Pictured: Imperial Palace Moat in Tokyo courtesy of Fuji Film
by Michael Henry
Not everyone visiting Japan is interested in the temples and museums. Sometimes to get to understand a culture you need to go beyond the places suggested by your guidebook. If you are looking for some strange and quirky things to see and do in Tokyo, read on for some ideas.
You will need to wake up pretty early to see the Tsukiji fish market in full swing. Tourists can only enter a small section of the market as they were becoming too much of a nuisance touching and poking the fish. Skip breakfast from your hotel and head to one of the many sushi restaurants located around the market.
Perhaps before you eat lunch, you should visit the Meguro Parasite Museum. On display are over 300 species of parasites, including a 30 foot tapeworm which was found inside of a man - not recommended for people with weak stomachs.
From Meguro, take the JR Yamanote line which circles Tokyo, to Harajuku. Harajuku is not only the fashion center of Tokyo, but on Sundays, it is where younger Japanese dress up and hang out for the day. Japanese refer this as "cosplay" and you will see everything from gothic to French maid outfits.
Takeshita-dori right in front of Harajuku station is a street lined with mostly cosplay and accessory shops. This is where the teenagers buy their gothic and French maid costumes. There is even a shop which sells clothes and accessories for your pet dog. Crepes and waffles seem to be the choice of food for the teenagers shopping here. If you want to try one, be prepared to wait a while as the lines can get long.
Also on the weekend in Harajuku,
just across from the Yoyogi National Stadium, Japanese young and old put on a variety of amateur musical, dancing and comedy shows. Some are good, some are pretty average, others are just weird. Impress your friends by getting some pictures of punk rock guys all dressed in high school uniforms. Outside of Yoyogi Park you will find Tokyo's Rock-a-billy group decked out in denim and leather with hair-styles to match, dancing to the tunes of the fifties and sixties.
Find out what all the controversy is about by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. Each visit by Japan's Prime Minister to the shrine causes outrage and makes newspaper headlines across China and Korea. Yasukuni Shrine is fairly unremarkable to look at, but what makes it famous, is that it commemorates Japan's involvement in World War Two. No fewer than 12 convicted Class A war criminals are enshrined at Yasukuni. Interestingly, the shrine is a popular tourist destination for Asian tourists.
If you have ever been to a Japanese restaurant you will know about the plastic food displays they use to put in the the front of their window. The plastic creations are sold in a place called Kappabashi Street. It is located between Ueno and Asakusa. You can also pick up some interesting souvenirs, including sushi key chains. Kappabashi is the place where restaurants and serious cooks buy their cooking utensils and accessories.
Akiharbara is famous mostly for cheap electronics, but more recently it has become the center for otaku culture. Otaku is a word which describes mostly males who are into video games, computers and animation. "Maid cafes" have sprung up to cater for the otaku who visit Akihabara. In maid-cafes waitresses dress up in french maid outfits or in character costumes from popular computer games. Maid cafes greet their customers with a phrase which loosely translates as "welcome master". Photography of the "maids" only seems to be encouraged.
A narrow alley not far from Shinjuku station is aptly named Shomben Yokocho, or piss alley for the lack of toilets in the shops. It is a narrow street lined with Yakitori or grilled chicken shops. Barbecue smoke wafts from each of the shops. Fortunately public facilities are now available in the area. The place has a interesting atmosphere of old Tokyo, but for a better feed of Yakitori head off to the area around Yurakucho station.
The small Yakitori restaurants sit right underneath the railway lines. The noise of the trains and the vibrations they cause as they go overhead, only adds to the atmosphere. The area is popular with Japanese salarymen grabbing a beer and a snack before they head off on their commute home.
Once dinner is done, most foreigners head off to the bars and clubs of Roppongi. For a more interesting Japanese experience, visit Golden Gai area in Shinjuku. Golden Gai is a group of tiny bars frequented with a client el of Japanese artists, writers and musicians.
Development is fast paced in Tokyo and many of the more interesting places like Golden Gai are threatened by bulldozers. It is a sad reality but it is the ever changing fads and fashions that make Japan less of a holiday, but the creation of many an anecdote that will surely liven any dinner party.
About the Author
Mike Henry has lived in Japan for over ten years and is operator of the website Tokyo Essentials - a travel and tourist guide to Tokyo.