Tokyo // Japan

Tokyo has made it onto the list of my favorite cities of all time. There are surprises around every corner filled with awkward moments, silly mistakes, and small nuances. Like when I stepped off the plane, went to the bathroom, and couldn't figure out how to flush the toilet. And the time we ate croissants while walking to the train, only to find out later that the Japanese find eating while walking rude. And not knowing how to actually eat soba noodles properly, but clearly failing given the lack of slurping sounds at our table in comparison to the ones around us. And massively botching the business card exchange ritual at a trendy salon. Japan is one of the few places we have traveled where we were actually challenged by not speaking the local language, and it was refreshing. It felt more authentic, and in the end, it gave us a lot more laughs.

We stayed in Tokyo for eleven nights at a lovely AirBnB near Yoyogi-koen Station, which many people said would probably be too many days to spend in just one city. On the contrary, we were happy to have the chance to take things slowly, to get a glimpse into how locals actually live, and to relax a bit into a temporary home. Traveling for so long wears you out, and it feels so great when you can unpack your bag for awhile.

Of course, a Japanese dwelling comes with all sorts of unexpected surprises that quickly reminded us we were, in fact, in a completely foreign place. Those clever Japanese folk like to optimize everything, and most often it makes for a more pleasant and efficient lifestyle. They queue for the train along very precise markings on the ground, and the trains always come precisely on time. They have a plethora of car turntables in even the smallest of residential parking garages, and stackable parking systems too. Heck, their squares of toilet paper are actually big enough to use just one. But the bathroom is indeed where they sometimes overengineer. There was a control panel for the toilet, one for the shower room, and another one for the lighting system. I even saw a button on a toilet control panel in a couple places that would play a flushing sound continuously from a speaker for you.

Before going to Tokyo, we thought it would be a place with insane population density where you would be piled up on top of each other constantly crammed into trains or fighting your way through hordes on the sidewalks. While such areas do exist (e.g., Shibuya Crossing in some of the photos above), the Tokyo we saw most often was one with small, well-kept and windy streets, each containing their own tiny neighborhood restaurants, izakayas (small japaneese pubs) and a plethora of 7 Elevens (which we visited way more than we would like to admit). The buildings are rarely more than four stories, and the streets are always filled pedestrians and cyclists— no matter the time of day or the size of the street. The Japanese men and women have impeccable style, smartly dressed in neat combinations of black, white and navy and almost always carrying a fashionable handbag (yep, even the men). Residents and shop owners alike meticulously line the streets with potted plants, creating the atmosphere of an urban garden that spreads throughout the city. And much to our delight, the local coffee shops nearly all offer an expertly crafted pour-over coffee. The Tokyo we met, at least in the hipsterhoods we frequented, exuded nothing but whimsical coziness.

If you find yourself in Tokyo in the future, be sure to visit our new friends Chie and Hide at Pigalle. They are the sweetest and will most definitely provide for a night filled with great conversation, good laughs and delicious beer. For coffee, we were keen on Fuglen, in part because of its proximity to our AirBnB, but also because of its welcoming space. Omotosando Koffee was indeed another favorite, as was Little Nap Coffee Stand. For Japanese food, visit Tenmatsu Tempura and Sushi Nomidori and Afuri for ramen. For Western food, grab a burger at Arms, a sandwich at Camelback or pizza at Luccanalu. Check out the Tjusiki Market (the actual market and not the touristic stalls around it), and be sure to make time for random meandering and people watching.