Our journey through Eastern and Central Japan started out in Tokyo, which was around a 1 hour 30 transfer from Narita airport.
The first hotel of the adventure, Villa Fontaine Shiodome, was (and still is) situated in a very business style district of Tokyo, named Shiodome (believe it or not), which in itself is within a primary region called Minato. The hotel was of a western style, with breakfast included, however we had to source our own evening meal - which is all part of the fun of course! The hotel does have it's own evening bar, however, where you can enjoy "Cake and Cocktails" if you wish (but for a rather hefty cost, if I remember rightly. You could absolutely tell that this kind of hotel targets business men and women, as it also has a vast array of conference rooms and such too.
This district itself seemed pretty reserved as far as your mental understanding of Tokyo might be, as it’s a lot more targeted at international conference meets, and as I say, more “business orientated” for its visitors.
Never the less, the district had a selection of delicious restaurants ranging from traditional Japanese to Italian, and had a convenience store on pretty much every block (we’ll talk food in another post. I can’t possibly cover it all unless it’s separated out. It’s too....monumental!), so you are pretty much set for your first ever encounter with the Metropolis on a much more digestible scale.
Conveniently though, Shiodome is directly adjacent to Shinbashi and Ginza which means you have excellent rail access to all of the major sights and experiences of Tokyo, from high street shops, to incredible restaurants and bars, as well as the electric atmosphere of tech infused Shibuya and Akihabara. For more information on getting around Tokyo, I’ve written a bite size guide all of its own to help you out HERE.
So from the hotel you can either Taxi to the Shiodome Station (it’ll cost you around £4) or walk around 10-15 minutes or so through the streets, depending on your pace. I highly recommend using your legs, because seriously, you don’t realise the beauty and foods that lurk down the side streets on the way to the JR Line for sure! Just check out this street leading to the station itself – so beautiful at dusk.
Let’s scoot through the handful of districts we delved into, and a quick fire round of some of their primary characteristics:
Harajuku: “Kawaii”| Party time!!| Cosplay| Candy| Tamagotchi| Dessert.
Shibuya: THE Crossroads | Starbucks | Manga | Pachinko |Rabbit Cafe | Purchasable Video Games | High Rise.
Akihabara: Electricity made into 10000*story high buildings, basically | Electronics | Arcades | Maids | FAST FAST FAST!!
*Exaggeration, but it felt like it...
Ginza: Malls | High end fashion outlets | Cute little fruit and vegetable market | More Malls | More Luxe brands (Dior, Chanel, YSL).
We only had 3 days in Tokyo before moving on to Matsumoto, so we needed to pick our “top 5” to squeeze the life out of and absorb, for what little time we had to adventure here. We opted for the places we’ve read about most in the “Tokyo fans dictionary” (not a real book that I know of, but I’m just saying) haha – sure, they’re mainstream areas for any tourist, but by gum we couldn’t miss them ourselves now, could we?!
What makes me smile the most is that all four of these districts (five if you count Shiodome) are like cheeky siblings. They ‘re all in the same “house”, of the same “bloodline”, but they all have their own very independent character traits which tell them apart distinctively.
Shiodome is the sensible older brother. He’s smart, quite and sensible when he needs to be, welcomes in nature for balance (Hamarikyo Gardens are HUGE for such a high rise location), and gets on with his work.
Harajuku is the playful kid sister. Donned with frills, petticoats, and with J-pop on maximum, she love to dance, dazzle, and play with her plushes – and don’t you dare ever tell her she’s too old for them. Takeshite street is the most whimsical stretch of distance I have ever experienced. You can smell candy on its breath, cuteness in its “voice”, it’s like walking through a ‘Toys ‘R Us’ with the awe of a child, but you don’t lose it as you age, if you get me? There’s a McDonald’s there (don’t roll your eyes) which at the time (October) sold speciality fries with a ‘Witch’s Something’ theme – basically regular McDonald’s French fries smothered in sweet potato and chocolate icing...
Shibuya is the trendy, suave, “all the ladies love him” middle brother. He’s well thought out, puts all his effort in when you go out at night, and has one REALLY large and impressive feature...the crossroads.
Shibuya Crossing, as it is known, is said to be the world’s largest pedestrian crossing. There are three (some might argue four) “mad wide” zebra style crossings which span a single four point intersection, that all go off at once. It’s an incredible sight to see at rush hour, and the best place to sit and watch it is at a Starbucks located about 3 floors up in one of the high rise department stores which sits on the very corner of one of the crossings. It’s hard to get a seat if you’re there from early afternoon onward, but persevere, it’s the best. Other fun things to note about Shibuya are that it’s a great place to “fashion watch”. Everyone in their teens and 20s look incredibly styled, and the station itself is enormous, with a wonderful food quarter. Oh! And if you hop over early to late evening, you can try your hand at Pachinko too.
Ginza is the enviable middle sister. She’s glamorous, immaculately turned out, but not entirely in to getting her nails dirty. She likes to shop, dine, and loves to indulge.
Ginza is the place to be if you like your designer brands, and a slower paced mooch around the malls. You can buy anything style related in Ginza, as I say, from Chanel to Dior, Ginza has them all. You can easily walk to Ginza main street from Harajuku’s Takeshite street actually – probably about 10-15 minutes. Not too much more to say here, other than if you love a good mall, and you love the look of really well dressed women, you’re sorted! Take a good wadge of spending money if you intend to spree.
And lastly...Akihabara. Ohhhhh Akihabara, who even ARE you!? He’s like the crazy, intense, toddler brother who won’t put things down, or turn things off. Who leaves the lights on when you’re trying to sleep, and who you really shouldn’t buy toys that you require batteries for. He won’t sit down, he won’t shut up, but you love him because he’s the most charming little dude you know!
Akihabara is INTENSE. I can’t even describe it without almost panting with exhaustion! Do not expect to find very many places to eat, just places to shop every kind of electronic under the sun. If it needs power or any kind to work, you’ll find it here. The buildings are littered with video game characters, advertisements for SEGA, and maid’s enticing you to their “Super Kawaii Cafe” along the street. It’s enchanting and noisy and I’m so glad I went. I doubt I’ll ever be so overwhelmed by another location in this way ever again!! The arcades were one of the most incredible things though. Tens and tens of floors going up, and up, and up.
Slot machines, turn based games, strategy games, plushie grabbers – It’s like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – once you go in, you can only go forward to go back, SO YOU’D BETTER PRESS ON!!!
It may have only been three days before moving on, but what an introduction to Tokyo we had. It was utter perfection, and a great springboard on to the rest of the journey.
Next stop Matsumoto!