Introduction to Tokyo’s Neighborhoods (Part 2)
Posted by Ashley Atkinson-Leon on March 30, 2017
This is a primer to some of Tokyo’s neighborhoods and areas of interests, including famous attractions, cultural activities, foods, and more. To read about other Tokyo neighborhoods and the rest of Japan, click here.
In Ueno, one of the most famous attractions is the statue of Saigo Takamori, “The Last Samurai.” Even though he’s been dead for a century, Japanese people still travel to see his statue and take pictures of him. In essence, he was a popular folk hero who came to despise the government that he had helped to create. We also saw a temple with paper offerings tied to a thin wooden structure outside, which sort of act like prayers to the gods.
Ueno is also home to anime shops, and the one that we visited had over 8 floors. There was a ton of Pokemon and Hello Kitty stuff, along with toys from Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, and even Disney plushies. This is the perfect place to get gifts for friends. (Don’t forget your packable backpack so you can stock up.)
Odaiba is known as being a “futuristic city.” There are huge arcades of cutting edge games and plenty of other venues to get your electronic and virtual reality fixes. We didn’t explore many of them but on the plus side we did get some excellent strawberry-banana crepes there. You can also shop at southern European-style malls and see a huge Ferris wheel adorned with lots of lights. Speaking of lights, you’ll often see Tokyo Tower lit up in different colors depending on the season or holiday. It was a pretty shade of orange the night that we saw it.
Side note: The toilets, at least the women’s, have sensors that make flushing noises when you lean to the side so they “cover up” any noises. The government realized that women were refusing to use restrooms in public and this was the solution. It seems inconsistent to me that women here seem to bathe together with ease and yet get embarrassed in the bathrooms!
Toshima and Harajuku
Located in Toshima, Ikebukuro (“Grandma’s Harajuku”) is similar to the more famous Harajuku, but arguably more laidback. When you first arrive, there’s a Buddhist temple that many people visit before going on with their days, whether that’s shopping or going to work.
To be properly prepared, you first wash your hands in the sacred water in a little stone structure (similar to the one seen in the picture), and then waft yourself with incense. Once inside, you’ll see many locals throwing coins into the slots of a big rectangular trunk while saying prayers. Whether you would like to or not is totally up to you, but unless you have some understanding of Buddhism, it might come off as a little petty (like throwing pennies into a pond for good luck).
Some people outside were washing a statue of Jizō, the Buddha of children and travelers, which seemed like a form of worship for them. There was also a monk chanting in a beautiful melodic voice.
In Ikebukuro I bought myself a cute little bunny purse because, as I found out, a lot of Yen (Japanese money) consists of coins and can be difficult to keep track of in your pocket. You can prepare ahead of time by getting something like a travel bag where you can store your change, cash, travel documents, electronics, and everything else you want to take with you while you're out and about.
In Harajuku itself, you’re likely to see girls wearing Gothic Lolita clothing and other fashion-forward styles, often sipping tea leisurely at cafes. You can find some great sales at the shops as well, although beware of buying the clothing: unless you are very petite, most clothes in Japan do not fit the average American. I stuck with jewelry myself, which included everything from neon-colored fur necklaces to asymmetrical earrings.
Although Yokohama is not part of Tokyo, it is close enough that it’s worth visiting. It’s a beautiful city built into the hillside, and many of the roads require steep climbs. It is historically a gaijin (foreigners) town so we saw people of all ethnicities (whereas the rest of Japan typically consists of people of Asian descent).
Some of the houses were built many years ago, and we specifically visited the houses of a diplomat and wealthy family. We also saw a cemetery and rose garden. It’s a place that’s been affected by many earthquakes, violence against foreigners, and more recently WWII air raids, but it’s managed to survive despite the odds. For lunch we ate real ramen (not the kind out of a packet) and it was oishii (delicious)!
Tokyo is a huge city and there are many other neighborhoods to explore. Stay tuned for part 3 and in the meantime find out more about the rest of Japan!