Periodic visits between Dec 8 – 21
I’m not usually a huge fan of big cities, but Tokyo kinda sucked me in. It’s quirky, colorful, and perfect for someone who just wants to walk around endlessly and and stare at everything. Shopping districts and neon lights occupy much of Tokyo, but there are some nice parks and more low key spaces to check out too. And even if you’re not really into shopping, you’ll still have lots of fun checking out shops and laughing at all the odd things for sale…or following the hoards of hip teenagers marching around with mountains of shopping bags. With Tokyo’s fast and efficient train and subway network, so you can easily hop from one area to the next. Sure you’ll feel exhausted at the end of the day (especially if you travel during rush hour traffic times – when everyone piles into the trains, pushes you around, and you all smush together in a big blob of bodies), but being exhausted from sensory overload is kinda part of the experience too. There is so much to look at, that you will certainly never be bored. And you could easily spend many months in Tokyo and still feel like you’ve only barely scraped the surface.
Here are some of the places I visited when I was in Tokyo.
Mitaka is home of the Ghibli Museum, which displays work from Japan’s famous animation studio, Studio Ghibli. This is Studio Ghibli’s official site, but it’s in Japanese. Studio Ghiibli has produced amazing movies like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and Grave of Fireflies, among many others.
The museum is small, but great. You can watch a short animated film and see original drawings, paintings, and notes by Studio Ghibli. Little kids love the place and can be found swarming all over the cat bus on the top floor. My favorite part was the intricate dioramas with many levels of moving parts. I would have loved to take videos of them, but unfortunately you aren’t allowed to film or photograph inside. So, I just took a few photos of the building from the outside.
Totoro is by far Ghibli’s most popular character and the gift shop was crowded with people wanting to buy their own little Totoro toy. I hadn’t seen that movie yet, so Chika rented it for me.
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is Ghibli’s newest film.
Because the museum is so popular, they only sell a set amount of tickets each day and they often sell out days in advance. Tickets must be purchased from a Lawson Station (which are readily available all over the city). Even though the website provides humorously detailed instructions on how to buy a ticket, it still looked very confusing and I was glad I had Chika to help me.
Shibuya is full of shopping places, eating places, and love hotels. And it’s a particularly lively area at night (especially with the younger crowd).
When I was there, there was live music on a stage outside the train station.
Shibuya is very popular with teenage girls, who travel in large flocks to the trendy, upscale fashion stores.
Tokyu Hands is a popular store store that exists all over Japan now, but the first one opened in Shibuya. You can buy just about anything on one of their 7 floors.
Like cute little smiley things.
A surprisingly large collection of rice ball decorating kits.
More cute little smiley things. Everything has a face – even tongue scrapers, vegetable graters, matchsticks, and lightbulbs!
Shibuya also has a lot of street art, making it fun to walk around during the day.
Shinjuku has elaborate food markets
and tall city buildings
You can have a free view of the skyline from the observation desks on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
I think Shinjuku and Shibuya would be cool names for kids.
Harajuku is a popular hangout for teenagers and Japanese fashion enthusiasts.
There are two main shopping streets: Omotesando (which houses expensive, upscale outlet stores like Prada and Louis Vuitton), and Takeshita street (with its used clothes stores and youth fashion stores specializing in punk, goth, and some flat out colorful and quirky stuff).
It’s always nice to know there’s a place where you can buy a tutu in every color. Who knows when you might need one.
This store has a funny name.
Takeshita Street tends to get a lot more crowded at night and on the weekends. Sunday is supposed to be the best day for viewing the strangely dressed teenagers, or “Harajuku girls“, but I didn’t make it there on the weekend. If you want to try this style of dress yourself, here’s a good article on How to Dress Harajuku Style.
It’s fun to be there when the shops are closing because then you get to see all the pretty paintings as they pull down the doors.
Harakuku is not only for clothes. You can buy fancy fast food.
Or t-shirts with animals wishing they didn’t have to eat their friends.
And Kiddyland is a good place for finding all the things you never knew you wanted, but all of a sudden you desperately need.
Like a little bunny coin purse on a stick.
Or a bread wallet.
or a giant animal paw.
Or miniature fake food.
or a robot cell phone.
And if you’re feeling sexy, just head on over to Condomania.
Don’t let the cute animals deceive you. These are condoms. Some of them glow in the dark.
You can also buy some themed underwear.
Akihabara is known as “electric town” and it consists of towering buildings full of stores with electronics, video games, and action figures. Here’s a good article about the place. And here is a site where you can download a guide map and take an online tour.
Akihabara also houses several stores selling nothing but creepy dolls and doll accessories.
And Akihabara is home of the robots.
The third floor of the Tsukumo building specializes in everything related to robots and robotics. The first time I went to the store, the guy on the first floor said that the robot store was closed. He didn’t speak enough English to explain why or when they’d be open again. When I got back to Chika’s house, she called them and they said they were closed indefinitely and would only be an online store in the meantime. A few days later, we found out that they had opened again. I’m not sure why – maybe just for me! weird.
The otaku (or tech geeks) like to hang out in Akihabara. You can find them spending all their coins on video games and claw machines, perusing the latest manga magazines, going to hobby shops to assemble intricate action figures, buying outfits for creepy, large eyed dolls, or stocking up on Final Fantasy potions.
