JAPAN – ONE: TOKYO AND NIKKO
Japan is probably one of the most convenient destinations in the world. Their mega-efficient railway system makes traveling across the country a hassle free experience. That’s why we decided to squeeze in several destinations in our roughly two week trip to the ‘Land of the Raising Sun’. We relied entirely on the smooth railway system as we traveled North from Tokyo to Nikko; and moved South to some of the wonders of Kansai region such Kyoto, Nara, Koyasan and Osaka.
On this first part of our Japan series, we explore Tokyo and Nikko.
Despite its high density, Tokyo is probably the most well organized megalopolis in the world. The total population of Tokyo’s metropolitan area is of 37 million people, making it the world’s most populous city. Tokyo never sleeps and there’s people everywhere at all times. The iconic images of big groups of people on the Shibuya crossing is a good reminder of that.
There’s simply so much to discover that it is almost impossible to see all of Tokyo in a short stay of just a few days. These are some of the spots you shouldn’t miss:
Asakusa is famous for its Buddhist temple Sensoji. It’s best to visit the area both during the day, and at night. In the evening the temple is closed to the public, but we like to drop by any way to enjoy the lightning and the quietness.
The experience is very different at dawn. The street market located in the avenue that leads to the temple is closed; and normally outside of business hours most of the people in the area are just neighbors or costumers from the many small restaurants that can be found nearby.
It’s indeed a very good area for grabbing a quick dinner.
Akihabara is a complete different story. The later it is, the busier it gets. The district is well known for the Anime stores and coffee shops that plague the area; as well as electronic stores and markets. There are plenty of Maid-cafes as well, and it’s normal to see many young girls dressed in anime costumes advertising the coffee shops that can be found upstairs. In contrast, the recently opened crafts and design centre 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan brings a refreshing mood to the area. Located underneath the JR Okachinachi railway station, exactly at 2 kilometers 530 meters of the centre of Tokyo, it was erected as a hub for artsy crafts. There are also coffee shops, galleries and unique boutiques.
The gardens surrounding the Yasukini shrine and the monument itself are quite peaceful and normally not so crowded with tourists as other worth visiting spots like the Meiji Shrine.
In the much more central location of Shibuya, the Meiji Shrine is strategically located in the very heart of a peaceful park. The shrine is dedicated to the spirits of the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Nearby the Meiji shrine there’s Omotesando and Harajuku. Both Harajuku and Omotesando are very good options for shopping, specially second-hand and vintage items, which the Japanese fancy so much.
Nakameguro must not be missed during Sakura season. The riverside promenade blooms in Spring with the splendorous cherry tries that surround the river. The area is becoming increasingly famous among young hipsters and there’s an increasing number of tiny shops and refined restaurants.
Lastly, there’s the first-class shopping district of Ginza, where designer boutiques and department stores line-up across its big avenues.
Nippori Fabric Town is the go-to-place for those who are crazy about DIY, like ourselves. It is located in a very quiet neighborhood, in the northeast of Tokyo, with low rise buildings and cozy two storey houses. It’s also very easy to reach by Tokyo’s JR Yamanote line. And it can be a very good morning activity as an alternative to the buzzing and exciting streets of Shinjuku, Harajuku or Akihabara. Most of the shops are located along the main street, Nippori Chuo dori. Some of them specialize in a particular type of fabric silk, leather, linen, cotton, wool, kimono fabrics and so on. Expect to generally find an overwhelming stock of different colors and patterns.
Japan in general is a heaven for the adventurous foodies. And Tokyo in particular is a good opportunity to sample the local cuisine. Ramen, soba, sushi, sashimi, tempura, tonkatsu, rice curries… you name it! Japanese cuisine excels for its diversity and sublime sophistication.
Be ready to queue up; and once you are seated, eat fast! so that you leave soon enough to make room for the rest of the costumers waiting outside. That’s the norm in Japan and it’s part of the fun.
The refined neighborhood of Kanda is one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the city. It’s also famous for it’s traditional restaurants typical of the Japanese culture. We had a tasty Unadon (rice bowl with eel) there!
On the other hand, Shinjuku is famous for gathering some of the best Izakayas in town. After a plentiful meal, a stroll around Shinjuku’s famous park, the Gyoen National Garden is a must, specially during Cherry Blossom.
And, lastly, for those with some extra time, a couple of subway stops away from Shinjuku there’s Nichome. A very nice neighborhood with small houses, quiet alleyways and coffee shops.
Yokohama Ramen Museum
There are some things that can only be found and experienced in Japan. And the Yokohama Ramen Museum is one of them. This is the world’s first food-themed amusement park. But don’t be scared! It’s not a fast food hub or anything like it. On the contrary, you’ll find a selection of some of the best Ramen restaurants in the country. The entrance fee is about 3 USD, and once inside you can sample some of the best ramen by ordering mini ramen bowls. They have a selection of all types of Ramen: shina soba ya (salt and soy sauce), Tonkorsu (pork bone), Dip Ramen and Kamome Shokudi.
The Ramen Museum is located in Yokohama and can be conveniently reached by bullet train. It’s just a 10-15min ride from Tokyo.
Tobu Railways and Japan Railways offer regular train services from Tokyo to Nikko. Depending on which train you pick the journey takes roughly 90 minutes. The small town is surrounded by breathtaking temples; and its popular among Shinto and Buddhist worshipers.
Additionally the Nikko National Park has several hiking trails around the Yudaki Waterfall, with mesmerizing scenery. Nikko is also a good place to try the typical hot springs
PHOTOS BY EARTH TO IRIS.