Our last two days in Japan and how we made it happen…

Monday the 17th of May was going to be our last full day in Tokyo, and boy did we feel it! We had planned this trip for the last year and a half and it was coming to an end. We returned to Akihabara (for Rob) where he indulged his computer games obsession by purchasing a Japanese SNES with a few games thrown in…luckily for Rob there was a special offer on.  

Manga, ever present in Akihabara

 

Harajuku would be next. There isn’t anything else you would want to do in Harajuku but shop! (apart from visit the Meiji Jingu or course). Bought a beautiful coat from a shop down Takeshita dori (will have to wait until Autumn/Winter to wear it) and returned to Kiddyland where we just had to buy some Mameshiba merchandise…so cute!  

Mameshiba advert

 

We left the hotel in the early hours of the morning, suitcases in hand. The nice thing about the streets of Japan is that you usually always feel safe. Despite being only four in the morning and the sky still strewn with stars we navigated our way to the station in order to catch the train to Narita airport. The Narita Express took us from Shinjuku to our terminal for around ¥3,110, more information can be found here http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/charge/index.asp. The train was quiet and helped me prepare myself for the flight ahead (I am quite terrified of flying, but had to endure around 11 hours worth of flying time). Very proud I made it on the plane at all!  

As a final thought, I would have to say that Japan is the most amazing country I have ever visited. After dreaming about it for so long (and boring the hell out of anybody who would listen to our itinerary) we finally made it. Japan went above and beyond my expectations. I only wish we spent more time there.  

Early morning in Shinjuku station

 

When we next go back we are hoping to visit more places in Honshū and try to get to see the other islands too, including Hokkaido and Okinawa. I would recommend to anybody wishing to go is to plan in advance. By planning ahead you can save money on transport and work out the best ways to get from A to B.  

Rob reading manga at Narita airport

 

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blogs on Japan, any feedback is greatly appreciated including any from people native to Japan who may be able to expand on what I have written.  

How we got to Japan  

We booked our flights with the Flight Centre for around £450 each return with Finnair. We flew to Osaka Kansai Airport and returned from Tokyo Narita Airport.  

The accommodation was booked with Inside Japan via the Flight Centre. Our trip was a self guided tour as we already had an idea of what we wanted to see, but if you want to see lots of different places in two weeks, then I would recommend doing a guided tour. Information about Japan can be found almost anywhere, but I rely and trust this website http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/index.html.  

worldwind  

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Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa and Harajuku re-visited…

As we exited the station at Asakusa we were immediately immersed into a throng of people. It was the Sanja Matsuri festival which is held in mid May, and it seemed everybody had turned up to celebrate. 

Asakusa ©

 

As we approached the Kaminarimon Gate, a large group of people had gathered around the entrance and as we approached, a small kitten was lifted into the air and placed on a small stand on the gate. Cameras were clicking away at the kitten, which was obviously frightened to death. Next thing we knew, the man who placed the first kitten on the stand, pulled out another one and placed him on top. The purpose of this was unknown, but seeing this reminded me of my three cats at home and I felt a twinge of homesickness, mixed with a feeling of sadness as we will be leaving Japan in a couple of days. 

Kittens at Asakusa. They were not hurt in any way. Just scared! ©

 

We trailed down Nakamise dori pushing our way through the crowds of people already there and dodged in to some of the shops which line the 250 m stretch leading from the Kaminarimon to the Hōzōmon. We had to make way every so often to allow a procession of people carrying a portable shrine, called a Mikoshi. We made it to Sensō-ji, the temple in to which everybody gathers and prays. People were throwing money over the heads of the crowd into the money trough at the front in the hope their prayers will be answered. 

The Hōzōmon ©

 

 We left Sensō-ji in search of food. We settled for an Okonomiyaki at a stall off Nakamise dori. The grounds of the temple also house the Asakusa shrine, the pagoda of Sensō-ji and a small garden with a pond full of brightly coloured koi carp.

