Despite being just a short 10-minute train ride north from Shinjuku, the area of Nakai and Ochiai couldn’t be more opposite to Tokyo’s red light district. While Shinjuku Station—the busiest station in the world—is surrounded by towering neon lights, packed bars and 24-hour entertainment, the northern part of Shinjuku Ward is desperately trying to hang onto its roots. Continue reading “Some No Komichi: Tokyo’s Colourful Festival”
Tokyo is one of those cities that you could never get sick of. It’s vast, fast-paced and exciting! There are so many ‘pockets’ that each offer something different. If you’re into fashion head to Shibuya; for museums head to Ueno; for books head to Jimbocho; for vintage shops head to Shimokitazawa, etc etc.
I love being a tourist in my own city. Whenever I have some free time, I’ll try go somewhere I haven’t been before. But sometimes I gotta make sure I’m not spending more than I’m earning! Shopping, going to museums and eating out all cost money, but Tokyo doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of things to do which won’t cost you a thing. Many of my friends love to hang out at Yoyogi Park which is open to the public 24/7. In summer, there are huge fireworks shows on basically every weekend. And there are thousands of cultural street festivals that take place all year round!
When you live in your little part of the city, you get used to going to the same supermarkets, same cafes, same dry cleaners. Some of those shopkeepers know your face and may even know your name. Most weeks, there’s not much need to leave your suburb! When you head up to a 20th floor observation deck, you quickly realize that your little area is in fact just a pinhead compared to the entire city! Sure, it makes you feel a bit smaller, but I think it’s also comforting to know there are millions of people in the same position as you! I also just love reminding myself how damn massive Tokyo is!
Here are some of the top observation decks in Tokyo city you can check out for the grand price of zero yen :-)
Hikarie, Shibuya ward
Observation Deck: 11th floor (70m)
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Shinjuku ward
Observation Deck: 45th floor (202m)
Bunkyo Civic Center, Bunkyo ward
Observation Deck: 25th floor (105m)
Carrot Tower, Setagaya ward
Observation Deck: 26th floor (124m)
Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale The size of one human compared to an entire city is mind boggling!
My Top 6 Winter Illumination Spots in Tokyo
No. 6 – Yebisu Garden Place
In the trendy district of Ebisu lies a shopping complex by the name of Yebisu Garden Place. Yebisu is a popular Japanese beer, and there used to be a brewery here about 25 years ago. The winter illuminations aren’t too extensive, but there’s no doubting the very Christmasy feel! This year they have a ginormous crystal chandelier displayed – the largest made by Baccarat!
No. 5 – Shinjuku Southern Terrace
Number 5 on my list is the colourful lights at Shinjuku Southern Terrace. Location, location, location! These lights are right outside Shinjuku Station and therefore attract A LOT of people! I love the light-covered gardens and shrubs, and the huge rainbow of Christmas trees. If you can manage to get a window seat inside Starbucks or Krispy Kreme, it would be a great vantage point for people watching as well!
No. 4 – Omotesando
Omotesando is a glitzy part of town where designer stores line a long, straight street. Grand trees on either side of the road stretch as far as the eye can see. In summer, the trees are full of vibrant, green leaves. Then in winter, the bare branches are transformed into glowing towers. The first thing you notice is how tall these trees are! And then you think, how much effort went into putting all of these lights around the trees?! But I for one am grateful to all the people that worked hard to prepare the illuminations as it is a stunning sight!
No. 3 – Tokyo Midtown & Roppongi
I didn’t make it to Roppongi this year, but last year’s lights left a lasting impression on me. The blue field of lights that seemingly jump into the air at Tokyo Midtown was beautiful. Roppongi Hills is a favourite for Tokyoites, year after year. The view from the overpass looking down the road with Tokyo Tower in the distance is worth braving the cold for!
No. 2 – Marunouchi
Marunouchi is the business area next to Tokyo Station. During the day, it might be all about work, but at night, it’s another story. At 5pm, it turns in an illumination heaven! This year, they have been at the top of the national popularity rankings. The theme is “Disney Timeless Story”, and throughout the whole Marunouchi area, there are Disney-themed displays where you can get your photo taken with characters. Just be prepared for some waiting! The Frozen display, with statues of Anna and Elsa, had a waiting time of 2 hours! Outside on the street, Marunouchi-naka Dori is lined with what they call ‘champagne gold’ lights. Very fancy!
