This trip was my fifth time to Japan (and technically, my sixth to Tokyo). We were originally intending to visit Tokyo for two weeks and then join a cruise to other parts of Japan, but the cruise kept getting postponed so we decided to spend an extra week in Tokyo instead. I’m glad we did, as Chris and I were able to revisit some places to show Les, and we all got to see something new as well.
Upon arrival at the airport, we were interviewed by a TV crew for a show about why people visit Japan. It was pretty cool but we were really tired afterward. They wanted to follow us around, but we declined because of the heatwave that was happening, and didn’t want them to affect our plans at all.
A must for anime and game otaku, We went together for a few hours and visited some retro toy stores and gacha shops and stopped by a military surplus store for a gift. I got a few items, including my first figure, the Hatsune Miku 16th anniversary version, since it was her Sweet 16 on the day of our flight.
I went back again by myself a week or so later and went to the Miku figure display that had been set up. It was free, surprisingly, and it was pretty great to see all the different iterations. I spent the rest of that day visiting a few arcades and then went for a late lunch.
The Hirose Entertainment Yard, or Taito Hey, is known as one of the best arcades in Tokyo. Floors dedicated to fighting and racing games have some of the latest releases along with genre classics. I was there for the shmups (shoot’em ups) though, and played a few that I don’t have at home like Battle Bakraid and Espgaluda.
They also had some crane games and one of the prizes was the Miku figure I had already bought.
There’s a Taito Station here, of course, being Japan’s main arcade chain. Not as big or stocked with new releases as I would prefer, but some of the larger machines are here like House of The Dead - Scarlet Dawn, The booth version of Densha de Go!!, and Taiko no Tatsujin.
I took a few street photos once the road was closed to traffic and then headed for lunch somewhere new. Sun Tomato Noodles seemed interesting to me since I’m not a big fan of pork and most ramen broth is pork-based. It was a bit of an adventure though, as the tablets for ordering are only half-translated into English. Another customer helped me order and it was a pretty good meal, other than accidentally getting way more chili than intended.
We took a local bus that was close to our hotel and it didn’t take long to get here at all. I had always avoided the area until trip number four because people always said it was so touristy. It’s great though, and it wasn’t as busy as when Chris and I were here last time.
The main attraction is Kaminarimon Gate. With its giant lantern and statues, it’s the main selfie subject of the area. Nakamise-dori is a shopping street that leads to the temple and we found a great store full of yuzu fruit products.
It’s fun to choose a fortune and just relax in the busy but mellow vibe here. The five-story pagoda is an interesting sight as well.
A bit off the main streets, we had frites for lunch at a small place nearby. Frites Bruges serves authentic Belgian frites that were better than some of the ones Les and I had in Belgium. It’s a cosy five-seat place and the owner was friendly as well. A nice change from most of our meals and highly recommended.
I still don’t know much about this area, but if you happen to be going by the station, it’s worth it to stop for a few minutes and take a photo of the Mannekin Pis statue on the Yamanote Line platform. It’s a replica of the one in Brussels, Belgium, which Les and I saw when we were there in 2017.
One of the areas I hadn’t been to yet, Ikebukuro is pretty great. It’s busier than I expected and there’s a lot here so I can see why it’s a popular place for tourists. There are some gigantic department stores here. We needed to focus though, so we only went to Seibu’s basement for the Kit Kat Chocolatory, which is the only location open all year now.
We also checked out a Book-Off store and were treated to a shady greenspace nearby.
I took a bunch of street photos here too, since there were some really massive buildings and some that were quite unique.
We went for lunch at Shakey’s Pizza, which fulfilled a childhood goal for me, having seen US ads for it as a kid. It was better than you might expect and the staff were friendly as well.
After lunch, Chris and Les went back to the hotel and I checked out the Ikebukuro branch of the Mikado Game Centre.
It’s a retro arcade with a few locations and this one did not disappoint. I played a few old favourites and a few games that were new to me.
Another place I hadn’t been before, the main draw was a large outdoor sports store called Wolf House, probably the largest seller of Jack Wolfskin products in Japan. I got more than a few items and Chris did as well, including a gift for Les. The staff were super friendly and took photos of my tattoos as well LOL.
After that we explored one of the many Uniqlo locations in Tokyo for (more) clothes and had some lovely ice cream at Hotel Chocolate while people-watching.
A more traditional area, the focus here for us is the Yanaka Ginza, a shopping area with traditional housewares, kimono, and food. Les bought a teapot and some kimono and we beat the heat with some shaved ice. A little bit away from the main street is also an excellent manju and mochi store called Fukumaru Manju. A bit out of the way, but worth it.
