Toys, Toys, Toys! Hakuhinkan is one of Japan’s largest toy stores and can bring out the inner child in anyone. Once you walk in, you truly become a kid in a toy store. Hakuninkan is massive toy store, spanning 8 floors, but only 4 of the floors have toys on them. Two of the floors are part of a restaurant, one is an office, and the top floor is a theater. Each floor has a theme to it from computer games, to stuffed toys, to dolls and action figures, to simply just toys. You are encouraged to play with everything and try them out and see how you like, or just to waste time. The floor guide is in English and a few of the employees speak it as well, but it does not really matter since you are playing with toys. They have some candy and well everything fluffy and nice. The stuffed animal’s floor contains all sorts of animals of various sizes and shapes. They also have some of your favorite Japanese cartoon characters as well. On the electronic games floor, they have a small arcade that contains games more directed at small children. I think that if you take a small child in here, they will never want to leave this vast and truly amazing toy store.
Shimmering from above, the light streams through the water when suddenly a mammoth stingray swims over top and blots out the sun, leaving you in shadow, but only for a moment. The water tunnel in the Shinagawa Aquarium is one of its many great features that make it a really fun place to go. The aquarium is also host to a fleet of dolphins and a few adorable sea lions who put on an amazing show about 3 times a day. The sea lions waddle out on stage and jump atop their little pedestal and greet the audience with a great big wave and clap. Although the announcer speaks Japanese to the crowd during the show, you really do not need to understand what they are saying since the animals are the real entertainers. It is truly amazing what the sea lions can do and you will be astounded by how adorable they are, and how funny. The dolphin show was equally incredible, showing off a vast number of tricks and abilities that are impressive. The dolphin’s acrobatic ability is greater than a world class gymnast at the Olympics. While you wait in-between shows, explore the rest of the aquarium which is quite fascinating. All the displays give the English name of the fish, but there is no other English available. The aquarium takes care of animals from all over the world, including a large tank of massive fish from the Amazon. At the electric eels tank, you can see how much voltage they are putting out at any given moment with the gauge above the tank. I was slightly disappointed in the shark tank, but they do have one massive shark that dwarfs all the others. The tunnel observatory is really fascinating to look at because there are so many creatures in the tank and you can see all of them up close and from all angles. They have another 360˚ tank for spotted seals that allows you to watch them swim under and above you. Shinagawa aquarium is a great place to take the family, a date, or just your friends. If you go here, you will be thoroughly entertained.
Located in the Shibuya station, RanQueenRan King is a small convenience store that is very hard to miss because of the highly illuminated sign and the scrolling marquee in front. If you are changing trains or simply getting on in Shibuya and suddenly have a craving for the latest pop music CD that it is advised to stop here. They have a wide array of products, but they lack in depth. They carry some of the latest music and a few other electronics in addition to some beauty products and drinks. They have some candy, but like most Japanese stores, they don’t have a lot of American candy. RanQueenRan King is not something to go out of your way for, but if you need something while in Shibuya station go ahead and take a look in here and because they might have it or they might not.
Built for an emperor. These gardens are definitely worthy of the title, Imperial Palace Gardens because they are beautiful, massive, and extremely well kept. Once you find your way here, you will come upon an area surrounded by a large moat with an enormous stone wall protecting it. When you cross one of the bridges to get in, you can see the gate to where the emperor lives and at the right time see the changing of the guard, but don’t get your hopes up on seeing the emperor. If you are working nearby, you can come here to sit on the grass and enjoy the weather and scenery because it is gorgeous. To get into the actual gardens, you need to take a free pass from one of the guard booths and proceed into the humongous gardens. Inside you can’t hear any of the noises of the city at all. All that is around are the sounds of the various insects chirping from the homes in the bushes. While there may not be hundreds of different flowers here, the gardens have a distinctive Japanese beauty and tranquility about them that helps you feel one with nature. The garden is probably one of the biggest in Tokyo and is most definitely worth a trip because of the history and prominence that the Imperial Palace Gardens take on. Also, the signs are in both English and Japanese so it is easy to find out where you are going.
