JA­PAN: THE STREETS OF TOKYO

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY ALENEY DE WIN­TER

From cut­ting edge elec­tron­ics to vin­tage fash­ion, and elec­tric gui­tars to kitchen sup­plies, Tokyo has it all.

From cut­ting edge elec­tron­ics to vin­tage fash­ion, and

elec­tric gui­tars to kitchen sup­plies,Tokyo has it all.

Ja­pan’s cap­i­tal is renowned as one of the world’s great shop­ping mec­cas. But be­yond the gar­gan­tuan de­part­ment stores are dozens of spe­cialised streets and dis­tricts, each ca­ter­ing to a very dif­fer­ent kind of shop­per.

Elec­tric Av­enues

The mod­ern elec­tron­ics mecca of Ak­i­habara, in Tokyo’s Chiy­oda ward, is a ti­tan of tech­nol­ogy. Take your time to walk down Chuo Dori, the main street, be­fore ex­plor­ing all the lit­tle off­shoot al­leys of­fer­ing con­sumers ev­ery­thing from one-man stalls spe­cial­is­ing in elec­tronic com­po­nents, to colos­sal de­part­ment stores heav­ing with ev­ery­thing from the new­est com­put­ers, cam­eras, tele­vi­sions and mo­bile phones to whizz bang home ap­pli­ances.

Ak­i­habara is also ground zero for Tokyo’s otaku (fan) cul­ture, mak­ing it the best place in town for both geek­ing out and shop­ping for the lat­est techno gad­gets. You’ll find dozens of es­tab­lish­ments de­voted to anime and manga amongst the elec­tron­ics shops lin­ing its streets, the big­gest be­ing Man­darake Com­plex, eight floors of anime, su­per­heroes, char­ac­ters, Cos­play goods (cos­tumes, wigs and ac­ces­sories) and comics.

If you’d like to get your geek on, or to ex­pe­ri­ence the otaku cul­ture of Ja­pan with­out get­ting swal­lowed whole by Ak­i­habara, head to the sub­urbs to check out Nakano Broad­way in­stead. This multi-storey mall con­tains nu­mer­ous out­lets spruik­ing new and sec­ond-hand manga, gad­gets and giz­mos, bizarre col­lectable ac­tion fig­ures, rare toys and enough Ja­panese pop cul­ture para­pher­na­lia and gam­ing good­ies to ap­pease even the big­gest anime afi­ciona­dos or game ad­dicts.

Hip­ster Havens

For a com­plete dig­i­tal detox head to Shimok­i­tazawa, in the Se­ta­gaya ward, a low-rise haven for hip­sters that is just min­utes from the neon beanstalks of Shin­juku and Shibuya and like some­thing from a street art-strewn boho fairy tale.

The self-con­tained neigh­bour­hood is packed with vinyl shops, mu­sic stores, in­trigu­ing bric-a-brac shops and toocool-for-school vin­tage stores stock­ing ev­ery­thing from used cou­ture to ‘70s throw­backs. It’s al­most as if New York’s Wil­liams­burg or Mel­bourne’s Fitzroy have dropped a Ja­panese trip. But there’s no glitz, no flash, and the rel­a­tively lit­tle neon has a touch of ‘70s Ve­gas about it.

When you’ve had your fill of vin­tage and vinyl, pop in to one of the tiny iza­kayas or a retro cool cafe to watch art­fully grungy mu­si­cians pop­ping in and out of smoky mu­sic dens, folks suck­ing shisha pipes on the foot­path, Hawai­ian-shirted he­do­nists delv­ing into a tiki bar, and artsy types tak­ing to tiny am­a­teur the­atres.

Koenji, in Sug­i­nami ward, is an­other hip­ster neigh­bour­hood that some­how missed the boat when Tokyo was sprouting sky­scrapers. Best known for its mu­sic stores, book stores, tat­too par­lours and the big­gest se­lec­tion of vin­tage cloth­ing shops you’ll find any­where in Tokyo, you’ll also find a pro­lif­er­a­tion of small bars, live mu­sic venues and cool eth­nic restau­rants.

