Wednesday, January 28, 2009

3 Days in Tokyo, What to Do

A very nice gent wrote me this week asking for recommendation on what to do with 3 days in Tokyo so I decided I should post my recommendations for others with the same question.

I would visit the the Tokyo Trinity, as I like to call it, no visit is complete without at least a one time stop at each of these locations in Tokyo. Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Shibuya. Yes, it's cliche' but it's still a must for a first timer,and you can do them all in two to three days.

In Shinjuku:

1.check out for night life the Golden Gai
2. for food you should definitely not miss Yakitori Alley, it's real name being Omoide Yokocho.

Both are within walking distance of Shinjuku Station, Yakitori alley is sandwiched in the alleys between the East and West exits of the Station. Take the East exit walk towards the Epson sign when you get to a very large intersection the Epson sign will be across the street from you stay on your side hange a right walking towards the train underpass, a couple of stores before the underpass there's an alley that's one of the entrances to Omoide Yokocho. I can't recommend what stall to eat at, some will not be friendly to Gaijin (foreigners) all the menus are in japanese, Yakitori is traditionally all chicken parts on a skewer plus veggies. If your stomach is adventures then try it all if not use a phrase book or draw a pic of chicken ( I did this) and point to the parts you want. I have a sensitive stomach and I was totally fine eating there. It can be pricey at some stalls, especially if you drink beer and/or Sake.

The Golden Gai (tiny alleys with tiny bars) is a bit more difficult to find but worth it. If you head out the East exit and walk toward Studio Alta(that's the large LCD screen) cross the street and head through the alleys onto a large street called Yasukuni Dori, you have to be on the other side of the street so cross over, you'll be walking along Kabuki-cho. With your back to East Exit hang a right keep walking, you have to pass a large intersection, Kuyakusho Dori, cross it. now you have to keep an eye out before getting to the next big intersection (Meiji Dori) is a small street with no name, hang a left and you should find a series of small alleys with bars, you are at the Golden Gai. If you want to orient yourself in the day you can look for Hanazono Temple it's right in front of these alleys.

* a bit of a warning, although Tokyo might be the safest of large cities to travel in the world, be careful in Kabuki-cho, especially as a man they'll try to lure you into seedy clubs, and extort lots of money from you, particularly beware of the non-japanese solicitors, mostly African*
You'll be totally fine, I walked around at night in Kabuki-cho with another woman and was completely safe I just walked away from these people, some of them even followed us around, but eventually gave up.

3. Harajuku, best to visit on weekend to see the insanity of young people all dressed up in Harajuku square, regardless if your not there on a weekend it's still a nice trip. Right outside the Harjuku train station you can find the Meiji Shrine it's worth the visit, when your done there take a trip done Takeshita Dori, with all the shops, right before you get to the end(large intersection) on your right is an awesome, Japanese Italian buffet, called Tebasa, where all the young people go. It's really cheap, fun, and delicious. For 1500 Yen you can get unlimited trips to the buffet for an hour and beverages (non-alcoholic, for alcoholic bevs pricey,don't bother). Have lunch here. Then take a walk towards the right on Meiji Dori towards Omotesando Dori, you'll find lots of little streets of both Meiji and Omotesando with, great stores and little cafes and restaurants. There are a few izakayas (these are restaurants that offer a variety of small style dishes to compliment your beer or sake in the neighborhood, so you may want to plan for dinner in the neighborhood.

4. Shibuya, is less intense during a week day, night time it's overrun by teens, but can still be a lot of fun, lots of Karaoke places (lots of Karaoke in Shinjuku too right outside the station), you can't miss them. The greatest thing to watch in Shibuya is during rush hour, the large Shibuya station crossing, you've never seen anything quite so insane (and I live in New York, and I'm still saying that). The one store I say you should check out in this area is Tokyu Hands, it's a great department store, with stuff you would never find outside of Japan. It's not far from the station.

Ok, so those are three easy things to do in 2-3 days

If you want to go and explore some less touristy areas, I would recommend Shimokitazawa, Daikanyama, Naka-Meguro, all really easy to get to from Shinjuku station, I have posted entries for the first two, but I haven't written anything yet on Naka-Meguro, it's really laid back, it's like the artist/neo-hippie area, lots of vintage stores, and cool little cafes. If you are having trouble sleeping and are awake at the crack of dawn check out the Tsukiji Fish Market.

OH! if you saw Lost in Translation you'll remember the Park Hyatt hotel, it's pretty amazing, about a fifteen minute walk from the Shinjuku station and if your there Sunday go for Sunday brunch, it's about $60 USD, but it's amazing. Unlimited Appetizer buffet, gourmet entreƩ, and unlimited dessert buffet, and the view of Tokyo is spectacular. You have to call for a reservation, the restaurant in the hotel is call the New York Grill. You can go for a drink at night there too, it's $20USD to get in.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shimo-Kitazawa, a little hip, casual haven in Tokyo

Shimo-Kitazawa is a delightful area in Tokyo that is laid back and filled with sweet stores and dog friendly places. This is the place where the young Tokyoites most want to live. It has great cafes, restaurants,and music venues.

One of the attractions to Shimokita is that it has a lot of small streets and alleys where cars can't go and only small mom and pop shops line the streets, so walking around can be a real adventure.

tiny izakaya:

A favorite store of mine is Marble Sud, it's a small boutique shop carrying beautiful apparel and accessories. I got a pair of lovely wool fair isle fingerless arm warmers, and sweet mushroom key chain there, plus great pin buttons. There are also lots of vintage stores, selling from furniture, housewares, clothing, toys and lots of records. You'll be amazed that you can find some real amazing stuff for decent prices.

One of the many small store, cafe, and bar filled streets:

Another great place was a vintage store, unfortunately I can't find the business card,but it's filled with wall to wall furniture, housewares, toys and just everything you want from the 50's, 60's and 70's. I found I great Japanese ceramic dog from the 50's and my partner found a beautiful Japanese Blenko style blown glass bottle also from the same era. They owner is super cool guy.

A great way to take a break in the afternoon after weaving through all the streets is heading over to Bubbles/Cookie Lab, dog cafe for a snack, coffee, and doggy watching. This cafe is for people and their pooches, dogs are allowed inside the cafe and there is also a really nice outdoor area where you can watch the overly obsessed poodle owners pose their puffy pooches and snap away with their cameras. Next door is their grooming shop where you can look in at the pups getting primped, it's kinda sad to watch.

The train to Shimo-kitazawa

Outside the station:

Dog Cafe

Getting there: From Shinjuku Station take the Local Odakyu line to Shimo-Kitazawa station, it's two stops.

Marble Sud:
2-27-11 Kitazawa
Tokyo, Japan 155-0031
phone# 03-3481-6001

Cookie Lab Dog Cafe:
D*O*G BLD. 2-38-Kitazawa
Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 155-0031

Videos I took of Shimokitazawa:

Streets and stores:

Dog Cafe:

Cafes and stores:

***While writing this I just found out the Japanese Government has been planning on putting a large expressway through this lovely little neighborhood, please read more here and sign the petition to stop another neighborhood devastation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This is an amazing video of Japan

This guy is really talented and the video is just spectacular!

Japan from Eric Testroete on Vimeo.
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