It is Sunday night 22:24 on January 24th, 2015. I have just gotten out of bed again. Finally, I’ve discovered the twist behind starting this oft-discussed and planned piece. Most notably, my editor, Andrew, has challenged me, time and time again, demanding: “Why should this even be written?” And he’s right, at least initially. Why should a Berlin-based blog specializing in all things Berlin write about a city that’s 9,000 km away? Why should BERLIN LOVES YOU write about Tokyo? Let me tell you why.
I had the great chance to visit Japan twice in the last 12 months, and I fell in love with the country, the people and the city, Tokyo. And because I’ve lived in Berlin for more than eight years, I wanted to bring my dear Berliners that great city: Tokyo. Certainly, the Japanese Community in Berlin is steadily growing. The culture, the cuisine as well as the people are leaving a great mark on this city. This is only the beginning. After having Sasaya for a number of years, places like Men Men and Yume Kitchen in Neukölln are paving new ground, becoming incredibly popular. That’s not to mention Zenkichi near Friedrichstraße, which features a remarkable Sake selection.
And let’s be realistic. As Berliners, we love traveling. And our distant goal, perhaps, is to reach that great country, so far away. After all: Who hasn’t seen Lost in Translation and felt convinced by a sad and lifeless Bill Murray to journey to that city far-far-away?
Let’s get started.
Prices: What To Expect First thing’s first: It’s not expensive to fly to Tokyo anymore. In fact, you can buy flights for around 600 Euro return—perhaps even less, if you’re lucky. Tokyo’s not stuck in the ‘80s anymore (some 40 years ago, guys) and is no longer thriving from that economic boom. Thus: the Yen to Euro/Dollar is a great buy—and you can eat and drink for two on a night out for no more than 50 euro.
That’s right: all-in-all, prices are comparable to our own city, Berlin.
Also, if you, like us, opt for an AirBnB a bit outside the city center (perhaps with a travel time of 30-90 minutes by train, depending on where you’re going), you can stay for a full week for less than 600 euro.
Look below at our view from our four-bedroom Tatami Apartment, tucked in a local area called Nishi Nippori. Just 600 euro for seven nights:
Flight with major Airline: 450 – 650 Euros
Airbnb Apartment: starting at 50 Euros / night
Nice dinner for two with drinks, various food at a local hotspot bar: 50 Euros
Beer: 2-6 Euros
Wagyu Beef Burger with Rosemary Fries, a Cocktail and a Beer at the Park Hyatt New York Bar (yes, that one from Lost in Translation): 50 Euros
Trip Preparation: The Basics
First off, when preparing for the trip, I discovered an app called “Friendly Tokyo.” Already, I know the app “Friendly Berlin,” which is curated by our friends at iheartberlin. I thought—perhaps—this “Friendly Tokyo” might offer the same benefits, featuring great, lesser-known places. And luckily: I was right. Friendly Tokyo allowed us to easily navigate the city and cost just €4.99.
Naturally, we hardly cracked our Lonely Planet Tokyo guide—and then, only to find the places where Bill Murray was sadder than any human alive in Lost in Translation. Secondly, we had to worry about Internet. Based on my trip in 2006, I knew that renting phones and SIM cards can be, at-times, horrendously expensive. To save you some time, I’ve found the cheapest, most reliable and flexible service from NTT Docomo, here. If anyone asks you: “Where can I find a SIM card for Japan,” send them here.
With these two things and a smartphone running Google Maps, you are all set to go.
Transportation in Tokyo
Despite chaotic city life, Berliners still subscribe to that one German mainstay: timeliness rules all. And the same came be said in Tokyo. When a train is set to arrive at 14:44—the train skirts up at 14:44, and not a moment later. Actually, if a train is late in Tokyo, you can request a ticket from the train’s platform inspector. When you present this ticket to your employer, it states how many minutes late your train was. Boom.
Unfortunately, although Tokyo has a marvelous transportation system (one that, unlike Berlin, has absolutely no chaos—with Tokyo residents actually forming a LINE instead of bursting into the train), the trains stop at around midnight every night. Thusly: if you want that 5 a.m. Berlin-like nightlife, you’ll need to take a taxi.
I’ve been asked about this one too many. To ease your mind, I can recommend this independent map: http://japan.failedrobot.com/.
