Saturday, March 30, 2013

Advice: What to do in Tokyo for one weekend?

I'm often asked for tips on where to go and what to do in Japan so I thought I'd write a quick summary of ideas and suggestions that I usually give people for an generally all-encompassing weekend experience.  

Usually, people visit for more than a few days but my suggestion is that if you're coming to Japan for at least a week, only come to Tokyo for the weekend.  I'd suggest spending time in Kyoto or other areas as it's much more beautiful and cultural if that's what you're looking for.

Please note that I'm writing this from the perspective of an expat who's only lived here for 1.5 years and that it's for first-timers coming to Japan.  I'll probably updated this as time goes on.

I'll start out by listing some ideas:

1.  Where to stay
2.  Main areas to cover 
3.  Food or activity suggestions
4.  Sample itinerary
5.  General tips

1.  Where should I stay?  

I think most people don't realize just how massive Tokyo is and how much time it takes to get from one place to another.  Where you're staying can really affect the logistics of your visit and I would definitely check that you're near a convenient train station.

I'm biased and would suggest staying around one of the areas I've listed below since you're definitely going to be there.  I'm biased to Roppongi area since I live nearby and I find it very central and convenient to go anywhere else from there.  I've also heard of people staying in Shinjuku (but I am easily overwhelmed by the area so I'm not so familiar).

2.  Main Areas to Check Out: 

Shibuya - Shopping, shopping and more shopping. This is where the famous "Hachiko" dog is at and Shibuya Crossing as well. For girls, you may want to check out the famous 109 building which is where trends are started and every style is represented.

Harajuku - More shopping with the famous Takeshita Street that is rammed with small shops at usually lower prices. This is the street that celebrities are often spotted in (I've run into KE$HA there).  There is also the lovely shrine, Meijingumae, and Yoyogi Park to walk through.

Omotesando - Just down the street of Harajuku that has more expensive designer shops and a convenient souvenir shop for you to pick up a few trinkets at reasonable prices (Oriental Bazaar). There's also a famous toy store called Kiddy Land that many celebrities, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, go to shop for cool toys and gifts.

Ginza - The posh area of Tokyo (like the Beverly Hills) where you have all the major designers' flagship stores represented. Including a massive 8-story UNIQLO store that you can easily spend 2 hours in (seriously, everytime).  Every Sunday, they close the main road to traffic so that you can meander around.

Shinjuku - The home to the world's busiest train station and also the most confusing, it has a little bit of everything.  Famous for its lights and redlight district, Kabukicho, it's fun to eat and drink around Golden Gai and looking at all the different Love Hotels.

Roppongi - The foreigner-friendly area for nightlife and clubbing. Popular clubs: Feria, Vanity, Muse, and Color (newest). If you want along the whole street you'll see a load of bars to hop around. 

3.  Food and Activity Suggestions

*Disclaimer: Food suggestions are endless and people have created whole websites and blogs just on this topic so please don't burn me for my limited list. These are just some ideas that I hear from people and that I think are common in Japan, but don't be afraid to try non-Japanese food; they have every type of food in Tokyo and they make it AWESOME.  I'll list a few restaurants that I've taken guests to at the bottom.

Ramen/Udon - Variety of soup noodles
Tempura - Deep-fried vegetables
Katsu - Deep-fried meat
Shabu Shabu - Soupy, hotpot
Izakaya - Smokey, typical drinks and tapas
Yakiniku - BBQ meats
Takoyaki - Fried balls of octopus

Shibuya 109
Oriental Bazaar
Yoyogi Park
Tsukiji Fish Market
(to be continued...)

4. Sample Itinerary (Friday-Sunday)

I've combined the activities above but into what I think is a more logistical efficient plan. I always get annoyed when I go traveling and realize that I've had to back and forth between different areas just because I'm so disoriented. But maybe that's just my general lack of direction.

Like I said, I'm biased to Roppongi area since I live in the area. Also, I apologize for how disorganized it is right now, I'm losing focus.


