Saturday, September 30, 2017

Welcome to Tokyo

I just got back from spending two weeks in Tokyo, Japan. The trip was ultra-dope! Although I had two weeks vacation, I needed another two so I could explore some of the surrounding areas.

Tokyo is a big metropolis sized city! It's broken into smaller cities that offer different attractions for tourists and locals. During my visit I went to Shimokitazawa, Harajuku, Odaiba, Roppongi, Shibuya, Akihabara, Asakusa, Shinjuku, and a few places in between. I could write a whole post on Shimokitazawa itself. To give a more comprehensive view of Tokyo I'll briefly touch on some of the towns.

My journey began in the town of Shimokitazawa. This is a rock and roll, trendy town. Most of the residents had colored hair, colored contacts, make-up, dressed in boots, and love rock music. I bet you think I'm talking about women. No. I mean both men and women wore contacts and make-up. Half the bars had English menus and a lot had bartenders who spoke basic English. I say half because there were several places I visited that you needed to know basic Japanese. 

The big attraction in Shimokitazawa was clothes. There were dozens of vintage clothing stores that had good quality apparel for low prices. In Japan buying used clothes is as normal as ordering pizza. My Airbnb host Mai has a kimono shop there. Her shop Kien sells the best authentic traditional Japanese kimonos for women and men in Tokyo. Aside from her awesome kimonos Mai is a really sweet woman who looks way younger than her age. (It must be the food.)

Since my hair wasn't braided before I left, I had to find a place to get it done. That place was Roppongi. There's not much I can write about Rappongi that isn't available on any website about Tokyo. Roppongi is where the foreigners go to party. It's a place full of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and massage parlors where they do more than massage (or so I'm told). I didn't partake in any of the stress relief activities, but I did go club hopping. That was after I got my hair braided.

Inside a large building there is a small room called The Room 806. It's the first black owned hair salon in Tokyo. The owner is a brotha from Holland who liked Tokyo so much he opened a salon there. The Room 806 had skilled barbers and hairdressers who could braid, cut, add extensions, twist dreadlocks and anything else you would find in a black hair salon. My braids were so tight, it looked like my hair got cut down to a fade. That place was official like a referee with a whistle. If you're in Roppongi and need your hair done, I highly recommend making an appointment. All the information can be found on their website.

Later that night, I went out with the crew of the Tokyo Pub Crawl. A pub crawl (for those of you unfamiliar) is an event where you go to multiple bars in a few hours, getting drinks and meeting people. At each bar there was a complimentary drink. Bar games were played at each venue to keep the crowd interested.  The pub crawl staff was multi-lingual, friendly and kept us moving at a fast pace. One of the guys, David, spoke at least 10 languages.

The patrons of the Tokyo Pub Crawl were mostly foreigners, like myself, with a few exceptions. There were some women from other parts of Japan who came to meet new people and see nightlife in Roppongi. The pub crawl ended around 11:30 because public transportation in Japan stops at midnight.

For me, it was a choice whether to take a train home or stay out clubbing until public transportation started again at 5am. I chose the second option. Staying out all night afforded me the unique opportunity to explore the Tokyo club scene. After leaving the nightclub Ibex, I ate a chicken kebab from the snack shop next door then started club hopping. I went to The Pink Cow, Club Magnet, Jumanji 55, Bar Quest, and A-life. Out of all the clubs, A-life was really my style. It was a multi-floor establishment with a lounge that attracted trendy 20 somethings looking to have a good time. The music was a mix of R&B, Hip-Hop, Top 40, and EDM (Electronic Dance Music). The drinks were a little on the expensive side, but the crowd was partying hard. I left at exactly 5am, covered in sweat, and feeling like I had twenty pound sandbags attached to my feet. It was a good night.

The next day I recovered with coffee and donuts from a place aptly named Mister Donut. It had delicious, large American style donuts and great coffee. I could've gone to Starbucks, which you will find all over Japan. I chose Mister Donut because I had never been there, and I wanted to try something new. 

From there, it was off to the city of Akihabara. It's called Akiba for short. In Akiba there's a place called Electric Town where they sell every type of electronic known to man. Aside from the electronics, they have enormous collections of figurines, collectibles, CDs, DVDs, anime, manga, and your favorite games. All of it spread out over a twelve block radius.

Directly across from the metro station in Akiba, there's the Sega building. Sega has a five floor building with the most advanced games I've ever seen.  As you know I'm a bit of an otaku, so I geeked the f**k out in Akiba.  Aside from all the games, Akiba is where the maid and other cosplay cafes are located. I'm not into maid cafes, so I didn't go in any. If that's your thing...then Akiba is a place you must visit.

Odaiba was an interesting place. What made it different than the other cities is that it has a beach, a multi-floored mega-mall, and a miniature Statue of Liberty replica. While in Odaiba, I got to see two different festivals. One was a Mexican food festival; which served Mexican style foods, drinks and entertainment. The food was tacos, burritos, nachos, and a variety of Mexican beer. The entertainment came in the form of Mexican Mariachi bands and wrestling. They had a wrestling ring set up outdoors beside the festival. Every half hour they would hold a wrestling match with guys dressed in tights and masks. They're called Luchadores, and people take them very seriously in Mexico. 

