Different Tokyo: What to do in Tokyo to experience the local vibe
Note: Okay, so this post was pretty tricky to create. As much I wanted to write about a different Tokyo…it was the first time I couldn’t write because, well, too much writing. I cannot write any more for the moment with my right hand…and yes, you can guess, I am right-handed. Dictation.io was my friend all this time, with some help from my left side for corrections and small modifications.
However, as I have already prepared some ideas that I wanted to share with you, here I am. Alright then, let’s start.
We spent the first four days of our honeymoon in mysterious Tokyo. We wanted, of course, to see the main touristic places around. Yet, we had decided on two daily activities more fun, more unusual, more unknown and maybe more local. Accordingly, we planned for a different Tokyo than we saw on the majority of websites.
Please consider that these places can be the best for some people or average for others. When we put them on our Tokyo bucket list, we looked for was a combination of quality-proximity ingredients. Some were not even planned, as you will see.
What can we do thus in Tokyo except visiting various historical temples, Tokyo Skytree, Shibuya crossroad, Tsukiji Fish Market or the Imperial Palace?
First Day of Different Tokyo — SHINJUKU
The first day in Tokyo was the hardest. We had just arrived in Japan, after almost 18 hours of flights and stops. Adding the jet lag, and we were purely zombies. We didn’t want to lose the day though. That’s why we agreed on something around our hotel in Shinjuku.
Having already cat cafes on our checklist, we said to give it a shot. Calico Cat Cafe was the winner! And us, the lucky ones! Searching the surroundings, we observed an Arcade around, something we wished to try for some time. Cat cafe and Arcade night were starting!
1. CAT CAFE: Calico
Fast facts :
- Locals say that Calico is the first Cat Cafe in Tokyo.
- At 1200¥ per hour is reasonably priced.
- You can order drinks separately even if not mandatory.
- They do not allow children under 12 years old.
From the moment we entered, we were greeted by Kai Chan, a sweet, white cat with tiny, short ears. One young lady from the staff was just recuperating “Escape Boy” from the hallways. We were told he was going on adventures almost every day. He loved to discover the surroundings, and of, course, because it was forbidden, he liked it even more.
The cats were wondering the two-floor cafe like the queens and kings of the 7th Kingdoms. Some even had their special sleeping place on some suspended shelves. Yes, you read it right. Instead of having shelves with books, Calico Cat Cafe has shelves…with cats. The cats were curious, sniffing our phones, even if not very playful. We put it on the fact that it was the end of the evening and they were already tired after a long day of cuddles and games.
The atmosphere was calm and quiet. Guests were reading books, working on their laptop, or enjoying some tea. The cats were passing by, cuddling for a short time and leaving. Cat behavior.
The reviews of Calico Cat Cafe are mainly in Japanese, which proves the frequency with which locals are passing by. They indicate it as a serene oasis in the middle of Tokyo’s hustle and bustle where you can soothe your mind after a full day.
2. ARCADE. Taito Station — Shinjuku South Game World
- Six minutes away from Calico Cat Cafe.
- Prices vary depending on the game, starting around 100¥.
- Cash or Japanese Card (Ex: Suica), sometimes even foreign credit cards.
- Six-floors building with different arcade games.
- 2-minutes walk from Shinjuku Station.
Being one of the best-quoted arcades in Shinjuku and very close to Calico Cat Cafe, we took our chance and went exploring it. The best choice! We had not seen such an arcade culture for a long time!
As you can imagine, it was pretty noisy compared to the cat cafe. The ground floor contained arcade claws games where you could win different items, from mobile phones to teddy bears. The second floor should have been more for kids, but many groups of adults were fooling around. This included us, of course!
We spent the longest time at this floor, playing Mario Cart and some Jurassic Park shooting game. Big spiders were our enemy! There was another floor full of different photobooths, where we spent around half an hour. Besides these, you can delve into three more stories packed with diverse games!
Even if we planned to stay for only one hour, we lost track of time and remained maybe two or three! It was an enjoyable activity that I definitely recommend when in Tokyo!
Second Day of Different Tokyo — ROPPONGI
For the second day, we planned a visit to a Hedgehog Cafe. We’ve “designed” our schedule on the way, and that’s how we ended up in a traditional Izakaya, frequented mainly by locals.
1. HEDGEHOG CAFE: HARRY Roppongi
- Said to be Japan’s first dedicated hedgehog café
- Opens from 11:00 and closes at 19:00. However, you can enter only one hour before the closing hour.
- Reasonably priced, even if more expensive than the cat cafe. It costs 1400¥/30 minutes just to keep company to the hedgehog. “Wormy” food and other drinks come at an additional cost.
Initially, we aimed for a cafe in Harajuku neighborhood. However, when we arrived, we saw that it opened only at 11. As it was only 10 a.m., and we didn’t want to wait for one more hour doing nothing, we had our plans changed.
We wanted to visit the Roppongi area anyway, so we headed that way. Crampedly walking on Tokyo’s broad boulevards, crossing busy intersections and passing through small neighborhoods, after 40 minutes we found ourselves before a tall inflatable hedgehog sign. There was no way we could had missed it.
After a few stairs, we were greeted by a lively young lady. She appointed us a table, where two hedgehogs were waiting for us. We bought some “wormylicious” food to make them love us more. At first, it seemed that the hedgehogs were not very pleased about us, becoming stinging quite fast. Only after had we found out that, like many other animals, hedgehogs get attached to the persons they spend most of their time. That’s how we explained their cuddly behavior towards the staff and spiky towards us. Nevertheless, my hands were too small for the size of the hedgehogs and couldn’t keep them for too long.
All in all, it was a great experience. Just as we wanted, it was entirely different than anything else we could do on our trips!
