There is a buzz throughout Tokyo. The bright lights that frame the streets liven up the people below, but it doesn't come with the hustle and bustle you'd expect. Instead, there's a unique calm feeling throughout most of the city, particularly when the tourist traps wind down for the night and the streets are open to explore.
This was an initiation into Tokyo for me, somewhere that's been on my travel bucket list for as long as I can remember. It's made it into my favourite city shortlist. Here's a look at Tokyo and a few of the locations we sought out on our seven days in the city.
The whimsical interiors of the Monster Cafe are the quieter (and significantly cheaper) counterpart to Tokyo's Robot Restaurant. Operating on a quick power nap, we stumbled into the bar not knowing what to expect. It delivered. We walked in to an explosion of colour, following the winding rainbows to our booth in the back. It's an adult candy land, with lollipops springing from the seats, baby bottles strung from the ceiling and a revolving cake as the centre piece. The staff are each clad in their different character guises, acting as your servers and your entertainment for the night.
The night we entered was their "burlesque" night, a short show of pole dancing and drag artists before being invited onto the cake for our own finale dance, laced with fluorescent shots. A mix of jet lag and lack of expectation made this all the more surreal... I'd almost recommend you take the same concoction. We paid about £10 for all you can drink whilst we watched the show.
The geometric design of the Tokyu Plaza entrance made me stop in my tracks, the lights of Tokyo at night glittering in the reflection. From the high street shops and quieter nighttime streets around the Harajuku district, the mirrored design opens up from nowhere. By day, there are countless people trying to get a tourist-free shot, by night, the stairs are yours for the taking. One of countless people watching spots in the city, or just another Instagram shot to tick off your list while you're in the area.
Whether you're a child or an adult, a fan of Studio Ghibli or not, this museum is well worth a visit. Just off the main road and buried in the middle of a public park, the colourful walls of Ghibli are home to permanent exhibitions on the characters, artwork and artistic style of the Ghibli creators. Photography isn't permitted once in the museum which makes it all the more engaging, allowing you to get lost in the detail instead of finding the best angle to share with your friends.
Staircases wind through the main hall, with small exhibition rooms tucked into all available pockets of the building. The entrance to the auditorium has walls that appear to melt, with critters climbing up to reach the cute details hidden at every opportunity. There is a limited number of tickets released each day for Ghibli, each needing to be booked from a month in advance of your visiting date, it's a difficult system for such a great museum, but it made it all the more worth it in the end.
A colourful explosion and where my expectations of Tokyo were brought to life. A rainbow of buildings stacked up against each other, each acting as a a pillar of worship for gamers. We ventured into the Sega building, each floor with a different spectacle of nerd. The floors are each devoted to a different game, from dance mats to grabber machines, to gambling booths and VR set-ups.
The streets are littered with console stores, selling every games console from current day right back to the rare original Gameboy and older. Tiny shops are crammed full of hardware and games, with set-up consoles gathering a small crowd to see who will triumph in the game of the day.
My love of people watching was treated to a true spectacle of Japan at Shibuya Crossing. A cross section of pedestrian crossings that are sprinkled with people with each turn of the green cross light. From above or from street level, I could have watched the people in motion all day.
Weaving amongst the locals are tourists as part of the crowd, the committed who jut out in front to get the best picture or those crossing back and forth to soak up every moment of this location.
The surroundings are a haven for shoppers, from department stores to cute boutiques and photo booth centres, but the most important landmark? The Hachiko statue - you need to watch the film if you're not already aware of how good this doggo was.
The edges of Harajuku are a hipster's paradise. Cool coffee shops, unassuming cafes that have a queue down the street and the of-the-moment brands lined up ready to take your cash. The inner streets are a plethora of tourists, Instagrammable food fads and sporadically dotted stylistas. Everything is colourful and there's something to stare at around every corner in this district.
Aside from Takeshita Street which was a touch too busy, I loved Harajuku, for wandering, shopping, or finding something to eat. It was also home to Baird Beer which we spent too much time in, getting our fill of craft beer whilst in Tokyo.
One of the things I loved about Tokyo - and the rest of Japan we got to see - was how the new and old are blended so seamlessly. The Senso-Ji Shrine dates back to 645AD, but now seems to grow out of the back of bustling markets of restaurants, food stalls and tourist gift stores. Throughout Japan there's this great mix, a traditional Japanese home directly next to a high rise, an original shrine gate in the middle of a main road.
We made it up the stairs to Senso-Ji shortly before it closed. The crowds still poured in, split between those praying on entry and those aiming for a glimpse of the ancient Buddhist temple. Tourists dressed as geishas flanked the entry, working with golden hour to get the perfect shot, before crowds began pouring out to move onto their next destination.
Tokyo was our first stop on a two week trip in Japan, by far my favourite city amongst Kyoto, Osaka and Hakone, that we had the chance to visit. My expectations were blown out of the water, with a ton of misconceptions racking up from research and people I'd spoken to before I went. Expect a few more posts from my trip, Japan overall was definitely one of the best places I've visited and we only scratched the surface. Have you visited? Where was your favourite spot?