Koi carp ©

 

When we left Asakusa we headed to Harajuku again to try and see what Harajuku is so famous for. Harajuku was swarming with people. Not only was it Sunday (every guide book will recommend going to Harajuku on a Sunday) but the escalators were out of order. We saw a few girls dressed up in Lolita clothing and some people giving out free hugs…no I didn’t have one. 

Harajuku girls ©

We hit the Oriental Bazaar again and bought some souvenirs and then caught the train back to Shinjuku to pack!! Back to England soon. 

Harajuku ©

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Shopping in Ginza, going up Tokyo’s tower and an afternoon in Roppongi…

 
Ginza ©

Ginza is the place to go if you have  a few million yen spare and a penchant for nice buildings.  The locals were polished and preened and the  rows of high end boutiques, including  Dior and Chanel, were jam-packed with the finest clothes money has to buy.   

Ginza Wako, the clock tower is one of the symbols of Ginza ©

 

But in all fairness, there isn’t much to see in the way of cultural sites.  The Kabuki-za theatre and the Sony Centre are worth noting if you are planning on going to Ginza any time soon.   

Colourful Japanese taxi ©

 

Tokyo Kyukyodo is a nice little stationery shop located just off the main street, selling all different types of paper and notebooks.   

Tokyo Kyukyodo ©

 

We pulled back the day going up the Tokyo Tower. We bought our ticket but had a bit of a wait to get up. Should have got there earlier as the place was swarming with people. Not just for the tower, but for several exhibitions that were showing in the tower complex.   

Old and new ©

 

The views were amazing at 150m but 250m was even better! No Mount Fuji at either level due to pollution.   

View from 150m ©

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Roppongi, noted as an ‘up and coming area’ teeming with shops and restaurants and the headquarters to some of Japan’s largest economic powers including; Ferrari Japan, TV Asahi and MTV Japan. 

Roppongi Hills ©

 

One of the floors in the Roppongi Hills complex was dedicated to kitchen accessories, including a rather quaint chopstick shop with about enough room to swing an earwig.   

Roppongi Hills ©

 

In the Roppongi Hills complex there were several displays created by the entrants of the Flower Art Awards 2010. Some of them were simply mind-blowing, and just goes to show that art can be created with any media.    

An entry for the Flower Art Awards 2010 ©

 

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A day in Electric Town…

Akihabara

 Today was pretty much a day for my fiance. We caught the train to Akihabara and did a spot of shopping. We popped in to Laox, a popular Duty Free electrical store (well I say store, there are 12 in Akihabara) and bought a couple of gifts. 

 

Building in Akihabara

 
As we left we met a young girl dressed in an Alice in Wonderland maid costume. She was advertising for a local maid café and she was really cute! We asked her for directions to the café (visiting a maid café was one of the things on my ‘to do’ list) but she said she would take us there. She told me my tattoos and outfit was ‘kawaii’. I won’t reveal her name as I managed to get a photograph with her (you usually have to pay for a photo with a maid, orders from the top) but she took right up to the cafe. Inside were a handful of girls dressed in traditional maid outfits. The main clientele were men; a couple of them were dressed in suits. We ordered a drink and a slice of cheesecake for ¥1200 (each). A group of school children and some Westerners (possibly German) also came up. It got busy all of a sudden, and we left the café and did some more looking around. 
 

All together now....Sega!

          

Rob won a Dragon Ball Z Cell head money box from an arcade machine around the corner, he was rather chuffed.
 

Taito Game Station

The Anime Centre was a bit of a disappointment, less of a centre and more of a small shop. The information inside was useful, and the gift shop was packed with anime goods. But we only spent half an hour in here, 10 minutes of that I spent colouring in a cute character on a light box on the kids table.   

Anime Centre

Rob enjoyed playing in the countless arcades located in and around Akihabara’s main strip, and even bought himself a SNES with games- so a good day for him all round.       
 

 

Akihabara Station
We made our way to Ochanomizu as there is a Byzantine church located there (Rob is obsessed with Byzantine history so we had to go). We made an offering and Rob went inside. Thinking you had to make an offering each I waited outside as we only had enough change for one. The little Japanese lady in the entrance hall came outside to find me and invited me in.      
 