Want to get brutally huge? Show off a set of six-pack abs? Become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger? Then Gold’s Gym in Akihabara is the place for you. One of the many branches of the world renowned gym, this Gold’s is not really different from the rest. This behemoth of a gym is spread out over 3 floors and has every weight machine and free weight you could ever need. They also carry a large supply of supplements and dietary things for your pre, and post workout. The ladies at the front desk spoke enough English to tell me what to do and how much everything was. They took me on the door and passed me off to one of the trainers who spoke English well and was a person who seems to literally live to lift weights. As he gave me the grand tour, he said they have other trainers who can speak both English and Japanese and are always willing to help. The top floor was mainly the desk, store and aerobics equipment, while the lower floors where the weights. They have two studios and a kick boxing studio as well. But what impressed me the most was how they stratified their weights. On the floor below the front desk, they seemed to have most every type of weight machine and free weight I could need, but then he took me downstairs again and said that this was where the serious lifters are. The room was full of all sorts of free weights and some machines and the second studio was here as well. The locker rooms are nice and have a Jacuzzi and all the other amenities you could need. Like most gyms in Japan, they offered different membership plans that try to fit your schedule. The cheapest starting at 8,400 yen and going to 18,900 yen for the most serious members per month. Additionally, they offer a trial period to try the gym out. For anyone who wants to lift weights and have a full exercise, Gold’s is the place to go.
Denryokakan is a hand on, interactive electricity museum that really has something for everyone. From when you walk in, you wouldn’t think that this is the electricity museum, but when the information clerk give you your brochure, available in English, you will understand more of what is in there. The museum is eight floors big and comprises of a lot of different activities and set ups and each floor has an English guide. The eighth floor holds the lecture hall where leading Japanese scientist will give speeches open to the public (in Japanese). They don’t always have lectures going on, so ask if you are interested. The seventh floor was an informational floor on how energy is delivered in Japan and from what sources that had an English floor guide. All the exhibits speak in Japanese, but you can follow along on the models with the lights. It is easy enough to figure out what is going on by using the guide. Here you will be astounded by the complexity and magnitude that it takes to deliver electricity. The sixth floor was about the Earth’s future and how they were committed to protecting it. This floor offers the best view of the 1/3 scale model of a nuclear reactor that spans three floors. You can watch play a few simple computer games here and look around at the planet. There is a large digital globe that you can move around with a ball and see different views of the earth. When you proceed to the fifth floor, you are met with a mountain of ideas and games. This floor is full of fun games and books to learn from. There is a magical touch screen that has changes when you touch it. The back wall is covered with various sorts of toys and games you can play, all of which have an interesting concept behind them. They also have something that you will not find anywhere else, mind ball. You place your forehead on the headband and try to relax as much as possible so you can move the ball to your team of 3’s side. This floor is simply waiting to be explored. Floor four contains all the latest state of the art household appliances from self lifting toilet seats to high tech stoves that you can buy. They hold cooking classes here on Saturdays. The third floor is for relaxing. You can pay 1,000 yen for a 20-minute germanium bath or go to the counter and have a nice cup of tea. One of the things I liked the most was on the second floor landing: a laser cutter that took a picture of your profile and etched it into a bookmark for you, free of charge. Denryokakan is worth the trip.
Cospa was different compared to several of the other Cosplay shops (yes that is correct Japanese spelling) I have been to. For one thing, it was not plastered wall to wall with costumes, rather they had a smaller selection of costumes in the back but had lots of t-shirts and anime paraphernalia. Cospa had many different shirts, towels, and armbands in its store on the second floor. They seemed to be a shop where you could buy your own look and show off that you are a Cosplay person without actually wearing a costume. They showed some anime videos and then around the TV placed the same clothes that the characters were wearing right next to it. They were rather plain clothes but still you could dress like your favorite anime character. I liked how I was able to move in-between the aisles unlike other Cosplay shops. They did not speak English and since it was not on the ground floor, you need to know where you are going to find it. But all in all, this was a decent place to go and does show a side of the Cosplay world.
This small shop that is very difficult to find in the clutter of Akihabara sells all different sorts of weaponry. On the wall in front of you when you enter are many different types of old muskets hanging there. To the left of the door is a Samurai Darth Vader watching over the store. As you proceed further into the store, you will mostly find Japanese style swords, but there are also medieval swords and katana. The clerk did not speak a word of English and none of the swords were sharp. If you really like weaponry you might be able to tell the quality of them, but I had no idea.
