• Erika Argiolas

5 ALTERNATIVE THINGS TO DO IN TOKYO

We all know Tokyo is the city of extremes. From the most modern to the most ancient architecture, from the most traditional and refined restaurants to the most bizarre ones like the maid cafes. There are certainly many things to do and see in Tokyo, but today I want to daydream a bit and list the 5 things / places I would do / visit if at this moment I was in Japan.



1. MEMORY LANE a.k.a "PISS ALLEY"

The first place I would visit is Memory Lane. A narrow alley bursting with nice and small restaurants where you can enjoy authentic japanese culinary experiences and special local cuisine: from the traditional yakitori to the more adventurous pork testicles or frog sashimi. It's an alley that's packed with Japanese professionals enjoying a few beers and a quick meal before heading home from work. The thing that attracts me most about this place is that you can discover remote corners of the city that no one knows or at least not the tourists and that are generally the most authentic places to get a 360 ° cultural experience.

You may be wondering why the street takes the name of "Piss Alley", well, the appellation has antecedent roots, precisely when the area was less built up and was frequented by some shady characters that would wandered around, a bit drunk. Since there were no toilets in the area at the time, they peed where it suited them best. The local authorities still hate this epithet attached to the road and have tried in every way to rename it, giving it the name of "Memory Alley".


2. TSUKIJI FISH MARKET

Another place I would like to visit is the Tsukiji Market. I am a true lover of seafood and fish in general and we all know how Japan is the master of fish cuisine. Furthermore, the market is full of colors and true traditions. I think it is one of the most particular places to visit and to find the true essence of this beautiful country.

Tsukiji Market is a district adjacent to the site of the former Tsukiji Wholesale Market. It is made up of several blocks of wholesale and retail shops, as well as featuring a large presence of busy restaurants along narrow alleys.

Fresh, processed seafood, produce alongside food-related goods such as knives. It is the best option if you want to start the day with a fresh sushi breakfast or have a lunch at one of the local restaurants. The fish served in this market is the freshest ever as it is delivered straight away from Toyosu Market, one of the best places in Tokyo to enjoy fresh seafood.

Sadly, in the recent years, they have tried to minimize the number of visitors to the market since it interferes with businesses.

Most visitors who come to Tsukiji would most likely want to see the Tuna Auction. However, you need to have reservations first in order to see it.



3. A NIGHT IN A CAPSULE HOTEL

I don't have a clue if you already know about it, but in Tokyo there are very special hotels. Born about 30 years ago in Japan, the Capsule Hotels were mainly a service offered to salaryman (businessmen in offices), who once left work and went for a few drinks spent the night in the city without heading back home. The reasons could be many: perhaps too embarrassed to go back to their family due to being drunk, or because public transport stopped working too late (around midnight), or because taxis were/are very expensive, even more late in the night. From that moment on, the Capsule Hotels were born - so defined because the "bedrooms" look like real autonomous capsules. Usually stacked one on top of the other and the appearance is almost that of a dormitory.


Now 6 things you need to know about it:

1. The Capsule can have, in addition to the bed, a hanging TV, suitable for watching in the sleeping position, Wi-Fi, mirrors, drawers and alarm clocks.

2. Capsules mostly don't have lockers attached. Individual lockers for guests to keep their belongings are usually placed in a separate area and are not as spacious.

3. You've probably seen it coming. Yes, there are no private bathrooms, just the common shower room. There are some capsule hotels that also provide a sauna.

4. Guests must leave their shoes in the assigned lockers and move around in hotel slippers. Of course, you are familiar with the Japanese custom of taking off your shoes at the door. They do it even in school.


5. They are much cheaper than hotels, ranging from 2000 to 4000 yen ($ 17- $ 35) overnight stay. Hence, they can be a good alternative to hostels, as you are not claustrophobic.


6. Some now offer somewhat more spacious capsules, such as the First Cabin in Nanba, Osaka. The extra space comes from eliminating the top row of capsules, giving each capsule twice the standard height. Also, they have internal lockers, so the width is slightly increased. However, the benefits come at an additional cost.

So what about you, would you try to stay a night in one of these capsules?



4. HAVE LUNCH AT THE NINJA RESTAURANT IN SHINJUKU

In Tokyo there are many themed restaurants, but there is one in particular that I would like to visit: the ninja restaurant in Shinjuku. Opened in 2017, it is located next to the mega electronics store Yodobashi Camera, which features a large, highly reflective glass facade. From the outside you feel a little disoriented, especially because you would never suspect what's inside.

Apparently, once you enter, you would find yourself in front of a souvenir shop with an assortment of ninja-themed items that welcomes you and a small Robot named Pepper-chan, dressed up as a ninja, who welcomes you in different languages. You are then escorted by a host dressed entirely as a ninja, who will lead you through a wall that slides away to reveal a hidden entrance to the main dining room.

Then you have to make your way through a dark and steamy room, in full ninja style. Plus, the menus are brought to the table in the form of parchment. Usually, from these themed places you have to lower your expectations a little with regard to the quality of the food - this restaurant is renowned not only for its mise en place and elaborate dishes, but also for its quality.

Additionally, you can also book a ninja makeover, where you can dress up as a ninja and then take the costume home. And for an additional 9,000 JPY, you can be transported to and from a professional photo studio for a photo shoot in your ninja costume. Both of these activities require advance booking at least 1 week in advance. However, unless you have kids or are a die-hard ninja fan, the novelty of the restaurant itself and the personal magic show should more than give you a unique experience.

In fact, after you've finished your light dessert, you might assume that you've made it through this ninja lair safe and sound. However, your culinary adventure doesn't end with your meal. Even during the lunch hour, you will be treated to a short "ninja magic" show! You will be dazzled by an interactive display of card tricks, complete with a ninja-themed deck.



5. TEA CEREMONY EXPERIENCE IN TOKYO

Last but not least, I would love to attend a traditional tea ceremony. The tea ceremony is an extension of Zen Buddhism and a tradition that has been handed down for more than a millennium. Is the result of a fantastic cross-cultural intertwining between China and Japan.

The tea ceremony in Japan dates back to the 9th century and has its roots in the Chinese evolution of Zen Buddhism. Legend says that Bodhidharma, the founder of Chan (Zen), fought his sleepiness during meditation by removing his eyelids and throwing them away. In the place where his eyelids fell, a tea plantation grew up prosperous. Although the exact date is not certain, according to this legend, Chinese Chan monks continued to sip tea for hours and hours as a way to stay active and conscious during long meditation sessions. Japanese monks often went to China to study during this Era of spiritual discoveries and returning from their long journeys in their country, they brought with them tools, Chinese tea leaves and an arsenal of new knowledge on how to make tea.

The tea ceremony has been evolving over time, but invariably retaining all its fascinating characteristics. In fact, the thing that intrigues me most is the large amount of tools that are used to make it and that fascinating and precise ceremony surrounded by rules that must be performed in order to adhere as much as possible to this ancient practice, without disrespecting it.

Among the most used tools we find the chawan (tea bowls), designed to prepare and drink tea. These bowls are selected according to the season and most tea houses and tea masters have a wide range of chawans to choose from.

Then there are deeper bowls that are used to keep the tea hot in the winter, while the lower bowls are adapted to the warmer months.

The bowls is a fundamental tool in the tea ceremony because it connects the host to their guests and as Kamono says - a Yokohama local who has been running tea ceremonies in Tokyo and her home city for the past five years - "When a guest serves sincerely a cup of tea for guests, guests should take it with respect and gratitude. By carefully handling the bowl with both hands, you can show your respect and gratitude. "

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