Tourism by Matt S.
Japan can be exhausting. The energy of the city, as well as the sheer number of things to do, means that often, even when you’re out for a relaxing day in a beautiful area like Hakone, you find yourself walking… and walking… and walking. A quick look at my iPhone pedometer shows me that in this month to date – less than half way through, I’ve already walked more in total than any month before this year. And that’s especially impressive given that I actually walk an hour to and from work each day back home.
So today I thought I’d run through three activities that don’t really require a lot of walking, time, or energy, are located quite close to train stations, and are still authentic Japanese experiences. Use these kinds of events to fill in the gaps in the schedule, or just to enjoy a “take it easy” kind of day.
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Tokyo frequently has pop-up beer gardens spring up throughout the hot, humid summer. These generally double as advertising for a popular beer brand, but are basically just a way to unwind while enjoying some light food. For this reason they’re often found in business areas, though last year I found a Kirin beer garden (serving frozen beer, no less) pop up in Shibuya. It’s worth a bit of Google hunting to feel out where you can find one yourself while in Japan.
This year there is a Sapporo beer garden in the heart of Tokyo, and it was delightful. Serving the premium label Sapporo beer on tap (which is just perfect, given Sapporo is my favourite beer of all), the pizza, karaage (fried chicken), sausages, beer battered chips, and more, were delicious and prepared in a live kitchen.
Going on a Sunday, the garden wasn’t so busy, though either way I recommend paying an extra 500 yen ($5-8) per person to sit in the private dining area – if they offer one, that is. Not all beer gardens are created the same way. This one was fun, though, as there were only four or five tables there, and it was peacefully separated for the main dining area, had a personal waiter, and generally gave us a space to simply kick back and relax.
Ikebukuro Sky Circus
In Ikebukuro, one of the major commercial ateries in Japan, there’s a very tall building, and at the top is an observatory with a twist; it’s also a small amusement park that focuses on light and sound tricks and VR experiences. This is Sky Circus, and while it’s small enough that you’ll be done with all it has to offer in a couple of hours, it’s a lot of fun, and offers some gorgeous views in the process.
There are two main attractions, both of which use VR, a technology that Japan has completely fallen in love with. In the first you get into a cannon, put on some goggles and then get “fired” into a tour of the Japan of the future. A giant fan blows wind at you as the cannon prop shifts and moves to recreate the feeling of the movement that you’re experiencing on this tour, which takes you on a guided trip through a vision for what the main areas of Tokyo will look like a couple of decades from now. It’s quite impressive, and it’s amusing to see how the VR, coupled with the simulated movement and feeling of air on the face, actually does trick your body into thinking that you’re actually flying and falling. The second is a swing tour of Ikebukuro. This one is far more sedate and relaxing, with a fun music track playing in the background.
Other attractions include a series of mirrors that distort your body in amusing ways (or make you disappear), an all-mirror room that puts on a spectacular (and relaxing) light show), and umbrellas that react to a simulated rain storm of candy drops. At the end there’s a cafe that serves light snacks and drinks and offers a simply gorgeous view of the city from up high.
Nakano Broadway is right adjacent to the train station, and for anime/ game/ otaku culture fans it offers the same odd and offbeat shopping experience that Akihabara does, without anywhere near the same time and energy commitment that Akihabara demands.
In the shopping mall proper close, tight corridors wind round and round the stores – it’s actually quite easy to get lost in there, but getting lost is delightful because there are so many weird and wonderful stores, selling everything from vintage Godzilla goods to professional camera equipment and on to leather goods, that it’s fun to simply walk past them all and see how completely random and disorganised it all appears. And the figure stores. Oh, there are oh-so-many figure stores. I picked up a half dozen Hatsune Miku figures here, and I was barely getting started.
Nakano Broadway has a nice culture to it too. Store owners tend to open their shops up at whatever time really suits them; at 2pm I was walking by a store with a bleary-eyed shop keeper just getting the shutters open. There’s also some really lovely alternative art galleries and cafes in there to relax.
The one thing I would recommend with Nakano is that you buy stuff you’re interested in when you spot it. The last couple of times I’ve been there I’ve seen figures in one store that I wanted, and made a mental note of them to come back later after checking out what other stores offered. I find it intensely difficult to find those shops again, meaning that I tend to start walking laps around the entire mall looking for them again once I’ve decided what to purchase. The extra laps tend to make Nakano less of a casual shopping stroll than it would otherwise be – and to be honest for figures and so on, most of the shops are consistent enough in price that you’re not going to save much by shopping around.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld