Konnichiwa from Japan!

Trip Start Aug 07, 2011
Trip End Jul 14, 2012

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Flag of Japan  , Kanto,
Thursday, April 5, 2012

'Andy-San' here today!

Well, after a tiring flight where we left Hanoi at 23:30, stopping in Seoul at 5am where we waited (and tried to doze a bit) until our flight at 9am to Tokyo. We finally arrived into Tokyo airport at 11:30am! It took us a bit of time to figure out the very colourful subway map and what fare to pay and so we finally made it to our hotel in Kiba, on the east side of Tokyo, at around 2pm.

We were looking forward to our accommodation in Tokyo because we'd booked ourselves into a 'capsule'.  Capsules are very small pre-fabricated rooms that are basically the same size as a bed (either single or double depending on what you're after) - we went for a semi-double. In each unit you get a mattress, bedding, a clock to wake you up, a small TV and power for your electical items. Granted when you see them they resemble an oven (according to mum & dad) or a morgue (according to Jon), but to be fair what else do you need? Capsules are also the cheapest accommodation around and so in such an expensive country like Japan they are amazing value for travellers.

What we didn't realise was that these places are also used by many Japanese, mainly businessmen who perhaps have missed their last train home after a night on the lash. 

After arriving you soon realise that the Japanese are very much into their cleanliness.  When we arrived at the hotel we were each handed towels, a set of blue Japanese-style PJs and a pair of disposable slippers. We didn't think people actually wore them, and even if they did we thought it would only be in the bathroom or in bed. But no......the Japanese wore the PJs and disposable slippers throughout the entire hotel - down at reception, in the lift, in the cafe, and around the capsule area! 

Well, when in Rome...!

It's not long in Japan before you see something new and fascinating......toilets!   Bare with me! It's amazing how much thought has actually gone into the toilet over here - as you walk in, the toilet talks to you (in Japanese mind so I've no idea what it actually says), it plays music so people outside can't hear your business, it washes and dries you when your done and even flushes automatically when you stand up! You don't have to touch anything - ohhh the cleanliness!   I was sold on these loos as soon as I sat down - three words......'heated toilet seat!' Bliss!

Anyway, we really needed a shower, so it was time to put the Japanese-style robes to use. It was in the bathroom that I realised the Japanese also love being naked....for cleanliness reasons obviously.....for here they have communal showers (preparing us for the Onsens or hot springs later on in our trip no doubt). It kind of felt like being back at school, but there you used to just run through the shower as fast as you could from one end to the other so as to be naked for the least amount of time possible (too much info?). Anyway, there was a nice big jacuzzi and a good hot shower - where they provided you with a small stool to sit on while you wash yourself, how thoughtful! Best of all I got to put on my Japanese-style PJs, although the pants were a little short and tight!

Anyway, after making good use of the facilities we tried to get some rest as we were meeting up with Fran's friend, Zareen, from Virgin at 6pm who was in Japan celebrating her dad's 60th birthday. We were meeting Zareen at her hotel, the Park Hyatt, and because we were a little late it took us a while to find her as she was wandering the hotel trying to find us! For those of you who recognise the Park Hyatt, it has a famous bar on the 52nd floor called the 'New York Bar' which is the one from the film 'Lost In Translation' (obviously Fran had to tell me that) and so we just had to head there! 

When we got up to the 52nd floor the view of the Tokyo skyline at night was simply stunning!

After a good old catch up, a couple of drinks and a gawp at the view we left to get some dinner. It wouldn't be our first night in Japan without some sushi so we headed to the nearest decent place and found a lovely couple of streets full of sushi restaurants all covered in bright neon lights. The sushi was nice and fresh which made it delicious!

The evening ended all too quickly and we were knackered from the flight so we walked Zar back to her hotel and caught the last train home at midnight (reminds me of nights out in London)! We got in at 1am and just collapsed into the capsule!

The next day, Tuesday, we had a deserved lie in and didn't really get going until midday.  We found a local food court which did a good value breakfast and so decided to eat there. Afterwards we tried to find some wifi to update the blog, strangely unsuccessfully though! In SE Asia you could literally get wifi everywhere and so you'd expect that you'd be able to find it in one of the most technologically pioneering countries in the world!  Sadly we've since found out you struggle to find it anywhere here, so be prepared for sporadic blog updates!

