24 hours was never going to be enough. No, not this city. From its frenetic nightlife to its anime-emblazoned, high-rise buildings to its mouthwatering food: Tokyo is a blast.
I used AirBnb to find a downtown apartment close to the bustling Shinagawa district – small and cosy; around £50 – whose owner was a free agent for the night so accompanied me on an epic, eight-hour nocturnal tour of the city, into Tokyo’s beating heart and soul.
We started at a cafe called ‘Me Dogenzaka’ (translated), feasting on miniature dishes of octopus, fried cheese balls and cheese-melted fish, washed down with a tasty Japanese beer. The reek of smoke, puffed by chain-smoking hipsters, was a shock to the system for a European used to the ban on smoking in public spaces, but the funky ambience and affordable food neutered the effects.
Infamous for its kitsch night scene, Rappongi’s ‘allure’ proved too strong, however, and my companion Keita said it would be bursting with English-speaking locals and expats. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone. Apart from the fluorescent lights and the sight of giggling, scantily-clad locals, it really could be any capital hub and the seedy ubiquity of over-the-top nightclub promoters was enough to steer us towards a whiskey bar beyond the din not long after arriving. Empty, as it turned out, so we happened upon a private holiday bash next door. Boy, do the locals know how to party!
Not yet sated, we headed to the famous Womb nightclub, voted as one of the top 10 clubs in the world by the UK’s DJ Magazine. French electronic music label Kitsuné were toasting to the release of DJ Gildas Kitsuné’s Season’s Greeting Mix, as he expertly spun a mix of electro house on the decks to a packed dancefloor.
One differentiator to other ‘super clubs’ I’ve come across, which screamed Japanese efficiency, was the locker system for clubbers’ coats and bags. The entrance fee of 3000Y (around £18/$30) proved well worth it.
Taxis are everywhere in Tokyo and flitting between neighbourhoods was pretty efficient, although I was helped by having a local guide. Prices can tend to be on the high side – about 3,500Y (£20/just under $35) for a 10k journey – hence the infamous mad dash for the last train home between 12 and 1am, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. As many cab drivers speak piecemeal English, be prepared with a map.
As a new day dawned, refuelling was a must, so we checked out another cafe called Korakuen Dougenzaka (translated); heaving with locals, we sampled a blend of tasty dumplings and Chinese noodles to doff our caps to a great night.
With my journey home approaching, I headed to Tokyo’s famous electronic district, Akihabara. You can snap up discounted digital goods, from duty-free iPads to Android phones and beyond. A word of advice, though: always bring your passport with you, as there will be administrative forms to sign. A note will be made on your visa page and you will be given a tax refund. You can get unlocked phones and tablets with around £50-£60 knocked off RRP, but there are few bargain basement offers to be had. IOSYS has four stores in the area, which are worth a look.
Having travelled to 12 countries in 2013, Tokyo was one city whose energy and sense of fun left me wanting more, reverberating around my head long after take-off.