I have finally made it. It has taken me over a decade to pay a visit and the expectations are sky-high now. Of course your position is though, since I have been around the world like Puffy and Mase in their prime, and you are up against heavyweights like NYC, Rio, London, Sydney, Barcelona and so on…time for some cherry blossoms and your A-Game.
We may have gotten off the wrong foot upon arrival. You see, the reason why I avoid the US is their immigration procedure. And after a journey of more than 16 hours I wasn’t expecting to wait in line for more than 2 hours to pass immigration and to wait in line for another hour for a train ticket. A warm welcome feels different.
But let’s leave the immigration part aside and focus on the city itself and what it has to offer:
There’s no way around the city without visiting Shibuya. It is Tokyo’s equivalent to the Time Square or Picadilly Circus. Enormous billboards, busy roads and lots of tourists. And watching up to 15’000! people cross the street is quite something (thank you Wikipedia for this useful piece of information).
The busiest area is just around the train station and while there you may pass by the statue of Hachiko, the most loyal dog in the world. Unless you want to queue up for a picture or have a souvenir photo with a random stranger on it, you may want to pass by either very early or very late at night.
The shops in Shibuya are a wild mix of department stores, junk-shops and young fashion brands, all of them geared towards a younger public. Nevertheless it is worthwhile to stroll around for a while before having dinner in one of the many restaurants in this area.
After dinner you have the option to go for some karaoke action or test the nightlife and do some clubbing. One thing you will notice is that most locals are very reserved and shy during daytime and after a couple of sakes they become quite loose. So loose in fact that after 10pm you will see masses of completely wasted groups of grown-ups in suits staggering towards the train station or sleeping on the floor.
You may start the night with a shot at the Golden Ball Bar. The Bar is so small that it offers only space for 8 stools and capacity for 15 guests. The bar is crammed to the ceiling with useful stuff like a Darth Vader helmet that according to the box has 3 functions: Breathing button, phrases and voice distortion…I still wonder what kind of parties are going on in there after hours.
After some shots you may wonder in direction of the love hotel hill. I guess the name is quite self-explanatory. Between “romantic suites” and 24/7 shops you will find some of Tokyo’s most famous dance clubs. This is the place to observe Tokyo’s youth and spot some trends and also a few fashion disasters.
The area of Shinjuku is mostly famous for its crazy busy train station, which has an approximate frequency of 3 million passengers on a daily basis, the skyscrapers in Nishi-Shinjuku and the small area of Golden-Gai.
If you are into photography you may want to visit Golden Gai. The tiny alleys and the narrow streets look like if they were directly transported from a movie into real life. And while we were there they were actually shooting a movie which seemed to be an asian version of spy kids or something.
An additional stop you may want to do while in Shinjuku is the Tokyu Hands store located just next to the train station. Here you will find literally EVERYTHING on 7 floors. I got a great travel bag (article to follow) and of course some 37-layer Damascus knives that would make Hattori Hanzo really proud.
Stay tuned for a short review of one the coolest neighbourhoods in the world and some fantastic shopping possibilities in part 2 of this article.