Tokyo

Blossom, temples and lights
Chūō-ku, Japan

 


Breakfast at the hotel was pretty good.

They had a massive selection of Japanese and western food. Japanese eat some weird things for breakfast. I had a bowl of grapes and some super sugary granola!

We caught a taxi back to the Hakone train station, which took about 2 minutes. Then the same return journey – local train back to Odawara. And from Odawara, the final Shinkansen journey into Tokyo.

We were only on the Shinkansen for half an hour and weren’t going to the final stop. Before we knew it, we were pulling into Shinagawa and it was a bit of a rush to get off as we were getting carried away with sitting on the train. We were all on the platform, looking for our guide.

The train was pulling away and she wasn’t there.

She was still on the train.

Hilarious.

Luckily I have data roaming, so looked up the route to the hotel. We had to get another train to Shinbashi, then walk about 1.5km. As soon as we got out of the train station at Shinbashi, we were met with tall buildings covered in brightly coloured signs.

This is the Tokyo you see in photos!

We made it fine, thank goodness for google maps! And arrived at the hotel about 12pm.

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After leaving our bags, we went out for a wander around. Just behind the hotel was a small temple called Atago shrine. Here there was also a small park where office workers were sitting with their bento box lunches under the cherry blossom trees.

There are some very steep stairs leading from the street level up to this temple. There are various legends about riding a horse up these stairs to bring good luck. We headed further down the main road, through another pretty park, again full of people with their cute bento lunches. And ended up with a great view of Tokyo Tower standing behind the Zojo-Ji temple Tokyo tower was constructed in 1958 and is is symbol of post war Tokyo. It looks similar to the Eiffel Tower, and is 13m taller. It is coloured orange and white in order to comply with international aviation safety regulations. The temple was much like all others we have visited. It was constructed in 1393 as a funerary temple of the Tokugawa regime.

The surrounding gardens were more interesting – full of small people statues, which had been dressed up in coloured bibs and hats and given small windmills to hold.

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We quickly got bored of this and with a couple of other girls, I caught a train over to Shibuya. Just outside the station is a statue of a dog called Harajuku which was an Akita dog which came to Shibuya Station everyday to meet his master, a professor, returning from work. The professor died in 1925, but Hachikō kept coming to the station until his own death 10 years later.

This is also the place of the famous Shibuya crossing, also known as the scramble. And is said to be the worlds busiest crossing.

When the lights go green, people come from all directions, heading across the massive road. It s pretty cool.

For lunch, I already had a place in mind that I wanted to go to (my itinerary for the next few days is literally based around where I want to eat!). Unfortunately there was a bit of a queue, so we left our names and went for a bit of a walk.

We ended up in a grabber machine area, they seem to love them here. There are loads of shops just completely full of them. Mostly full of cuddly toys.

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When we returned, our spaces were ready. It was a sushi restaurant. You order what you want on an iPad screen in front of you and your order arrives on a little train which zooms around the restaurant. Pretty cool. I ordered cucumber rolls, dried gourd rolls (sweet pickled gourd – really good!) and some inari pockets, which I’m currently obsessed with. It was fun. There was free green tea. And the food was really good!

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This is the first time I’ve had sushi here. It was pretty cheap too – each plate was about £1. After lunch, we wandered around Shibuya a bit more.

A lot of the shops here are western, and just what we would find at home. But there were a few Japanese stores. Including a Daiso, which is a 100 yen shop selling loads of random bits of everything – food, stationery, kitchenware, sewing things etc. I bought a couple of bits. Tokyo officially reached full cherry blossom bloom 2 days ago. It’s a very big thing here and is taken very seriously. So we have arrived at exactly the right time.

Just north of Shinbuya we found ourselves in Yoyogi park and the cherry blossom party (called hanami) was in full flow. The park was completely jam packed full of drunk Japanese students having picnics everywhere under the trees. It was a pretty big park, but nowhere was empty. They all go crazy for cherry blossom season here!

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We popped along to Harajuku – the area for crazy girly shopping and clothes. And again, unable to move. The famous street – Takeshita street was rammed. Along here are small shops selling cute things, like socks and crepes. It was very touristy and wasn’t quite what I had expected. It was now 4.30pm, so we headed back to the hotel to check in and quickly change. Then back again to basically where we had just come from, to Shinjuku.

