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July 18th 2013
Published: August 8th 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

Day 1 – Tokyo

On July 15th, I flew from Vancouver to Narrita arriving on July 16th in the early evening. At this point I did not have a plan, no guidebook of Japan or Tokyo, nor was any hotel booked, so I spent the next 2 hours on Wi-Fi figuring stuff out.

I got the train into Tokyo and transferred to my hotels stop. I stayed at Ace Inn. I checked into the hotel, got my dormitory capsule bed, and crashed for the night.

Day 2 – Tokyo

I woke up at 4am, wide awake because of jet-lag. I killed some time before heading out to the Tsukiji Fish Market. It is said to be the largest fish market in the world. I arrived there too late at 5:30am, as the big Tuna Auction was already underway (and thus closed for entry). Most of the fish market was closed until 9am, as I found out as a smiling security guard escorted me off the premises. So in the future, either arrive before 5am or after 9am. The market was busy as this is the time most of the buying and selling is down, largely wholesale.

I left and navigated myself to the Ginzo area, which is apparently the high market part of town with all of the upscale stores. Given that it was about 7am at this point, not much was going on and no stores were open. I wandered further towards the main Tokyo train station and I decided to try and visit the nearby Mitsubishi Ichigokan museum. It was about 7:30 am by this point but the museum opened at 10:30am so I gave up on that idea. So far bad timing on my first three ‘sights’.

I headed back down to near the fish market, to a nearby garden, Hama-rikyū-teien, I noticed on the map. This one was open, thankfully. I paid the 300 yen and even got a little GPS-based audio guide. It would automatically start the audio/video clip as you got near one of the markers. It would even ping you if you were going off-route, and could show you exactly where you were on the map of the garden, although sometimes it was up to 20m off.

The garden was an open-style Japanese manicured garden. Cut grass, artificial mounds of dirt that they even gave names (always as “Mount ______”), ponds with fish, groomed trees and the whole bit. The highlights were a very old pine largely held up by supports (common to do in Japan), a duck hunting canal using trained tame ducks to lure wild ones, and a tea house on an island in the lake.

I headed back to the fish market to see the main areas. It was bustling with activity. Countless motorized flatbeds where whirring about, while owners hawked their wares, from fish of all sizes to various molluscs and crustaceans to a number of things I had no clue what they were.

Making my way out, I headed back to Ginzo to catch the metro to go to Ueno. After arriving in Ueno, I ate lunch, and wandered into the nearby Ueno-kōen Park. It was a recreational park with large stone boulevards for walking through a wooded area. In a central area, several performers were doing their acts; some musicians and some jugglers. At the end of the park, was the Tokyo National Museum. Inside were several buildings holding several exhibits, some permanent and some temporary. I opted for just the permanent exhibits. One building was devoted to non-Japanese Asian pieces, but considering I have been to every single one of those countries and seen museums there, I opted out. I did the main museum. There was the occasional English, but the vast majority had no English or just an English title like “bronze vase”. Pictures were not allowed, but I’m not terribly keen on taking pictures in museums anyways. It was 2 floors, with a couple dozen rooms. The more interesting rooms housed the samurai armour and swords, and some traditional kimonos. Several rooms contained scrolls or other such paper with Japanese scripts. But without any English description, they lacked any interest. Other rooms featured various tools, daily use items and ornaments.

When I was done, I headed back to the metro and took it to Shibuya which is famous for being the trendy shopping area with the centrepiece of Shibuya 109, a mall complex frequented by the most posh (and equally rich) young girls looking for the latest fashion. In front of the building was a famous crosswalk, where apparently 100 000 people cross every day, although it wasn’t super crowded when I was there (mid-day, mid-week). I ventured into this building, but there wasn’t much for me to see, and I really felt out of place with the 1000’s of teenage Japanese girls. I kept on, and walked through some other shopping streets in the area, for the sights and pictures. Afterwards I headed back to the hotel for, unintentionally falling asleep at 6pm.

