On my first day in Tokyo, after settling down in the Sheraton, I headed out to the nearby JR Meguro station on the hotel’s shuttle bus and explored the area for food upon the recommendation from the concierge. I settled on ramen, a classic dish and it would also be my first time ever ordering ramen using the vending machine. Being a ramen store in a residential neighbourhood, there wasn’t any English translation though the chef was able to help out and I had a bowl of tasty Shio Ramen. Ramen is perhaps one of the cheapest food one can have in Japan and it is not uncommon to see long queues of people outside ramen stores since they tend to be small eateries. They are however also great places to observe the locals as during the time I was slurping on my ramen, there was a salaryman in his business coat, two high school students on the way back from school and another young guy on casual jacket and jeans, all slurping heartily on ramen.
After the extremely late lunch, I walked back to the JR Meguro station. Basically for tourists and visitors, the JR Yamanote line which circles around Tokyo is the major subway route to note of. Many of Tokyo’s largest points of interest are located near the main stops. Not only that, buyers of the Japan Rail Pass will also be able to ride on this rail since they are included under the fare. However, it is not very worthwhile to buy a Rail Pass just solely for the Yamanote line since rides usually cost 300 Yen at most for a one way trip. What best to start my exploration in the city by starting at Tokyo Station. The recently refurbished station maintains its traditional facade and houses a huge departmental store, and a 5-star hotel. A very popular meeting point is the 2 domes upon the exit of the JR line on each ends of the station so make sure to specify to the other party where you are meeting. The surrounding of the Tokyo station are huge glass and steel monoliths marking the Marunouchi district where the top tier hotels such as the Shangri-la and Peninsula are located at. In addition the area is also useful to get free wifi access as many of the office buildings are owned by the Mitsubishi Estate (one of the largest conglomerates in Japan), with brochures on office buildings about the history of this area.
For photographers and architecture enthusiasts, the Tokyo International Forum in the vicinity is not to be missed. The whole shape of the building looks like the hull of a ship, and the modern curves of the building is especially stunning when lit up just slightly after sunset. This venue houses exhibitions and trade shows regularly so it can get crowded, but that also means one is certain to find a variety of food options around this area as well. However, another short walk from the Forum lies the Yurakucho station which is a midpoint between Tokyo station and the Ginza area. A BIC Camera store and outlet is located here and that was my first exposure to this amazing store in Japan that sells all manner of electronic products in addition to some goods like watches. It can be an interesting place to shop at since there are plenty of interesting products on display.
The next stop lies Ginza which is like 5th Avenue to New York, and Central to Hong Kong. Major luxury brands have huge shops here and due to the clientele served, this neighbourhood is spotlessly clean. The whole experience left me wondering if Japan is just so clinically devoid of filth that exists in other metropolitan cities around the world. One of the most famous landmarks in the area is the Ginza-Yonchome intersection with the clock tower atop the Wako Main Building, and where 2 major department stores, namely Mitsukoshi and Matsuya are located at. An Apple Store can also be found opposite the Matsuya Ginza store. While food in Ginza expensive, it isn’t that much more expensive than the rest of the country, and thus comparatively speaking, high end restaurants in the area is good value for dinner where I had amazing melt-in-the mouth Karubi or grilled beef short rib.
On the second day in Tokyo, it was time to enjoy the last colours of autumn by heading to one of Tokyo’s most famous parks – Ueno. It is easily accessible on the JR line and closer to get to in the morning as the hotel shuttle bus from Sheraton Miyako drops me off at Shinagawa station. With the clear blue skies and mild winter temperatures Ueno Park was an easy walk in the park, literally! There were many musicians playing in the park that day and street performers as well even though little crowd to be seen. The trees were still in its glorious autumn colours and really added to the beauty of the park. Inside the park, one can find numerous museums and I chose to visit the Tokyo National Museum which has a very nice reflecting pool on the main entrance, though this morning the fountain was not turned on yet. Having been to some fantastic museum, the Tokyo National Museum was really a disappointment. Walking inside the museum was really hot and this made for a relatively tiring walk. The museum hall was also not very well lit which means exhibits does not appear at their best.
Even though the visit to the museum wasn’t as satisfying, the lunch set I had at the JR Ueno Station was superb. I have learnt that train stations house some great choices for food in Japan, and sometimes they can be value-for-money as well. I had a set lunch comprising of Tempura and cold soba, with an additional order of Kuromitsu ice-cream topped with red beans and mochi, and all were absolutely great!
I headed to switch hotels on the afternoon after lunch and took a rest in the room before venturing out to Shibuya in the evening. Unlike the rest of Tokyo, Shibuya is a bit more noisy and really crowded at all times of the day. And what other better spot to watch the crowds than anywhere around the now-famous Shibuya Crossing. Famous for being the location for shopping, the crowd at Shibuya comprises of tourists from all over the world and young, trendy Japanese enjoying their day after work. Not suprisingly, this is one area where shops are still on the 3rd of January when many stores are still closed for the New Year’s holiday.
Just before heading to Yokohama in the evening, I picked to visit Odaiba on the morning. This relatively new district in Tokyo is famous for its waterfront views, and what better way to enjoy this by taking the Tokyo Monorail. One of the main attraction for the automobile geek in me is the Toyota Mega Web which is a city showcase for Toyota located beside Palette Town, a European-inspired shopping town. The Toyota Mega Web is really like an amusement park with an automobile theme, and visitors can view a racing simulation provided by the producers of the GranTurismo video game, or take a test drive around a track on one of the numerous Toyota models on display. It is also one of the places where you can try sitting on the Toyota Century, the flagship car built by the company for the Emperor and many other Japanese VIPs and incidentally sold only inside Japan. There is another section for automobile enthusiasts located in Palette Town Mall itself to browse through some classic car collections from around the world in addition to the classic GT-Rs and Toyota sports cars. However this classic car museum was less fascinating compared to Mega Web itself.
The best time to visit Odaiba, however has got to be during the afternoon and close to sunset when one gets a wonderful view of the Rainbow Bridge being lit up with the skyline of the city behind it. In addition, the numerous restaurants also open for business and the boardwalk along the shopping malls gets really crowded with families and tourists alike. The beauty of Odaiba during the sunset was just so beautiful that I made a return trip to the area on my second stop in Tokyo!