Beer lover’s paradise is about the best way to describe any beer museum, and the Yebisu beer museum is no exception. Located in the beautiful Garden Place, the beer museum is part of the Sapporo Beer building. 4 large beer cans surrounding the oval door mark the entrance in a way only a beer museum could. Once you walk inside, the room expands and reveals a large open area and at the focal point is a large golden vat that was originally used in one of the first plants but is now a simple of the company’s success. Entrance to the museum is free and there are English brochures available. The welcome girls even speak a little English. The first exhibit is a history of beer and the company presented in a neat way, but all of it is in Japanese so unless you can read the language, you can just look at the nice exhibits. You then proceed to a hall that shows you how beer is made by employing videos and a sort of interactive cycle taking you through the stages of brewing beer, but again all is in Japanese. The last part of the non-drinking portion leads you to their little theatrical production which employs some cool technology and tells the story of how one man saves the beer fairy and cool refreshing taste of beer from an evil magician. If you can’t understand any Japanese the show is still entertaining to watch. The hallway then widens to reveal a large room with several tables and a gleam catches your eye from across the way, at last we come to the best part, the tasting room and the golden taps are a marvelous sight. Here you can buy all the different types of beer under the Yebisu name for a very cheap price. The sampler only cost 400 yen for 4 beers, and for a half pint it is only 200 or 250 yen, depending upon the beer. They let you drink as much as you want and give you a bag of beer crackers with each order so enjoy all the beer you want at this dream location.
Walk into this club and all you see are the white drapes coving the walls, but then you walk downstairs and you are greeted by a large dance floor with the stereo system blasting. The dance floor is in the center of the club and is surrounded by tables and in the middle was the DJ. The bar is on the far wall and you can use the two drink tickets you get with your entrance fee. Cross is not particularly popular among foreigners because when I went there I was the only foreigner there. No one really spoke English, but it was easy enough to order and the bartenders were pretty good. Late at night, Cross is full to the brim and doesn’t close until morning so you can party here all night.
Club Sega is not a particularly large arcade and does not have a many actual games. They have many gambling type games spread out throughout their premises, more than games. They had several rows of slot machines and a horse racing type game that in no way could be understood by someone who cannot speak English. On the first floor they had a single racing game next to their claw games. They also have a highly sophisticated soccer game that involves you placing cards on the game and then moving them around to choose your team. These types of games, it seems, requires a high amount of involvement and a sort of obsession. For foreigners, it would be quite difficult to use this game because you have to acquire the cards and understand how to read and use the game which can be quite complex. However, it did look like a lot of fun. A very popular game in is Gundam, they did have that. You can play the computer or have a four way battle with teams wirelessly linked. Club Sega was not my favorite arcade, but it was an arcade nonetheless and I still had fun.
Need a little break from the hustle and bustle of the Tokyo streets? Take a ride on one of the Suijo water buses. There are three different locations that you can take a boat to and just relax in the Tokyo harbor. The boat was quite comfortable and relaxing while it took us from Inode to Odaiba. There were a few picture worthy moments along the way as we sat on top of the boat. The boat was not very crowded during the middle of the day and there were plenty of open spaces available on a boat that could accommodate about 100. The ticket was cheap, at 450 yen one way, and when I asked someone, they said that they had all different sorts of boats in their fleet. They spoke very good English and when you bought your ticket from the machine, there was an English version available. Overall, I thought it was relaxing to get away from the crowded streets and onto the water for a brief respite.
This Irish pub features a large square bar in the middle of a fairly large space for a bar in Tokyo. On a Saturday night most of the crowd was foreigners who were in their thirties. The music was loud and fantastic. They played some Journey and other classic rock. They had imported bottled beer at 800 yen apiece and a vibrant customer base. There seemed to be sections of the bar that were more active than others though. At the back of the bar many people were dancing and on the edges of the bar some people were chatting at small tables and a few people sat at the bar. 4 bartenders staffed the bar at one time and made sure everyone had the drink that they wanted. They could understand your order if you told them in English and there was an English menu available as well.
Located in the galley of shops in the Hotel Okura, Antique & Modern Arts and Crafts YOKOYAMA is a small shop among the many. They carry a selection of small figurines and a few older relics. They have ceramics and several prints of famous Japanese paintings, some of which were going for 22,000 yen. If you are looking for a small cheap trinket to give a friend, you might find something here but chances are that everything will be more than 10,000 yen. The shop is a small room and does not have many things for sale but the shopkeeper spoke English and was quite friendly. If you are staying in the Hotel Okura, don’t be afraid to visit this small interesting shop.
