The Weird and Wonderful Tokyo

After taking the Shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto, we arrived into the grand Tokyo Station. It was a smooth journey, and although the cost was high, it was incredibly impressive especially when you are used to London Midland trains. 

We had a relatively relaxing first evening in the city, enjoying yet more great ramen from a small, hidden away shop in the Ginza district, before having an early night. 

The following morning we were out early in the hope of catching a Sumo wrestling practice session. There are only six Grand Sumo tournaments held each year, however fighters have to practice the complex art almost daily. We visited the Arashio-Beya stable, and joined a small crowd watching through the large window as the fighters completed their practice routines. 

We followed this with a visit to Tsukiji market where we grabbed a quick breakfast, before taking the bus to Odaiba, the waterfront district to the city’s east. Here we visited teamLab Borderless, which is recognised as the world’s first digital art museum.

The attraction has built up a large following on social media, and despite arriving just before the 10am opening time, there was already a large queue forming. Thankfully we had preordered our tickets, which did shorten the waiting time. As we reached the front, we were given a brief introduction to the museum. The instillations are designed to form one borderless world (hence the name), and there is no guide or map. Visitors are invited to explore the huge site in whatever order they choose.

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We began our journey through the incredibly colourful instillations, which was quite unlike anything we had ever experienced before. This included a maze of colourful lightbulb shaped balloons, that we had to navigate through. 

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Many of the instillations are interactive and constantly changing. Our favourite involved drawing and colouring an animal of our choice, which was then scanned before coming to life on the floor below us. We could then watch as the virtual animals interacted with each other, with Rachael’s crocodile slowly wandering around while my butterfly found itself trying to escape the attention of several frogs. 

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Our next stop was at the Tokyo Skytree, which at 634m is the tallest building in Japan, and the second tallest in the world after Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. The observation tower is one of the city’s newest landmarks having only opened in 2012.

The main observation deck is situated at a height of 350m, while visitors also have the option of climbing a further 100m to the towers highest floor. Given the relatively high entrance fee of ¥2,060 (£15) each, we decided on just visiting the lower deck. As we expected this was more than high enough, with the Skytree towering over the surrounding Sumida district. 

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We wandered around the observation deck, admiring the 360 degree views across the vast city, which is home to over 13 million people. Even the skyscrapers in the nearby Shiodome district seemed small when viewed from such a height. It was great to see from so high up, although it almost seemed like we were too high to see the surroundings in any detail. 

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After a quick look around the shopping complex at the base of the tower, we walked across the Sumida river and into Asakusa. We climbed to the top floor of the nearby tourist information centre, which is home to a free observation deck. This provided great views back across the river to the towering Skytree, as well as the golden headquarters of Asahi, the popular Japanese beer brand. 

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We wandered through the nearby Nakamise shopping street, before exploring the grounds of Senso-Ji, which is one of Tokyo’s most important Buddhist temples. This was followed by a short metro journey to Shinjuku, one of the city’s largest business and entertainment districts, which is well known for its lively nightlife.

We arrived into the complicated Shinjuku station, and got lost several times while trying to exit the world’s busiest railway complex. After eventually emerging onto the crowded streets, we stopped for a rest and a coffee at the trendy Blue Bottle Coffee.

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For yet another different view of the city’s skyline, we made our way to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The large complex is home to two observation decks, which are each situated on the 45th floor at a height of 202m. These can be visited free of charge, and offer great views across the city. As usual we timed our visit with sunset, allowing us to see the surroundings in both day and night. 

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We remained in Shinjuku for the rest of the evening, starting with some drinks in Champion Bar. This is located in Golden Gai, a series of narrow, ramshackle alleyways that are home to various bars and restaurants. The small, forgotten lanes are a sample of how life in Japan used to be, and a complete contrast to the shiny, modern surroundings. 

We continued in a nearby rock bar, before finding our way into one of Shinjuku’s many karaoke bars. This was so much fun that we managed to miss our last train home, and ended up forking out for a very expensive taxi back to our hotel. 

Despite the late night, it was another early start the following morning, ready for a go-karting ride around the city. Although not affiliated with Nintendo in any way as they are keen to point out at every opportunity, MariCar offers the unique opportunity to drive as a cartoon character and drive the streets of Tokyo in a Mario Kart style vehicle. 

After arriving at the MariCar office, we chose our outfits from the wide range of characters available. While I went with Pikachu, the star of the Pokemon franchise, Rachael chose Elmo of Sesame Street fame. We were introduced to our guide and after a short safety briefing we were on our way onto the busy streets of Tokyo. The karts were surprisingly fast and very easy to drive, although it was slightly terrifying every time we were overtaken by large buses or trucks.

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We felt like celebrities as we made our way through the city, with people waving and taking photos every time we stopped at traffic lights. Our route took us past various landmarks including the Skytree and Tokyo Station, as well as the high end shopping district of Ginza.

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After a very enjoyable two hours we finally arrived back at our starting point in Akihabara. It was a brilliant experience, one that is unique to Japan and definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far! 

We decided to remain in Akihabara and explore this district further. The area is known for its huge electronics stores, while there is also a large number of gaming arcades and comic book stores, catering for the Japanese obsession with anime. Given it was a Sunday the streets were packed with shoppers and we had to fight our way through the crowds when browsing the huge stores. 

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After a short metro journey we arrived in the Shibuya district, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. This is home to the famous Shibuya Crossing, which is renowned as the busiest intersection in the world. We watched as hundreds of people surged over the crossing in every direction imaginable, each time the traffic lights turned red. It was mesmerising to watch and probably the perfect example of organised chaos.

We continued through the popular shopping district, stopping briefly at Tower Records. The nine story building is one of the largest music outlets in the world, and has a huge selection of records for sale. I could have happily spent several hours browsing through the store but Rachael seemed less keen and soon dragged me away. 

Just a short walk from here took us to the Tokyu Plaza. Although the shopping malls high end stores were not comparable with our backpackers budget, we climbed to the sixth floor which is home to a rooftop garden. We found a great spot overlooking the busy streets below, and enjoyed a well earned rest from walking. 

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We continued to the pedestrianised Takeshita Street, which is lined with cafes and small fashion boutiques. The narrow street is clearly very popular with the city’s teenagers and students, and we had no choice but to slowly move with the crowd given the huge volume of people surrounding us. 

By the time we exited the shopping area we were exhausted, with our action packed time in Tokyo finally catching up with us. We decided to the return to the metro station before returning to our hotel for a relaxing final night in the city.

We had an amazing few days in Tokyo and it it was a great way to end our time in Japan. The unique city has so much to offer, and we can’t wait to return in the near future. 

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