OK I'll admit it, I'm about two years late with this blog post. I visited Tokyo during Thanksgiving 2015 and it now almost Christmas 2017. It may be strange but the places that have the biggest impact on me take the longest to digest and write about, because I'm so careful about doing it justice. (Besides Tokyo, other places like this are Italy and Thailand, both of which I visited multiple cities and spent over a week exploring. I will try to force myself to write about in the next few weeks!)
Anyway, Japan has been a country that I've wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. I've always revered the culture, history, futurism and fashion of the city. When I found a flight deal for under $800 roundtrip from NYC to Tokyo, I HAD to jump on it. This flight is typically $1,300 FYI. I rolled with my little brother, who also had Tokyo high on his list to visit and it was on.
Before I give you the run down, first you should know a few non-tactical things about the experience so that you can wrap your mind around why Tokyo should be on everyone's travel list!
1- The City is HUGE - Mind you, I live in New York City. But Tokyo is almost 5x a large as New York City - each neighborhood feels like it's own city with its own distinctive vibe, look and reasons for visiting. You can spend a full day in each neighborhood and never get bored. I spent 7 days in Tokyo and felt like I left too soon + the next time I visit I really want to visit Kyoto for a slower pace and experience even more traditional culture.
2- There's A LOT to learn - Most of us in the United States have been bred to have this ego-centric way of thinking. The truth is, there is a ton to learn from other cultures, and Japanese culture should be near the top of that list. Their respect for history and tradition juxtaposed with their progressiveness with technology and fashion is impressive. They're far beyond us in technology. Even their use of space (particularly tight spaces) and details of their public transportation system will wow you.
3-They're legit all about harmony and balance. It shows in how they treat each other and how they move in general. You'll learn more about this after reading the rest of this post.
4-They give a damn about aesthetic. Every detail from architecture to design to clothing is clean and on point. You can't help but be inspired by that, along with the cleanliness of the streets especially for such a big city.
5-They didn't give a damn that I was black. No one cared. And the Hip-Hop club was fire. This was very different from my experiences in China where I was looked at strangely and low-key disrespected, or Thailand where my blackness seemed accepted but was definitely a topic of conversation multiple points along the trip. It just felt good to just be and not think twice about anything as a Big Ol' Black Man.
6-Did I mention their public transportation system is efficient AF?
7-Tokyo is NOT cheap, so save your coins. But it's worth every dollar and I would do it again and again.
8-You will get lost and you will order the wrong thing sometimes from restaurants and especially from the street vending machines. It's OK and totally part of the experience. The Tokyo residents were extra nice and accommodating everywhere we went, even if they couldn't speak a lick of English. Make sure you have Google Translate or a similar app on your phone to help you navigate.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the B Hotel in the Akasaka area which was cool and pretty easy to navigate by train and had a few restaurants and a little shopping area nearby. Our hotel room was SUPER small, but really efficient and worked out for us. In hindsight, I would probably look into renting a home the next time I visit to get more value for my money in terms of accommodations. I'd also probably opt to stay in Roppongi.
Sites & Areas To Visit
-Roppongi Roofdeck (AKA Tokyo Skydeck) - sick 360 view of Tokyo, best to go at night
-Tokyo Tower - you'll see this in passing. Basically looks like Eiffel Tower (that's it in the picture above from the Roppongi Roofdeck)
-Shinjuku area is super high tech so that's where you'll see gadgets and all things futuristic, arcades, a lot of anime
-Shibuya Crossing (AKA Shibuya Scramble) - the largest intersection in the world. It's amazing to see how calmly 6 routes of foot traffic intersect when people have common sense. I couldn't help but think, if this was NYC, how much of a mess it would be. But, as payback to tourists who stand in the damn way in Times Square, Union Square, Soho and any other high-traffic area in NYC, I decided to stop right in everyone's way and take a photo. HAHA!
-Temples and shrines - there's a lot of them. My favorite by far was Sensoji Temple. Also Meiji Shrine was a cool experience. (*NOTE* The Meiji Shrine is walking distance from the Harajuku shopping area, so you can hit both spots in the same trip.)
-There's a place called Robot Cabaret that everyone suggested. I wouldn't do it again. It was weird as hell. But if you want like a cheesy robot experience that's kind of like "living in the future" I'd say then maybe check it out. But it wouldn't be at the top of my list.
There's nightlife all around the city, especially after work cocktail vibes from overworked employees. During the week from 6pm to around 2am you'll find the street flooded with suits ready to blame it on the alcohol. Karaoke is also huge, but I'm sure you knew that.
For my personal taste I found the Roppongi area to have the best nightlife vibes. When I went, Line Club had a popping Saturday night Hip-Hop scene with mad Black people. I mean, all the Black people in Tokyo must h club. It was LIT! There's a bunch of clubs on the same street as Line Club that seemed to be rocking too.
If shopping is your thing, save your coins before you head to Tokyo. There's so much to buy, especially exclusives not available in the U.S. The one thing I will note is that if you're like me and wear size 13 shoes and XL-XXL shirts, sizes are hard to come by! But even I was able to come up on a few dope pieces.
Shopping is literally in every area, but I most enjoyed shopping in the Shibuya area and Harajuku. Harajuku is where the cool kids are with a lot of dope urban gear, vintage finds and sneaker shops. Also look out for the Harajuku girls with their over the top looks. Unfortunately I didn't spot them on my trip, but these girls were like Harajuku-light.
I expected to eat so much sushi, but I saw way more Ramen spots than sushi restaurants, which I thought was interesting. Maybe I was in the wrong areas? *Black boy shrug emoji.* But, basically every ramen spot I tried was amazing. For the most unique ramen experience look at Ichiban Ramen. I won't for you.
Also if you have a chance to try Japanese curry, it's good as hell. If you're familiar with Caribbean food, it's similar to a curry/stew mix.
My approach to food was just trying spots that looked good in neighborhoods I was in, but in case you want to map out meals in advance, here are some suggestions from a trusted friend:
1) Hinokizaka (traditional kaiseki japanese meal) 45th floor of Ritz Carlton (Akasaka)
2) Shimo-Kitazawa district of alleys---Dill Fait Beau & Rainbow Cafe & Tonsui
3) Hortensia (Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku) go for lunch
4) Tatemichiya (Daikanyama)---2 Chome-11 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
5) Bar Nemo (Asakusa)
6) Golden Gai neighborhood (Shinjuku)
That's it for my Tokyo recap. I hope you enjoy and make the journey soon!
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