Travelling in Tōkyō

So if it somehow escaped your attention, 2/3 of The Morning Bell team travelled over to Tokyo recently. It was a long-time dream of mine, one I never thought would come into fruition so quickly.

My childhood was spent surrounded by my mothers Japanese paintings, fans and Geisha statues. My early teens brought me head on into the Lolita and Harajuku-girl craze. Bright, big hair. Knee high socks and skirts with millions of petticoats. I tried my hardest to replicate the image back home in Australia, and only managed to look like an emo kid.

Tokyo is a crazy big place. I asked Kezia what I should expect upon arrival. She said “it is what you expect, but 100 times more” (or something like that, we spent a long time travelling). And that’s exactly how it was. Tokyo was as big, as bright, and as busy as I thought it would be, with all the weird nuances that the Japanese are so well-known for. And at the same time it was so much bigger, much brighter, much busier.

And so I fell in love.

Here is a small, probably rambling, guide of understanding Tokyo, getting around Tokyo and just general Tokyo-ness.

Getting to where you’re going

What I am about to say may shock some of you, there is a place in the world where you never wait for a train.

I know, you can pick your jaw up off the floor.

Just this week I spent 25 minutes waiting in the icy Melbourne night temperatures at a train station, because there were no trains running to my area past a certain station. There was no delay, this is a routine and schedule thing.

However in Tokyo we never waited more than five minutes for a train. It was bliss. Sure, it’s basically standing room only but, never waiting for a train at any time of day or night was pure joy and happiness.

The other thing which I think Australian peak-time commuters should really consider is that the Japanese line up in two lines at designated spots along the train platform where carriage doors will open. Utterly polite and uniform.

As easy as it is to hop on a train, once alighting from train, getting to where you’re going is a whole other story.

Tokyo does not have street names, there is no grid system and alleyways and streets snake in an out of each other with no remorse.

As a traveller you probably won’t have access to the internet, and most importantly, google maps while you’re away. Kezia and I thought we would be smart, saving images of maps before we left our hotel.

Somehow it was still ridiculously easy to get lost. We thought if we asked locals, especially those working in stores to point out where we were on a map, it would make it all the easier. Unfortunately, every time we did this no body seemed to know where they were, and were not sure of popular destinations only streets away.

My advice for those trying to get around in Tokyo? Not a lot. Just be prepared to walk around for about an hour, asking in broken Japanese where you are to several locals before finally feeling the absolute ecstasy of finding that cat cafe on the 3rd floor of one of the many high-rises, or the tucked away infamous drinking districts that exist in Tokyo.

The eating

If you are looking for an extensive restaurant guide of Japanese cuisine, this is not the place to be. I am sorry. As a vegetarian in Japan I found it quite difficult to find food that I thought was ‘safe’.

A lot of small restaurants do not have any english menus, or if they do, you will be lucky to find something that is vegetarian.

Often when I asked if there was anything vegetarian, or indicated I was vegetarian, waitresses would often point to meals with fish in them. Fish are not considered a meat or animal, I suppose.

Luckily, I did have a few amazing meals in Japan, one particular restaurant we found accidentally in Harajuku. It was small, in a quiet back street. We sat on stools in front of the chefs cooking and ate right off the stove top. It was probably the best restaurant experience I have ever had.

The Japanese also LOVE Italaian restuarants, it felt like there were more Italian restaurants than Japanese. And tabasco sauce. Tabasco with everything.

Shit you have to do

I understand this is getting quite lengthy now, so I’ll try not to waffle on too much.

One thing you must absolutely do is get off a train at Shinjuku station on a Friday or Saturday night. I have never seen so many people in one spot, it was absolute madness. And whilst you’re in Shinjuku…

Go to the Golden Gai. The Golden Gai is a drinking district in Shinjuku that is tucked away (go just past 5th avenue and turn right down an inconspicuous path lined with trees, you will stumble upon it). We frequented the bar ‘Albatross’ that was recommended on travel blogs all over the internet.

It is an amazing, 3 level bar that is about a metre wide and sits about 6 people in each bar. On the second level, your bartender can leave the bar via a hole under the bar, and passes drinks up to the third level.

However, speaking to some locals at a pub on night, they were quite impressed we vistied the Golden Gai, stating it was quite underground. They attributed it to Brooklyn, NY, and I supposed it to be similar to Fitzroy & surrounds in Melbourne.

Shibuya feels the most like the busiest, central part of Tokyo (in comparison to how our local cities ‘feel’ like cities). The streets are long and bordered with skyscrapers, littered with neon lights and advertisements.

There is a cat cafe in Shibuya that you must go to in order to fulfil the cult following cat cafes seem to have acquired. And of course, there is the famous Shibuya crossing (best seen from the second story of Starbucks).

We probably went to Harajuku the most while we were in Tokyo. Living out my adolescent dreams as previously mentioned, we went to Takeshita street littered with the cutest clothing stores, accessory shops and of course, crepes!

Harajuku is ridiculously busy on a Sunday, but it’s well worth heading to Takeshita street in the first half of your day, taking in the Harajuku sub-culture, and then cooling off by taking a trip to the Meji Shrine which is situated deep within a forest that is dark, shadowy and one of the few areas of respite you can find in Tokyo.

Kamakura is also known as the “Kyoto of Tokyo”. If you’re like us and doing a purely Tokyo based Japan trip, Kamakura is well worth the hour or less train ride out of Tokyo. Be warned however, the buses that go out to the temples are not self-explanatory and you may end up very lost in a country town that has no english whatsoever (but very kind courier drivers at convenience stores who will help you out).

There is so much more I could write about Japan, but I cannot possibly hold your attention past 1000 words.

See you on Sunday for the weird news round up – M


  1. Jackson Bryant

    Loved reading this. Reminds me of my trip, so glad you had a great time!

    1. Melissa Madigan

      Thanks Jackson! (Sorry for late reply, I’m a newb at this website) I miss Tokyo so much!