Japan Trip 2019: Tokyo

As we took our last bullet train ride of the trip back to Tokyo for the last visit leg of the trip, both of us were a bit relieved. Like the end of a school field trip, we made it to the coveted free time. Because we spent almost the entirety of our previous trip in Tokyo, there’s not as much pressure to sight-see. Rather, the plan was to good around at our own pace.

As it turned out, the itinerary wasn’t as leisurely as planned. The biggest city in the world has plenty of distractions ups its sleeve, and I suspect no amount of visits would change that fact.

Our hotel was a stone’s throw away from Asakusa station, which was reasonably priced and close to many attractions and food options. We visited Senso-ji in the morning before the nearby shopping stalls opened, and this time we could actually get a good view of the place without the sight of hundreds of umbrellas.

Historical value aside, I gotta say that Kyoto and Miyajima are tough acts to follow. It’s hard to ignore the sight of grey concrete boxing in the temple grounds. If pressed for time, I would put Senso-ji on the chopping block of you already have have a lot of temple-hoping planned.

There was also the teamLab Borderless exhibition on Odaiba, an interactive pop art installation that makes creative use of projected images. I think of it as a jungle gym for adults. It feeds off of the visitors’ insatiable desire for selfies, but it is also undoubtedly impressive

With dazzling projections immersive sounds, this place was nothing short of sensory overload. The projections change over time, with virtual animals walking along walls and birds zipping from one room to another. Some of the rooms change completely over the course of time, which encourages retreading your path through the maze-like layout.

Furthermore, the way some of these exhibits interact with visitors is pretty amazing. In one room, virtual butterflies “land” on any stationery occupant of the room. In the tea lounge, projected flowers blossom in the middle of the bowl and scatter when the bowl is moved, only to blossom once again when the bowl is placed back on the table. While I’m still not sold on the artistic value of the exhibit, it is undoubtedly a fun time.

Of course, I couldn’t leave Odaiba without visiting the 1/1 scale Unicorn Gundam at Diver City. Picky fans (like me) will notice that most of the steps of the transformation from destroy mode to unicorn mode are simply skipped over. In reality, only the head, shoulders, and skirt armour undergoes the transformation. For everything else, the red glow of the exposed psycho-frame is simply turned off. I’m honestly not sure what I was expecting — the full transformation is definitely too complicated to reproduce on a giant statue like this…but come on, this is a tad lazy.

At the top floor of the Diver City shopping mall is “THE GUNDAM BASE TOKYO”, which is a gunpla shop taken to the extreme. There are exhibits of virtually all of the HG and MG models ever made, as well as prize-winning entries of gunpla contests, among other curios. Naturally, this place also stocks basically a huge selection of model kits. I was able to find a HGUC Jesta, which was hard to find the shelves even in most stores in Japan, so I did not leave disappointed.

Finally, we went to the sky deck of Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills to get a look at Tokyo’s skyline. It was here where we finally saw Tokyo Tower, the symbol of the city back when I flipped through the picture books my father brought back home in the 90’s. It seemed small when viewed from above on the observation deck of Mori Tower, but its bright red colour stood out in the endless expanse of concrete. While I could faintly make out the outline of Mt. Fuji on this overcast day, the city seemed to stretch without end. It is an awe-inspiring, yet also slightly dystopian sight.

We spent three and a half days in Tokyo, and most of that time was spent eating and shopping. I found this to be much more enjoyable than our first visit to the city. The weather definitely helped, but not feeling time time crunch to blaze through a long checklist of tourist spots was also a big plus.

We visited the LINE store and had Ichiran ramen and some Korean corn dogs in Harajuku. The selection at the LINE store was smaller than expected, but the Sally plush we got from there has become our runaway favourite.

We found Godizilla, posh Kit-Kats and an entire department store dedicated to stationary in Ginza.

We also redeemed ourselves in Akihabara, where we finally won some prizes at the UFO catcher games, despite vowing to never fall for these scams ever again. Granted, we only went for the easier smaller machines with small prizes, but seeing these little dog plushies fall down the chute unleashed an avalanche of joy. We were riding the high all night thanks to these cheap little toys.

And we also got absolutely lost the underground city that is Tokyo station. This multi-layer labyrinth contains innumerable restaurants and shops. We had some Tonkatsu in a tightly-packed counter-only joint where the vat of burning hot oil is placed precariously close to the diners. Eventually, we finally finding Tokyo Character Street, the underground strip within the underground complex dedicated to a dizzying array of character goods.

A tamagoyaki pan we got from the department store chain Tokyu Hands

What I find amazing about shopping in Tokyo is the combination of depth and variety. Neither of us care that much about clothes, shoes, and most of the other stuff you’ll find in a typical North American shopping mall. But here in Tokyo, there are entire buildings and districts dedicated to very specific niches. Be it stationery, kitchenware, electronics and general weeaboo crap, there are places here that’ll spoil you for options in ways hard to imagine anywhere else — one of the perks hyper-consumerism in city with a population of over 13 million.

Final Thoughts

This trip had been conceived with the goal of crossing Japan off of our list. The idea was to hop around the country to see the tourist hotspots before a partial do-over in Tokyo. This way, we could move on with our lives and see the other places in the great big world years to come.

In reality, the opposite has happened. The tourist spots may have been satisfied, but the allure of effortless transportation, great food and unique shopping continues to be irresistible to this day. It’s been almost half a year since we came back, yet we still muse aloud about going back virtually every other day day. I fully realize how much of a disgusting weeaboo this makes us, but it’s futile to deny the obvious truth at this point.

The question which remains is not “if”, but rather “when”. The Studio Ghibli theme park is due to open in fall 2022, with additional attractions opening a year after that, so chances are that’ll be our justification to go back yet again…assuming we could wait that long.

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