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Our last day in Tokyo was also our last full day in Japan, and it was jam-packed with things to do! We met our new guide in the morning and hopped on the metro toward Mitaka for our first stop – the Ghibli Museum.
For the benefit of those not familiar with it, Studio Ghibli is an animation studio that’s well known for producing numerous fantasy-based animated movies. Hayao Miyazaki is the co-founder of the studio and is greatly loved by Japan and by many other countries for being a masterful storyteller. He designed the museum as a place for exploration and learning about animation, but also enjoying the actual structure that contained the exhibits. We learned from our guide that all of the drawings in one of the exhibit rooms focused on pre-production were created by Miyazaki. Not only that, but he’s currently in the process of redrawing some of them, as they have aged from hanging on the wall.
As a rule, the museum doesn’t allow taking photos while inside, but you can take as many as you’d like outside the building and on the rooftop, where a robot from one of the Ghibli movies stands watch. We were given tickets that looked like pieces of film from one of the Ghibli movies. These tickets gave us entrance to a special theatre that shows a short Ghibli animated movie. The movies rotate, and are only available for viewing at the museum. I’d visited the museum once before on my previous trip to Tokyo, but it’s such an expansive place that there were many new details of the building and exhibits I got to experience that I hadn’t before.
After Ghibli, we took more bus/metro things to get to the area of Nakano, where we were to visit the Nakano Broadway shopping area and eat ramen. On our way there, we managed to find ourselves in the midst of some sort of fall festival that included a group of musicians playing on the taiko, which are large Japanese style drums. Our ramen was served in VERY LARGE BOWLS and quite tasty. The shops in Nakano Broadway were numerous and varied, but we mostly crawled around for video game/anime/comic book themed items. It almost like going to a flea market in the sense that there were a lot of stores with the same figures/books/items, but sometimes if you went somewhere else you could get the same thing for a little bit cheaper. Or realize you’d paid too much.
We headed back to Akihabara for more exploring of shops and sights. While there, we ran into some other sort of event that included a lot of mascots and cosplayers running about. Our next stop was a Maid Cafe for drinks and snacks. Maid Cafes are a cosplay restaurant themed on the waitresses being dressed as maids and greeting customers as if they were coming home to their own house, with a “Welcome home, master!” or “Welcome home, princess!”. The cafes are scattered about Akihabara and got their start in that area. We weren’t allowed to take photos except for our drinks that we ordered, as one of the maids took requests for drawing a picture on the coffee foam. We did pay 500 yen to get our picture with her later since she drew so well on said coffee foam.
Next, we explored some other tall shops and visited a large bookstore near the train station, where we got several comics (to look at the pictures, since we can’t read Japanese ). Our last stop with our guide (and our piles of shopping bags of souvenirs) was the Pokemon Center. The Pokemon Center is just that – a shop just for Pokemon, including the card game, a trading area for the video game, and special items that only show up there. It’s kinda like if you took a Disney store, but replaced it with Pokemon. One of the highlight items we bought – a Pikachu tin filled with Pikachu cookies.
Our guide escorted us back to the hotel, where we said goodbye, took our souvenirs up to our hotel room, then immediately ran back to the Diver City mall to find some tasty food for dinner. Our last stop we’d planned for ourselves was to go to Joypolis – an indoor theme park/arcade by Sega that was in walking distance from our hotel. It was also a blast.
The next day, we started our long, long, long trip back to the States, complete with jet-lag and buckets of souvenirs!
We did many a things in Tokyo, so I’ll be highlighting some of my favorites in the interest of time and saving space on the internet for other blog posts. Still, it will require TWO TOKYO-THEMED POSTS. To give you the general idea of how ginormous Tokyo really is, here’s a small chunk of it, as viewed from one of the observation decks of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Our first night in Tokyo, James and I ran off to explore the nearby Diver City Plaza mall area in the Odaiba area. While there, we ran into the Diver City Gundam Cafe, which happens to have its own Gundam just hanging out in front of it. IT WAS SO FREAKING AWESOME!
We found a sushi carousel restaurant called Sushi Train. If you’ve never been to a sushi carousel, you should find one and eat there. The basic concept is that a conveyor belt throughout the restaurant and as sushi is made, it’s placed on the belt. When a plate of sushi comes by that you’d like to eat, you pick it up and place it on your table just for you.The color of the plate tells you how much that plate of sushi costs. When you’re done, you stack the plates by their color and a waiter counts them up for your check. You can also put in a request for a specific food item or beverage. This place was extra cool for having a mini-bullet train that would bring you the specified plate of sushi you ordered.
The next day we got up EXTRA SUPER EARLY to journey with one other tour member to see the infamous Tsukiji Fish Market Tuna Auction. The auction is only open to whole sellers and restaurant owners when it comes to bidding on the tuna, but there’s room for 120 people to observe the auction. The only catch is you have to be there early, early, early – we arrive at around 3:40 AM. Moments after we arrived, they closed the door to any more auction observers. We had to navigate around the very active (and dangerous!) fish market area filled with beeping trucks, moving forklifts and hurrying workers to get to the actual auction area. The auction itself was over within 20 minutes or so, but after we made our way back through more crazy forklifts, we wandered down the street to a more farmer’s market style area selling fresh fish and snacks.
After breakfast, we visited the Edo Tokyo Museum to see life-sized centuries-old-style Kabuki theaters, miniature replicas of cities, and more. Then we wandered down Harajuku,a street known for being the birthplace of new Japanese fashion trends and huge crowds of teenagers on weekends. I noticed someone with a crepe, which I’d had on my previous Tokyo visit and had on my list of things to have again, because they are SO GOOD. We found a cute crepe place where they pile in the ingredients like no other.
We later ended up in Akihabara, a district famous for all things arcade, electronic, and toy-centric. Many of these arcade buildings are six to seven stories with many crazy games. We sampled the Table Flip game, something I’d heard about in a YouTube video guide of Japan. (Thanks, Internet!) Afterwards, we visited the Asakusa shrine, which was exceedingly crowded to the point where James and I ducked into a side street to walk back to our meeting place so we’d be less squished. We traveled to a river cruise to take a boat back to our hotel area, where we said goodbye to our guide, bus driver and fellow tour members, as they were heading back to their homes the next day. We still had one more day left in Tokyo, with a different guide, but that’ll be covered in the last installment.