We visited Tokyo for the second time in December 2018, and there are always new experiences to be had in this city. The Pokémon cafe just opened earlier in 2018, we made sure to make a reservation. Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara are the three neighborhoods we must go every time. This trip, we tried a few new sites – Pokemon Cafe, Oedo onsen, shopping at Yodabashi, Odaiba and autumn foliage at Jingo Gaien.
This was our second time staying in Shinjuku. I would never run out of things to do here, with shops, malls, arcades, and restaurants all within walking distance. Last time, we experienced the Robot Restaurant, and this time my favorites were the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories and shrimp tomato ramen (the first food highlight below). Shinjuku is not only commerical, but also lined with government functions. It was free to visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories on the top floor, and the view was stunning during the day or night (we went twice).
Edo era experience at Oedo onsen
Located in Odaiba, this is a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle in the city. We purchased the tickets in advance with a discount (we used Klook) that we redeemed at Narita airport. All extra food or service charges were recorded with a wristband and paid at the end, though we did not get any extra. At first, I was a bit afraid of not following the etiquettes, but they had very clear instructions in English all along the way. It was a fun experience, walking around the space that simulated Edo era. There were arcades, food vendors, and games for kids. Onsen was a highlight, soaking in a relaxed environment with different baths and spas. No need to bring anything, as they had thought everything out and provided all shower essentials onsite. It was a bit crowded on a Monday afternoon and got more packed later on.
Autumn foliage at Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Avenue
We didn’t really plan for the autumn foliage season, and were lucky to be in Tokyo toward the end of it in early December. I was always amazed by how detail-oriented everything is in Japan, including a beautifully made autumn foliage map that indicates the best viewing spots with the information of leaf color and amount. We visited Ginkgo Avenue at Meiji Jingu Gaien, and the colorful avenue was like in a dream. I sat on the bench on the side, breathing the early winter air infused with Ginkgo trees while the sun shone through the branches.
Akiba is a neighborhood that we have to visit every time. Walking into a multi-floor building with anime and beyond, many unexpected interesting contents awaited upstairs with people shopping around quietly. It was amazing to see how much the real world could be transformed into anime characters and settings. Super Potato is also a paradise for video game fans, with three floors of retro games, some not for sale. After lunch, we spent about 4 hours shopping in Yodobashi Akihabara (got the Let’s Go Pikachu game there). It was certainly an overwhelming shopping experience in such a dense layout with multiple floors, just like a physical Amazon.
Odaiba is on a manmade island across from the Rainbow Bridge from Tokyo. There is a variety of attractions here, with a futuristic and entertainment theme. Fuji TV (the company that produces “Terrace House”) has its headquarters here. We rode a different subway line (Yurikamome Line) to the island, and headed for the DiverCity for fireworks and Gundam base. We had dinner at the food court, and encountered a concert at the Gundam garden. The DiverCity had different kinds of entertainment to offer, and we spent some time at the Gundam base after the amazing fireworks over the Rainbow Bridge.
A trendy high-end neighborhood, it was also walking distance from the old Tsukiji market. We started our day in Ginza at Cafe Paulista, an old school coffee shop founded in 1911 (reconstruction in 1970). After our Omurice lunch, we walked through the old Tsukiji fish market and stopped by the luxurious mall Ginza 6 that just opened in 2017. I was amazed by the grandeur of this shopping mall, with a white elephant hanging down from the window ceiling. In this mall, we took a break at the grand Tsutaya Bookstore.
Pokémon in Tokyo
If you are planning on going to the Pokémon cafe (reservation required), I would suggest passing the Pokémon mega center if this is the only attraction for you in Ikebukuro. The mega center was mad, with crowds of all ages browsing the store shortly after it opened. It was about a 10-minute walk from Ikebukuro station, in Sunshine City mall. They had helpful staff and all sorts of Pokémon merchandise. Upon checkout, they also gave out a random Pokémon sticker.
