5 must-dos on your first day in Tokyo
Tokyo is a mega-city that will attack your senses and rip you out of your comfort zone. From the moment you arrive into the heaving mess of people, food, lights and sounds, you will wander with eyes wide from amazement. A visit here is a rite of passage for any young traveller who truly wants to experience something different. Here's my top 5 must-dos on your first day in Tokyo.
1. Buy a train ticket
Tokyo is massive. It’s the most populous metropolitan area in the world with 13 million residents, and you know what? You wouldn’t guess it. The city just flows. The train system here makes Sydney’s rail network look like it was built by a bunch of fourth graders for their science project. Head straight to the nearest Metro and grab a day pass for ¥1,000 ($10). It is the easiest system to navigate as all stations are numbered and the lines are colour-coded. Download this tourist app before heading underground.
2. Go on a ramen quest
Rokurinsha has a queue about an hour long, starting from when they fling the doors open at 11am. Just before this happens, some sort of ceremony goes down where the chefs (dressed all in black, apart from knee-high white gumboots) come out and address the dozens of hungry customers, ending with a deep bow. I would love to tell you what they said, but I don’t speak Japanese.
Once finally inside, you will be directed to a vending machine on the wall. There are four types of ramen dishes you can choose with different variations to suit your taste. Pop in ¥1,000, grab your ticket and take a seat. Your life is about to be changed. I’m not going to tell you any more details about how good their signature thick noodles are, or even how to find Rokurinsha within the maze that is Tokyo Station. That’s half the fun. Get amongst it.
3. The Imperial Palace
With a belly full of noodles, head west from Tokyo Station for a few blocks until you run into the sprawling outer gardens of Japan’s Imperial Palace. You can saunter past fortifications built thousands of years ago to stave off samurai invaders. There is a beautiful bridge that serves as the main gate where Imperial guards (settle down Star Wars geeks) pace back and forth protecting the royal family from modern samurais.
4. Pee Alley for stick food
Catch the metro up to Shinjuku Station and take the western exit, then head north. Here you will find a tiny laneway the locals call 'Pee Alley', a.k.a. Omoide Yokosho. The nickname comes from post-WWII days when there were no toilets available and the drunken locals would relieve themselves in front of the bars.
Pee Alley is a throwback to old Tokyo where you won’t find many tourists, but the friendly locals will welcome you warmly. The smell of smoky barbecue meat will fill your nostrils until your mouth is watering. Pick a joint, stand at the bar and order a cold Kirin before browsing the menu, which changes daily depending on the cuts available. This list includes pretty much every body part (chicken and pork are the most popular meats) you can think of, which is barbecued on a stick over red hot charcoal and served with a tasty, salty dipping sauce. Start with the birthing canal and finish up with some bacon or chicken thigh. Just make sure you have some beer left in your glass to wash it down. Yum.
After you’ve loosened up with a few beers, it’s time to hop back on the train for a few stops south to Shibuya. Here you will find the world-famous street crossing where thousands of locals dressed to the nines dash from one side to the other. Absolute bedlam. The area is one of the red light districts of Tokyo where girly bars and XXX shops rub shoulders with the likes of H&M (open very late) and Starbucks. After wandering the side streets for a bit, it’s time to try Japan’s national drink. No, it’s not sake. The most popular spirit in Nippon is shochu. Find a stand-up sushi bar, order a couple glasses with ice, and ask the chef what fish he recommends today. I had the mackerel. Then I had it again. Mind blowing. Just don’t embarrass yourself by mistaking the green tea powder for wasabi. Oops.
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