As Tokyo is the main point into Japan it is often required to stay a night at the beginning or end of an itinerary. For the second-time visitor this is no issue as the city offers so much, you can never get bored, and there is always something new to discover. We have put together some awesome activities from our latest trip that are well worth another stay in the capital.
Real Life Mario Cart
Only in Japan would you expect to see people go carting on the main roads of Tokyo, dressed as various Mario Bros characters! Having seen this ourselves last time we visited we decided that it would be rude not to give it a go on our next visit, especially as only minimal admin of getting an international drivers licence was required. Booking through the entrepreneurial Maricar company, we chose one of their many shops as a start point and picked our course for two hours of go carting madness!
Arriving at the shop you first pick out your preferred outfit, for Guy Mario was the obvious choice and I decided on Yoshi. Following that difficult decision, we joined the rest of our group for a quick safety briefing and demo of how the carts work. Having never been go carting in my life the prospect of my first time being on main roads of one of the most populated cities of the world was a little daunting, but my fears were soon replaced by a broad smile that stuck to my face for the entire tour.
Off we went following our guide in a single file line at speeds of up to 50kph, tearing through the Tokyo streets among the usual city traffic. Our route took us past the Tokyo Tower, through Roppongi, Harajuku and over the busy Shibuya crossing. Our guide pointed out the main sites, and points of interest along the way, as well as taking plenty of photos of us so we didn’t have to worry about that as well as driving. Everywhere we went we were photographed, waved and cheered at, giving plenty of honks in return! Returning to the shop we got some good speed up and ended the tour on a fast, exhilarating route, pumped full of adrenaline and endorphins. A truly unique experience, very Japanese, absolutely unforgettable, and at times completely mental!
Teamlab Borderless: Digital Art Museum, Odaiba
Not into art?! No problem this is a completely immersive experience, an assault of the senses, truly mesmerising. It is almost impossible to really get across this experience in words so I will rely mainly on our photos. The Borderless exhibit is set in a warehouse, a huge complex of artworks that free flow into one another. In the darkness different rooms and areas appear from seemingly nowhere and the ever-changing lightshow, created by 470 projectors, encourages you to connect with the art and explore a border less world.
Always beautiful, bright and colourful, sometimes calming, sometimes engulfing, loud, and interactive, each door you enter offers a different experience. The whole thing is enjoyably disorientating, popping out of rooms and finding new ones, or stumbling across rooms you had already seen but that are now unrecognisable from your last visit.
In some areas you become part of interactive works, a projected waterfall flows around you as you lean on a wall, or a kaleidoscope of butterfly’s flutters onto you. Becoming lost in the artwork (sometimes literally), time seems to slow in the fluid landscape, and inspires a calm awe as you meander your surroundings. An incredible experience, book ahead for tickets.
As a bonus Odaiba is on an island across the river from the main part of Tokyo and has amazing night time scenery of the city skyline from the Tokyo Bay beach. Well worth a visit for the famous rainbow bridge views and reflections on the water.
Day trip to Mt Fuji and Hakone
If you fancy getting out of the city for a day this is a fantastic option for a day trip. Best and easiest option is to book on to one of the many tours doing this route from Tokyo. We picked JTB’s Sunrise Tours for the occasion. Meeting in Tokyo it’s a case of sit back and relax as the bus travels the couple of hours out to the familiar shape of the Mt Fuji volcano. On the way we were regaled with a short history of Japan, a brief language lesson, and some tips and tricks from our wonderful guide.
Arriving at the base of Mt Fuji, or Fuji-san as it’s known, we drove the Subaru line through the Aokigahara forest, or Sea of Trees. The forest has such iron rich soil that compasses do not work, and the trees have very little soil to grow in which means roots spread across the ground and interlock. The forest floor is blanketed with a fine layer of moss that gives a picturesque other-worldly look to the place. The forest has the unfortunate reputation as a popular suicide site in Japan, the knowledge of which only compounds the eerie feeling.
Working our way up above the tree line we were greeted with views of the surrounding towns and plains, on a clear day you can see all the way back to Tokyo. Hopping out at the top of the road, the 5th station, Fuji-san itself greeted us in the sunshine through teases of passing cloud. There are some obvious tourist traps at the station but behind these lies a lovely little shrine and from here we could see back to the dominating summit above us. Being the beginning of autumn, we had a bare Fuji whereas the postcard views often include a snow-capped peak, but the terrain and mineral colours of the volcano were clearly visible, we hoped that the overdue eruption did not happen on our watch!
Back at the base of the volcano, a beautifully presented Japanese set menu was included in our tour at a local hotel. The Teishoku is a traditional meal that usually involves a miso soup, rice, a side dish and a main dish all served as a set. Intrepidly, we tried all the offerings with mixed results, highlights included udon miso, chicken karaage, tempura vegetables, and Japanese omelette. On the more questionable side what looked like a hexagonal pebble turned out to be a block of dried wheat gluten, the texture of which did not agree with either of us!
Following our adventurous lunch, we had some time to digest as we rolled through the countryside toward the huge caldera that encompasses the area of Hakone. It is a wonderful place to visit for the onsen (hot springs) because of all the geothermal activity in the area. No time for this on our trip though as we boarded a boat and were ferried across Lake Ashi. Fuji-san had become quite shy, and retired behind a band of cloud, but the lake itself is stunning surrounded by forest and mountains. We disembarked at the Komagatake Ropeway and boarded a slightly dilapidated looking cable car to the peak.
At the top of Komagatake is a small shrine and a couple of impressive viewpoints. Views were far reaching, to the east the Sagami-nada Sea with its little islands leading toward Tokyo Bay, and to the west Suruga Bay, Izu Peninsula and the beautiful Lake Ashi below. The wonderful coastal scenery could only have been outdone had Fuji-san reappeared. As we ended our tour back at the base we counted ourselves lucky we had seen so much in the day and that Fuji-san had been so obliging to pop out from the clouds in the morning. On the long drive back to Tokyo we did what all Japanese seem to have mastered on their public transport systems, and enjoyed a well-deserved nap!