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September 9th 2014
Published: September 10th 2014
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Our three week trip to Japan began just after midnight at Melbourne airport where we hopped on a luxurious AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur. The flight was very uneventful (just how flights should be!) and we both managed to get a little sleep. We arrived at the new KLIA2 airport which was slightly fancier than the old LCCT terminal which has been the base for many of our trips. The new building only opened in May and there are still quite a few incomplete areas but overall it was a huge improvement.

After passing through immigration and collecting our bags we checked into our flight to Japan and then passed back through immigration. As we had a 7 hour layover we had decided to splurge and get a room at one of the airport hotels for 6 hours. This turned out to be a great decision as we were able to have a nap and a shower while waiting for our connection to Tokyo.

The flight from KL to Tokyo was about 7 hours long and once again uneventful. This saw us arriving in Haneda (one of the Tokyo airports) at about 11:30pm local time – almost 24 hours after leaving Melbourne. We received our first Japanese bow at immigration; it is entirely possible he was insulting us while bowing but given my (incredibly) limited Japanese I can only assume he was being polite!

Scott’s bag was once again one of the last ones to arrive on the carousel which meant I had time to visit the toilet. The first toilet experience in Japan was everything I had hoped it would be an more. There was the initial oooh wow the door slides, followed by WHICH BUTTON DO I PRESS?! So exciting.

We had booked an AirBNB place for our time in Tokyo. We caught the last train from Haneda airport to Shinagawa where we changed for a train to Ebisu. Ebisu is one stop away from Shibuya and is teeming with restaurants, bars, shops and love hotels. We managed to navigate our way from the station to our apartment (taking a slightly more scenic route than intended) and let ourselves into our home for the next 5 nights.

Not long after we had let ourselves in our host, Hiro, arrived home from work. We said a brief hello and then decided to have a shower before hopping into bed. The shower was my second ‘how on earth does this work?!’ moment. It was a small room with a deep bathtub and area with a little stool and a shower head on a hose but nowhere to put your clothes / towel to keep them dry. I managed to figure it out eventually and we both rolled into bed at about 1am.

The next morning we set off at about 10am to explore. We walked from our apartment, via a 7-11 to buy sushi for breakfast, then on to Shibuya. By the time we arrived at the station to collect our JR rail passes we were both fairly sweaty. It was about 30 degrees and very humid – a bit of a change from the Melbourne winter we’d left behind.

Shibuya is one of the main shopping and restaurant areas of Tokyo. It seems like the whole area is either mall or restaurant with a few token hotels / office buildings / apartment buildings squished in for good measure. The sides of the buildings are covered in large television screens advertising the latest clothes and electronics – apparently Shibuya has the largest number of 2 storey television screens mounted on the side of buildings in the world. Definitely something I’d believe after seeing it!

After collecting our JR passes at the train station we ventured into one of the millions of shopping centres. The bottom level, as with most shopping centres in Tokyo, consisted of a supermarket type thing where you could buy bento boxes, shushi, sashimi, tempura, karage and just about any other Japanese meal you might want – most for under 600yen (or ~6 AUD). After perusing the options we made our way up the building and then headed to the next shopping centre where we again started at the bottom and worked our way up. We repeated this process about 3 more times in other shopping centres – apparently the Japanese love to shop!

For a change of scenery we headed to Shinjuku which is another shopping area of Tokyo. We navigated our way to Isetan, a Japanese store we first discovered in Malaysia. The basement of Isetan in Shinjuku hosts a massive food court / supermarket selling just about everything you could want including Italian bento boxes, Indian curries, fancy cakes, single grapes for 11AUD each, melons for 324 AUD and beef for 162 AUD per 180 grams. We decided this would be the ideal place to pick up some lunch (the cheaper produce, not the 10AUD grapes!). It took us ages to decide which option to go with as there were so many choices but Scott eventually settled on some kind of bento box and I went with a sushi option. Despite the abundance of food there were hardly any seats or areas to eat which seems silly! We eventually managed to find somewhere to sit and unwrapped our food. Everything in Japan is over packaged – they must have massive issues with waste disposal.

After lunch we explored more of the shopping centres in Shinjuku. After a few more hours of people watching and mall hopping we decided to make our way to a nearby park. When we arrived at the park we noticed a small sign saying that people had recently contracted dengue fever in the park so decided to give it a miss. There hasn’t been any dengue fever in Japan for about 70 years but for some reason there seems to be a bit of an outbreak at the moment. We decided instead to make our way back to the station (via a few more malls – when in Tokyo!) and headed home for a bit of a rest and shower before dinner.

