Tokyo. Hold on, it gets nuts.
Tokyo is huge first of all. As far as cities go it is spread out like Los Angeles with way more people walking around. It’s busy, full of life, and amazing. Finding a place to stay can be a little daunting, but getting around on the subway is easy enough. We landed at the hotel Claska in the Meguro section.
So yeah. It has a maritime theme to it. I suppose. If ships were made of stucco. It was a cool, hip place, kind of an bargain Ace Hotel, with a cute little coffee place in the lobby, where all the food came with something the shape of a penis. Not sure if that was by design.
First thing was first and that was breakfast… a quick Google search came up with the “best” breakfast in Tokyo, a little place called Kaila, which, as far as I could tell, had a Hawaiian theme to it. The specialty here was the waffles and pancakes, although the Benedict was off the charts. Also I got to see more people take pictures of their plates then most do of their babies.
Belly full, I immediately felt the urge to experience all the weirdness that I heard Tokyo was famous for, so I made a B line for Akihabara, which if nothing else, is super fun to say. Arriving there I was not disappointed, visually smacked with bright signs, throngs of kids, and tons of manga. It was an overload of nerdiness.
They even had a functional Tower Records there… I guess no one told the manager they went out of business like 8 years ago.
Next I wandered back through the city into Shibuya, which I ended up finding an AirBnB at as the neighborhood was way cooler then where Claska was. Shabuya is hard to describe, it’s kind of the West Village meets 5th Avenue of New York, a place where a funky junk shop could be next door to a couture designer. The streets twist and turn here in gentle, winding arcs, and there are a ton of great places to shop, and more importantly for this Italian, eat. I found two places that were amazing, one was a food truck that had a line of people outside.
First I saw the line, that led me into an alley, and there, I saw the omelette food truck called OmtRak. Basically its rice, a fresh scrambled egg on top, and then your choice of sauce. I chose curry, mainly because it was the only thing I could point to. It was amazing. The other was the Dominque Ansei bakery which is like a Willie Wonka factory. Inside they take oversized homemade marshmallows, dip them in chocolate, and give them to you on a stick. I mean a curry omelette and chocolate marshmallow is kinda the best meal ever.
It was a pleasure to walk off that meal through the dope streets of Shabuya (also fun to say, especially if you do a fist to pelvis hip thrust while saying it.)
Here I found a little traditional kimono shop and grabbed my kimono cause I stand behind a culture where a robe is considered formal wear. I also encountered the strange ritual of having receipts stapled into your passport. Apparently they keep a record of this and at the airport you are suppose to show them the receipts and they are going to check to make sure you have all the stuff you bough, but between you and me, this never happened.
They also like to make models of their food. All their food. In every restaurant they have these fake plates, with food on them. It’s kinda amazing. So is this reindeer having his way with Santa. Who’s laughing and calling the names now fat man?
Hungry, I found a BBQ joint called Smokehouse. Yeah. Like American BBQ. Usually I think it’s a sin not to eat local food, but I thought it would be interesting to see what Japanese American BBQ looked like, in my mouth. Spoiler alert: they do it better.
Walking off the meat coma I had put myself into I found myself in Harajuka, which is the funkier, “east village” part of Tokyo that I really dug. Weird little streets, lots of street art, and funky shops keep you company here. There are the traditional conveyor belt style sushi joints to chow down at, or, if you’re in the mood for a cuddle, you can actually rent a puppy for an hour to hold. More traditionally you can get your nails done in these little back alley style shops, or dig into some amazing coffee like at Deus Ex Machina which I know from LA.
The night was upon me so it was time to take in some serious Tokyo culture. Yes, I am talking about a robot restaurant. What do I say about this… other then just go. You might think it’s a tourist trap, you might think it’s garbage, but I’m telling you it’s one of the most fun evenings you can have, and I once hung out with Mel Brooks and Kevin Heart on a booze cruise.
Pro Tip: Tell them it’s your friends birthday and embarrass the shit out of him.
So yes, there are some amazing restaurants in Tokyo, beautiful gardens, plenty of culture to behold, but in all honestly Tokyo felt the least Japanese to me of any other city, even Osaka. The identity here is mixed, influence from all over the world has muddied the culture here, and while it is super interesting, it is not nearly as profound as in other cities or towns. That said, it’s a helluva place to go shopping, eat, and walk around, and should definitely not be missed. I would just say start your trip there, not end it. Also definitely do not miss that omelette truck.
That concludes my journeys through Japan. From Kyoto to Nara to Osaka I have to say, out of any country I’ve visited I am surprised to say that it was Japan I found the most foreign. From the language, to the people, to the food, it really seemed like a culture onto itself, unsullied from a mix of foreign influence. It is a country I hope to return again and again to, perhaps with more then a handful of words next time. Until then…
Roberto Serrini is a professional traveler who records his adventures in word, photography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com where he can be contacted as well.