Edit Blog Post
Published: July 22nd 2018
Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo
Greetings from Tokyo! And Japan, country number 77! I still can’t actually believe I’m here, it is one of those places which you know exists because you have seen it on TV and in films, but you don’t imagine you’ll ever set foot there, or if it really exists at all. I had a similar feeling when I first went to New York. This is Tokyo – actually the world’s largest urban conurbation, at a staggering 37 million people – that is more than half the population of the UK in just one city. This really is a mega-city, and makes London, at 14 million people in its conurbation area, only the 28th
largest in the world, feel like a sleepy village. Just flying past the city on the way to Haneda Airport, the place seemed to be made up of endless skyscrapers and buildings, in all land directions, as far as the eye can see. It looked a bit like an old game I grew up with playing, Sim City, and similar to the game, it all seems so very organised and efficient. It is really amazing to be here, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my three
full days exploring Tokyo, it has reminded me all over again why I love travelling– the seemingly boundless freedom and adventure in exploring new and exciting places. I have had an amazing start to my summer travels so far.
So it all began with a short hop over the English Channel to Paris, sat in between a laptop-toting student to my left who never stopped tapping away at her keyboard for the short 40-minute flight, and a rampant fidgeter from Africa to my right, who, as well as fidgeting constantly, continuously chanted to himself the whole journey. It was thankfully a short journey, but filled me with dread wondering who I was to share the whole 11 hours of my next flight from Paris to Tokyo with. Upon arrival, a father and baby were standing in front of the seat next to mine, my heart sank, until when he saw me he moved back to his original seat, and a very quiet, very self-contained French guy took his place. Ah, what a relief, and I could tell he felt the same when he saw me, hopefully a very quiet, very self-contained looking Englishman. I’m not a big fan of
Evening rush hour
long-haul flights, even more so when it’s with irritating fellow passengers. This was not the case this time, and the flight was quite pleasant. I bored myself silly by choosing to watch “Blade Runner 2048” (I think it’s a film you have to watch in peace at home so you can concentrate on trying to understand it, not in a plane where you can only hear every other word), and then after this it was pretty much time to sleep. This could have been quite tricky though, as amazingly enough the whole flight was in daylight, as from Europe to Japan, the flightpath heads towards Scandinavia and the Arctic Circle, before crossing the great Siberian plain on the way to Japan. So whilst we were flying through the night, it wasn’t technically night as we were flying through the midnight Arctic sun, with vast swathes of dark, mysterious Siberian wilderness below us all the way. The sun never actually set on the flight! It was really very moody and mystical, and to top it off, when we finally left Russia and crossed the Sea of Japan, the atmosphere changed completely, the sun was fully shining once more, and far in
Called a "miko" - thanks Per! :D
Meiji-jingu Shinto Shrine, Tokyo
the distance rose majestic snow-capped volcanic peaks, climbing enchantingly out of the fluffy clouds and blue ocean. Whilst over pretty much the whole of Russia we flew through turbulence, it was also suddenly quite still as we flew over the Sea of Japan. It was really quite magical after hours and hours of quasi-dark Siberian monotony, and I felt the very mountains of Japan were welcoming us to their mythical and enchanting islands.
I touched down on Thursday around noon local time, and it couldn’t have been easier to get to my hotel. I bought a ticket, speaking my first ever Japanese to a real Japanese person in Japan with the gentleman at the ticket counter, and boarded an Airport Limousine bus direct to the north-west Tokyo suburban centre of Ikebukuro. Most of the journey was actually through one of the longest, if not the longest, tunnel I have ever been through – seemingly tunnelling under the whole of western-central Tokyo. As the bus came out of the tunnel and was coming to my stop, I recognised the street instantly, as well as the tiny little side street leading to my hotel, as I had done a bit of
Well, this sign now has me completely confused as to what I can and cannot do in the toilet...!
research on Google Street View before I arrived – how useful this was! It was a short and easy 5-minute walk from there to my hotel, where I checked in, mostly in Japanese, and actually really impressed myself with how much I actually know! In fact, I glowed with pride when a Japanese lady in a lift told me today that I speak Japanese very well! I couldn’t recommend the LingoDeer App highly enough here, it has really prepared me well for my trip here I believe!
