Two Days in Tokyo
Its the end of July and I’m just getting around to writing up the final two posts of a trip that we took in February. If there were school reports for blogging mine would say “Must try much harder!” Thankfully there are no such things and you dear reader, viewer, vicarious voyeur, are far too polite and well mannered to mention my unpardonable tardiness. Anyway, here is part three of the chronicles that have become known, in our family at least, as James & Darell’s Big Japanese Adventure: Two Days in Tokyo.
Tokyo is entrancing. A veritable Mega City with a population of just under 9 million souls, tower blocks and skyscrapers stretching right to the horizon, people packed cheek by jowl. Yet it is clean, safe and full of the most polite, charming, helpful people you could ever wish to meet. A city where 21st century monorails curve around the corner from ancient temples approached through clouds of billowing incense.
Tokyoites live at the same time a life steeped in ancient wisdom and traditions yet with a bright celebration of childlike joy in fantastical creatures and characters. Its a city that can be extraordinarily expensive but with a Japanese restaurant on almost every street where you can eat a very tasty, healthy and filling meal for under £6 or $10.
Its safe to say that we both had a fantastic two days in Tokyo and want to go back. Not only to explore more of Tokyo, where we barely scratched the surface, but also to visit Kyoto and surrounding areas. I suspect that for James this wasn’t the fulfilment of a life-long dream but the deepening of an enduring fascination with a people, culture, and place that will draw him eastwards time and time again.
You might be surprised to find that there will be no photographs of temples in this post, particularly if you knew how much time we spent visiting them and talking about the history of Tokyo and Japan as a whole – James was my guide, historian and raconteur in this regard and fulfilled his role admirably. Quite simply it would make this post too long and dilute the experience of Tokyo as a pure city. For make no mistake the sheer ‘cityness’ (an adjective long overdue recognition in my opinion) of Tokyo makes it a character in its own right in the same way as New York, London, Paris, Rio etc. have become idealised embodiments of their people and place. Fear not though there will be a separate post just about the temples, imaginatively titled The Temples of Tokyo.
So on with this post. Arriving into Tokyo about 10.00 having had an unconscionably early start to catch the first bullet train form Nagano, which this time took only the normal 2 hours instead of 13 hours – read the previous post Ski Japan – Part 1 for details, we headed straight to our hotel to drop skis and bags before heading out to explore. The Park Hotel Tokyo is in Shiodome and has a view on one side of the Tokyo Tower, the red and white Eiffel Tower like structure below, and the Sky Tower in the distance on the other.
Having checked in we headed out to the first must see sight for James, a real life Pokemon Centre. These just don’t exist anywhere outside of Japan and if you are at all into Pokemon then this is a big deal.
Having spent an hour and a half in there, yes really, we headed back to the hotel to drop of all the purchases and presents and grab some lunch. On the way we passed a pretty unique bicycle chained to a railing.
We then headed over to the Zojoji Temple complex near the Tokyo Tower which was featured in the film Wolverine, photos from this will be in the next post but here’s a view of the main gate into the temple grounds.
We headed up to the Tokyo Tower so that we would be there for sunset and dusk. The views across Tokyo as day turned into dusk were wonderful.
By the time we left the tower the moon was rising and we were bushed. We headed back to the hotel grabbing some food along the way to get some rest as we would have an early start next day and it was going to be very busy. The view from our hotel room down on to streets was typical night time Tokyo.
The next morning dawned bright and cold. Its worth remembering that this was mid February and just six days earlier Tokyo had experienced the worst snow storm in 50 years. We needed to wrap up warm. The view from our room was spectacular with eerie early morning light reflected in the clouds and buildings.
This view was to be our main direction of travel for the day as we headed out to Asakusa and then worked our way back in to finish up at Shibuya that night. We jumped on to the very efficient subway network that runs throughout Tokyo. The signs are all in English as well as Japanese which makes it a lot easier to find your way around once you grasp one very important fact, Tokyo is a city that runs on multiple levels. It so not unusual for a train station to have 5 – 7 different levels and even the pedestrian subways, which shelter Tokyoites from the bitter winter, often have multiple levels. The building our hotel was in had four different entrances, two subterranean, one at street level and one at the elevated walkway level, with the building name being used for two of these and the hotel and building name at the other two. Once you have absorbed this though, and remember to check each subway map in three dimensions not just for left and right you’re good to go.
The best way I can describe Asakusa is to ask you to imagine a large site with multiple temples approached by a road that resembles a Japanese version of Covent Garden in London with multiple stalls selling all sorts of goods, from somewhat trashy souvenirs to some very expensive Japanese art and ceramics. James agreed to take a photo of me for once standing under the entrance to Asakusa and did a really good job considering the model he had to work with.
After Asakusa we took a train to Akihabara, variously known as ‘Electric Town’, ‘Manga District’ or the ‘Geek District’. Here you will find a large Yodobashi camera store, where I could quite happily have spent half a day, lots of other electronics stores, Manga stores and studios and is the home DHU (Digital Hollywood University). Strolling the streets you will find people dressed in full Cosplay and small stalls everywhere selling Manga, Anime characters and costumes.
DHU is dedicated to the study of Japanese pop culture including anime, games, computer graphics, film, website design and graphic design. A truly fascinating place with students showcasing the latest in virtual reality games, anime, design and computer generated art.
As we came out of DHU and headed back to the subway we ran into something that you would only see in Tokyo a mass Nintendo DS Uprising Meetup. There were between 200 – 300 people all playing the latest Nintendo Dragonquest game. For me it was a little bizarre to see so many people gathered together in one place not interacting with one another in person at all but intently focusing on their Nintendos.
From Akihabira we went back to Shiodome to drop stuff off at the hotel and then head over to Shibuya.
Shibuya is world famous for its multi-crossing with hundreds of people congregating and crossing in all directions. Its a place to shop, hangout, see and be seen, a meeting point for many teenagers and twenties Tokoyites. With its huge electronic displays it reflects what we typically think of as modern Tokyo and is the closest I’ve ever seen as a stage set for Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner.
After some serious shopping for unique Japanese clothes for James we had dinner in a fantastic Japanese restaurant and returned to the hotel, exhausted and happy. This was the end of our trip but just the start of our personal, enduring relationship with Japan. Sayonara Tokyo, we’ll be back!