Itadakimasu!


In case you were wondering, the word “itadakimasu” is an expression that you yell out before you eat. The expression is along the lines of “let’s eat” or being thankful for everyone who was involved in the process of making the food or producing the food. It’s a cute, sweet and personal formality that takes place in Japanese households. To me it symbolizes appreciation for the food that you are about to eat. It also really brings thanks to the person who cooked your meal, most likely, a Japanese mom. In Japanese culture, the little things count and so the mom that cooked this meal and hears the “itadakimasu” sees this as a generous gesture.

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The picture shown here is a humble spread of a special evening meal we had in Hokkaido, close to a tourist Ainu village. If you look carefully, you can see beautiful colors of salmon sushi. In the “nabe” pots (brown cast iron pots) venison meat is boiling with udon noodles. It’s hard to see, but there is a secret hiding spot under the “nabe” that has a portable flame powered by mini rockets (not kidding) that keeps the pot boiling. It is custom to open it mid way, and to add a few more veggies or extra fixins. Scallions and daikon (Japanese radish) are pretty standard. There were golden crispy pieces of mountain mushroom tempura and shrimp tempura gently lying on peach colored ceramic plates. I can assure you that almost any food that you eat from Hokkaido is super organic and tastes extremely fresh. The quality of food in Hokkaido, especially in the mountains is close to……as Remy from Ratatouille would say “close to godliness”.

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When you eat Japanese meals in Japan, you learn to appreciate the little things. This is more of a moderate spread, but some spreads of Japanese food take a moment of appreciation. You take the time to look at the ceramic plates. One would even lift up the ceramic plate and look under the plate to see where it was handcrafted. A conversation would pick up between you and your guests and the ceramic plates. You also discuss where the tea that you are drinking is from, down to the water sometimes. The seasonal vegetables and meat are a hot topic to discuss and of course…the taste. Japanese people are definitely GOURMET!

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In this picture, take a look at the “daikon” (Japanese radish) that is dyed yellow and shaped like a flower. The beautiful orange & shininess of the salmon looks luscious and tantalizing. Meanwhile, if you look closely in the right hand corner, another “daikon” is shaped into a cherry blossom that is dyed pink & is accompanied by a raw piece of shrimp (it’s that fresh & safe to eat) adorned with a shrimp tail.

I have many wonderful memories of our week long trip to Hokkaido with my grandmother and mom. Most of our enjoyment came from sitting down on the “tatami” with a “zabuton” (floor pillow) while sipping beer or tea and eating food as pictured above. It was also empowering not to have our men around and to be served by other people with no responsibilities. There were people daily coming to our room to take out  our “futons” (floor beds) and then they would come in the morning and fold up our “futons” and put them away. Our hotel workers would also deliver us our colorful meals and would genuinely talk about Hokkaido and their culture to us with all sincerity and pride. Definitely a girls night out and we enjoyed every minute of it. Oh….and when you are finished with a meal you say “gochisosama deshita” (Thanks for the meal) Another cute thing about Japanese culture. Matta ne!

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Sapporo Beer Museum: Hokkaido


If you ever visit Hokkaido, go to Sapporo! It’s a super modern town with great beer and lots of great food. You must absolutely have their famous Sapporo Ramen! The town definitely has a more European influence. I didn’t get to really explore Sapporo as much as I would have liked, but I did see how the city had a lot of Christian & European influence. I had the feeling that Sapporo felt like what Vancouver or Seattle feels like.

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We took the local bus to the Sapporo Beer Museum. Everything in the city pushes the tourist and visitor to go and check it out. I was enticed by the beautiful brick building that reminded me of some of the German Beer Houses in Munich. For a second, I thought I was going to a communist factory when I saw the Sapporo Red Star.

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Make sure you walk around the property before going in. I was very interested in actually seeing real “hops”. “Hops” are a key ingredient in brewing beer and apparently there are many varieties of “hops”.

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I can’t remember how much the entrance fee for the museum was, but I highly recommend that you go in for an English speaking tour. This was definitely a low point of the museum. Luckily, I had my mother, who is a fluent Japanese speaker and reader, but I like to take my time at museums and actually read the panels. EVERYTHING WAS IN JAPANESE! I was pretty upset, because the city of Sapporo is pretty modern & international, yet they don’t even try to put the panel readings in English. I saw several foreigners trying to figure out what the panels said. The museum definitely needs to take some customer comments from tourist crowds. Well….I guess one thing you could do is chug at least 3 beers before you go in, then maybe things will make more sense.

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A model like this is pretty explanatory, even if you cannot read the Japanese panels.