I am staying in a Business Hotel in Ikebukuro, with quite a small room and tiny bathroom, but this is normal here. Despite this, it is one of the most functional rooms I have ever stayed in, with buttons for everything, a fridge, kettle, even an LED torch to use at night. Along with most other public conveniences here, the toilet is also multi-functional, with even a button to use to warm up the toilet seat! I haven’t dared try the bidet-facility yet, which is also accessible on the toilet itself. Most other guests here during the weeknights were single Japanese people, though there seems to have been an influx of Taiwanese
tourists this weekend. Still, I’m the only westerner here, and this has given me ample opportunity to practise and grow in confidence with my Japanese.
I have spent three full days here, and it really has been busy. To some extent I’m looking forward to my next destination as it may be a bit more peaceful and I may get a bit more downtime, I really have been busy seeing things and going places, then coming back and sleeping, before doing the same again the next day. There just seems so much to do, that I would like to do what I can in the short amount of time that I can, before moving on to somewhere I imagine will be a bit quieter.
Upon arriving on Thursday, and after a well-deserved lie-down and shower, I explored the local area of Ikebukuro – very happening, very Tokyo-style, but not touristy at all – a real local Tokyo place I feel. I was also able to exchange my Japan Rail Exchange Order which I bought in England, for the Japan Rail Pass which I will begin to use next Wednesday. A very tasty dinner was had in a local
noodle fast-food restaurant, which was slap-up delicious, filling, and very economical at around £5. Indeed, eating well here in Japan may indeed be much cheaper than eating well in West Africa last summer – I typically spent around £15 per meal there, to avoid the local, illness-inducing eateries.
My first full day, Friday, I spent doing the famous Tokyo sights. There are actually not that many places to see here, just places to experience Tokyo. My first was in the famous Shinjuku area, mostly known for its neon lights and nightlife in the evening, though I was there in the morning. This was also quite fortunate, as the Lonely Planet recommends that both male and female travellers do not go there alone as there is quite a bit of hassle there, apparently the only place in Japan (after my travel experiences last year, yay!!). In the morning, the hustlers seemed not to have woken up yet, apart from one suited gentleman who stood alongside me whilst I took a photo, then began his spiel with “well, I’m not really what they call a guide, but…” before I said a strong no and left him standing there. That was it!
View from my hotel floor (my room view is of a concrete wall and huge air-conditioning unit, though still a highly comfortable room).
What a relief and what a difference from West Africa – he didn’t follow me, he didn’t shout at me, or call me racist or insult my family – again, what a difference from West Africa, so very pleasant indeed! After a short walk around Shinjuku, which was mostly closed but fine by me as I don’t really do nightlife, I headed towards the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, one of the places you can get to the top for fine views over Tokyo, and actually the free one! The other two (Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Sky Tree) cost upwards of £10, depending on how high you want to go. Still, at the top, I got the even more special view, as I had a lovely apple tart and unlimited soft drinks at the dining area up there, which afforded its diners with the best view from the observatory. It was a very pleasant place to gaze down at the endless view of urbanisation stretching in all land directions, and all again so seemingly orderly, ordered and efficient. I have really gotten to like Tokyo. From here, a short hop on the Metro south took me to Harajuku, with Tokyo’s main
Now these maps make it completely clear for me...!
Shinto Temple, the Meiji-jingu Shrine. This visit to a Shinto Temple was indeed a first for me, and I do feel I would like to learn more about Shintoism. From what I understand already, it is the religion preceding Buddhism in Japan, in which local nature deities are worshipped, and to pray, one claps one’s hands together twice before petitioning. This is all I really know about it, but I’m hoping to find out more. Harajuku is also home to the eccentric Tokyoite shopping street of Takeshita-dori which I strolled down, and a nearby more upmarket shopping street similar to Regent Street back home, Omote-sando, where I enjoyed my first delicious sushi meal on the trip, for a bargain price of again around £5. I think I may put on some weight while I’m here…! After Harajuku, another short trip further southwards on the Metro took me to the very famous Shibuya Crossing, where hundreds, and at peak times it is said to be over a thousand, people cross the multi-directional crossing point just outside the station. I could have spent hours there just gazing at the sheer spectacle of it all, both down on the ground, and also on
Sega Store, Ikebukuro
Seven levels of arcade action!
the second floor of the nearby Starbucks café, where people anxiously wait for a free seat overlooking the organised chaos below. I got my seat after about ten minutes of waiting. It was also from here where I spotted my first “Mario Kart Go-Karters” zooming around Tokyo, the first of many. Apparently you can pay to go go-karting around Tokyo in a group, with a leader, dressed as your favourite Mario character!! This was quite a sight to see on a number of occasions in various places around the city! And here ended my first day of Tokyo sightseeing, retiring to my hotel room with a microwave ramen meal from a local convenience shop (these places are amazing!!) heated up in the hotel’s microwave, this time for around £3! Bargain, and again, delicious!
