Our inspiration for visiting Japan had initially come from our desire to visit Tokyo, and we were now finally here after getting a train from Mount Fuji in the afternoon. We had heard from others back at home, and by meeting others whilst travelling, that Tokyo was everything from ‘crazy’ to ‘mind-blowing’. We couldn’t wait to see it for ourselves.
We had a few hours on our first day to dive straight into it, and so we decided to go check out a view of Tokyo from above, from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (TMGB). The complex actually consists of three buildings, two of which have observation decks on their 45th floor which are free to visit. The views once up their were fab. On a clear day, you can supposedly see Mount Fuji from up here, but we weren’t that lucky!
We found out shortly that we weren’t too far from the Park Hyatt hotel, where famous scenes from the movie ‘Lost in Translation’ took place. So to round off the evening, we spent it up at the Peak Lounge and NY Bar which not only again had great views of the city, but had a nice atmosphere and took us right back to the film. It was a nice way to end our first evening in the city.
We started the next day by delving into Tokyo’s past, and visited Senso-ji, and the Meiji Shrine.
Senso-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple, is Tokyo’s oldest temple, it’s origins dating back to 628 AD. It’s one of the most, if not the most, visited temples in Tokyo, and it’s colourful Main Hall along with the Pagoda make it a very recognisable landmark in the city.
You approach the temple via the large red Kaminari entrance gate, and up the Nakamise Shopping Street, which was very busy when we went. Once at the Shrine, you can appreciate it’s grandeur and colourfulness.
Next was the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya, a shrine dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.
Emperor Meiji was the Emperor who moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1868, and it was under his rule which saw Japan rise into a powerful country, and open Japan up to the West.
The shrine itself is within a forest, which by blocking out a lot of external noise made it a very peaceful place. Along with the entrance gates (torii), we passed barrels of sake, along with barrels of wine donated to the shrine from France, a nod to Emperor’s ethos of ‘Japanese Spirit and Western Knowledge’.
On our way to Shibuya, we explored the area around Meiji Shrine, including Yoyogi Park, where many locals gather to enjoy it’s peaceful atmosphere, Harajuku St., where the youth of Tokyo walk around showcasing the latest Japanese fashion trends, and Omotesando Hills, Tokyo’s very own Rodeo Drive. Whilst walking around, we definitely got a taste of the hipness that’s associated with modern Japanese culture. Oh, and we found a really popular popcorn place we had to queue up for to get in, which reminds me, American influence was everywhere. You couldn’t walk for more than ten minutes without coming across a 7-11 or a Mr Donut.
Before leaving for Japan, I was told a story regarding a particular dog, a Japanese Akita named Hachikō, by a friend of mine from work, Dawn. Dawn is always talking and showing us pictures of her Japanese Akita, and when I mentioned we were heading to Japan, she asked me to go to Shibuya where they had made a statue in memory of this particular Akita, Hachikō. The story goes that in the 1920s, a professor at the University of Toyko would go off to work, and on returning to Shibuya Station, he would be greeted by Hachikō. This routine would occur daily, until in 1925 the professor died during his work day, therefore not returning to Shibuya that day. For the next nine years or so, Hachikō would arrive at Shibuya Station waiting for the professor at the precise time his train arrived. This attracted the attention of locals, and in the years to come, following several publications and stories, Hachikō’s story was known throughout Japan. Hachikō’s loyalty to the professor became very famous, and Japanese Akitas have since been known for this loyalty.
Shibuya itself is a very vibrant area, popular with shoppers, and we did get to see some interesting fashion choices that day. It’s also where the giant billboards and TVs screens shine high and bright at night, but the main attraction in Shibuya is the famous Shibuya Crossing.
It’s not like England when one direction of traffic stops and the other direction starts, thereby only allowing half of the people to cross. Here at Shibuya, all traffic would stop, and people walk over to any point, whether it be directly in front of you, diagonally across the road. You literally walk in any direction! And it’s done with so much ease, with people walking in all directions never seem to have to slow down or move out of the way. And of course, we got a coffee from the Starbucks where the view of all the chaos down below is magnificent.
Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks Café:
Next came the Tokyo I had imagined when I was a kid, and those were the days in the 80s and early 90s when mobile phones didn’t exist, teletext was the ultimate source of everything anyone needed to know, and board games were THE primary source of entertainment at home.
