Since we’ve been in Japan, our days have been long and packed with cool stuff. It’s hard to fit everything we did today into one post, but I’m going to give it a shot. In short, we went from Chuo to Ueno to Shinjuku and there’s a lot to say about all three places.
Of course, I started the day with more Tokyo TV. I’m already a bit of a news junkie, so the first thing I do when I travel is check out local broadcasts and newspapers. You can learn a lot about a place by paying attention to the kinds of stories that air, the way the cast handles segments, and the overall tone of a network. And if you already love news, the Tokyo local weather and news station is quite a trip.
This picture says a whole lot. It’s 5am and these hosts are having what looks to be the time of their lives presenting the weather forecast through pastel vector graphics and cute animals characters. And if you’re wondering whether if this is the official news…yes, it is. If we had news like this in the US, I think kids would start watching it at an earlier age. And if that were the case, I wonder if we’d collectively care more about things like climate change, local elections, and community events. Food for thought…
After navigating through the rush hour train system, our first stop was the Tsukiji Fish Market in Chuo, Tokyo on the Sumida River. The market is a square grid – the outer perimeter is primarily restaurants, whereas the inner roads are primarily shops that sell fresh seafood, fruit, and knick knacks.
We bought some chicken skewers and stopped to eat them in a corner off to the side of the path. (On that note, eating and walking is not a thing in Tokyo. Public eating is seen as sloppy, so you almost never see anyone doing it.) The vendors sold beautiful sushi arrangements. I have no idea how to even go about eating something like this in public in Tokyo, a place where people are often so neat in their eating habits that restaurants don’t even give out napkins.
We walked around for a while and then headed toward the river to see the Kachidoki Bridge, dedicated to the Japanese victory at Lushun in the Russo-Japanese war. Although it’s presently a stationary bridge, it used to open and close for cargo ships a few times a day. It’s a popular bridge in Japanese comics, so people come to visit it, especially when it lights up at night.
Then, we walked over to the Tsukiji Hongan-ji buddhist temple. This version was built in 1923, but the land itself has been a designated temple site since 1617. The original structure burned in a fire and was replaced by yet another temple that was destroyed by an earthquake. Since I have tattoos, I’m not usually allowed in buddhist temples, but this one is a tourism hotspot, so it’s pretty lax.
Inside, the stewards split the temple into two areas – the main hall with the chairs is for the non-buddhist visitors, whereas the decorated area in the background is for religious observers.
From there, we headed off to Ueno to visit the museum and the green space. As soon as we got off the train, I spotted a noodle house! Honestly, I’ll eat just about any kind of noodles, so I knew I’d be happy with this place. Still, ordering food was a bit of a gamble. Instead of a paper menu, you stick change into this vending machine and pick an item. Then, the machine prints a ticket and you take it to the kitchen. The problem was that the whole machine was in Japanese, so I just picked a cheap item and hoped for the best.
I got super lucky with some buckwheat and udon soba noodles, which I happen to love.
After that was a long walk through Ueno toward Ueno park. I was psyched to come across these ghost noodles, so, here you go…
Anyway, I went from there through Ueno Park toward the Tokyo National Museum. On the way, I passed through the main square and caught the tail end of a pretty cool show.
Then, off to the museum!
The museum was HUGE. It was only two floors, but the space was so expansive and housed thousands of ancient statues, paintings, ceramics, and all kinds of household items. I’ll add a few of my favorite displays below.
After the museum, we took a train through a lesser traveled station toward Shinjuku. Most of the train lines out here are pretty technologically advanced, but the northeast Yamanote Line still has the charm of its original 1885 construction.
We had an evening reservation, but we needed to find something to do for two hours, so we chose a coffee shop/pub. I learned two things. First, if you enter an establishment, you must, must, must purchase something. Take a situation in which you enter a coffee shop with a friend in the US. If your friend wants coffee, but you don’t really feel like ordering anything, that’s perfectly fine. In fact, if you want to go into a shop and sit and do work and never buy anything, that might earn you an eye roll, but it’s probably still fine. And, while you’re at it, you can use the public outlet to charge your laptop, phone, or whatever else you need to charge. In Japan, that’s a no go. Public outlets are off limits to such a degree that police can charge you with theft of electricity if you try to plug in. And if you don’t really feel like drinking coffee or ordering food, they’ll make it clear that you’re not welcome to stay.
The second thing I learned is that smoking is accepted, and even encouraged, in coffee shops. Most tables have ashtrays and matches and almost everyone inside of a shop smokes. I’m totally put off by the smell of cigarette smoke when I’m eating or drinking something, so if I didn’t feel like ordering anything when I walked in, I certainly didn’t feel it when the three men next to us lit up, blocking us into a tiny corner. UGH.
After a few minutes of that, I went exploring! Shinjuku is a strange combination of quiet back alley restaurants…
…and towering advertising.
To waste a little more time, we went into an arcade and tried to win some stuffed animals. On the first try, I got this cute little owl for Fia.
Then, finally, off to the main evening attraction. I booked a reservation for the Robot Restaurant, a world famous tourist attraction in Tokyo. I don’t mind being a typical tourist in this city, especially when they try so hard to make Americans (and others, I’m sure) feel welcome. The accommodating culture is endearing – the entertainment industry knows they’re presenting a less than authentic view of Japan, but they also know that those kinds of things are why people travel to Tokyo in the first place. So, even though it’s a bit cheesy, it’s really awesome.
The Robot Restaurant is a high-tech show in the style of Vegas cabaret, but with Disney Channel innocence. It was really cool, super cute, and totally worth seeing. The waiting room had a bar, a wall of TV entertainment, and a live show featuring a guitarist and a vocalist performing their renditions of American pop songs.
When the show was about to start, they moved us to a small room in the basement that housed about 100 people. We got the best seats in the center front row and we were totally lucky for it. While we were waiting, I tried sake for the first time and pretty much hated it. Sorry, Tokyo. In short, it tastes like beer-flavored liquor and was pretty harsh. Maybe this is the cheap stuff? I’d try it again on a good recommendation, but I think I’m good for now.
The show itself was fantastic! There’s not a single picture that can encompass just how cool it was with the black and neon lights, costumes, and robotic floats, but this is a pretty good idea of what we got to see.
And, like I said before, the show was obviously created for American entertainment. Throughout the show, there were references to Star Wars, Kung Fu Panda, and the Ninja Turtles. Here’s a clip of the crew performing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.
After the show, we headed back out into the streets of Shinjuku and realized that the city comes to life at night. During the day, there’s virtually no talking on the streets of Tokyo. But at night, the TV ads on the sides of buildings play recorded music shows and project the sound into busy intersections. Tokyo is a completely different city after 7pm.
Since we haven’t seen the city at night, we’ll probably try to give that a shot for our next adventure. I’m eager to hit some more arcades and, of course, eat more local food.