Following Editor Recommendations
Kichijoji & Inokashira Park:
Counterculture and Hip Shopping
In Berlin, Mitte-and-Pberg shopping cannot be beat. And in Tokyo, the same came be said of the counter-cultural and youthful Kichijoji area, known to the Japanese as “Joji”: where very few tourists can be found. As we walked from Kichijoji station, which offers a mall that affirms “other” food courts around the world just don’t get it, we found ourselves in the center of a small village, surrounded by design shops, gorgeous restaurants–before stumbling upon Inokashira Park, about five minutes from the station. A large, central lake, street performers, a petting zoo–the place had everything. Most notably, the park is a favorite in the springtime, when cherry blossoms bloom. For shopping, Kichijoji scratches the Japanese vintage-sneaker itch (apparently an obsession) with the Skit Sneaker store—where you can spend hours and hours. Keep in mind: our massive western feet won’t find their Cinderella shoes in this land.
Many Japanese bars offer a “BBQ Special.”
The bar might allow 10 people, tops, to fit, with various “surprise” BBQ specials… For example, we ordered what we thought were “pork skewers” only to discover later that one was stomach, one was liver, one was kidney… and the other, chewier one, was rectum. Luckily, we’d had a few beers at that point.
Soba noodles, thin noodles made from buckwheat, are traditional in Japanese culture. For your Soba noodle search, the most traditional (and, in my opinion, best) one is Yabusoba (closed on Wednesdays):
Address: 2 Chome-18-1 Takashima, Nishi Ward
Alternative Soba Places:
Address: Chiyoda-ku, Kanda, Sudacho 1-13
Address: Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi, 3-15-7
Some of our favorite spots, however, were Chinese/Japanese restaurants, all filled with Japanese business men, drinking beer and eating Gyoza and fried noodles. Naturally, we only tried the ones that were stuffed with people. In general, as all Berliners know, it’s important to go where the locals go.
Jazz Spots in Kichijoji and Roppongi
Jazz music in Tokyo? Yes, actually—and I highly, highly recommend it. There are expensive, popular ones you’ll find in your “Lonely Planet”—like Blue Note or Billboard Live. But you won’t get a unique experience there. Rather, opt for one of the casual Japanese jazz spots:
Satin Doll in Roppongi:
Minato-ku, Roppongi 4-11-5 Ropongi Annex Bldg 4F
Sometime In Kichijoji:
Kichijoji Honcho 1-11-31 B1F
Wagyu Beef Burger at the New York Bar
When you’re in Tokyo, it’s almost unavoidable:
Who does not know the movie Lost in translation? Well we were lost so we decided to do the most touristy thing ever and go to the famous New York Bar at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. After one day of walking (Tokyo is great to just walk if you are fit) we ended up there at around 15:00, not knowing that the bar is closed between 15:00 and 17:00. We decided to just sit down on two chairs and nap a bit.
At 17:00 we were the first ones allowed in the bar, which filled up super quickly. Skip forward two hours and there was already a huge line.
Now, one might think this sort of thing would be really, really expensive… Well, it certainly isn’t Sterni-and-a-kebab cheap, but at 30 Euros for a great wagyu beef burger, €12 for a great cocktail and €6 for a beer, all with a view over Tokyo, some nice live music and a great international vibe, it really could’ve been be a lot, lot worse. Especially when you factor in that you don’t tip in Japan.
Tokyo Tower Lunch
On a clear and sunny day, we spontaneously decided to go see the Tokyo Tower. We did not know we would have to wait three hours to get up there. Using our press IDs to skip the line didn’t work either.
Then we saw this separate counter where you could book a lunch/dinner with fast access (no more queuing!). We bought the tickets to the tower, selected a menu (about 30-50 Euros per person) and within a few minutes we were in the restaurant way up the tower, looking over Tokyo. We spent two hours up there and ate a nice meal for 60 Euros per person.
Reversible Destiny Lofts MITAKA – In Memory of Helen Keller
For our second visit to Tokyo, we stayed at Reversible Destiny Lofts MITAKA – In Memory of Helen Keller. This was simply a wonderful and unique experience. Minimum stay is 7 days and you should book quite some time in advanced.
If you want to experience this, we don’t want to give you too many hints on what it’s like… lest to say everyone should try to stay here at least once.
Shot with Olympus OM-D.
So all in all Tokyo: THANK YOU, ARIGATO. It’s been a blast and we will be back for sure!