I’d occasionally hear wonderful things about Japan and technology whilst growing up. Like a round silver disc on which music was stored and played back to you. Or that someone over there in that mysterious world far away, had built a robot that could interact with humans. Japan had captured my imagination as kid. But it wasn’t until my introduction to a small Italian plumber called Mario, and his brother Luigi, that I really got to meet any of Japan’s creations face to face. The day my Grandad bought me and the rest of my brothers and cousins a Super Nintendo in 1994, was one of the happiest days I can remember as a kid. This started my somewhat obsession with video games, and with the Japanese company Nintendo in particular. Between me and my brothers, we’ve owned every Nintendo console since then, and it played a major part in entertaining us kids and teenagers, creating the odd argument and fight every so often! But I owe that to Japanese technological innovation.
And so we arrived next in Akhibara, the district in Tokyo that has technology written all over it, with stores selling every gadget under the sun. We came across all sorts of stores, and even a small convention open to the pubic.
We walked into a store that sold every video game and console that I could imagine, including the one our Grandad bought us back in 1994. I’m sure some of the pictures below will bring back some good memories to my brothers along with my cousins over in Canada.
The best bit of being in Akhibara, was that we got to experience first hand the latest advancement in technology, and it’s something that’s expected to be ‘the next big thing’ not only in video games but in other areas too. It came in the form of Oculus Rift, a virtual reality kit that involved putting on a pair of goggles and some headphones, and it realistically mimicking specific situations. In our cases, we experienced being on a roller coaster ride, and another in a pre-historic dinosaur park, and in both examples, you could move your head about and see the ‘virtual world’ 360 degrees around you. You can see Karina holding onto the table below, as it felt every bit as if you were actually there. It was pretty crazy.
After this, we decide to take someone’s suggestion whom we met in Kyoto, and head to a Maid Café. Now this was the wacky Japan that we’d heard and seen of!
A Maid Café is a perfectly normal cafe where snacks and drinks are sold to customers, in a perfectly normal, albeit very colourful, setting. So far pretty normal right? It starts getting weird when you’re only given an hour maximum to spend in the cafe. And the reason for this? The waitresses who take your order are dressed in Maid outfits, and all appear very young, almost schoolgirlish! They call you, the customer, the ‘Master’, and no photographs except of the food and drink is allowed. Oh, and these cafés happen to be very popular amongst the solo male contingent! (It must be the coffee I reckon…) The atmosphere is friendly (strict rules apply in the cafés!), but it’s an example of the weird and wacky side of Tokyo. Once you order, it gets even weirder, with you having to perform ‘happy wishes’ to your food for good taste, and a small poem and dance with the maid before you start drinking your coffee. You even got to take a picture with your favourite maid at the end! It was a very weird and crazy experience. Oh, but the chocolate sundae we had was amazing!!
That evening, we finished off by getting the best view of Tokyo at night, at the Tokyo Skytree. At 634 metres,the Skytree is the tallest tower in the world, along with the second tallest structure in general (after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). This building was huge! The observation decks are at 350m and 450m, and once up there the views were brilliant.
The next morning, we got up at silly o’clock, to head to Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest fish and seafood market in the world! It’s the place where most of Tokyo’s top sushi restaurants get their fish. If you like sushi, this is the place to be at 6 o’clock in the morning, where the markets few sushi restaurants serve up the freshest sushi you’re ever going to eat in your life! And that’s exactly what we did. It was amazing sushi.
With Japan being on the fashion and style map, and their hairstyles being some of the craziest and funkiest going, Karina was inspired and booked in for a haircut with a BLOC, a salon in Shibuya. With the Japanese stylist speaking almost no English, it’s a risk she was willing to take! With my flowing locks(!) also needing a bit of a change, my Japanese stylist thought it best and most simple if he needn’t explain anything to me in English. The words “Bruce Willis” came out of his mouth along with two thumbs up and a massive smile! It was good fun though. Shout out to Tomohiro and the guys at BLOC!!
Our brief encounter with Tokyo had been amazing, and our time as a whole in Japan was unforgettable. The Japanese people were some of the best people we’ve come across, if not the best. The know how to respect each other and the world around them. We hadn’t witnessed one argument on our whole time in Japan, nor a beep of a car horn. Everyone nodded to each other politely, took and received a paper bill of money with two hands, as if receiving a ceremonial sword every time. The culture is full of respect and very peaceful in it’s core. Throw in modern-day Japan with the weird, wacky and wonderful scenes in fashion, technology and nightlife, and you have a very inspirational and exciting way of living. It’s always hard to say where you’re favourite place is, but we both said this just could be it. A big statement of course, as we still had another three and a half months left to travel, and at least another five countries left to visit!
Next up, we were headed to backpacking heaven, South East Asia, and first up was Thailand, where we were right on schedule for the Full Moon Party! Goodbye Japan!