Part One of My Japanese Adventure
I’ve never been the best at maintaining that elusive work-life balance. I certainly have enjoyed blogging about my recent Agile and UX experiences over the past few months. Similar to recent sitcoms, I too need a mid-season break.
I’m currently embarking on my dream holiday of travelling through Japan with my patient husband who has a sense of direction. It would be unfortunate if I couldn’t share our experiences along the way. Furthermore, it ensures I keep my promise to numerous friends and colleagues to share some of the prodigious photos I’ve taken over the past few days. This piece covers our exploits in Japan’s capital Tokyo.
Having arrived at 7am local time with next to no sleep, myself and the hubby have been doing some initial exploring to ensure we stay awake until our 3pm check-in time. What better way than to explore Tsukiji market. Everyone is exceptionally friendly and welcoming, including this guy!
Although the main market closed a mere one day prior to our arrival, the outer stalls are still selling a variety of delectable treats. I definitely recommend trying out the various fish on a stick, or yakitori. I wasn’t brave enough to try eel livers or crab brains in my jet lagged state, but they did look pretty yummy. The sashimi also looks exceptionally enticing.
Dessert proved to be interesting. My husband’s initial attempt to buy ice cream turned a bit wrong when he came back with a Japanese omelet. I’m not complaining. It meant I could try out matcha mochi with strawberry, which puts UK mochi to shame!
Following check-in and a quick power nap, we’re off to seek ramen. It’s only until you actually try the real thing that you realised what we enjoy as ramen in the UK is not the same. It’s always pork, and is absolutely delicious. Thankfully when ordering food either from cryptic vending machines or vendors, everyone has been exceptionally friendly and helpful. Any attempts to speak Japanese have always been very well received!
Today has mainly been about food and trying to acclimatise to the new time zone. However, in the evening we still found time to explore Shimbashi, housing an array of shops, bars and restaurants.
Among the lights of this amazing city, we have managed to find a steam engine and a Wacky Wailing Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube man. When your Wifi hotspot has died on the first day and you are totally lost, it’s the little things that can make you smile.
As I’m writing this I definitely feel like I have walked over 26,000 steps today. On our first slightly less jet lagged day we braved the bamboozling transport system to explore the city. Our first stop this morning was the Meiji shrine. Following the lights of Shimbashi, finding a more reflective spot was appreciated. With the leaves starting to turn, you could spot flecks of autumnal red in the trees starting to appear.
Despite being a national holiday, the shrine was reasonably peaceful. We wandered through the gates, and caught sight of a wedding ceremony at the shrine. At Shinto shrines across Japan, offerings of Sake by distilleries are common place. Regardless, Meiji is the only shrine in Japan where are also wine offerings from French wineries. Of course I had to capture the latter!
Next was a tale of two shopping areas. Walking down Takeshita street in Harajuku on a bank holiday makes Oxford Street seem eerily quiet. The street was filled with youngsters and tons of shops. Definitely far more crepes shops than I expected!
Not that Ameya-Yokocho market is any quieter. This bargain haven reminds me of The Barras market in Glasgow. Just like The Barras, it is filled with an array of stalls selling wares from fish to metal band t-shirts.
After lunch we are off to the Senso-ji Buddhist temple. This was where the national holiday became apparent. In addition to the sea of people eagerly taking selfies in Kimonos, Japanese flags waved proudly from the souvenir stalls.
From underground we moved onto the river to cruise down the Sumida river. With the boat ducking under the many colourful bridges on route, we spotted some additional sites including the Skygarden and the Asahi brewery headquarters, which looks awfully like a pint of beer.
Our final stop for the day restored some tranquility following the bustle of the markets with a trip to Hamarikyu Gardens. It is surreal that this natural haven is present in such a big city. The Tokyo Tower in the background serves as an ever present reminder of where you are. Walking around the pristine gardens and enjoying Matcha was a good reflection point before heading out in the evening.
No day in Japan would be complete without an amusing anecdote. Today’s tidbit comes from our evening in Ginza, searching for an open restaurant on a national holiday. My excessive over reliance on Google Maps, and lack of direction certainly made for an interesting evening. Especially when we gave up and ended up in a Belgian beer bar a couple of months after going to Bruges. All I can say is that I finally tried Coconut beer, and it was awesome!
Now that we have our bearings, it’s time to venture outside the usual tourist haunts. Well… sort of. Following a recommendation, our first stop of the morning was Odaiba. Since capturing the best shots of the NYC skyline from New Jersey as a graduate, I’ve always thought the best city views come from afar. Odaiba did not disappoint.
During the day, Tokyo looks amazing from here. However, the above bridge is called the Rainbow Bridge for a very good reason. If you come back in the evening, this pristine white bridge is lit up in a series of colours that I imagine would entice the imagination. Definitely worth considering if you have the time.
Views aside, there was a secondary motive. Odabia also has a replica Statue of Liberty, which taking selfies in front of is a massive tourist hot spot. The only area exhibiting this level of pop culture pilgrimage that I’ve seen first hand is the zebra crossing outside Abby Wood studios in London. Nevertheless, it does mean I’ve now seen three lady liberties including those in Paris and New York. It does bring back fond memories of graduate training in NYC. More akin to the cheese of Coney Island Pier or Blackpool Pleasure Beach, but hey we’re on holiday!
Next we’re off to central Tokyo to check out the Imperial Palace. I did skip the gardens. Nevertheless, wandering around snapping the gates and statues was a lot of fun.
The proximity of the palace to Tokyo station means it would be rude not to visit. The red brick exterior hides to deceptive maze of tunnels that commuters migrate through. For us tourists, it also houses the aptly named Ramen Street and Character Street. Visiting the former was for me. Strolling down the latter was for the nieces and nephews back home. When you see the biggest Pikachu you’ve ever seen, you just have to take a shot for the little ones!
Next, we’re off to Udeon. There is a nice balance between greenery, museums and shrines that are worth exploring. If you are a museum buff, it would be exceptionally easy to spend a full day here. We spent a couple of hours investigating the park, with our key highlights including the Tsongu shrine and the giant whale outside the Natural Sciences museum.
This evening it was back to Ginza on a non-bank holiday to sample some of the restaurants and bars. I’ll be honest, I did fall in love with a cocktail bar. Doesn’t matter what city I’m in, if I can find a small quiet spot where they make a mean Old Fashioned I’m happy to perch. However, it has thrown a spanner in the works as the Martinez made with Dutch Jenvever was exquisite. We received a great gin recommendation that I intend to find when we visit Kyoto.
Today we were up bright and early travelling to Lake Kawaguchi to bask in the glory of Mount Fuji. Full details on our expedition through Lake Kawaguchi and Hakone will be documented in my upcoming blog.
Arriving back late to Tokyo, we needed to make the best of our last night in this amazing city. Like a moth to a flame, we were drawn to Shibuya Junction. This point for me represents the bustle and bright lights of Tokyo. In addition to capturing a panorama of the new signs, it was only fair that we amble across the junction and back. I’m proud to say our years of living in London have taught us the importance of crowd management. We didn’t bump into a single person!
Following the bright lights, we spent the remainder of the evening exploring Shinjuku. Above ground are towering buildings and flashing advertisements everywhere. Below ground is a behemoth of underground shopping malls that are easy to lose yourself in.
Regardless of this challenge, we reached Golden Gai. For those unfamiliar, this is a maze of tiny bars popular with tourists and expats. This did reaffirm my notion that shag carpets on walls is definitely out. Nevertheless, the journey through the alleys for food and libations was a satisfying end to a frantically fun few days.