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Here is a close up of what hops look like. They are a distant relative to cannabis, but they do not have the “drug effects” of what natural cannabis have.

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I enjoyed seeing all the beautiful vintage advertisements and retired products. Sapporo made other beverages such as soft drinks and other various alcoholic beverages. I would love to have the amber beer bottle pictured in the top left as a house decoration.

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Here is that great vat of beautiful beer fermenting and getting ready for the thirsty beer drinker. I’m smiling because I am thinking about all the summer nights that I spent on top of a roof at a “nomihodai” (All you can drink) beer garden with my friends drinking Sapporo beer, eating edamame (soy beans) and “kara-age” (fried chicken pieces).

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KOMPAI (Cheers) I was so ecstatic to see such rare and unique advertisement posters. Even better, there was a beer bar right across the way. I chose the trio beer sample and tried the original draft Sapporo beer and then moved on to a dark lager.

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This poster by far has to be the BEST MANLY beer poster of Japan. Toshiro Mifune is my Japanese hero for acting. He was one of Akira Kurosawa’s premier actors and has starred in several classics ranging from Yojimbo, Rashomon, & the Seven Samurai. On a more modern note, he was also in Shogun.

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The outside facade was stunning with green shrubbery hugging the brick exterior. They have a great setup outside with lots of tables and benches and hanging lights for a festive and fun evening of beer drinking.

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If I was to do my trip to Sapporo again, I would definitely have come in the evening with lots of friends. Couldn’t come at night when I was visiting because my grandmother and mother were with me and they were exhausted from traveling. I also highly recommend eating “kakipi” (Japanese rice crackers with peanuts) which happens to be a lovely snack. The “kakipi” has little crescent shaped persimmon colored rice crackers with peanuts and gives just the right amount of savory and crunch that pairs well with the crisp and refreshing beer.

Little Tokyo Los Angeles


My mom had to renew her passport so we went for an adventure in Little Tokyo.

Lunch: The Curry House. We miss this place terribly. We had a location in Convoy, but they closed. They serve lots of curry dishes that you would typically find in Japan. Omrice, which is an omelet with fixings of rice and topped off with some Japanese curry. They serve hamburg, which is a Japanese hamburger patty that is served with a side salad, and corn pottage. I usually get the chicken curry set. It comes with rice, curry with chicken, corn pottage and a salad. I love their tropical iced tea, but most people order the green iced tea.

Tonkatsu Curry set. Tonkatsu is breaded pork cutlet. Just watch the calories on this one

Weller Court: After we had a reminiscent Japanese curry lunch at the Curry House, we walked to Onizuka Street. In case you are not familiar with with the last name, Onizuka street was named after Ellison Shoji Onizuka, the astronaut from Hawaii that lost his life in the Challenger explosion back in the 80’s. I remember being a little kid going to the multipurpose room to watch the Challenger take off into space, only to see the Challenger explode. Us little kids were confused and were quickly asked to leave the multipurpose rooms to go back to our classes. I remember Christa McCauliffe being one of the first school teachers to go up in the Challenger. As for Ellison Shoji Onizuka, he was one of the first Japanese Americans to go up into space. He had been to space before, but his second expedition did not serve him well. The Japanese American Community made a memorial street for him in Little Tokyo.

Go check out Kinokuniya Book Store in Little Tokyo. If you are looking for books like Japanese folk tales, anime, manga, how to learn origami or Japanese cook books this is the place to go. Be prepared to shell out a little more money, but these are books that are difficult to find. They also sell cute stationery items and various types of Japanese gifts.

While you are in Little Tokyo, also go check out the various shops around. You can find your signature Hello Kitty Items along with fake samurai swords, chopsticks, Japanese dishes, Japanese festival wear and crazy t-shirts. Walk around to find a few bargains. Most all of the shops carry the same type of souvenirs, so focus that bargain eye of yours.

So the locals say that Daikokuya has the best Japanese ramen. The only way I discovered this place is when my mom and I stayed in Little Tokyo. We saw a line that was at least an hour, so we waited. The interior felt like a Japanese diner for ramen. The hipsters were definitely showing up in their trendy clothes and we knew that there would be good food here.

My favorite type of ramen. Chashume Ramen. Chashume is the small pork cutlets that are placed in your ramen.

Coffee: When you get tired, go check out a place for coffee. I yelped this one: Demitasse Coffee Shop. It’s on the corner of Onizuka Street. If you like good coffee, then this is the place to go. This place fits the bill of serving designer coffee in small setting that reminds me of Europe. The Japanese are coffee snobs, so it seems appropriate that it is located in Little Tokyo. What I love about this place is that there is a coffee bar. I saw at least 5 customers come in, sit down, bust open their newspapers, sip their coffee, talk to the coffee barista and then leave to go back to work. My mom and I sat on a couch, relaxed and rested.

