The Many Faces of Tokyo

Sensō-ji temple entrance KaminarimonTokyo is as lovely and well mannered as you’d expect the Japanese capital to be, but it has a nerdy, naughty, and edgy side that keeps it interesting. Things like capsule beds, anime emporiums, Pachinko parlors, and Hello-Kitty-themed Love Hotels thrive alongside ancient shrines and state-of-the-art skyscrapers. It’s a place of endless contradictions and it kept us on our toes.

 

Tokyo Skytree and Asahi Flame TokyoThe city has a modern facade but right behind these skyscrapers, the Tokyo Skytree tower and the Asahi building (with a roof made to resemble a frothy pint of beer), is one of best preserved neighborhoods in Tokyo: Asakusa. We based camp in this fantastic neighborhood with a stay at the surprisingly affordable Asakusa Smile. (Private room, kitchen, WiFi, laundry, and two free beers at check-in for $26/couple).

 

Shops at Sensō-ji temple TokyoDigging into historic Asakusa, we made our way toward Tokyo’s oldest temple, Sensō-ji. Leading up to the temple there is this little shopping street called Nakamise-dori that has been here for centuries selling everything from wood-cut prints to hot sake to kimonos.

 

Asakusa Shrine at Sensō-ji TokyoAfter purchasing a few gifts, we zig-zagged our way into the beautiful Sensō-ji. While the front is packed with tourists jockeying for the perfect photo or lighting incense to honor their ancestors, there are hidden paths to smaller shrines and quiet gardens around the back.

 

Kabuki restaurant with head-shot wallpaperAimlessly wandering after our temple visit, we stumbled across this funky Japanese diner. Judging by the walls plastered with autographed kabuki headshots and theater posters, this must be the place where every kabuki actor over the last century has slurped down a bowl of udon. What a find!

 

Pachinko parlors of Akihabara, TokyoA visit to Tokyo would not be complete without a few hours perusing the anime comic book emporiums, Pachinko parlors, and karaoke clubs of Akihabara. Big cities can seem alike but there is no place like the nerdy kingdom of Akihabara.

 

Tokyo street marketsThe following day we met up with Kota, my Japanese friend from Carnegie Mellon, whom I hadn’t seen since we graduated in 1999. We started the day at the fascinating Tokyo National Museum (check the slideshow for my favorite piece in the whole museum:the wood carving of the warrior in a wall of flames), then meandered through the Ueno Park down to Tsukiji for some yummy street food.

 

ancient tokyo gardensAfter lunch we strolled through the 17th-century Hamarikyu Gardens, which was the villa and sport grounds of the Shogun Tokugawa. The fall foliage was in full bloom, and in true Japanese fashion the landscapers demonstrated equal part artist, architect, and engineer.

 

seeing a kabuki performanceTo round out our month of Japanese cultural immersion we went to see Kabuki at the famous Shinbashi Enbujō theater. Kabuki is beautiful to watch but incredibly hard to understand. Aside from it being performed in Japanese, there is so much symbolism in every costume, gesture, and backdrop that even our fluent friend Kota got an audio guide for the show. But once we plugged in, this four-hour feast for the eyes unfolded in the most fascinating way.

 

ropongi pub crawlAs some of your know, we didn’t ask for many physical gifts for our wedding, but rather experiences around the world. A pub crawl in Tokyo’s raucous neighborhood of Ropongi was actually on our wish list and thanks to Ryan, Chelsea, and Magic Pete we had one wild night on the town. Our first stop was this awesome dive, Mistral Bleu Train Bar with blue Christmas lights, currency wallpaper and classic rock on the jukebox. This was followed by three more stops, including an an expat discotec and this ten-seater bar where we bonded with the locals in a lively match of rock paper scissors.

 

largest fish market in japanIt was a bit harder than usual to wake up the next morning, but we motivated to see the start of the day at Tsukiji, the largest fish market in the world. Tiny fork lifts were whizzing around, fish were flopping about and the fishmongers made for the best people watching. Now this is about the farthest place from a food court but we figured, “If sushi is just fresh raw fish, why couldn’t we just buy a hunk and eat it right here?” With a dash of soy sauce from the vendor’s personal stash, we had sashimi sliced directly off a 300 lb yellow fin tuna.

 

Japanese dining at park Hyatt tokyoEver since we saw Lost in Translation we wanted to sip a neat glass of whisky at the New York Bar atop the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Never in our wildest dreams did we expect we would find ourselves staying in a Park Hyatt suite, sharing cocktails with the GM on the 52nd floor, then be whisked away to a honeymoon feast. At the incredible Kozue restaurant, we had a traditional eight-course meal, including shabu shabu and the potentially killer blowfish. We lived through the blowfish but thought we had died and gone to heaven.

 

mount fuji from park hyatt tokyoThe view from our hotel room with Mt. Fuji perfectly silhouetted by the sunset was beyond magical. We couldn’t imagine a better way to say goodbye to such a beautiful country, and while we barely scratched the surface it was one epic month in The Land of the Rising Sun.

 

16 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Tokyo

  • July 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm
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    I’ve stayed a couple of nights in Asakusa, and I’m definitely familiar with the funny looking landmark in the second big photo in this post.

    Did you play the slot at the pachinko parlors? I never have – probably because I’m too scared of losing.
    What part of town is the Park Hyatt Tokyo in?

    • July 14, 2013 at 8:13 am
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      Yeah Asakusa is a great neighborhood. we also passed on playing Pachinko…but we did spend 15 minutes in a club with the blairing bells and falling balls everywhere. it as enough to give us a headache in that time, i can not imagine playing for hours on end.

      The Park Hyatt Tokyo is in Shinjuku. Such a great location, parks and bars and subway intersections. Plus it was in Lost in Translation, had to go!

  • July 14, 2013 at 1:24 pm
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    Many familiar sights here. Asakusa really looks different in autumn with all the ginkgos turned; such a contrast against the reds of Senso-ji.

    I was not aware of Asakusa Smile. $26 for a private room in the world’s largest city!? This is going in my return trip notes.

  • July 15, 2013 at 9:22 am
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    Great report guys! Sounds like a fun time, perhaps not counting the morning after the pub crawl 😉

    • July 17, 2013 at 1:19 am
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      Yeah, hangovers are never the best, but when you throw in fish heads and guts (Anne made me leave that photo off the slideshow….lol), it takes the hangover to a new place…..but not a problem that a huge plate of Sashimi can’t solve. 🙂

  • July 16, 2013 at 11:00 pm
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    Great photos guys! Makes us miss Tokyo

    • July 17, 2013 at 1:17 am
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      Thanks so much guys, glad you liked the photos and the memories. When were you guys last in Japan? Any plans to go back?

  • July 22, 2013 at 3:47 am
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    Really enjoy your blog. Thanks

  • August 23, 2013 at 3:00 am
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    Absolutely incredible! I would love to go to Japan, though I have never had the opportunity. Thanks for sharing your journey and photos!

    Andy
    (From BackpackingDiplomacy.com)

    • August 23, 2013 at 5:53 am
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      Thanks so much for the comment @disqus_Pujbc1AW2e:disqus and for checking out HoneyTrek. We just checked out your blog and FB page as well….so glad to connect up!

  • September 18, 2014 at 7:22 am
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    Hey, Going to tokyo this month end for 3 nights, any suggestions. I was planning to visit Mt Fuji,

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