A city of high-rises. The view from one of the office buildings I went to regularly.

I have been back in Canada for five months now…clearly about time I wrote about my Tokyo Times. I was in the city on and off between May 2019 – April 2020 for work, and although I wasn’t always feeling my best (I touched on this somewhat in my post on Why I Run), I did manage to have some pretty awesome experiences.

The question is … where do I start? I think it’s taken me so long to write because I was overwhelmed by this question. Tokyo offers so much that it’s hard to wrap my brain around it all. I think the best thing to do is start with a few of my favourite experiences and observations, including some of my favourite spots to take visitors.

When I first arrived, I spent my free time just walking around different areas of the cities – this wasn’t always easy and comfortable, given the almost 100-degree temperature with 100% humidity (or close to it!). I joked that everyone was just going to have to accept that from May to September 2020 I was going to be a walking ball of sweat… Obviously that’s not quite how 2020 turned out.

So as I sit here miles and miles away from Tokyo and think back on my time there, here’s what comes to mind.

The food! Clearly the best place to start is with the food. So much amazing food – even if you don’t eat fish (which I do). From sushi to ramen to pizza (yes, pizza) to tempura to steak to gyoza to soba noodles to sandwiches from the 7-Eleven (really very good, particularly the egg salad). One of my favourite things to do was visit the food level at a department store late afternoon as they markdown the sushi which needs to be sold quickly. Super fresh and well priced. Yummy! I wasn’t adventurous enough to try out the many strange looking “sweets” – to be honest, they just didn’t appeal to me, they didn’t look like they were meant to be eaten.

Nissan Crossing. One of the first places I took visitors to was Nissan Crossing – the Nissan feature store in Ginza. Sounds strange, I know…however, on the 2nd floor they have a café. Not just any old café though. Here you can have a photo printed onto the foam of your coffee or hot chocolate (or iced chocolate). Then you get to watch yourself melt away as you drink. I even saw teenagers asking for a photo of their K-pop idol on their drink! Just a fun thing to do while catching up and deciding where to go next. My friend B. introduced me to this place, and I took everyone who visited – whether they were in Tokyo for work or for play. I still think that if I had enough of these photos they’d make for a fun poster.

Going, going, gone!

Asakusa. This is another area that B introduced me to, and to which I kept going back (with or without visitors!). It was fortuitous that my friend B (who I met while doing my yoga teacher training) happened to be in Tokyo two weeks after I first landed. She and her husband lived in Tokyo for many years and it was wonderful to have her show me around. There were many gems in her tours, and one of them was Asakusa.

We went to Asakusa with some of B’s friends who still live in Japan on the weekend of its neighbourhood celebration. This is a three-day celebration where local residents parade items from the local temple through the streets to bless the area. All neighbourhoods do this. Asakusa’s was a real eye-opener!

I was quite surprised to see men walking around baring their butts. When I asked one of my new friends why they were doing this I was informed that it’s a tradition for areas by water to also take the temple items into the water to bless it and pray for good fishing. Okay, I get that, it’s amazing. However….nobody here was going into the water… It also cracks me up that this man looks so happy and proud of himself, all while getting a wedgie…

Asakusa is a very popular destination for locals as well as tourists, and was usually teaming with people there to see the temple, shop at the little kiosks, and eat lots of food. On weekends you see a good number locals wearing traditional kimonos which are so beautiful.

While walking around Asakusa I would head over to Kappabashidogugai street which is a very long street filled with kitchen supply stores. Here you will find everything from ceramics to glassware to pots and pans to restaurant uniforms to utensils and wonderfully sharp Japanese knives. A number of my friends bought some lovely ceramic bowls and I always meant to go back and do that eventually, but I never did.

I did, however, buy me some sharp Japanese knives! Luckily for me I have friends who love to do a lot of research before they travel somewhere and they did the leg work on finding the best knife store. Kama-Asa. They sell much more than knives, but that’s what I was there for and that’s what I brought a few people there for. Some bought gifts for others, some bought gifts for themselves.

And one of the cool things is they will engrave your name or whatever you want on the knives in Japanese and in English. All done free-hand. So impressive!

And that, my friends is only a little insight to Asakusa. A few other interesting tidbits:

  • I was told that the Yakuza (mafia) have their head office in the area. As far as I know I didn’t see it, however during the neighbourhood celebrations you did see people walking around showing their tattoos, which are traditionally representative of being part of the Yakuza. When you go to pools or spas you generally see signs saying tattoos are not permitted or have to be covered. This poses an interesting challenge for the Japanese tourism industry as more and more international visitors have tattoos – and aren’t part of a crime syndicate.
  • The first “western style” bar that opened in Japan is said to be in Asakusa as well. Kamiya bar – I nearly went in….but we opted for something else that day.

I feel like this is already a fair amount of information. And really, Tokyo deserves more than one blog post – being the big, beautiful, complex, interesting city that it is. So I’ll save some for Part 2 and leave you with a few random sitings.

Suntory Hall – I happened by it one day to see the announcement that doors were opening – pipes emerge from above the Suntory hall sign, playing music to let everyone know it is time to come in. Lovely.
One of the main streets in Ginza is shut down to traffic on weekends, opening it up for people who are wandering the area, shopping, and yes, showing off their dogs wearing lion wigs. They were certainly the stars of the show that day!
You had to know there would be a “Japanese toilet” image of some sort! The seats are warm, it’s a toilet and a bidet all in one, with various degrees of water pressure – basically everything has a control. Mine at home even flushed automatically as soon as you stood up. But this one, this one may have gone too far……”wand clean”???? Um, I’m not entirely sure what they mean – and I did NOT want to find out.
Riding the monorail. I may or may not have been pretending to drive..
Crazy tall buildings and blue skies.
What time is that first train? Clearly I am just supposed to know… 🙂