9 Days in Japan: Part 4 – Tokyo

This week, we’ll be covering our next few days in Japan, which also marked the last leg of our six-week honeymoon around the world. If you have interest in reading about the other cities that we fit into that unforgettable trip—London, Beijing, Hong Kong, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Bangkok, Sanya, Okinawa, a cruise through Asia, Kyoto, and Osaka—then click here and enjoy.

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This is Part 4 of our 9 Days in Japan series, and it will cover our first day in Tokyo, the best Starbucks drink ever, the Tokyo Waterworks Historical Museum, the lively Akihabara region, an owl café, and conveyer belt sushi.

Before we get into the activities of the day, I wanted to show a map and provide you with a brief understanding of the Tokyo neighborhoods. Tokyo is divided into over 1,000 neighborhoods! The ones separated by color blocks in the map below are the most popular. That being said, the numbers within those large neighborhoods perhaps better represent the main attractions and regions. You can see that although the map is large, the numbered bullets are densely populated into one small central region. If you are looking to visit Tokyo, then that area should be your focus to find a hotel and book activities.

If I can break that down as a New Yorker, this is the difference in comparing the five boroughs of New York City to the touristy borough of Manhattan. Although the other neighborhoods are a part of NYC, they are more of a residential space for locals than the central hub.

Photo Credit: japandreaming.com

Day 5 in Japan

We arrived in Tokyo around 2pm via bullet train from Kyoto. The fast train journey was super convenient and a great alternative to flying. We covered that journey in our last post: 9 Days in Japan: Part 3 – Kyoto Continued

In the other Japanese cities, we elected to use Airbnb as our accommodation, because pricing for hotels had been so costly. However, in Tokyo we decided to stay in a hotel for several reasons. This was the final few days of our six-week vacation, and we wanted to end it with a bit more pampering (you know, like having someone else make our bed). We found that pricing wasn’t too much of a difference between the Airbnb and our hotel. Additionally, we had a not-so-comfortable traditional Japanese futon bed in our last Airbnb, and my backache told me that it was time to sleep on a proper mattress again before coming back to reality in the States.

We ended up staying at the APA Hotel Iidabashi-ekiminami. This hotel was really conveniently located and in walking distance to several of our daily activities. The room was modern and clean but super tiny. Most of the actual room was a bed that was wedged awkwardly into the corner with little space to walk around. We spent very little time in the room anyway, so the tiny size didn’t bother us, but it was our smallest room in Japan. I guess that was the trade-off we took when we paid nearly the same price from large Airbnb to tiny hotel.

Be sure you go to the right APA hotel, as there are two a couple of blocks apart and it was easy to get them confused. We initially walked into the wrong lobby, and they didn’t have our reservation, so they suggested we go to the other location, and that was our hotel!

After checking into the hotel and unpacking, we ran out to go explore. There is only one timezone in Japan, so we weren’t exhausted from jetlag, but we were exhausted from maximizing our time in each city and simply running low on sleep. First stop was to a Starbucks to get the jolt of caffeine that we would need to get us through the day. Since we’d been in Japan, hubby had been purchasing a drink called an Affogato Frappuccino. It’s basically a vanilla bean Frappuccino with made-to-order vanilla ice cream, a shot of espresso, and whipped cream topping. I mean, YUM! Today was the first day I followed suit and ordered this glorious drink and I now feel it’s a MUST-HAVE JAPANESE TREAT. Being that they don’t even sell it in America (or anywhere else in the world that we‘ve seen), it’s a must try. Also, note the adorable cartoons that the barista drew on our cups… how cute is that?!? Attention to detail.

Caffeine wiring us up, we were now ready to explore. Our next activity may not be one that interests most, but the hub’s career is in energy and water, and so when we learned that the Tokyo Waterworks Historical Museum was in walking distance from our hotel, we decided to check it out. The museum is open nearly every day 9:30am-5pm (closed on Mondays and for winter holidays) and it offers FREE admission with audio headsets to accompany your self-guided tour. So if it’s a rainy day or you have time to spare, then it’s definitely worth checking out.

Our museum visit included reading all the plaques and listening to the full guided audio and it took us about 50 minutes to complete the two-story building. It was really well done and informed us on the history of clean water in Japan from the early 17th century through today. We’ve been to many museums, but this was our first water museum. Definitely a unique museum, and hubby was really happy he was able to experience it.

Next stop is the Akihabara region. It was only an 18-minute walk from the water museum, so we decided to walk instead of taking public transit or taxi. The walk was fast, and there was plenty to see along the way. This area is really busy and reminded me of Times Square with its bright LED screens, lots of shops, restaurants, and attractions. This was one of my favorite evenings in Japan, because it was just so happy. We literally couldn’t believe our eyes. Sensory overload, and a complete 180 from our past Japanese cities of Okinawa, Osaka, and Kyoto that were more cultural and perhaps seemed sleepier and more tranquil than what Tokyo had in store for us. You could already tell that Tokyo had more nightlife and was going to be awesome.

