It all began with a dream. Who has not desired to visit the Land of the Rising Sun, a country where ancient traditions so naturally fuse with modern life? And there is no better introduction to the country than its capital city – the bustling Tokyo metropolis. When our Group CEO Dato’ Brian Wee announced the “So You Think You Can Design” contest just before the end of the year in 2018, with the main prize being an all-expense paid (including USD 300 spending money!) five-day four-night solo trip to Tokyo, Japan, I knew this was my chance and I had to give my all to win it.
Dato’ Brian wanted to challenge all of us at MIG, whom he affectionately calls “Dream Makers”, to dream big and to experience solo travelling. He believes seeing the world will broaden our horizons and move us out of our comfort zone, and going it alone takes it one step further in building confidence and becoming more independent.
It was like a dream when my name was announced the winner. All those hours poured into completing my animation video around the theme of “Rainbow of Life” paid off! I flew to Tokyo just before Christmas, and it was truly the unforgettable trip of a lifetime.
Here are my Top 10 favourite places and memories from my time in Tokyo:
I finally got to experience for myself the madness that was the Shibuya crossing. Touted one of the world’s busiest crossings – and definitely one of the most photographed ones – it was fascinating to watch the orderly chaos that descends each time the lights change. It is estimated that 500,000 people cross the famous intersection every day. The night life in Shibuya itself is like no other – there are shoppers, tourists, pub crawlers, street buskers – everyone is out on the streets heading somewhere.
Food, food, food! There was no shortage of tantalising food calling out to me from every corner of Tokyo. From restaurants to street food and convenience stores, ramen and sushi to desserts and snacks, I was so spoiled for choice that I wished I had four stomachs to eat everything my eyes feasted on.
No trip to Japan is complete without a visit to the magnificent Mount Fuji, located about 100km from Tokyo City. I was fortunate that the weather was lovely and the sky clear that lovely December morning. I had an amazing view of the majestic mountain renowned for its symmetry and serenity from Hakone, a nearby town famous for its hot springs and lakes.
I made my way to Asakusa, which is known for its historical site complex and an old downtown atmosphere. Nakamise Street, which connects the main gate of Sensoji Temple and the main hall, is known for being a great spot to try traditional Tokyo street food. Many tourists were dressed up in rented traditional Japanese wear and taking photos from all angles.
The Tsukiji market was the biggest fish market in the world, until the Inner Market, which hosted the famed tuna auction, was relocated recently. It was too bad I had to give it a miss, but I enjoyed the Outer Market, which housed many sushi and seafood restaurants, groceries and kitchen utensil shops. The sushi was good, but my new favourite food is the tamagoyaki omelette! It was so fluffy and tasty – I even got myself a second helping.
I realise food features prominently on this Top 10 list, but Tokyo has more to offer than that, such as its parks. Taking a stroll through Yoyogi Park was such a calming experience. It was as if I entered a portal to ancient Japan. I enjoyed the natural beauty of its forested paths, which led me to the temple ground of Meiji Shrine.
Right across from the Yoyogi Park exit is Harajuku – hailed as the centre of Japan’s teenage cultures and fashion styles. I was greeted by a crowd of people swarming Takeshita Street and its many trendy shops blaring contemporary music and promotion announcements, fashion boutiques, crepe stands and fast food outlets. The energy in this place is palpable!
Next up I visited Electric Town Akihabara, famous for its otaku sub-culture (people with keen interests particularly in anime and manga) and all things electronic, from the latest kitchen equipment to unique beauty gadgets. I also passed several themed cafés, such as a maid café and a robot café – where the waiting staff were dressed as maids or robots to serve tea and desserts to customers.
As this was my first Christmas outside Malaysia, I spent Christmas eve in Roppongi admiring the festivities. The town was especially beautiful in the evening with the departmental stores, streets, buildings and even trees lit up and decorated for the holiday season.
I couldn’t leave Tokyo without souvenirs for family and friends back home so I checked out Don Quijote, the undeniable king of discount stores in Japan which has everything under the sun and then some. I walked through aisle after aisle of snacks, cosmetics, medicine, electric products, clothes, household items and souvenirs of course. There was something for everyone!
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