Day Two was Saturday, and this was spent in the more traditional parts of the city. I first headed to the Tokyo National Museum, where I spent the morning really enjoying the fascinating exhibits, and putting context and visual evidence to my pre-reading about Japanese history. I particularly admired the samurai armour and swords, the folding screen art, the kimonos and the pre-Buddhist ceramics – the
A popular game with lots of local kids' hands moving and tapping a circle at the speed of light
latter were actually amazing, looking so un-Japanese, and making me realise how much Japan changed as it began its relations with neighbouring China, as well as absorbing its religion of Buddhism into its own Shinto practices, around the 7th
century AD. The Japanese are believed to be completely unrelated in ethnicity, as well as language, to the Chinese, and share greater ancestry and linguistic history with the Koreans and Turks apparently. From the museum, it was a very hot walk through the Ueno-koen Park to the old and traditional Tokyo district of Yanesen. In fact, since I arrived, it has been absolutely sweltering here. Today, the BBC weather app has Tokyo at 35C, though it “feels like 46C” – I can well believe it! Any amount of time outdoors, including in parks, completely drenches my t-shirt in sweat. You don’t actually notice it so much when in more modern urban spaces, as the metro, underpasses, shops and restaurants are all thankfully air-conditioned. I sweltered my way on a walk through the Yanesen district, of traditional Japanese houses and Buddhist temples, to include a walk through one of Tokyo’s most prestigious cemeteries, the Yanaka-reien. I just happened also to stumble upon
Another popular one, dance moves displayed
an amazing local family-run Japanese tea ceremony place, Yuka An, who offered me a really nice discount, being alone, to witness a friend of the grandmother of the family performing the beautiful art of the tea ceremony for me, and a couple of other tourists who joined halfway through (I still got the discount…!). The tea ceremony only originated around 300 years ago, but is considered, along with flower-arranging and calligraphy, one of the three main meditative and aesthetic Japanese activities, influenced by Zen Buddhism. The whole ceremony took around half-an-hour, and was a real pleasure to watch and find peace in. It began with the offering of a Japanese sweet, then the pouring by the lady performing the ceremony of the water into a cup filled with powdered green tea, the whisking of the tea, and the offering of it. I took the offering, and as per the custom, bowed to the lady who also bowed as she offered it to me, held it with both hands, one underneath and one on the side, turned the cup twice slightly showing humility to not drink from the best edge of the cup which was offered to me, bowed to the
The more traditional drumming-arcade game (!)
two people next to me to say sorry that I am going first, drank it quickly, slurping it at the end to show the lady who made it that I had finished and enjoyed it, made a small gesture to wipe the edge of the cup from which I drank, and then put it down again. There were so many other intriguing parts to the ceremony which the lady performed herself, I did feel quite refreshed both physically and spiritually after this. And ready to face the Tokyo heat again! This time I continued to the Tokyo Metro, and on to the new driverless Yurikamome Line which takes travellers from mainland Tokyo out to the recently constructed man-made islands reaching out into Tokyo Bay, developed during the late 20th
century. I remember teaching a unit on Japan when I first began Geography teaching, that the Japanese coastal plains were already so densely populated, and that it wasn’t possible to build so densely into the mountains, that they built these artificial islands into the bay to create more space. It definitely felt very spacious out there, and there were plenty of newly-built buildings, including quite a lot of tourist attractions. I
was heading to one quite famous tourist attraction, the Oedo Onsen Monogatari, for what was to be hopefully my first of many Japanese onsen experiences. The place was huge, new and actually quite touristy, but I enjoyed steaming in the hot baths, both indoors and outdoors, very much. I very much enjoy bath-type activities, and thus I am hoping that I will experience more of these in my further travels through Japan, famous for its ubiquitous onsen and onsen culture. Squeaky clean, and nicely and dreamily tired, I headed back to my hotel for another extremely comfortable night’s sleep.
