After years of waiting, I finally got to visit “the land of the rising sun” with Phil. Did it meet my expectations? – it blew them away. It is everything I imagined and so much more. From spectacular scenery to the lit up night life of Tokyo- Japan has something for everyone and a culture like no other. Each day of our trip was filled with new discoveries and Japan is definitely one of my favourite places in the world.
Tokyo – Day 1 – 5
Our three week trip began on arrival at Haneda airport, Tokyo. After some trepidation about language barriers, we were pleasantly surprised that a lot of people did speak English and fortunately all station signs were translated. Somehow, despite our jet lagged state, we managed to find the way to our hotel fairly easily. We were staying at “Hotel My Stays” in Asakusabashi – I have to admit that this was largely due to the budget accommodation, but we ended up loving the area. After dropping our bags, (check in wasn’t for another 6 hours), we explored the area, taking a lovely walk northwards along the river, through a park and to the famous Sky Tower.
After stopping for some lunch, we headed to the Kameido Tenjin Shrine to view the wisteria in bloom and watch Terrapins sun bathing! Feeling dead on our feet, we headed back to the hotel to check in and crash out. This was our first taste of Japanese accommodation. If I were an estate agent, I would describe the hotel rooms as cosy and compact – basically a capsule bathroom with a bedroom too small to swing a cat in! For the price though, the room was great, had a mini fridge and kettle and free washing and drying facilities within the hotel. All accommodation in Japan seems to provide every kind of toiletry item you could want from shower caps to razor blades, so don’t worry if you forget to pack a toothbrush!
Tokyo, and Japan generally, is given a somewhat unfair reputation as being expensive. We are fairly budget travellers, but found Tokyo no more expensive then any other capital city, and if you eat in restaurants outside the main districts, food was actually really good value for money.
Feeling somewhat refreshed, we spent the next few days continuing our exploration of Tokyo. We were lucky enough to have warm weather and could enjoy being outside! Towards the end of April temperatures were in the early 20s in the day but dropped to about 12 degrees at night – so if you are packing, make sure you have layers!
Our hotel was near the beautiful old district of Asakusa. The main attraction was the Sensoji Buddhist temple. It is one of the only temples we found that we could get our written fortune (Omikuji) told in English. After putting some money in a box, you pick up a large silver tube, and shake it like a cocktail shaker until a wooden stick falls out a small hole in the bottom. The wooden stick has a Japanese symbol on it, which you then have to match up to the symbol on hundreds of tiny drawers, pull out the drawer and take your paper fortune. If you receive an unfavourable fortune, you should fold the strip of paper and tie it to a nearby wall of metal wires. Our fortune read in somewhat broken English that didn’t quite make sense:
“Medium Fortune. An old crane try to stay on a branch of the high tree, to take a rest. We are too weak to defend, like take off from the shooting arrow at night (shoot arrow at night can’t catch any animal). The danger attack you both from back and front. Outside seems to be safe but be aware of the danger inside. *Your request will not be granted *The patient is hard to get well * The lost article will not be found *The person you wait for will not come * Be careful in building a new house and removal * Believe the Budda *To start a trip is bad *Stop any kind of marriage or employment”
Not the greatest fortune to receive on day 2 of your holiday – “to start a trip is bad”. I can gladly say that this didn’t come true!
After exploring the temple, we wandered the old streets lined with small niknak shops, before heading to Ueno park. There was a small festival on so we were able to watch and listen to some bizarre amateur stage entertainment and have some snacks and beer from food stalls. Ueno park is lovely and has a baseball pitch (it is a big sport in Japan), and a huge lake which was lovely to walk around at twilight.
The following day we visited the famous Akihabara district of Tokyo. Famous for its electronic shops and otaku culture, we were told there are many anime and manga shops there. However, to be honest we were a little disappointed. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but I thought there would be more people dressed as characters from games and some interactive things to do. After a short wander around and being offered flyers for maid cafes – by Japanese girls dressed as maids, we left the area and headed to the Imperial Palace.
The Imperial Palace is located centrally near Tokyo Station and is set in a large park surrounded by moats and huge stone walls. You cannot enter the actual palace grounds, but can just wander the park and garden areas. A pleasant stroll and a great place for a picnic, but if you are short for time, not a must see attraction.
We awoke early one morning to head to the famous Tsujuku market – a wholesale market for fish, fruits and vegetables and one of the largest in the world. It is soon to move to a new site outside of the main city, so we were fortunate enough to visit it while it is still easily accessible. There are huge numbers of stalls with all sorts of weird and wonderful seafood on offering!
After enjoying a leisurely stroll, we continued on to the Rainbow Bridge – a suspension bridge crossing Tokyo Bay onto the man made island of Odaiba. We decided to walk across this during the day, which is somewhat of a mistake unless you like walking alongside dual carriageway traffic and inhaling pollution. Supposedly at night the lit up views of Tokyo are amazing, but sadly we didn’t get to view these from there. We set up a base in a park opposite the Fuji Television studios for a picnic and afternoon nap before enjoying a stroll on the beach and ice creams. We then got in an expensive futuristic ferry boat for a ride back up the river to our hotel, stopping off for a yummy sweet red bean fish on the way (definitely have to try one)!
The following day we waved a fond farewell to Tokyo and headed in the direction of Mt Fuji…