Day 3 – Tokyo

As you can imagine, going to be at 6pm has repercussions, as I woke up at 1am – wide awake, and unable to go back to sleep. When I did leave, I first headed to Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, presently still in use by the current emperor. I took a metro to the nearby station and walked to the park just outside. I took a few photos of the exterior grounds, but was unable to enter the complex.

For the rest of the day, I toured some major shopping areas, just to check it out. I never bought anything (aside from some food and drink). The first place I visited was Roppongi Hills. It is a giant complex, designed to be a self-contained city. The grounds were designed aesthetically and made for a pleasant stroll around. There was a smallish mall, a theatre, some apartment buildings, an observatory, a convention centre, and an outdoor concert area. The mall was designed with aesthetics in mind, with an open centre, with glass ceilings and walls, flowing water, and green plants. However, it wasn’t particularly good to window shop, as most shops were on dead end paths on one of the 6 floors.

Once I was done, I headed to the nearby, slightly less famous Tokyo Midtown mall complex. It was more designed as a mall. It was mainly eateries of various sorts with some boutique shops on the upper levels. I ate lunch at one of the places.

The next stop was at Shinjuku, I walked through a couple of side-street shopping areas, past some buildings with some interesting designs, and found my way to the Tokyo Municipal Office. It is a tall twinned building with free and open observatories on both towers in the upper levels. I took the elevator up and saw around Tokyo, including recognizing some places I had already been in that day. On a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji in the distance, but it was too smoggy to see that day.

I headed back down and out, wandering until I found out what turned to be what passes for a red-light district in Japan. It was mid-day so not much was going on. It was a bunch of small side-streets, with flamboyant signs, many bars, and the occasionally picture of a scantily clad woman. A fair number of the bars were ‘girly bars’ which after parting ways with 5000 – 10000 yen ($50-100) cover you could enjoy the company of a beautiful girl (after several thousand more yen in drinks and other charges). I obviously never went in, so I don’t know too much more than that. Presumably (with enough money), one can get extra services.

I wandered around for another couple of hours through some other districts, before heading back to the hotel. At the hotel I met with an American, and a French guy (who had a German accent). We decided to head out to check out Tokyo nightlife. We first went to Roppongi, but not really knowing where anything was, and with them being impatient (and not wanting to spend the time to find out). We couldn’t find much of anything. We did find a cheap place to eat dinner. We then headed back to Shinjuku as I knew where some bars were from my previous visit that day. Again they were impatient so we ended up going the wrong way for a while, before I finally convinced them it was better to stop, check out a map and figure out where to go rather than walk randomly and hope. I got them to the area I had seen before, and it was a fair bit busier, although the amount of staff far exceeded the numbers of potential customers in the streets. By staff, I mean young black men, usually hailing from places like Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana, who would constantly heckle us with offers of ‘titties in your face’, ‘girls girls girls’, and ‘massage and sex’. There were a lot of them and they were quite persistent. It’s rather odd that this rather small demographic of people, is hired in Japan to do this very specific job. I presume that the Japanese are far too polite to be very good at it, so the job is outsourced. Most placed seemed dead, and cover charges of 2000+ were ubiquitous. You’d even get some closet-sized bars with 2 seats that had completely disproportional cover charges. It made no sense. One wonders how they stayed in business.

We walked to and fro for some time but never really found anything that seemed remotely interesting (and wouldn’t end up being a 10 000 yen night). The American tried to chat up pretty much any Japanese girl he saw (he had learned Japanese from his still current Japanese girlfriend). One pair of older girls he was talking to for 15 minutes ended up pretending to be lesbians get away. I was killing myself laughing on the sidelines as I watched it happen. We walked back to the hotel, but the delay from him talking to more girls meant that we got there past the curfew (common in Japan) and so we were locked out. We pounded on the door and after a few minutes, someone let us in.

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