Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Must-do Activities in Tokyo (Part 1)

So you want to visit Tokyo? Great - can we come along?
In no particular order, here are our must-do activities in Tokyo! This is no way an all-encompassing list - we know there are SO many things we haven't done in this amazing city yet so please let us know if we're missing something or what some of your favourite things to do are!

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1. Head to Uobei for your first meal

Uobei is one of our absolute favourite places to eat in Tokyo. It's cheap, affordable. We're always surprised at how good everything despite the friendly price of 105yen per dish (albeit there are a select few special dishes for a little more). You place your order on the touch panel display in front of you, and moments later it zooms out to you on one of the three “sushi lanes” in front of you! It's the perfect mix of everything that makes Tokyo, well Tokyo! It's so high tech and everything about this restaurant is incredibly fun - we can't stress how much we love this place. We do warn you that the sushi isn't dazzling but it's such a fun experience that we've been here 4 times!

2. Get lost in Harajuku

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Particularly - Takeshita Dori (dori means street in Japanese), where all of Tokyo's street cultures mix. If you're claustrophobic, go on the weekdays but for the full experience, go on the weekends. Located at Harajuku station is this famous pedestrian-only street is known for its trendy boutiques, game centers and its Daiso store, where you can buy ANYTHING for only 100yen.

It's a populous, dense area and if you've had just enough - check out Yoyogi Park and make a visit to the very serene Meiji Shrine which will make you feel like you've just taken a ride out of the city.

3. Go Mario-Karting on the streets of Tokyo

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Live your childhood memories driving through not the Mushroom Kingdom, but the streets of Tokyo.  Yes, you'll be zipping through the streets of Tokyo at up to 80kmph while dressed up as your favourite Mario-Kart character. This is the only place in the world you can experience this, and it is a MUST. The establishment we went to was MariCar in Shinagawa and it cost about 6,000yen for 2 hours. We recommend Course B which involves going to Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba, Tokyo Tower and Roppongi! It's the one course that allows you to drive at very high speeds so you'll feel just like you're in a Mario Kart race.

Heads up: You will need an international driver's license to drive on Tokyo's streets. Bring 2 passport-sized photos and $45 to any CAA, it'll only take 15 minutes to get it all set up!

**UPDATE: We recently read that MariCar is being sued by Nintendo over copyright infringements so we recommend you book with caution in case appointments are not fulfilled!

4. Spend an afternoon exploring Tokyo station

Tokyo Character Street (Image Credit)

Tokyo Ramen Street (Image Credit)

We spent an afternoon getting lost in Tokyo Station. Hidden underneath Tokyo Station, there are whole streets dedicated to ramen, candy and character. Start off at Character street and marvel at this pathway dedicated to cute characters native to Japan. From the official Pokémon store to Ultraman and Hello Kitty outlets, the choices are endless! Have lunch at ramen street where a dozen ramen shops are all lined up and end off your afternoon with a sweet stop at Okashi Land (aka Candy Street!) where you'll find the three big Japanese candy makers: Calbee (for potato chips), Morinaga (chocolate) and Glico (Pocky). Keep your eyes out for freshly made and limited edition products!

5. Suck it up and pay the entrance fee for Rikugien Park

We went in early November when the fall colours were just starting to bloom!

We visited this park while waiting for Tsuta. If you're interested in seeing Japanese garden landscaping, we say suck it up and pay the entrance fee of 300yen. It's truly beautiful and we'll bet it's especially pretty during cherry blossom and foliage seasons! If you're visiting Tokyo in late November to early December, be sure to go for the Evening Illumination!

6. Splurge on at least ONE meal

This is a rule for us anytime we go on vacation but we recommend it especially in Tokyo. At 304 stars, Tokyo has held the record for the highest number of Michelin Star restaurants for 10 consecutive years! We went to Sushisho Masa where we had a beautifully intimate meal. There are only 7 seats at the table to ensure that you're getting stellar service - in fact you're conversing with the chef a majority of the meal! Each meal consists of 52 courses of delicious, fresh, seasonal, seafood that changes all the time. As you're eating, the chef will explain why he cooked it the way he did or what flavours you should be tasting from each dish. Truly an amazing educational experience!

7. Shop in Ginza

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Yes, shop at Uniqlo anywhere in Tokyo regardless but the one in Ginza is the best one to visit - it's 12 stories tall! Be sure to head to the 11th floor to UT (Uniqlo's T-Shirts) where they have special collaborations with world famous artists and companies like Jean Michel Basquiat, Pixar, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. Don't forget to visit GU (pronounced gee-you, not goo) right beside Uniqlo - it's under the same parent company as Uniqlo and offers casual wear for a very affordable price.

8. Watch people like scurry like little ants at Shibuya crossing

You can't visit Tokyo without stopping at Shibuya crossing. It is easily one of the most iconic places of Tokyo. When you're walking through the crossing, pause and look at your surroundings. Everything feels like it happens just as in the movies - in slow motion. All the rush, madness of cars coming from all ways and the big banners with lights and non stop movement, it's surreal.

