Tokyo

Experiencing Tokyo as a westerner is a bit like dipping into a parallel dimension. A city boasting both incredible modern architecture and ancient culture, and bursting with trees and flowerbeds, flashing lights, and cartoon-avatar billboards:  visiting Tokyo is like visiting a timeline in spectacular disarray.
The city is clean, organised, and although it is busy, it’s far more easy-going than a day out in London, as the people are so polite and non-confrontational (even in rush hour).
Before leaving on my journey, I had made myself aware of some of the cultural differences, which actually do come in handy alongside knowing a few sentences of the language to get by. Essentially, though, most people in Tokyo (although they are modest about it) do speak some English. But they will greatly appreciate an effort. Do take and receive items with both hands, don’t talk loudly on public transport, and try your best not to blow your nose in public. It’s odd quirks like these that make Japanese manners seem almost alien, but entirely charming in their own eccentric right.
The city is full of parks and aquariums, as well as huge shopping and business sectors. For a day of shopping you should set your sights on Shibuya and Harajuku, brimming with boutiques and street fashion as well as fantastic food and drink.
It’s completely legal to drink in public in Tokyo, and you can grab a cheap beer to enjoy in one of the local parks with no fuss. Something I particularly enjoyed on one of my later days when I found a spot to sit in next to a dog park.
Another great day out is Akihabara, where you can find plenty of arcades, technology and toy shops, as well as Japan’s infamous maid cafés. On my own trip I met a girl about my age (in her early 20’s) dressed as a maid, handing out flyers on the busy roadside. When I asked her how to get to her café, she happily lead me there, and I spent an evening being served surprise cocktails and talking about harry potter and anime (Japanese cartoons) with the other maids, who are paid to wait on you, play games and take Polaroids together with you for additional fees.
Some of the perks of Tokyo include the surprising affordability of days out. Ueno zoo, for example will set you back less than 5GBP for the day, and the supermarkets are all stocked with fresh (and delicious) ready-meals if you don’t fancy the cost of restaurant dining for the night. A number of hotels will also include a breakfast buffet with a small additional charge to your booking.
Travel around the city is incredibly accessible, with most people opting to take the trains, which run frequently, and are also incredibly cheap. If you can’t read katakana, simply look for the ticket machines with an English language option (every station will have at least one) and check your print-off for the platform number.
The beautiful shrines dotted around Tokyo are a must-see, essential to the cultural experience of japan, and mostly free to visit. Many modern residents still visit them to pray, and while some of them are surrounded by vast, neatly maintained gardens and winding paths, you may spot a few smaller shrines scattered in less obvious spots in-between the tall buildings and quiet side-roads.
Staying for a week was an unforgettable experience, but the city has so much to offer, and I will definitely be booking a longer stay next time, hopefully in Sakura season, when the city is coated in pink cherry blossoms for a gorgeous few weeks in late spring.

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