Our first stop in Tokyo was definitely a shock to the system. After many busy days and sleepless nights packing up our apartment, wrapping up at work and saying goodbye to our family and friends, we may have been prepared, but we definitely weren’t ready for the chaos that is Tokyo.
From the buzzing train stations to the epilepsy-inducing advertising on every street corner in Shinjuku, Tokyo is the living, breathing equivalent of a casino floor – always something exciting happening and at times, can feel a little like there’s no escape. And yet, its inhabitants manage to make sense of the chaos and make Tokyo a place that is so enthralling for foreigners like us.
Whether it’s politeness, friendliness or just respect for the 20-something million other Tokyo-ites that take on the city every day, Tokyo’s people make it an amazing place to be. From the policeman who greeted us on our way to the train station each morning (and carried on a full conversation despite us knowing not one word of Japanese) to the lovely lady at the Fox Village in Shizano who drove us back to town after the once-daily bus failed to turn up – it’s amazing to see so many happy, smiling people despite the constant crush.
While its a surprisingly easy city to navigate, Tokyo can be impossible in a really unique way, simply by offering too many choices. Do we eat that, see this, go this way? There were always so many amazing things to see and do that it felt like there were a million and one things we couldn’t miss out on.
Here are just some of the highlights from our time in Tokyo:
Oh my god, the food. Safe to say the food all around Japan is delicious but I’d guess nowhere offers nearly as many choices in such a confined space as Tokyo – you only had to look up at the skyscrapers to see all of the restaurants on each floor – and on the streets, in the train stations and down the many hidden alleyways surrounding, to know that this is a city that LOVES its food.
We enjoyed some amazing different foods, from fresh sushi (for breakfast) at Tsukiji Fish Market to crispy fresh tempura and steaming bowls of udon noodles. Nearly every travel guide we read suggested 7Eleven would stock sushi even better than at home and they weren’t wrong – we regularly stocked up on 100 Yen (about $1.20) sushi rolls to tide us over between meals.
For a country known for its fresh, healthy foods, Japan has a naughty side too – they are obsessed with desserts, cakes, pastries – and Tokyo is a city with a serious sweet tooth. And I was more than happy to indulge, trying out custard eclairs in Harajuku and Cheese Tarts in Ikebukuro, it seems like there’s always something sweet around the next corner.
Tokyo’s train stations are like their own microcosms – you could live in one for days. My dad – a train aficionado – would love these mini-cities, with their restaurants, department stores and endless mazes leading to many, many different lines each disgorging thousands of commuters each day. Many of the stations see more than a million people pass through them each day – and these aren’t even the major transit points.
Tokyo’s trains really must be seen to be believed. During peak hour, we’ve seen (and felt) passengers physically push themselves into the carriages, if only to avoid missing their trip home altogether – we were on trains as late as 10/11pm and they were still jam-packed with the many, many commuters on their way home each day. Despite this though, Tokyo’s train travellers manage to hold on to some consideration for other passengers – they don’t yell on mobile phones, they don’t push or barge past to be first on – I think its pretty fair to say I enjoyed Tokyo during peak hour more than most mornings tackling Wynyard station in Sydney.
This area deserves its own special shout out – each of the different areas have their own distinct personalities, but perhaps none so much as Harajuku. A melting pot in every sense, Harajuku combines high and low culture, East and Western influences, affordable and super fancy shopping – and absolute urbanity with total serenity thanks to Yoyogi Park just opposite the train station.
We absolutely loved diving into the busy streets like Takeshita Street (excellent name as well) with its stores packed with the latest – and weirdest – fashions and foods (and scores of Japanese school girls) or strolling along the expansive wide avenues, lined with global luxury brands interspersed with local labels.
When we were spent (of energy and money), we strolled through Yoyogi Park and took in the Meiji Jingu shrine – along with the barrels and barrels of sake and French wine left as offerings (something I know you’d never see in any Australian city). The park is a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle around it, but the perfect addition to our first few crazy days taking in all that Tokyo had to offer.
Next stop…. Nagano xx