I’m not someone who sits in the sun or goes sightseeing, though. If I go away, it will be for . . . or something like that.
I’ve been to a few places here in Tokyo, and each place has its own uniqueness. But no matter what, they are always very busy and lively! And of course, there are always some small stories I have to tell:
Have you ever seen that huge intersection in Tokyo when you watch movies like “Tokyo Drift” or “Fast and Furious?” Well, Shibuya is where that large crosswalk dwells, and it’s just in front of the Hachiko exit at the Shibuya station, which is large in of itself. (I think I crossed the intersection without realizing it until later). And as you can imagine, Shibuya is flooded with thousands of thousands of foreigners. As soon as I exited Shibuya Station, I was immediately dragged into a diverse crowd. There are so many foreigners here because it’s so popular. It is one of the top cities in Tokyo. Shibuya is filled with a ton of popular brand shops and entertainment. It is basically the center of youth fashion and culture. There are dozens and dozens of stores stacked on top of one another and plenty of food places. Some famous streets, districts, and other interests here are Tokyu (a department store), Shibuya 109 (a fashion complex), and Love Hotel Hill (which, if you can guess, is an area with a ton of love hotels for all those couples out there).
This is the famous intersection just outside of Shibuya Station. I crossed and even recorded it without knowing.
Another attraction is a famous meeting place; just outside of the station, there is a statue of a dog named Hachiko. It is said that the dog had waited for his master at the very same station even after his master’s passing. So now, Hachiko is a popular meeting place for people to find one another. (I met my pen pals near Hachiko, but that’s a story for another blog).
Me and Hachiko
In November, I was given VIP tickets here in Shibuya to a Sam smith concert, which was located here at the Yoyogi National Stadium (which was built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Japan is very excited to host the Olympics by the way. Signs are everywhere). I went with one of my AFS friends, and it was awesome! (One guy working that night continuously stalked up and down the aisle to see whose phone he could put away! XD).
Asakusa is a major tourist attraction because it holds one of Tokyo’s popular Buddhist temples: the Sensoji Temple (浅草寺, Sensōji, also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple). It’s very close to Tokyo Skytree and Akihabara. I came here the start of my abroad trip to spend time with my liaison and Tokyo Chapter leader. From what my liaison said, Asakusa is a place famous for tempura. (Update: in one of my blogs, I said tempura was just fried shrimp. It is actually fried anything really: shrimp, squid, pumpkin, onion, you name it. What makes it tempura is the special made dough, and the frying of course). So, they took me to a tempura restaurant. The tables were so short, like a child’s play table. The chairs were really small too; my knees basically came up to my ribs. We had to take off our shoes. And unlike in America, you call out to the waiter or waitress instead of waiting for them to come to you. (One thing I thought was funny was when my liaison pointed out a Chinese and Taiwanese couple; she was shocked and surprised that they weren’t Japanese. Japanese people assume that nearly every Asian they see is Japanese A LOT, at least if they’re in Japan).
Anyway, back to Asakusa. After eating, we went to the Sensoji Temple. In order to get there, we had to walk through the huge Kaminari Gate then through a long street called Nakamise. It’s a street filled with shops after shops for all the swarming foreigners. (Note: when I was looking at some “Yukatas,” my Tokyo Chapter leader informed me that they were actually [bath] robes. Most foreigners don’t know the difference, so they end up getting a fake Yukata). Finally at the temple, we threw some coins and said some prayers.
Shrine inside the Sensoji Temple
After, my liaison and I decided to ride a Jinrikisha, which in literal translation means “man powered vehicle.” Most of the time, only foreigners pay for the experience, and I was foreign, so I did. (Well, not really. My liaison and Tokyo chapter leader paid for me). My liaison, however, was extremely nervous because she had never ridden one before, and she was a little embarrassed because she thought people would think she was a foreigner. Still, the ride was really fun. Our runner, Mr. Morita, was really nice. (I found it hard to remember his name for some reason, but my liaison said I was smart and would remember. My liaison also kept asking me in front of our runner if I thought he was handsome and told me that he should be my boyfriend :P). One highlight during our ride was when we made a pit stop in the street after spotting a pastry shop. My liaison called into the store while still seated in the two-wheeled carriage and ordered some bread for us. People kept laughing at us for that too. Still, it was fun, and the runner gave us a few extra minutes of running for free because she bought him some bread too.
