The top tip is: just go. It won’t be the futuristic Babylon that you expected but more the projection of the 80s which dreamt of it, and it will be unparalleled (also might not stay this way forever).
Walking down some well-documented neighborhoods -Shibuya, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku and the like- is enough to dose you on vertical neon, food stalls, high fashion, sararimen, shrines, crazy trinkets, nylon umbrellas. Assuming you’ll evening stroll through one or two of those, here are a few extra, focused, things to look up or under for.
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Alleys jammed with tiny izakayas, real sararimen nests. Celebrated ones: Piss alley in Shinjuku, Nonbei in Shibuya, around and under the railway bridge at Shimbashi.
The artificial islands and the bay
Where you realize that everything solid in your field of vision is manmade.
Radio Center electronics mall
Radio Center is a sensation. A small passage close to Akihabara metro station (35.698316, 139.771861). And an old, half-used, three-storied narrow building next to it. Grab it while you still can.
Harajuku station bridge plus summer afternoon. (Not really many, or even a few, cosplay girls, other than pros or tourists in grossly made rent costumes.)
Entrance to Takeshita-dori: the number one tourist site in Japan to safely skip and save time. Unless you’re there for the fake plastic touristy stuff, of course. (The plastic crepe samples do look good, though.)
When most people get ready to leave their job for the day, the stalls and shops of night markets start preparing for business. Around sunset and up to roughly midnight it feels like the whole city is outdoors, having dinner, socializing, playing and shopping in the streets. About a dozen big markets are scattered around Taipei plus every neighbourhood practically has its own, down to a street lined with food stalls every few residential blocks.
One could speak for hours (it has happened) about the energy and character of Taiwanese night markets. But this won’t do them justice.
Indicatively, two of the largest ones are vast Shilin and old Raohe. Locals often consider the large ones too touristy and prefer more earthy ones for their dinner, like Jingmei or Huaxi street, the “snake alley” (the latter is in the old downtown and one can still have snake and its byproducts in there; don’t miss the surrounding alleys; remember, you have cyberpunk tastes). And for your literal street wear there is Wufenpu, all dedicated to clothing.
2. Guanghua electronics market
A day+night market, complete with its alleys and eateries, selling electronics. Enough said. For good measure, right next to it you have the digital plaza, a kind of techie mall. The higher up you go on its floors the lower-level you get, from flagship stores on the ground floor to capacitors on the fifth. Interestingly, there are chances your gadgets will be recommended and your new computer modded by young women here.
(Note that an actual mainstream gamers’ mall opened next to the plaza just recently; but it’s not part of this list.)
Tip: Cash might be your friend.
You are bound to step into a documentary that you never dreamt of adding to your to-do list. Only that it will be real, everyday life.
Even in a clean-cut concert hall, lots of audience participation.
Reenactment in Incheon airport.
Incheon, known for continuously being voted the best airport in the world for eleven years now, offers real incentives for checking in early. They also include live music, of course wifi, and areas for free showers and sleep that must be seen to be believed. I hear you can find free massage armchairs (but I never check in early).