Should I stay in Shinjuku or Shibuya?

Shibuya Crossing, a roaring Godzilla, waving cat temple, colorful street food trends and much more - that me Tokyo overwhelmed, I have elsewhere yes already mentioned. And even now I'm a little at a loss as to how I should read our culinary recommendations and sightseeing highlights in the West of the city should bring everyone under one roof. Get yourself a coffee and make yourself comfortable, because it could get longer! So, in the second part of our little Tokyo series, we're heading to the West, or rather: to Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya and Shimokitazawa - and thus to the first days that we spend in Japan. We'll take you to our favorite sights in Tokyo, sprinkle a few shopping tips and, of course, culinary recommendations: street food, sushi, udon (oh my god, sooo good!), Craft beer and sweets for in between meals. All of the restaurants and cafés mentioned also offer some vegetarian options - by no means a matter of course in Japan.

Tokyo - the West: Sightseeing highlights, culinary recommendations and shopping tips

Shinjuku

Shinjuku greets us with sunshine and 33 degrees. Sleepless we stumble out of the plane and into the middle of the hustle and bustle. With its skyscrapers, shopping streets and entertainment districts, Shinjuku is almost a city in itself. Robots dance here, Godzilla roars here and there is also a lot going on in this part of the city. As soon as dusk falls, Shinjuku turns into a colorful sea of ​​lights. The red light and nightlife district wakes up amid flickering neon signs and the deafening noise that echoes through the opening doors of the pachinko halls Kabukichō with its clubs, karaoke and erotic bars. Subtle is different, but somehow this all-round sound meets our idea of ​​Tokyo pretty well. Nevertheless, we are glad that our hotel is not in the middle of the neon light swarm, but in a quieter part of Shinjuku (more information about our hotel and accommodation in Tokyo in general can be found in this post).

Shinjuku Gyoen Park - green oasis between high-rise buildings

Shinjuku actually has oases of calm, one of which is luckily just a few steps away from our hotel. And so we start our first morning in Tokyo after check-in comfortably with a visit to the Shinjuku Gyoen parks - of course not without stocking up on picnic essentials such as onigiri, warabimochi, crazy ice creams (must try: Häagen-Dazs Edamame-Mochi!) And milk tea in the nearby 7-Eleven. If you pay 500 yen entry, you can explore one of the largest parks in Tokyo, which has existed since the Edo period. Between the high-rise buildings in Shinjuku, there is indeed a green oasis that is divided into three park areas: Through the japanese garden in the south, paths meander along lakes and up hills, past pavilions, bridges and a tea house. To the north of this is the English country garden with a greenhouse and large lawns covered with cherry blossoms in spring. The extends further east french part with rose garden and flower beds.

We are not only particularly lucky with the weather, but also stumble straight into a large food festival that offers regional specialties at countless food stalls and is accompanied by shows and music. You could hardly wish for a better start to your holiday.

Metropolitan Government Building - Free View from Above

If you want to get a view of Tokyo from above, you can do so free viewing platform of Metropolitan Government Buildings use. With the unmistakable twin towers, the city administration building offers two viewing decks at a height of 202 meters. During our visit, only the south tower is open and we have to wait in line until the elevator takes us to the 45th floor. Once at the top, the glass front gives us a panoramic view of Shinjuku and the surrounding area - ideal for orientation, which we still find a little difficult in the first few days in Tokyo. While we try to identify the tall buildings and parks and to discover Mount Fuji (no chance in hazy weather, but we will marvel at it in all its glory later in Hakone), the yellow piano with the characteristic pattern of the Artist Yayoi Kusama strummed. Everyone can sit down at the piano here, but the bar is incredibly high. All the women we listen to could be professional pianists, they play so great. We stay up there for a while, listen to them and give our feet a well-deserved break.

Visiting Godzilla on the Toho Building

Oriented and acclimatized enough, now it's time to get right into the hustle and bustle, more precisely into the red light district. Kabukichō may not have the best reputation and is one of the few neighborhoods in Tokyo that travel guides warn about, but you don't have to feel uncomfortable here. Especially not in the early evening, when it feels like half the city is moving through the neon-lit streets Robot restaurant flows or Godzilla want to say hello. Godzilla? Yup, he watches over bars and love hotels here and yells on the hour to prevail against the volume of the surrounding clubs.