It was 6.30pm and the metro was completely jam packed. At each station, we thought the train was full, yet more and more people would push their way on. Japanese people are incredibly polite. Until it comes to getting on a train. And then they just push until they are on. It was a bit ridiculous.

Once we made our way out of the Shinjuku station shopping centre maze, we were hit by all the coloured lights. Everywhere. Every building was lit up. Streets and streets full of lights. And of course people everywhere. Music coming from all the buildings. Noisy pachinko machines (a slot machine / pin ball machine that they are all obsessed with – gambling for money is illegal, but you exchange your balls for money in a separate building and that’s supposedly OK).

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I had forgotten that this was also the red light district. I also didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me, that lots of boys were hanging around. Apparently they want to try and talk to girls. None of them approached us though. Tonight is the last night with the group I’ve been travelling with. For dinner they were heading to a small bar / restaurant which severed meat soul things and more meat. So obviously I wasn’t going there. Luckily there was an awesome looking vegan cafe just around the corner and I had the most amazing burrito – it was beyond delicious! I’ve missed vegetables. One of the girls came with me and we also shared a vegan tiramisu – I have no idea what they put in it, but it was incredible!

Just above the bar that the group was eating at was a love hotel. There are lots of these around, but I haven’t particularly noticed them. Some can be quite elaborate. This one was rather basic looking from the photos plastered on the walls. You could rent a room for between 15 minutes to 2 hours. We were only standing outside waiting for about 5-10 minutes, yet saw nearly 20 people go up and down…! Prostitution is also illegal in Japan, but these people were definitely not couples.

After a bit of a wander around the crazy lit up streets, we met back up with the group and were taken for some night cherry blossom viewing. We were expecting it to be good, as Japanese think cherry blossom is even more beautiful at night and there are lots of special night viewing spots. But disappointingly we were taken to a tiny non-lit up park, with a shrine called Hanazono shrine. It was a bit rubbish.

Thursday 31 March 2016

Today I’m moving to a different hotel for the next 3 nights. Finding a hotel in Tokyo was hard. They are either super expensive. Or super rubbish. So I’ve gone for expensive, but not too expensive.

There are cheaper options – capsules. Which is did quite fancy for maybe 1 night, but not 3! And it’s far too much hassle moving for a third time.

It was just 2 tube stops along to Ginza, where my new hotel was – and luckily I was going against the morning commuters. It was too early to check in, so I just dropped my bags. And jumped back on the metro again!

Back to where I was last night in Shinjuku.

And I headed to the Shinjuku Gyoen park. Here they were checking bags as you went in – no hanami allowed here!

These gardens were originally created in 1906 as an imperial retreat. But today they are open to everyone (for a 200 yen fee!). There were large lawns, paths enclosed by cherry blossom and some beautiful lakes, reflecting the blossom. I spend an hour wandering around the whole park. It was really pretty. As I got towards the Shinjuku side entrance, there were so many people. Seems I was leaving at a good time.

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The queue to get in was crazy, all the way back down the street for quite a long way. When I lived in Malaysia, my favourite supermarket was the Isetan in KL. it was expensive. But it sold so much stuff, including Nutella! Which was a necessity back then. It is a Japanese brand and I was excited to find the department store version in Tokyo! There is only one here. It was much like a normal department store, selling the usual handbags, make up and clothes. But what I wanted was the food. Of course.

All department stores and shopping centres always seem to have supermarkets in the basement. And this was no exception. They had everything – fancy stalls of mochi, tea, other desserts, meats, dried fish, crackers, expensive fruit. And a disappointing selection of soy milk. Really that’s all I wanted.

So I left and headed off to the Meiji-Jingu shrine. This is supposedly Tokyo’s grandest Shintō shrine. Originally constructed in 1920 in the middle of a large woodland park, the shrine was destroyed in WWII air raids and rebuilt in 1958. The entrance is marked by a 12m tall wooden torii gate. The walk through the woodland was nice. Nearer the temple was a large pile of bamboo covered sake caskets.

The temple itself again was very similar to the millions I’ve already seen. So wasn’t too exciting. Just as I was planning to leave, someone was shouting after me. I don’t usually entertain people shouting at me as it almost always involves some kind of hassle or someone selling something. But this guy was persistent, so I turned around. Then he shouted, wedding, wedding. And pointed. There was a wedding happening I the temple! That was nice of him to let me know!

