Last time I visited Japan (7 years ago – wow that went quick) I’d just finished a year out in Australia and I had a great time touring Tokyo and all of the suburbs. This time, Amy had a work trip to Tokyo so I decided to go along with her and spend the weekends either side holidaying and for me during the week.
So we left Friday night and did an overnight leg to Tokyo with Qantas, luckily we got upgraded thanks to all of the points we’ve acquired so it was not too bad a trip flying into the Northern Hemisphere. The first think I noticed was how quiet it was, it was the same when I visited here last but for some reason I’d totally forgotten it was 6am on a Saturday morning and things would soon change once the week got started. We arrived and it was a bit wet but the temperature was double that of Sydney, at around 28-30 degrees most days –
View from Tokyu Hotel and first night rain
In the first morning because we’d changed hemisphere’s we thought it was mid-day as we woke up when really it was about 6am, just because the days are so much longer than in Sydney at the moment.
On Sunday Amy and I visited the Meiji Shrine, it is in Yoyogi Park and is a nice tourist stop off, there were thousands of people by the time we’d got there and amongst all of the tourists there was about four weddings going on. In fact the whole area of Omote Sando had weddings going on.
There was also this thing happening with a massive flag. The guy holding the flag looked like he was going to pass out as it was hot and the flag must have weighed quite a lot –
Meiji Shrine Flag
We also saw some contestants from the amazing race, who were getting into taxis and who you can see in the video. We ate some amazing food on the trip and I photographed most of it, one of our favourites was this little place in Ginza where we had tiny sandwiches and green tea that had never ending fill ups. You can see in the photo below it’s Sunday because the street is closed (which happens in Ginza) -
Green Tea and Sandwiches in Ginza
Whilst Amy was at work I headed over to Roppongi Hills to go up the skyview building. Last time I was in Japan I didn’t come to this one and opted for the free version. I actually found the skyview by accident and joined a queue at about 9:45am and was one of the first people in. The rest of the queue were actually there to go to some exhibition so I had the entire skyview to myself.
One of the cool things about Japan is that the culture is so different from anywhere else that you see things and cannot figure out what is going on. This happened on a number of occasions, first was outside a place called ‘Johnnys’, it had loads of girls queuing, no photos allowed and nothing really for sale that we could see. The second time was on the roof of this huge building in Roppongi. Around the helicopter pad are security guards and helpers with a Disney exhibition that spins around and plays loud music. The third time was after Amy and I had dinner at a nice restaurant hidden away down a back street, when we came out there was groups of girls all standing in silence on the street in neat little groups, like something out of a horror movie, we never figured that one out.
Me on the roof with the helicopter pad and Disney Show
At the sky view centre there was also a museum called the Mori Art Museum that had an awesome “Arab Express” exhibition that was designed to educate the Japanese about middle eastern culture.
It had some awesome displays, such as a fountain of oil, that was based on oil fields of Iraq, but by far my favourite was the works by Khalil Rabah, the image below is actually two paintings that look photo realistic. He painted two exactly the same photo realistic paintings to symbolise the throwaway nature of digital cameras (I think). Anyway it was amazing to think these are hand paintings -
Photo realistic painting by Khalil Rabah
I did so much walking in the week my feet hurt, I visited most of the major suburbs and tried one day to do it London style by walking between them. I made the mistake of thinking I could walk through the Togu Palace and ended up walking around the outside of it which took ages though.
London Bus in Shinjunku
At the end of the week we made a trip to Kyoto, we got the Shinkansen which is better known as the bullet train. It goes 270km/h and runs exactly to the minute with no delays. However the speed and timeliness is made up for by the price, it is extremely expensive.
Amy on the Shinkansen bound for Kyoto
We had one afternoon and one morning in Kyoto so we had to do a whirlwind tour of all of the places. Luckily taxi’s were in abundance here and getting from one shrine/temple/castle to another was easy (just the traffic was annoying). Here’s me at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, it wasn’t one of my favourite places because of all of the tourist shops with the junk they sell. The best was the Sanjusangendo temple, but you were not allowed to take photos, it basically had a room with 1000 life sized statues built in the 13th century.
