The only thing worse than a fifteen hour flight is a fifteen hour flight, a three hour wait, a one hour delay and then another five hour flight. I stopped attempting to form complete sentences around the time that we left Beijing, and by the time we arrived in Tokyo, as interesting and overwhelming as it was, I was just desperate to get somewhere where I could lie down. A very helpful Japanese man practically escorted us from the metro to our hotel (he probably saw the frenzied look in my eyes) and we slept in our awesome capsule beds for about eighteen hours. (But not, alas, before the overly zealous receptionist insisted that we join her on a tour of the hotel which included visiting each of its five floors, twice.)
The capsule concept is really cool and is designed as an inexpensive rest stop for harried businessmen, or a novelty destination for tourists. (It should be noted that the aforementioned businessmen do not appreciate the aforementioned tourists excitedly squealing, clambering or scurrying, however ‘novelty’ the destination may be.)
The next morning we stepped out of the hotel and;The age of incomprehension dawned.
We couldn’t understand anything. This may seem pretty obvious, but the massive language barrier seems to make everything impossibly complicated. The subway was a hot mess, and when we finally worked out which ticket we needed, I found myself staring at the price (160￥) and then at the coins in my hand with utter confusion.
We made it, somehow, and I actually began to enjoy the concept of the Japanese Metro. The handles for standing passengers hang much lower than in England (to make up for the shorter average height of the populace?), they have a special women only carriage and a lot of people wear the notorious surgical face masks. I coughed a little to clear my throat, on the train from the airport, and about six more people frantically whipped out face masks and put them on. It was fantastic.
We headed to the Imperial Palace, via an awesome slice of downtown Tokyo, and eventually came across the gorgeous Imperial Gardens. They look very clasically Japanese, are huge, and free to enter. I think a lot of locals frequent the park in their lunch breaks, and it’s easy to see why.
Unfortunately Rob and I spent much of our time hurrying past the gardens, searching for the palace itself. We eventually paused to look at the guide book and saw, right after the passage that reads; In its heyday, the castle was the largest in the world, a small addition, which noted; though little remains of it today apart from the moats and walls… Oh. The palace we were searching for had been destroyed in WWII, and although a replacement was built, it is home to Japan’s imperial family, and closed to visitors. Oops.
Regardless of our small slip up, the gardens were lovely, and we spent the rest of the day wandering, eating and shopping our way through the rest of the Ginza district.
The next day, feeling a little more acclimatised, we scheduled in a solid day of Tokyo appreciation. First stop was the Tsjuki fish market, where everything from whole tuna to baby shrimp was enthusiastically cut, weighed and sold. The market is situated in a series of huge open warehouses bursting with stalls, and over run with a network of small ‘roads’ along which mini fork lift trucks career back and forth. I loved it. It’s definitely a place where a braver soul than I could take amazing photos, but I’m scared that even the friendly looking fishmongers might come after me with their cleavers if I try to photograph them!
Next we headed to some really gorgeous Japanese gardens, where the original tea houses and shrines still stand. It is said that in its prime, visitors would spend up to eleven hours in the garden, which seems a bit excessive but I suppose back then, there was no Harajuku district to lure them away from their tea drinking and fan wafting to a world of multicoloured goth-lolly delight…
Harajuku district was our next destination. It is like Oxford Street chic meets the back end of Camden Loch Market…. on acid. It is known as the teenage district and the current trend is ‘gothic lolita’ (think Zombie Bo Peep), known as ‘go-lita’ or ‘lol-goth’, or, something. I like the term ‘goth-lolly’.
We walked up and down the main street and loads of side streets, stopping into a candy-coloured mecca called ‘kiddy-land’ which was so awesome, and loads of small vintage or boutique style stores. This kind of hyperactive pop fashion was, for some reason, the only preconceived idea I had of Japan, so it was fun to buy some Hello Kitty merchandise and see the crazy-fun side to Tokyo a little more.
Next stop, Osaka (: