We were exposed to a lot of Japanese culture in Indonesia, and Tokyo featured heavily on the pop culture that we consumed, so I already had a preconceived notion of what the city would be like. But the three districts that I visited in the south and central Tokyo area were different than what I expected. While the other parts of Tokyo that I’ve talked about before (read more on; west and north Tokyo) had a modern Tokyo meets old Tokyo feel; Odaiba, Ginza, and Akihabara had their own distinctive looks.
ODAIBA, south Tokyo
Odaiba is a large man-made island in Tokyo Bay, constructed to defend Tokyo in the 1850s, some 160-something years ago. It’s quite easy to get there, with a variety of transport options, both public and private. Hop on a bus, get on a ferry, or buy a ticket for a ride on the Japan Railway (JR), personally I used the JR because it was cheaper for me – mainly because I hopped across several cities and I bought my ticket while I was in Jakarta.
It didn’t quite feel like I was in Tokyo in Odaiba, the famous Rainbow Bridge looked like the Golden Gate Bridge in daylight, and there was a replica of the Statue of Liberty. To be fair, Rainbow Bridge showed its charms by nightfall, living up to its name with soft lighting that transformed it into something straight out of an anime. The bridge combined with the view of Tokyo Bay was wonderfully picturesque!
I spent some time at Shiokaze Park, the park is often used for shooting TV programs; though while I was there, the visiting public were entertained by police officers who in their attempt to seem more approachable were holding an exhibition. Police cars and motorcycles were on display, while friendly faced officers assisted children in clambering over them.
One of my favourite things to see while at Odaiba was the life-sized Gundam at DiverCity Tokyo, it houses the biggest Gundam figure you’ll see in Tokyo, and well… it’s life-sized! Considering how many toy Gundams I’ve interacted with in my life, it was a strange feeling looking at just its feet even though I was standing up. It towered over everything and I had to quiet the giddy child within.
Bonus: FUJI TV; Odaiba.
AKIHABARA, central Tokyo
Akihabara was Tokyo’s household electronics centre after World War II, but now it’s better known as an otaku cultural centre. Video games, anime, manga, and computer related goods can be easily found, and are often launched there first. While I visited, the PlayStation Vita had just launched and there were insane queues around Akihabara for it. Luckily for me, since there was no tempting heavenly scent, I didn’t end up joining the queue!
The whole of Akihabara is like one huge hobby centre, with supporting businesses popping up here and there, like maid cafés, the infamous Gundam café, and other themed places to visit. If you’re into that kind of stuff, Akihabara would be a fascinating destination, but I didn’t really spend a lot of time exploring the nooks and crannies of the district.
My visit to Akihabara mostly revolved around a shopping trip to Don Quijote where I bought a lot of souvenirs, and a quick look at the AKB48 theatre to satisfy my curiosity. For those not familiar with AKB48, they’re a Japanese female idol group originally named for the area which their theatre is located. They’re super famous in Japan, and they have sister groups in several countries, including Indonesia. My main take away from visiting the theatre was that visiting it really was like visiting a theatre, because in Jakarta the JKT48 theatre has a stronger concert vibe rather than a theatre vibe.
Read more about Akihabara; here
GINZA, central Tokyo
Ginza is a shopping district, with several building dedicate to individual brands. One of the main reasons I visited Ginza was the 11-story UNIQLO flagship store, which is the biggest UNIQLO store in the world. I was frankly overwhelmed, and exploring it took way too many hours considering I walked out with very few purchases. If you visit on a weekend, the Ginza main street is closed for Hokōsha Tengoku which means ‘pedestrian heaven’, and motor vehicles are barred for entry from 12.00 noon to 17.00.
Seijo Ishii was my favourite haunt for snacks and drinks. Rows and rows of delicious, and cheap sake and shochu. So cheap, you guys – like between ¥700 – ¥1000. So. Cheap. And then the KitKats! Oh God the KitKats, all the favours! Wasabi, black forest, sakura, matcha, green tea, sake flavoured, you name it – they got it. I’m really glad I left my card at home, and I didn’t have all my cash with me.