And finally today, another quite busy day, although I purposefully left a bit more time at the end of it to write this blog entry. I am actually quite thankful for the rest, and feel I have seen everything in Tokyo that I wanted to see, so can’t complain there! In the morning, I headed for the East Garden of the Imperial Palace, one of the few areas of the Imperial Palace complex open to visitors. Sadly I didn’t see the Imperial Palace itself, which can only be arranged on special tours twice a day, booked in advance. But I
I wonder if the owners know, I'm sure they do...?!
did (mostly) enjoy a walk around its gardens. Mostly, as it was particularly hot today, and there was actually very little shade out there. It was hot and sweltering, but amazingly, and as efficiently as ever in Japan, the authorities had built a number of “rest houses” around the grounds, where you could just sit in and cool down for a bit in air-conditioned glory. The walk did create another sweaty t-shirt however, which along with all my clothes worn so far I have just amazingly washed and dried in the hotel’s highly efficient self-service, coin-operated laundry room. I still can’t get over how efficient and organised this country is! From the gardens, a short hop by Metro to my final destination in Tokyo, the amazing Akihabara!!! I first heard about this place from my brother (hey bro!) who recommended I go there, as he is hopefully planning a trip to Japan soon, and is thinking about going there. It is considered the mecca of all things of Japanese pop culture, the self-styled “otaku” (geek) capital, jam-packed with arcade games, anime-, manga-, Nintendo/Sega- related merchandise and the like. I have to admit, I am an “otaku” and absolutely loved my
time there! I gave myself three hours to spend there, but that certainly wasn’t enough – there were so many shops full of such exciting things for me, growing up playing Nintendo and Sega games, and more recently being into Final Fantasy, Zelda, Mario and Studio Ghibli films. I didn’t intend to spend much, and I really don’t generally like shopping, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and spent more than I would have liked, but actually very happy with my purchases as many of them were around half-price compared to how I could get them from home (ordered from Amazon, but sent from Japan), or even not possible to buy!! I felt so pleased with myself. My purchases were five CDs of Final Fantasy music (I just love these, I collect them!), six Studio Ghibli character plush toys, and one Final Fantasy plush toy. So cute! I indeed became an “otaku” this afternoon, before returning back once more to my lovely hotel, doing the laundry, and now writing up my first proper blog entry on my summer travels this year.
My first impressions are amazing, I am loving this country so far, I have had the most
Super Hotel JR Ikebukuro-Nishiguchi
My lodgings for four nights in Tokyo, on the 11th floor
amazing first three days here in Tokyo, had some amazing and varied experiences, and just find Japan and the Japanese such a delight! They are so gracious, courteous, full of respect and humility, and I really enjoy just experiencing this distinct and highly attractive culture. I actually see much in common between British and Japanese culture, and many have noted our similarities in being two island nations separated geographically and politically from a strong mainland power, both becoming quite unique and independent as a result. I also believe we share much in our cultural politeness and courtesy, my own theory for this being that living in such densely populated island conditions and not having so much (personal) space as in other places, one has to become polite and respectful towards the other in order to get along. Sadly, I feel we are losing our politeness and courtesy back in the UK, I feel due to the highly emphasised selfie-obsessed society which the west is developing into, where the rights of the individual are taken to the extreme of having a negative effect on the well-being of the community. However, I do not feel Japan has lost this, and I admire
them very much for this, and see similarities here with other Asian cultures, which often put the good of the community ahead of the good of the individual. Again, this is something I highly respect, and perhaps it is because of this, as well as their extreme efficiency, that I have had a really positive first impression of Japan and the Japanese people.
I look forward very much to my further travels in this country, which begin in earnest tomorrow. Indeed, I have a ticket for a bus which will take me from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to the small, lakeside town of Kawaguchiko. I am booked into an old traditional Japanese house there, with only two rooms let out to guests, of traditional Japanese style – tatami mats and futons – owned by a gentleman living nextdoor who apparently works as a part-time priest at the nearby Shinto Temple. This may indeed be my way into learning more about Shintoism! It is also one of the best places to view Mt Fuji apparently, which although I have no intention of climbing, I would very much like to see and be in the region of.
So I will
probably either write again from there, Kawaguchiko, or from my destination after – Kyoto, where I’m bound on Wednesday.
Thank you for reading, it really has been an amazing and fantastic start to my summer travels this year. Thank you Tokyo, and thank you Japan!!
All the best
Tot: 0.192s; Tpl: 0.029s; cc: 42; qc: 157; dbt: 0.0456s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.9mb