If you’ve ever wanted to buy a rice cooker, a hair dryer, an alarm clock, a bicycle, a toothbrush, some cereal, dehydrated vegetables, a costume, a sex toy, a stuffed animal, have some coffee served by maids, and play video games all in the same building…then head to Don Quiote. It’s a wonderful store that’s not to be missed. I got to Akihabara early in the morning before most of the stores had opened. I saw this long line of people waiting outside and I wondered what the building was. Sure enough, it was Don Quiote. It opened about an hour later and everyone filed in for the fun. People love this place!
And I can see why. They have fun masks.
And fun costumes.
I’m not really sure what some of them are supposed to be.
Man dressed as woman?
patriotic guy? rock star?
frumpy girl with big boobs?
A woman wearing curlers and holding radishes (much to the despair of her onlooker)?
Their party costumes beat the normal, plain colored spandex ones in most stores.
And you’re come to the right place if you harbor a secret desire to dress as Hitler.
You can even find an Obama mask.
If I was to dress up like something, I’d prefer the eggplant.
This guy looks like he’s having a lot of fun being one.
If you’re not into the crazy costumes, maybe you’re into crazy underwear.
Don Quiote also supplies a healthy selection of maid outfits.
Why? Because one of the weirdest things about Akihabara is that maid cafes are extremely popular. I’m not sure what is so special about these cafes except that the waitresses are all teenage girls dressed as french maids. Apparently the otaku are really into this sort of thing. And you’ll find maids advertising their cafe on just about every corner.
Anyway, Tokyo is pretty great.
You can find the most amazing socks.
And great vegan restaurants.
I went to the Vegan Healing Cafe in Shibuya.
They sold soy mayonnaise.
And something called Soy Pulp Elephant Foot? Sounds yummy.
I also went to Crayonhouse in Harajuku. Crayonhouse is an organic restaurant (not vegetarian), but they have a lot of vegan friendly menu items. It wasn’t my favorite place, but I like the restaurant name.
And they have a vegetable market.
that sells all kinds of things I’m not sure what they are.
And you can buy soy mayo. Mayo isn’t a very common food item in Japanese cuisine, so I think it’s kinda funny that I managed to find 2 places that sell a soy version. I wonder what people put it on.
The Brown Rice Cafe is a macrobiotic restaurant just across the street from Crayonhouse.
There are many Tokyo vegan restaurants that I didn’t get a chance to try. This guy made a pocket restaurant guide that you can buy at some of the restaurants mentioned in the book.
- I’ve found that the Japanese have a way of putting 3 random words together in a way that sounds kinda dirty.
- Japan appears to be a very orderly culture where all travel related details are planned and calculated. Something that I noticed to go along well with this theme is umbrellas. At the first sign of rain, everyone snaps open their umbrellas as if they expected it. Clearly they checked the weather ahead of time, noted the possibility of rain, and planned accordingly. Chika thought it was weird that I was so amused by this. She said “They have umbrellas in your country.” I said, “Well they do….but not everyone happens to have one with them when it rains.” And I didn’t have an umbrella. I had a raincoat. Chika said that only little kids wear raincoats and she gave me her umbrella to use for the day. It was funny because as soon as I got on the subway, I saw a little kid wearing basically the same red raincoat as mine. She was right – No one else had a raincoat except the little kid. All the kids I saw in the rain were double protected with both raincoats and umbrellas. And surprisingly, as colorful as Japan is, you don’t see all kinds of crazily decorated umbrellas everywhere. You generally see just clear plastic ones.
And just in case you did forget your umbrella, not to worry. Some subway stations provide complimentary umbrellas that you can borrow and return when you’re finished.
- Japanese people love little dogs. And since they appear to like dressing up in costumes (judging by the many costume stores in town), of course they like to dress up their dogs too.
- Anti drinking posters can be found in many train stations. The trains don’t run very late, so I was told people can be found sleeping on the floors after a night of heavy drinking.
- Japanese people have a nice way of phrasing things. I think this ashtray is cute.
- This is a traditional Japanese bike. It has a large basket in the front and a child seat in the back.
- Cell phone decorations are extremely popular in Japan. Some people just choose a few simple ornaments, but others have full on grapefruit sized stuffed animals. Even professional businessmen have stuff hanging off of their cell phones. It’s just normal here. Entire sections of some stores are dedicated to cell phone decorations.
- One of my favorite parts about Japan are the quirky English phrases on everything. Sometimes they’re just random and completely odd. Other times, they make no sense at all.
I think this card comes across as a bit condescending. Surely you must think so too.
I think this one is my favorite!
And I couldn’t resist. I had to buy this one. I agree with this statement completely.
- It seems that little kids aren’t born with the skill of being able to use chopsticks. They have to practice just like the rest of us.
- I have heard of leg warmers and neck warmers and arm warmers, but I’ve never heard of a belly warmer before. They seem to be really popular here.
- Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in Japan. And noone likes throwing a banana into their backpack and pulling it out later to see it has gotten all brown and bruised.
So, the Japanese have come up with an innovative way to protect their precious bananas. The banana case. The little holes are to keep the banana from sweating. Cute huh? As far as I know, this item is unique to Japan.