I visited Tōkyō again in the second full week of June 2023 with a group of 11 friends. Some went to Kyōtō on a day trip, I did not and stayed in the capital city for the full week. I have been here before when I studied at Sophia University for a semester in the Summer.

I host some of the pictures from this trip in a gallery on a separate site.

Walking in Akihabara near Tokyo Leisure Land

I loved walking with friends around my favorite city in the world. We did a lot of stuff, including many tourist-y things I did not do when I lived here such as actually going up the Skytree and visiting the huge Gundam statue in Odaiba.


We landed a bit after noon at Haneda about 18 hours after our plane departed Raleigh-Durham International Airport, with one stop in Detroit interrupting those 18 hours. We ate a sad breakfast at Mediterranean grille Mezza in the DTW airport. The catch is that there is no Mediterranean food served before noon; breakfast meal is pictured below; the below subjects are not actors; they are real people attempting to enjoy breakfast in an airport.

Interestingly when we arrived the airport fare machine at Haneda was not selling new IC cards, more on that in a moment. Currency was exchanged, tickets were bought and I loaded up my PASMO card I still had from my last time here with some yen which I also kept from then. Considering macroeconomic inflation and the weakening of the yen against the US dollar since 2018 this was one of my worst performing investments, but hey, holding 20,000 yen for 5 years was worth not having to wait in line to exchange currency at the airport. I gave those who needed cash some money and we were off.

From the airport we took the monorail north, transferring at Hanamatsuchō, and exiting the train at Ueno station. On the way north I recognized many of the roads from playing Shutoko Revival Project for Assetto Corsa, not something I noticed my first trip here because I didn't care much for cars then.

When we needed to interface with people, for example at the hotel or navigating customs, I was glad to be able to use my Japanese wherever I could despite only intaking Japanese casually since the end of 2021. The language skill you need for everyday conversations is much, much lower than what you need to learn at a university.

Later that day I accompanied some of us headed to a street festival. One of the many celebrating the longevity of Tōkyō's shrines, this one took place along a street in Ueno-okachimachi. That afternoon was slightly rainy but the street was still quite busy. We visited a 7-11 in Ueno-okachimachi on the way there.

After this Bakesta and I wandered around Ueno and eventually went to try to buy a PASMO card from the Ueno metro station. Unfortunately sales of anonymous PASMO passes were temporarily restricted from June 8 2023 onward. We arrived on June 11, only 3 days after this bullshit started.

We wandered into the train office and asked what the fuck was going on. Luckily the train office was not closed but filled with office workers and consequently reeked of tobacco. With regard to public offices I had gotten used to this smell at the Taitō city ward office. The nice guys in that railway office told us the best way to get around is to use the phone app. I found out later that Apple is the only manufacturer who provides the special hardware for interacting with Japanese IC card readers, and only in their models since 2018. Obviously Japanese domestic phones have this hardware too but none of us had one. But considering we were tourists, our best option, they said, was to buy the PASMO Passport. These IC cards can only be used on railways for 21 days; I have no idea how the e-money works after 21 days; after that period all fare remaining on the IC card is forfeit. This proposition seemed reasonable given the circumstances around unregistered cards so Bakesta got a new PASMO Passport IC card. Over the next 2 days I bought PASMO Passports for about everyone in our group because IC cards are strictly better than buying paper tickets. It became a little joke with the guys behind the counter because they recognized me after the second time, as you needed everyone physically present who was buying a pass.

That night we both went to Akihabara and bounced in and out of my favorite arcades. HEY!, Tōkyō Leisure Land, and the new GiGo arcades that replaced the Sega buildings (RIP). We were both exhuasted quite early owing to the fact we were operating on such little sleep so we kicked it back to the hotel near Ueno station well before the last train that night.

The next morning it was straight to Yoshinoya because fuck it I wanted that ねぎ玉牛丼. It's not great but goddamn it's quick and it's a savory breakfast. This was Monday morning so the inside of that Yoshinoya was hectic with the dawn of a new workweek. After Yoshinoya it was more wandering around Ueno park.

Then we visited Yasukuni shrine. My fiancé wanted to visit a “big gate” and, as a consequence of wandering this city for a few months, I knew the biggest gate here. It's a bit weird to be walking as foreigners around such a controversial point in Japanese history but I'm not one to pass up the biggest gate in the city for something like feeling out-of-place.

