Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Travels in Japan - Tokyo

Hey y'all! 

Well the last time I updated this poor, neglected blog was more than a year ago, and I was midway though my trip to India. Just FYI, I survived it! Barely. I caught pneumonia in Amritsar, suffered some mild fever-induced hallucinations at an amazingly gaudy Buddhist temple there, stumbled around the golden temple trying to focus on spirituality while running a temperature, and rallied just in time for the amazing evening flag ceremony on the border with Pakistan. And I ended up with pleurisy when I got home. Which, ouch. But the take-home message is that India is pretty awesome, and Delhi was infinitely more positive an experience the second time around, and I'm alive!

Anyhoo, now I'm alive and in Japan for the 2015-16 Christmas holidays. We're freestyling it a bit, and seeing where the wind blows us. We're currently in Kanazawa so I'm going to try to catch up, and then keep up!

So Tokyo. 

We stayed in Yoyogi, at an undisclosed community accommodation booking facility, which was (without consulting a timetable) about 30 minutes on the JR Yamanote line from Tokyo. Our accommodation was ridiculously easy to find, and also super tiny for we two giants, but at the same time was all we really needed. 

Yoyogi was a pretty good base - affordable accommodation, accessible public transport, and only a few stops from the likes of Shibuya and Harijuku, and straightforward to navigate to other parts of the city on the Yamanote line. 

We flew Jetstar thanks to the cheaper prices. We paid extra for exit row seats because we're giants, which were totally worth every penny, especially as I had no qualms about reclining my seat because the person behind me was a tiny Japanese person who threw a blanket over their entire body about five minutes into the flight (and I say their, as I have no idea of their gender due to the comprehensive blanket coverage!) and stayed that way for the duration. Huzzah! Altogether Jetstar gave remarkably good service Melbourne to Tokyo, especially  compared to the appalling service they provide both landslide and airside in Australia on domestic flights. Disclaimer: Jetstar has no idea I exist. This is a completely unbiased positive review of their international service. Everyone knows their domestic service is sh!t so no biggie mentioning it here (even though I have friends working for them, sorry guys!). 

So. Tokyo. 

On the day we arrived we grabbed our first Japanese vending machine beverages (hot tea for me. HOT! AMAZING!)

then stashed out luggage at a train station and wandered around Shinjuku until the check-in time at our nearby accommodation. We managed to figure out how to order udon noodles and cold tempura vegetables and "tube fish" (basically a fried crab stick but hollow) for lunch without actually being able to speak any intelligible Japanese besides "thank you". Good to know we're not going to starve!

After mucking around getting some wifi (hot tip: sign up for Starbucks wifi BEFORE you get to Japan, cos you need email access to verify the account, which is an infuriating catch-22), we headed out for some dinner at this little fast food-ish place by the station. You order and pay  by pressing buttons on a machine by the door (top right hand corner of the screen sometimes has an English option; otherwise, just wing it based on pictures), then hand the person at the counter the tickets the machine dispenses, and they bring you pretty darned good value for money food. 

Next, some fairy lights caught my eye, and you know how I love Christmas! So we followed our noses until we found quite an amazing display. Who says Japan doesn't do Christmas!

And then we discovered the Tokyo Hands department store. OMG! So take my obsession with cute little homewares to a new level, and that is Tokyo Hands. Aluminium drink bottles shaped like old-fashioned  milk bottles. Insulated lunch bags shaped like handbags. Honestly, I'm beginning to suspect I was a Japanese person in a previous life, because *head explodes*!

Day Two: the forecast was cold and clear so we made a beeline for to Tokyo Skytree first thing to get the best possible view and avoid queues. We caught the metro (subway) and arrived at the back of the line around 9:30-10am. We were in line for around half an hour, and by the time we had our tickets the line was right out the door. So be sure to arrive early! Cold weather is apparently also better for views of Mt Fuji, which is an unexpected perk of having to take your leave during the Southern Hemisphere summer. 

Next stop: Asakusa. Pretty sure it was on a metro line, maybe a pinkish-brownish one, but who knows! There are kind of touristy markets, good food (not sure what this is but it was sweet and yum, and in the cup is some kind of hot sake mixed with rice pudding (I think?? It was nice, anyhow)) and a shrine. 

Last stop of the day was an Intrepid Urban Adventures night food tour. 

I've travelled with Intrepid in Africa and India and they seem to have their sh!t together. Again, a disclaimer that beyond having travelled  with them before they have no idea I exist. Anyway, the food tour was great as we learnt a few things (mostly, hint: around larger train stations you'll often find yakitori bars under the tracks; curtains down means bar is open; and you often have to pay ~500 yen cover charge unless otherwise specified, so try not to be shocked by that). The guide was knowledgable and friendly. I wouldn't say it was truly excellent value for money, except that we visited places we otherwise wouldn't have necessarily found, so I guess it (begrudgingly) kind of came out alright in the end. And we were full at the end, so I guess it was like having a expensive-ish dinner out in Melbourne, but more experience-oriented.

Also, vending machine offering of the day: hot aroma milk tea. 

Day 3: the parasite museum in Meguro. Because Japan. 

This is an 8.8m tapeworm, btw. In the CAME OUT OF A HUMAN section of the museum. Grossssssss. 

And then we stuck our heads into a supermarket, just for kicks, and discovered that a bottle of Jim
Beam costs about $10. Not that we drink that sh!t. 

And that you can buy glass whisky shots!

And then the Tokyo Station, which is very pretty. On the outside. Inside is equal parts hectic and amazing. 

And then the Imperial Palace Gardens (free!) where I had my vending machine offering of the day of a hot lemon vitamin C drink:

And then the science museum. Go to the top level first and work your way down. We did it the other way, and word of warning, the lower floors are more
oriented to school groups. Three cheers for nuclear power!

And then the fountains!

Next stop, the famous Shibuya crossing  
and a smoky little yakitori bar in Shibuya for dinner, where they thoughtfully provided a chicken roadmap and found out that Coke is only about 20% cheaper than beer. 

We ate all of the things (that came from conventional parts of an animal) and drank sake, beer and shochu, and saw several drunken salarymen passed out on train platforms with vomit on their faces. I guess that'll happen when it's ¥1500 (AUD$18ish) all you can drink for an hour!

But I think my very favourite part of Tokyo  was seeing a girl assume that the toilets at the train station were more automated than they actually were, and tried pressing on five different things just to close the door, only to realise that it was actually just a normal door that required closing by hand. Hilarious.  

Next stop - Kanazawa. 


  1. Replies
    1. Sorry it took so long to respond - Merry Christmas to you, too, and happy Easter, and whatever the next festivity will be :)


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