On the ArBNB advert for our place, Hiro had mentioned an Izakaya street only a 5minute walk away. This sounded like a good option for dinner so we headed out at about 7:45 to find it. After about 15 minutes of walking in the complete opposite direction we turned around and eventually made it to the street (which was indeed only about a 5 minute walk away!).

Ebisu Yokocho was actually a little alley lined either side by tiny restaurants (max 10-15 seats) each offering a slightly different speciality. We managed to find two spare seats at a yakitori stall and discovered that (fortunately) the chef spoke enough English to understand ‘chicken’, ‘vegetable’, ‘beef’ and ‘seafood’…oh and of course ‘beer’. We successfully ordered some fried chicken, edamame and potato salad and drinks. While waiting for our food we discovered that the men seated to one side of us spoke a little English. They were rescue firemen from Osaka in Tokyo for a month for some training. They were out for a big night and we ended up chatting to them through broken English (and even worse Japanese) about our holiday, their jobs and family and our lives at home. We shared photos of our children – them their human children and us our cats Monty and Leela. They ended up taking over ordering for us and we got to try some deep fried ginger on a stick, deep fried whole garlic cloves on a stick and a few meat and fish dishes (for Scott). My favourite stick was one with chicken and spring onions – delicious.

Mid way through our meal we discovered that the two women sitting on the other side of us also spoke English. They were both local Tokyo business women who had left the kids at home for a night. They were really lovely and ended up recommending a few areas of Tokyo we should visit as well as some other places around Japan.

Incredibly full and a little sleepy we decided it was time to head home. Our meal ended up costing about 60 AUD (including 5 drinks between us) – not bad really! We walked out toward the main street and discovered it was absolutely bucketing down with rain. We both ended up getting soaked even though we took the right route home!

The following day we set off for Akihabara which is full of computer and electronic stores, gaming arcades and maid cafes. Maid cafes are a strange Japanese idea where the staff in the cafes dress as maids (in quite slutty outfits) and wait on patrons like they are their maid. It all sounded a little pointless and demeaning so instead of visiting a café we entertained ourselves with trying to snap covert photos of the maids on the street trying to get people to go into the cafés.

The electronics stores in Akihabara were massive. Each one was about 6 or 7 storeys selling just about anything you could want including a large selection of beauty electronics promising to give you perfect skin and hair.

After Scott was done lusting over massive TVs and fancy computers we decided it was time for lunch. We settled on a Japanese curry chain which conveniently had an English menu which meant we knew what mysterious fried thing we were selecting to go with our curry. The food was once again delicious and only about 12 AUD for both of us. Japan is awesome.

After lunch we stopped in at Don Quijote which is a massive shop which sells a whole lot of junk and a few useful things. Our favourite items were the ‘sexy’ maid outfits designed especially for men, the sandal socks and the random weird hats. Definitely a fun (and complete random) store to visit! We picked up some green tea kit-kats and then made our way to the station to catch the train to Harajuku.

Harajuku is yet another shopping district in Tokyo which is famous for the weird fashion the locals apparently dress in. I was surprised at the lack of outrageous clothes, particularly as we visited during peak weird clothes time – Sunday afternoon. We have since discovered that its very unusual to see Harajuku style anymore and in fact most of the girls you do see that are dressed up are foreign tourists. Nevertheless we had fun in Harajuku – I managed to find (much to Scott’s disgust) some super cute socks with cats on them and Scott picked up some new jeans, a shirt and a jumper.

All shopped out for one day, we headed back home to have a bit of a rest and get changed for dinner.

We had arranged to meet up with Vicki and Mark, family friends of Scott’s who have lived in Tokyo for 12 years for dinner. We managed to find each other amongst the crowds at Shibuya station and then caught a train to Shimokitazawa. Vicki and Mark took us to one of their favourite Okonomiyaki restaurants and ordered for us. We had some kimchi accompanied by lemon sochu and beer followed by, of course, okonomiyaki for main course. While we were waiting or main course we heard some commotion outside the restaurant. As it is autumn a lot of farmers are parading through the streets to give thanks for the harvest and luckily a very loud very happy group were making their way down the street past the restaurant. We headed out to watch them pass and by the time it was all over our food was just about to arrive. The food was absolutely delicious and we enjoyed hearing about their experience of living in Tokyo.