The wedding party were walking through the middle of the square in front of the temple, they were all super smart and all the guests were wearing black. It looked more like a funeral. Must be pretty important to be getting married in the main temple in Tokyo!

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From here I went down Omote-Sando street. This is a street, similar to Oxford street in London, full of shops. After a while, I headed off the main street and through some of the back alleyways. Along here were cute small shops and lots of organic cafes. But the one I was headed for – Brown Rice.

It’s run by Neals Yard, which is an English brand – but randomly here they have a cafe. And it’s vegan. Awesome. The cafe was so cute – lots of trees and smart wooden tables. I ordered the set lunch, which arrived on a nice bamboo tray. There was some miso soup, brown rice, tofu and a random selection of unknown vegetables! It was really good.

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I wasn’t particularly hungry after my large lunch. But there was another vegan restaurant nearby. Which sold vegan icecream. And there is always room for icecream! It was a bit expensive – £4!! But icecream. It came with caramel sauce and caramel biscuits and was amazing!

From here, I caught the metro back to Ginza, by my new hotel. I was going to wander around a few of the shops here. But I was too tired. And it was already gone 3pm. So I just went to check into my new room – which was so nice.

At 5pm I put on some clothes which weren’t leggings (first time all trip..!) and headed back out again, on the tube back over to the Shinjuku area. It was surprisingly quiet compared to the packed metro yesterday. Being an hour early seems to make a difference!

The area just west of Shinjuku is full of offices and tall high rise buildings. I got lost trying to find the Park Hyatt hotel, but eventually made it by 6pm, in time to meet a friend.

We were heading up to floor 52; the New York bar.

I had read about this bar before coming to Tokyo (it’s famous because it was used for the film Lost in Translation. Which I’ve not seen). Randomly I also saw an article about it in the airline magazine on the flight to Korea – being listed as one of the best 10 bars in the world (according to that magazine).

We were there just before sunset, so watched the grey city slowly light up. I had a cocktail – sake, Sakura and peach – sounded quite Japanese. But there were no Japanese people in this bar!

Afterwards, we hopped back on the metro, around to the northern part of the city – Ueno. For some proper night time cherry blossom viewing. Ueno park is famous for its evening time hanami. And there were people everywhere. This time, office workers. Still in their suits. Sitting across tarpaulin laid all across the floors. Tables are banned, so people had fashioned them out of cardboard boxes.

There are lots of rules for hanami – no music, no selling food, no tables, no chairs, rubbish has to be put into particular bins. The bins had 6 compartments for the various different recycling options!

The blossoms were nice, here they were lit up along one of the main paths. But it was so busy and loud! There were a couple of temples dotted around the park, which too were all lit up and it was really pretty. After wandering around the park, we headed back towards the train station. As the zoo is nearby, a lot of the food places sell animal themed foods. In the bakery there were panda and lion breads – cute! The metro was nice and quiet this time, headed back down to the hotel. I got back about 9.30pm and was exhausted!

Friday 3 April 2016

This morning I headed off for some more cherry blossom viewing. But this time, along the western side of the imperial palace. It’s possible to walk all along the moat, which of course is full of blossom.

As I wandered along, it got better and better. And busier and busier… The floor of the small park that I was in was covered in tarpaulin, laid out in little squares. On each square was 1 person, sitting (or laying) waiting. Some were even in suits, little chairs and with their laptops. I guess they are reserving their spot for their friends for the hanami later!!

And it’s only 9am!

There was a bridge across the moat, from here were great views along, the banks of the moat were full of flowers. They think of everything here, there were women handing out cherry blossom sweets and tissues. I really needed the tissues!

Along the northern side, the moat widens out and it’s possible to rent a small rowing boat to have a bit of a paddle around under the trees. It looked so beautiful. But there was a huge queue. And I was alone, so no point! I walked all the way around edge of the western side of the moat until I reached the next metro stop.

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At which point, I ducked out of the crowds and headed up north, to the Asakusa area. My first stop, the Kappabashi kitchen street. Here they sell everything to do with kitchens. Bowls, plates, cups, chopsticks, cookie cutters, pans, bento boxes, rice cookers, and all kinds of things for restaurants. I wandered up and down before deciding what I wanted. I ended up with a cute bento box, some plates, bowls and cups.