Tip: For a free top-down view of Shibuya, head to the Starbucks at that intersection. You can't miss it. A fun fact about that particular Starbucks - it's second on the list for worldwide locations that make the most in sales!

9. Bar hop in Golden Gai, Kabukicho and Piss Alley in Shinjuku

Piss Alley in Shinjuku (Image Credit)

Kabukicho is Tokyo's nonstop party/red light district and features bars, karaoke, hostess clubs, hosuto clubs, love hotels, shops, arcades, movie theaters and red light establishments. And while the lights and sounds will romance you, just be careful. It is still considered a seedy area - many of the establishments are owned by yakuza - or Japanese gangsters.

Piss Alley is Tokyo's bar area (although bars litter the entire city) that's in an alley that's barely 5 feet across. It was given this nickname because back in the day, people would get extremely drunk, rowdy and... relieve themselves right in the alley. Obviously this area has cleaned up quite a bit since then and now features yakitori bars (grill joints) along the alley.

Lastly, Golden Gai is definitely a stop to make - but not one to stay. Despite this area's shabby condition, this is an expensive place to drink and not very tourist friendly. The bars in this area cater to wealthier Japanese clientele. Most bars won't even let you in unless you're a regular or are with someone who is a regular.

As an FYI: for a majority of bars in Tokyo, you do have to pay cover (usually around 500yen). Don't forget to bring CASH as a lot of these bars and clubs won't even have a card machine.

10. Visit a maid cafe

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Unfortunately, we don't have any photos because no photos are allowed in these establishments! Some FYI's before you go:
- Maid cafes are ALL about cuteness so expect this to be overdone to the umpth degree. Expect high-pitched voices (to sound younger) and exaggerated hand motions from the waitresses.
- Maid cafes are made to be interactive - and yes you will have to interact. To order or receive food, you'll probably have to make hand gestures or chant something.

To be quite honest, this isn't something we'd do again because we felt super uncomfortable there but it something we recommend doing at least once.

11. Play ALL the games at Taito Game Station

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The first time we stumbled into Taito Game Station, we spent nearly an entire afternoon there. All floors are themed - there's a floor for horseracing and gambling, one for claw machines (which Japanese people LOVE), one for purikura machines, one for musical games like DDR, drumming games and even a floor for pod games where you can battle in Gundam pods or race around in Star Wars pods.

TIP: We always go to the one in Shinjuku because it is one of the test locations so you often get machines here a few months before they are released nationwide!

12. Buy special edition Kit Kats and other chocolate goodies

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There are 2 main drugstores in Tokyo that we went to: Matsumoto Kiyoshi and Don Quijote (locally known as "donki"). These two drugstores will hold Kit Kats sold in packs of 9-12 pieces, usually for around 198-400 yen a pack. Don’t expect a huge array of flavors at drug stores but we did manage to find special kit kats like Cherry Blossom, Red Bean, Milk Tea, Strawberry Cheesecake and, Rum & Raisin. Don't worry about locating a specific drugstore, you will see these drugstores EVERYWHERE in Tokyo.

13. Relax at an onsen

You'll get to wear these adorable yukatas while you're at the hot springs too!
Japan is famous for its volcanic activity and hot springs. If you come to Japan, it needs to be a given that you'll want to try out an onsen - a Japanese hot spring.

Forewarning that there are three major rules in Japanese public bath houses:
(1) You must be naked to go in - they don't allow bathing suits or even towels within the baths.
(2) Baths are separated by gender.
(3) No tattoos are allowed and you will be asked to leave. You will not receive any compensation or refunds.

We went to Oedo Onsen Monogatari – 大江戸温泉物語 - a large facility with 5 types of indoor baths along with a large outdoor bath. There are also non-bath facilities such as a food stone massage, games corners, hot rock-salt room and shopping center. We went after 5PM for their cheaper happy hour deal !

14. Find quirky one-of-a-kind clothing

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Check out BEAMS in Harajuku. The brand carefully curates high-quality clothing and Japan-themed items from all around the world. While there are various BEAMS around Tokyo, there is a small block of BEAMS in Harajuku where it features a store for women, men, and BEAMS T where you can buy T-shirts designed by famous and non-famous artists from all around the world

15. Slurp up delicious udon

We HIGHLY recommend Shin Udon, an udon resto that thrives on offering udon at its finest. The udon that you order is cut and boiled fresh to order. Even the boiling time of the udon is changed and adjusted daily to take temperature and humidity into consideration! 

Pictured here is the humble Zaru Udon with an assortment of tempura and a cold bonito dipping sauce. The cold definitely keeps the noodle texture nice and chewy all the way through. Never have we gone through a bowl of noodles this quickly and been so upset when it ended!!

Heading to Japan?
Read up on the Top 10 Things We Learned From Visiting Tokyo 


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