Odds and ends: Final days in Tokyo

On our final few days in Japan, we continued exploring around the great city of Tokyo.

Following a day of visiting quiet, historic sites including the neighbourhood of Yanaka and the Imperial Palace, we switched gears and went on to see more of the lively, modern side of Tokyo.

We started off with the district of Akihabara in the Chiyoda ward. This is a busy shopping hub, considered by many to be the centre of modern Japanese culture. The distinctive imagery found in Akihabara has been heavily influenced by otaku, a Japanese term referring to people with consuming interests, particularly in anime and manga.

The bustling streets are indeed lined with icons from popular anime and manga series prominently displayed along the numerous storefronts. Another quirky and somewhat bizarre concept popularized here are maid cafés, where waitresses dress up in maid costumes and act as servants to the café patrons. Wandering down the street, it was common to see many of these outfitted young women handing out flyers to attract customers.

In a similar vein, our visit to Shinjuku district later that day brought us to some more interesting and strange sights.

Shinjuku is one of the 23 special wards of Tokyo, but for most visitors the name refers to the entertainment district immediately surrounding Shinjuku Station. Filled with neon lights, arcades, nightclubs, shops, and restaurants, this buzzing area is full of things to do and places to see.

One of the most iconic tourist stops here is the Robot Restaurant, found in the Kabukicho entertainment and red-light district. It features an insane version of dinner theatre, with a cabaret-style show starring a cast including warrior princesses and giant transformer robots. We did not partake in this but passed by to see the lighted display outside.

Rather than dinner with robots, we headed over to Omoide Yokocho for our evening meal. Translating to “memory lane”, this area is a landmark network of alleyways that started off as a black market in the 1940s after World War II. The strip was known for its cheap drinks and yakitori grilled skewers, with a messy reputation earning it the nickname “piss alley” as inebriated patrons would relieve themselves openly on the street. After being partially destroyed by a fire in the 1990s, the area has since become refurbished into a more presentable destination for tourists and locals alike. You can still find some very good cheap eats here, in the form of tiny izakaya stalls and bars.

A couple days later, we returned to Akihabara following an eventful excursion to Lake Kawaguchiko and Mount Fuji. Still disappointed by the lack of cats on our visit to Yanaka “Cat Town”, we decided to get our feline fix at a cat café. Unlike our experience at the owl café in Harajuku, the set up here was much more amenable to the cat disposition.

As our time in Tokyo came to an end, we said goodbye to the city with one last delectable classic Japanese meal: a steaming bowl from Ramen Street inside Tokyo Station.

If you’ve been following along with this travel recap series, I hope you’ve enjoyed the look back at my time in Japan and South Korea. Definitely one of my favourite trips ever, and a place I hope to visit again someday soon.