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.
Shinjuku is brighter than New York City at night! There's definitely lots of shopping to be had. Be sure to take lots of pictures in the photo booths at arcade shops (you pose with your friends like in US photo booths, but you can add clip art to the pictures too). In the arcades, they have a variety of different prizes for the games, including manga and ice cream. There were a lot of Japanese businessmen there. A friend who had been living abroad in Japan for two and a half months with a host family had still never seen her host father (himself a businessman)! Since this is a very crowded area, you might want to store your valuables in a waist stash.
We also went to a restaurant that lets you make your own mikiyaki (Japanese pancake), and it was a lot of fun. We tried 5 different pancakes, including mixtures of eggs, onions, cabbage, other yasai (vegetables), and some miku (meat) like tuna and beef.
Side note: The Japanese are great at snacks. They have these wonderful steam cakes called mushi-pan, which most closely resemble cocoa or vanilla sponge cakes. Mochi (rice cakes) are very tasty too. I have also grown fond of onigiri (rice balls wrapped in seaweed that usually include salmon or other kinds of fish in the center). Caramel milk tea is my favorite drink to date, and in the years since I have been to Japan, I have not been able to find it anywhere, even in Asian grocery stores. In addition, I miss the vending machines that give you hot tea on demand.
Also located in Shinjuku is Waseda University, a premier university in Japan. Since my university is partnered with theirs, we met with the students who were studying abroad there (including one of my best friends), and were treated to 7-course meal. While sitting on cushions on the floor, we ate salad, fish, fried potatoes, cold rice with eggs, bread and dip, chicken, tofu, edamame, etc. I didn’t know the names for a lot of the dishes but it all tasted good. I also had several apple-pineapple cocktails. So oishii (delicious)!
Meiji Shrine is a peaceful place with lots of greenery and torii, right in the center of Tokyo. In this way the people of Japan have managed to create and preserve a green space even among the towering skyscrapers that surround them. If possible, try to go towards the end of your trip, as we found it the perfect place to reflect on our experiences of the past few weeks. (Don’t forget your umbrella in case it starts raining.) The shrine itself is dedicated to the Meiji Emperor, who is famed with exposing Japan to Western ideas regarding technology and government.
I ordered a warm matcha tea at a café nearby and ate a corn and mayonnaise pizza for lunch (it should be noted that this is not the kind of mayo we use in the US, so it tasted much better than it sounds).
If you like Studio Ghibli movies such as "Spirited Away," "Princess Mononoke," or "Howl’s Moving Castle," you definitely have to check out the Studio Ghibli Museum. They show you a lot of the different art techniques that were used in the different movies, including hand drawing, and more recently, computer animation. At the time there was a special expedition called the “Petite Louvre,” and it showed miniature recreations of the paintings housed in the actual Louvre.
The museum also showcases a recreation of Hayao Miyazaki’s workplace. He was heavily influenced by Western art but still retained Japanese sensibilities as well, often showing the detrimental influences of modernity in terms of its destruction of nature. In addition to a giant stuffed version of Totoro from "My Neighbor Totoro," there’s an actual Catbus that children can climb into and all over. It looked like so much fun! It's definitely a whimsical place where you'll find life-sized versions of your favorite characters. Don't forget to buy a few trinkets at the gift shop.
Tokyo is a huge city and there are many other neighborhoods to explore. Keep reading to find out more about the rest of Japan!