Nikolai-do

Ochanomizu is popular with musicians and is famous for its large selection of musical instrument stores, and we took our time admiring the many windows adorned with shiny, expensive looking guitars and keyboards.   We left Nikolai-do and made our way to Jinbōchō. Like musical instrument stores to Ochanomizu, Jinbōchō is a riot of book stores including a handful of second book stores, where you daren’t look at some books for fear they might disintegrate at sight.           

We headed back home on the train (well back to Shinjuku) some time in the late afternoon, where I found a cute Hello Kitty bag in a florists down the road from our hotel. The print on the bag is collaboration between Sanrio’s Hello Kitty and Liberty (so I was told). We ended the night with a meal at our favourite restaurant Coco’s for tea, so a good day all round.

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Shopping in Harajuku, Shinto brides at the Meiji Shine and meeting Hatchiko…

Our second day in Tokyo and we decided to go to Harajuku (as planned). We caught the Yamanote line to Harajuku from Shinjuku and as we left station we were blinded by the early morning sun.

Harajuku station

It was early but already the crowds were gathering. We walked the streets of Harajuku including Takeshita dori, a street popular with young girls and teeny boppers, but everything was still closed.

Takeshita dori, popular with teenagers and teeny boppers

We thought it best to go to the Meiji Shrine, one of the most important Shinto shrines in Tokyo. The entrance is a large torii gate followed by a 10 minute walk through a beautiful expanse of woodland. Along the way we stopped for an ice cream and a drink then continued to the shrine. We reached the shrine and walked around the grounds, and we were even lucky enough to see a newly wed Shinto couple.

Meiji Shrine

We walked back into town and sought out the Ota Memorial Art Museum, where they had a large collection of ukiyo-e prints by Ando Hiroshige and examples of how the prints were made and the tools used. Definitely worth a visit and the prints were beautiful.

A Shinto bride

There are hundreds of high end and alternative fashion stores in Harajuku, including Baby the Stars Shine Bright, popular with followers of Gothic and Lolita fashion and Western brands such as H&M and Adidas.   

Audi building in Harajuku

I remembered I wanted to visit a store called Oriental Bazaar, but on the way down Omotesando we found Kiddyland! A store with over 5  floors of cartoon and anime inspired products from European and American imports like Lego and Snoopy, to Japans very own Pokemon, Hello Kitty and Cinnamoroll. We were in there for over an hour I believe (not long enough in my opinion) but I couldn’t decide what Hello Kitty key ring I wanted.

Kiddy Land

If you ever make it to Harajuku, make sure you sample a crepe. There are two well known rival crepe shops half way down Takeshita dori. Angel Hearts and Marion Crepes are well worth a visit, if not to try the crepes but just to see the crowds each one pulls! Just for the record Marion Crepes’ #21 custard and icecream with chocolate sauce is a beaut!  

Rivals Angel Hearts and Marion Crepes

Next we decided to go in search of Hatchiko. After walking back down Omotesando, we caught the train to Shibuya and met the dog himself.

Hatchiko and me

We waited patiently at the Shibuya Crossing and ducked into Shibuya 109 to look at the myriad of fashion boutiques and stores located inside. The rest of the afternoon was spent in games arcades for Rob and a bit of shopping for me.

Shibuya 109

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A day in Ueno…

Day one in Tokyo and we decided to spend the day in Ueno and its park (my itinerary had gone to pot by this time). The main reason for us visiting Ueno was the Tokyo National Museum as it is located near the park, but there are lots of other tourist spots too, all within easy walking distance of each other.     

Ueno Park

 

The museum had a special exhibition too, so we were very lucky. As we walked into the park we were greeted by a small fountain. The water was flowing out of the mouth of a stone frog, very cute.  

Frog fountain

 

We came across Kiyomizu Hall which is set on a small hill in the trees. Kiyomizu is inspired by the Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto and is one of the oldest temples in Tokyo. It was here that we were approached by one of the many homeless people who frequent the park. His English was rather good and he spoke to us (well at us) for at least 20 minutes. It was a nice feeling to have somebody local come and talk to us. It began to rain after a while so the man thanked us for listening and bid us farewell, he walked away in to the park…with his carton of milk. 

