I’ve just very recently returned from a trip to Tokyo, Japan. My older brother had been living there for nearly a decade and was finally moving back to the states. We treated the trip as his last hurrah, and my last opportunity to visit the buzzing and vibrant island with a free tour guide and translator. Together, we explored some of the lesser known and sometimes even subversive parts of Japanese culture. I’d like to share my foray into some of the most quirky, beautiful, and memorable parts of the trip.
In the heart of Shinjuku is the Robot Restaurant. Nothing will prepare you for this experience – as you enter, scintillating colorful lights blind you
The dinner show itself is located in the basement of a building, and the venue has a stage in the center and rows of chairs lining against the wall on either side, and huge television screens behind the seats. I won’t divulge into too much detail, in case you decide to check this out for yourself – but let’s just say scantily clad women (that never seem to stop smiling), and really technically amazing Transformer-esque robots are all part of this experience. Oh, and Kung-fu panda also makes an entrance. ‘Nuff said.
We also cruised on over to the sleepy seaside town of Atami, Japan.
The closest vacation spot to Tokyo, many working women and men hop on a train and decompress in this town, known for its hot spring spas. The city also runs the whole gamut of museums: Cat Museums, Memorial Museums, Hihokans – otherwise known as Sex Museums, Art Museums, you name it. The most well known art museum in the area is the MOA Museum of Art, built in 1982 in memoriam of a multimillionaire religious leader Mokichi Okada.
The architecture of the museum even has religious implications. The (truly) grande entrance boasts a set of escalators —
And yet another one.
There are literally 3 or 4 more flights of escalators, but you get the point. As you finally ascend to the top, you reach the main area of the museum and are free to walk around and enjoy the full breadth of exhibits. The museum also prides itself in its gorgeous and meticulously tended gardens. So if you need some time to process how many escalators you’ve just gone up, this is the place to do it.
If you’re ever cruising around Atami city area, also stop by Kaiten Hamazushi in Ito Yukawa city, Atami’s neighboring city. The seeming endless rotation of sushi on belts will hypnotize you. Even the locals line up for this affordable and delicious restaurant, and the rows of people grabbing sushi off conveyor belts, ordering off electronic touchpad menus is something else.
A few days later, we had the opportunity to visit the Saruhashi Monkey Bridge in Otsuki city in the Yamanashi Prefecture. Famous as one of the rarest bridges in Japan, it was built in ancient times, and legend says it is to have been built by monkeys due to its very odd architecture.
As you approach the bridge, you immediately notice the shingled little roofs that support the edges of the bridge. Admittedly, it’s a little unnerving crossing it (although it was rebuilt quite recently). But we survived! And, took some great photos in the process.
Now, of course, no trip is complete with a smattering of the food that I’ve eaten during the trip. Tokyo has only recently beat Paris in having more Michelin stars, making it the number one place in the world for quality gastronomical delights. So enjoy the following – and try not to eat your computer screen in the process:
In the airplane on my way back to the states, I scanned my emotional landscape. I felt in a sense, closure. I had gone to Japan many times in the past, and every single time, had seen a little bit more. As the green rice paddies and tall sky scrapers began to turn into patches of color, and then into specks, I realized that no amount of trips will give me the full picture of an entire country’s culture and rich history. But I felt after this trip that I understood Japan much more than before, like we had become friends at last. And for that, I’m grateful.