If you want, you can even get Godzilla on the roof of the Toho Buildings at the end of Kabukichō Central Road (aka Godzilla Road) pay a visit. Of course we want! The elevator takes us to the 8th floor, in the lobby of the Gracery Hotels, because this is where the monster lives on the terrace of the Bonjour Café. Since access to the roof terrace is only granted to guests according to the signs (but this is not checked), just order a drink and take a rest (it never hurts) before you face Godzilla. There is so little going on during our visit that we can monkey ourselves in front of Godzilla's eyes (and a stoic security guard) and think from up there in which direction of the district we should drift next.

If you don't want to leave the King of the Monsters at all, you can have him guard you in your sleep and spend the night next to him at eye level in one of the Godzilla rooms of the Gracery Hotel.

Drinking and eating culture from another time: Golden Gai and Omoide Yokochō

We leave the glare of the entertainment district behind and take a little trip back in time to Tokyo in the 1950s. On the outskirts of Kabukichō you dive in Golden Gai into the former red light district. There is a completely different atmosphere here, somehow strange. In a block of six narrow streets, over 200 pubs and bars, some of which are tiny, are lined up in scraped-off houses. Photos are forbidden, some foreigners too. "No tourists" is emblazoned on some doors and underlines the exclusivity, which is not dictated by the few seats in the pubs alone. But some of the bars, which have dedicated themselves to topics such as the 80s or punk, are cosmopolitan and also give tourists an insight into the Japanese drinking culture. Whether you get a seat in one of the coveted pubs or not - a trip to this other world is worth it just to let yourself drift.

It continues nostalgically through the Omoide Yokochōwho also go by the unflattering nickname Piss Alley is known. Gloomy, narrow, a bit slippery - you can well imagine that the black market used to take place here. Today it smells like fried chicken and beer. There is steam from the kitchens of the yakitori restaurants, but if you are looking for something vegetarian, you will not find it here. Instead, you fight your way through wild poses. Because that the lampion-hung "Memory lane“Looks pretty nice with its seasonal (plastic) decoration, word got around for a long time. The narrow alley is now mainly used as an Instagram photo wallpaper for “old Japan vibes”. You certainly don't have to come here just for the street, but anyone who is near the Shinjuku station anyway and feels hungry or thirsty will find a solution in the traditional izakayas.

Shopping in Shinjuku: Tokyu Hands and Don Quixote

That foreign supermarkets magically attract us and we can spend hours in them - free. But in Japan everything escalates a little. Not only does every Konbini visit turn into a half-day excursion, the department stores also have a hypnotic attraction for us. We don't even buy a lot, but look, discover and, above all, marvel.

One of the first department stores we sink into is Tokyu Hands. The department store with a special focus on housewares and DIY accessories can also be found in other districts and cities, but we like the Shinjuku branch best. There is pretty much everything here - nice stationery, an insane selection of pretty umbrellas (this alone tells you how often it rains in Japan) and huge kitchen accessories and cosmetics departments with all sorts of absurdities to discover.

Definitely not an insider tip, but it is a shop that you can hardly miss in Japan Don Quixote. If you are looking for the ultimate selection of Japanese sweets, perfect souvenirs and completely crazy knickknacks, you should venture into one of the countless branches. From singing toothbrushes to a pack of 500 dried squids, you can find everything here that you haven't missed before. But be careful: you can't last long in the department store. The aisles are narrow and crowded, the shelves are overflowing, and advertising videos are pounding and flashing on every corner. Sounds like sheer horror? That's it! Don Quixote is my nightmare turned into a shop - and yet you have to experience it!

In udon heaven: udon shin

There are only four people in line in front of us. At a restaurant that is known as Tokyo's best udon shop is traded, we had expected worse. Once again it pays off that we have dinner a little earlier than usual. While we were still in line, we were handed the English menu. A good 20 dishes - all with udon, of course, that's why we're here. It is divided into Zaru Udon (cold noodles with toppings that are dipped in a sauce) and Kake Udon (warm noodles, served in a broth with various layers). We are told to try the cold ones in order to experience the taste and consistency of the homemade udon the most intensely. We adhere to that. I choose one of the few vegetarian dishes - udon with vegetable tempura, spring onions, radish, and soft-boiled egg (1150 yen) - but the friendly service draws my attention to the fact that the dipping sauce contains fish, but soy sauce does it can be replaced. Wonderful!

Things are moving slowly and we can now watch the udon masters prepare the noodles. The kitchen is tiny, but otherwise it is too Udon Shin quite compact. There is only room for 12 guests here. Just a few minutes after we are seated at the counter, two large portions of the thick noodles are already in front of us, which are irresistibly nestled in the plates. Quite reduced for me, with Steffen a little more generous with tempura pancake, pickled plum, egg and bonito flakes (1380 yen). What can I say? It tastes great! The udon are perfect - velvety, elastic and endlessly long. We only have to practice slurping the pasta, it works much more skillfully with everyone else. Happy, albeit with our shirts sunk in, we leave the little shop and are amazed at the long line that has now formed down the whole street. Biggest recommendation and the best example that you don't have to spend a lot of money on great food in Japan.