After this a smaller group of us wandered north to Asakusa, my favorite tourist-y spot in Taitō and conveniently close to our Ueno hotel. We visited the apartment where I lived for some time too, nobody was as touched by this small neighborhood as I was.

We ended that day in Akihabara again, of course, albeit with a larger group of people than just Bakesta and myself. Things wind down early that night as it's a Sunday night and by the time we are ready to go only a few shops are open still.

I spend most of the next day buying dōjin at various book shops in Akihabara. Rāmen at a novel, cheap and crowded joint in Ueno called 花田 “Hanada” for dinner.

Have You Tried the Tuna in Kabukichō?

That night a small group of us ventured all the way out to Shinjuku because I saw a flyer for a DJ associated with Denonbu/電音部 playing at a new Namco arcade there. The fact Namco brands its own arcades now is quite novel after SEGA dumped their arcade locations on GiGo. Anyhow there were no interesting cabinets at this arcade at all, you could hardly call it an arcade, but the music and atmosphere was otherworldly.

That, mind you, is someone filleting a tuna in front of a crowd, while someone cues music in front of 2 analog decks, 2 CDJs and a mixer. A tuna. I have no idea what was going on nor, honestly, do I want to know. This was not the DJ we were looking for however. She was on the third floor (below) in the arcade proper:

The floor was packed. The girls guarding the floor had long ago stopped letting people onto the dancefloor for free and now the entry price was one drink stub. This was an atrocity. Bakesta and I went back downstairs and outside to catch our breath and rest on the steps in front of Kabukichō tower. We sat for a few minutes. Those minutes felt to me like hours as I became tangled up in the lives of people living their every day here. The plaza was lively. The people wandering in front of us were very near our age, give or take a few years. The people here made up the youngest crowd I'd seen from Tōkyō nightlife. Even Akihabara was old by comparison.

The girl sitting in front of us with dyed red hair, streaks of brown peaking from her scalp, industrial piercings through her ears and boots nearly up to her knees looked up towards the tip of the spire of the APA hotel to our left. Her voice carried but was blurred amid the echo carried by the plaza steps. She took a slug from a tall can next to her backpack; I did the same a few seconds later.

There, Bakesta and I, speaking English loudly among ourselves, stirred the attention of a pleasant man. He has lived in Japan for something like 13 years, an American expat. He afforded us sage-like advice for much of the night that we sat on those steps, not moving except to look up and down and left and right around the plaza. Then he left as suddenly as he appeared.

We made our way to Shinjuku station to scurry home before the last train that night as did much of the crowd from Kabukichō.

The next day we visit Odaiba. This place was never on my radar; I had not been before nor ever thought of visiting. Now it seems that's because there's nothing on that artificial island, formerly a series of defensive positions built in Tōkyō Bay but expanded in the late 90s to its current form, except for the Fuji TV headquarters and a massive mall outside which the life-size Rainbow Gundam is stationed. But away from the mall the view overlooking the Rainbow Bridge is beautiful. When travelling back we took the Yurikamome train which actually crosses the Rainbow Bridge, something I didn't know until we were nearly crossing the river.

Still in Ueno, my fiancé and I lunched the next day at Danki Tonkatsu in Asakusa. I found this place once years wandering around Asakusa scouting for tonkatsu shops; neither time I ate here did it disappoint. After this I walked to Skytree while others took the train. I have fond memories walking along the Sumida river so I was far from bored on the walk there. I had been to Skytree just once, during Golden Week. Unfortunately Skytree tickets were sold out at that time so I just walked around Skytree City and went home. This time we pre-ordered tickets for both the tower and the aquarium.

It is amazing that even given how dense this city is it's not hard to pick out nearby districts given the defining Sumida and a few notable landmarks like Sensō-ji and Ueno Park. Still it was unfortunately foggy and we could not see far even to Shinjuku, let alone anywhere close towards Fuji. On clear days though it is possible to see Fuji from this vantage.


That next day we move hotels from Ueno to a place in Shinjuku; not that being in Ueno had inhibited us from venturing into Shinjuku but it's more convenient for everyone in general. It's Friday now and most of this day I spend in Harajuku.

