July 9, 2016
Our third day in Japan was marked by rain. Although we had arrived at the tale-end of the monsoon season, it was a welcome surprise–especially after two days of heat and humidity.
After lounging around the morning, we decided to not let the rain deter us. We sported our Pac NW raincoats and ventured outside. I quickly realized why most people use umbrellas here and not raincoats: the humidity. Plus when it did rain, it rained in heavy downpours. Much different the the drizzle of Seattle.
We ventured to the neighborhood of Shibuya. In Shibuya is a famous crosswalk, supposedly the most heavily used pedestrian “all walk” in the world. We sat at the 2nd floor Starbucks that overlooked the busy intersection. Large neon screens blared commercials and advertisements from the tall buildings above. Pedestrians scurried about with their umbrellas. It was a cool scene to watch.
Height and Ashbury
We escaped busy Shibuya for a more low-key neighborhood called Shimo-Kitzawa. Shimo-Kitzawa was not on the Tokyo Metro or Toei Subway. (As I mentioned before, Tokyo has 2 different companies that run the metro lines. This makes for some confusions.) Instead we had to grab a different train service (Odakyu) to this area on the edge of town.
Shimo-Kitzawa was a random neighborhood find. Lonely Planet had one small blurb about it and described it as the “hippie” neighborhood of Tokyo. It was defiantly not a “Height and Ashbury,” but it had some nice boutique and secondhand shops, and many little restaurants. It was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the main parts of Tokyo.
We returned to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo to buy train tickets at the Shinjuku Station to our next destination, a region an hour outside of Tokyo called Hakone. We were leaving the next morning.
Shinjuku supposedly has the busiest train station in the world. It was busy, but nothing too interesting as far as attractions to look at in the station. Every which way we turned , though, we ran into somebody. Leaving the station wasn’t much better. Shinjuku was busy. Basically take the whole population of my home town–the Biggest Little City, Reno, NV (metro area around 300,000-400,000)–and cram them into a 30-50 block area and you get Shinjuku. Plus, of course, add all the tourists and Tokyoites that come to party and shop in the area, and you get crowds.
Shinjuku is one of the more popular nightlife areas of Tokyo. There were a ton of restaurants, karaoke bars, strips clubs, pachinko and slot machine halls, video game arcades, and, my personal favorite, the Robot Cafe.
It was still the late afternoon so most of the cafes and bars had yet to open. This was nice for us, because many of the side streets and alleys were relatively uncrowded. My friend who ventured to Shinjuku on a 12-hour layover in Tokyo a few months prior suggested we visit an area called Golden Gai. It is a densely packed block with bars that seat only a handful of guests–many of which only allow select, non-foreign customers (bar members). Golden Gai was mostly abandoned at 4 pm when we walked through.
“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time…”
For those who are fans of the 2003 film Lost in Translation, staring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson, Shinjuku is the place to visit. The movie was mostly filmed in Shinjuku and Shibuya. The hotel where Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson’s characters stay at is in Shinjuku, the Park Hyatt. We set out to see if we could sneak into this luxury hotel.
At the top 14 floors of the Park Tower, the Park Hyatt has great views of Tokyo. The rain was finally stopping and we could make out views of Mt. Fuji. We made it to the New York Bar and Grill, and for $20 a cocktail, we relaxed and enjoyed a great view of Tokyo. It was a real treat for our last night in the largest metro in the world.
Park Hyatt: Like I said, this hotel was a great treat! The views were spectacular and the ambiance was perfect. However, the room prices are expensive and so was the food and drink. If you have some time to spare in Tokyo, make the trip out to this hotel for happy hour.
Pocket WiFi: While we were tromping around Japan, we were able to have WiFi access through a device called Pocket WiFi. It was a great tool to have. We were able to access Google Maps, translate Japanese, look up Yelp reviews, read up on tourist sites, and much more. Essentially, the device allowed us to access the internet on our smartphones without roaming and having to pay for an expensive and limiting international plan. We purchased our device through an online tourist agency called Japan Rail Pass (by Japan Experience). Purchasing was easy. We ordered our device a few weeks before and we set a pick up location. We picked up our package at Narita Airports post office. Set up only took a minute or two, and then we had about 10-12 hours of battery usage per overnight charge. When our trip came to an end, we packaged up the device in a pre-paid, self-addressed envelope and dropped it back off at the same post office where we picked it up. At about $90 for unlimited data and 2-weeks of use, it was well worth the buy.
Pop Culture Neighborhoods: There are a ton of different neighborhoods in Tokyo that sport some sort of fashion or pop culture as their “theme.” Akihabara and Harajuku are two of the famous ones. Akihabara is famous for video game electronics and anime, while Harajuku is famous for its teen fashions. Shimo-Kitzawa was a nice way to experience one of Tokyo’s fashionable neighborhoods, although a much more low-key one than the famous ones. We also got to enjoy lunch at this nice, little restaurant: 古城.
Some Music to Put You in a Japan State of Mind