As promised in my last travelling post, in this post I’ll be exploring five experiences in Tokyo that might not all be in the travel brochures, but are certainly fantastic experiences. This week we will be going from haunted cat town theme parks, all the way to volcanic boiled black eggs. Next time you’re in Tokyo I would recommend each and every one of these experiences. I have also chosen these as they form a two day itinerary A perfect way to start your time in Japan before you branch out to ry other things, but also perfect if you are just looking for a stopover en-route to another destination, or you just want a few days in Tokyo after snowboarding in Hakuba.
Our first stop is a Cat Cafe….
Nyan de Cafe
Nyan de Cafe (Nyan is the onomatopoeia for the sound a cat makes in Japanese) is a Cat Cafe in Japan and it is the first stop on our two day trip in Tokyo. As long as you get off at the right stop, it is easy to find if you have a look around.
So yes. Just look for the pink cat shaped door. This particular cafe is in Odaiba but it is not unique. There are several, not just in Tokyo but in many of the larger cities in Japan. For people who live in apartments that can be quite small, having a pet is not always possible and so here is the solution. A cafe where you get a drink and then get to have a therapeutic hour with Cats. Real live cats. It costs around 1200 yen and that includes a hot or cold drink (tea or coffee). Once in, there are dozens of cats in what looks like a mock up of an apartment. There is a kitchen area, a lounge room a dining room and even a study nook. It’s incredibly relaxing and amusing to watch them scurry across high up tracks that help them get around. The cats comfort is always first though and there are areas of the house which are not accessible to people where the cats go to get some quiet time to themselves. Visitors are also asked to not pick the cats up, but to just pet them and let them come of their own accord. Flash photography is also not allowed. You get about an hour with the little ones before you move on and exit through the gift shop, filled with cat related souvenirs and pet supplies. It is definitely a unique and fun activity and also quite cheap (At the time of writing the exchange rate would mean it cost about AU$12.50 per person).
For our next stop though, I hope you are not sick of cats…
Namco Namja Town
http://www.namja.jp/access.html (Japanese website. Use Google Translate to get the station names and directions.)
Namco Namja Town is one of Tokyo’s many indoor theme parks. Its two mascots are a pair of cats and the theme of the décor is predominately a haunted town (Currently closed for renovations so this might change). Strangely, given the mascots and décor, the emphasis of the theme park is food. The theme park contains several food themed ‘stadiums’. While they are referred to as stadiums, they really are just separate sections. The themes covered are ‘Gyoza’, ‘Ice-cream’ and ‘Dessert’. It’s possible you have seen this theme park shared on YouTube as they have several internet worthy ice-cream flavors Beyond the traditional chocolate, vanilla and strawberry they also have some more exotic flavors like deep sea salt vanilla. Go beyond that and you find a curry flavour. Even further in the realm of ‘who could have possibly thought this was a good idea’ is the sea urchin flavor The most unusual though, in my opinion, is the viper ice-cream. As in ‘snake flavored . The rest of the stadiums for Gyoza and desserts seem to be far more traditional though and often Namja Namco Town will run promotions with Anime or Video games and you can find special One Piece deserts, or Bleach themed Gyoza. They do have some carnival rides for kids, but honestly, you go here for the food.
Vintage Clothes Shopping in Harajuku
Harajuku is famous for its fashion. Loli’s, Goth’s and even more unique fashions can appear here (If you don’t believe me, try a Google search on Harajuku fashions). This of course means that there are plenty of shops that cater to a unique sense of style. Harajuku JR station spills out to the top of the main pedestrian mall where you will find lots of restaurants and lots of clothes shops and trinket shops. There are many second hand shops as well, however they are not the cheap charity shops we have in Australia, or what you’d find in the UK. They have some of the strangest items including marching band hats, go-go boots and medals. The prices aren’t exactly pocket change but I’m not sure how much these things usually cost so they might be a bargain to those in the know. At the very least it makes for a great window shopping experience when you never know what you might find next. For the less adventurous, or those looking at spending a little less, there are some fashion stores off the main strip that have some great clothes at a good price. Cheaper than Shibuya’s department stores and more likely to blend in with an existing wardrobe then the main Harajuku fashions so it is worth looking past the main street if you want some retail therapy.
Speaking of going somewhere for the food, Ninja Akasaka is currently my favorite restaurant in Tokyo. The website has enough English that you can check out the menu and prices as well as make a reservation. As the name suggests the theme here is ‘Ninja’. From the moment you enter and are greeted by the maitre d’ to when they summon a Ninja and take you to your table, you are surrounded by a very surreal and fun experience. You are led through a replica village and the Ninja waiter will use ‘ninja magic’ to lower a draw bridge, point out treasure and also make sure you don’t hit your head on a low ceiling Once seated you can select from an al a carte menu, however each time I have gone I have selected a set meal which comes with several courses. From soup cooked at your table with a hot stone to shuriken bread sticks there are many ‘specialty’ dishes that feature an extra level of drama. My pick is the smoke bomb escargot which was served and had a fuse lit leading to flash powder to simulate a real smoke bomb. It is easy to spend over $100 per person here, but it is memorable experience and the food is really top notch and during your meal you will be treated to a ‘ninja magic’ show.
Ōwakudani (大涌谷,lit. “Great Boiling Valley”?)
Finally, Owakudani; The Great Boiling Valley. Owakudani is a day trip from Tokyo, located in the Hakone region. To reach Owakudani you catch a Shinkansen to Odawara JR station then switch to the Hakone-Yumoto Tozen train, then another transfer to the mountain train. Once the mountain train reaches the cable car, the cable car makes the final, steep ascent of the mountainous ranges surrounding Mt. Fuji. From the peak you are able to catch a rope way, suspended between the ranges through to Owakudani. You’re looking at about two scenic hours to get there from Tokyo. The first thing you’ll see from the rope way is billowing steam rising up from the volcanic hot springs. These aren’t the bathing type of hot springs either. Once you arrive you can then walk the trail by the boiling hot springs and get a closer look at the bubbling water and the mountain range views. Of course the specialty of the café on the mountain is Kuro-tamagi which translates as ‘black egg ‘. These are eggs that have been boiled in the hot springs. The sulphur turns the shell a rich black and it is said they prolong your life by seven years. Maybe it was the view, or just being told that the egg was boiled in a hot spring, but the eggs I ate there remain the most delicious I have ever eaten. From Owakudani it is possible to ride down the other side of the range to Lake Ashi. From Lake Ashi there are boats that will take you to Togendai where you can catch a bus back to Hakone-Yumoto and return to Tokyo. Lake Ashi is famous as one of the best viewing points of Mount Fuji as well and the crew of the pleasure boats will point out when the best viewing opportunities are on the trip across the lake.
So, that’s five activities that can be done in two days. The best way to tackle this itinerary would be to go to Nyan de Café, Namco Namja Town and Harajuku on one day. Then, on the other day, head to Owakudani in Hakone and return for a big dinner after a busy day at Ninja Akasaka.
I hope there is something there that you haven’t heard of before.
If you have any tips on Tokyo then please share it in the comments, particularly as I head there in July so any suggestions are welcome.