By Lashawnda Becoats
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to visit Japan — land of the fictional characters Hello Kitty and the monster Godzilla. Back then, I knew very little about the culture, I just dreamed of going because it seemed like a cool place, so when my mother suggested we take a family vacation to Tokyo, I was very excited. Our seven days of adventure wasn’t nearly enough time to explore everything, but we got it in, logging an average of 18,000 steps per day. Here’s a snapshot of some of what we did.
Who Went: Me, my mother, son, brother and a family friend.
Where We Stayed: We rented an apartment in the Sumida area, which was within walking distance of shopping, restaurants, the Metro station and Tokyo Skytree (the world’s tallest tower) and the Sumida Aquarium.
What To See: Everything you can. Tokyo is a fascinating city, rich and yet complex, filled with history, art, fashion, food and culture, so whatever is on your itinerary, you can’t go wrong.
The Vibe: Many areas of Tokyo remind me of New York City. We dubbed the Shibuya district “Time Squares,” because of its bright neon lights and the famous “scramble crossing,” an intersection with hundreds of people crossing the street at the same time. The hustle and bustle of this popular tourist area has lots of shopping, with familiar chain stores such as H&M, Zara and Forever 21. Shinjuku is another busy and noisy district we explored that’s known for mall shopping, small bars and eateries and nightlife.
Favorite Area: We loved the quieter district of Ginza, where we found luxury shopping, the famous Kabukiza Theater and quaint eateries. We loved exploring Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest in the world. Think Anthony Bourdain-style exotic seafood, the freshest sushi, sashimi and ramen noodles in the world. I ate sea urchin for the first time, as well as the largest raw oysters I’ve ever seen. It’s a must visit while in Tokyo.
No-No in Tokyo: Leaving trash. This is the cleanest city I’ve ever visited, and with good reason. You won’t find trash on the ground or trash cans around the city. In fact, signs say “Take your trash with you.” We were even surprised to see the designated smoking glass areas outside for people who smoke cigarettes.
Pleasant Surprise: A social media suggestion yielded a gem we didn’t expect to find – a restaurant serving Southern food in Tokyo. Soul Food House, located in the Azabu-juban district, was created by owners David and LaTonya Whitaker, who hail from Atlanta. The transplants opened the restaurant in 2015, because they missed traditional soul food. We chomped on beef ribs, chicken and waffles, green beans, sweet potato soufflé, macaroni and cheese and berry cobbler, and yes, it was delicious. They even had old school Kool-Aid on the menu. LOL! The comfort food and hospitality at this spot took me back to my roots and reminded me of being at my Grandma’s house.
Temples Galore: Japan has more than 77,000 temples. We were able to see four of the popular ones in Tokyo. My favorite was Sensoji Temple, one of Tokyo’s oldest temples, located in the Asakusa district. We loved the street outside of the temple, lined with hundreds of shops, selling everything from souvenir trinkets to freshly-made rice crackers and juices. It’s easy to spend hours at this gem.
Eat Fruit: My family and I love fresh fruit, so we were pleasantly surprised to see stands everywhere that sell a variety of freshly-cut fruit, such as grapes, strawberries and cantaloupe, in plastic cups. Be sure to eat lots of watermelon while you’re in town. The Japanese take growing watermelon very seriously (in fact, a specialty watermelon can cost $100), but hands down, it’s the best seeded watermelon I’ve ever had.
Best People-Watching: My brother, son and I love fashion and high-end, hard-to-find sneakers. We trekked to the Harajuku district and wandered through the intricate alleyways lined with world famous boutiques and kitschy stores featuring the best in urban wear and Japanese fashion. Grab a bubble tea and enjoy the sights, sounds and the people walking the streets wearing the latest street style.
Don’t Miss: There are basement-level food markets (beneath department stores) all around Tokyo. We checked out the Tokyo Food Show in Shibuya station for lunch. We found freshly-made pastries and desserts, sakes and wine, soups, seafood and salads. We are a variety of things that made our mouths water.
Don Quijote is a massive discount store (seven levels) worth visiting for fun. Here you’ll find clothes, cosmetics, food, household items, medicine, souvenirs, electronics, shoes and more. Think all of our major box chain stores rolled into one. We loved it.