And my bag now weighs a tonne. It was so fun. I spotted a supermarket so popped in for some bananas (no soy milk) and outside they were selling sweet potatoes which had just been cooked on some coals. I bought one – it was quite expensive at £2, but it was huge. And so hot. It was quite a while before it had cooled enough to start eating. But it was good! These small streets are full of restaurants and small shops. I was stopped by a tv crew, who asked if they could interview me. Bit random. I looked a mess and was halfway through my sweet potato…! They asked me a few questions – where I was from, where I had been, what I had bought and what I liked about Japan. Simple enough!

I eventually made my way to the Senso-ji temple.

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This one was cool. Bright red, surrounded by a small garden, a pagoda and hundreds of food stalls. The food stalls sold some of the normal things – octopus balls, sweet potato chips, and some different things – bananas covered in chocolate and biscuits!

The next place I was looking forward to – Akiba. The centre of Tokyo’s otaku (geek) culture. Here there are shops full of manga (Japanese comics) and anime (Japanese animation). I was expecting lots of Pokemon.

But maybe that’s a bit old news, there was none, which was disappointing. I went into a few of the arcades, these were largely full of grabber machines again. With a few games machines dotted about. Also lots of vending machines selling pods, which contain a plastic toy. The kind of thing that is exciting when you are 5 years old. I’m not sure why they are obsessed with them here! Of course, everywhere was colourful and bright. Music playing from everywhere.

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And girls in maid costumes, trying to get people to visit a maid cafe. These looked quite cute – they serve food in cute shapes, teddy bear shaped rice etc. But apparently they are a fine line from prostitution. I didn’t go to one, none of the food is vegan!

From here, it was just one stop down on the train to Tokyo station. Of course, there is a vegan restaurant here. So I had a 3pm second lunch! Vegan ramen! I’ve not been able to eat ramen anywhere else, as they always use a meat or fish base to the soup. But here, they don’t! And it was good! A peanut and soy soup, full of noodles and boy choi. Yum.

I needed to pick up my train ticket for the train to the airport in a couple of days time. I had already reserved it and went to the JR rail desk to pick it up. But apparently the wrong desk. I waited at 4 different desks to be told each one was wrong. Argh! I finally found the right one and ended up queueing for nearly half an hour before I managed to get my ticket. What a palava.

I walked from here back to my hotel. I popped into a few shops enroute. Including an expensive fruit shop. Fruit is a luxury item here and is often given as a gift. Usual prices seem to be around £100-200 per melon. £40-100 for a small box of strawberries. £100 for a small box of cherries. The prices are similar everywhere. Absolutely ridiculous. I got back about 4pm, again shattered. I couldn’t be bothered with dinner. So just had some oats and soy milk!

Saturday 2 April 2016

For my last day in Tokyo I fancied a lie in. But I also wanted to go to the fish market, which starts to close from 9.30am…. Each morning there is a tuna auction which starts around 5am. They do let some tourists in to spectate. But I didn’t want to go to watch lots of massive dead fish being sold.

So I left at 9am and made my way over.

It’s only a 15 minute walk from where I’m staying. The market has several parts – the outer market, full of tiny restaurants and food stalls. And the inner market – where the fish trading takes place. Both are chaotic. The outer market full of tourists. And the inner market full of workers zooming around on motorised carts.

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I had a bit of a wander around the inner market. Crates and crates of fish everywhere. Most of the selling had already taken place, so now people were beginning to clear up. Dead tuna dotted around. Crabs. Puffer fish. Scallops. Oysters. Big eye soldier fish. Skate. That’s about all I saw. Thousands of them. And this happens every single day. So much ocean destroyed. In the outer market, there were queues and queues of people waiting outside the tiny ramen and sushi restaurants. Other stalls were selling slices of omelette (also very popular), bonito flakes (dried fish flakes), dried shrimp and tiny fish, knives, cooking things, pickled vegetables and mochi.

So many flavours of mochi that I haven’t seen before – mango, mugwort, plus the usual – Sakura, green tea, red bean of various different kinds. I bought a couple (obsessed with them!).

It was a bit disappointing that there were no fruit stalls, I had read there were some. The tiny alleyways were so packed with people it was difficult to move.

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From here I wandered down the main road towards the metro station, passing a few temples along the way.

I caught a metro across to the other side of town – to Naka Meguro. It took about 20 minutes. And when I arrived, it was chaotic. Police everywhere shouting instructions (in Japanese obviously) and crowds and crowds of people.