Me on the Jinrksha
Me and our runner
Afterwards, we all headed to a tour boat in Sumida Park. On the ride, I saw a famous beer company building called Asahi Beer Tower. (This building was built to look like beer. You can see it in the picture below. And in the back of the pic, you can see Skytree. I don’t know what that sperm looking thing is).
Here’s a video of me in Shibuya and Asakusa:
Odaiba is basically a huge shopping center – a mall if you would. I’ve been here several times, including at time for Christmas shopping. Here you can see the Rainbow Bridge (which is beautiful at night with all of its lights) and Tokyo Tower. (For my host sister’s and host dad’s birthday, we went to a buffet restaurant called Ocean Dining, and outside the window, Tokyo Tower was lit up with blue, white, and red in honor of the tragedy in France). Some main attractions here are the huge Gundam Statue and the Ferris wheel (which is 115 meters tall, one of the world’s largest). Other attractions and places here are the “Fake” (I call it fake) Statue of Liberty, Decks Tokyo Beach, Aquacity, and DiverCity Tokyo Plaza.
The Statue of Liberty with the Rainbow Bridge in the background
Harumichi and I in front of the Gundam Statue
Rainbow Bridge and Blue, White, and Red Tokyo Tower
Harajuku is right in between Shinjuku and Shibuya. It is basically a place where all the teens hang out. There are a ton of cosplayers or people who dress in crazy fashion, including the Gothic look. And Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) is the street that is the center of Harajuku’s teenage culture. Mainly trendy shops and clothes stores, and a ton of crepe stands, one after another, are down this street or down other streets surrounding it. One of the largest shrines in Tokyo is also an attraction here: Meiji Jinguu (明治神宮), a place dedicated to the defied spirits of Emperor Meiji and the place where I got to see a traditional Japanese wedding take place. This major shrine is always crowded on New Years, and it is just to the right of the Harajuku train station and just across from the Yoyogi National Stadium (where I saw a Sam Smith concert).
Large Entrance Gate to Meiji Jinguu Shrine
Meiji Jinguu Shrine
Traditional Japanese Wedding Ceremony
Shinjuku is a large place for entertainment, businesses and shopping, especially around Shinjuku station (which is the largest railway station in Japan. I got lost a few times in this station). I had okonomiyaki here for the first time with one of my AFS friends. Here is where I also did Purikura with friends for the first time. (If you don’t know, Purikura is a photo booth where you (and friends) have your pictures taken (together) while doing certain poses. The crazy things about the photos though are that they enlarge the patron’s eyes, lighten their skin color, and make their arms and/or legs longer. On top of that, the people who had their picture taken can edit and draw on their pictures before printing the final copy).
Me doing Purikura with my AFS friend
Some main attractions here are some of Tokyo’s tallest buildings, including the Metropolitan Government Office. I went here with my Tokyo Chapter leader and took pictures on the observation deck, which is free to the public. Some other attractions and districts are Shinjuku Skyscraper district, Japanese sword museum, Shinjuku Gyoen (the city’s best cherry blossom viewing spot), and Central Park (public park right behind the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Twin Towers).
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Twin Towers
View of Central Park and the city from the 45th floor of Metropolitan Government Office
As I’ve mentioned several times before, Roppongi is where my school and Tokyo Tower lies. It’s very well known and has several foreigners, popular night clubs and bars, and let me tell you, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with drunk men while I’ve been here. (One time, a staggering man who smelled of potent alcohol kept yelling and bowing at me as I walked by). But besides that, Roppongi hills and Tokyo Midtown are popular places that hold residential space, hotels, and entertainment. They were areas added on in order to expand Roppongi. Another attraction here is the National Art Center, Japan’s largest art museum (where I went to see the Manga exhibit).
(Interesting fact: there are not that many salons or hair shops for black people here in Tokyo, so someone turned their apartment here in Roppongi into a hair shop specifically for them. It’s called “Room 806“).
