After four days in the Japanese capital, I realized that I had not yet had what can be called a conversation with anyone. In fact it is easy to go unnoticed in this gigantic city. It seems that everyone moves with a very concrete and determined propose and that my presence is not even noticed. I found myself interacting more with machines than people … metro ticket vending machines, hostel washing machines, street vending machines, train itinerary information machines, ticket machines serve coffee…. and food ordering machines in restaurants!!! Yes, that’s what amazed me: you arrive, look at the panel with the various options, choose the dish, put the coins or notes, and voila, just wait and get the food from the counter.
At first glance, it seems like a very mechanized society where people’s lives obey strict rules … where there are instructions everywhere indicating what to do, what not to do, and how to do it. But all of this makes things easy, allowing a large concentration of people like Tokyo to work smoothly and without fuss.
Tokyo is indeed a gigantic city that may seem daunting at first impact but can become very attractive, offering a wide range of experiences and environments, from bustling crossroads like Shibuya, the sophisticated shops of Guiza, the hipster atmosphere of Omotesando, the traditional neighborhood of Yanaka that maybe is the closet vibe of what Tokyo was before, or the quiet neighborhoods like Shimokitazawa, where the traffic is almost absent and where time moves slowly making you forget that you are in a city with millions of inhabitants.
It is a city to be experienced with time to feel the rhythm of each neighborhood, at different times of the day.
My favorite places in Tokyo:
- Shimokitazawa… the hippest area in the city with a large concentration of second-hand clothing stores along traffic-free streets where you can treat yourself to a good coffee in a cozy place.
- Omotesando… with narrow hillside streets that flow into a commercial artery of sophisticated and alternative shops where you can walk without traffic.
- Yanaka… where it seems that time goes by at a slower pace than in the rest of the city, and where you can find what’s left of an old Tokyo. During the day, there’s a small informal market along Yanaka Ginza. On the way enjoy the quietness of the Yanaka cemetery.
- Yoyogi Park where the dense grove takes away the vibrant throb of the city and protects the beautiful Meiji Jingu Shrine, creating a special and magical atmosphere despite the sheer amount of visitors.
- Akihabara… to immerse yourself in the world of anime, manga and video gaming, where the neons that line the building’s façades light up the streets like daytime, and are bombarded by the sound of computer games. The best time to experience this area at its peak is at night.
- Shibuya… to experience crossing a diagonal intersection along with hundreds of people without colliding with anyone on the scramble crossing, the iconic image of this zone. Heavy at any time of the day.
- Harajuku… where a greater concentration of cosplay and “gothic lolitas” can be found along the crowded Takeshita-dori pedestrian street.
- Shinjuku… to dive into the dark side of the city with Golden Gai bars, and the Kabukicho district Tokyo’s discreet red-light district.
Where to sleep in Tokyo:
Of the many possible options for accommodation in Tokyo, the Asakusa neighborhood for the great offer in terms of hostels (I was looking for a dorm bed, not a room), the lowest prices and good accessibility for public transport, especially the subway. The Asakusa district is served by the Ginza subway line (Tawaramachi stations and Asakusa) and by the Tsukuba Express train line (which connects to the westernmost part of the city as Shimokitazawa, for example).
There are also many options in terms of food, from breakfast to dinner, for the most varied prices.
In the days spent in Tokyo, I stayed at Khaosan Tokyo Samurai. It is also relatively close to the Ueno subway station where you can take the Shinkansen train.