No. 1 – Naka-Meguro!!!
The inaugural ‘blue cave’ at Naka-Meguro was just as impressive as it sounds. During spring, the Meguro River comes alive as the cherry blossoms overhanging the canals bloom. Those same trees have been turned into 500 metres of BLUE BLUE BLUE! It really is something else. I was completely blown away and enjoyed the the very dreamy and magical vibe it created! Although the LED lights are hard to look at when there’s so many of them, it was definitely the best illumination display in my book!
The Shinjuku Eisa Matsuri takes over the streets of downtown Shinjuku for a day every summer – this year it was on Saturday July 26.
I was actually on my way to meet a couple of friends for lunch when I stumbled across this festival. Well, I guess I can’t say I ‘stumbled’ across it when the drums could be heard blocks away! Shinjuku is always buzzing with activity. There are ALWAYS a lot of people. Something’s always going on. You kind of just get used to it and pass things by without a second glance. But on this day, the beating drums and excited crowds drew me in! After realising it was the Eisa Matsuri, I straight away remembered I’d actually stumbled across the same festival 3 years ago when I was visiting Tokyo with friends. I still have a fan I’d received there (pic below)! The 3.11 Earthquake was fresh in everyone’s minds and I remember the festival really emphasising the ‘togetherness’ of Japan, the importance of everyone coming together during such a hard time.
This year’s festival was just as vibrant as 2011. The summer sun was blaring and hand-held fans could be seen waving furiously among the crowd. The performers did a great job considering! Eisa is actually a Bon dance originating from Okinawa. Bon, or Obon, is a Buddhist custom that keeps the memory of ancestors alive. People get together and dance and sing and play taiko (drums) and flutes and shamisen (like a banjo). I think the original meaning has been lost a little over the years and these days it’s just a fun celebration! This year, there were 25 teams of performers, each from different universities, schools, companies, and clubs.
Up Next: Kagurazaka Awa Odori
Cake. Who would have thought, the simplest of ingredients would make one of the best foods ever invented! One mouthful of this dessert and your senses go on overdrive… sight, smell, taste!
I LOVE love love walking through the food section of department stores in Japan. You can buy anything from premium meats to high-end quiches to fancy pastries. Gourmet everything, basically. But I go for one thing… The perfectly crafted desserts. Detail like you wouldn’t believe and all the colours of the rainbow! Cheesecakes. Chiffon cakes. Tarts. Roll cakes. Fruitcakes. Sponge cakes. Red bean sweets.
The basement of Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku has the most impressive gourmet food hall I’ve ever seen. Tokyu Food Show under Shibuya Station is another food heaven. These places are expensive, for sure, but I can’t help but go at least once a month to indulge in one or two heavenly sweets. It’s also at places like this that you can find ridiculously expensive items like $20 bunches of grapes, $300 mushrooms, and $100 square watermelons!
Living in Japan is awesome, and these cakes shops… well, are just the icing on the cake. :-)
Foodies, sorry in advance for any drooling you might experience…
By far the best yakiniku experience I have ever had.
So, if you’re not sure, yakiniku is more or less small cuts of barbecued meat. It’s something you sit down to eat after work or on the weekend with a few cold beers and a few good mates.
From the street, 焼鳥の鉄人 (yakitori no tetsujin) looked like a tight, jam-packed basement restaurant. A little rough around the edges, no fancy decorations, dimly lit and basically no elbow room! The fact that the restaurant was so busy was enough to catch our eye and draw us in!
Inside, the place was filled with smoke rising from the small BBQ pots (shichirin) in the middle of every table. The waiters were busy running around, bringing out drinks and meat plates. The customers were laughing and enjoying themselves.
We chose the ¥1,980 ($20) all-you-can-eat-and-drink for 70 minutes option. This gives you free choice of 25 different cuts of chicken, pig and cow – everything from the tongue, liver, heart, intestines, belly, etc. The waitress brought out our first plate of raw meat, and it was non-stop from there! We threw the meat on the BBQ, dipped it in yummy sauce, ate it up, drank, ordered another plate, ate, drank, ate some more.
The best cut was called Beef Karubi taken from the under side of the cow. It was juicy, fatty, meaty and so delicious! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of it, but here’s a few snaps from the night…
Here is the restaurant’s website >> http://www.pandc-vc.co.jp/shop-info/shinjyuku/