After our unsuccessful wifi venture we headed back to the hotel to pick up our waterproofs as it looked like rain was on the way. As I walked past the receptionist she asked if I would like to borrow an umbrella as (I quote) "there's a hurricane at 3pm!"

Yes.....she definitely just said the word 'hurricane'!

So I thanked her for the umbrella and hoped she meant a 'storm' was coming at exactly 3pm rather than a hurricane.  Anyway, it was a little windy outside as we headed to the subway to go to Asakusa. When we got to the platform it was heaving with business people. We wondered why because rush-hour was a long way off. We later found out that the Government had advised people to get out of Tokyo by 3pm because the "hurricane" may cause disruption to the transport network. When we got on the train it was literally every man for himself as everyone pushed and crammed their way onto the train like a herd of cattle.  It was worse than the London rush hour by a country mile!

When we got to Asakusa and looked back at the train it was like those viral pictures you see on emails with peoples' faces crammed up against the doors and window. Quite funny really!

We made it out of the station and headed straight for the temple of Sensō-Ji.  By this time it was really windy and drizzly outside with masses of people still trying to get out of Tokyo before the weather properly deteriorated.  We passed the great Kaminari-Mon or "Thunder Gate", after which we walked down the parade of shops selling souvenirs towards the temple itself. The temple was nice enough and clearly very well maintained. After a look inside we wanted to head to the Amuse Museum, mainly because there are great views of the surrounding area. Unfortunately there was a sign outside saying it was closed due to the storm warning! Boo!

At that point the rain started falling a little harder and in the distance there were pretty dark clouds looming so we thought we'd better head back to the capsule!  Two minutes later and it was chucking it down so we just pegged it to the station as quick as we could, arriving pretty wet! 

As soon as we got in we showered, briefly chatted to mum and dad on Skype before chilling out to sit out the storm. By 8pm it had died down somewhat and so we headed out to find some food locally. We ended up in a grill place where we ate a  random combo of breaded pork parmagianni with rice and spaghetti in tomato sauce. There wasn't much else around Kiba in terms of nightlife so we headed back to the capsule and bed.

The next day, Wednesday, we had a full day planned courtesy of  'Francesca Tours'. We did some much needed admin in the morning and then headed to Tokyo station to pick up our Japan Rail passes and to have lunch on the famous Rāmen Street before wandering around the Imperial Palace. The rāmen was so tasty but the funny thing was you ordered your food at this vending machine-style unit before entering the restaurant, yet there was still a waiter - innovative or a little pointless? 

Afterwards we walked the short distance to the Imperial Palace. First of all we walked around the Palace Plaza where the first thing you notice is the massive moat around the palace grounds.  We wanted to go inside the grounds to go see Edo Castle but unfortunately it was closed this day.  Instead we headed straight for the corner called Nijūbashi, where two bridges span the moat and a small watchtower on a grey stone pedestal lies behind them. We could see why the book calls it one of the most photogenic corners of the palace grounds!

We continued on 'Francesca Tours' around the west side of the palace grounds, along the side of the moat through various oriental-style gates and bridges and headed towards the Military Cemetery which we'd read has a good showing of cherry blossom trees at this time of year. After a half hour walk we were there and the cherry blossom itself was beautiful - exactly what we'd come to see! It was also great to see it busy with Japanese people really celebrating the cherry blossom season by picnic-ing, sipping wine and taking A LOT of photos of the pretty surroundings.

After walking around the entire Imperial Palace we headed for the area of Ginza, which is home to all the posh shops - a bit like Bond Street back home. On a travellers budget there's no point even looking in these shops so we headed straight for the Sony Building, and although we couldn't buy anything here it was still great to have a look at all the technology they were bringing out. To be honest I expected more futuristic stuff but hey-ho.

After the Sony building we got on the subway to go to the area called Akihabara, aka 'Electric Town', home to manga (comic books) and anime (animation). It was a fascinating place, full of bright lights and neon signs. Weirdly there were old-school SEGA signs everywhere - I thought that company went bust years ago. Anyway, really it's called Electric Town because it's the discount shopping area for all goods of the electrical variety. We went into this 8-storey building where every floor was just jam-packed with electrical goods from TVs to phones to cameras....it was unbelievable and a techno-freaks heaven!

