this film.
And thus a sense of saudade began. . . . as Camilla is Brazilian, Portuguese is her native tongue, and as saudade is a Portuguese word, AND that we’re in the EXACT location of Billy’s and my favorite film since we first both watched it in 2004, it felt as if the whole universe was coming together once again. WHAT. IS. MY. LIFE.
We needed a photo, but too bad Billy is allergic to being in them. It’s a veteran thing.
After a few very expensive drinks and having enough of reliving my nostalgia with Lost In Translation, we rendezvous’ed with Luke, Shayra, and Angela for dinner at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant back in the Shinjuku area.
After dinner we then had a few drinks at a next door pub, headed back to the Roppongi Hills area, had a few more drinks at a karaoke bar, changed there, and then joined Camilla for a proper night out clubbing at Nishiazabu A-Life. They have lockers at the club so we stored all our day clothes and bags there, which was convenient.
Let’s say so much happened at that club that many of us won’t want to talk about it until our 10 year reunion. Some of us even ended up afterwards back at the Tsujiki Fish Market, the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world (and one of the largest wholesale foods market in the world), to get one last glimpse of its famous fish auction for what was supposed to be their very last day after nearly 200 years of service.
Sadly because of that fact, they already had reached their maximum of 120 visitors by 2am. We weren’t even close arriving at 3:30am! With nothing left to do, we hung around outside for another few of hours just to take it all in and enjoy the Tokyo night air before saying our goodbyes to Luke and heading back to our respective lodgings. What a trip. What a city. What an experience.
What To Eat In Tokyo
No matter what I write, it’ll never be enough for a place like Tokyo. I’ll just let you know what we ate during our weekend here.
“The #1 pizza in the world”: Savoy
How did we find it? Well from Ugly Delicious, Season 1, Episode 1: Pizza:
Fried chicken at Lawson’s (any will do!):
Omurice (aka Omelette Rice!):
The trip is pretty much wrapping up, although we’re looking forward to a small extension to Sapporo for 2 days tomorrow!
- At time of posting in Tokyo, Japan, it was 84.2 °F - Humidity: 69% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a