Urbanism works when it creates a journey as desirable as the destination – Paul Goldburger
Our big motivation to head to Japan was actually about running, but we left with our bellies and our hearts full with mad love for the people and the culture. Of all of the destinations we have been to around the world, Japan may be our favorite. The people, the food, the traditions, the creativity, and character of each neighborhood in every city and village…everything was perfection.
We book ended our trip in Tokyo and really didn’t see nearly enough during our time there because of the marathon, so this post is light on so much Tokyo has to offer. Since we were off to Kyoto, known for its rich cultural heritage, after only a few nights in Tokyo we focused our time on all of the crazy busy modern technology sections and food of course.
We stayed at Ryokan Sawanoya, a great little family run ryokan in the Nezu neighborhood. The accommodation had a little modern twist to a traditional rhyokan. While it had the tatami-matted rooms, yukata dress for lounging, and futon beds, many of the rooms had private baths and breakfast was American continental. See pictures of a more traditional rhyokan in my Kyoto post.
The Nezu neighborhood is a quiet, mainly residential space on the edge of the Ueno neighborhood, where you will find the largest collection of Tokyo’s cultural sites. It is also a quick train ride away to the busy neighborhoods of Shibuya and Shinjuku and the Ginza shopping district.
One of the first things you are certain to encounter when you arrive in Japan is the Japanese toilet, a magnificent and confusing experience. Never fear as the lengthy instructions and simple pictures are helpful for understanding what each button achieves. I recommend experimenting with them all…the Japanese do the bathroom experience right, even down to the shoes.
Shibuya is known as the trend-setting fashion area with the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. We probably should have captured the crossing from a far as this little selfie only shows a glimpse of the madness.
Just beyond the intersection you will find the Harajuku area which is filled with street art, cosplay shops, and quirky vintage clothing stores. The best time to see the cosplay girls is on Sunday afternoon, but if you spend enough time in the neighborhood chances are high that you will spot one.
Take a walk along Takeshita Street, a pedestrian only shopping area filled with 400 meters of jam packed overstimulating craziness.
To escape the crowds and decompress in nature, take a stroll through adjacent Yoyogi Park, a large 134 acre reserve.
If you are hungry sidle up to one of the many ramen noodle bars in the neighborhood. We had an excellent meal at Menhan Shokudo Nakajima.
If you would rather eat on the run, you can always find something yummy in a vending machine on just about any street in Tokyo. The food is surprisingly good!
When night falls head to the lights and crowds of the Shinjuku neighborhood. Here you will find the busiest metro station in Tokyo, yet somehow things remain orderly and free of chaos. Once you emerge onto the streets of this neighborhood you be inundated with flashing lights, beeping crosswalks, and recordings of women saying things in Japanese.
We spent our evenings streets, finding the giant Godzilla, attending a show, bar hopping in the Golden Gai mini bar area, and eating of course. We found a lovely little restaurant, Kuriya where we had endless plates of beautifully prepared Japanese dishes and selection of sake.
After dinner we headed to the Robot Restaurant for an insane show which I would describe as a combination of anime, robots, and techno lights. This place is such a tourist trap, but in the very best way. Make sure you eat before or after the show. They offer only bento boxes and they looked terrible.
Just around a few blocks away you will find the Golden Gai district. This area is made up of 200 tiny bars squeezed into six alleys. A mix of tourists and locals can be found here, though some bars are for locals only. A sign will let you know if you are not welcome. Each wee little bar has its own unique personality, offering only a handful of seats. Many have a narrow staircase leading to a second level where it feels a bit more like a hideout than bar.
Other suggestions for Shinjuku neighborhood include udon noodles at either Tokyo Mentsudan Udon or Shin Udon, both cheap, casual and incredibly delicious.
Splurging on one of Toyko’s many bizarre hotels is also quite fun. We spent an evening at the Hello Kitty suite in the Keio Plaza Hotel. Everything here is obnoxiously hello kitty in the best way.
During our time in Tokyo, Hinamatsuri Girls Day was being celebrated. During this time women present their dolls representing the emperor, empress, attendants and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period. The dolls, which are typically handed down over multiple generations sit on a red carpet. Lovely ornaments surrounded the dolls at the Keio Plaza Hotel.
Tsukiji fish market
Wake up early and had the worlds biggest fish markets, Tsukiji Fish Market. It is a bit of a hike to get out that way, but if you jet lagged and unable to sleep try to catch the live tuna auction if you arrive by 5AM. If that is a bit too early for your liking, most storefronts remain open until 9AM. This is a great way to explore the Japanese seafood selections and eat a sushi breakfast.
Lastly….the reason we came in the first place, the marathon! This was my last of the 6 world major marathons, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, and New York were the others.
This 26.2 wound through all of the well known neighborhoods and was filled with people dressed in outrageous costumes. It was a wonderful way to round out my road running days.
Tokyo was modern magic!
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