Mu­sic and Lyrics

Wannabe rock stars will want to make the pil­grim­age to Ochan­o­mizu in Chiy­oda ward. Why? Be­cause Tokyo loves rock and roll, and Ochan­o­mizu is home to what may pos­si­bly be the great­est, largest and rarest se­lec­tion of gui­tars on the planet.

Take the Ochan­o­mizubashi exit at the JR train sta­tion and you’ll find your­self on Mei­dai Dori, or ‘Gui­tar Street’, where you’ll be con­fronted with about 40 multi–storey mu­sic stores, each bulging with gui­tars and as­sorted stringed in­stru­ments like they’re on rock and roll steroids. You’ll find floors of Fend­ers and Fly­ing V’s, base­ments chock full of Martin, Rick­en­backer, Gretsch and shiny new Ibanez and rooms packed with wild cus­tom cre­ations, clas­sic Gib­sons and Epi­phones, their lo­cally made coun­ter­part. Mu­sic be­ing the global lan­guage that it is, the stores are all happy to let pun­ters have a bash on the mind-blow­ing as­sort­ment of vin­tage and new gui­tars.

And if, like me, you feel like tak­ing your new pur­chase for a spin, there are karaoke shops at the Ya­sukuni Dori end of the strip, where you can strut your stuff in pri­vate style in one of their karaoke boxes.

Nearby Jim­bo­cho – an area pop­u­lar with univer­sity stu­dents and in­tel­lec­tu­als – is home to a con­cen­tra­tion of about 180 book­shops, pub­lish­ing houses, and lit­er­ary so­ci­eties. The in­ter­sec­tion of Ya­sukuni Dori and Haku­san Dori is where the great­est pro­lif­er­a­tion of book­stores can be found and is known as Tokyo’s Book Town.

One of the largest sec­ond-hand book mar­kets in the world, it is some­thing of a rev­e­la­tion to this bona fide book­worm. Whether you’re into aca­demic tomes, art books, best sellers, comics or cook­books, you can eas­ily lose hours rum­mag­ing through the shelves … as well as a pile of yen and a large por­tion of your re­main­ing lug­gage space. Or is that just me?

Of course, much of the ma­te­rial is in Ja­panese but there is still plenty to ex­cite the for­eign bib­lio­phile. Mag­nif Zineboch’s col­lec­tion of beau­ti­ful sec­ond-hand art books and vin­tage

fash­ion mag­a­zines tran­scend lan­guage. The Bo­hemian’s Guild has a de­cent range of arty for­eign lan­guage books and Ki­tazawa Book­store spe­cialises in English lan­guage books, of­fer­ing a wide va­ri­ety of sub­jects and styles in­clud­ing a se­lec­tion of in­trigu­ing rare an­tique books.

Sweet­ness and Light

Take your sweet tooth to Ginza to ex­plore an abun­dance of ex­clu­sive western-style lux­ury sweet and dessert shops deco­rously dot­ted be­tween Her­mès, Chanel, Dior and Gucci.

Be­tween splash­ing the cash on high-end de­signer finds, you can nib­ble del­i­cately on mac­arons at the ridicu­lously ex­trav­a­gant Ladurée store, stock up on au­then­tic Bel­gian choco­late at DelRey, de­vour Crêpe Suzette at Henri Char­p­en­tier Ginza Mai­son or join the queues at Hidemi Sug­ino, a patis­serie whose name­sake chef was awarded the ti­tle of ‘Asia’s Best Pas­try Chef’ in 2015.

There may be a dis­tinct French flavour to many of the stores, but you’ll still find some ex­clu­sively Ja­panese treats like the so­phis­ti­cated matcha-in­spired wa­gashi (Ja­panese tra­di­tional desserts) at Juget­sudo’s tea shop or next level Ja­panese bean dai­fuku cakes made from soft rice wrapped azuki bean paste at Ginza Kanra.

At the op­po­site end of the sweet spec­trum is the cheap and cheer­ful Ameyoko (Candy Al­ley) a busy, colour­ful shop­ping strip in down­town Tokyo lined with stores sell­ing tra­di­tional Ja­panese sweets and cakes like kar­into (sugar coated, deep fried cook­ies) and red bean cakes.

