Tokyo Station - here is perhaps Tokyo's most central hub. (Speaking of "The Hub", it is the also the name of a British pub that is relatively cheap, has 48 branches in Tokyo and brings in a lot of people and excitement, especially for soccer/sporting events!) Expect lots of crowds, but also a very upscale and modern feel here with the palace so close by!
Ginza - NOT cheap...the cafes and bars will empty your wallet - try the 300 Bar - you can imagine the price of the drinks here...
Shinjuku - this place is crawling with fun! You can find many bars and izakayas here! It may be the most visited area in Tokyo!
Kabukicho - located in Shinjuku, and just within minutes of walking from Shinjuku station you can find Tokyo's notorious red light district here. It is more of a hassle than fun walking around as a single guy, because you will definitely get hassled (often physically). Guys go in a mixed-gender group or with a girl if you want to be left alone!
Roppongi - a super modern area where there a bountiful amount of clubs! This is where most of the foreigners in Tokyo hang out.
Shibuya - home to Tokyo's famous and largest crossing...prepare to get lost in the crowds! Here you will find a fair share of bars, along with a trendy clubbing scene! You will find fewer foreigners than Roppongi in this area and very fashionably dressed people!
Harajuku - a part of Shibuya, you can find the infamous Meiji-Jingu Shrine here, along with a lot of cheap shopping on the famous Takeshitadori street! Here you will come across MANY strange fashion statements, trends such as gothic, lolita, girls looking like characters from Candy Land and beyond!!! Go explore for yourself and see what you find!
Ueno - an entertainment district, however home to nature and cultural things such as temples as well. The zoo is here as well!
Shimo Kitazawa - Live music, look no further. This place is not huge but you can certainly hear your fair share of live performances here! You can find some interesting bars here too!
Akihabara - where otakus (Japanese "geeks") hang out. Here you can find a lot of anime and manga, pornography of all sorts shapes and sizes, sexy outfits, sex toys, maid cafes, and lots of electrical appliances (this is why it is called electric town). ***On a side note, Westerners would perceive Japan's sex culture as weird. It has more to do with cosplay (dressing up in sexy outfits), and fetishes that are considered taboo in the western world. The idea of school girls and of innocence and youth in general is seen as sexy unlike in Western culture where men are considered perverts for being attracted to girls as young as in high school.***
Asakusa - where the cheapest hostels can be found, backpackers you want to stay here. It is also home to a famous temple and the famous Tokyo Sky Tree (an extremely large tower)!
Tsukiji - where the famous fish market is...prepare to arrive at 5am (or before) if you want to see the famous tuna auction (which takes place every day) because only 120 visitors are allowed to observe in the guest box!
Ryogaku - this is where all of the Sumo action takes place. You can watch a match in the big stadium or catch the famous sumo's dish in one of the surrounding restaurants. You can even often visit a sumo stable to watch a practice (super early in the morning!!! 6-9am usually), but you must call one day before to ensure that it is okay that you visit.
Ikebukuro - this area has many places to eat and a plethora of bars too...like Shinjuku but less well known.
Takadanobaba - this student area is by Waseda University so expect to find many students here! Of course, along with the student population comes great deals for cheap shopping and a bunch of cheap bars and quick-eat shops!
Back to my experiences...I went to Chiba last weekend and met some friends of my friend! It was a truly amazing experience! That group of friends had been friends for so long, and you could really feel the love! This was a very nice feeling, and I definitely felt accepted as a member of the group! We went to the grocery store to buy the food and drinks for our barbeque and ended up going to an old Samurai House (3 actually) before the barbeque! It was quite nice to see three different styles (broken down by economic status) of Samurai houses that are still in existence. I learned about how they cooked, ate, took baths, and about their overall lifestyles. I even saw some of the land that the feudal lords owned back in Japan's history when they reported to their leaders (shoguns I think they were called). The castle had been destroyed so we could not see it, but having my friend's friend as a guide was amazing...I felt so lucky! I really enjoyed seeing with my own eyes what I had learned about just a few semesters ago during my undergraduate degree! I had even wrote my final paper on Samurais so this experience was so cool for me!
After the Samurai House experience, we visited a place that had a wind mill...European huh? I was explained that during the Edo Period (Mid 17 to 1900s in Japan) trade between Japan and other nations was closed...(this I knew) except that trade with the Netherlands still took place...in two places in Japan one in the West, and Sakura (in Chiba) where we were! It was cool to see the tangible evidence of the trade by observing the windmill!! Next, we went to have the Barbeque! The Japanese know how to cook. They also know how to prepare. This venue had been reserved for weeks, the proper tools were given to us, the day was lovely and the sky blue, the Sangria-making process having been started 20 days earlier... I just enjoyed everyone's company and the amazing assortments of meats, breads and vegetables, along with trying numerous new drinks (and creating some of our own!!! Pocari Sweat - a sports rehydration drink mixed with Sangria, POCAGRIA!!! Pretty good!!!) We all caught sunset together that night, before heading back to watch a video of the same group of people on a trip they had taken a few years ago! The video was so well-put together with pictures, videos and songs that I was supremely impressed. I thought about how detailed it really was, and remembered how long it took me to make a film like this of a much shorter duration of time with Windows Movie Maker...HOURS!!! So to achieve the quality of this video and for its length, who KNOWS how many hours this guy put into it! This was such a cool way to remember a wonderful trip that I was really inspired! Next weekend I am going back to Chiba to hang out and help them put the video of OUR BARBEQUE experience!!