Early afternoon: Get into Tokyo and eat lunch
Check out Tokyo Tower or Sky Tree
Go to Shibuya and shop or check out the Crossing
Slightly pricier dinner at Gonpachi, which is where Kill Bill has an inspired scene (Yes, I know it's touristy, but it's cool to see as a tourist)
If you want a cheaper but still cool experience, check out Uoshin near Nogizaka Station.  It's affordable but super fresh seafood and one of my favorites to bring friends to. You should make a reservation since space is limited.
Yurakucho is also a fun place to check out on a weeknight and is popular with the salarymen.
Barhopping (Library Bar is very near). Usual haunts for foreigners is A971, Orange, R2, Agave, Geronimo's (shots bar), and many more...
Can also check out this massive clusterf*k of a store, Donquihote.  It basically has anything and everything normal to bizarre. Good place for souvenirs, too.
Around midnight, maybe head to a club like Feria (R2 is right across it), Color, Vanity, Muse (that's my order of suggestion, too.).
If you're one of those people who's super keen to go to Tsukiji Market, just go after the club.  It's closed on Sunday.


Sleep in until you need to recover
Brunch. After a heavy night, might I suggest ramen, udon or shabu shabu?
Walk it off at Yoyogi Park where you can see the dancing Greasers, music performers, etc.  They start leaving around 4PM though.
Walk through Meijijingu Shrine which is right next to it and write a positive prayer on a tablet to be blessed. 
Walk through Takeshita Street. Eat a crepe, some takoyaki, a good bowl of ramen.
Walk down Omotesando and visit Kiddyland and Oriental Bazaar for souvenirs and gifts. I also like the MoMA store which has some cool things to look at.

- Maybe you need a break to take your shopping back to your hotel or just rest after so much walking -

Dinner around Shinjuku. Maybe this place could be fun since you can catch your own fish, Zauo. Reservations needed!
Check out Golden Gai which is a small, historical area that is full of standing bars and yakitori places. 
Go see something like this, Robot Restaurant.  Reservations needed!
Check out the rest of Kabukicho which has lots of bizarre or themed bars, restaurants and clubs. Love Hotels are nearby, too.


Sleep until recovery. Brunch. 
Check out Ginza as everyone seems to love the UNIQLO Flagship store when I take them. 2 hours can be spent if you're a fan.
Look for a dessert; their cakes and tarts are amazing.
You're probably tired from the weekend so maybe do some last minute shopping or revisit what you didn't get enough of. 

5. General Tips

- You don't have to tip.
- If you're traveling to other areas like Kyoto, buy the JR Pass.  You can only buy it OUTSIDE of Japan and it will save you money.
- Come during the Spring or Autumn. It's too hot or too cold otherwise.
- Cherry Blossoms bloom typically the first week of April. It was, however, extremely early this year and bloomed before the end of March. 
- Taxis are expensive by comparison so I wouldn't depend on them to get everywhere if you're on a budget.

Okay, I've officially lost focus.  I'll try to come back and refine/update this from time to time.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Quick Snap: Posh Pup

I saw this pup being flaunted by its owner, a rather peculiar gentleman himself (ya think?) dressed in a striped suit and hanging out at Shibuya Crossing.  Apparently he does this as a habit with his three dogs. 

If you look closely, this dog is decked out in 2 layers of false eyelashes, mascara, glitter, rhinestones, blush and a tutu.   It is also the most obedient and, dare I say, proud-looking dog  who almost seemed to understand the type of attention it was getting.  

The other two dogs just kept sniffing the ground and getting tangled in their own leashes.   Mere peasants compared to this one.

Japan is bizarre sometimes.

Tokyo Must: Robot Restaurant

Before living in Japan, I always imaged a combination of crazy, surreal and strange to describe the nightlife and lifestyle.  

Robot Restaurant definitely checks everything off that list.  With 10 BILLION Yen, this wonderous place was built and installed with every colorful light they could find and is sure to bring you short of an aneurism.  It's definitely a good place to bring visitors or tourist who are just up for seeing something that makes no sense and hype you up for a night out in Shinjuku, which is full of fun and sometimes downright bizarre. 

