Luckily, we once again had an easy trip to and from Japan. We had no trouble with our layovers or getting to Tokyo, but once we arrived it was a different story. I will say that coming off the plane and trying to navigate our way around the subway (which wasn't entirely English friendly) was extremely intimidating. A nice man helped us buy our ticket and we had a short ride to our hostel, The Samurai, which was amazing. It's located in Asakusa near an incredible shrine and market. A few different subway lines are easily accessible and the staff was so friendly and helpful. I would definitely recommend it to anyone staying in Tokyo. Plus, we got to see the "Golden Turd" every time we came off the subway. Can't beat it.
We spent the first night strolling around our neighborhood, people watching and taking in the sights. We also stumbled upon a Denny's which was hilarious and completely unexpected.
Since we had a long vacation, we had a lot of time to play with and didn't try to do too much on any given day. We were able to take our time which was nice and made the rushed atmosphere of Tokyo seem somewhat less chaotic. It was also supposed to rain every day, but we got lucky once again and only experienced a few spurts of rain on our last day (though we were awaken by a 6.4 earthquake on our first night).
We wanted to check out Harajuku on Sunday to see all the elaborate costumes and makeup, but unfortunately the overcast skies didn't attract many girls. Instead, we went to Shibuya to see the famous intersection. We sat and watched people cross a few times then went to Starbucks for a free view of it all. I can't believe that many people crossed every time the light changed. I couldn't imagine having to deal with that everyday.
We also went to Yoyogi Park (near Harajuku) to see the Elvis impersonators (who, I believe, only show up on Sundays). Though I can't really call them that because they weren't singing Elvis songs, but numerous 50's rock songs (in Japanese, of course). There were greasers and squares, all dressed up and dancing. I don't think they asked for money, they were there because they genuinely enjoyed doing it. I could have sat and watched them for hours. It looked like they were having so much fun.
There's a fish market, Tsukiji, that is a popular tourist destination. It's free to check out, but best to go really early so you can see everyone and everything in action, including the buying and selling of the fish. I'm not much of an early bird so I would be hard pressed to get up at 4 am to make my way there, but we did visit later in the day. It wasn't nearly as exciting as the morning, I'm sure, and everyone seemed like they were on the way home. But still nice to see. We went to Ginza afterward and paid a visit to the Sony Showroom to check out all the latest gadgets, which was also free for everyone. After playing with 3D computers, we went on a hunt for the Godzilla statue and found it after a surprisingly short search.
We made our way to Roppongi Hills that same day to find Tokyo Tower (which has to be an homage to Paris. Right?)
We decided to go up Mori Tower for a view of the skyline. This was a little pricey (about $25) and I was reluctant to shell out that much cash, but was happy I did. We saw the skyline during the day transition to the bustling Tokyo nightlife; something I'll never forget. It was incredible to see the change and the view was breathtaking. Well worth the money spent, in my opinion.
The next day, we went to a conveyor-style sushi restaurant near our hostel. The prices range from about $4-10 dollars a plate. I ordered some California rolls (yes, in Japan) and it was delicious.
We wanted to go inside the Imperial Palace, but unfortunately it isn't open to tourists, so we only got a view from the outside. A few weeks before coming to Tokyo, Alix and I made a request for a free tour guide from Tokyo Free Guide, but got no response. For anyone going in the future, I would recommend this service, but just make sure you book very well in advance.
Instead, we strolled around a neighborhood (the name of which I've forgotten) and got lost for a while. We wanted to visit a maid cafe, which is exactly what it sounds like. Girls dressed as maids serve you drinks. Weird, yes, but it would have been interesting to see. I think we found one but I also think we were a little sketched to go inside.
On our last full day, we made our way to the Telecom Center (located on a new subway line which was expensive compared to the rest). We visited a science museum (the name of which I have also forgotten) to play with robots. We missed a robot demonstration by 10 minutes, but it was still fun to walk around and play with all the trinkets.
I'm fairly certain the museum is located on one of the artificial, manmade islands. We were definitely in a newer part of Tokyo; everything looked modern. We stumbled upon a building that I know I've seen before (from an article on cracked.com, I believe). I don't remember exactly what it is or what function it has. So if you know, fill me in.
We finally made our way to Shinjuku, another well-known area of the city. We walked around some gardens, went up the government building (free!) and found the red light district. I believe Shinjuku station is the busiest train station in the world. Alix and I did our best to avoid the subway during rush hour, but we did walk around the station when everyone was getting off work. I've never seen so many white collared shirts and black pants.
Tokyo was awesome. There was so much to do and so much to see. I wasn't bored once in this city, and that's a bold statement coming from me. But all the rumors are true: it's terribly expensive. Alix and I saved money by sharing meals, avoiding cabs and doing things that are free (which, surprisingly, almost every attraction we visited was free of cost). The subway system was a nightmare at first, but after a while it was manageable. Certainly not the easiest system to navigate, but the subway is quick, efficient and will take you to any given point in Tokyo. It's just a little confusing since some of the lines are private owned, some are owned by the government, some cost you a fortune while others don't. I had a copy of the subway map on my iPod which helped tremendously, but if you're feeling overwhelmed, ask for help! Almost everyone working speaks English (nearly everyone in the entire city speaks it) and people are always willing to lend a hand.
I'm so happy I chose to go to Tokyo; I would have regretted my decision if I hadn't. I had an incredible time seeing the city and watching the people. Though I couldn't imagine living there (based on the cost of living alone) I would certainly recommend visiting the city (or country) to anyone who is interested.