Japan is a country I have been fascinated with since my teens. I guess exposure to Anime and Japanese movies from a young age had peaked my interest. For many years I had been planning a visit to the land of the rising sun, however work and other commitments got in the way.
This year however, I finally did and as I write this blog it has been just over week and a half since I returned to Singapore . I am still feeling the holiday blues. I had been touring Japan for 8 days, visiting Tokyo (3 nights) Kyoto ( 2 nights ) and Osaka. (1 night) It has been one of the most amazing holiday experiences I've ever had.
Let me take you back to the 20th of April where it all began. I arrived at Narita Aiport terminal 1 around 8am local time, and spent around 35-40 minutes going through immigration and customs, queues were pretty big but they more or less moved rather efficiently.
After clearing immigrations, the first thing I needed to know was which train I needed to take to get to my hotel. I had decided against taxis as they were known to be very expensive over long distances, so I popped down to the train station and spoke to the staff: "Sumimasen Asakusabashi ni doyatte ikeba iidesu ka ( excuse me , how do i get to Asakuksabashi) They gave me a number of routes, all of which seemed complicated at the time, but in reality couldn't be more simpler. I decided to take the longer of the routes as I figured I'd get to see a bit of Japan by train. The train arrived promptly without any delay and I enjoyed seeing the country whilst on the move for about 90 minutes. There were 2 changes in total.
Once I arrived in Asakusabashi, I contacted the hotel to ask them whether I could walk from the station. Turns out the hotel was just 5 minutes away. Anyway, at the hotel I dropped off my luggage as check-in was not till 3pm and decided I'd spend a couple of hours getting lost and taking photographs. The latter part however proved futile as my camera battery had died. Turns out I had left it on in the bag during the entire flight. So, instead I decide to use my iphone which was better than nothing I guess.
Asakusabashi is a quiet area with a few busy streets, I was rather keen on finding some good food so spent a good hour or more walking around till I found this little gem tucked away ( I wish I remembered the name) I went inside and they welcomed me with the usual 'irashai masen' literally meaning 'welcome' and was asked to take a seat. I was given the menu but it was all in Japanese. Whilst I can read hiragana, my Kanji is all but non-existent so I spoke, 'suminasen, eigo no menyuu wa imasuka ?( excuse me, do you have an English menu?) the reply was 'sumimasen' which I understood to mean that they didn't. Hmm what to do now, I don't eat red meat and the menu had no photos, so I told the waiter to recommend me something. I told him I didn't eat pork or red meat , but fish and chicken were good. He told me to wait and then suggested a few selections from the menu that he described as being delicious. OMG he was right, it was absolutely delicious, It was a serving of cold soba noodles, a plate of assorted sashimi and a side of yakitori. Simply, mouthwateringly delicious. I was very satisfied, thanked the chef for the meal and then made my way out onto the road. It had started to rain, not heavy but enough to get wet, so I popped into a convenience store to buy and umbrella. Just as I came out of the store, the rain stopped, 'sod's law' I thought to myself and decided it was now time to make my way back to the hotel where I would take a little nap for a few hours before deciding to head out again.
At 6pm that evening I headed out to "Shinjuku" which is about two or three stops from Tokyo on the Yamanote line. The first thing that struck me was how busy it was, restaurants, shops, the street littered with neon lights, people going to and fro and traffic flowing in every direction. I got my camera out and began snapping away, in awe of the colorful neon signs, the huge manga posters, the plethora of restaurants and the sheer vibrancy of it all. Very soon however, it started to get cold to the point where my ears felt like they were being sliced off , so I decided I really needed to cover up. After wondering around for a bit I stumbled across a little shop where I was able to buy a cap to warm my ears. Feeling rather peckish now it was time to find some food and it didn't take me very long. The streets of Shinjuku are littered with places to eat, mostly on different levels with each floor offering a different dining experience. It's a mixture of fine and casual dining. That night I was so hungry I had two dinners. The first was 'ebi tenpura' with steamed rice and an assortment of fish along with a nice bottle or I should say flask of warm sake l can still taste the food in my mouth, it was so good. The next meal I had was at a little izakaya, where I enjoyed chicken katsu with rice and another serving of sake. Back out on the streets once again snapping away, I quickly decide to whatsapp my sister to see if my brother had boarded his flight as I was expecting early next morning. The news that I received was not great, due to an accident at heathrow there had been a huge traffic jam which unfortunately resulted in my brother missing his flight. So now instead of arriving on Sunday 21st, he would be arriving on the 22nd Morning.
Early next morning around 9 O'clock I headed out to Akihibara AKA electric town where the whole place is bustling with amusement centres, electronics and all manner of gadgets and equipment you can think of. There are also cosplay style cafe's where girls dress up as maids etc. I would describe Akhibara as a mix of weird, geeky and cool all rolled into one. You simply have to be there to believe I spent a few hours there looking for a Naruto Statue - Gaara of the sand but could not find the model I was after. ( I never did) and by noon I decided to head towards Tokyo station where I would be meeting a friend.
Jules my friend, who is actually a Japanese gentleman living in the UK and my younger sister's work colleague took me to a fantastic restaurant at the Shin-Marunouchi where they served "Oden" It's one of my favourite types of Japanese cuisine, simple but flavorful. The closest thing to compare it to would be "Hot Pot" I guess. After our delicious meal we headed out onto the streets of Tokyo where we walked to the Imperial Palace and took a walk through the scenic palace gardens, admiring the smell and sight of colourful flowers, lush green trees and imperial archiecture. We also stopped by a small museum that gave a little insight into the history of the Imperial Palace. After we had toured the gardens, we headed towards Ginza.
Ginza, easily accessible from Tokyo via the "Ginza-Marounochi" line, is best described as an upscale area of tokyo complete with high-end department stores, restaurants, cafes etc that cater to all people local and foreign. It is said that Ginza has the highest concentration of "Western" shops in Tokyo. We wondered through a few shops before heading into a cafe for a nice cup of coffee and some desert. After the desert I headed towards the Uniqlo store as I wanted to get a jacket and Jules headed home.
At around 7pm after getting a jacket and taking several photographs on the streets of Ginza, I returned to Tokyo station and then caught the "Yamanote" line to "Shibuya.
Shibuya, is best described as Tokyo's most vibrant, chaotic, and colourful shopping and entertainment district in one of the 23 city wards of Tokyo. It is the home of Japan's youth and fashion culture consisting of over a dozen major department stores catering to all sorts of customers.
The most popular exit from Shibuya station where people meet is the Hachiko exit. Once you exit the station you are faced with one of the most spectacular city sights you are likely to ever see in Asia. It is a five-way intersection that is heavily decorated with neon signs and giant video screens. The streets get flooded with people every time the traffic light shows the green man. If you have seen the movie "Lost In Translation" then you will know exactly what I am referring to.
It was approaching 10 pm and I was getting fiercely hungry, so I began approaching fellow pedestrians. "Doko ni ramen ga taberu dekimasu ka" (Where can I eat ramen?) I asked. Most of the time the one's who would stop and talk were Japanese ladies. they gave me a few choices and I decided to go to the nearest one they pointed out to me in relation to where I was. At the Ramen bar the menu was both in English and in Japanese. This made it rather easier to select what I wanted and soon I was gobbling up a delicious hot bowl of Ramen.
It had been a long day of sightseeing, enjoying the sights and sounds of two of Tokyo's most popular city wards and by now I really needed to sleep, so off I went back to the hotel. My brother would be arriving the next morning and I had offered to collect him from the airport.