Entertainment/sights

Videogame arcades

These are everywhere, with an especially massive collection in Electronics town, Akihabara. The big names are Sega, Namco and Taito. They are often huge, around 7 floors, arranged by type of game – usually with addictive grab machines to draw you in (these machine swallowed so many of my Y100 coins!) and floors full of shoot-em-ups, driving games, flight simulators and role-play war games, for the hardcore-ers. We mostly played Mario Kart, Guitar Hero and a drumming game. Most of them also contain a floor of photo machines, where all the schoolkids gather to take photos on cheesy backgrounds, printed onto a post-card sized sheet. I made us have a go too – twice.

Studio Ghibli Museum

A really charming museum dedicated to the Japanese animation studio which made Spirited Away and many other films. Even if you aren’t particularly a Ghibli fan (I haven’t seen any of the films all the way through) it’s a really lovely and captivating museum. The nearest metro stop is Mitaka, but it’s nice to go via Kichijoji and walk through the wildlife reserve park, which also houses a pretty shrine. You have to buy a ticket for a specific date before you leave, check the website for details.

Asakusa – Senso-ji temple

This is the oldest temple remaining in Tokyo (WW2 bombs took out most of them). It has a famous iconic entrance gate with a huge red paper lantern, and a street lined with souvenir shops leads up the the temple. Unfortunately when we visited it was extremely busy and the temple was covered in scaffolding so it wasn’t particularly enjoyable; the smaller shrines in Yanaka outshone it.

Yanaka – old town

A nice area for a stroll away from the craziness of Tokyo. It’s all traditional houses interspersed with lots of small shrines. We walked from Nippori down to Ueno in an hour or two.

Super Deluxe

A cool basement venue/bar/art space in Roppongi. Attracts an international crowd to its eclectic music/art events. They also brew their own excellent beer, Tokyo Ale. Check the website to see what’s on.

Odaiba/Joypolis

A modern beachside development to the south of Tokyo, accessed by a private monorail line from Shimbashi. The beach is gorgeous and calm with views across the bay. There’s a complex called Decks nearby which contains Joypolis, an indoor Sega amusement park with rides and arcade games. It also has a slightly odd 1960s-themed retro arcade with vintage games, and a few tacky sweet and souvenir shops.

Cat cafes

Aaah, only in Japan would such a place exist where you could pay to go into a room and pet kitties all afternoon. They attract a range of customers from intrigued tourists to middle-aged ladies to young men. We went to two cat cafes in Tokyo – Nekubukuro, which is in the Ikebukuro branch of Tokyu Hands, and Cha Ma Mo, a newly-opened one in Harajuku. I preferred the Harajuku one – although you couldn’t pick the cats up, this made them calmer and more playful.

National Museum

A smallish but well-stocked museum in Ueno containing art and artefacts from throughout Japan’s history. There’s also a separate building of Asian treasures with access included in the ticket price.

Modern Art Museum

The Modern Art Museum is in Maranouchi, across the road from the Imperial Palace, so you can visit both on the same day. You can buy a joint ticket for the main art gallery, the special exhibition and the nearby craft museum for Y840. The main gallery has a interesting selection of modern Japanese artists as well as some international names including Paul Klee and Frida Kahlo. I found the craft museum pretty dull – there’s only so many glazed ceramic tea bowls you can look at.

Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens

These gardens were a 5 minute walk from our hotel. There’s an English rose garden, a pretty lake, and a tea house in the middle, nice for a quiet wander

Kyoto

Nishi Hongan-ji Temple

This was across the road from our ryokan. A large shrine with several smaller sub-building in the complex. Contains lovely intricate lanterns and gilded carvings. This and the nearby Higashi Hongan-ji temple were originally part of the same complex, and are a World Heritage site (one of 17 in Kyoto).

Higashiyama district

This mountainous area to the east of Kyoto (Higashiyama literally means ‘East mountains’) contains loads of cultural sites. We visited:

Kiyomizudera temple – A lovely temple complex perched up in the hilly forest areas.

Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka – Stone steps down from theKiyomizudera temple, lined with souvenir and gift shops.

Chion-in temple – A large and attractive temple with huge entrance gate.

The Nanzen-ji temple – A huge entrance gate marks the start of the complex which contains several sub-temples, a small waterfall, and an attractive aqueduct with huge archways.

The Philosopher’s Path – A scenic walkway up the hills starting at the Nanzen-ji temple. It follows a canal, lined with trees and the odd cafe and gift shop

Kyoto Handicraft Centre

A 7-storey superstore selling all kinds of local specialty crafts like woodblock prints, kimono, fans and jewellery. It also runs demonstrations and workshops- we did a fun woodblock printing workshop when we visited.

Arashiyama

A mountain town to the north-west of Kyoto – you can catch a bus or train out there. A pretty little place that has a quaint village-y feel, but busy with tourists when we visited. Contains the Tenryu-ji, a major Zen Buddhist temple which is much more simple and minimalist in design than some of the more grandiose ones. It’s surrounded by pretty gardens, and right next to it is a large bamboo grove, which is calm and beautiful to walk through. There are a few souvenir shops in town mostly selling bamboo items due to the nearby forest, and some cue tea houses to eat in.

Manga Museum

A fairly grand institution set in an old school house, with a huge library of manga books and an academic learning facility. The exhibition side is pretty small so I’d say it’s for people with a serious interest in manga only.

Nara

Nara is about 45 minutes south of Kyoto by train. It’s Japan’s first capital city but now feels like a smallish town that centres around tourism, largely because of the native tame deer population.

Costume Museum

A cute one-room museum containing a miniature-sized diorama of an Emperor’s palace, with little dolls of all the people in costume. You can also try on a full-size traditional robe and have photos taken.

Nijo Castle

A shogun castle dating from the 1600s. It’s expensive to get in and didn’t particularly enjoy visiting it – the place is totally filled with signs stating ‘NO PHOTOS’, ‘DO NOT TOUCH’, ‘NO SKETCHING’ (no sketching, seriously?), ‘DO NOT OPEN’ – so many rules that it ruined the enjoyment of the place, some of which would otherwise be interesting and attractive.

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