The streets were lined with store after store of game shops. There was a big variety, from gumball toy capsule type machines (gashapon), claw games, video games, and proper casinos with floor after floor of colorful and loud slot machines. The gashapon shops were the kind where you insert a coin, turn the dial, and then a ball pops out the bottom that opens up to reveal a small trinket inside. We went into shop after shop that only had these machines. They literally sold nothing else; it was just a rectangular shop with every wall covered from floor to nearly ceiling with an impressive quantity of machines. Depending on how great the prize inside was, we observed you could pay anywhere from ¥100-1,000 JPY ($1-10 USD)

We took this opportunity to purchase some unique souvenirs for folks and pets back home. For example, we got these adorable hats designed for cats. We chose the ones in the bottom right that were in the shape of the clown fish and blue tang fish from Finding Nemo the movie (lucky the two balls came out back to back and coordinated). We actually gifted them to hubby’s parents and sister who have small dogs. They were adorable. As you can see, the most unique and kitschy items could be found in these machines.

The stores with claw games and video games were better than our best arcades back in the States. It was like a gamer’s paradise. So many options. So many prizes. Again, they were full stores where they didn’t actually sell anything, but rather you pay to play, and you could win a prize in the end. And it was store after store of this same model.

The casinos were really intriguing. I am not a table games type of person; if I go to Atlantic City, Las Vegas, or on a cruise ship, I only play slot machines. These casinos were huge, and it was as if they were designed with me in mind. Like 10 stories tall with floors full of anime-themed slot machines. They were all LED and so bright and flashy. Definitely no old-school Vegas-style machines. This was the future. It was also extremely loud inside. Think of if you put your slot machine on full speaker, then multiply that by the few hundred machines they had in the building… it was insanely loud haha! We didn’t stay too long before we decided to seek refuge back outside on the busy streets. If you are an anime fan, then I bet you could walk around and find your favorite characters. That may be a fun experience to play a machine you’ll likely never find back in America.

There were many electronics stores including small vendor shops as well as large company stores carrying an array of products. There were also many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga toys and goods.

We also saw really kitschy food and beverage spots such as maid cafés, manga cafés (manga kissa), and animal cafés. The maid cafés had waitresses dressed up on the sidewalks outside to entice passersby to come in. When inside, they act like maids and other characters while they serve the guests. The anime cafés are a type of internet café where customers can read comics and watch DVDs in addition to having access to the internet. This one usually charges for the duration of time you are inside. The animal cafés we passed ranged from dog, cat, rabbit, hamster, hedgehog, snake, and owl, but I am sure there are many more options. Really something for everyone.

I am a huge animal lover and just couldn’t leave Japan without experiencing an animal café. I had my heart set on a shiba inu dog café. We learned that the more popular animal cafés featuring dogs and cats get booked in advance, so you will need to reserve this. We hadn’t thought to pre-book, and since we weren’t coming back to this area of town, we just looked for a café that had availability. The owl café was the first one that we could go into. The ¥1,500 JPY ($15 USD) fee included two hours to play with owls and two non-alcoholic beverages from a vending machine.

The only thing I knew about owls prior to this experience was that Hedwig from Harry Potter was a snowy owl haha. So I literally knew nothing. Before the staff set us free to explore, they gave us a brief tutorial on how to approach the owls and how to pet (or not pet) them. They told us not to make sudden movements, to pet the owl with the back of our hands, to not put our hands by their faces, and to take off all of our jewelry.

Each owl had its own perch or home space. And there were owls everywhere. We went one by one and each took a turn petting them. Owls are strange creatures, because they can rotate their necks up to 270 degrees. So we’d approach the owl with it’s head turned away, in an optimal petting placement, and as we’d put our hands closer, the owl would sense us and quickly whip their heads around, which would scare us and we’d quickly pull our hands back. If you remember the directions above, no approaching the head and no quick movements were two things to avoid. So I was getting nervous every time they would turn their heads. We had a fun time nevertheless and spent almost the entire two hours there. It was unique and exciting, but I did learn on this day that I was actually afraid of owls.

After the owls, we headed back into town to find a sushi restaurant on the walk back to our hotel. We stumbled upon Gansozushi Iidabashi go-round sushi restaurant (conveyor belt sushi, or kaiten-zushi) and stopped in to dine. We really enjoyed this style of dining where you sit at a sushi bar and there is a conveyor belt that brings plates of sushi around. If it looks good, you take it off and eat it. When finished, the server totals up your bill based off the colored plates. Red would be one price, green or blue would be another. The restaurant also offered unlimited self-serve green matcha tea and all of the accompaniments for sushi—fresh, real wasabi (nothing like the dry green paste that we have in the States), fresh ginger, and soy sauce.

This was literally the best sushi that we had ever had in our lives. Hubby says that he still dreams about it to this day. Hubby eats the raw fish options like tuna, salmon, yellowtail, red snapper, and so on—while I only eat cooked ones like California rolls and shrimp tempura. The fish was so fresh, and the fish-to-rice ratio was very generous compared to America for basically the same price (if anything, Japan was cheaper than America). The rice was perfectly cooked, expertly seasoned, and the ideal lukewarm temperature for real handmade sushi. The sushi master behind the bar, at the center of the conveyor belt, can make custom orders too, so don’t hesitate to ask for whatever you want. It’s also crazy how cheap the sushi was, even the raw fish cuts that are usually expensive in America. We basically had all-you-can-eat sushi of the most premium-quality sushi we’ve ever eaten, and it cost the same as our go-to sushi buffet in Brooklyn. Highly recommended!

🚅 ☕ 🎮 🍣 🦉

Our first day in Tokyo was incredible. We were able to get out and walk everywhere, drink some great coffee, enjoy an unexpected and free water museum, be wowed by the lights and sounds of the Akihabara gaming area, play with owls, and dine at a delicious go-round sushi restaurant. There is so much more excitement to come from Tokyo including DISNEY!!

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