Harajuku

Harajuku is young, colorful, flashy and lively. The district, which belongs to the Shibuya district and borders Shinjuku, is best known as a kawaii stronghold and a center of pop and youth culture. The cosplay scene meets behind the train station on Sundays, if you follow the scent of crepes and cotton candy, sooner or later you stand in the Takeshita-dori, the center of Harajuku, surrounded by teenagers and colorful food trends. But Harajuku also has its quiet corners. If you leave the flashy shops and large shopping streets behind you, you will find a gigantic green area in the west that is connected to the Meiji shrine is home to one of the city's most famous Shinto shrines.

Street food in the Takeshita-dori

A sea of ​​umbrellas stretched before us as we topped the Takeshita-dori Stand, the famous shopping and street food street in Harajuku. Yes, we could certainly have chosen a better day, we notice that at the latest when we push ourselves through the dense crowd, equally shielded. The Takeshita-dori is considered the epicenter of youth culture and cosplay - at least that's what you read everywhere. That may have been true a few years ago, but now it is mainly 100 yen and souvenir shops that sell more colorful plastic scrap than true trends. However, you can still discover some exciting food stations here that have also become famous beyond Japan - gigantic clouds of cotton candy in rainbow colors, for example.

But we came to eat crepes. The no less gigantic pancakes filled with all kinds of pieces of cake, fruit, ice cream, cream and sauces should obviously not be missing on a visit to Harajuku. We walk past at least a handful of crêpes stands, all with a similar offer, and finally decide to stop by Marion crepes. It's good that the line is a little longer and gives us time to marvel at the two windows with crepes. Strawberries, cheesecake, vanilla ice cream and cream (620 yen) are rolled into our pancakes - if already, then already! Of course, the luscious dessert tastes good, even if the taste explosion turns out to be smaller than hoped.

Then we discover a store that we already saw from a video of Paolo from Tokyo know: Calbee Plus. Anyone who has ever rummaged through the snack department of a Konbini will surely have stumbled upon one or the other calbee pack - crisps, potato sticks, mainly potatoes and deep-fried. This also applies to the shop in Takeshita-dori, where not only dozens of different types of chips are stacked, but fresh potato snacks can also be bought. We order the seasonal offer: Freshly baked chips with goat cheese and honey. Sounds strange, tastes strange, but after two bites we're hooked.

Why not let 15-year-old Japanese women influence it? The excitement around Xing Fu Tang and your Taiwanese Brown Sugar Boba Drinks is so big that we can't leave the Takeshita-dori without trying the current biggest food trend. We don't really know what exactly we're in line for, but we trust the large fan base and the numerous stands where drinks of this kind are offered all over Tokyo. Even queuing in the narrow shop is an experience, while you can watch how the small boba balls are freshly prepared, then caramelized in a huge pan with brown sugar and the drinks are finally put together using an elaborate process: a layer of hot boba on top Milk tea and a marshmallow cream, which is finally flambéed. Oookay. Costs a whopping 700 yen, but tastes great. At the beginning of the year, Xing Fu Tang opened a branch in New York - we are excited to see when this trendy Taiwanese drink will find its way to us.

Shopping in Harajuku

South of and parallel to Takeshita-dori is the one-kilometer-long shopping boulevard Omotesando with numerous department stores, boutiques and large flagship stores. Even if most of the shops are a bit too posh for our taste (and budget), it is still worth taking a look around the area, because it also has a lot to offer architecturally. So, looking for a toilet, we stumble into the middle of an Instagram hotspot - the mirrored, kaleidoscopic entrance of the department store Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku, where shopping-weary and posing queens and kings loll next to each other on the stairs.

But above all it is the side streets of the Omotesandō where it gets exciting. Like in the Cat Streetconnecting the Harajuku and Shibuya neighborhoods. Only a few steps away from the magnificent boulevard, there is a tranquil suburban flair and a very own, cool atmosphere. Alternative fashion shops, unusual concept stores and quirky little shops - there is something to marvel at everywhere.

In the middle of the green: Meiji shrine

The big one rests between all the colorful, shrill corners of the district Meiji shrine in the middle of a huge park. When we want to visit the shrine, the weather is not kind to us.It is raining harder and harder and the path through the large forest (120,000 trees were planted during the construction of the facility), which later in the Yoyogi Park