@ Home Café was a wholly different yet very fun experience for me. It is located on the fifth floor of a building that truly belongs in the Manga capital, Akihabara. Riding the escalator up to the fifth floor you pass shops full of costumes and props and arcade games. When you arrive on the fifth floor, you are greeted by a maid costume store and everything else that goes along with the maid fantasy. Walking towards the café there is a maid massage parlor on the right. When I finally got to the server who herself was cute as a button in her maid outfit and made me feel Moe right away when she called me Master, However, none of the maids spoke English. She asked whether I would like to sit at the counter or a table: I chose a table. When you choose which you would like to have, you are informed that the counter seat will cost 200 yen and the table 300 yen (this is the fee just to sit there). Although it was not crowded I was asked to wait for a few minutes while they arranged my table. When they called my name 5 minutes later, I was greeted by another adorable maid who said I was her lord and ushered me to my table. While there were normal round tables with seats, I was taken to the part where I was required to remove my shoes and then I sat on the floor but had a high backrest to keep me comfortable. There was a small table in front of me and to my right there was a short sofa. In the room with the tables there was a plasma TV playing music videos of what appeared to be a band of about 10 maids. It was teen pop to the max, they just wore maid costumes. I ordered Course A which included a soda, dessert, game with my maid and a picture as well. When she returned with my coke, before I was allowed to drink it, I had to do an endearing little jig with my hands with my maid which I thought was hilarious. Next came my ice cream and again I had to do another different jig with my maid which was just as funny as the first. When I finished my ice cream my maid came back with a box and a bingo card. I had to write 3 numbers on the card and then reach into the box and pull a small package out. If one of my numbers was in the package I would win. There are other games you can play with your maid (rock, paper scissors or a crocodile game) but I chose this one. When she opened the package and revealed I won she was happy for me and then read me my fortune that was on the card and gave me a key chain. She then took me to have my picture taken. She took me to the front of the café and then let me choose which animal ears headband I would wear (bear) and then refused to take a picture with me unless I made a cute little pose like her. The entire experience was a lot of fun and nothing like I have ever experienced before. My entire experience cost 2,100 yen, a small price to pay for leaving there feeling like I really knew my inner child. If you believe your Japanese is good enough or you are with someone whose Japanese is very good, I highly recommend this place.
Hidden on a backstreet behind a large office building is a small tempura restaurant called Tempura Oosaka. The exterior is typical of small Japanese restaurants and on the inside it is rather nice and inviting. When I got there it was full of businessmen on their lunch break so I had to wait about 15 minutes before I was seated. The menu was entirely in Japanese and no one spoke English, but I knew exactly what I wanted, Tendon (1,300 yen). I watched as the chef prepared everyone’s food with ease and skill. When my food came, it came with tea and miso soup. My tempura was good, but not the best I have ever had. I felt as though my meal wasn’t quite enough and had a sort of empty feeling in my stomach afterwards. The atmosphere was rife with conversation as people spoke with friends, but it also had people like me who went to eat alone. If you are in the area, this would be a nice place to go, but nothing to over exert yourself for.
Kua’Aina is impressive on the outside, a three story restaurant that is hard to miss because of its flamboyant exterior design, but is not very impressive where it matters, with the food. Kua’Aina serves Hawaiian burgers that just are not up to par. They had a full English menu and the people who take the orders spoke enough English to help you. The atmosphere was nice and they even had an American radio station on the sound system. They brought me my cheese burger set (1200 yen) about 10 minutes after I ordered and I just did not really like the burger. I think they overcooked it and the meat was not very good. To compensate they put all sorts of toppings on the burger but they couldn’t mask the taste. Nonetheless, it was still fairly crowded despite the fact that I did not particularly like my burger.
This swanky little jazz bar was not particularly crowded, but offered different aesthetics than other bars. The low blue light hang throughout the narrow club and either sat in poofs or at the bar. They did not have room for a live band but had jazz music playing over the sound system. The atmosphere was very relaxed as people just sat back and enjoyed being there. The menu was in English, but the bartender only spoke Japanese. I think the bar was more accustomed to regulars, but since they had an English menu, I assume they get foreigners. My friend loved the ambiance and everything about it, but I was not impressed. It was nice but did not seem to be too special.
This nightclub is a wide open two story late night hot spot. The top floor has a bar of its own and a viewing glass to look down upon the dance floor, a large black area with a DJ and disco ball. Scattered throughout the lower level were small table with sofa-like chairs facing them. Also downstairs was a second and bigger bar that was there to accommodate all your alcoholic desires. The music was loud and not too bad; everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves on the half full dance floor.
Live bands in a bar are rare in Japan but What the Dickens had a band that appeared to be British and sang songs in English. It was a nice change to have a band in this two story bar that caters to foreigners. Inside there was spoken and written English which made ordering easy. There were lots of foreigners and Japanese alike enjoying the band and having a good time. The interior felt most like a British pub because of the wooden set up and behind the band there was a screen that simply showed them from a different angle. The prices were not that high, and when we got there, it was quite full and more people kept coming in. I believe the band was one of the biggest draws of the bar because it is rare to have one in Japan and they were not too bad.