Saturday! Hooray! We took a trip down to Yokohama, a city famous for multiple things—one of which is their Cup Noodle Museum! We decorated our very own cup noodle containers and customized the toppings and broth. Three walls of a room stacked high with packaging throughout the years gave us a visual representation of instant noodle’s overwhelming history. The museum was quite informative, with a fun video showing how exactly inventor Momofuku Ando landed on the idea of cup noodles. This spot overall is a moving tribute to the go-to “fast food” commodity for everybody, from broke college students to brave disaster responders. There was also an indoors noodles bazaar designed like a night market where you could try a small bowl of noodles from different countries at their respective booths.
Next we walked to the nearby Red Brick Warehouse—a historical complex that is filled with boutiques and restaurants. An outdoors food festival neighbored the warehouse. Afterwards, we took a stroll to Nippon Maru, a training ship for cadets that logged 45.4 times around the earth (1,830,000 kilometers in total). On our way there we observed families enjoying the seaside, girls in kimonos and paddle boarders effortlessly maintaining their balance. In the water next to the ship, we saw live jellyfish drifting like white roses in the water.
The Ramen Museum was next! This was less of a museum and more of an eatery, with two floors packed with ramen spots and decorated in a way that transported us back 50 years. Two particularly flexible performers entertained a crowd with their jokes, magic tricks, and gymnastics as we ducked into a restaurant on the first floor and ordered our small bowls of ramen. The atmosphere was lovely—the painted ceiling gave us the impression of dusk falling, and nightlife awakening. Afterwards, we made our way to Shibuya and ended our night with classic barbecue.
On Day 12, my last full day in Tokyo, we headed to Koenji in the early afternoon—a row of shops filled with secondhand retro and vintage clothing. We saw discontinued Converse shoes, hippie button-ups with bright patterns, and Snoopy and Mickey Mouse merchandise from the archives. One of our highlights was an adorable pet shop with puppies that cost upwards of $1,500 USD (and that was on the low end). We then trekked to a donut and dessert shop selling the cutest delicacies.
We headed to Ikebukuro next. To me it seemed like a version of Akihabara, but rather than young male gamers who just got off of work, Ikebukuro was filled with girls in anime-style dress, carrying bags of trading pins. At a shaved ice dessert spot, we tried possibly the most bitter matcha powder ever (my friend described it as Chinese medicine—the strong aftertaste lingers for far too long). We headed to a shop called Animate, the biggest anime store, and simply took in the frenzy of mostly girls and some guys browsing a million pieces of merchandise.
At a 10-story Round One, we watched people fail at giant claw machines and dance out their hearts. We also tried our hand at some games ourselves, including a hit-the-button game as well as Mahjong Fight Club. One difference with the Round Ones in US (besides the sheer immensity of the building) was the existence of an entire floor with elaborate, high-tech gambling stations. Nearly every seat at the push-the-coin-off-the-edge machines was taken. One game (100yen, about 90 cents USD) at any one of these machines lasted us nearly 5-10 minutes. You could spend hours here in this neon gaming center straight from the future.
Next, we stumbled upon a rabbit cafe. To our surprise and delight, our entrance ticket also included snuggling with two feisty otters. They slid along the floor and let us give them belly rubs as they munched away on their backs. The rabbits were sweet and nibbled pellets out of our hands. Whoever says you can’t buy happiness is clearly wrong.
For dinner, we decided on a restaurant that specialized in Unagi, or charcoaled eel. The smokiness paired with the softness of the meat provided a very unique tasting experience I’ve never quite encountered before. We stopped at Bake Cheese Tart station in Shinjuku to pick up matcha tarts and cheese tarts before heading to Golden Gai, Tokyo’s most famous nightlife area. Composed of rows of bars that were basically the size of a closet, Golden Gai offered a fascinating look at nightlife in the olden days—not much has changed.
I’ll never forget sitting in a side street in Shibuya, eating the incredibly creamy matcha tart, enjoying music from a violinist across from us. I watched people pass by: a couple attempting to do a little Irish jig, friends supporting (drunk) friends, girls laughing with each other. Everyone was completely absorbed in the moment and enjoying life in the now. Including us.