Tokyo: Wet weather, wonderful wagyu, weird cat cafes... oh, and an earthquake!

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June 25th 2019
Published: July 1st 2019
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So our first morning in Tokyo started with an earthquake tremor. Yes, you read that right. An Earthquake. We were downstairs in the hotel lobby exchanging pleasantries with Akito our guide for our first day in Tokyo, when all of a sudden the whole room/building starts shuddering. It's a strange moment, because your brain wants to classify it as something familiar, but it just isn't. After a quick glance at each other, Philippe and I turned to the guide, to gauge her level of panic. Our assessment: zero. And no one else in the room was even batting an eyelid. 'Oh, it's an earthquake. It happens in Tokyo. Often we don't even realise it is happening, but the buildings are built to handle it' . 'So, eh, is it going to happen again?' (i.e. do we need to take cover/call our embassy etc?) 'No'. She seemed so relaxed about it all that we eventually just took her lead, and put it to the back of our minds, trying to listen to Aikeo telling us that our initially planned tour wasn't particularly waterproof (it was bucketing rain outside). We decided to alter the plan slightly, and take more taxi's than walking, and generally just trusted her judgement as to what would still be fun, despite the pouring rain.

First stop was the Meiji-jingu shrine. Usually locals and tourists alike enjoy a walk through this man-made forest to the most popular shrine in Tokyo. As it was raining cats and dogs, our taxi drove us right up to the entrance. We pulled on our raincoats and the buggy raincover (on some level happy to justify having lugged it around everywhere..) and made our way into the shrine. Like many other elements in Japan, the shrine itself is being renovated. In this case it is in preparation for the 100 year celebrations next year - which is also conveniently also in time for the Olympics. Nonetheless we wrote our wish on some paper, threw some coins in the envelope and dropped it into the gridded holder. Our guide informed us that the envelops are burned and the the coins collected from the ash as donation. (They should really make that very clear to tourists though, as there were some Americans next to me putting some nice notes in the envelop! Gives new meaning to burning through money - which we are already doing in this country!) The rain came back to normal standards so we chose to make the walk out through the park. It's impressive to imagine on New Years Day, millions of people trek into the park to throw money against the shrine to pray for good fortune in the year to come. Apparently the place is just mobbed and you can barely move. It is quite the party, for three days!

Next stop was Takeshita Street - a mecca of shops for teenage girls. It wasn't quite on the original itinerary, but Akito realised that we were near a Cat Cafe in time for their 10:30 feeding time. Some of these places are to be avoided as they don't treat their animals particularly well, but this place was known for being good to the cats. After fudging Senan's age (minimum entry age is 3, but he looks big by Japanese standard!) we stepped into what I can only describe as a weird, or just very excentric, environment. Neither Philippe nor I are cat people, but Senan seems to want to buck that trend. As we wandered into this cafe, which you pay per 10minutes for, consuming free drinks, we entered some sort of weird cat parallel universe. There were loads of them! The rules are basically that you can pet them, but not scare them. We went to great pains to try to explain this to Senan, but he was in his element with all the little furry creatures. Feeding time was also quite impressive, to see them all lined up, munching away.

After the cat-stop we headed into the metro system, emerging at a popular 'Thunder & Lightening' shrine, which was such a big draw for tourists and locals alike, that a big shopping street and whole entertainment complex had grown up around it. Philippe tried his luck at a Japanese fortune telling game called Omikuji, we went to smell the health inducing incense smoke and paid our respects inside the temple. The nice thing about the gardens next to this temple is that it is a melting pot of shrines to many religions, as they were moved there for safe keeping during the war. It is the epitome of tolerence and respect for other religions. Other parts of the world could learn from it .

Having indicated that our preference for lunch was sushi, Akito brought us to the restaurant that had bought the first big tuna of the season this year (costing millions). Despite the photo, it turns out that sushi isn't Senan's favourite (but tempura is actually a winner!) With our bellies filled with beer and delicious sushi, we made our way back to the river to board Esmerelda, a futuristic spaceship looking boat, which took us all the way as far as Asakusa island. We disembarked and walked by a big replica Statue of Liberty and Gundam (a big unicorned transformer who is massive amongst the Japanese anime circuit).

We had shared Senan's 'passion' for Toyota's and so Akito brought us to what she thought was a big Toyota showroom. In reality it turns out that the showroom has been extended over the years and is now a really cool car museum. Now it was Philippe turn to be has happy as a Peppa in mud... he was genuinely delighted to see some of the stuff they had. At one point he informed me that there was a 1.2million euro Toyota 2000 GT just sitting out on display with a 'please do not touch' sign on it... Senan was swiftly tied firmly into his buggy (as I had visions of him scraping the side of a car!) as we wandered the museum and Philippe drooled over the Nissan GTR, a Mazda 787 and a few others.