You need to be very gentle with the hedgehogs though. Remember that they are not toys and need to be cared for. If you don’t know what to do, don’t be afraid to ask the staff. Watch them how finely they handle them.
2. IZAKAYA: Hamanoya
- Situated 10 minutes away from HARRY ROPPONGI
- Open at lunch and dinner time only
- You should prepare for some Japanese — English conversation
- Real feeling of a traditional restaurant
- Pretty calm place, so keep your tone down and don’t shout around for the waitress
Hamanoya was one of those places that made me exclaim “this is the experience I want to have when I go to Japan!”
On our way back from the Hedgehog Cafe we stopped for lunch at Hamanoya, the izakaya we passed by one hour before. With its wooden garnishes, from outside it looked like a tiny, old, family inn. As we entered, we were stroke by the cozy, intimate feeling.
Once again, we were greeted by a joyful lady, who I supposed it was either the wife or sister of the chef. We were invited in Japanese to go upstairs to the washitsu. Or this is what we understood. We thanked her in our pretend-to-know Japanese and followed the supposed invitation.
The woody smell of the room clogged our nose, while we were climbing the stairs towards the genkan. We put off our shoes in the individual locker and entered the meal area. The same floor also accommodated a traditional tiny kitchen. From what we could see, there was where the soup and rice rested before unfolding their flavors on our table. No more than ten tables were waiting to be occupied by guests, with some water, tea, and teacups expecting them. Around half had an open space underneath, where we could place our feet. Because I could never stay in seiza for more than three minutes, we chose one of these. The other half had the traditional Japanese cushions for sitting.
The lady was extremely kind and waited for us while we were trying to decipher the menu. In the end, we just picked something, as it wouldn’t be accurate if I were to say choose. The food was simply tasty. Even if not something very distinctive, it gave us a very welcoming impression, as if we were in some Japanese grandparent’s house.
If you are in Roppongi area, I would totally recommend Hamanoya for a full traditional experience!
Third Day of Different Tokyo — AKASAKA
On our third day, I could say we were pretty lucky because we had some friends from and living in Tokyo that agreed to arrange for us some other local activities. We ended up going to a Batting Center and a Japanese restaurant, both near Akasaka. And yes, again both the batting center and the restaurant were near one from each other. Like the previous days, we didn’t want to lose our time with transportation, running from one place to another, so we were more than happy with the plan. So, there we were, delighted to have friends all over the world!
1. BATTING CENTER: Meiji Jingu Gaien Batting Practice Range
- Located in Kasumigaokamachi, not far from Tokyo National Stadium
- Easily to reach from Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Akasaka
- Again, you should prepare for some Japanese-English conversation
- Price: 410¥ per game (~ 20 balls)
If you want a relaxed and fun evening, definitely give it a try. Never tried it? Not to worry! Even if it was my first time, I enjoyed it a lot! Ok, you might feel a bit overwhelmed by the 7 years-old exposing their talents before to you, but you can get over that rapidly. And hey, that’s what happens with everything you start learning, right?
We were provided everything we needed, nothing to bring from home. The counter was situated directly as we entered, so no getting lost trying to find our way.
If it’s your first time, you might want to ask the staff to show you how it all works. Then, off you go for some fun!
2. YAKINIKU RESTAURANT. Yakinikuen
- Next to Yotsuya Metro Station
- 22 minutes away from Meiji Jingu Gaien Batting Practice Range
- Recommended to call beforehand for reservations, but not mandatory
- Specialty: Beef and pork barbecue, cold noodles
- Foreign card accepted
It can be tricky to find in Tokyo a proper traditional restaurant, for many reasons. The main one is that if the staff speaks English, it might mean that they are expecting tourists to pass by. Thus you don’t really know whether whatever you find there is really traditional or not. We know it, it happened to all places that became touristic jewels after some time.
Nevertheless, if you are ready to use signs for speaking with the waiter or waitress, not pay a considerable amount of money on some delicious beef barbeque and eat in a friendly environment, I recommend you to pass by Yakinikuen. Because of the universities around, we were told that students frequently come here after their courses. This might explain their good quality-price rapport.
We had different types of beef meat, rice, vegetables, pickles, the traditional sake, and Shōchū. However, the menu comprises also pork meat and other Japanese dishes…that we could not read them all. The barbecue, usual for Japan, was prepared by ourselves at the table, on the particular grill placed on the table. The boneless soft meat was melting in our mouth, enchanting our palettes with a buttery savory.
The evening went on smoothly, we ate a lot and had great fun in what we like to call, an ordinary dinner out with friends in Tokyo!
* BONUS: SHINJUKU MARUI ROOFTOP GARDEN *
After a full tiring day, don’t miss this calming oasis in the middle of Tokyo. Once you enter, you pass into another world. Just for reading, enjoying the sunset, the breezy wind and maybe a good conversation, this garden is simply enjoyable!
You can find the heavenly Rooftop on the last floor of Marui Shopping Center in Shinjuku. For the exact location, on Google Maps, you can search for Q-Court.
Disclosure: Aforementioned, the garden is a pure relaxing oasis in the middle of Tokyo. Don’t be a baka gaijin while going there, speaking load, screaming in the phone, running around or having other embarrassing behavior. If you are looking for a calm place, that’s the one. If not, there are others that can fulfill other wishes 🙂
Through these places, we wanted to experience a different Tokyo in the few amounts of time we had. We chose and were also recommended spots where locals spend their time, to be a bit closer to the Japanese culture and people.
What are your favorite “local” sites in Tokyo? I will be there soon again, and I would love to try something different!
Following my ikigai
Originally published at anabriard.com on October 18, 2018.