Recently we have made several trips to Tokyo by bus and while individually they did not amount to much, collectively they are a solid 2 days in Tokyo. We haven’t tried to replicate our “Million Things” style tourism in Tokyo since our first visit but we have done a few things that I think are worth recapping.
A couple friends of ours who live in Tokyo had told us about the Mori Art Museum (MAM) and since they had not been there before either we decided to take a group trip out to Roppongi hills to check it out. The MAM is very focused on contemporary and modern art and doesn’t keep a permanent collection. It is located on the 53rd floor of the building opposite the Grand Hyatt and TV Asahi in Roppongi. Since the collection is constantly changing, a recap of what I saw won’t do you any good, but I can tell you it was laid out well and was quite interesting. Moreover, the top of the MAM also has an observation deck that looks out over Tokyo. We went to the art museum because it was raining really hard. On a clear day, the MAM is one of the better places to get a high up look at Tokyo (not as tall as the Sky Tree and not as free as the TMGB though).
On that same trip we also spent some time in Ikebukuro which much like most of central Tokyo is a densely packed urban center with loads of shopping and restaurants. We went there specifically to visit a mall called, “Sunshine City.” Sunshine City is home to an El Torito, one of three in the Tokyo area. The other two are in Shibuya and Yokohama. It is very difficult to get Mexican food in Japan that actually tastes like Mexican food, so we indulged in a rather expensive night out with real margaritas, Mexican beer, taquitos, tacos, and fajitas. Sadly, just like El Torito back in California, the food is passable but not mind blowing. Somethings, in Japan I have just learned to live without, and Mexican food is one of those things. For the price, El Torito probably isn’t worth it, but on a special occasion it will sate a craving.
Ikebukuro is also home to a shop known as Tokyu Hands. Tokyu Hands can best be described as the love child of Japanese culture and a Michael’s craft store, which then had a love child with a comic book and anime collector’s shop. Did you need stuff to fix an antique watch? Perhaps you would like to dress up in steam punk attire? Maybe you need some fake eyes for your back pack or a life size figurine of Hatsune Miku? Yeah, they have that stuff, along with countless other items. If you want anything that is a Japanese souvenir, this is the place to get it, or if you like making things yourself, Tokyu has the supplies.
Speaking of shopping, Tokyo is basically a shoppers paradise. Just about every neighborhood in Tokyo is centered around some sort of massive shopping district. It’s like the city planners were having a contest to see how many covered shopping arcades and multi-story shopping malls they could fit in to the city. Odaiba, which is built on a formal naval base and reclaimed land in the Tokyo harbor, is no different. With no less than 5 gigantic shopping malls, a science museum and the Fuji Media headquarters, Odaiba could keep someone occupied all day. Shana and I spent an afternoon there wandering around ダイバシチー Diver City (I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE) and its surrounding park.
There is a small replica of the Statue of Liberty as well as a life size replica of Gundam (the precursor to Transformers, which was Takara Toy Company’s answer to the success of the Gundam toys from Bandai). The Statue of Liberty is situated on the water with greater Tokyo as a back drop. It is very hard to appreciate just how big Tokyo really is, but check out this panorama shot, almost a full 270° of non-stop metropolis. I kept thinking, “I can fit Chicago’s skyline here, and here and here…”
A friend mentioned it would be funny to see the Statue of Liberty and the Gundam either go on a date or fight. If you are an anime buff then enjoy the long line to sit in the Gundam cafe for over priced food. If you are from California head into Diver City to the roof deck on the south side. On the roof there is a skateboard park as well as a Wahoo’s Fish Tacos. The Wahoo’s is no imitation. It is the real thing, possibly the best non-Japanese food I have had in Japan since I got here. Also in Odaiba, there is a One Piece themed observation deck in the Fuji Media headquarters. The deck costs 500円 and unless you are really into One Piece, I would skip it. There are better or equal views from the waterfront promenade by the Statue of Liberty and those are free.
Also on the subject of shopping, Shana and I gave up on buying things in bulk almost immediately after coming to Japan. We just don’t have the room and Japanese stores typically don’t sell things in bulk anyway. HOWEVAH, while in the Tokyo area we made a special trip to Costco in Saitama. “Why Costco?” You ask. First and foremost, DON’T JUDGE ME. Second, pizza. So far in Japan, Costco is the only place that sells anything remotely similar to pizza in America. Third, underwear and goat cheese. Kirkland signature products do not vary around the globe. They have an Aristotelian quality of always being what they are. So if I buy boxer briefs, I know they will fit. Goat cheese is a costly commodity here in Japan. About 4oz. will costs 550円 at the local import store in Sendai. At Costco 1480円 gets you 2, 16oz “logs” of goat cheese. Shana uses goat cheese for just about everything in the kitchen, so we bought 2 packs of 2 to last us through the winter.
Tokyo is really hard to appreciate from a tourism perspective, but I can see why so many people really like living there, especially as foreigners. As a tourist, Tokyo is a large, confusing, crowded and expensive. The multiple train systems even more complicated address system make getting around a hassle sometimes. As a resident it maybe one of the only places in Japan (the other being Osaka) where you can find things that remind you of home. Where you can find things that aren’t always utterly Japanese 100% of the time. Where, if you know your way around, you start to appreciate just how amazing Tokyo can be. Hopefully as we make a few more trips to the most populated place in the world, we can start to appreciate it even more.