Harajuku is quite busy on the surface with bustling shops and tourists abound. Trendy young people parade the street dressed in more brands than they could count on a hand. It's loud, busy, and on this particular friday it's hard to even find a spot to sit. We scout a crepé shop after getting hungry and nestle in to enjoy one of the most iconic Harajuku items before wandering off to the south-east.

Uraharajuku is much quieter than the main thoroughfare of Takeshita-dōri naturally. Walking around Urahara is like living in a dream; the homes are so beautiful, the streets wind so mercilessly and one could easily become lost here. There is a distinct change in elevation as you navigate from any one point in Uraharajuku to another. There are lazy shops with doors wide open sporting coats, pants and many items of clothing spaced far apart on the racks. Any item of clothing in these shops probably costs a good chunk of my bi-weekly salary. I peek into Kingly Mask and buy the unwieldy clothes I don for the rest of the trip. I highly recommend visiting there and many of the shops around it in this corner of Harajuku; Kingly Mask in particular has a wide range of non-binary clothes any person could wear, many items for sale are simply “small” or “large” sizes. Many of the nearby shops have a similar vibe.

The architecture is beautiful everywhere around Harajuku, Ura- or not; this and the liveliness of the district makes Harajuku one of my favorite areas in the city. The only sushi I indulged of on this trip in was from a conveyor-belt sushi chain in Harajuku that night. I can only eat so much in a week and I was not focused on sushi in the slightest though others wanted to try it. One of the cuter nuances of translation I know of is that many conveyor belt places in Japan advertise themselves as a “sushi go-round”, which is a very literal translation of 回転寿司 “kaiten-zushi”.

On our last full day in the city I visit Sophia University where I studied in 2018; this was the only time I'd been in Japan before and the only reason I know my way around Tōkyō. I visited the on-campus store to buy my mom a uni-branded shirt, though she already has one from 2018, but as it happens they were closed this Saturday which I probably should have known already but did not remember.

Walkway behind Sophia University

From Sophia I head back to Shinjuku and try yakitori at a place called 晴京 “Harukyō” which we found by walking around looking for yakitori shops. I never had yakitori but my fiancé's insistence persuaded me to try it; it is niche, not my favorite food I tried abroad but the fact you can see the single chef in a cute and very tall hat grill everyone's order over charcoal made this worth. I can't remember the names of the parts of the chicken I indulged in as I didn't know that chickens actually had such complicated anatomy; but there it was laid out on a menu before me in a language I barely studied anymore. This was had for late-lunch; I am sure that dinner is somehow more spectacular and more crowded.

Then I ditch my fiancé and hop on the Chūō-Sōbu at Shinjuku station and blitz Akihabara on the other side of town with Bakesta.

Boy dinner on the sidewalk near the JR Akihabara station

I pick up more dōjin from the Melon Books in the basement of the Hey! Arcade and we generally bounce around Tokyo Leisure Land, Hey! and many of the new GiGo arcades that inhabit the carcasses of Akihabara's many freshly-killed SEGA arcades playing Wangan Maxi 6RR, Initial D “The Arcade”, Beatmania IIDX 30 RESIDENT and many other new and fun machines. We enjoy the last Saturday night in Akihabara scurry back to Shinjuku just in time for karaoke with friends, having been completely separated from them for all of that afternoon.

Karaoke is karaoke: loud and fun. You are given your own room and permitted to yell as much as you want, that's almost the point. Unlimited coffee, tea and soft-drinks and, if you should so choose to buy a group package, endless mixed drinks too. If there's one regret I had from my first time in Japan it's that I never did karaoke but I guarantee it's worth it especially if you're with a fun group of friends.

I will spare posting the videos of us singing here, there are plenty on gallery.wesl.ee. If you're looking for a good introduction to what is Japanese karaoke and how is it different from at least the American version, check out this helpful video from Namasensei. I checked and they still do have “Sit on my Face” as a song choice (above) which I happily belted out. Unlike when Namasensei was there we were able to order the drinks and food on a dedicated tablet without needing to pick up the phone! Definitely worth paying for the 飲み放題 “nomihōdai”, unlimited drinks for the duration you are there is priceless and fun!

Eternal September Sunday

We awoke the next day, Sunday morning, and after a long flight home we returned to US soil at RDU airport, on Sunday night.