I think it's a bit of a's not really a restaurant or a bar it's a show that you NEED to call and reserve ahead of time.  There are typically three shows every night and they only seat about 100 people each time.  They serve you a bento (though I didn't eat it either times I went) and you can buy canned beer or basic drinks before the show. 

The show is a mixture of girls dressed in skimpy outfits with a random assortment of robots, dinosaurs, pandas and even furry creature outfits? I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but even with the steep cost of 4,000 yen, even I'm willing to dish it out once (okay, twice because I had visitors). 

I almost thought maybe they tried to salvage any and every left-over robot they could find from movies and TV shows.  But the bionic female robots are truly something special. I really wonder what the conversation was like when they got these special ordered.

"I want to have a dozen massive female robots made."
"Sure no problem."
"And we want them to have huge boobs."
"Of course."
"And we want to be able to control all their movements"
"Including their facial expression, blinking, arms and boobs. In every direction."
"Hmm, that'll cost you extra."
"It's fine, we've got 10,000,000,000 yen to spend."

I always have so many questions:
Why dinosaurs?
Why pandas?
Who choreographed this show?
How much is their energy bill?
How much money do they actually make to offset the costs?
Is this a front for some other "business"?
Why is this happening?

There are no logical answers and maybe that's the fun part.  I'd definitely recommend going here with a group but saving it for visitors because it's the same show each time. 

B2F Shinjuku Robot Bldg
1-7-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

How to get there:
Shinjuku Station (Yamanote, Chuo, Marunouchi, Keio, Odakyu lines)

03 3200 5500

Daily 6PM-11PM


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tokyo Fashion Week 2013 - I met Jeremy Scott

Tokyo is known for her seriously wicked and diverse sense of style, so I was totally psyched to be able to attend the opening show for Fashion Week (Mastermind).  I mean, I'm a girl, I love clothing and art; fashion is a fusion of the two!

But after attending the opening show for Mastermind and meeting some amazing people, I realized, I would probably never make it in that world (very sad realization).  

Compared to these people, I merely liked the idea of fashion; I could never live and breathe it with the full, dedicated passion these people have. It's really an amazing buzz you feel being around people who truly love what they do.  I am merely a bystander in a synergy of creative genius happening and I cannot even begin to appreciate it!

I felt so dull next to them!
Highlight of the day: I had the amazing opportunity to meet the American designer, Jeremy Scott!  

I remember watching him years ago on Project Runway reruns and thinking, "His work is beautiful, I hope he wins."  

Jeremy Scott + SmartCar
And what do you know, now here he was, displaying his SmartCar design with photographers and fabulous people fluttering about.

I had a 15-20 minute conversation with him.  It was probably the most mundane and uninteresting conversation he's ever had the misfortune to have. 

Fortunately, he was incredibly down-to-earth and made conversation with me despite my being star-stricken.  I couldn't think of anything interesting to speak with him about because:

1.  I didn't want to ask him something obvious (what do you do?)
2.  I didn't want to ask him something he's been asked a billion times (what inspires you?)

Since I'm from LA, my usual charm is to sneak a creepy look and run away when there's a celebrity nearby. 

Anyhow, the show went on for a brand called "Mastermind", very much skull and bones motif, fun!

Tokyo Runway 2013

On Wednesday, there was an event called Tokyo Runway, which I would describe as more young female targeted brands, the type you see in Shibuya and Harajuku.

The models are not so much the typical runway models but the super kawaii Japanese models, some which are quite famous.  I am so jealous how young and beautiful they look...a lot of them are in their 30's and they look like teenagers!  Anyhow, they bring a big crowd:

Tokyo Runway Audience
Whew!  It's been a lovely week.  The weather is really warming up (finally!) and I've been shopping loads.  

I may not be a "fashionista" but I play an important part in the business: the consumer!

P.S.  How fabulous is this dog?  I'm not saying it's a great idea to do this to the pup, but it almost seemed to be enjoying all the attention.  It had 2 layers of false eyelashes, mascara, glitter, blush, rhinestones, a tutu outfit and matching companions (including the owner).    

I found them at Shibuya Crossing.  I heard the owner regularly dresses them, and himself, up and struts around showing them all off.