akihabara, food, friends, Golden Gai, japan, shinjuku, Tokyo, travel

Tokyo Day 4 – Got a Tokyo Tour From a Local!

A couple days prior, at our AirBnb host’s English Speaking Cafe, Mickey House, we met our new friend Gary!  He’s from the UK and has been working in Tokyo for around a year so he’s pretty much just as good as any Japanese local to foreigners like us. Luckily for us, he had friends from the UK and Hong Kong who were flying in for vacation and offered to tour us all at the same time. Having experienced many communication struggles the last week in Korea and Japan, I was more than happy to latch onto anyone that could speak English.

He brought us to MANY places. Some that we intended to visit ourselves, and some that we did not even know about! It was a bit rushed as we moved from place to place quickly, but nonetheless an amazing experience.

First we headed to his condominium near Kamiyacho Station where we could visit the nearby Atago Shrine as well as check out the view of Tokyo on his rooftop balcony. Gary claims that his view is even better than what you can see from Tokyo Tower, which may be true since his view gives you the perfect view OF Tokyo Tower. Atago Shrine is quite small in size (I’m comparing it to Kiyomizu-dera as it’s the only shrine I’ve been to), but it was still very beautiful. I especially loved the koi fish pond! Gary having lots of experience touring friends around even brought bread for us to feed the fish. The fish are SUPER eager whenever anyone walks close to the edge of the pond.

Afterwards, we headed to Hamarikyu Gardens, a public park which has a landscaped garden with a pond, a teahouse for refreshments, and is beautifully surrounded by Tokyo Bay. It was a difficult walk due to the heat, but the scenery is breathtaking and definitely something that you can’t really see anywhere else. The contrast between the traditional styled park and the modern skyscrapers is also particularly interesting.  We decided to take a break from all the walking at the teahouse inside Hamarikyu Gardens, and to also wait for Gary’s friends to meet up with us.

While waiting at the teahouse we had a fateful encounter with 2 of our new friends Nico & Juan!! (More about them later – we hang out the next day) I’m pretty sure they striked up a conversation with our group because Gary was also clearly a foreigner like them. We ended up talking about which countries we were from and it just so happened that Nico was going to visit Toronto in the next month, so we decided to exchange contact information so we could try to tour him around a bit.  We agreed to keep in touch while in Japan and  to meet up at a later date since they already had plans for the day.  Shortly after Gary’s friends Barun, Saman, Sumeet, and Smiti arrived and we made our way to Akihabara – the Electronic Town.

We visted a huge arcade and briefly walked through the area hoping to see some cosplay (apparently they do this on Sundays), but to our disappointment did not see any. Supposedly it is not as popular now anymore?? For a very late lunch, we headed to the nearby Maid Cafe, Maidreamin, which Gary says is a “must-do” while in Japan.  He has visited this specific maid cafe so frequently that the staff recognize him and he even has a VIP card!! It was a VERY interesting experience, it’s a place where you can truly feel the differences in our cultures. To most of us it was a very strange place because everything was just weird, but there were many locals – both female and male and of all ages who were thoroughly enjoying themselves interacting with the maids and during the performances.   I think it’s kind of a novelty experience in itself. Originally we would not have visited one on our own, but I am glad we did.

After eating at the maid cafe we had a short break at Yoyogi Koen with hopes to see some sort of cosplay. Unfortunately no cosplayers there either, but we did see some dancers and a man who used a pair of huge looking chopsticks to make big bubbles!! He was very friendly and let us give it a try, and also giving us a few pointers. As expected, it was more difficult than it looked and our bubbles burst very quickly. But we had lots of fun being amazed by his bubble-making skills.

A place that is super famous in Tokyo is the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. Even Anthony Bourdain went to see this show where bikini-clad women mock fight each other with robots. I actually was kind of intrigued by  this restaurant because there is no place in the world quite like this, but Adrienne and Orson didn’t seem to keen on visiting due to its price. Gary’s friends however, were very interested and as we were unable to reserve tickets for them, we literally ran through the subway station, through the streets of Shinjuku, and through Kabukicho (the red light district) to make it for their show. Running through the city between all the tall buildings and bright lights, and with people gaping at us was exhilarating. It felt like a scene in a movie. A moment that I’ll honestly never forget.

We dropped them off and with Gary headed to a bar he frequently visits in Golden Gai, a historical red light district until Kabukicho took over. Now Golden Gai has become an area of many small bars due to locals’ desire to keep it’s history and architecture. It’s a place I would have never dared to walk into alone especially at night since it is literally a few small and dark alleyways adorned with sketchy looking bars on either side.  According to Wiki, there are 200 bars fit into this small area! However it is definitely possible as each bar is so tiny in size that it can only fit up to maximum of  6 people. The bar Gary took us to was called Kangaroo Court Decision, what an interesting name! (supposedly Australian slang for a fight?) The bartender was extremely friendly and loved to chat with us in Japanese and also in some broken English. It gave me a chance to practice a bit of my Japanese because Gary also took this chance to practice his. The bartender said I had a good accent : 3

After a drink, we headed to a tempura restaurant in Shinjuku per Gary’s suggestion. It’s a place where all you eat is different tempura and rice. Their tempura batter is very different from ours – much more light and soft.  What was different at this restaurant was it provided many types of salts and different daikon condiments to complement each tempura.  What I liked was the floral salt and the seasonal tomato daikon. Their tempura is much more fragrant and fresh compared to ours, you can actually taste each ingredient and not just the batter. Although I can’t deny that I do enjoy the crunchiness that comes with our “Japanese” tempura in Toronto.

Later in the night we met back up with Gary’s friends at the bar at Park Hyatt Hotel which was apparently where Lost in Translation was filmed (still haven’t watched the movie).

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It’s definitely a fancy bar with a magnificent view.

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