Trip Start Oct 03, 2011
28Trip End Dec 25, 2011
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The first indication of what was to come (other than us both being disorganised) was us not checking in properly for the flight, and therefore not sitting together... But, that meant (again as a sign to come) that a lovely old Japanese man started chatting to Amy (he had been to England to visit Worcester as he likes the sauce, and wanted to know the definition of the word 'pesky' as he had seen it related to Boris Johnson in the paper, ha!). As you know, things always turn out sunny side up for us, so someone next to Michael changed seats, leaving Amy to quickly abandon her new friend so she could poke Michael regularly through the flight and complain that she couldn't sleep
Amy was also perturbed by the number of people wearing facemasks both on the plane and in the airport (nothing says 'welcome to my country' like someone who looks like they're worried you are carrying the plague). However, it turns out a lot of Japanese people wear these to be polite, and in fact they may have a cold and just don't want to share it with you.
First impressions of Tokyo are great - pretty much everything is also written or announced in English, and we are given an excellent map of the subway - good job, as the metro has 3 different companies running it, each with their own variety of ticket which isn't quite compatible on the others! The city is strangely quiet, people don't beep their horns or shout or even have loud conversations. It is frowned upon to eat in on the street (bit tricky when you've brought sandwiches) but it means everywhere is really clean. Also, lots of people ride bicycles (not cool ones, proper granny bikes with baskets on the front and the back) which we just weren't expecting in such an urban place.
Japanese addresses are a bit complicated and don't tend to direct you exactly where you need to go, which means you usually need to ask someone, but also means there are maps approximately every 50metres (about how often Amy needs to look at a map before feeling disorientated). We therefore ask for directions to our hostel, and after a couple of false starts, are walked straight to the door by a friendly rival hostel!
It is a lovely hostel, and just what we need as it is now approximately 4am GMT, and we are both flagging
We try some Japanese sweets, with some sort of bean paste on the outside and one with a sweet potato filling and another with a kidney bean paste thing (Amy likes them better than Michael after all her pudding girl training).
There is no doubt Japan is into it's kitsch and cute items, and these border on really really weird. We pass some 'cute' plastic baby dolls in a shop that have almost full body tattoos on them, and later on we spot some Hello Kitty wearing sumo clothing....
Feeling jetlagged, we just have a bit of a wander round the shrine so we're all ready for the next day
We are determined to be more organised the next day (we did sleep in quite a bit on day 2), but when the alarm goes it's so difficult to get out of bed! We had grand ambitions of going to the Tokyo fish market (which finishes at about 8am) and anyone who knows either of us would appreciate this was always going to be a bit too ambitious (especially as with no weetabix, breakfast takes about 4 times as long to eat...
Then we head to some traditional Japanese gardens with a tea house in the middle. Amy is very surprised to see over a dozen parks staff carefully raking the paths and cutting all the grass - you do have to pay to go in though, so maybe that's why they have so many! There do seem to be a lot of people doing jobs that seem a but unnecessary, for example at some fairly straightforward roadworks there are 3 roadbuilders waving 'lightsabre' beacons to direct traffic round all the cones and arrows, which seems a bit like overkill. Still, maybe they just like the lightsabres - who wouldn't?
We go for a stroll to the shopping district of Tokyo but again, are much more interested in the food. We brave ordering some tempura by holding up our fingers and pointing at the menu, and hooray, they bring what we want and it is DELICIOUS! The lightest tempura we've ever had, and also, what we thought were chilli's (Michael is taste tester) are actually okra, yum yum. Also, we manage to eat it with chopsticks, even the rice, so are very smug and pleased with ourselves, despite, I'm sure, a 3 year old from Japan probably being able to clear their bowl better than us
We then called into the Sony Tower to test out some of the latest gizmos Japan has to offer, as Amy perfected her Angry Birds skills on the newest Sony tablet. Next stop is the Imperial Palace Gardens (you're not allowed in the actual palace unless it's a really special occasion I think) but we'd miscalculated this as well and it shuts a lot earlier than we realised. However, we are not disappointed as as soon as we sit down to admire the view of the palace we are approached by a lovely old Japanese man (I should here point out that we have so far been approached several times a day by people just checking we know where we're going and if we need any help. We literally only have to pull a map out and someone will come over and see if we need anything - even if they don't speak any English, they are delighted to point us in the right direction).
However, this man just wants to practice his English, and it's clear he has a few phrases he is keen to try out, frequently clutching his head and chuckling to himself as he tries to remember what the word is that he is after. He tells Michael that he must have had to ask Amy many many times to 'marriage him' before she would agree as Amy's 'splendid beauty' is overwhelming. We are both in stitches as he then carries on complimenting Amy's visage by warning her to watch out for 'molesters' - apparently all these career women in Japan just won't marry so there are lots of young Japanese men who will desperately seek out beautiful women to squeeze on the metro. We tell him Michael will protect Amy, and then he tells us he is going to go home after the best day of his life, but he will have to make sure he doesn't tell his wife about Amy or he will never be allowed out of the house again
Next stop which we have both been looking forward to, is meeting up with Toby & Jenni's cousin Fifi who lives in Tokyo. She takes us out to an informal Japanese restaurant with an amazing atmosphere, sitting on upturned crates round a little burner to cook your own food. Fifi & her lovely friends look after us and have us trying an amazing variety of Japanese dishes, from freshly cooked anchovies to wasabi tuna, some potatoes with fish eggs, rice balls in seaweed wrap, octopus, seaweed salad, fish bone crisps and some Japanese sour plums (Amy likes the first one, which apparently is sweet, so is promptly given an even more sour one!). The food is to die for, so fresh, such amazing flavours. We try and think of what we could give them in England and come up with the bread and dripping sandwiches that they serve at the White Bear in Idle, or maybe some pork scratchings?
We are serenaded by a guitarist who plays us Hey Jude, and then a traditional Japanese "welcome" song which everyone joins in. We catch the last metro home and are again very pleased with ourselves at again managing to negotiate the subway successfully, despite it actually being down to the fact that it has a very simple letters and numbers key which makes it dead easy
Our last day in Tokyo for now, and although it's not sumo season, we really want to go to the sumo museum. After several wrong turnings we are set right by a lady with very little english (sumo is multilingual apparently) and look at all the ceremonial belts and things that sumo wrestlers wear (they get to choose their own to a certain extent which might explain why one is embroidered with what appears to be a prince sitting on a smiley toy dragon). It really does seem a strange sport, almost seems more ceremonial in nature then a quick spot of wrestling, although I'm sure there is a great deal of skill involved and that is a gross oversimplification!
We have to go and catch a train to our next stop, Nikko, but there is so much more we want to see in Tokyo, we can't wait to come back - it feels like you could be here for a year and not do everything you want to.
We miss everybody a lot, keep in touch so we can keep up with all your news.
Love Amy & Michael