Yokohama was another side trip that I took from Tokyo. It proved to be amazing too!! I met with a friend and got to go to a festival, was guided through the famous (and Japan's biggest) Chinatown, saw the harbor and some parks, visited a famous garden called Sankeien Garden and even saw antique foreigner houses! One morning I had the lovely experience of helping to teach my friend's class! These kids were so cute!!! They were between a few months and 3 years old and we practiced identifying colors, introducing ourselves, painted fans together, sang songs and I read a story to them! I really enjoyed it and had a lovely time! I went to my first sento (bathhouse) there. If you are from a Western country, you might not feel comfortable taking all of your clothes off in front of many strangers and bathing in a variety of types of baths. Well, in Japan, as shy as they are they have no problem at all doing this...and all Japanese LOVE it! At first I felt a bit uncomfortable but after a while got used to it and really enjoyed the experience! We have this idea in our heads that it is weird, but I can now see it in another light having tried it. When we entered we had to pay for our ticket through a vending machine (as is normal in Japan). I left my shoes in the locker outside of the bath and then went in with my clothes on. I removed my clothes and put them inside of another locker (for all lockers you must hold the key but for the ones right before getting wet they give you a water-resistant band with a key that slides in and out of visibility to wear around your wrist so no worries about losing it! Before entering the bath I had to take water from a bin and wash my body, and then it was off to the races!!! I tried all of the different types of baths, ranging from large basins, to REALLY HOT and REALLY COLD baths or "pools of water" we can call them. Some were inside and some outside! For the ones outside, some baths even had rocks and were made to seem very natural. There was no roof at part of it so I felt out in the open and even in the middle of a big city it felt quite natural! I was able to try some of the pools that produced bubbles so strong that you had to hold on to the railings provided! I even laid down on the ground with my head on a stone for a bit and then made my way to the relaxing zone where you do the same but on a more comfortable surface with water flowing all around your body. I finally made it to the sit-down shower where I had a nice shave before heading out! I had to wipe my body off before entering the locker room to put my clothes back on. What a different and nice experience!
From Yokohama I took a day trip to visit Kamakura. I saw one of the main temples there along with the many Sake storage bins, really cool! I also saw one of the five famous Zen temples! Later I took a stroll on the famous Yuigihama beach before heading back to Yokohama! Kamakura's old town was beautiful and reminded me a lot of Kyoto so I intend to return to do more sightseeing there! Upon my return, I tried one of Japan's diners which was very nice! It was inexpensive (for JAPANESE standards) and you just push the button (as usual) to have the waitor or waitress come over to you and take your order. In some places, you can actually order everything right on the electronic screen.
I took a day to see a University friend while back in Tokyo! By visiting the Asakusa area and getting information from a hostel, I learned a lot! We visited the skytree and caught a sunset from a tower in Shinjuku that is free to enter (forgot the name, but you do not need to pay for a good view in Tokyo, there are places to see it for free!)
I also attended a friend's Soka Gokkai meeting the other night and observed! The chanting took a lot of time, aimed at raising energy and a group feeling of togetherness. Two important goals seem to be to respect the laws of the universe and to chant to bring good karma. An article was discussed after the chanting and I felt lucky enough to have a translator! It was a story about a trumpet player who found a connection through Soka Gokkai and then we all shared a story or an event from the week! Overall, a wonderful learning experience about a religion which I belive perhaps 10% of Japan practices...
- in many places where you receive service, it is not uncommon for the worker to kneel down on one or both knees when speaking with you as a sign of respect. I have seen this in department stores and even pharmacies!!!
- the Japanese never floss.
- Smoking areas are so rare outdoors that smokers often smoke in the house! ...smoking inside many establishments such as sections of restaurants and even McDonalds are okay. (By the way you can buy a McDonalds gift card out of a vending machine here!) I believe it is so that Japan's streets are kept clean. It is the COMPLETE opposite of the USA and most places I have been where oftentimes smokers struggle to find a spot INDOORS to smoke so they go outside to smoke!
- Apparently there are no janitor jobs in Japanese schools because the children have a certain time each day where they clean. They are taught MUCH different values than in most societies I know. It is DEFINITELY different than China and India where instead of cleaning, the kids contribute to the garbage problem by polluting because they are taught that it is okay to do!!! Also, lunch seems to work differently in the schools - it is delivered rather than bought and the children all eat together! Cleaning and eating times should be a good way to meet and connect with the children on a more personal level!
- I played a Japanese Samurai or Ninja game (I think it was Tenchu) where I kept hearing this really strange "complaining-sounding" noise from an insect, almost a whining bug noise in the background. Strangely enough, in natural locations here in Japan where there are many trees, forests, plants, etc. I HEAR IT!!! It is like the cicada but has a different, whining tone to it.
- AKB48 is a pop group here in Japan, falling under the J-Pop (Japanese Pop) category. There is a strange obsession with these 48 young, attractive female singers, which can get a little nutty when you find their pictures in areas like Akihabara. Others strongly dislike them!