Demitasse Latte

Coffee Bar

Japanese American National Museum: I didn’t get to go this time, but I used to work there. Go check out this museum because it is essential to the community of Little Tokyo. The presence of the museum serves a great deal for the community in Little Tokyo and for the outer community of Japanese Americans. To make a long story short in history, the Japanese Americans lived in this area and thrived in the 1920’s-1940’s. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was intense racism and prejudice that ran through Japanese American communities. In the U.S. Japanese Americans were forced to go to internment camps. The once bustling community of Little Tokyo was taken over by African Americans and became a pretty popular jazz community. After internment camps were closed by the government, the Japanese Americans wanted so bad to come back to their beloved community. They fought blood, sweat and tears to gain back their community and took some legal issues to court. They won and received Redress and were given $20,000 for their their losses in WWII. Each Japanese American family received money from the government, but most decided to help their kids with education or gave their money to help educate people about the injustice that took place. The lessons that I learned from Internment camp survivors will forever be etched into my brain. I met some amazing people and worked with them.

Of course there are so many other things to see and do, but give it 1/2 a day to go and explore Little Tokyo. Other places in Los Angeles to go check out are Sawtelle Street and Torrance for a good Japanese experience. Matta Ne! (translates to again, some other time)

Before you head home: Grab some Japanese groceries at Marukai or Nijiya. These two grocery stores have all the Japanese essentials from dashi (Japanese fish sauce), goma (sesame seeds), shoyu (soysauce), rice crackers, various Japanese produce to rice cookers, tofu, natto (fermented soy beans). I know that a lot of people are really into mochi ice cream and you can find many different varieties.

Funny Stories about Japanese Business Men: Japan


I was fortunate to have lived and taught in Japan for …two…..well…..let’s just say……interesting years. I repressed my memories of Japan for so long. It’s hard to explain but when you live in another country and you are distanced from family, friends and life in America, you change.  There are only so many stories that you can tell someone who doesn’t understand Japanese culture. You start to get into a story and then you watch your friend or your family member’s eyes glaze over.  So what naturally and tends to happen is that those memories, stories and feelings of your past life in a different country become compartmentalized. The only way the stories resurface and come back is when someone asks you a random question about Japan or when I meet up with my expat friends. Like a magician with a rabbit and a hat, stories start popping up….crazy…..wacky stories that once made me laugh and sometimes gasp. So here are a few of my memories of Japanese businessmen in Japan.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression that I am bashing Japan. Japanese people are some of the most warmest, caring and polite people in the world. Just thought a few silly stories would make you laugh or make you remember something similar that you experienced.

In Japan, there is a name for the notorious businessman. His name is Sarari (salary) man. I spelled it in closer form of romaji, so that you can pronounce it better. The Sarari man wears a cookie cutter black suit, white shirt and tie and carries a brief case. They are EVERYWHERE! It’s very easy to spot a Sarari man. Just jump on the local JR trains in the country, suburbs or city and you’ll spot one within minutes. The other place to find them is after work in an izakaya (Japanese pub), snack bar, kissaten (coffee shop) or enkai (party) of some sort.

Source: telegraph.co.uk

Story #1: Train Man

On one occasion, I was on my way to a friend’s house. I had to take the local JR train to a town called Tomobe in Ibaraki-machi. By train from Mito, it is about a 15-20 minute ride or so. My friends and I went to go get some Italian food. Trust me when you live in a different country, you have splurges for other familiar ethnic foods like Mexican food (San Diego Native) and Italian Food. You can only eat so much Japanese food. Going out and indulging in Italian food tastes like heaven. We came back to the town of Tomobe via train later in the evening. We were so consumed with talking that we didn’t pay attention to the Sarari man ahead of us. He was SOOOO drunk that he passed out literally on the ticket entrance gate. I’m not sure what they are called, but he passed out on the silver rotator bar that doesn’t allow you to pass through if you don’t pay. You know the same things that turn when you are at an amusement park, the counters. I have a picture somewhere in the abyss of my thousands of printed out photos. We couldn’t get through because he passed out standing up on the bar. We didn’t know what to do, so we just kind of laughed and took photos of him. Finally we had to give him a nudge. He managed to kind of wake up and stumble at least 3 steps and then he just passed out on the ground and went to sleep.

