So, after an unplanned but very happy 10 days or so in the UK, we boarded our flight to Japan. We had both been looking forward to it so much – a few family members and friends have been in recent years and have had nothing but praise for the place.
After a 15 hour flight (the award for best in-flight film goes to ‘Whiplash’ – check it out) we arrived into Tokyo and made our way across a truly mind boggling train/subway network to our accommodation. Trying to navigate this beast when rested would be tricky – with mind crippling jet lag to contend with it was a bit taxing. We had booked a room in a flat (an Airbnb job) on the 35th floor of this apartment building on Shibaura Island – we finally arrived and were greeted by a jaw dropping view over the city and a very sweet host (Sugu) who provided snacks and strong coffee.
The jet lag monkey woke us up ridiculously early the following day so we marched out on the tourist trail – first stop Senso-Ji, Tokyo’s most famous temple. It’s an extraordinary place where you can engage in some unusual rituals! Locals and tourists queue up to inhale and smother themselves in the incense smoke from the sacred shrines. People also seek out their fortunes by getting a number from a small wooden box, locating the correct small wooden drawer and withdrawing a small piece of paper. Apparently it’s not all good fortunes – however you are able to tie the bit of paper to a small clothes line if your fortune isn’t to your liking.
Late March/early April is cherry blossom season in Japan and our next stop – Ueno Park – is rated one of the top 2 places in the country to see this amazingly beautiful event (an event that also sees the Japanese ‘at their most uninhibited’ to quote The Lonely Planet – we were keen to see what this entailed!). We did manage to see some early blossom but unfortunately the main event is a bit delayed this year and we didn’t see any uninhibited behaviour 😦
Nonetheless we soldiered on and took in both the Tokyo National Museum (brilliant section on history of the Samurai) and the Ginzo district (think Times Square with quadruple the number of people) before eating the most delicious sushi known to man.
Jet lag does have some small benefits – for example, when one is required to get up at 3.30am to go and queue for the world famous Tsukiji fish market, it doesn’t feel quite so grim being awake at that hour of the morning. What does feel pretty grim however is getting to said fish market and being told it’s closed for a public holiday! Ouch.
Again we regrouped and headed for the Imperial Palace – the official residence of the Emperor of Japan. Suffice to say, the palace and gardens befit a man revered and worshipped in Japan – they are incredible and maintained by a legion of unbelievably meticulous gardeners and guards on bikes!
That afternoon we had arranged to meet up with a very special someone. Mami Takahashi was just 16 when she arrived in Devon on a school exchange program. Jess and her family hosted Mami for 2 months and 18 years later Jess and I were lucky enough to meet up with her in Tokyo. She and her 8 year old son Ayumu were brilliant – we had a lovely afternoon in trendy Shinjuku reminiscing about her time in England and eating cake. Magic.
Our final night in Tokyo involved a trip up to the 45th floor of a government building to marvel at the city lights that stretch as far as the eye can see in every direction. This was swiftly followed by the best ramen (noodle soup) we have ever tasted – especially amazing given it came out of a vending machine! 3 days in and we were already obsessed with Japanese food.
The jet lag monkey again decided it was time for us to wake up at 3am but this time we were full of excitement – for the day was to mark our first experience of the legendary Japanese bullet train (the Shinkansen) that would take us to the Japanese Alps and metres upon metres of fresh snow!
Thank you Tokyo – you were brilliant and surreal. Until next time.