Taking a tour of Tokyo's fish markets, karaoke bars and robot restaurants

Joel Golby
Follow Joel

The best day I spent in Tokyo was when I woke up, with a start, asleep on my sofa still at 10am after staying out until five doing karaoke, drunk still but with a hangover headache.

On the surface level I would not recommend this to anyone – the housekeeping woman was incredibly scared by my presence in my own room, I slept in my contact lenses fully clothed, and, as detailed above, I slept on a sofa when there was a perfectly comfortable king-sized bed maybe six, seven feet away. Neck in pieces. Eyes in pieces. Head in pieces. Welcome to Japan.

But then the day started to open in front of me like a lotus flower and I came to mark it down as the best in my life. First: I spent a 40-minute shower staring over the bustling panorama of Tokyo, arguably the most incredible city on earth, because my hotel room at the Prince Gallery was on the 38th floor of a skyscraper and the shower is situated in front of a sheer glass window. There’s something very liberating, I feel, about waving your naked body at the city below it. Then I crawled out onto the streets and into the nearest ramen joint, where myself and the guy behind the counter – me not speaking Japanese, him not speaking English – formed a rough lingua franca using hand gestures towards a laminated menu, so that I could ask for pork ramen, which I ate while wearing sunglasses in a basement corner in front of a small fish tank. The ramen cost £6 and remains the greatest plate of food I have ever eaten.

Listen, you don’t need to know about the entire day because there’s plenty of other bits of Japan we need to talk about but in short: I accidentally walked through a geisha ceremony in an inner-city temple, I got shouted at by a man with a whistle for crossing the road at the wrong place, and I spent two euphoric hours at the Megatokyo Pokémon Shop, where I bought a frankly astonishing number of things with Pikachu’s face on it. I drank the Japanese version of a Pumpkin Spice Latte, which was purple, for some reason. I tried on an incredibly cut coat – the perfect transitional rain coat, just the thing for spring and early autumn, just the perfect coat – where the sleeves finished somewhere up near my elbows. I finished the day in a rush hour McDonald’s, eating a McChoco Potato, which is McDonald’s fries with chocolate sauce on top of it. I didn’t realise until a dinner arrangement at 8pm that I hadn’t had a conversation in English for the entire day. It was great.

Such is the joy of Japan. You think you know Japan: it is flashing neon lights and robots you can have sex with and small single bed-sized tubes stacked in the rough shape of a hotel, and it is thousands upon thousands of grey-suited businessmen bowing politely before cramming themselves onto the same train, and it is chaos and noise and the future and the past all at once, and also you need to know kanji, top-to-bottom, before you can go there. But once you’re there it feels less like a hyper-friendly but alien planet, and more like a world of complete possibility: a place where you can do anything, everything, in a way that is completely new to you, and enjoy every second of it.

Here are some things I would recommend: spend your first night in Tokyo at tourist-centric shared hallucination Robot Restaurant, then to a nearby club for high-balls; get a cab to take you to Lawson (basically: Spar, but amazing) for their cult egg sandwich; spend an hour or two at Lawson, if you can, marvelling at all the things Japan sells nonchalantly that breaks Western minds when exposed to them (black cotton buds! What!); scream yourself hoarse at karaoke. The next day you have to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market, a combination of Borough Market (foodie treats) wrapped around Smithfield’s (shouting and blood); go to literally any sushi house you see, it’ll be the best you’ve ever had; eat all the street food, but especially anything with fish flakes on.

Go to Shirosaka, in Akasaka, for the finest non-ramen food you’ll ever eat, all served in complex little boxes or on exquisite plates. Drink Japanese wine, a thing they have now. Go to the Man in the Moon, a chain of British pubs in Japan, an experience akin to stumbling into an alternate universe where everything is just slightly off and you’re not sure whether you’ve gone mad or everyone else has. Get a bullet train to Kyoto. Take selfies amongst the bamboo trees. Trust when you are offered a dish of tofu that it will be magnificent. More karaoke. Marvel at how immaculate the streets are. They are just so tidy! Have sex with a robot.

Japan, in my opinion, is brilliant. Every day there feels like three. There was a slight earthquake when I was taking my final bathroom trip before departing, but other than that my experience there was immaculate. Go. Go with a group, go on your own. Endure a long flight there just to see a vision of the future. Take a 16-hour plane just to see the moon bridge in Kyoto. But go, you have to go. I really must urge you to go.

A stay at The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Tokyo is from £315 (JPY 44,650) per room per night based on two people sharing. Visit luxurycollection.com/princegallery

A stay at Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Kyoto is from £341 (JPY 48,248) per room per night based on two people sharing. Visit suirankyoto.com

Related articles