Source: thedisabledcubicle.com

Story #2: Umbrella Man

Each weekend I had the luxury of traveling to Tokyo since I was only about one hour away via fast train (Super Hitachi). I would have my list of addresses of restaurants, galleries and cool stores to go check out. On many occasions I saw drunk salary men wandering around clueless as to what train station they were at. If you have lived in Tokyo a long time, you know that each station in Tokyo has a different song that plays that alerts the train passenger where you are. The chime song at the Shibuya station is different from the Shinjuku station. They even have cell phone ringtones of the train stations if you are an enthusiast! One evening, I was transferring from the Ueno Station to the train line that would take me to my hometown Mito. A Japanese businessman was in front of me on the escalator going down. He was cursing at his umbrella in a loud and very obnoxious tone. He got so angry at it, he started to swing his umbrella at the wall. The first time he did it, a plastic piece went flying and almost hit me so I had to duck. He continued to yell and scream and trip all over the place. He wandered to an empty wall and continued to smash his umbrella to pieces. What do Japanese people do when they see drama unfold, they walk the other way. One eye will peer from the side while the other looks in the direction of their destination. For me questions start going across my mind like a speeding typewriter. What happened to this guy? Did his girlfriend break up with him? Did he lose his job? How much did he have to drink? What kind of drinks did he have? Who is he going home to? Whatever the story may be, if he is married, there will be a futon folded out on the tatami floor with a triangle fold that will allow him to easily slip into and pass out. Most likely there will also be a hot bath waiting for him. Japanese women are resilient people. If their husband comes home drunk, they won’t complain. It is expected that they are good wives and that they help make life easier. Now this could be changing with the new generation. Some of my Japanese friends would not put up with this.

Source: bakapad.com

Story #3: Yakitori Men

In Tokyo on a crazy night, you have to consider that anything can happen. Japanese businessmen will party hearty and drink tons of sake (fermented rice wine) and eat tons of yakitori (grilled chicken bits). I decided to take some newbies to a yakitori bar in Shinjuku since I was the only one in the bunch that could actually speak Japanese, not fluently, but enough to order for the bunch. I was trusting my Japanese to host at least 8 people. Come to find out, I was a bit rusty. Still to this very day, I have no idea what I ordered. We may have been eating chicken hearts, chicken butt, liver and who knows what else. I can distinctively remember looking around as if we were in an Alice and Wonderland tale but with Lewis Carroll drinking absinthe. The whole place was filled with black suits. The smell was of cigarettes, sweat and roasting meat. There was something very carnal about this place and the only thing that could cool us down and make us a little more relaxed was a Sapporo beer. That cooled us down, but as we drank tons of beer the salary men around us were getting more and more plastered. There cheeks were pink like the dolls in the Nutcracker, and they must have went through 4 boxes of cigarettes. I remember looking at one of the newbies and her face was mortified. It appeared as if she had rings of smoke curling around her face like she was either God or the Devil. Her glasses fogged up from the humidity and smoke. I felt bad that the environment was so masculine and crazy. But it will always be a crazy memory of Tokyo that I will never forget.

Source: fecielo.com

Story #4: Capsule Hotel Man

On a rambunctious night, a salary man or salary men that may have had too much of a good time will 90% most likely miss a train. They will do anything in their power to make the 12:30 A.M. train. They are almost programmed, even when drunk to be able to auto-pilot their way to the last train, but when they miss is, what do they do? They check in to a capsule hotel. A capsule hotel is a strange phenomena, but economical and efficient. They are literally capsules stacked on top of each other at least 3 stories high. They cost about $40 a night and they get super packed with people. You capsule is literally about 3 feet longer than a coffin and it is equipped with air conditioning, a light and a t.v. Because the salary men are the #1 clients, they also feature porn on the t.v. as well. Let’s just leave it at that. I’ve heard of Japanese salary men being so drunk that they fall from their capsule and just sleep on the ground. But in most cases, they will wake up, put their suit back on, grab a quick breakfast at a Gyu-don bar (meat rice bowl shop) or a ramen shop and grab their brief case and go back home or in some cases back to work. A majority of time, if the salary man runs into their colleagues that they partied with the night before, they won’t disclose information that happened the night before like “hey man, that was a crazy night, we got wrecked”, instead it will be business as usual.

Source: http://www.designgonewild.com/

Final Story: Trust me, I have hundreds!