Why?

Cherry blossom.

Of course.

Here is one of the prime cherry blossom viewing areas – the trees line a small canal which runs just behind the train station. The canal runs for a couple of kilometres. Completely covered in trees. And pink lanterns which have been hung along the length of the canal. Food stalls were being set up along the streets, ready for another cherry blossom party. I walked along the canal for a while, but soon got fed up of the crowds! As nice as it is, I’ve seen so much cherry blossom…!

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So I went down a few side streets, away from the blossom, and ended up on a main shopping street road. And back to the station. Just a couple of stops along to Roppongi. This apparently used to be a not so nice area, but there has been lots of redevelopment over the past few years. It’s now full of high rise developments and shopping centres. Everywhere was a shopping centre. It’s a bit confusing. But I found my way and after checking out a few supermarkets, I sat down for some lunch at the vegan cafe I was headed to!

Last week when in Hiroshima, I found so many amazing soy milk flavours (creme caramel, icecream, cheesecake…) and have been trying to find them ever since. And failed. I have been going into every supermarket and convenience store that I find to check out the soy milk situation. And it’s been disappointing. I’ve only found the usual so – plain, plain with no sugar and coffee. Rubbish.

I did buy lots of other random snacks from various different supermarkets though – rice cakes, granola chunks, bananas, pineapple and plain rice. For lunch I had some Japanese curry – brown rice, a brown curry sauce and some vegetables – potato, aubergine, green pepper and sweet corn. It was nice, but not my favourite type of curry. I also got a green juice (!) for later and some noodles to take away – ready for the plane tomorrow! I had a bit of a wander around this area, there was a nice small park, full of flowers and cherry blossom. But this time without the massive crowds!

And I went into a Muji shop (which I know we have in England…!) here they sell slightly different things. And had a whole food section. Some of the packets had a bit of English on them, given their obsession with putting meat and fish into everything, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that even vegetable curry contains chicken…. Back onto the metro for my final metro journey!

And back to Ginza, the area I am staying.

On weekends, the 6 lane road is pedestrianised, which is pretty awesome! It was very busy, people everywhere, but it made the whole thing a lot more pleasant. I wandered around a couple of the department stores. And then to tackle the 12 floor stationery shop. I had been looking forward to this shop. But it was so disappointing. No crazy Japanese stationery. Just expensive imported European things, that I can buy at home. Totally rubbish.

Earlier, I had spotted that Starbucks sold soy matcha. It’s a new thing. And I was so excited! I don’t ever shop in Starbucks. And I’ve not been able to drink matcha in most places as they make it with cows milk. So I found a Starbucks and again was disappointed when they said they had ran out of the soy version. But could make me a cow pus version. Rubbish.

Google told me that there was another Starbucks 1 block away. So I tried there. Also sold out. Another Starbucks 10 minutes away. Also sold out. So I gave up.

I wasn’t going to walk to every single Starbucks. So that was disappointing! It was now 3pm and after another whole day of wandering around, I couldn’t be bothered anymore. So headed back to the hotel. To repack all the millions of (food) things that I’ve bought. And generally do nothing! For dinner I had some pineapple and rice and jam! And a nice early night.

 

Sunday 4 April 2016

Up early today, 5.45am and was planning on walking to Tokyo station, which is only 1.5km away. But my bag has become rather heavy. And it’s raining. So I got a taxi. The taxi too approximately 2 minutes to drive to the station, so lazy!! And cost 1,200 (£7.50). It dropped me around the back of the station, near to the Narita Express platforms – I had struggled to see any signs for it when I was here a few days ago.

A bit of a walk later and by 6.15am I was waiting on the platform ready for my 7am train…! I’m always early for everything. The train was nice and quiet. And took an hour, zooming through grey buildings towards the airport.

The airport was also nice and efficient, and took only 15 minutes to drop my bag and get through scanning and passport. But the selection of shops was rather disappointing. No Starbucks (so no matcha drink that I was looking forward to) and literally nothing to buy. I managed to waste my last £10 on random chocolates. Lucky I’ve already got food for the plane! The plane left on time at 10.30am.

For the 11 hours back to Amsterdam. Food on the journey over had been surprisingly good. So it was rather disappointing that the food in this return journey was awful. Plain rice, with sweet corn and mushrooms. Rubbish. Then they came round with icecream. And no vegan alternative.

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