After the museum we meandered over to the actual Toyota showroom, at which point I spied the big ferris wheel. Knowing it wasn't exactly Philippe's thing (and the showroom wasn't exactly mine....) we divided and conquered, with Senan and I enjoying wonderful views of Toyko at the top of the wheel and Philippe getting up to date on the various Toyota varieties in Japan (including the impressive Toyota Century). After a busy day, we took the mono-rail back to our hotel and bid Akito farewell followed by a slap-up Japanese meal in a small place near the hotel.

Day 2 was a more practical day, as I followed up on my Kyoto dental experience, now having step 2 done in Tokyo. As I headed off in a taxi, the boys headed off for a morning in the park. Thankfuly the dentist visit went well, but it was very clear to me that the dentist herself was the only person in the practice who spoke English, and that there had clearly been some sort of mix up when my appointment was made, as they were expecting me to be in immense pain. I eventually managed to make clear what I thought needed to happen, and they set to work. It is notable here that there is a real sense of pride in one's work and delivering craftsmanship. Especially since she knew that my dentist in The Netherlands would be reviewing her work at a later stage. Also nice, was that she was complementary about the work the dentist had done in Kyoto. (In my experience most dentists bitch their predecessors for shoddy work... so this was a refreshing surprise!).

After the dentist we head off in search of Joypolis, looking for a Sega car game that Philippe had heard was there. Sadly it had been removed, but we did enjoy a blast from the past walking through an entire floor of old style arcade games. Senan also had 'his' 45mins of fun in a childrens soft play area. He was in his element, initially a bit nervous but he found his stride once he saw the other kids were faster than him. He also got to drive his own first Toyoto (2000 GT) as an electric toddler version... soo cute! Although I'm not sure what was cuter, watching Senan enjoy himself, or watching Philippe watch Senan being so proud of his driving skills!! 😊

Next up on the agenda was for me to tick off my long postponed meal of Wagyu beef. We had asked Akito for a recommendation, and were told to head to Mansei, a beef and seafood teppanyaki restaurant on the 10th floor of a 'meat' building. After gulping at the price- but then telling ourselves that if we were ever going to do it, Japan was the place to do it, we were seated at a teppanyaki plate and provided with mansei aprons to shield our clothes. All I can say is that we are now spoiled for beef for life! Delicious doesn't quite cover it. It was melt in your mouth delicious. Perfectly cooked in front of you and served with perfect little vegetables. Senan didn't have Wagyu, but he did have the most succulent burger he will likely ever have in his life... aged 2. But he munched it up, thoroughly impressed with the 'fire' perforrmance from our chef! There was no hesitation in eating, or demands for pasta, and he was eagerly asking for more!

Buzzed up on meat, we decided to push it with Senan's bedtime and made our way across town to witness the Shibuya Crossing by night. This is a large junction with diagonal pedestrian crossings, made famous by the movie: Lost in Translation. As we looked out the window from the metro station you could see why it was impressive. It just looked like a bunch of little ants going in all directions... and then nothjng, just traffic. It was even more impressive to be walking as part of the swarm, soaking up the night sights of multicoloured and multi-cultured Tokyo.

Our final day in Tokyo was a more laid back affair. Senan requested and was indulged in more playground time, in a picturesque park next to the Tokyo tower. I negotiated my way through a post office interaction to send some stuff home, in which verrrry few words of English were spoken (but you can get a long way with sign language!) For the afternoon we made our way across to the Togoshi area of the city, an area where locals still shop. The locals were again besotted with our little blond munckhin, and for our part it was nice to get a flavour for the 'real' life behind touristic Tokyo. I dipped into a local big supermarket for a moot, and it struck me just how much of the aisles were devoted to noodle type products. Back home in Ireland that space would be cereal. In the Netherlands, I guess probably coffee.

On our way to our final stop of the day, we succumbed to a bit of overconfidence with the lid Japanese metro. Not realising that some lines don't simply turn around at the edge of the tube map, we found our way taking a unintended spin out to Kawasaki! When we finally got ourselves corrected we made our way over to the (old) fish market to source another fish dinner, this time in Tsukiji, at a conveyor belt style restaurant where you pay per colour plate and just pull off anything that looks tasty. A new one to me was smoked salmon, mayonaise and red onion on rice: Delicious! It turns out the fish market area is being moved to make way for a pitch and parking for the Rugby world cup later this year!

Friday morning was a pick up at the hotel after again squeezing all our stuff into all the bags (yes we are getting sick of doing that!) Tokyo airport was easy to navigate and as we made our way to the plane we concluded that Japan is definitely a country worthy of a revisit. Yes is is certainly not a cheap country to visit, but overall everyone is so helpful and respectful. The country is so clean and orderly, that it is very pleasant to operate in. And that's before we even get started on the fabulous food..

Onwards to Singapore!

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