Shrimp tomato ramen at Gonokami Seisakujo (五ノ神製作所)
This was a really unique twist of ramen that I hadn’t had it elsewhere before. The restaurant got busy by 5pm already. The space was quite small, just a handful of counter seats around the kitchen. We ordered at the vending machine, and I made a mistake by ordering the medium noodle portion. Tomato, pesto, and shrimp are three of my favorite ingredients, and I got to have all of them in my ramen. It was more like Tsukemen style, we dipped the pesto noodle into the heavy tomato-based shrimp broth. The pesto was subtle, and the tomato and shrimp dominated the flavor. I’d order the small size noodle next time for sure, and would certainly come back.
Soup curry at Sapporo Dominica
It was my first time having Hokkaido style soup curry, and it definitely got me. It had a few branches in Tokyo, and this location was a hidden gem on the second floor near Ginza Itchome metro station. I loved that I could pick the soup base, ingredient category, and spiciness. I strongly recommend making their happy hour on weekdays 3-6pm also to avoid the rush.
Omurice at Kissa You (喫茶 you)
Located near the east Ginza subway station and Kabuki-za, we waited for about half an hour for our one and only Omurice this trip. Omurice is one of my favorite Japanese dishes, and the omelet was the fluffiest I’ve had. The menu was pretty small so a decision was easy. The black tea on the side was refreshing, and the sweetness level was to my point (little sweet).
Sardine lunch special at Nakajima (中嶋)
We came to this 1 Michelin star restaurant for their lunch special. There were 4 sardine based lunch special options, and all under 10 USD (800 yen). Other than the lunch special, the rest of the menu was much higher-priced. Having only tried lunch here, I was a bit disappointed. The flavor and quality were above average, but I felt like I had not tried what got them a star.
Wagyu burger at Henry’s Burger Akihabara
Having had Japanese food every day and night, we wanted to try this burger joint in Akiba. We had the Wagyu beef burger, and it came with fries and a drink. I couldn’t really tell the Wagyu beef from the burger, but it was definitely a delicious and fulfilling meal.
Tokyo transportation is by far the most complicated I have encountered. Especially there is no traveler pass for all major companies – either JR, or Tokyo metro and/or Toei subway. Last time we got JR pass (foreigners only) since we visited farther cities like Kyoto and Osaka. This time, we just got Chikatoku (also foreign travelers only), 72 hours for 1500 yen. They also offer 24 and 48 hours, with increasing price per day up to 700 yen/day.
We also purchased a Suica card, that works for all transportations in Tokyo that we went on, plus many shops and vending machines. I’d recommend getting one tied to the name on passport, so that it can be recovered once lost.
In central Tokyo, JR runs the circular green Yamanote line. This line links many popular areas – Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and Akihabara.
Tokyo metro & Toei subway
Both are city subway lines, but run by different companies. Toei subway is newer than Tokyo metro, while Tokyo metro has more coverage. The traveler pass Chikatoku includes both companies. Each ride usually costs under 200 yen.
Going to Odaiba island
The new fish market Toyosu and a bunch of malls are on an island, and different companies run them. JR option is Rinkai line. The other subway is Yurikanote from Shimbashi station. For Oedo Onsen, the shuttles are great perks, it was not hard to get on and off following their shuttle instructions online. The schedule is not so frequent except for the last JR stop at Tokyo Teleport station, so planning ahead is recommended.
We used Google maps most of the time, though it was a bit frustrating filtering routes with Tokyo metro & Toei subway to maximize the Chikatoku pass usage. What we did instead was to find the metro stations near the destination from the map, and then search again.
Tokyo is a city I keep coming back, and I dream of living in each neighborhood for at least a month someday. Other than the main metro area, we also made a few side trips to the Doraemon museum, Yokohama, Enoshima, and Kamakura (more posts to come). The train and subway systems are so developed that we were able to explore all these cities quite far apart in about a week. Now that we live less than 4 hours, we are sure to be back soon.