Next to, and seemingly overlapping Ueno, Okachimachi has panda fever. Even though the pandas themselves are at the Ueno Zoo, you can get an array of panda themed treats here or simply hang out in Panda Square, as we did for a bit. We also did a major shop at the large Uniqlo / GU store here.
The store also has a couple of restaurant floors, so after looking at the options, we decided Italian was in order at Capricciosa and it was very good. Les and I had different pasta dishes and Chris had a seafood doria that he really enjoyed.
We had to visit the Shibuya Scramble of course, and it’s as lively and dynamic as ever. The screens were all playing a new game trailer in unison at times, which was quite captivating.
It wasn’t as crowded around the statue of Hachiko the dog this time, so we got some nice photos before heading off to the Mega Don Quijote store.
The Shibuya Parco shopping mall was being built on our last visit, so it was on our list, and it was larger than expected, although we didn’t buy a lot.
Something unexpected there was a rooftop terrace where we relaxed for a bit. It wasn’t very busy either, and it was nice to get away from the crowds.
Originally, I was hoping to try Guzman y Gomez for a tex mex lunch but they were closed for some reason. There was another place close by, but they had a limited menu that day, so we went next door to TGI Fridays, which none of us had ever been to. The food was good, if not great, but the drinks really hit the spot and I suspect they are one of the main reasons people go there.
Shinjuku is always on my list of places to go, even just to check out what’s new at the nine-floor Marui Men store. I usually end up buying something from Wolfman BRS. at the very least.
There’s also a sizable Don Quijote store here, right near the corner of Godzilla Road, where Japan’s favourite kaiju can be seen looking down on the neighbourhood.
In true Tokyo style, there’s a shrine nearby as well that seems to pull you into a previous era.
The main attraction here is, of course, Tokyo SkyTree.
The big brother to Tokyo Tower, it offers views of the city from 350 and 450 meter heights and is well worth the price.
Naturally, there are many opportunities to shop, and Donguri Kyowakoku is the place for Studio Ghibli merchandise. There’s even a giant Totaro for photo opportunities!
Kirby Cafe is one of the many food and snack vendors, with plenty of other shops selling jewellery, decor, and collector goods.
We were looking forward to trying sushi chain Kura at least once on the trip, and there’s one only a few minutes away from SkyTree. Chris had several types of sushi while Les and I focused on the other non-fish offerings.
I did sample the tamago (egg) and hamburger, which I enjoyed more than I expected to. They also had chu-hai available, which is similar to a vodka cooler.
There are some really interesting buildings here, and a great mural referencing works by Osamu Tezuka, known mostly for Astro Boy.
Game Center Mikado did not disappoint, of course, and a few machines have changed since I was there in 2018.
It was nice to play a few old favourites again and some games that I don’t have at home.
They also have some displays of merchandise and collector’s items.
It was a bit difficult to find the second “Museum” Mikado location, but I enjoyed it as well and played a pretty decent round of High Speed, one of my all-time favourite pinball tables.
Takanawa Gateway Station
This area started redevelopment a few years ago, and a new station was added to the Yamanote Line for the first time since 1971.
It intrigued Chris and I, and its sparse, uncluttered aesthetic is a refreshing change from the commercially focused atmosphere of the other stations.
Tokyo / Ginza
It was a priority for Les to get to the Oedo Antique Market at the Tokyo International Forum.
There were a lot of housewares, ceramics, and clothing available that were quite tempting and Les made some purchases after being interviewed by another TV show about what people collect.
We also made a quick stop at the Ginza Washita Okinawa shop and I found a few Okinawan treats to bring home.
What can I say? If you’ve seen any of my other Japan posts, then you already know how much I adore the Ueno area. It’s dynamic without being too claustrophobic and traditional without feeling phony.
Ueno park is a highlight, with museums, art galleries, a shrine, and many festival celebrations throughout the year. It’s also a great place to just chill out and have lunch.
There’s also Ameyokocho Market, which is a great place to shop and eat.
We stayed in a hotel, my first time not at a ryokan, and the Mimaru (Tokyo Ueno North) was quite nice.
We had an apartment-style room with a table and kitchenette so we were able to eat in relatively comfortably.
They also had a special display in the lobby while we were there that enhanced the atmosphere nicely. Mimaru is a chain with locations in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka and I would stay there again.
All in all, a great trip.