(long post warning)
After our hectic day in Tokyo, we spent the evening with some friends from Vanderbilt (Brian & Taylor) who live in the surrounding Tokyo area. We met them at one of their favorite restaurants and had quite an epic meal after our already impressive food day. We had an 8-course tasting menu at this lovely quaint restaurant and each course was perfect. Debbie gave me some props for trying various new types of fish on our sushi platter and short of the prawn course (not a shellfish fan), everything was impeccable. The only regret of the evening (aside from not bringing a warm enough coat) was that we forgot to take a picture with them 😦
The next morning, we were trying to figure out what to do with our last day and decided to go for some of the more famous sights in the city. Debbie was looking up free audio tours when we discovered the free walking tour option to visit the Meiji temple and surrounding parks/fashion streets. We bolted out of the hotel to make our way to the meeting point. We met our guide (Erica) outside of the temple and our group of 12 people from all over the world- Australia, London, France, and Argentina. Then…our history tour began…
History Lesson of Japan as we took it: The Samurais were in rule of the country from the early 1600s until the late 1800s and didn’t allow any Japanese individuals to leave the country or foreigners to enter the country with the exception of trade with China and the Dutch. In the early 1850s, a ship from the US showed up and unaware to the rules of Japan, found a way to open up trade. The trade channel opened the doors to democracy in Japan and slowly grew concerns from the Samurai families about the potential for a government overthrow. With these growing concerns, the leaders of the Samurai family transferred power over to the Emperor (later known as Meiji emperor) and they moved to the capital of Japan from Kyoto to Tokyo (which literally means eastern capital, used to be called Edo beforehand). The tour guide talked about the balance that the Japanese people have of not only embracing and building upon new traditions but also not forgetting where they came from- there’s a saying
“wakon yosai” which is commonly referred to as they balance the new and old.
We also learned about the difference between a temple and shrine: a temple is Buddhist, a shrine is Shinto. Shrines have gates upon the entry way and temples do not have the large gates. Both believe that they are resting places for the souls of those they’re made in honor to (note that post WWII apparently the concept of an Emperor being a living god no longer was held). We learned that each time you walk through the gates of a shrine you are becoming more and more spiritual as you get closer to the center.
Once we were in the shrine, Debbie and I each made a wish (for a whopping 10 yen, $0.70) – and learned how to make a wish in Japanese culture by a combination of bowing and clapping hands. They also had a tree of wishes for you to buy a wish (500 yen, ~$4) which they collect at the end of the year and burn all together, with the belief that the Gods can read the wishes through the smoke.
The final two stops of the tour were to Takeshita Street (famous fashion street) in Harajuku and Yoyogi Park. Takeshita street is known to the Japanese-cute culture- e.g. PokeMon, Hello Kitty- and is one of the most famous streets in the country. We had the “pleasure” of walking through it once and seeing all of the various stores but am not sure that we’ll ever need to return. It was equally as crowded (and fun) as walking through Times Square. We then ended up at Yoyogi Park which was home to the athletes village the last time the Olympics were here (spoiler alert, apparently there is not a lot of support for the Olympics being here next year from the locals). The park used to be known as Washington Heights and was home to the American foreign-nationals that were here after WWII and they relinquished the land for the Japanese country to use for the Olympics.
Post tour, we were committed to finding some good Sushi for lunch. We wanted sushi that came on a conveyor belt like we’d found last time we were here so adventured about 20 minutes to go find some. What we found inside the restaurant was even better than what we had imagined. The restaurant had individual stalls with numbers and iPads and an awesome concept. You sit down, play on the iPad (read: review the menu, find what you want), pick your order, and then the sushi is delivered on a train to your station within 3-5 minutes. We ate a ton- ranging from salmon to tuna to even, just maybe, a cheeseburger roll (would not order again). We greatly enjoyed our lunch and want to open up one of these places back home.
Post lunch, we went hunting for a puppy cafe. If you’ve never been to Tokyo, they have various themed cafes where you can drink coffee while spending time with insert whatever your interested in. We made our way to Dog Haven and found that it was too crowded for us to stay, but they literally had a Golden in a diaper and 8-10 other dogs just running around and people playing with them. We walked back to the hotel to rest up for the evening (90 minute walk, hit 32k steps yesterday).
The night time activity proved to be even better than we could have bargained. We signed up for another free tour for the evening life in Tokyo, walking through the red light district and learning about the Japanese sex culture. This tour guide was a nut, from the moment we met until the end of the night he was full of humor and energy unlike anything we’d seen before.
Our tour went through two various hot spots of bars as well as the adult district. We started off in memory lane which was home to tons of tiny izakayas- each holding no more than 8-12 people. We learned that most had an all you can drink option from 7-9 pm, then you moved to the next one for round 2 of unlimited drinking from 9-11 pm, then you had to make your decision to decide if you wanted to stay out all night or head home as the trains stopped running at 12. It was interesting to see tons of individuals out in the town as it was a Saturday night and we were in the heart of the action.
We made our way next to the red light district and learned about the control exerted by the Mafia in the area as well as the 5 different types of Japanese fetishes- no need to go into them here ;). The best part about the guides overview was how he was explaining sensitive topics to the younger folks on the trip as well as pointing out the various sights as we walked by. The highlight here- the sex help desk- literally on every corner once he pointed out what they looked like and it was a place to help those wandering the alleys to find exactly the place they were looking for based off of their interest as well as budget.
Next we made our way into the host and hostess club areas. These clubs are actually exclusively for conversation and “good looking” men and/or women (host/hostess club) act as bartenders to talk to those interested folks. We learned the the top grossing workers in this industry can make well above $100k per month and the top one last year was earning over $2 million a month. You can see some pictures below for the host clubs- we originally thought they were boy bands…
The last stop in the district was the love hotels. We didn’t walk through any but they were all fairly similar from the outside. They looked like they belonged in Vegas and had cameras into the rooms showing you what options were available as well as 3 different rates- a 3 hour (show time), a 6 hour (stay), and a 12-hour (rest) option. It was interesting hearing that these were used by nearly all in society for various reasons- whether it be spicing up an experienced relationship, finding your one nights true love in the district, an affair, and many other options, the guide claimed that most people have been to these places at least 3-4 times (if not more) in their lives.
We ended the tour in another bar district (Golden Gai) which was home to more themed izakayas and enjoyed walking through the areas to see the different options. Post tour and having not yet eaten, we ate with one of our new “friends” from the day who had been on both the morning and evening tour. We went to a recommend Gyoza stop and ordered a ton of food given it was 10 pm already (one of my favorite meals in Tokyo).
We made our way back to the hotel and realized that we once more had the “privilege” to experience rush hour train traffic- it was 11 pm on a Saturday and everyone was bolting home before they stopped running at 12 am. By the time we made our way home, we were ready for bed given how busy we’d been the past two days. We greatly enjoyed our time in Tokyo and look forward to returning next year for the Olympics!
Next up: destination #2 on the trip (Okinawa)