Afterwards we wanted to go into a manga cafe which is where you pay a fee to watch an anime movie, have some food and a cheeky beer. We saw this sign by a shop saying DVDs, CDs etc and so thought we'd go in and check out what anime movies they had available. The guide book mentioned that most anime movies are in Japanese but some cafes have English versions and so when we walked in Fran went straight to the bloke at reception and asked,

"Do you have anything in English?"

Meanwhile I thought I'd look around....the first thing I see is a cover of a DVD with a larger Japanese lady pleasuring herself with some accessories. I thought, "perhaps I've just stumbled across the adult section in the shop".

No no - in fact every section was the adult section! Ah! 

It was at this point that Fran had finished her question to the guy. He just looked at us, shook his head (presumably saying "no English, no English" in Japanese) and calmly opened the front door to usher us out - and that was that.

Fran had no idea why she'd been ushered out until I told her on the street outside that she'd in fact gone into a Japanese porn shop and asked the shop attendant whether he had anything in English! Priceless!

After that debacle there was nothing else to do but go for a glass of wine as it was now 7:30pm. We had lovely glass of red, chatted and laughed our heads off at the days sightseeing!

We caught the subway home, did some washing and went to sleep. We wanted an early night as we were getting up at 3:45am to go to the Tokyo fish market at 4am the next morning. Unfortunately doing the washing meant we didn't get to bed until about 23:30...oops!

The 3:45am alarm went off far too early on Thursday morning, to which Fran and I both responded, 'this ain't happening!'. A sensible 5 hours later we woke up a bit more lively-looking. We were meeting one of my best mates, Joe, who was one of my ushers at our wedding at 12pm so we headed out as soon as we were ready. We were meeting Joe in the area of Shinjuku. We arrived around 11am, which gave us a bit of time to do some much needed clothes shopping! Fran wants us to look at least semi-respectable when we meet her extended family in Korea....well, I wouldn't want to be in their bad books! 

We were late for Joe (standard Frandy!) but so was he (standard Joe!) so all was good. We hadn't seen him since the wedding so it was great seeing him and slightly weird it being so far away England! We'd decided that we wanted to go see the cherry blossom in Shinjuku Gyoen, one of Tokyo's most beautiful gardens.  

We sat down on the grass to have lunch in the gardens and it was wonderful. The trees were full of blossom at different stages of blooming and it was great to catch up on all the gossip. It was like being back home in one of the parks in London. After lunch we wandered about the gardens chit-chatting, laughing and taking pictures. It was a busy day in the gardens with plenty of locals checking out this year's cherry blossom.

We'd spent much of the afternoon chilling in the gardens and at around 4:30pm we decided to head towards Meiji-jingū, one of Japan's Shinto shrines. Joe thought the walk to the shrine reminded him of Kyoto as we strolled up a wide gravel path through dense forest. The shrine itself was nice enough, quite under-stated really, and as Joe had to get to a pre-wedding dinner we didn't spend too long here.

We soon left and headed towards the subway to go our separate ways.  It was great to see Joe and to have a good catch-up, the conversation is never dull when we're together. As always it's difficult to say goodbye but strangely you get used to it.

It was around 5:30pm when we left Joe and, having not seen the famous lights of Shibuya we headed there to take a look. After a customary photo of the now famous diagonal zebra-crossing, we tried to find a bar but to no avail so we headed back to the now familiar capsule.

We spent the rest of the evening chilling, and this time we did go to bed early as the next day was our last day in Tokyo before we headed to Mount Fuji and so we had to get up and make sure we got to the famous Tsukiji fish market. They only let a maximum of 120 people in to see the fish auction so you have to be in the queue by 4:15am to stand any chance of getting a ticket to see it!

Best get to sleep then!  Tomorrow we head to Mount Fuji after our trip to the fish market. I can't believe our time in Tokyo is almost at an end! We've absolutely loved it here though. Yes, it's a completely mad place but it's so amazingly cool you just get sucked in and seeing two of our close friends here also made it a pretty special visit!

Well, until next time, this is Mahoney signing off!
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