We arrived in Tokyo at lunch-time on Monday after an early flight from Shanghai. On looking out the plane window I was surprised to see how green almost Britain like! The international airport is quite far from the city and the train took us over an hour, but the transport network is easy to navigate and we found our hostel, in the Ueno area, easily. The hostel is an experience in itself, traditional Japanese style with a wooden frame and paper walls, beds are simple mattresses on the floor, and tables that are knee high and one sits at cross-legged. We were pretty knackered so just chilled out and enjoyed the peacefulness of the hostel before going to a nearby noodle bar for dinner – another experience.
On entering the small restaurant you first go to a vending machine where you must press buttons corresponding to what you want – problem is everything is in Japanese! Luckily the chef/waiter spoke basic english and with his help we managed to press the buttons to order noodles with pork, spring onions, and seaweed – the machine printed our order and we handed this to the chef who then promptly cooked and delivered it to us at the bar. Then you mix in your preferred amount of soy sauce, vinegar, and chili before eating – delicious, hands down the best noodles I have had and all for about a fiver a plate.
We slept really well that night, it was so peaceful in our room, and woke feeling refreshed. We ventured out into the city trying to decipher the spiders web like metro map – first stop was at the Tokyo tower, which looks a bit like the Eiffel tower, in the Embassy district. We didn’t venture up the tower but had a walk around the leafy district and some nearby temples, we also found a French bakery so stopped for coffee and croissants 🙂
We then headed to the buzzing electronics district of Shinjuku where we looking to accessories for our camera, but the prices were surprisingly the same (if not slightly more) than back home so we didn’t make any purchases. We visited the large towers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices where we could visit an observatory on the 43rd floor for free for a view over the city. Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t good enough to see Mt. Fuji but nevertheless the city was an impressive sight spanning into the distance.
In the evening we had dinner of skewers of meat, noodles, and salad (interesting to eat with Chopsticks) in an area of small but cosy restaurants before heading to the Golden Gai streets for a drink. The bars here are tiny, big enough for 5 or 6 people only, but have a lot of character and get quite busy late at night – unfortunately at around five quid for a bottle of beer we only stayed for one (backpacker budget and all that!).
Unfortunately next day it was raining hard, and continued to do so all day, regardless we borrowed an umbrella from the hostel and walked to the nearby Asakusa area and visited the Senso-ji temple with its five-storyed pagoda. Japanese temples are a lot more straight lined, organised, and cleaner than it’s Tibetan cousins. We stopped at an a large incense burner where it is said if you waft the smoke onto your body it will heal you – we tried it on Lisa’s back, which has been a bit painful from lifting her backpack!
We then wanted to visit the Sumo museum but it was closed as a fight was taking place at the stadium that afternoon, unfortunately tickets see out very quickly so we- couldn’t go and watch, instead we visited the Tokyo-Edo museum which told us about the history of the city (formerly called Edo) interesting but a bit deep for me. It was time for a sit down so we headed to the Shibuya district and grabbed a coffee and people watched overlooking the busy 5-way pedestrian crossing there, across which the ‘green man’ unleashes a flood of people every few minutes – mesmerising to watch, this was the busy neon lit Tokyo you see on TV.
Today we were up early to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, where pretty much any type of seafood can be bought and caters for most of Tokyo’s restaurants. The scale and energy of the place is crazy with small powered carts buzzing around with crates of fish, it all looked pretty fresh and there were lots of strange looking fish I had never seen before.
There were lots of sushi bars here, but we have avoided eating seafood here for obvious reasons. After a freshen up back at the hostel we headed to the Imperial Palace (where the Emperor lives) gardens which are the only parts of the palace that can be visited and are a peaceful retreat from the busy city, unfortunately it was raining so we didn’t linger long.
This evening we fly to Sydney to begin our Australian adventure. Tokyo has been great, we were a little concerned about visiting it amid the recent catastrophe but there is no sign of that here. The people are amazing, so friendly and polite – sometimes overly, which is very humbling. They are also very clean, meticulously so, they use western toilets with heated seats and lots of strange controls (a bit weird at first!), and there is a lot of attention to detail and efficiency. There is something a little British about their culture, perhaps it is the island mentality – it is very different here to China. I am a little sad to be leaving so soon as it would be good to spend a few weeks here exploring the country, under better circumstances we would like to visit again – get well soon Japan!