industrial robots
Cranking out widgets in search of meaning...

Tokyo 2023

Introduction

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.

selfie of the three of us on the plane.  Les has a pink beard and we are all masked. view of tokyo from skytree

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.

three person interview crew the three of us and two of the crew

Akihabara

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.

A store called Toys Goldenage with boxes and figures in the window Gacha Gacha Shop with some gacha machines outside A curved building with a sign for Mil Freaks 2 dragon quest slimes, a mario kart toy, a dust sprite and a Hatsune Miku figure in the box

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.

poster of Hatsune Miku on the front of the gallery wall art of Hatsune Miku on dark background Collage of Miku images with 16 Anniversary logo people viewing figure displays

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.

street view of the HEY arcade Battle Bakraid cabinet Espgaluda cabinet

They also had some crane games and one of the prizes was the Miku figure I had already bought.

CRane game with boxes of Miku 16 figures stacked in the back

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.

street shot of Taito Station Enclosed House of The Dead - Scarlet Dawn cabinet Enclosed booth version of Densha de Go!! with multiple screens A Taiko no Tatsujin cabinet with large drums

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.

Akihabara buildings at a corner A train passing over the pedestrian-filled main street Sun Tomato Noodles entrance Bowl of ramen with red broth and several tablespoons of chiliflakes covering part of it

Asakusa

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.

A vermillion torii gate at the entrace to a side street A tall building with an angled roof and windows that resemble a tube A dark building with wooden lattices and a curved roof A building where each floor looks partially rotated like a Rubik's cube

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.

Large roofed entrance with large lantern and statues on either side One of the entrance statues behind a grate The other entrance statue, also behind a grate The walk leading to the shrine, full of people Les and Chris outside the Yuzu shop A can of Yuzu Cider

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 far view of the shrine The small building where fortunes can be bought A closer view of the shrine The five-story pagoda

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.

Street view of Frites Bruges Menu sign outside shop The fryers full of frites and some cookware A drink, a cone full of frites, and two cups of sauce The owner smiling and showing a peace sign

Hamamatsuchō

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.

The statue wearing traditional clothes with a stream coming from it

Ikebukuro

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.

Two stores including Seibu that take up a city block A woman shops at the Kit Kat Chocolatory counter with a display of boxes and items in bins

We also checked out a Book-Off store and were treated to a shady greenspace nearby.

Book off entrance from the top of an escalator people walk amongst tall trees with office buildings in the background

I took a bunch of street photos here too, since there were some really massive buildings and some that were quite unique.

Buildings of various sizes next to each other.  One has hexagon windows. A building with windows covered in ads The huge Parco mall building with no windows A big Labi department store with no windows

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.

Shakey's entrance Pepperoni pizza Les choosing a slice of pepperoni pizza Chris and a mushroom pizza

After lunch, Chris and Les went back to the hotel and I checked out the Ikebukuro branch of the Mikado Game Centre.

Mikado entrance Densha de GO!! with multiple small screens and no booth A small Space Harrier cabinet without the bucket seat An Operation Ghost light gun game

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.

F-Zero AX racing game with seat War of Hero cabinet Trigon cabinet A Sailor Moon game

Kichijoji

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.

Street sceen of buildings The Wolf House store with a large Jack Wolfskin logo The cashier gives a thumbs up behind the counter A grey-bearded employee in front of a wall of backpacks

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 Uniqlo store with large numbers on each floor from 3 to 7 A display of traditional clothes and a small shrine The windows of the Hotel Chocolate store Cups of chocolate ice cream on a wooden tray

Nippori

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.

Sign over the road leading to the shopping street A traditional looking store with ceramics on display outside A couple of customers at the shaved ice shop Looking down at my strawberry red shaved ice Fukumaru Manju with sign flags outside

Okachimachi

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.

Earl behind a statue of two pandas Chris behind a statue of two pandas Les behind a statue of two pandas An image of a panda made up of four tiles on the sidewalk Paper shopping bags from Uniqlo, GU, and another from Uniqlo

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.

Okachimachi buildings from the restaurant window Capricciosa sign A display case of artificial food items of pizza and pasta Les' lemon pasta Earl's tomato pasta Chris' seafood doria

Shibuya

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.

large billboards and video screens a crowd with several large buildings in the background a tall, slender building with a screen Large screens on top of buildings that dwarf other buildings

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.

Hatchiko dog statue Mega DOn Quijote entrance with penguin mascot A display of penguin mascot shirts, slippers, and stuffed animals, etc. The Tenga shop within Mega Don Quijote

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.

The Nintendo store The Capcom store with a sign for monster hunter goods Chris holding a large fake sword in front of a dragon poster looking calm Les holding a large fake sword in front of a dragon poster looking scared

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.

