Our time in Tokyo has gone waaay too quickly. There’s so much more we haven’t had the chance to do or see, but considering we have had only five days here, I’d say we’ve managed to do a shit load.
We did struggle with the trains today. There’s pretty much a different machine for every line you want to get on and, on some of them, instead of having the name of where you want to go to, it just has numbers so you have to try and figure it out. Luckily for me, Jenny is a human compass, so I’ve been able to tag along whilst she does all the work. But we did have to go up to refund our ticket at one point after buying the wrong one, then when we tried asking the man which one we needed to get he just stood there and spoke to us in Japanese. Another guy did the same. I’ve noticed quite a few people do that here, it’s quite funny and it’s hard not to laugh. You just end up standing there staring back at them and going ‘uhhh’ before repeating what you just said in English, with hand actions to try and help. Then they just stand there and say the same thing again in Japanese!
It was a Monday day time, sunny but not muggy once again with a light breeze, and we found the streets were pretty quiet. It was strange because we were surrounded by shops and restaurants and bars which, if in London, would be busy any time of day, but it was really peaceful here. Once again there was that sensation of Tokyo being a little toy town, slowed down and in it’s own way. It feels like everything is more advanced here but in subtle way, I’ve really been struggling to explain what I mean, I think it’s something people need to come and witness themselves. But it’s as if everyone here has been implanted with a little machine which tells them exactly what they need to do and when they need to do it. Everything runs so smoothly. Everything is always on time.
I had been warned that there isn’t many street signs in Tokyo and there really isn’t, which made it even more of an adventure trying to find places we wanted to go. The best bit about this is that you end up stumbling upon so many surprises on the way. On route to Golden Gai, we came across the Hanazono shrine, which we were keen on seeing anyway.
Hanazono means ‘flower garden’, and it’s one of the most important shrines in Tokyo. Although it was established in the seventeenth century, the shrine, torii gate and its shrine buildings all look freshly built. The bright red/orange colour on the outside still looks vibrant and brand new and they don’t seem to have a scratch on them. I later found out that the buildings did have to have some redevelopment after they had been damaged by fires in World War Two. The shrine has the same design as any other, with steps leading up to front to give it royalty.
Beforehand, we’d also found ourselves at the Taiso-ji temple, which was also very interesting. You can distinguish the difference between a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine by the symbols presenting them. Buddhist temples are often shown on maps with a manji symbol (it looks like a swastika but it’s not) and a native Shinto shrine is usually indicated by a torii gate sign.
The Taiso- ji temple was formally known as Kasumizekiyama-Honakuin- Taisoji and has a Buddha statue at the gate, as if it’s being guarded. I read that every mid- July they hold an Obon matsuri, when it is believed that the deceased return to earth. The temple grounds are decorated in orange lanterns, food stalls and game stalls and both men and woman perform a traditional dance to welcome back old souls. If you find yourself in Tokyo around this time, it would definitely be worth checking out. It was dead when we went, it seemed really lonely.
We finally came across Golden Gai, but everywhere was shut because it was too early. This was the perfect opportunity for us to get some nice photos of the cluttered buildings down the narrow alleyway whilst there was no one to get in the way.
It felt like being down a mystical alley in a Harry Potter film; even I felt big for once in my life. Rows of tiny doors and sign posts and colours and lanterns welcome you into the bars. The only issue is that although drinks are standard prices here, you also have to pay a minimum of 500yen for a seat! So as much as we would have loved to do a little bar crawl, our budget would never let us afford 1200yen for a drink. But I’ll definitely be back when my budget is a bit higher!
We spent rest of the night in Akihabara, home to about a gazillion game arcades and Anime stores and four story sex shops. I have never been anywhere like Akihabara in my life, the whole place felt like one giant, live video game.
We came across a total of three, multi-storied Sega arcades, all within one hundred metres of each other (give or take). Beside them were more multi-storied buildings with in- your-face advertisements and lights, mainly consisting of AnimeAnime characters other kinds of cartoons. People walked around in strange costumes and there was shouting coming from outside almost every door.
The arcades were SUCH FUN! Each floor had its own theme, so one floor would be full of those machines where you try and win a toy (once again either Pokemon or Anime related), another floor would be for fighting and war games, another for dance and music related games and so on.
It was crazy to watch other people play, especially on the war-themed games and music games. It was blatant that most of these people were a bit obsessed and must spend a lot of time there. One guy was playing what I can only describe as ‘level impossible’ on this music game and he was smashing it. His fingers were moving so quickly it ended up looking like he twenty..
The feeling of being in a virtual reality grew more intense the more places we went to. We went up the lift to these weird cafes which were empty and eerie and just really, really random. Anime stores just had posters of posing, half-naked cartoons all over the walls, shops sold shelves of keyrings and souvenirs shaped as hot dogs and piece of toast. It was all sooo surreal.
It took us a while to get back from our hostel that night. We stopped at the supermarket again to get some dinner. I know for a fact I’m going to put on weight being away because although I’m moving around a lot more, I keep buying things that are cheap and easy like family sized bags of crisps and instant noodles.
On our final day in Tokyo, I got a chance to get up and do some yoga on our terrace in the morning; we’d decided to leave a bit later in the day to save money. It was a really warm but nice and windy day, so my yoga mat kept blowing up and random objects on the balcony kept throwing themselves at me, but I was just glad to finally get a chance to stretch it out after so long.
Exploring Roppongi was rather chilled, although it was a bit frustrating because there was so much stuff we wanted to do there that we’d expect to be free, but they weren’t. A rooftop view of the whole city as well and some art museums and galleries turned out to be really overpriced, so instead we found ourselves wondering the streets looking for other options.
We visited another pet shop with the most tiny, fluffy, playful puppies EVER. Like literally puppies I’ve only ever seen online. The only thing is I am really against pet shops and did almost end in tears after these toy poodles kept jumping up trying to get to us through the glass of their containers and a large (and stunning) Bernese mountain puppy in a container so small it would have only been able to walk two steps. I forced myself to be positive by reminding myself that at least these dogs have food, water and some form of affection, unlike the strays in other parts of Asia.
Afterwards we took around a Fujifilm gallery, saw some quirky cameras from different ages and well as some ridiculously impressive photography (some were so good I thought they were painting at first). We took a walk around a local park before having a pint and curry for no more than £8 at somewhere called Samrat, opposite Universal Music, which I actually really enjoyed even though Indian cuisine isn’t always my first choice. We then made our way across more wide and bustling crossings to Shinjuku, which I can imagine are similar to the ones in New York, to head back to Shinjuku to check out the robot restaurant.
It was a bit gutting we couldn’t go to the show (it’s quite pricey for a backpacker), but the bar and restaurant was so gorgeous and trippy I really wish I could have it built into an underground room in my house. The walls, ceiling and floors are covered in lights, colourful photos, glitter, diamantes- anything and everything shiny and sparkly. A few guys dressed as robots and a fairy- looking woman came out to perform a few songs in there band. The food menu is really not anything special and stupidly overpriced, but there are a good selection of drinks and one of the guys working there gave us 50% off.
After another long day on our feet, we were ready for bed (I was actually falling asleep on the train on the way back) and ready to get up the next day to move on to our next stop- mount Fuji, which I am soooo looking forward to!! I think I might shed a year when confronted with Fuji in the flesh!
All in all, Tokyo has been like a daydream, too good to be true and I could have easily spent a few more weeks here. It’s peaceful yet positively hectic at the same time, the people are angels, you could never run out of things to do. I’m more than happy with everything we’ve accomplished here, but I’m pleased there are things I haven’t managed to do because now I have an excuse to come back.