The other festival was the Ultra festival. It played EDM music and attracted a trendy crowd who wanted to dance. The biggest attraction for me, was the life-size Gundam Unicorn RX-0 in front of the mega-mall. I had never seen a robot that big; so I had to take a photo with it. (As I mentioned before, I'm an Otaku.) Fun fact about Odaiba ... it's an artificial island.

Asakusa is where you go to see ancient Japanese culture and history. The place is filled with temples and shrines going back hundreds of years. The metro stop to Asakusa is named Omote-Sando. The two hyphenated words Omote-Sando mean Omote = (Way to) Sando = (Shrine).  They literally translate into ... way to the shrine. That place was an architect's wet dream. Tall temples covered with ancient texts and lavish designs. Almost all shrines had some form of temple guardians, in the form of either dog or gods blocking the entrance. Some of the shrines forbade photos being taken. 

While tourists roamed around the enormous complex, monks performed rituals with incense. They did this behind gated areas, so they wouldn't be interrupted. I walked off the main path, to escape the endless stream of tourists that crammed the streets so tight, we were almost chest to back. Asakusa is a wonderful place to learn about ancient Japanese culture, but I would recommend not going in the middle of the day. That's unless you like feeling like a sardine packed in a tin can.

Harajuku is the home of all things small and cute. It's only natural that a place like this would appeal mostly to young people. The crowd was more teenager than adult. Almost every street sold sweets of some sort. The sweets ranged from crepes to candy, with a thousand variations in between. The Sanrio store (the maker of Hello Kitty), was a big attraction. There's also Snoopy Town, which had clothing, bags, and other apparel featuring Snoopy, Woodstock and Charlie Brown. Once I adjusted to the pocket-sized people dressed in pink, I noticed there were a few adult attractions. There were several tattoo parlors in Harajuku which feature English speaking staff. There are also a few bars and sex shops, like Condomania

Outside the shopping district of Harajuku, there are several shrines. Some so small, they only have an entrance gate and main temple. The biggest shrine is the Meiji Shrine. Similar to the shrines in Asakusa, the Meiji shrine is located on a road named Omote Sando. The Meiji shrine was a large complex of buildings. Half was under renovation, so I could only see certain sections. It was beautiful, but small in comparison to what I saw in Asakusa. Overall, Harajuku was a great place to shop.

Shibuya and Shinjuku are two completely different cities that gave me the same impression. They're both good for shopping, dining and adult entertainment. The best restaurants in Tokyo can be found in these two cities. For authentic Japanese style cuisine (Udon, Ramen, Sushi) at lower prices, I recommend Shibuya. If you're looking for American style dining, I recommend Shinjuku. In Shinjuku they have your Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, Domino's Pizza, KFC, and Taco Bell. I ate at a Hooter's. 

The Hooter's in Shinjuku featured a wide array of dishes I had never seen before. There were also a few that I had no interest in trying ... like fried pickles. The girls were all petite, Japanese women with natural builds and friendly smiles. It was a completely different experience from the Hooter's I visited during my short stay in Huntsville, Alabama. That Hooter's was filled with bleach blond women with augmented lips, butts and breasts. 

Both Shibuya and Shinjuku feature nightclubs and places to go after the club. Shibuya has the famous Love Hotel Hill. If you can't tell by the name, a love hotel is where people go to have sex. Unlike normal hotels where you rent by the day, love hotels are rented by the hour. Shinjuku features Kabukicho; the largest redlight district in Tokyo. The area is filled with bars, clubs and venues for meeting people and sexual services. Take some simple words of advice. The Yakuza frequent this area, so don't go running around acting like an ignorant tourist because it won't end well. If the nightlife isn't your interest and you're looking for a little culture while in Shinjuku, I recommend visiting the Suga Shrine. 

I had a great time running around Tokyo. During my visit I got to see giant robots, replica landmarks, electronics that can't be found anywhere else and tried food I've never tasted. For example, I always knew sushi was popular but I didn't know roasted fish neck was also popular. The fish was a large tuna. The neck was roasted and still on the bone. It looked like a steak when it arrived at our table. Only when I took off a few pieces and tasted the meat, did I realize it really was fish. It may not sound appealing, but it really was delicious. I also tried raw clams dipped in a pickled radish sauce, which I couldn't imagine being yummy...but it was

I've loved Japan since my first visit back in 1993. Back then, I was a USMC stationed in Okinawa for over a year. I always wanted to visit Tokyo, so this trip was a dream actualized. In between all the sight seeing, partying, drinking, shopping, exploring and absorbing culture, I managed to collect a few pics of Tokyo street art. Below are some photo's from my visit. If you have the time and means of travel, I highly recommend visiting Japan. Just don't go in September, like I did. During my visit there was an earthquake, typhoon, and a missile shot over the country by North Korea. Even with all that happening ... it was an amazing adventure, and I wouldn't change a thing. 


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