Me at the Fushimi Inari Shrine
We also made a visit to Nijo Castle which was my second favourite place in Kyoto. That evening we went to a restaurant in Kyoto down town called Ninja Kyoto. It’s basically where you eat underground in little caves and you get served by girls dressed as Ninjas (some of them were sexy dressed ninjas) and then a “Ninja Magician” comes around and does magic tricks. Then at the end of the dinner you enter a labyrinth (maze) and have to find things whilst the Ninjas appear from no where and scare you. Basically the norm in Japan! Most of the food was black in colour but it tasted delicious although we’re not sure how they made everything so black.
Ninja Waitress in Kyoto
When we first arrived in Tokyo I posted a picture on Facebook and a friend, Mika, said we should meet up with her in Nagoya. It was a bit of luck because Nagoya is a major city, comparable to Detroit in terms of car manufacturing between Tokyo and Kyoto and is one of the stops on the Shinkansen.
Mika and me with view of Nagoya
It was really nice to see Mika and she took us to a fantastic Japanese restaurant right the way up this building where no tourist had ever been before (I don’t think I’d be able to find it again). We also tried some green tea (hot and cold with gold flakes) and did some shopping in the short time we had in Nagoya. We promised Mika we’d post her a Kangaroo when we got back.
When we got back to Tokyo we only had limited time so I took Amy to one of the places I remember being quite good on my first visit, the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.
Amy at Sensoji Temple, Asakusa
We then made the trip back to the airport and back to Sydney, where luckily we arrived on a sunny but cold day. I really like Japan it is definitely my top Asian city (compared to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai) that I’ve been to. The people are very friendly and it’s the safest feeling city I know of. Also for people who are scared of radiation from Fukushima, when I checked out the independent radiation level readings for the time we were there, it was half that of London and New York so nothing to worry about unless you plan on visiting Fukushima itself. As I mentioned it’s also a very culturally different to the point where you have no idea what is going on, which is quite hard to find thanks to globalisation.
Bring on Bali next week!
Last week Amy went for a work trip to Tokyo and I went along with her. I’ll do a full blog post soon but to start with here’s the video of the trip! Highlights include, Tokyo Tower, lots of other Tokyo landmarks, the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), Kyoto, Mika and Nagoya!
Full post coming soon!
Went out for my last night of eating in Tokyo. I went to some random sushi place underneath a train bridge. It was ok although I couldn’t get the image of the guy getting fish out of the tank and then butchering them to death whilst I chewed on the most rubbery scallop I have ever eaten and then having fish roe exploding in my mouth as well as eating a load of other fish based stuff that I have no idea what it was. I also had what looked like yoghurt but had octopus in it.
As a treat (because lets be honest I’ve been having a really hard time lately) I bought this –
IT IS THE MOST DISGUSTING ICE CREAM I’VE EVER ATTEMPTED TO EAT. If there was only some way out of here..
A little video of all the highlights from Tokyo –
One thing wrong with Tokyo. I can’t find anywhere to buy fruit. I can’t find any where that sells food with fruit in. I managed to find a bannana at Starbucks. That is the only fruit I have eaten since Australia I think.
Whilst in Japan let me make special mention about a site called Yongfook.com. A website about some guy living in Japan who is from UK. He reviews crazy Japanese food products, like a recent entry for a product called ‘Dairy Sour’. Here is a excert of that review - ‘Am I the only one to whom, the word “sour” when coupled with “dairy” instantly conjures up an image of rotten, fetid milk, the kind that you keep in your room at university because your crap student housing doesn’t have a fridge and the solid parts have all curdled and separated from the murky, “milk water” which floats at the top, making you dry heave when you imagine touching the cheese-gas-expanded carton and the volatile liquid erupts out and explodes all over your face, eating away at your skin like that virus in The Rock? THAT is dairy sour.’ Some people won’t get/like the humor but I love it, it’s really funny. I also know what he is talking about now (as I sit here munching on some Choco Flake [crunch] biscuits and looking at the box of ‘Morinaga’s Milk Caramel’ bar that I just bought which turns out to actually just be hard fudge. As for coffee shops, in India the difference between Cappucino and Latte was the size of the cup, here there doesn’t appear to be a difference, they both seem to be identical (no chocolate powder on the cappucino).