Tokyo Okashi Land, lo­cated underground in First Av­enue Tokyo Sta­tion, is Ja­pan’s first con­fec­tionary-themed re­tail zone, com­pris­ing stores op­er­ated by three of Ja­pan’s top con­fec­tionary mak­ers. With so many sug­ary temp­ta­tions it may be worth find­ing out if Tokyo also has a Den­tist Street be­fore you visit.

While you’re in the bow­els of Tokyo Sta­tion, take a short de­tour to Char­ac­ter Street be­cause it doesn’t get much sweeter than this! In fact, there’s nowhere bet­ter in Tokyo to go Poké­mon hunt­ing than Tokyo’s kawaii (cute) strip. If it’s been mer­chan­dised, you’ll find it here in this underground mall in the base­ment of Tokyo Sta­tion! 26 stores stock of­fi­cial plush toys, giz­mos, gad­gets, sweets and ac­ces­sories themed ac­cord­ing to well-known Ja­panese char­ac­ters from Hello Kitty and Miffy to Pikachu and Ul­tra­man.

Eat Streets

For the best Ra­men in town, head to Tokyo Ra­men Street, a street ex­clu­sively for ra­men lo­cated within the labyrinth of pas­sage­ways, shops, and restau­rants un­der­neath the heav­ing be­he­moth that is Tokyo Sta­tion. Here you’ll find queues of salary­men wait­ing to slurp the city’s best soup noo­dles. The long­est lines are al­ways at Rokurin­sha, fa­mous for its thick noo­dles served tsuke­men-style with dip­ping sauce. Join them, it’s to­tally worth the wait.

Mem­ory Lane, in the Shin­juku district of Tokyo, is more of a lo­cal hang than a tourist des­ti­na­tion and the place for cheap yak­i­tori. Sport­ing some­thing of a some­what cul­ti­vated shan­ty­town vibe, try not to let its col­lo­quial nom de geure

“Piss Al­ley” scare you off, as the ti­tle dates back to a 1940s post-war Tokyo, where the area was bet­ter known as a place where black mar­ket traders got soz­zled. The 60 or so bars and restau­rants are re­ally tiny, like two or three seats tiny, but the food is good. If you’re ad­ven­tur­ous, look for Asadachi where you can nosh on horse meat, pigs tes­ti­cles and farmed Chi­nese soft shell tur­tle. Or not!

Some like it hot. Very hot. If you’re one of those folks with a high tol­er­ance for spicy food, Mi­nato’s Shiba shop­ping street has earned it­self the pseu­do­nym, Geki-kara Street (su­per spicy street). Here you’ll find a pro­lif­er­a­tion of restau­rants us­ing the tear-in­duc­ing bhut jolokia, the world’s hottest chilli pep­per.

Ryo­goku is a district of the Su­mida ward where you’ll find the sumo sta­dium, sumo sta­bles, and other sumo re­lated at­trac­tions in­clud­ing chanko restau­rants. Chanko is a type of stew, chock full of meats and veg­eta­bles, that is best known as sumo food and ex­tremely healthy when eaten in mod­er­a­tion – as op­posed to the gar­gan­tuan serv­ings the sumo scoff to main­tain their re­mark­able waist­lines.

The Tsuk­iji Jo­gai Shijo shop­ping street is the place to en­joy the fresh­est spoils of world-fa­mous Tsuk­iji fish mar­ket. You’ll find loads of lit­tle restau­rants where you can en­joy sushi and kaisen-don (rice bowls topped with sashimi), but if you want the best of the best, be pre­pared for long lines and an hour-long wait, even at 6am.

If you want to DIY when you get home, there’s Kap­pabashi-dori (Kitchen Town). The 800-me­tre stretch, be­tween Ueno and Asukusa in Taito ward, is heav­ing with around 170 spe­cialised stores sell­ing ev­ery­thing a chef could de­sire, ex­cept for fresh food. It’s hard to miss as a gi­ant chef’s head marks the en­trance to the south­ern end of Kap­pabashi-dori and once you delve in to its depths, you’ll find an abun­dance of dishes, pots, pans, knives and uten­sils along with stores sell­ing those plas­tic and wax food sam­ples of ev­ery­thing from ham­burg­ers to sushi, that you’ll spot all over Ja­pan.

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