A few things I miss about Tokyo: the underground paths of the subway stations, the local department stores, Harajuku, sukiyaki and shabu-shabu gatherings, tiny alley bars, Hello Kitty souvenirs, weird gadgets at Akihabara, yakitori stalls, vending machines, Isetan Shinjuku’s shoe department, Shibuya crossings, and the list goes on. I love the energy of the city, neon lights, the cleanliness, the architecture, the whiskey bars, and the list goes on too.
So let’s take a walk today in the version of Tokyo that I’ve been and know by way of my photos in my last two trips to this amazing city.
Majority of my Tokyo experiences are spent in Ginza, because we typically stay at Imperial Hotel and spend most of our time around the vicinity. Probably one of the oldest hotels in Tokyo established in 1890, it’s not surprising to see at any time of the day ladies who lunch, bridal party greeting their guests, queue to the elevator flanked by elevator ladies, bellboys running around, the famous Takarazuka theater across the street with long queues, and high end fashion stores adjacent to the Imperial Hotel. It’s a popular destination for the members of the Japanese Imperial family, government officials, and creme de la creme of Japanese society t0 gather. We only happen to stay here because my parents refuse to stay at any other hotels (except for Okura Hotel), and location wise, it’s pretty convenient to walk to the Ginza street of shops and to take the subway to other parts of Tokyo. Imperial Hotel was once owned and funded partially by the Imperial family but now independently managed by a hotel group. The reasons why this hotel is so famous are because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1919 when its original wooden structure caught fire, hence it has a magnificently unique Maya inspired architecture, and this hotel also stood undamaged during the 1923 Great Tokyo earthquake because of its superior construction features. More about Imperial Hotel at their website.
The major department stores (Misukoshi, Matsuya, Isetan) are located on the main street of Ginza, which is closed off for pedestrians on weekends. There are many prominent high end fashion brands with own beautiful stores such as Gucci, Hermes, Dior, Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Mikimoto, etc as well as flagship electronic stores Apple and Sony that you’ll be spoilt for choice. We would always visit the coffee houses in Ginza for the mouth watering pastries and cakes, as well as the many delicious Japanese restaurants in that area.
Historically, Ginza was designated as an area of modernization, with planned construction of fireproof brick buildings and wider streets. Designed by an Irish architect, Ginza had a Western-style shopping promenade and many European-style buildings, which were for lease. Ginza became a symbol of “civilisation and enlightenment”, and was famous for its modern window displays. Though the buildings are no longer around, the remaining old building include the now iconic Wakō building with the Hattori Clock Tower in Ginza, originally built by Kintarō Hattori (the founder of Seiko). Another famous landmark in Ginza is the headquarters of Ricoh. Today, Ginza has become one of Japan’s symbolic commercial districts and famous shopping areas, if not the world.
If you are a geek and/or a fan of gadgets, comics, toys, games, electronic monkeys, then you can’t miss this one. Akihabara also known as Akihabara Electric Town (or Akiba for short) is probably one of the world’s largest shopping area for electronic, computer, anime and otaku products. Some stores also sell personal robots and robotics. Only 5 mins away on subway from Ginza, we always end up here because my brother is in love with the Sony Playstation. I’ve to admit that everytime I walk in there I’m bewildered by what I see and find – only the latest, greatest and craziest gadgets and toys.
Oh how I love Harajuku. Located between Shinjuku and Shibuya, its a mix of cultures and gets the best of both worlds. As the name suggests, Harajuku is world renowned for its unique street fashion and its stylish pedestrians, which have inspired many prominent designers and fashion ideas, for example Gwen Stefani and her “Harajuku Girls”. Many youths socialize in Harajuku on Sundays wearing their upmost stylish outfits, so it’s like a fashion runway every weekend.
Harajuku is probably my favourite shopping district ever because there are international brands, its own brands, and shops selling clothes that young people can afford. Hence, there is something for everyone. The area has two main shopping streets, Omotesandō and Takeshita Street. Omotesandō avenue is sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées” because of the up-scale fashion stores such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Cartier, Miu Miu and Prada in that location. I love this classier part of Harajuku because of the interesting stores, especially the Prada building. The area known as ‘Ura-Hara’ (meaning back streets of Harajuku) is a center of Japanese fashion for younger people with store brands such as A Bathing Ape, Comme des Garcons, and Undercover. In 2006, a shopping mall called “Omotesando Hills”, designed by Tadao Ando, was built to replaced the post-war buildings. Takeshita street mainly caters to youth fashions and has many small stores selling Gothic Lolita, visual kei, rockabilly, hip hop, and punk outfits, as well as fast food outlets and so forth.
Also whilst trying to find the location of 3.1 Phillip Lim store, we stumbled upon this cute Japanese restaurant that specialises in miso soup udon with oysters. Talk about discovering gold, I forgot to take a picture of this place, but I’ll be back one day looking for it.
Shibuya crossing made famous by ‘Lost in Translation’. Who wouldn’t want to be Scarlett Johansson walking mindlessly across the street to Starbucks? Shibuya really comes alive at night, and we weren’t there for dinner or shopping or sightseeing. We were there to get a haircut at 2 am in the morning. Yup, welcome to Shibuya.
Apart from Shibuya 109, we’ve only spent time at Freeve, a hair salon that only opens from 8 pm to 6 am every day. And I thought nasi kandar beratur in Penang had a weird target market. So, my sis, bro, mom and I got our hair cuts with broken Japanese vs broken English trying out the well-known Japanese dry cutting. Of course, my sister had to have her hair dyed, which leaves just me and my bro waiting for her at some dodgy whisky bar watching ‘Titanic’ in Japanese. Thankfully, crime rates in Tokyo are low, and taxies are plenty and affordable at wee hours in the morning.
Ueno is where my office is located. I’m always confused with the many train lines at Ueno Station and all I know is I can get from Narita International Airport straight to Ueno in a jiffy. Home to the beautiful Ueno Park, lakes, museums and temples, it also home to Ueno Zoo, which is Japan’s oldest established in 1882. I definitely want to visit the area more than anything else as for once I will not be shopping in Tokyo.
And that concludes my week of Japan blogs. I hope to continue this feature sometime down the line when I have more to say about this beautiful country and culture, which I probably will soon.