The cab ride was another strange and very Japanese experience – you don’t need to open or close the cab doors yourself. The driver has a lever which he pulls to operate the doors. It feels very strange to hop out of a car and not close the door behind you!

At Vicki and Marks we greeted their two cats and then hopped in their car for a tour of Tokyo. They took us along the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line which is a 4.4 km bridge and 9.6 km tunnel underneath the bay. It connects the city of Kawasaki in Kanagawa Prefecture with the city of Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture. At the point where the tunnel meets the bridge there is an artificial island called Umihotaru which has look out points and restaurants (as well as a car park). After admiring the view (fortunately it was a clear night) we grabbed some ice-cream. It is such a weird concept to stop for ice-cream in the middle of the bay! After we finished our ice cream Vicki and Mark dropped us back at our apartment (narrowly avoiding getting stuck in a Tokyo traffic jam) and we arranged to meet them again for dinner the following night.

The following day we set off earlyish for Tsukiji which is the main fish market in Tokyo. You can go for the tuna auction which starts at 5am, but you need to queue from about 4am and there is no guarantee you’ll get in so we gave that a miss. Instead we arrived just after 9am which is when they open up the inner circle to tourists. An estimated 600 billion yen (5.9 billion AUD) is traded through Tsukiji market every year. By the time we arrived, it seemed as if most of the trade was done for the day but it was still quite busy and there was still quite a bit of fish for sale. We even got to see some huge tuna being carved up – they are such massive fish! I don’t eat seafood and strongly dislike the smell of fish but as the market didn’t smell at all I really enjoyed the experience (and managed not to get run over by a forklift!).

On the way out of the market we discovered another market nearby selling vegetables, cooking utensils and seafood. There were also a lot of sushi restaurants and Scott decided that, despite a late breakfast, he would have an early lunch of sushi. We lined up for one of the busier places and eventually got a seat. Scott ordered a set of about 15 pieces of sushi which was then prepared for him right in front of us. He said it was quite nice but I think what he enjoyed most was the experiences of having sushi for lunch just near such a famous seafood market.

After the market we made our way to Asakusa which is an older area of Tokyo. As soon as we walked out of the station we realised we had inadvertently ended up in a very touristy area. There were lots of men offering rickshaw rides (but in the very polite non-confrontational Japanese style) and souvenir stalls galore. We made our way past the stalls towards the Senso-ji temple. I wanted to buy a kimono outfit for Leela and a samurai outfit for Monty but Scott wouldn’t let me so settled for some little fried buns filled with flavoured sweet bean paste instead. The temple was built in the 1950’s so seemed very new and well cared for and lacked a bit of the ‘charm’ of the more…dilapidated temples we have seen elsewhere in Asia. After exploring the area a bit more we decided to head back to Shibuya to explore more of the shopping centres and get me some lunch.

Once back in Shibuya I ended up with some karage and potato salad from the basement level of one of the malls. As there are no seats in Japan (well no public seats) I ended up perched on a guard rail eating my food. After lunch I bought a new phone cover (with cats on it!) and then we decided it was time to head back home before the rain started.

We ventured out again into the pouring rain in time to meet Vicki at Shibuya station. We grabbed some ingredients for dinner from the supermarket under the station then hopped in a cab and headed to their place for dinner. Vicki cooked us a yummy dinner of karage and salads and we got their advice about what else we should do and see while in Japan. After another lovely evening Mark kindly dropped us back at our apartment.

The following day was our final one in Tokyo; we decided we would spend it exploring the shopping malls in Shibuya again. Vicki recommended I visit Loft which turned out to be a great idea – I’m pretty sure that store was designed for me! The entire bottom level was filled with super cute stationary and the other levels were filled with just about every cute item you could possibly want for your home! I broke the trend of only buying cat themed items in Japan and ended up with some nice paper, stamps, a bento lunch box and a few cute cooking utensils.

After lunch (curry and beef bowl), we headed back to our apartment for a relaxing afternoon hiding from the Tokyo sun.

We decided to have dinner locally in Ebisu. We managed to find a restaurant with an English menu and a waiter who spoke English. We had a fantastic dinner of mushroom tempura, edamame, chicken breast yakitori, green chilli yakitori, ‘minched’ (minced) chicken yakitori and grilled squid. Dinner was again absolutely delicious and with two drinks each it only cost us 52AUD – a bargain given the quality and service!

We had a great time in Tokyo – it’s a fun, shopping and food obsessed city which we could both quite happily live in. We’re currently on our way to our next stop – Takayama where we will spend the next three days.

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