Let’s geek out together with a walkabout among the Japanese capital’s most outrageous places.
Start at the beginning, literally, in Tokyo’s oldest neighbourhood. Many of the shops along the cobblestoned alleys of Nihonbashi, near Tokyo Station, have operated continually since Edo, as Tokyo was originally called, served as the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868.
Power up inside the Cesar Pelli-designed Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower where we’ll find an outlet of Sembikiya. Opened by a samurai in 1843. Japan’s first merchant to trade imported fruit has operated here in Nihonbashi since 1867, and must be the origin of those urban myths about million Yen melons, which in fact cost ¥12,600 (US$120). These sit alongside all the spiffy produce inside this gallery-like space, from the relative bargains, ¥525 (US$5) for a humble avocado, to serious investments like box of 50 crimson cherries priced at over US$200. If only life really was that bowl of cherries!
Hungry for more? Slide open the door at Tenmo (4-1-3 Nihonbashi Honcho), established in 1885, where two generations of tempura masters stand behind the wooden counter, coating fresh prawns, unagi and persimmon leaf in tempura batter which originally came to Japan with 16th century Portuguese seafarers. After these freshly fried snacks is the perfect time to check out Saruya, making toothpicks by hand since 1704.
Fast forward by dashing over to Akihabara, Tokyo’s electronics mecca. We’re not here for the latest gadgets however but to get savvy about Japan’s famous otaku anime culture. Admire the Japan’s fantasy friends at the Tokyo Anime Center, or for a more in-depth indoctrination sign up for the half-day Otaku Tour with Tokyo Way, an experiential guiding company helmed by Harvard graduate Carl Kay who is equally adept at helping gaijin (that’s foreigner like us) to navigate Tokyo’s thriving sake scene, the capital’s Zen Buddhist temples and its ‘Kawaii’ culture.
What’s that, you ask? Hello Kitty and her endearing friends comprise this Japanese subculture of all super-duper cute. Even the most sophisticated among us has been known to hold a special, if well hidden, place in our hearts for Japan’s durable feline. Families and serious Kitty fanatics will want to haul 45 minutes out from Shinjuku by train to Sanrio Puroland, Kitty’s very own amusement while more casual collectors can fulfil their kawaii fetish at the Cute Cube complex along the iconic pedestrian-only Takeshita Street in Harajuku, a must-see mecca for all things adorably and uniquely Japanese. Kitty’s friends, including Little Twin Stars, Kero Kero Keroppi and Miffy the white rabbit fill the shelves nearby at Kiddyland on Omotosando, a shopping street in the Aoyama neighbourhood better known for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel.
Finally, before shimmying into the sleep pod at your Japanese capsule hotel, dine with the future at Tokyo’s singular robot restaurant in Shinjuku, a bewildering extravaganza of robots, cyborgs, lasers and mirrors which like everything on this day could truly only blossom in this one-of-a-kind capital of quirk.