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Published: June 11th 2019
My first impressions of Tokyo? Huge and overwhelming, grey and unattractive, clean and safe. Getting everywhere you want to go takes a long time. We tackled a trip to Shinjuku Station on our first morning to validate our rail passes and then managed to negotiate our first subway trip using a Suica card (recommended if you are staying for a while). Negotiating this took quite some time.
We got tickets for one of the hop on hop off services and an uninspiring 90 minute sightseeing bus ride ensued. However, in the afternoon, a visit to Asakusa (historic area in eastern Tokyo) lifted my spirits. There were people dressed in traditional kimono, stalls and shops a-plenty, tasty things to eat and beautiful Sensoji temple as well.
Day 2: We visited a beautiful and large park at Ueno. Here too are all the major museums. As it was a sunny day, we decided to do a walking tour. Tokyo has some incredible contrasts - from a very noisy and bustling modern shopping streetscape we crossed the rather majestic tree-scaped park only to find ourselves eventually in an area of quiet streets and laneways. There were numerous temples which we were able to
wander into. Often we were quite alone in tranquil settings among gorgeously manicured and flowering gardens. Primary school children were returning home for lunch along these quiet streets laughing, playing or drawing on the footpaths with chalk and we remarked how it would be very unusual to find 6 or 7 year olds in Adelaide getting themselves home from school alone and on foot! Kabaya Coffee (6-1-29 Yanaka, Taitō-ku) was the spot where we enjoyed a simple lunch and coffee. Eventually, the walk led us to Yūyake Dandan, (the sunset stairs), an area filled with shops, stalls and vendors. I found the whole walk quite delightful!
The skies opened up on Thursday so it was only fitting that we visit our first museum, the Tokyo National Museum. I loved it, especially the examples of laquer work, stunning kimono and a collection of modern netsuke. I also loved my bento box lunch from the museum’s eatery - a delight for the eye and for the tum.
On our fourth day with the rain still falling, we went to see a Klimt exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and later visited two grand old department stores, Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya. The food
halls have to be experienced to be believed! We lunched at a quaint English styled tea room in Mitsukoshi which was lovely. In the evening we attended a jazz gig at the Pit Inn which was within a longish walk from our hotel.
On Sunday morning we had a leisurely visit of the Tsukiji market. The stalls held bounty which was a feast for the eyes and the vendor’s exhortations to buy were most entertaining. At one point, we waited patiently in line to try some freshly seared tuna steaks which turned out to be quite delicious and well worth the wait.
That evening Mark and I attended the Blue Note Tokyo for a performance by guitarist Bill Frisell and two other musicians. The music and the whole experience were extraordinarily memorable.
On our last day in Tokyo, the rain kept up.
And I mean all day, without ceasing. This, is apparently what is called “the rainy season” in Tokyo. In the morning, we had a coffee with an Adelaide contact, Sally, at a place called Bill’s in Ginza. After that, we visited Itoya (THE most amazing stationery shop ever) and Akomeya (a shop specialising in all things rice).
have also been numerous pits stops at craft beer bars throughout our seven day stay and an evening’s jaunt to a funky area called Shimokitasawa to attend a jazz performance where we turned out to be the only two audience members.
As we spend our last hours in Tokyo, I am conscious of having only experienced a small part of what is on offer.
This city is vast and seems to exist more as a collection of quite distinct districts rather than as a cohesive whole. As usual, I was drawn to those parts where a hint of quieter times remains. My favourites included the Asakusa quarter with its maze of alleyways dotted with stalls and the district around Ueno where we walked along quiet streets and saw a side of Tokyo where the pace of life is slower and there are examples of more traditional architecture. In our interactions with them the residents of Tokyo were at all times unstintingly polite and helpful.
I am very glad to have had the opportunity to visit this fabled modern city!
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