One of the main reasons that Japan appealed to me was because it is so interesting culturally. What interests me about travelling is often not the supposed ‘attractions’ of a destination but rather the people and the more quirky differences that make it unique.
Here are a few random experiences that I enjoyed in Tokyo.
1. Meet cute animals at a Hedgehog cafe
These animal cafes have sprung up all around Tokyo; along with hedgehog cafes the city also boasts rabbit, snake, penguin and owl cafes.
I’m never sure about these animal-based activities, however the hedgehogs did appear to be well cared for and the staff seemed to know what they were doing. I was given instructions on how to handle the hedgehogs and then given a pair of gloves to wear.
Hedgehogs are not native to Japan. They live in other parts of Asia, in Africa, Europe and also in New Zealand by introduction (where they have caused problems by disrupting the eco system).
They are nocturnal animals; ‘my’ hedgehogs were quite active, although the woman next to me found hers just wanted to be left alone to sleep.
Hedgehogs feel surprisingly soft, and not prickly as you might expect. ‘My’ hedgehogs loved having their bellies tickled. I did google do hedgehogs like being petted? before I booked this and the answer is that yes they do, but they are a little wary of strangers.
Note: although they call it a cafe, that’s not strictly true. There is no food and simply a machine for hot drinks. You can bring your own food and drink in if you want.
2. Make a fun souvenir at a Purakura shop
These are photo booths where you can take pictures and then decorate the photos in many fun ways, giving yourself huge eyes or a cutesy animal nose, along with perfect skin. You can even borrow ‘cute’ little outfits to wear in your photo booth. The places are always teeming with young Japanese girls.
Purakura booths are everywhere in Tokyo, although comparatively scarce outside of Japan; I have seen one in Sydney not far from Paddy’s market, although I never had the nerve to go in on my own.
3. See what you can find in the vending machines
Vending machines lurk on every corner in Tokyo. Mostly they just contain drinks (blue label indicates a cold drink, red for a hot drink) or small snacks, but you do come across some unusual machines, such as the chilli one above.
My favourite one was this gambling machine. For 1,000 yen you can take a chance on what it gives you. The pictures show some great items, such as cameras or headphones, which would be pretty good value for 1,000 yen (that’s around £7, US$9). BUT you may just get a sticker.
If you enjoy gambling you can even do it with the drinks machines. Many contain a mystery item. If you really can’t decide what to have you press the mystery button and the machine decides for you.
4. Stay in a capsule hotel
One great thing about Japan is that single people are well catered for. Most hotels have single rooms (unlike Australia – and most other places – where you pay for the room, hotel rooms in Japan are usually quoted ‘per person’). Solo travellers aren’t unusual here.
Capsule hotels started out as somewhere to crash for businessmen who missed the last train home (transport finishes early in Tokyo and taxis are expensive).
Consequently, there are far more male-only capsules: capsule hotels are normally single-sex (mixed floors would seem culturally very strange to many Japanese) and some don’t accept foreigners at all (apparently the rules are hard to explain to us).
I found one that was marketed towards foreigners, with slightly bigger pods (lets face it; our bodies are usually bigger) plus a communal space to relax. There were mixed gender floors, although I managed to get the last pod on the ‘girl’ floor.
Pods are not allowed to have lockable doors (otherwise it’s a room). Some have just curtains, but where I stayed had a pulldown blind. Generally there are lockers to stash your things.
5. Explore the kawaii culture in Harajuku
Kawaii roughly translates as cute or the culture of cuteness, and it is everywhere in Japan. Harajuku is a good place to see this in action, with rainbow candy-floss (that’s cotton candy if you’re American), lots of fluffy toys and ‘cute’ pink things. Even by 11AM the street is heaving with people, mostly teen and ‘tween’-aged girls.
What a lot of pink there is in Harajuku…..
6. Go for a drink and some tapas at an Izakaya (a traditional small pub).
These places are very small. Sometimes they don’t accept foreigners, so best if you can go with someone or get a recommendation. Often there is no English menu.
These places are sometimes tiny, with just room for a handful of people. Also bear in mind that people smoke in bars and restaurants in Tokyo; if you have gotten used to people not smoking then this can be very irritating.
7. Cross the road at Tokyo’s busiest intersection
In case you are in any doubt just how many people there are in Tokyo, then head to Shibuya intersection to watch the people go by for a while.
There is a convenient Starbucks overlooking the crossing, but good luck getting a space there. I took this photo from the walkway to Shibuya station, but I also shot a couple of videos from down on the crossing; there are many little spots.