As impressive as Tokyo Tower might be, if you’ve been to Tokyo a couple of times you would concede that even the majestic Meiji Jingu can get a bit passe. The fact is, the mecca wonderland of Japan certainly has more to offer than meets the eye. I encourage you to jump in at the deep end, stripping off that gaijin (“foreigner”) badge and do something the locals might do. Here are six such things that are slightly left of centre to what you would usually be expected to do when you’re in Tokyo…
1. Pretend you’re a salaryman and have a “konbini” breakfast
“Konbini”, short for convenient store, are your 7-Elevens, Family Marts, Lawsons and Circle Ks scattered at almost every street corner. My advice? When you’re in Tokyo, skip the continental hotel breakfast and stroll down to the konbini nearest your hotel. There, you can put together a salaryman’s breakfast for under 10AUD. My picks are usually an onigiri (“rice ball”) of some sort (they have everything from nitamago – simmered boiled egg, umeboshi – pickled plum, to mentaiko – spicy Pollock roe), and an egg sandwich. Japanese egg sandwiches are completely different to what you may know, most likely because of their super white sugary bread and inclusion of kewpie mayo. If you like your dairy, try to find boxed milk from Hokkaido, it’s deliciously creamy. And just for fun, definitely try the creamed corn soup in a can. It’s actually not too bad!
Family Mart, Lawsons and Circle K are widely available around Tokyo
2. Revisit your childhood at a gaming arcade
Visiting electric town is an experience in itself, but go one step further and check out the many gaming arcades located at Akihabara. Many of them are storeys high, with each floor featuring a different game genre – from UFO toy grabbing on the main level right up to car racing, Street Fighter-esque battle stations and rhythm and dance games. It might all be in Japanese but the staff are usually quite friendly. Not a gaming aficionado? The place is still an interesting insight into how some of the Japanese let off steam. And if all else fails, just capture the moment at a purikura photobooth.
Club Sega Akihabara
1-10-9 Soto-kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
3. Meander the streets of Shimokitazawa
Word has it that Harajuku is dead and everyone is slowly migrating to the lesser known Shimokitazawa. With a style that’s less in your face, Shimokita still prides itself with an eclectic mix of vintage, antique and modern pop fashion that can only be found here in Japan. The neighbourhood is also packed with small bars that seat five, cute cafes and plenty of restaurants. Arrive early to people watch and stay till the evening to have a drink while the sun goes down.
Odakyu line from Shinjuku Station or Keio Inokashira line from Shibuya Station.
4. Patron a novelty café
Nothing encapsulates the eccentric nature of Japan more than their abundance of novelty cafes. But don’t run away just yet, not all novelty restaurants are as wacky as the infamous robot restaurant. These eateries are guided by whatever theme they happen to be, whether it’s the wait staff giving you maid and butler service to your sudden ascension to royalty or an animal café that lets you pet cats, rabbits and even owls. Some are simply just themed cafes boasting a relaxed atmosphere and cute food. Check out the ninja café or the jail-themed café if you like a bit of suspense with your meals. Otherwise the Alice in Wonderland themed café might be more your speed, complete with complimentary rabbit ear hairbands that you can wear throughout your dining experience.
Alice in Wonderland Restaurant
Japan, 〒160-0021 Tokyo, Shinjuku 歌舞伎町1丁目6-2 T-wingビルB2
5 pm to 12 am
5. Shop for everything at the Ameyoko
Put off shopping at a department store for a day and catch a train to Ueno instead. On the tracks between Okamichi and Ueno Stations is Ameyoko, an open air market peddling everything from clothes to dried fish and fresh produce to sports equipment. Opening hours vary from store to store but your best bet is to go around 10 in the morning while the last shop shuts at 8 in the evening.
Exit Ueno station and walk towards the open air market
10 am – 8 pm (Closed on some Wednesdays)
6. Drink yourself silly at a “nomihoudai”
“Nomihoudai” means all you can drink and it really is as good as it sounds. Many private bars offer rates as low as 500 yen per hour so long as you order food. Drink varieties will usually encompass beer, sake and also mixed drinks. Just remember to rein yourself in before you pass out or vomit. It would be a huge affront to Japanese hospitality.
1-7-1 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku 160-0023, Tokyo