Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Tokyo

Revs In his weekend casuals; Joe taking a luxurious dip in a Japanese onsen. Image courtesy of Joe Revill

Joe Revill, Foreign Rights Executive at Lonely Planet, just got back from a business trip across Asia sneaking in a cheeky weekend in Tokyo.

Tell us more… I was lucky enough to mix both business with pleasure in Tokyo this summer. After a few days working, I had a weekend all to myself and was able to ditch the suit for a yukata (a casual kimono) at the local onsen. I spent a few days very happily taking a dip in the Japan I’d longed to explore after all those Murakami novels I’d been reading.

In a nutshell… Tokyo is a beguiling mix of modernity and tradition. Sure there are neon lights and looming skyscrapers, but the traditional tea houses and imperial palaces make themselves heard just as much over the clamour for all things new. I had the biggest smile on my face merely walking around the city feasting on food and taking all the craziness in.

Defining moment… My visit coincided with the rainy season for which I was wholly unprepared (even as a Brit). This meant no views whatsoever of Mt. Fuji, but the wet weather did make the Shibuya Crossing even more impressive. Avoiding the swarms of people as you cross in more favourable climes is impressive, but the added obstacle of dodging an army of umbrellas made it doubly so. I joined the scramble four times relishing being part of a seemingly natural flow of people underneath neon signs twinkling in the heavy downpour.

Shibuya Crossing in the Rain Navigating the neon lights and darting between umbrellas is all part of the fun of the Shibuya Crossing. Image courtesy of Joe Revill

Favourite encounters… Travelling solo forces you to strike up conversations with strangers, some places are easier to do this in than others. I can happily report, however, that a lone gaijin (foreigner) in Tokyo can find people to talk with relatively easily despite the language barriers. Dining on the yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) of Omiode-Yokocho in Shinjuku, I had next to no idea what I was ordering. But within minutes I was sharing a table with some young Tokyoites who were recommending and sharing food whilst taking me through the finer points of Japanese baseball.

This is what travel is all about, right?

What about your digs? I stayed in a capsule hotel in the Western part of the city. It’s kind of like sleeping in a larger, more snug microwave. I overslept dramatically one night but I’m not sure whether that’s a testament to the comfort of my lodgings or the potency of the Japanese whisky I’d been drinking the night before. Either way this accommodation is a comfortable way to cut costs in a notoriously expensive city.

Quintessential experience… One of my favourite stops was chilling out at the Ōedo Onsen Monogatari. Granted there are probably more traditional bath-houses in rural parts of Japan, but there are still plenty of places for city slickers to get their fill of baths in Tokyo and this complex still uses natural water pumped up from the harbour. Reclining in one of the many tubs available is the perfect antidote to a day full of sightseeing and provides that quintessential Japanese experience of bubbling delight.

Warning: don't be shy, birthday suits are compulsory.