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.
Roppongi is a highly-industrialized area with lots of malls and restaurants. They have some nice Italian restaurants there, and I had pasta with mushrooms and bacon in an alfredo sauce at the one we went to.
One thing to note is that “department stores” are a little different in Japan than they are in the US. Food courts are almost always located in the basements, and they are massive (not like you’d find in the typical US mall). You can find lots of different food (Japanese and foreign) of varying quality, and it is usually reasonably-priced.
One thing that Japan also excels in is cute little cakes and pastries. The amount of thought and time that goes into some of their creations is astounding, and sometimes makes it difficult to eat them. However, presentation is just as important as taste in this culture, and feasting with your eyes is part of the food experience. One popular cake is the strawberry shortcake, which consists of alternating layers of sponge cake, whipped cream, and strawberries.
If you’re interested in the history of Tokyo (formerly known as Edo), be sure to stop by the Edo-Tokyo Museum. There are some really neat models of traditional Japanese towns, dating all the way back to the rule of the daimyo (powerful lords who held power from the 10th to the 19th centuries), and as we moved along the exhibits in chronological order everything became more Westernized, changing from more traditional pagoda-style structures and simple wooden buildings to the skyscrapers we see today.
You can see the kind of clothing and hairstyles they wore throughout the history, as well as pottery, paintings, statues, and other art. They also have models of ships and harbors.
Similarly, Kawasaki Minkaen, a traditional Edo farm village,will transport you to the Tokyo/Edo of yesteryear. We took along bento (boxed lunches) since this area is outside of the city and will take more time to get to (a lightweight duffel is great for carrying small items like this). We saw how farmers worked and lived off the land between 1603-1868 and it’s amazing to note how much our technology has advanced in just the last several hundred years.
We sat around open fires that were actually located inside the houses; we learned they were meant to keep the wood from decaying and to keep insects away. Some of the houses have been standing for over 300 years! Inside them you’ll see furniture, art, cooking vessels, and more. We were served hot tea straight from the fire and also visited a Shinto shrine, some family Buddhist altars, and an old Kabuki theater nearby.
This isn’t specific to one neighborhood (since you can find karaoke bars all over the city), but one experience you cannot miss out on is Japanese karaoke. The term “karaoke” actually originated in Japan, and in contrast to American karaoke, you don’t sing in front of a bunch of strangers at a bar. Rather, you book a private room that accommodates the size of your group, and you get fun props like tambourines in addition to multiple microphones.
There will likely be a light projector that “dances” along to the beat of the song you pick in the form of neon colors and patterns. Additionally, and it may have been my imagination, but it didn’t seem like the microphones at karaoke bars capture your voice as loudly as normal microphones, so you don’t have to worry if you’re not a stellar singer. You’ll also likely have a few of your friends sing along as well so there’s even less pressure to belt out a ballad. It’s really all about enjoying the experience with your friends.
Often you can buy snacks or even small meals, and almost everyone gets an alcoholic drink, and there are lots of cute options to choose from. Even in Japan, they’ll often have English songs available to choose from (we sang to Linkin Park and the Spice Girls, for example), as well as more traditional Japanese songs and even anime songs. (If you take medication, don’t forget your pill pouches since you’ll be out all night.)
You can find some of these karaoke rooms at Korean and Japanese karaoke bars if you’re interested in trying out the experience in the US.
Tokyo is a huge city and there are many other neighborhoods to explore. Stay tuned for part 4 and in the meantime find out more about the rest of Japan!