Saturday, June 4, 2016

Tokyo, Japan, Part 1: Tokyo & Its (Million) Neighborhoods

My original, very tentative plan was to end my world travels in South America, and just work my way up north until I got to the States.  So that probably should have happened around last week.

But when I went to Lima, I was chatting with my friend Martin about our old study abroad days in Japan, and it brought on a sudden nostalgia for those times: how much fun we had, how great Japan is, the random fun amazing experiences that happened daily, etc.  

Japan has always been one of my favorite countries of all time - whenever I talk about it to anyone, I get straight into "gushy" mode.  There is something about Japan: it is one of the most culturally unique, inspiring, beautiful, different, amazing, crazy, interesting places of all time. It's like you'd wake up every day, and EVERY DAY, around the corner, something super random and surprising and ridiculous and beautiful would await you. The people are the nicest. The food is ridiculous. The culture is rooted in so many beautiful ideas and rituals and symbols that are completely different than anything you've ever seen.  Some things are just completely insane, while others leave you totally amazed.  In Japan, anything can happen. And it usually does.  

I haven't been back to Japan since my study abroad days.  It's gotten passed over again and again for places I haven't been yet (not to mention that Asia is impossible to get to when you have super limited time off), and just like that, 11 YEARS has passed. Thinking of Japan got me wondering: when would I have the time to properly visit it again? Would I ever?  So in a super-last-minute-random-burst of inspiration, I booked a flight from Colombia straight into Tokyo. And that's how I am now in Japan!

(Also in case you're wondering - yes, I am purposefully trying to see how many times I can fly around the globe this year.)

What It's All About:
TOKYO! The largest city in the world, with almost 38 MILLION people in its entire metropolitan area.  Tokyo is basically what you would imagine: it's basically like 20 cities squished together into one large one - each neighborhood is different, has its own distinct feel and vibe and activities and landmarks, and is connected to the other neighborhoods through one of the craziest, sprawliest subway systems of all time.

Shinjuku and its lights

I've taken so many photos and have so many things to say about EVERYthing that I'm doing a little bit of a different layout this time. I spent almost a week in Tokyo, and I'm going to organize the Tokyo blog entries into 1.) Deets on the neighborhoods I visited, 2.) Activities I did, and 3.) EATS. ALL THE EATS.

First up, the overwhelming neighborhoods!

1. Roppongi:
Roppongi is fancy-town.  It's pretty high-end and known for its clubs/bars/nightlife scene - and there are a ton of expats that hang out in this area.  

This is the Roppongi Hills Tower - a super tall tower full of offices, restaurants, high-end shopping, etc.

This is some famous giant spider statue outside Roppongi Hills

Roppongi at night - tons of bars and clubs (and many of them filled with English-speakers).

2. Shinjuku
Shinjuku is kind of where it's at - it's the neighborhood that is quintessential Tokyo - the millions of flashing lights, buildings, restaurants, bars, cafes, nightlife, clubs, karaoke joints, etc. It's hectic, bustling, and always full of people. And super exciting. 

This is the neighborhood to stay in, in my opinion, if you're staying in Tokyo. It's one of the major stops, so it's fairly accessible to everything. And the subway shuts down at midnight, so if you're going out, chances are you'll be going out here and won't need to get a $50 cab ride home at the end of the night (which we had to do our first night when we stayed in Asakusa). 

Shinjuku side streets! Chock fill of restaurants.


My high school bestie Kate was in Japan with her bf Mark on vacation!  If you remember, she's the one I started my entire adventure with in Scotland last year! And now we're in Japan, a year later! FULL. CIRCLE.
Also, we're standing in the red-light/entertainment district in Shinjuku, called Kabukicho.

Shinjuku is also home to the craziest/most random/most Japan restaurant ever, the Robot Restaurant

Even the construction stands are themed Hello Kitty!!! LOVE.

One last Shinjuku shot.

3. Ginza:
Ginza is all about high-end shopping. Like, really really fancy high-end shopping. You can find all the major high-end brand flagship stores here (i.e. Louis Vuitton, Prada, etc.)  There's seriously dozens and dozens of huge buildings crammed to the brim with fancy shops, as well as several huge department stores. I could not afford Ginza. I came here for a 7-level stationery store (I can't help it...I love paper products), and to steal the Apple store's free chargers and WiFi, and that was it.


You know what else Ginza has though??  SANRIO WORLD

Sanrio World has its own nail salon where you can get Hello Kitty patterns done on your nails.

PROOF.  I say this like it's crazy, but I can't say I wouldn't have succumbed to getting Hello Kitty nails if there hadn't been a wait.....

4. Harajuku:
Harajuku is the base of all Tokyo teen fashion, kawaii things, Lolita girls, crazy funky cool Japan.
The famous street is called Takeshita Street - where Tokyo's schoolgirls and boys go to hang out, and you can still find the occasional girl dressed up in punk/Lolita fashions.   There's also about a million amazing crepe stores on Takeshita, purikura arcades, candy stores, and tons of cheaper fashion boutiques selling anything your heart desires.  Outside of Takeshita, there is more big box shopping chains such as American Eagle or Forever 21.

I love Harajuku.  It's a totally crazy place. I may have purchased myself a set of earrings themed after ketchup. WHERE ELSE, JAPAN.

Takeshita Street!
A crazy candy store in Harajuku

....where I got myself the world's largest cotton candy

Giant cotton candy. ONLY IN HARAJUKU. It looks like a Russian hat.

It looks like Kate and I are about to scale a mountain. A mountain of sugar.

5. Ometesando
Shopping, shopping, shopping.  Ometesando is an offshoot from Harajuku - but it's where all the young people come to shop and hang out. It's got all the new happening places from the West - like Taiwanese shaved ice recently came to Tokyo, and the first outpost of a trendy chain opened here in Ometesando.
This mall is called Ometesando Hills, and it was way too trendy, even for me. Plus, I'd never heard of a single brand inside in my entire life. And I used to work with brands, in another life.
6. Shibuya:
Ok other than Harajuku, Shibuya is my FAVORITE NEIGHBORHOOD OF ALL TIME. It's got the famous Shibuya crossing, where everyone crosses the street in a huge wave once the light turns - one of the world's busiest crossings. 


There's also more shopping - which seems to be 90% of what Tokyo is about. And I found my favorite store of all time in the history of the world, called IT'S DEMO.  I maybe spent forever in this store. They had the cutest jewelry, Asian makeup (I LOVE ASIAN MAKEUP), and knick knacks - and GET THIS - they were playing a different cover of every Taylor Swift song in every corner of the store. Only Taylor Swift. Could it be anymore of my dream store!?!?

My haul from the IT'S DEMO store - inappropriately sparkly nail polish? Check. Bunny-shaped lip gloss? Check. Anime-themed eyeliner? Check.

There are so many more neighborhoods in Tokyo to explore: Asakusa for famous shrines, Akihabara for electronics shopping and all things anime, Yoyogi to go to the huge, Central Park-like green space, Ueno for the zoo, etc. etc. You can spend forever wandering Tokyo and not even see a fraction of what it has to offer.

Next up, Tokyo To-Do's!!


  1. Yeahhhhh love this all! I absolutely fell in love with Tokyo.

    1. Tokyo is so great, right?? So much more overwhelming than I remember Osaka being :) Being in Japan reminds me of our fun times, miss you tons, lady! Xo