Never take the 9:00 P.M. train if you are not feeling well or are sick. The 9:00 P.M. train is a popular train for salary men to get home. It gave them enough time to decompress after work and have dinner with their colleagues. The 9:00 P.M. train is the DRUNK TRAIN. A majority of the salary men are plastered, so drunk that they are either:

  1. Reading Anime Porn right in front of you. They don’t care because they are so drunk.
  2. Are passed out snoring in fetal position or with their head laying on the person next to them who is probably a complete stranger
  3. Reading actual porn and looking at the centerfold and studying it. Even extending their arms out so that they can see the centerfold from a further distance
  4. Texting….not sure to whom…but drunk texting
  5. drinking more sake or beer. There was a popular hit of a super cheap sake that is in a glass jar. This was extremely popular on the 9:00 P.M. trains
  6. or chatting up a storm in drunken Japanese to their colleague or a stranger

I remembered how one time I was super sick from a bad oyster. When I got on the train to get home, I almost vomited because I was feeling so sick already and the fumes from the sake, sweat, and drunken businessmen made me feel even more ill. Luckily I made it home ok, but that train ride was unbearable.

So, remember if you go to Japan….you’ll probably see a funny story of a famous salary man!

Source: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/

Where to Stay If You Miss a Train: Japan


Japan is a super efficient country when it comes to travel. However, what happens if you miss your train or are too tired to make another journey of your travel? You stay at the Toyoko Inn!

Toyoko Inn: Nihonbashi, Japan

I spoke to my mother who is Japanese about this. Her response was “Every Japanese knows about the Toyoko Inn“. Well, apparently I did not until I had that chat with my mother! I have lived in Japan and have traveled to a lot of different prefectures. There were times where I wanted to stop and check out a castle or a Japanese garden. I had a Japan Rail Lines Pass on several occasions that allowed for me to stop and get back on the trains. If you are going to travel throughout Japan the Japan Rail Pass is a MUST! Now the Japan Rail Pass can only be attained from your own country. So after, I had moved back to America, I was able to go back and travel to Japan with the Rail Pass. The Rail Pass allows you to travel on many of the bullet trains and JR lines in Japan and is the cheaper way to go.

Source: http://nippon101wisdom.com/

Now sometimes the trains will get super packed if there is a Japanese festival or event taking place. There is nothing like standing up for over an hour on a fast train to get to your destination. I remember being so fatigued holding on to a hanging ring for support and being able to smell people’s body odor! NO THANK YOU! But there had been a couple times that I missed a train. Thank God for subconscious memory recall! I remembered my mom telling me that if I had a problem somewhere in a city and that if I needed to stay somewhere, the Toyoko Inn would come to the rescue! IT DID! Nagoya, Japan was my first experience.

Source: Tokyo Photojournalist (Standing in a packed train is AGONIZING)

I recommend writing down the Kanji (Chinese Characters) for Toyoko Inn. Every time that I travel in Japan, I try and spot the Toyoko Inn just for giggles. I’ve seen a few Toyoko Inns that do not have the English subtitles underneath them.

Here are a few other pictures of the famous Toyoko Inns. For a single, it typically runs about 5480 yen ($70). If you are traveling with another guest, the cost would go up, but the price is for the room and not per guest. Yes, you can go and probably find something a little cheaper, but I can’t guarantee that things will go in the right direction for you. You might not be able to speak Japanese and you might have a completely awesome experience or a super strange experience. Japan is a relatively safe country and I have never heard of foreigners being schemed out of their money at hotel chains. The Toyoko Inns are clean, efficient and comfy. You are also assured a traditional Japanese breakfast in the morning which will include a bowl of miso soup, gohan (rice), tsukemono (pickled veggies) and some onigiri (riceballs) with goma (sesame seed). Of course there will be tea and coffee as well.

Source: http://www.toyoko-inn.com (Single Room)

The term “ekimae” is KEY! Ekimae means “in front of the station”. I always stayed close to the train station so I could get up early in the morning and be on my way. Also locating yourself close to a station allows for you to change tickets, buy tickets or ask questions. You will have a higher chance of someone speaking English or some English at the stations. All the train times are also posted or if they are not, there is a book that has all the times posted.

Source: Toyoko Inn (Toyoko Inn Hakodate Ekimae Asaichi)

Source: Toyoko Inn (Typical Japanese Breakfast at Toyoko also known as Washoku)

Source: Tripadvisor

Another bonus is that there usually is computer access which for many foreign travelers is important for communicating with loved ones or for researching what is next on your adventurous travel itinerary!

Bathrooms in Japan are pretty tiny. They also serve as a multipurpose shower/restroom. Your whole floor in your room is made to drain water. So if you are in the mood to grab your shower head and sing away, wherever your shower head sprays, you are assured that your shower/restroom will drain! Just keep in mind that the next person coming in to use the restroom might be a little upset.

There are always new locations popping up! I highly recommend this hotel chain because they are clean, reputable and efficient! Happy Traveling!

