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June 2014

The View from Roppongi Hills

Built for a whopping four billion dollars, the mega-complex known as Roppongi Hills opened to the public in 2003. With museums, malls, theaters, parks, hotels, hundreds of stores and restaurants, along with some of the city’s most expensive apartments, Roppongi Hills would love to eat up several of your Tokyo days. We spent about an hour there.

In and Around Tokyo Midtown

It surely won’t keep the title for long but the tallest habitable building in Tokyo is currently the Midtown Tower, part of the Tokyo Midtown complex in Akasaka. We spent a day checking out the sights around Midtown, including the National Art Center and the tranquil Nogi Shrine.

Eating in Tokyo: Our Favorite Foods

Every morning before starting out on another day in Tokyo, I would ask Jürgen what he was most excited about. It didn’t matter whether we were planning to visit an ancient temple, a renowned museum, a crazy festival or a gorgeous garden, his response was always the same: “Eating.” And I would thoughtfully nod in agreement. Of all the things Tokyo has to offer, its delicious and surprisingly affordable food is probably the highlight. This is a city in which it’s almost impossible to eat poorly.

The Modern Side of Yokohama

After dedicating the morning to Yokohama’s historic harbor district and grabbing lunch in Asia’s largest Chinatown, we moved farther north up the bay and spent the afternoon in the more modern part of town.

Yokohama’s Chinatown

Outside of China, the largest Chinatown in Asia can be found in Yokohama. Hundreds of restaurants and shops are packed into this colorful and boisterous neighborhood, along with a multitude of gates and temples, and (if you’re visiting at lunch time) approximately 34 billion students looking for a cheap meal.

A Trip to Yokohama

After Tokyo, Yokohama is the second-biggest city in Japan, with a population approximately equal to that of Los Angeles. The idea of dedicating a single day to it is absurd, but Yokohama is so easily accessible from Tokyo that it actually makes for an excellent short excursion.

The Giant Pandas of Ueno Zoo

Japan’s first zoo was established in Ueno Park, in 1882. Although its age is starting to show, the zoo is still a popular retreat in Tokyo. It’s inexpensive, surprisingly large and, of course, there are those irresistible Giant Pandas.

The Nikolai Cathedral in Kanda

In many other countries, the Nikolai Cathedral would hardly merit a second glance. But in Japan, the Byzantine-style construction is definitely noteworthy. Built in 1891, this Russian Orthodox church set atop a hill in Kanda is one of Tokyo’s stranger sights, just because it exists at all.

Akihabara

The great Mecca of otaku culture, Akihabara is home to innumerable shops dedicated to anime, manga, cosplay, trading cards and collectible figurines. The world’s first Maid Cafe was established here, and you can also find cheap electronics stores, grand arcades, multi-story hobby malls, and much, much more. It sounds wonderful, so we were surprised when we didn’t like Akihabara all that much.

Folding Paper at the Origami Kaikan

Almost everyone knows a little about origami, the Japanese art of folding paper. But for a deeper understanding, we visited Tokyo’s Origami Kaikan (Origami Center) in Bunkyo, where we had the opportunity to learn at the feet of an ancient sensei.

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