Tokyo: The First Few Days

Today is our third full day in Tokyo, and we’ve just checked in to our second hotel.  We have had some exciting days with lots of walking, sightseeing and good food!  Tonight we meet up with a friend for a dinner cruise on Tokyo Bay, and until then we thought we’d put our feet up, upload photos,and check in with the rest of the world.

To summarize the last few days:

Monday June 4: we said our last goodbyes and headed to Pearson for our direct flight to Nariata airport.  The flight was VERY long, and I am happy the next flights we have are just short hops.

Tuesday June 5: with the time change we arrived in the afternoon.  We traded in our rail vouchers for JR Rail passes and reserved seats on the airport express (N’EX). We picked up a map and headed into Tokyo. Making the transfer onto the Yamanote line wasn’t too hard, and the only hang-up we had finding our hotel was a few minute search in Ueno station for the Asakusa gate.  We had a quick cheap dinner at Yoshinoia, a chain restaurant, and then had a great sleep in our Japanese style room. The futon and tatami combination was very comfortable!

Wednesday June 6: our first full day in the city. We began the day with a walk through Ueno market as it was opening. There were lots of stalls of delicious looking food and lots of other things too! It was a grey drizzling day (so we didn’t get to see the transit of Venus that everyone back home in Toronto could). We decided to make it an indoor day so we headed to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno park. The park itself was very impressive, sort of a cross between the National Mall in Washington DC and High Park in Toronto. The museum was awesome – we both enjoyed ourselves. One thing we love to see while travelling is evidence of really old history. The museum had lots of it, and it is a real reminder how young of a country Canada is!

Our next stop was Shinjuku for lunch (soba) and taking in the atmosphere. The huge screens and lots of Pachinko parlours, arcades and shopping were our first taste of the intense side of Tokyo. It is certainly a city that never sleeps! We will have to try and make it back at night to see it all lit up! After Shinjuku it was time to rest our weary legs. After some time in the hotel we decided to check out a local pub. Interestingly folks still smoke in bars here, although where you can smoke outside is very restricted! Still full from the soba, we grabbed a bag of chips on the way back to the hotel and called it a night.

Thursday June 7: another big day! We started the morning off at the Central Wholesale Market (better known as the Tsjukiji Fish Market). We didn’t go to the tuna auction, which happens to be at an ungodly hour and is open to only a limited number of visitors. That was ok with us, as we don’t like to interfere with regular business, and waking up at 4 am isn’t really my cup of tea either. Mike commented that the rest of the market was a lot like the night markets in Taiwan. I am looking forward to making that comparison for myself! There were lots of places to eat the morning’s fresh fish, but most had huge lineups and the others were very expensive. Our sushi experience will have to wait. Instead we had a brunch of grilled tuna skewers and some mysterious savory eggy pancake things ( one with green onion, and the other spicy carrot and bean sprouts). Both were delicious!

Next we decided to track down Godzilla. There is one statue in Hibiya, and another about an hour away by train. We decided to start with the close one, which is the first statue erected in his honour. We hopped on the Tokyo metro and met him in front of the Hibiya Chanter building, headquarters of Toho, the production company that created the Godzilla films. The other statue (which is much newer and about 7 feet tall) is outside Toho studios, about an hour away by train. I hope we will have enough time to visit that one too, but there is so much to do in Tokyo that is closer than that, that we might not make it.

Hibiya is right next to the Imperial Palace and gardens, so we checked that out next. What you can see (including the moat) is impressive, and the grounds are well groomed. We also got our first glimpse of Japanese women in traditional dress. In a cool blend of old and new, they posed in front of the Palace grounds like the rest of us, asking a passer-by to take a picture for them with one of their smart phones!

It was a beautiful day, and we decided to take full advantage of it. When we had our fill of the palace, we hopped on the metro and headed for Asakusa and a taste of old Tokyo. Sensoji and the five-tiered pagoda were breathtaking! We participated in a few of the rituals here, and watched others coming and going for quite some time before grabbing a quick dinner (shrimp cutlet burger and melon pop at Mos Burger) and walking back to our hotel. We put up our feet, and then discovered to our chagrin that we had forgtten to buy an adaptor for the laptop charger, as the outlets here don’t take a ground pin! What a great excuse for an evening excursion to Akihabara! We hopped on the train, and got off in a world of brightly coloured lights, computer stores, and girls dressed up promoting maid cafes and nightclubs. We found that culture quite strange, and they obviously are fed up of tourists – lots were wearing signs that said “No Photo”. Finding an adaptor wasn’t too hard, and we spent a little bit of time walking around before deciding to get a late-night snack in Ueno market on the way back. We’d be leaving the neighbourhood in the morning, and wanted to explore it one last time.

We found an izakaya that looked promising and had some yakatori (aka skewered, grilled food – we had pork, chicken, cuttlefish, potato, onion, eggplant and something else I can’t recall) and Asahi beer. Two older Japanese businessmen asked where we were from and joined us for a few more beers and some conversation! One of them had pretty good English, and did the translating for the other. It was a really cool experience. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to unpack my Canada pins, so I couldn’t give them a souvenier, but they’re in my purse now for next time!

That brings us to Thursday June 7, today. We packed up, had a breakfast of potato chips we didn’t want to crush in our bags, and some red bean filled buns in Ueno park. Then we said goodbye to our old neighbourhood and caught the Yamanote line to Ikebukuro Station. We had some directions to the new hotel, but left the station through the wrong exit, so we couldn’t find our way (the streets are marked very differently here than back home). Thankfully a nice old man pointed us in the direction we needed to go (and I gave him a Canada pin in return). After that snafu, we made it the rest of the way with no trouble. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we dropped off our bags, and headed to Ichiran Ramen for lunch on the recommendation of the fellow at the front desk of the hotel. We found the street ok, but walked past the restaurant 3 times, as it had no English signage at all! Lots of places will have a picture and a few identifiable words like “lunch”, “soba” or “beer”, and I must admit I was expecting to see the word “ramen” somewhere on its outside. Ordering from the vending machine was easy, but then we were presented with two more sheets of paper with no English on them. They figured out we were visitors soon enough, and produced identical papers in English. It was a customization form (how much spice, meat, vegetables etc.) which I think I could do in Japanese now! That’s good, because it was delicious and I could see myself eating there again. We killed the rest of our time in Seibu, a gigantic department store, and now I’m here writing this. But it’s time to catch the train to meet Atsushi, so I must go! Until next time!

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