Sayonara!

Tackling Tokyo In Three Days


Tokyo is an exciting, futuristic & very memorable city to visit. Having lived in Japan for 2 years and visiting Tokyo many times throughout the years, I have a few recommendations for worried travelers who want to maximize their trip. Don’t worry about the anxiety or panic of not being able to experience Tokyo, you can do the essentials in about 3 days if you are efficient and up for it. If you have watched Bladerunner or Lost In Translation, you have an idea of what to expect. Now Bladerunner is a futuristic film, but a lot of the film was inspired by the buzzing bright lights, signage and feel of the crazy city. If you really experience Tokyo in its fullest, you will have crazy stories that surpass a big night on the town in New York or San Francisco, trust me!

Day 1: 

Morning/Afternoon

I recommend taking a Hato Bus Tour. Hato Bus Tours take you to the heavy hitter locations in Tokyo. Some of my most memorable moments were captured at a young age by taking this tour. I remember going to a super classy hotel where for lunch time, we barbecued at a famous Teppanyaki and I distinctively remember chowing down on barbecue corn with teriyaki sauce brushed onto it. I still have very fond moments of going on various tours when I was young. The tours usually depart from the Ikebukuro Station and proudly parade to the Imperial Palace Gardens, Asakusa Temple, a Tea Ceremony, The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tower Building, The Tokyo Tower, with a drive through Shinjuku and Shibuya, and a famous park in Tokyo somewhere. You can decide whether you want a day or night tour. If you are worried about the language barrier, then I highly recommend the English tour for the full day. They will whisk you around in the bus, tell you about the history and give you interesting facts. Your tour guide will 99% be a woman who is wearing a perfectly fit dress suit with a matching hat and white gloves. You’ll feel like the stereotypical tourist when they hold up the tour flag and wave you to walk in her direction. Just chuckle and go along. What I would do on the tour is to have a notebook in hand and write down the areas that you find interesting to go back and visit on your own time. Of course tours suck in the sense that you are on limited time, but in Tokyo the Hato Bus Tour will maximize your time efficiently. On your own, its easy to not know how long the train lines or subways take to get somewhere, then if you get lost, that can waste time as well. For example, the Yamanote Sen (the most traveled line in Tokyo) runs in a complete circle. Although trains for the Yamanote Sen run every 3 minutes, it take a good 45 minutes to completely take the full circle.

Source: http://www.solarbird.net

Evening:

I would rest up a bit at the hotel or go to a local kissaten (coffee shop). There are many fantastic coffee shops in Tokyo. If you want a cocktail, you have that choice on almost every corner. Just stay away from Kabukicho for drinks. This is where the Japanese mafia (Yakuza) own a lot of the bars. In front of some of the bars, there will be a disclaimer (tiny) in Japanese that says something along the line of a service charge. Some tourists have been conned into paying ridiculous amounts for one drink (10,000 yen for the service charge). I think you get the drift! So stay away from the bars in Kabukicho in Shinjuku. Walk around Shinjuku or Shibuya. There are people walking around everywhere and Tokyo is pretty safe. I have never had an incident, but then again I speak the language and I am pretty street smart. Just act like you know where you are going and what you are doing and you should be just fine. Karaoke Boxes are relatively cheap and super fun. You can rest in there, order drinks from a T.V. remote, sing your heart out to your content and even order food snacks like karaage (fried chicken pieces), gyoza (potsticker dumplings), french fries, teriyaki sticks, and sometimes sushi. Some great and reliable places to sing your heart out are the following: Smash Hits, Shidax Please. They charge by the hour, per person. You usually check in your shoes in a shoe locker and then they show you to your very own karaoke room. Some karaoke rooms have disco balls, maracas and costumes. We’ve even had a two story room where we had a railing to sing to our friends below!

Source: http://static.guim.co.uk/

If Karaoke is not your thing and you actually rested up, then go check out some of the small authentic eateries that mimic old time Edo. Shomben Yokocho (piss alley) is a great place to go and check out. It’s a small street that doesn’t have bathrooms, hence the name. This street is also special in the sense that it wasn’t affected by the Tokyo Fire Raids of WWII. You can pretend, just for a few minutes or hours that you are walking into Shomben Yokocho on a hot summer night back in the day. You hear the melodious chimes of the furin tantalizing you and others to come and sit down at a bar that serves some exotic piece of food. A man wears a hachimaki and is busily preparing a special food item for his prized customers. Every move and every thought of this food that he is preparing is 100% focused on making the customer happy and to create a memorable and nostalgic moment. The sound of sizzling fat drips on the grill and someone sitting close by is quickly popping in a hot piping piece of meat into their mouth and fanning their mouths like a Geisha entertaining her guests. Cold crisp sake coasts down your throat and a simple nod from another justifies that amakuchi (sweet) taste that pairs so well with one’s meal. In the alleys that share each kiosk, the clicking and clacking of women’s heels accompanied with cigarette smoke and intimate conversations with drunken men can be heard. If you listen closer you can hear the proud slurpers of cold soba. At this point the man who is serving you might have beads of sweat dripping down his face. He will nonchalantly grab a wet oshibori and wipe his hard earned sweat and lay it back down. These details can be witnessed when going to Shomben Yokocho. 