Rooftop trees with buildings in the distance Looking up at the glassed office floors above rooftop park with small seating area the Parco logo at the building entrance

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.

TGI Fridays sign at the entrance Appetizer and nacho plates Earl with a long white beard Les with a pink beard and Chris with a white beard Two Strawberry Daquiris and a Pina Colada

Shinjuku

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.

Shinjuku Marui Men logo

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.

Don Quijote entrance on a street corner Godzilla merchandise display Michael Kors bag display Godzilla's head looking out from the top of a building

In true Tokyo style, there’s a shrine nearby as well that seems to pull you into a previous era.

A laneway lined with traditional lanterns and trees, leading through several torii gates to a shrine

Sumida

The main attraction here is, of course, Tokyo SkyTree.

Skytree in the distance Looking up at skytree from the base Skytree from the surrounding area Skytree towering over the shopping mall

The big brother to Tokyo Tower, it offers views of the city from 350 and 450 meter heights and is well worth the price.

The three of us in front of the window view A view toward Mt. Fuji, but it isn't visible East Tokyo with a focus on the Sumida River A view of Asakusa from the tower

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!

A poster featuring the Barbapapa family Donguri Kyowakoku entrance A Totoro gacha pon machine Les hugging the giant Totoro

Kirby Cafe is one of the many food and snack vendors, with plenty of other shops selling jewellery, decor, and collector goods.

Kirby Cafe sign Les shopping at a jewellery store A Medicom Toy shop with large Bearbrick figures on display A Hello Kitty Japan store

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.

Kura Sushi entrance Chris with tempura shrimp Les with deep fried cheese Small plates of fried foods and a mango drink

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.

Tamago (scramble fried egg) on rice and formed hamburger on rice A glass mug of chu-hi with the Kura logo

Takadanobaba

There are some really interesting buildings here, and a great mural referencing works by Osamu Tezuka, known mostly for Astro Boy.

A building with latticework over it A large building on a corner A colourful mural under a train bridge A building with water running down its slanted side

Game Center Mikado did not disappoint, of course, and a few machines have changed since I was there in 2018.

Mikado entrance Starblade cabinet Raiden II cabinet Area 88 cabinet

It was nice to play a few old favourites again and some games that I don’t have at home.

Batsugun cabinet Batrider cabinet Hatsune Miku Project Diva Arcade machine After Burner Climax sit-in cabinet Power Drift sit-in cabinet Time Crisis II light gun game

They also have some displays of merchandise and collector’s items.

Display case of books and a Youtube subscriber award Display case of mini arcade machines and a figure of the arcade's mascot girl

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.

Vending machine with Mikado logo and mascot designs Stairway down to Mikado museum with sign Player view of a High Speed pinball machine Mikado gacha pon machines

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.

The view from the platform showing the platform doors and no advertising at all A view of the platform from the upper floor

It intrigued Chris and I, and its sparse, uncluttered aesthetic is a refreshing change from the commercially focused atmosphere of the other stations.

A sign made up of vertical LED screens that you can also see through out the window A view of a building being constructed closeby

Tokyo / Ginza

It was a priority for Les to get to the Oedo Antique Market at the Tokyo International Forum.

A wide shot of the merket stalls and event flags The crowd of shoppers

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.

People shopping at covered booths in the sun

We also made a quick stop at the Ginza Washita Okinawa shop and I found a few Okinawan treats to bring home.

Washita shop entrance with lanterns

Ueno

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 station Yamashiroya toy store and Yodobashi Camera near the market Buildings on the main street with large signs Some buildings and the entrance to Ueno Park

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.

Pagoda and lotus plants buildings in the distance Benches near the lotus plants with the pagoda in the distance an area with trees and a small waterfall

There’s also Ameyokocho Market, which is a great place to shop and eat.

A crane game with mini plush tempura shrimp inside Les and a Totoro pin Gacha pon machines line the main street Chris outside the shrine in the market Saint Marc Cafe entrance Two chocolate croissants in wrappers and a glass of yuzu tea Les and Chris outside Beard Papa A Beard Papa creme puff with a bite taken out of it

We stayed in a hotel, my first time not at a ryokan, and the Mimaru (Tokyo Ueno North) was quite nice.

Hotel entranceway with curtain

We had an apartment-style room with a table and kitchenette so we were able to eat in relatively comfortably.

queen size bed table and bench seating with an office chair galley kitchenette with fridge, microwave, sink, and induction stovetop

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.

portable shrine with gold rooster on top and vermillion tassles black samurai armour inspired by darth vader from star wars small samurai helmet souvenirs

All in all, a great trip.

selfie of the three of us on the plane. We are all masked and Les' pink beard has faded a lot.