This Tokyo sky scraper is a new building that is approximately 600 meters, and it’s taller than Tokyo Tower and the tallest building in Japan. It’s been a new landmark of Tokyo since it was made in 2012, and it’s not far from Asakusa. There are two observation decks in Tokyo Skytree: Tembo deck (350 meters) and Tembo gallery (450 meters). I went on both decks and got a lovely view of Tokyo. I even saw Asakusa and Mt. Fuji! (Side note: due to the new release of Star Wars, the Tembo gallery was Star Wars based). A large shopping center and aquarium is at its base. There are great shops for tourists and even a food mart.
Me on the Tembo Gallery floor
View of the beer tower and Asakusa from Skytree
View of Mt. Fuji from Skytree
Storm Trooper Display
Akihabara, also known as Akiba, is most famous for its electronics, most definitely! From computers, to rice cookers, to robots, and even to spare parts, Akihabara is flooded with complexes dedicated to electronics. However, this fun town is also a heaven to otakus. It has gained a ton of recognition from a ton of anime fans with shops dedicated mostly to anime and manga. On the streets, you’d find girls dressed in maid outfits, school uniforms, etc. as they hand out fliers. (There are also manga cafes, or manga kissa, where people go in to read comics). Some other popular places and attractions are Akihabara Crossfield (a complex aiming to promote Akihabra electronics), Gundam Café (a café that is Gundam based from the food to the dishes), and Super Potato (a place where retro video games and consoles are sold).
When I went to Akihabara (today actually; December 22, 2015), I went to an attraction spot called Tokyo Anime Center. Let me tell you, I never get tired of seeing anime products or drafts of how an anime was made. And speaking of “made,” after I explored a few anime and electric shops like Radio Kaikan, I went to a maid café with my private Japanese tutor. (Maid cafes are places where the waitress will act like maids, anime characters, or anything really. Apparently from what I understand from other’s reactions when I tell them I went to a maid cafe, going to a maid café is either embarrassing or for men. Just assuming here. I need to do more research).
Anyway, I went to an @Home Maid Café where the workers treated the patron like they were @Home, greeting them and everything. The place was filled with a sweet strawberry aroma, and everyone was so nice. But most importantly, the workers always included the patrons. Because of a specific dessert set I ordered, I was able to take a picture with one of the maids. And I felt a little embarrassed because I had to choose which maid I wanted the picture with. I don’t like picking favorites, so I ended up choosing the waitress who took my order. (It was funny when we took the picture too because they wanted me to use props. However, I had an afro, so I didn’t want anything on my head. I ended up with a tiara though). Then, the maids sat all of the patrons at a front table and put on a little show for us with dancing and singing. After that, one of the maids started up a small chat with me, asking where I was from, if I liked Japan, what my favorite Japanese food was, etc. And finally, before leaving, the maids gave me a small gift: chopsticks, a Lvl 1 Maid Mast card (if that makes any sense), and the picture I took with my waitress of course. Overall, it was a really good time.
Little gifts from the @Home Maid Cafe
(Funny thing (to me at least): There was a man from England who was asked by one of the maids where he was from. When the maids heard, they got excited and said, “Harry Potter!? Harry Potter town!”).
Places I Haven’t Been But Want to Go To
Even though I’ve been to Roppongi nearly every day since I’ve been in Japan, I have never visited Tokyo Tower. It is 333 meters high, but in 2012, it was surpassed by Tokyo Skytree with a height of 600 meter. But like Skytree, Tokyo Tower is also a broadcast antenna. When on the observation deck, you can see Tokyo Skytree and, on a clear day, Mt. Fuji. Below the tower are souvenir shops, cafes and a One Piece Tower, an indoor amusement park made in honor of One Piece’s 2015 anniversary.
Tokyo Disneyland is made up of two parts: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. There are also themed lands like Tomorrow Land, Toon Town, and Fantasy land. Someone told me the park was very small and that there would really be no point in going to Tokyo Disneyland unless I went from when it opened to when it closed because there are so many people. I’d probably only ride about 2 to 3 rides. Still, I love amusement parks, so I’d love to go here when I get the chance.
Being 3776 meters, Mt. Fuji is the largest mountain in Japan. It lies between Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. I’ve seen it from Tokyo a few times on clear days, especially when I was in the Metropolitan Government Tower and Tokyo Skytree. I’d like to hike up the mountain one day, but with it being winter time, I might have to wait.
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