Source: http://fc02.deviantart.net/

Day 2: 

Get up early! Go and get ready to check out the famous Tsukiji Fish Market! This is probably, if not, the most famous fish market in the world! Make sure you check out their main website for touring. There are strict rules and I went there one time on a Sunday to find out that it was CLOSED! Here is some useful information taken from the Japan Guide website:

Visiting the tuna auction

The number of visitors to the tuna auction is limited to 120 per day, the maximum number which the market’s infrastructure can accommodate. Tourists, who wish to see the auction, have to apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate, starting from 5:00am on a first-come, first-serve basis. A first group of 60 visitors will be admitted to the auction between 5:25 and 5:50, while a second group of 60 visitors will be admitted between 5:50 and 6:15.

Expect that the maximum number of visitors is likely to be exceeded on busy days, and that some later arriving visitors may not be able to see the auction. Successful applicants will be able to view the auction from a designated visitor area. It is not allowed to view the auction from anywhere else or to use flash photography or to interfere with the business action in any other way.

Source:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3021.html

Be adventurous and try some sashimi. It may cost you a bit, but it is worth the experience. These tuna are hard to come by now and the prices at auction are CRAZY RIDICULOUS!

Post Fish Market/Afternoon: 

After you have your fish fix, you are close to Ryogoku, Kappabashi, and the Tokyo Edo Museum. Since you are up early, you might as well hop on the train and go see if you can catch an early morning thrown down at the Sumo Beya (Sumo Stable). You usually have to set this up in advance and definitely be on time and be VERY RESPECTFUL. Keep in mind that Sumo is the ultimate Japanese traditional sport. It is sacred and some sumo beya’s will not allow for foreigners to come in, others allow it. Remember that you are an ambassador for your country. BE RESPECTFUL!!!!!!!  Ryogoku is the home of Sumo. If you want to watch Sumo, you’ll have to check the schedule to see when games are taking place. If you want to watch an actual match, check out the Nihon Sumo Kyokai. Hopefully you got a chance to see some sumo throws in action. Kappabashi is known for kitchen supplies and “fake food”. The Japanese are gourmet eaters and many Japanese judge a restaurant by how their displays of “fake foods” are presented. If I see dust on “fake food” displays, I don’t go in! I’ve been told this by many Japanese friends. The art of making “fake foods” in Kappabashi  is taken very seriously and there is a lot of study to make plastic look SUPER REAL! No laughing matter. Even the “fake food” magnets, cost a lot more money than your average souvenir in Asakusa 

Source: http://media.lonelyplanet.com/

The Tokyo Edo Museum is your history lesson for the Golden Age of Japanese History, the Edo Jidai. You will get your fix of Japanese woodprints, kimonos, kabuki, calligraphy art and architecture. You’ll of course hear about the famous historical times of Japan including the Heian Dynasty, Muromachi, Kamakura, Tokugawa and modern Japan after Commodore Perry. 600 yen is super reasonable and well worth the price! I would ask for a docent, they know everything about the museum! They are closed on Mondays. Their hours are from 9:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. TAKE A BREAK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is where I recommend walking around the college parts of Tokyo like Waseida University, Tokyo University. You’ll get a chance to see your typical college students dressed in their trendy Tokyo fashion. Of course better fashion spotting & poshing would be around Harajuku, Omotesando, Daikanyama and Shibuya. Your stop would be Chiyoda on the train line. If college towns don’t interest you, then possibly go towards Tokyo Station and go check out some shopping in the Tokyo Marunouchi Building and the Shin Marunouchi Building. You’ll be walking distance to the Imperial Palace. I also recommend Namco Town in Ikebukuro for some silly arcade fun! Namco town has a gyoza museum and an ice cream museum. There are tons of crazy and fun games to play. Can’t explain it, you’ll have to see it for yourself.

