Interview: Tokyo Insider Guide
Getting lost in Tokyo is a piece of cake – this city is a huge labyrinth full of ancient shrines mixed with modern buildings. Where do you rush to see the most important historical places? How do you organize your trip? There is only one answer to these and many other questions – ask a local! Vicky, who lives in Tokyo, has kindly agreed to share her knowledge of the city with us.
Hello, Vicky! For starters, could you please say a couple of words about what brought you to Tokyo?
Oh, it’s a long story! In 2003, I fell in love with Japanese rock music, which my friends had introduced to me. And the music was just a start – with time I got really involved with the wonderful world of all things Japanese. Books, movies, a little bit of anime, Japanese history… And then I arrived at the point when I couldn’t continue getting new information without understanding the Japanese language. I started to study it by myself, and later got tutoring in Moscow, but I guess I was lacking patience or talent – my achievements were not really great. I realized it when I came to Japan for the first time as a tourist. However, after my plane had landed in the country of my dream and I had spent 2 weeks there, I knew that this was where I belong. That time I came back to Russia determined to return to Japan and study in a language school there. My dream came true in 2011. After the terrifying earthquake and tsunami of March 11th, when a lot of immigrants left the islands themselves and tried to convince me to give up on going there, I arrived in Tokyo to study.
How did your life in Japan start? Was it difficult to find your way in Tokyo and make new friends?
I’ve adapted to Tokyo life really quickly and without any major difficulties. Of course, at the beginning my school helped me a lot – there was always someone to ask for advice. I bought a bike and cycled around the city, exploring it. I also walked a lot, taking photos of different interesting places. I was very well accepted in the company of musicians with whom I used to go to concerts, so I made friends fast and didn’t feel lonely at all.
Speaking of the city… Imagine you have only 5 days in Tokyo. What would be on your to-do list?
5 days in Tokyo is literally nothing! Definitely not enough to get to know this incredible city, but enough to fall in love with it. First, I would suggest visiting Tokyo Imperial Garden, the biggest Shinto shrine called Meiji Jingu and Buddhist temple Sensō-ji. The two other symbols of Tokyo – Tokyo Tower (333 m.) and new Tokyo SkyTree (643 m.) are also totally worth seeing. There are scenic points at the top of both of them, so you can get a bird’s-eye view of this staggeringly beautiful city.
I would also advise paying tribute to Tokyo nightlife in Roppongi and Kabukicho. These districts are misrepresented in tourist guide books, which are full of scary stories about these places. But in reality, they are just noisy and crazy districts full of bars and karaoke. They never sleep and are always ready to offer you parties which last till daylight. Don’t expect a deep conversation in English, it’s still not universally spoken. But despite this, the classical Japanese hospitality in small cozy bars is guaranteed.
I never understood why tourists are so eager to squeeze in short trips to Tokyo Disneyland in their trips. However, if you really want to waste your time on a typical American entertainment, why not? Honestly, I personally would advise all the adrenaline fans to visit a different venue. It’s called Fuji-Q Highland. This fun park is located on the outskirts of Tokyo, near mount Fuji. There you can go for a ride on roller coasters that will definitely make you scream – some are more than 70 meters high, accelerate up to 120km/h and have seats rotating by 360 degrees.
You see, in Japan, everyone can find something interesting. And I haven’t even mentions a whole street full of musical instruments, called Ochanomizu, Harajuku, crowded with extravagantly dressed young Japanese people from different subcultures, and neon-shining electronic heaven Akihabara.
Wow… Looks like 5 days wouldn’t be enough. But there is always time for cats, right? I heard rumors that there are cat cafes in Japan…
Ah right, this is quite a thing in Japan! I love these cat cafes, and I’m not alone. There are also similar ones with owls. These are the places where people who can’t afford keeping animals at home (and it’s a normal thing in Tokyo) come to relax in their company. Owls are a bit more difficult than cats – one can’t really pet them. But if you’re a bird fan, it’s a great opportunity to see them so close, enjoying your favorite drink all the while!
Oh, I wouldn’t mind going to an owl café! However, might it be difficult to get there – I’ve seen Tokyo transport map, and it’s really scary. How can one move around the city without getting lost?
Yeah, it’s true, Tokyo metro map combined with the train scheme looks horrible. But in reality, it’s not that bad – it’s huge but very simple. Besides, there are tons of signs in English with precise directions on every station. All the names of stations are highlighted with different colors. What is more, if you really get lost, locals will not just help you – they will literally lead you to the right bus/train. However, I would advise tourists to avoid experiments. If you don’t have a Japanese-speaking friend with you, better just plan your route in advance and learn the names of the stations closest to your hotel by heart or write them down on a paper. Metro is so ubiquitous, that I don’t really use any other public transport. Taxi is also very convenient, in Tokyo you see them more often than ordinary cars. But the taxi drivers usually hardly speak any English, so it’s also advisable to show them the address in writing.
Sounds quite reassuring! I have the final question for you – what is the best time of the year to go to Tokyo? Is the rainy season really as bad as they say? And what to do if the weather is not as amazing as one could hope?
The overall climate on the islands is very humid. It rains a lot, so it’s really difficult to scare a Japanese with some precipitation. But if we are talking about Tokyo in particular, then I can say that after the rainy season (beginning of July) the weather gets really hot. To my mind, the best months for a Tokyo trip are September, October, and November. It gets less hot in September and the real Central European summer starts.
Don’t forget that in the end of March the sakura season starts and that the end of October is the red maple season – these are high seasons in Japan. The prices for plane tickets sky rocket and streets are full of tourists. So if you really want to visit Tokyo during these two months, don’t forget to book everything in advance.
If you arrive in any other month and are unlucky with weather – if it’s too hot or rainy – don’t worry, you will love Tokyo anyway! In summer, I would strongly recommend going to Tokyo suburban area called Yokohama (port Minato Mirai) and to Kamakura city which is one hour away from Tokyo. Actually, it’s my favorite place in the whole Japan! It’s an ancient capital of Japan, a city on the ocean shore with a picturesque long beach line. But it’s not just a recreational city, it’s really something more – there you will find one of the most famous Buddha statues and 167 shrines. I managed to visit less than 10, but I am working on it!
Really, just come to Tokyo and see it with your own eyes. I’m sure you will fall in love with it!
All photos are courtesy of Vicky