Ema boards at Kiyomizu Hall

 

We found ourselves at the entrance to the Gojo shrine. The entrance is flanked by two dragon dog statues- teeth bared. To get down to the shrine you must pass under a series of red torii gates. There were a handful of red-bibbed foxes (Inari) sitting on pedestals inside the grotto.     

Inari statue

 

We headed to the museum where we were fortunate to visit the exhibition for The Lineage of Culture- The Hosokawa Family Eisei Bunko Collection. The pieces on display were amazing, including letters written by Tokugawa Ieyasu who was the first shogun and founder of the first shogunate of Japan.     

Me next to a fountain in Ueno Park

 

After leaving the museum and its beautiful gift shops, we headed over to Ameyoko market. The history of the market can be traced to World War II when the market was first founded, selling black market goods including sweets or ‘candy’ from America. You can buy pretty much anything from Ameyoko at bargain basement prices, although if you are like me it is one of those places you go to just to say ‘I’ve been there’. Worth a visit if you have a spare half an hour.     

Ameyoko market

 

Ueno park is also home to several important (and I must say beautiful) places of interest including; the Saigo Takamori statue (Takamori’s last stand against the Meiji government was played by Japanese actor Ken Watanabe in The Last Samuri) and the Tomb of Shogi Tai, erected in 1868 to honour the fallen soldiers in the Ueno War or the “fight of the Shogi Tai”.      

Saigo Takamori

 

Benten-do is a small Buddhist hall of worship built on former marshland. It is completely surrounded by the water of Shinobazu Pond and can be reached by a bridge a stones throw away from Ueno Park. There is also the opportunity to have a go on some paddle boats (in the shape of giant swans) if you want to take some time out and relax. Like the park surrounding the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, the park and the area surrounding the pond is noted for its great recreational activities, including bird watching, where such specimens like the Night Heron can be seen feeding among the reeds.     

Benten-do

 

We couldn’t leave Ueno without visiting Ueno Zoo. It was quite late in the day when we entered so we couldn’t appreciate all the animals the zoo had to offer, but just enough to make it worth our entrance fee (only ¥600!). The zoo is also home to a large Buddhist pagoda and tea ceremony house and is famous for its Giant Pandas. A beautiful Thai Pavillion stands in the grounds of the zoo, which marked the 120th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between Thailand and Japan.     

Thai Pavillion

 

Just like we did, you can easily spend a day in Ueno. The park is not only home to some fascinating cultural attractions, but offers scenic spots where it is possible to just sit and people watch.     

A goose at Ueno Zoo

 

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To Tokyo we go…

On the 11th of May we took the Bullet train to Tokyo. The ticket cost us around £95 each for a single from Kyoto. This may sound expensive, but the price is reflected in the efficiency and speed of the service.

Waiting for the Bullet train

 

My only advice is if you have large suitcases like we had, to ensure you book a seat in advance with extra leg room. These seats are usually found at the end of a train carriage and you can book tickets at travel agents found in Kyoto station. 

Counting down the minutes

 

The scenery changed from tree strewn hills to concrete suburbs then to rippling paddy fields. The other passengers were mainly Japanese business men, accompanied by black leather suitcases. Most were asleep with their ties askew, only to wake up suddenly when the train conductor announced the next stop. 

Leaving Kyoto

 

We were in Tokyo in no time, and in Shinjuku shortly afterwards. If you are considering visiting Japan, in particular Tokyo station, I would advise you to read up on station exits as they are very confusing. We came out the wrong one, finding ourselves walking longer to the hotel. We made it eventually. The hotel was called the Hotel Villa Fontaine Shinjuku, and we couldn’t have asked for a better hotel to end the trip in! 

 

Although the hotel was located in Shinjuku’s red light district, we found the area to be relatively safe. The view from our room (1007) was amazing and all the noise and light on the street below was blocked out, ensuring we had a sound nights sleep. We ended the night with a meal at a fantastic Japanese curry house called Coco Ichibanya…my mouth is watering just thinking about the beautiful sliced beef curry I had, spice level 4…yum! 

Our bathroom

 

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