Tokyo for beginners

Tokyo is a bit daunting on the first go. The place names have a lot of syllables and there are many railway lines going everywhere. Do not trust Google Maps to help you either. There’s usually more than one place with the same name i.e. Tsurumaki. I Googled it, trusted the map and ended up in the Tokyo equivalent of the lower Blue Mountains when I should have been in Elizabeth Bay. Many hours were wasted. In fact, I feel like I spent most of my time in Tokyo on a train or carrying luggage upstairs at a train station. How relaxing.

Harajuku Girls

Harajuku girls rock my world for so many reasons but mostly because they’re brave, anti-establishment and creative

So what should you do as a rookie? Here’s my mud map:
1. Stay in Shibuya or Shinjuku
If you fly into Narita, book a hotel in Shibuya or Shinjuku. There’s an express train from the airport that takes just over an hour to get there (heads up – Narita is waaaay out of town). Shibuya and Shinjuku are right in the thick of it.

2. Hang out with a local
I was fortunate enough to meet (and stay with – more on that later) a lovely woman named Kana through Couchsurfing.org. Kana introduced me to things like train ticket vending machines, slimy yam and fermented squid in ‘viscera’. She took me to a cherry blossom picnic with her friends, welcomed me into her teeny tiny apartment and drank sparkling sake with me on my birthday. A good friend indeed.

3. Go to Harajuku on a Sunday
It’s alive with people in wild costumes, swing dancers, street food vendors and all the people who come to gawk at the action. Meiji Shrine is an excellent introduction to shrine etiquette (hand washing, mouth rinsing, coins offered, double bowing, praying, single bowing, etc).

4. Shop at Tokyo Hands
It’s the most quizzically impractical department store on earth but it’s such fun. There’s a whole section devoted to massagers. That is not a cheeky euphemism either. There’s about twenty kinds of head massager.

Do you have any Tokyo tips to share with newbies? Where should every Tokyo first-timer go/eat/lick/see?

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