The good-looking older cousin of Harajuku, Shimokitazawa is leaning against the wall, smoking and watching bemusedly as the crowds swarm around the cute kid dressed in cosplay. He shakes his head, crushes his cigarette butt under the heel of his leather boot, and heads into the record shop. Harajuku might be more popular, but all the cool kids prefer Shimokita.
We had seen a lot of Tokyo’s different faces: cute, modern, weird, beautiful, historic, confusing. But until our visit to East Shinjuku, we hadn’t experienced the famously seedy side of Tokyo. The Golden Gai, Kabukicho and Piss Alley are three areas which forever changed our impression of the city. (A change for the better? I’ll leave that unanswered.)
The Yomiuri Giants are the the New York Yankees of Japan. You can love them or hate them, but ambivalence is not allowed. They’re by far the richest and most successful team in Japanese baseball, with 22 titles under their belts. (The Saitama Seibu Lions are in second place with 13.) We took a trip to the Tokyo Dome to see the team in action.
If you like books, you’re going to love the neighborhood of Jimbocho. Hundreds of new and used bookshops line the streets of this district, dedicated to everything from manga to art, architecture, fashion and travel. The majority of the books are in Japanese, but there are plenty of foreign titles, especially in English and German. Even if you’re not in the mood to buy, just browsing can make for an entertaining afternoon. But there’s almost no way that you’re going to walk out of Jimbocho empty-handed.
A pleasant and almost entirely-overlooked neighborhood in the north of the city, Komagome is defined by narrow alleys lined with shops and restaurants, and is home to one of Tokyo’s best gardens: the Rikugi-en, originally built at the end of the seventeenth century.
Although it’s considered Western Tokyo, Shinjuku can legitimately claim to be the new center of the city. Shinjuku Station is busier than Tokyo Station, serving nearly four million passengers a day. The city government has moved here, and Shinjuku boasts not only Tokyo’s most infamous entertainment district, but most of its tallest skyscrapers.
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.
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.
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.
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.