A sea of people at the Shibuya Crossing -- the world's busiest intersection

There is so much to see and do in Tokyo during summer, writes Nova Renata

SUMMER isn’t the most popular season to visit Japan. Most prefer visiting in spring to catch the beautiful sakura blooms, or in winter for a skiing vacation.

For some reason, I get curious about visiting Japan in summer; no matter how hot and sticky everyone on TripAdvisor warned it would be.

Besides, for someone who prefers to travel only with a backpack, summer clothing allows me to pack light. And Japan being Japan, there’s just so much to be experienced regardless of the season! Here are some top picks for a memorable time in Tokyo, sans the sakura.


SHIBUYA CROSSING

Whether or not you have seen Tokyo Drift, visiting the Shibuya crossing is a must when visiting Tokyo.

The sheer size of the intersection itself is awe-inspiring, and amidst the chaos of humanity breezing past you as you figure out which way to go, there is always entertainment from the giant billboards hanging on the buildings surrounding the intersection. There’s also music playing to make the road-crossing experience more relaxing.

You may also want to check out the Flying Tiger store at the Shibuya Mark City, near the Shibuya Train Station.

This store from Copenhagen is like the younger and fresher version of Ikea, offering a wide range of merchandise from stationery and plastic cutlery to party supplies and travelling essentials. Their price range is also hard to beat by Tokyo’s standards.


MEIJI JINGU AND CHILLING OUT AT A CAT CAFE

Even if you aren’t a fan of temples, the shinto shrines play an important part in Japanese culture and identity, particularly the Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine). So, chalk it up to cultural experience.

Surrounded by the expansive Yoyogi Park, Meiji Jingu is dedicated to the souls of the Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) and his wife, Empress Shoken (1849-1914).

Besides being a tourist attraction, Meiji Jingu is also a popular venue for traditional Japanese weddings. If you’re lucky, you may just get to witness one during your visit.

Just a short stroll from Meiji Jingu is the Cat Cafe Mocha, Harajuku. As cat cafes are quite popular in Japan, you may as well visit one while you’re here.

If you’re currently missing your pet cat at home, this is a good opportunity to meet new furr-iends.

Before entering, note that there are rules to follow: You can’t hug, shout at or chase the cats. You should respect their territory and only pet them gently. Of course, keep your drink covered at all times to avoid ingesting cat fur.


THRIFT SHOPPING AT HARAJUKU AND SHIMOKITAZAWA

If you’re a fan of ‘kawaii’ or Japanese street fashion, or just looking for good, affordable souvenirs to bring home, Harajuku is it. Check out the smaller stores or outdoor stalls that are located outside the shopping malls.

You can find everything, ranging from fridge magnets to keychains selling at around ¥150 (RM6), which is cheaper than in most other places in the city.

If you are into cosplay and manga, you can find plenty of ready-made costumes to choose from in Harajuku.

Dubbed “the Bohemian town of Tokyo”, Shimokitazawa, also known as Shimokita, is a lesser-known commercial and entertainment district in Tokyo.

This neighbourhood is known for its more affordable boutiques and small independent fashion retailers which offer more unique selections. There are also many vintage stores with quality secondhand items, from leather jackets and knee-high boots to limited-edition designer bags from the 1980s.

True to its bohemian identity, Shimokita is also pleasantly dotted with artsy cafes and restaurants, bars, theatres and live music venues.

For a moment, this neighbourhood’s laidback vibes make me forget that I am still in bustling Tokyo.

Personally, Shimokita is by far my favourite district in Tokyo - the possibilities here are endless!


WONDERS OF THE TSUKIJI FISH MARKET

Visiting a fish market doesn’t sound like a great way to spend a holiday but the Tsukiji Fish Market is not just any fish market.

In fact, it is one of the largest fish markets in the world, handling over 2,000 tonnes of marine products daily.

It is renowned for its tuna auction, which is limited to 120 visitors a day. The auction starts early morning. Therefore, you may need to be there as early as 3am to beat the crowd.

However, if auction-watching doesn’t float your boat, the Tsukiji Market is also a great place to enjoy the freshest seafood in Tokyo.

Take your pick from the wide range of sashimi, sushi, yakitori and more. There are also fresh fruits, vegetables, local cakes and dried food products on sale, some of which you can sample before buying. The Tsukiji Market opens until 2pm and closes on Sunday. For the best (non-crowded) experience, visit on weekdays in time for brunch!


MAID CAFE-HOPPING AND GADGET HUNTING AT AKIHABARA

For the uninitiated, maid cafes are a type of cosplay-themed restaurants that originated in Japan. Here, waitresses dress up in maid costumes, also as anime and video game characters.

These cafes serve food decorated to resemble cute cartoon characters. For this unique experience, make your way to the Akihabara district in central Tokyo.

If you’re looking for the latest gadgets, Akihabara’s Yodobashi Camera complex offers a wide range of tax-free local and international electronic offerings. These range from mobile phones and computers to home appliances, some of which are unheard of in our region.

A caveat: Some of the electronics on sale are intended for local use due to the differences in voltage and other technical specifications, not to mention the Japanese language documentation and limited warranties. Proceed with caution.


BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF TOKYO FROM MORI TOWER

A holiday is not complete without checking out the breathtaking view of the city from a vantage point.

In Tokyo’s case, you have several options such as the Tokyo Tower and the Skytree.

To maximise the experience, head over to the Roppongi Hills and climb up the 238m Mori Tower Observation Deck.

Later, visit the Mori Art Museum for a Japanese arts experience.

Admission for both Observation Deck and Mori Art Museum is ¥1,800 (RM71).

Open until late at night, the Mori Art Museum showcases artistic ideas from around the world as well as modern art exhibitions in various genres, including fashion, architecture, design, video and photography.

On the same floor as the Observatory is the Mori Arts Centre Gallery that features a myriad of artistic works, from travelling exhibitions to manga and motions pictures.


GO SENTO!

In the old days, it is said that the Japanese find it socially important to go to public baths.

However, it is quite common for some Japanese households to not have a private bathroom, hence, the sento (public bath house).

When my Airbnb host informed me that my accommodation doesn’t have a bathroom, I had expected the sento to be something like a gym locker room with individual stalls. Boy, was I in for a big surprise.

Nonetheless, albeit the initial discomfort of having to bathe in the buff with other women (they don’t allow sarong in the shower), I did learn a lesson about being comfortable in my own skin and knowing that everyone is unique in their own shapes and sizes.

I am also thankful for the fact that the average woman is not shaped like Beyonce.

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