If you didn't already realize this, Tokyo is an AMAZING city! And I don't mean amazing in the same way that people overuse the word to describe normal things that are a bit better than good. I truly mean AMAZING. Like so great that I'm sitting here googling average rent prices in case an opportunity pops up for me to move there. The city is mystical, magical, and culturally rich. I've never encountered anything like it in my entire life, and there's no better way for me to communicate why than to share this travel journal jam-packed with photos, fashion, and witty observation. Trust me, after you read this, you need to buy your ticket STAT.
At first glance, the flight can seem a bit harrowing. I flew to Toronto and then faced the 13-hour journey to Tokyo head on. Luckily, we (my bf and I) got to spend that half day in the cushy comfort of business class where we could stretch out completely and sleep, watch a ton of new-ish movies (like James White and Mistress America), and keep our bellies filled with salmon, chamomile tea, and savingnon blanc. And of course, there was some sleep in there somewhere. Before I knew it, we had arrived in this enchanted land.
Day One: Shopping in Shibuya
Good morning Tokyo! After internal confusion about what time it was (due to the 14-hour time difference and impending jet lag), I was ready to conquer the first of 7 full days in the city. First on the agenda was a day in Shibuya-a Tokyo neighborhood known for food, shopping, and nightlife. As a New Yorker, I was absolutely astounded by the city's subway system: the cleanliness, the plush seating, the time efficiency. New York can only dream of achieving a public transportation system as reliable and enjoyable as this one.
Once we left the train station, we were inundated with color and people. This section of Tokyo is also known for its five-way scramble crossings. They are the most intense intersections I've ever seen. And even though hundreds of people are going in several different directions at once, it's the most organized and polite clashing of people you've ever seen.
After grabbing a light breakfast, we headed out to do some shopping. Before entering our first shop, we took a moment to visit the bronze statue of Hachikō, a dog renowned in Japan for his endless loyalty to his owner. Then we entered Center Gai. Center Gai is an epicenter of Shibuya filled with a mix of restaurants, cafes, global retail stores, and local luxuries. There was massive department store after massive department store. Some highlights included a Hello Kitty shop that exceeds far beyond your imagination and Parco-Tokyo's far superior answer to Saks Fifth Avenue.
Whether we wanted to grab a coffee or tea, nibble on a sweet snack, or dive into some authentic Japanese cuisine, there was no shortage of options. One of my personal faves was munching on the S'more cookie at the Dominique Ansel S'mores pop up shop in Modi. Throughout the day it was quite fun navigating menus that were only sprinkled with English words. Despite some minor language barriers, we managed to keep our appetites satisfied.
With many city blocks traveled, trains navigated, money spent, and food devoured, we decided to stop fighting off the jet lag and head back to our hotel. Reflecting on the day, I'm in awe of how extremely polite everyone was there. The people of Tokyo are so thankful for our patronage, and every interaction feels special. Back home in New York, I'm lucky if a salesperson looks up from their cell phone to check a size. In Tokyo, service is always delivered in top notch fashion. And speaking of fashion, the men of Tokyo make me feel unworthy. I'm equally horrified by what I've chosen to wear here and inspired to create some daring new looks. All in all, an amazing first day, and I can't wait to see what else Tokyo has up its sleeve. I'm sure it'll be plenty.
Day 2: Harajuku & Ginza
I had a mile long list of things I wanted to do in Harajuku, but they all mainly consisted of shopping and eating. Harajuku is a youth-oriented shopping district. You know, the one that inspired Gwen Stefani's solo album Love.Angel.Music.Baby. (which provided a killer morning soundtrack while getting ready). I pulled together the most eye-popping outfit I could find (see below), but the only thing that really made me stand out was my height as I towered above all the other tourists and school age girls roaming the crowded streets.
Since it was Sunday, our first order of business was brunch of course. Why suspend Sunday traditions just because we're away from our homeland? I originally intended for us to eat at popular pancake spot Sunday Jam, but not writing down the address was an epic fail. Instead, we chose Burn Side St. Cafe (a recommendation from a local) which turned out to be the perfect choice. The white souffle pancakes pictured below (and eventually devoured by moi) were so perfectly fluffy and delicious. Don't let the size fool you. These little guys fill you up, which was great for me as I needed sustenance for the shopping day ahead.
We decided to brave the Laforet Mall. Including the half floors, there's 12 floors of shopping and over 1,000 different labels offered inside this mall. And each little boutique has its own decor, soundtrack, and aesthetic. Though the shopping center heavily catered to women, it was a sight to behold. Then we dove into the Tokyo thrifting experience. Yes, I can thrift back at home in Williamsburg or the Lower East Side. And there were some similar offerings in Harajuku-quaint shops with the overpowering smell of vintage goods. But Ragtag was the thrift store to end all thrift stores. Shopping here was no different than shopping on 5th avenue. The secondhand shop had racks full of Tom Ford, Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood, N. Hoolywood...the list could literally go on all day. But it wouldn't include any label that isn't designer. This is the thrift store that every fashion fan dreams of.
After all of this walking, it was time to re-up with a snack. And Calbee Plus did not disappoint. Known for its freshly made crisps, the restaurant also prepares made-to-order potato chips. They're fried on site and topped with whatever you choose: salt & butter, maple and cream cheese, double cheese, teriyaki sauce, chocolate. It's literally the best thing ever, and I'm shocked that someone hasn't opened up a kiosk like this in NYC.
One last highlight of Harajuku was Pop!, a gourmet popcorn boutique. The display window featured a designer dress and two dogs completely constructed of popcorn. After snapping tons of pics of the exterior, we had to go in. This boutique treated its popcorn like high-end clothing and jewelry. From the displays of popcorn in jewelry boxes and caselines to the extensive sampling experience to the luxe packaging, this was popcorn reimagined as a luxury.
Ginza is the Japanese cousin of New York's 5th Avenue. The main strip is lined with high-end luxury stores and fashion retailers alike. We started our Ginza journey in the largest Uniqlo in the world-12 floors of outerwear and basics that were being swarmed by tourists and locals alike.
While walking the strip and admiring the artwork splashed on some of the walls, I was approached by a local to have my picture taken. I'm not sure if he thought I was famous or if he liked my outfit or if he just wanted to document the experience of seeing that rare black person roaming the streets of Tokyo, but it was cool nonetheless. We documented the experience too, but hopefully I see the pic pop up on social media somewhere.
Nothing caps off a great leisurely Sunday like champagne. We enjoyed a couple glasses of bubbly and some great service at Goss. While my bf practiced his conversational Japanese with the staff, I was mesmerized by the wine vending machine behind us. When bar patrons were ready for a refill, they walked over to the vending machine, inserted their credit cards, and selected the wine and serving size of their choice to refill their glass. A wine vending machine? That is pure genius. I want one of those at home and in every restaurant in America!
The part of Tokyo that really captivates me is how expansive the city is. We've only been here two days and visited three neighborhoods. And already, I feel like this city has so much to offer. Seven days can only begin to uncover the greatness of Tokyo, but I was already in love after having just a taste.