Despite how much I try to travel around Japan, I have to say I have overly neglected the eastern part of the country. Sure, I spent a couple days in Tokyo during the initial JET orientation, but I can’t say I really count those as we barely had enough time to get out of the hotel and explore. Last weekend, I decided to change that and finally give Tokyo a chance.
By far the biggest dilemma for this whole trip was getting to Tokyo in the first place. My options were basically between taking the bus or a Shinkansen. The catch here is, sure, I could take the Shinkansen and be in Tokyo in a matter of two hours from Kobe and/or Osaka, but it would be about $200 one way. I opted to take an overnight bus through Willer Express on Friday, which was about $62 and then take a full-day ride back on Sunday for about $58. Each trip was just around eight hours, but on the ride back home I got to have the fancy bus which had more leg room and little screens for movies and games. If you can get the “RELAX with personal monitor” option, I’d highly recommend it.
Finally getting into the city in the morning, a friend of mine brought me to all the major tourist spots around the city. First up was the Meiji Grand Shrine.
Dedicated to the old emperor Meiji, the shrine located right next to Harajuku station is one of the largest I had ever been to. It is a very beautiful area, surrounded by a park full of trees and flowers, with the last bits of Sakura still lurking. However, like most shrines, there’s not too much else to do besides the admiration of the place. So after donating some money and saying “this is a beautiful area!” we decided to continue on to the other well known part of Harajuku.
As I passed by people looking like they’d jumped straight out of a magazine, there were times I felt completely out of place walking down the Harajuku lane. There is a constant sense of high fashion in the area, accompanying the 80s music blaring through store speakers and the lingering smell of crepes. I couldn’t say I found anything of my particular taste, as many of the stores were female-centric, but my friend sure had a great time looking through all the earrings and socks.
What we DID find that was right up my alley was the Evangelion store!
I do have to say, it is a really cool store, and with two-floors I’m sure one could find the exact Evangelion item they wanted. And while it’s expected a themed store like this would hike up their prices a bit, the things I did purchase were reasonably priced (the Lilith keychain was $6). That is unless you want, like, the EXACT glasses Mari wears or whatever.
Next up was Odaiba, basically so I could see the giant Gundam. And it was, indeed, a giant Gundam. The mall that it’s attached to also has a dedicated Gundam store, but we didn’t go in exchange for getting lunch. The rest of the mall was fairly small, only really holding clothing and food-themed stores which had Tokyo-themed snacks and treats. I wasn’t in the particular market for them, but for those who are I’m sure they’d find something good.
Next up was Akihabara, nerd headquarters. Now, I have to disclose here that the only “nerd-focused” area I am accustomed to is Den-Den town in Osaka, but that area is small-biscuits compared to Akiba. If I had to characterize Den-Den town, I would have to say the center of it all is five-floor anime goods store, Animate (don’t go on the fifth one). The rest of the area has little electronic or video game shops, with larger stores here and there; Nothing outrageous though. In Akiba, however, it seemed almost every store was usually dedicated to one thing (figures, manga, video games, etc.), but had multiple floors that would have anything you wanted. The best example I can think of is Super Potato, which is a well known retro gaming chain. In Osaka, there’s two or three locations in the Den-Den area, but they are all only one or two floors. In Akiba, the Super Potato is four floors, with the top being an arcade room where people can play NES, Neo Geo and other systems on arcade cabinets. The Akiba location also just seemed to have a lot more items in general. This is not to diminish the quality of the Osaka stores, but I could definitely tell where the business focus was. Understandably so.
The one store I would really recommend going to is Kotobukiya, which isn’t terribly far away from the Super Potato. I was told Kotobukiya “had things the other stores didn’t” and, MAN, was my friend right. Specifically, I was looking for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure stuff, which many stores only had the books (and their multiple editions) to buy. Kotobukiya had figures, phone cases, boxers (!!) and much more. They also had Attack on Titan items that I hadn’t seen anywhere else, so I picked up a another little keychain while I could.
But, what most likely brought some people to this post is the mentioning of an Owl Cafe. Yes, we found one, and it was great.
The Owl Cafe (Cafe Blog link) is located right off the 月島駅 station on the Tokyo subway line (tabelog link). A warning I will give to potential visitors: Although the cafe opens at 12, we arrived at 2 p.m. thinking we could go straight in and party with the owls, but the owner informed us that the next available time would be from 8-9 p.m., the last one. On their website, it says they don’t take reservations, but it almost sounds like you still have to visit and see what times are available. I would say go as early as possible to pick the best possible time.
Immediately after walking into the cafe, we were greeted by a row of owls and, in a state of shock, I was expecting one to jump out and “HOOT!” at me. However, the owls are tried to planks by their feet, so no random act of owl-on-human violence was about to happen.
Actually, I’m not going to lie, at first I had a really shitty attitude towards the idea of the owl cafe after seeing that. Keeping the birds grounded so they could just be pet by costumers and fed occasionally by the staff, then placed in one area where they can barely move just didn’t sit well with me. Compared to the cat and bunny cafes, which have a wide space for the animals to move and interact with the people, this seemed completely contradictory.
When the owner began to tell her story though, my perspective began to change. It was simple enough: she loved owls and she wanted to care for them. The ties are more for the protection of the owls from each other, more so that the bigger birds don’t decide to have the smaller ones as a meal. Even then, many of the birds are not allowed to be touched due to their nature or disability: one owl in the cafe was blind and would become really upset up handled or touched. Even then, if the owls were able to openly fly around, they would end up hurting themselves in such a space. I know some people could argue “then just don’t have them in a cafe in the first place!” and, while I can understand that thought, I think there is still something special about letting people interact with the animals. By naming the animals or allowing people to get closer to them, it’s not us taking control; rather, it’s allowing us to get closer and appreciate the other inhabitants we share the earth with. This only works, of course, when it’s a healthy environment for the animals we are interacting with, but the cafe certainly seemed to be just that.
So, we were able to spend an hour with the owls, petting, taking photos and saying “OH GEEZ, THEY’RE SO CUTE” over and over. There’s no admission price, but you do have to buy a drink for 1000 yen or 1200 for beer or wine, which I think is a really fair price. I was admiring looking at the owls more than holding them, but I did have to get at least one photo with the barn owl because they’re the best.
The next day didn’t fare much, as it was basically just stopping by some places around Shibuya and Shinjuku. I had an early bus, so there wasn’t too much else I could do. Sitting on the bus back home, I kept having the lingering feeling that I had still barely experienced Tokyo. A day certainly wasn’t enough, but I didn’t necessarily have the time (read: vacation days) to extend my stay. “You’ve really embraced the Japanese way of traveling,” a friend commented after I got back to my island.
There will be another trip to Tokyo, and a longer one at that, sometime in the future. It’s just a matter of when. I’ll be sure to stuff my face with more Harajuku crepes the next time, too.