After our 2012 trip to Greece (my top destination pick) Matt and I had just one more place left to visit to officially clear our travel bucket lists: a lovely little archipelago in Southeast Asia better known as
Japan was Matt’s pick for the otaku culture and all things kawaii. I was mostly along for the ride.
Actually that’s an understatement.
I meticulously developed a 30 page itinerary (excluding the appendices, of course) that detailed how to get from place to place, things to look out for a things to avoid, and everything we could possibly want to do/see/eat in a mere two weeks.
There is so much to share, I don’t even know where to start. In this post I’ll give a brief overview of Tokyo and, so as not to bore you with thousands of words, I’ll dive deeper into it all in subsequent blog posts.
I’ll start where our trip started: in Tokyo.
I fully expected to hate Tokyo. I hate cities in general (The people, the concrete, the noise, the smells– what’s to love?) so visiting one of the most populated places on earth didn’t really have much appeal to me. Of course I ended up not hating it at all.
The city is orderly, organized, efficient, and clean. Some beautiful combination of Confucian philosophies of conformity and the knowledge that maintaining order is the only way to survive in a city with 6000 people per square kilometre has created a culture or obedient rule-followers that makes the whole city tolerable. it was my favourite of all the cities that we visited in Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka).
There is SO much to do in Tokyo. Every neighbourhood is practically a city on its own and an experience all in itself. We based ourselves in Shinjuku but explored:
Asakusa, a very touristy, historic entertainment district centered around the Sensoji Temple;
Harajuku, home of slightly bizarre fashions and teenagers;
Shibuya, a busy, busy, busy transportation hub; (pictured above) Ginza, a classy neighbourhood for high-end folks;
Odaiba, a slow(er)-paced getaway for locals;
and of course Akihabara, the geekiest district in Tokyo and centre of electronics, toys action figures, and arcades.
My favourite district was Odaiba, which was slightly quieter and offered fantastic views of the Tokyo skyline, decent shopping centres, with the highlight being the giant Gundam.
Naturally, Matt’s favourite was Akihabara, headquarters of all things otaku (that’s Japanese for ‘nerdy’).
Shinjuku, our home base, was also a great location to explore with the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden nearby and all the massive department stores like Isetan, Takashimaya, Lumine, OIOI, etc…
A note on shopping. . .
Matt and I typically both dislike shopping, rarely do it on vacation, and even more rarely do we buy anything while on vacation. Japan was a bit different. We spent lots of time exploring the complexities of the Japanese department store, some of which encompassed whole blocks and more than one building structure like some sort of shopping campus. In addition to the really great food halls, toy sections, and stationery departments in these stores, what garnered most of our attention were all the kawaii (cute) things that were for sale. Matt and I are both suckers for cuteness, hence much shopping (and buying!) was done.
Matt’s favourite shop by far was Yodobashi Camera an electronics paradise located in Akihabara. It’s a department store with multiple floors of phones, televisions, cameras, watches, musical instruments, kitchenware, health and fitness gadgets, action figures, and other toys. It has its own theme song set to The Battle Hymn of the Republic that you’ll hear on repeat and that you will not be able to stop singing. What I’m saying is, it’s like Best Buy if Best Buy were awesome.