A Tokyo Walkabout

Summer in Tokyo is usually hot; it’s supposed to make one feel like just sitting on a deck chair by the beach. However, the weather has been quite unpredictable these last few years and we decided to take a chance on walking round Tokyo. I’m glad we decided to fly up the third week of July for the weather Gods were kind to us – over cast skies, breaking into sunshine but not overly hot and humid!

This being a short break, we decided to just focus on two areas – Shinjuku and Ueno.  We booked ourselves into the Citadines Shinjuku, which is just a couple of stops away from the main Shinjuku Station.  It’s in a lovely area where the streets behind the hotel remind me of a quiet neighbourhood suburb.

Citadines Shinjuku

Flats in the Shinjuku-Gyomae area

Lots of great little cafes, ramen shops and tonkatsu joints – food is never a problem in Tokyo!  And if you get hungry in the middle of the night, there’s the 24-hour 7-11 which was just a couple of doors away from the hotel.  Being a service apartment, it has a little kitchenette, thus making it a convenient venue for families. Sometimes you just don’t want to eat out and the little kitchen facilities allow you to make your own meals or simply heat up what’s been bought at the shops.

Yakitori Alley, Shinjuku

We trolled around Shinjuku for a bit and took pictures which we thought were so Tokyo – vending machines galore, coin lockers and cutesy-kitschy items.  Shinjuku is also the area where many izakaya and in particular, yakitori shops are.  The ‘salary men’ go there after work to down a few pints of Asahi, Kirin or Sapporo beer and have a small bite to eat.  We also came across what we think is unique in Tokyo – a team of ‘No-Smoking’ Police who come up to smokers on the street and tell them to stub out their ciggies!  Smokers have designated corners to puff away and are asked to refrain from walking and smoking.  Works for me 🙂

Entering Ueno

Plastic food that looks so real!

Restaurant built under railway

Ueno is further up ‘north’ from Shinjuku.  It’s a suburb with a great park, zoo and a bunch of ‘wholesale’-like shops.  It’s not that we do not get Japanese food items in Singapore but the variety that is available in Ueno is amazing.  How not to stock up on favourites like Japanese crackers, salad dressing and fruit?! Ueno is also home to many shops (both food and others) that have their premises directly below the rail tracks.  I understand that after the war, it was difficult to build buildings and this was the best way to go about getting a shop sorted out.  The evening sees a lot of families and working couples either eating out or buying food home.

We dropped into a sushi shop called ‘Kaiten Sushi’ that sold sushi over-flowing with filling.  Despite the generous filling, the food was reasonably priced.  However, the piece de resistance for me was paying the bill – all plates of sushi were RFID-tagged and the waiters didn’t have to count them.  They ran their scanners along the side of the plates which went directly to the POS machine!  Talk about productivity.

Both Ueno and Shinjuku are great places for street photography.  Just hang around the station and you’ll be bound to get some interesting shots!  Do write and tell me if you have seen other unusual and/or interesting places in Ueno and Shinjuku – I’d love to explore them in my next visit to Tokyo 🙂