Source: jin.jcic.or.jp

The other option is to go and check out Roppongi Hills, although you probably won’t be able to afford much! The stores are loaded with Louis Vuitton, Armani, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Chanel etc. You can buy those brands in the USA much cheaper. However if you desire to go to Roppongi, it is your chance to get a lot of foreign food. This is where a lot of ex pats live. The U.S. Embassy is close by. Go check out Mori Art Museum at the top of Roppongi Hills. The view is stunning at the top and this museum is one of the most famous avantgarde museums for modern art in the world! I’ve been to the Tate in London, which is amazing, but the Mori Art Museum is a definite competitor! Bring your student ID, or professional ID, you may get a discount.

Source: OpenBuildings.com (Exhibit using light bulbs)

Day 3: 

This day all depends on how much you have done and how you want to spend your day, high impact or low impact. You can go have a drink at the top of the Park Hyatt and spend a good $30. Or you can just let your stomach and senses turn into your personal garmin. I recommend having a day where you just wander and kind of “get lost”. Rather than explaining things like I have, here are the places that I would recommend in list form with a few quick blurbs.

  1. Takeshita Dori: Located in Harajuku. Gwen Stefani was inspired by fashion and her music at this very spot. Takeshita Dori has costumes for cos play and the strange fetishes that take place in Japan with anime and manga. Be careful about taking pictures. Have a dessert crepe. Shop around.
  2. Oriental Bazaar: Souvenirs on the Omotesando part of Tokyo. Your best bet to get souvenirs is Asakusa Temple
  3. Meiji Jingu Shrine: A long walk to the shrine, but a breather from the hustle and bustle of busy Takeshita Dori. On a Sunday, you can catch a glimpse of the Harajuku Girls posing for cameras.
  4. Tokyo Dome City:  Check out the famous Tokyo Dome where thousands of Japanese fans sing, chant and dance. Japanese baseball is majorly loved! In fact, I think it is more fun to watch in Japan than in the states!
  5. Studio Ghibli Museum: If you love Hayao Miyazaki Films, go check this museum out! It’s a bit outside of Tokyo.
  6. Kaiten Sushi: Conveyor Belt Sushi. Not always the highest grade of sushi, but such a fun experience. You can find them anywhere in Japan. They charge you by the plate.
  7. Takashimaya: Famous Department Store in Japan. Located in Shinjuku.
  8. Tokyu Hands: Novelty Store located inside Takashimaya. There is also a Shibuya location store as well.
  9. Ito-Ya: Specializes in Washi and other calligraphy items
  10. Tokyo Love Hotels: Sounds dodgy, but an experience. Themed rooms like the Madonna Inn. Read up on Love Hotels before you go. Go with your loved one 🙂
  11. Kinokuniya: Great Book Store in Tokyo
  12. Akihabara: A hub for mechanical parts, pieces, cell phones and technology
  13. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tower Building: If you did not go on the Hato Bus Tour, go check this building out. It is free to go to the top and you get a fantastic view of Tokyo.
  14. Yebisu Garden Place: Beer Tasting in Tokyo!
  15. Geisha Tour: Of course this will be geared towards tourists, but if you want to see real Geisha be ready to shell out thousands of dollars. So check out the Hato Bus Night Tour Version called the Mukojima Geisha Tour
  16. Sumida River: There are boat tours. At night in the summer, you can drink and cruise around Tokyo.
  17. Hair Cut???? If you are adventurous with your hair like I am when I travel, get a haircut in Japan. It might cost an arm and leg, but the experience is cool. They use a thinning scissor, to cut the heaviness out of your hair. Japanese people have thick hair. So if you are very daring and bold, go for it! The craziest thing I did one time was walk in with hair below my back and I walked out with a pixie cut! YIKES!!!!!!!!!!!
  18. WANDER WANDER WANDER! Take photos and come back with great stories! I have so many more ideas, but just give me a comment and I will answer back! HAPPY TRAVELING!

Source: http://muza-chan.net

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST!!!!!!!!!! BEFORE YOU TRAVEL TO JAPAN, YOU MUST PURCHASE A JAPAN RAIL PASS!!!!!!!!! It will save you hundreds of dollars! it is super easy to use and the cheapest way to travel around Japan and even Tokyo. You must purchase the Japan Rail Pass in your OWN COUNTRY before you travel to Japan! If not, you cannot purchase one in Japan! Check out the Japan Rail Lines Website. 

FURTHER READING:

TIME MAGAZINE: SUMO

5 Tokyo Experiences You Won’t Forget

Conde Nast Traveler: Tokyo Tour Guide

Lonely Planet: Introducing Tokyo

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations: Tokyo

National Geographic: Tokyo Ultimate City Guide

New York Times: Great Meals in Tokyo’s Tiny Outposts