Tokyo– a city with 38 million residents can be overwhelming when you first arrive. How do you even start to navigate such a huge city? I recommend a walking tour, it will get your blood moving, and give you a good idea about the lay of a city that really is like 10 mega cities rolled into one. Our trip to the top of the Government Metropolitan Building in Shinjuku really gave us an idea how massive Tokyo is, thousands of skyscrapers, as far as the eye can see.
For our first day in Tokyo we decided on using the “Backstreet guides” for the “Absolute Tokyo Tour.” The tour started at 9:00 AM At Shimbashi station and ended at 4:00 at Yanika. It included Sushi Breakfast and Udon lunch.. Our guide Rie, whipped us around some of the highlights of Tokyo, we met some other fun travelers, had lots of laughs and got a great look at Tokyo from a local’s perspective. If you are travelling to Tokyo on business or like us are looking for a good introduction to Tokyo this is absolutely the way to go.
Finally! I made it to the famous Tsukiji Market. As a sushi lover and lover of all things aquatic this was a highlight. One of the huge benefits of a walking tour with only nine other participants is the intimate knowledge you get from the guide. She explained to us that as the Tsukiji Market is a working market, and how we needed to be careful of busy traders trying to do their work among the hordes of irritating tourists. The market itself is beautiful, YES, beautiful, heaving with life and the smell of the sea, sadly this market is slated to close and move to a more modern facility. Likely losing much of its charm, but making life for the fishermen far more easy. Is the fish market for you? If you are not a fan of fish, probably not a good stop, as the smell is strong and fish plentiful, I could have spent hours looking at all of the stalls, a full day, but when part of a walking tour, one must keep up.
There are several Sushi Restaurants around the Fish Market, many with long line ups. I asked our guide if the wait was worth it. She told me that some of the people would be standing for three hours to get a table and that no Japanese person would ever wait that long. Looking back on my gastronomical adventures in Japan, I am glad I never wasted three hours waiting , when sushi that was beyond my wildest expectations could be found nearly on every corner, with no wait. After a brief stop for a sushi breakfast we were on our way to Asakusa.
Asakusa, home to the Nakamise shopping street and Sensoji Temple was a great stop.
The shopping street was busy and filled with souvenirs and people. At the end of the street was the beautiful Sensoji temple. (You can see Sensoji with the grey roof and the Pagoda at the top of the picture below) It was here that our guide showed us how to properly prepare to enter a Shrine. Again, super helpful to have Rhea tell us what to do and how to purify ourselves. When we were alone later in the trip, we were like old pro’s as the other Western tourists were stumbling around, trying to figure it out. All this walking was making us hungry… next stop..Lunch!
We made a quick trip to the base of the Tokyo Sky Tree, for our Udon Lunch, delicious!
In the picture below you will notice what appears to be Geisha. This is not the case, a very curious tourism phenomenon in Japan is where foreigners come to Japan and rent a Geisha outfit for the day and then wonder around town. Unwitting tourists pose for pictures with these “fake” Geisha who are also tourists, often from other Asian countries. Its weird. Again, something I learned from the tour guide.
Akihabara. Also known as electric town, Akihabara is the place to go if you are, into cosplay, ainime and manga. It is home to the Tokyo Anime center and full of life. While we were in Akihabara, our guide showed us the “Maid cafes” these are restaurants where the staff are dressed as highly stylized maids and serves the clients accordingly, calling men “Master” and women “Mistress.” So weird! Apparently it is not sexual in any way and supposed to be cute. As the Japanese guide was telling us about the cafes we were all pretty weirded out, but she wasn’t phased at all. I think if I go back I will try it out so I can fully report back… but for now, just know that Akihabara has these maid cafe’s all over the place.
Final stop on the tour was Yanaka. To see what old Tokyo was like you head here. It was the perfect place to end the day.
We wandered though the cemetery and Tennoji Temple and learned about the burial customs in Japan. The cemetery is more like a park with beautiful trees and flowers. This final stop gave me a chance to breathe, realize that yes, we were in Japan and it was awesome! The day was filled with laughs with our fellow travelers on the tour, a family from Chicago and three friends from Australia. When the tour ended we said our goodbyes to Rie, our wonderful guide from “Backstreet Guides” and decided to all go for coffee.
The coffee shop, like much of Yanaka felt like old Japan, all the signs were in Japanese, including the menu. The owner was, well, grumpy. He was not pleased with the arrival of nine boisterous tourists walking into his shop. The coffee was incredible, the beans were roasted in house and we sat and watched with wonder as he prepared each cup. No wonder he was cranky, he was an artist and we came roaring in like we were walking into a Starbucks! Lesson here, is you can’t rush art and when you enter an artist’s studio, pick up on the vibes rather than interrupting them.
We said our goodbyes to our new friends and stumbled home. We had been walking since 7:00AM (we started the day early as we were eager to get going) and it was now close to 6:00PM. We had a great day and now had a good idea of how to use the subways and trains, we learned a lot about Japanese customs and now were ready to continue exploring Japan on our own over the next 8 Days. Next post…. Harajuku, Tokyo. Owl Café, Delicious food, Meiji Shrine, funky fashion and more.