So “What’s Cool for Teens” in Tokyo? Pretty much everything in Tokyo is cool, according to my 16-year old son, so this story shouldn’t be very hard to write.
Shinjuku is a good place to start. Bright lights big city and all that ”“ this is the Tokyo that most people recognize from its moments in Hollywood.
Below them, there are busy streets lined with shops, karaoke bars, games arcades and a huge range of eateries selling ramen, barbeque and katsu.
Close to the enormous bustling station the laneways are particularly good fun to explore. There you’ll find alleys no wider than corridors filled with bars and barbeque hole-in-the-wall cafes no bigger than a wardrobe.
And across the road, more bright lights, gaming arcades and a restaurant like no other: Robot Restaurant. Here, giant fembots greet you at the entrance, dancing along to a loud rock band dressed a bit like Power Rangers.
This is dinner and a show. A floor show that starts with platinum blond sequined bikini-clad taiko drummers, followed by a sequence of stories that involve dinosaurs, gladiators, ninjas, motorbikes, giant fembots and eventually a shark-riding mermaid who saves the world.
The next day we venture out to Tokyo Disney Resort ”“ a Disneyland like no other, where the people-watching is just as much fun as the rides themselves.
It’s Spring Break when we visit, and hordes of teenagers have descended on the place, all dressed up in mouse ears and matching costumes. (There are two Disney theme parks here. Disneyland is better for younger kids while the teens prefer to hang out at Disney Sea.)
The Japanese love of all things “kawaii” (cute) is evident everywhere you look. Girls in matching Minnie Mouse outfits carry collections of teddy bears, with Disney character popcorn cups slung around their necks.
Our next Tokyo highlight involves a very different animation studio to Disney: the Studio Ghibli Museum, in Mitaka. The incredible storytelling and imagery of the Studio Ghibli films are mirrored here at the Museum.
Housed in a building that a child perhaps dreamt up, with secret passageways, tunnels, bridges, spiral staircases and a rooftop garden is”¦ a collection of amazing, well, things.
There are 3D zoetropes featuring Ghibli characters like Totoro, Kiki and the Cat Bus, antique cinema projectors and even stereoscopes. There are working models of some of the crazier robots and flying machines created by Miyazaki, as well as beautiful dioramas made using animation cells.
In a word, it is magical.
Our anime feast continues in Akihabara; Tokyo’s so-called Electric City. The streets here are filled with multi-storey amusement arcades that seem to progress from Taiko drumming and DJ games to more serious online gaming the further up the stairs you venture.
Then there are the biggest comic book stores and that fill in the gaps between gaming arcades and a selection of Manga Caf©s where you can rent a booth to read manga, surf the internet or sleep in reclining chairs.
The final stop in our quest to find all that’s cool for teens in Tokyo is Harajuku. Wander down busy Takeshita Street from the station and check out the 200 Yen shops, Harajuku/Punk clothes shops and gorge yourself silly on a crepe with whipped cream.
Good people-watching fun to be had as you make your way through to larger more mainstream retail outlets such as H&M and GAP, and even more fun wondering at shop names like “Store My Duck’s” and “Sex Pot Tokyo”.
So, there you have it. Most places you go in Tokyo, and indeed Japan, you can’t go wrong with teens. The whole Anime/Manga culture that our kids grew up with is everywhere you look. Even in Disneyland.