So last night I went up the Tokyo Tower, as shown in the last entry pictures. It was pretty cool, its not very high but the night time view is great. I wanted to head to Roppongi to get something to eat afterwards and after seeing how close it looked from up the tower I decided to walk. Distances obviously look closer from high up as it took a while to walk there!! I was surprised to see so many western faces! It appears Roppongi is the party capital of Tokyo. It also appears to be the place to ‘score’. I wasn’t really dressed for a night out (black coat, beanie, Frommer’s Guide to Tokyo) but I did seem to be a target for the drug pushers. After being offered drugs by about 25 people I deceided to make a sharp exit.
I got back pretty late so today was a late start. I walked up to the Emperors Palace, you can’t really get into it, its closed off to the public except for two days a year. This is the best shot you can get of it –
I then headed to Ikebukuro which my guide describes as ‘less refined, a bit rough around the edges’. It was nothing of the sort. Although I did get the crossed arms from a worker in the arcade, because you are not allowed to take pictures. Here is the picture (haha in yer face) –
Arcades in Tokyo aren’t the futuristic place with all the new stuff that we don’t get in the western world for another two years that you might expect. They still play Street Fighter 2, fighting games are like spectator sports. There’s typically about 10 people watching two people play on a big screen separate to the main playing screens. Then there’s the gambling rooms, in one arcade there was a huge screen with computer game horse racing and about 30 consoles which people can sit at and bet on virtual horses to win real cash. Then there’s these games where you pretend to play guitar (you have to push three buttons on the neck of the plastic guitar in time with the computer screen) as well as drumming machines and pretend turntables. It makes you wonder why the people playing them don’t actually get into playing guitar/drums/dj mixing for real though. The arcades also seem to be the place to bring your date/girlfriend – “Do you want to go out tonight darling? I’ll fight you on Tekken, best of 5?” must be how it goes.
The great thing about my new camera is the lens. I can use it to spy on people, here is a shot at 200mm of a guard –
Not sure what to do tonight, maybe get an early one so I can hit the fish market early tomorrow morning for my last day in Japan.
Anhdres told me about this great tool from the University of British Columbia, it is called AutoStitch and is a free program and there are no complicated things you need to do. All you need is some pictures that have some kind of common connection to one another to create a panorama. These two shots are from two different locations. The day time shot is from the goverment offices I visited the other day. The night time shot is from Tokyo Tower. Click on the image to enlarge.
In the night time shot the white lights on the right is Ginza, where my hotel is and the white lights on the left are Shinjuku, where the day time photo was taken.
I also created this 360 degree panorama myself, the city looks never ending in all directions –
Welcome back to G2007!!! At last I have got it working again to its normal state. Thanks very much to Mr Anhdres for making the Japan orientated banner for the site. It rules, take a look at his site it is truely amazing.
So last night I ate this –
Andy would call it a ‘Tuna Bomb’ as it was purely different types of Tuna. I ate it sitting around the table where the chefs make the Sushi and also where the fish tank was. I felt the fish in the tank give me very strange looks as I swallowed their cousins (all except the dead one floating upside down). I think I broke every Sushi eating rule whilst in there (like not dipping the rice into the soy and biting into a piece and then not eating all of it). I was too busy wondering if ‘elbows on the table’ was also looked at with dismay.
This morning I went to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno to check out some Japanese ceramics, Buddhist sculpture, samurai armour and swords. It was pretty good, lots of things to see, there’s 5 different buildings each with different things in, this is a picture of the main building (Honkan) that is devoted to Japanese art –
I took my brand new camera but then realised I had left the battery for it at home!! DOH!!!! So I went back to get it and headed for Asakusa to go and checkout the Sensoji Temple. I went a bit camera crazy here, so here are some highlights. This is the road that leads up to the Sensoji Temple, can you spot the guy with the face mask? –
This is a side road in Asakusa, this Taxi pulled into shot out of focus but it gives the back of the shot a nice feel –
I ended up on some backstreet that was getting more and more seedy by the minute. Lots of gambling going on, so I hopped into this little arcade where they were betting on horses going around the table –
I am going to go up Tokyo Tower now and try and get some night shots (without a tripod), non-stop-japan.
This is my electronic shopping finished. I have a new camera, a Nikon D70s, its beautiful. Although I am still working it out….
I really like Tokyo and I don’t really know why. Maybe it is because the people don’t seem to hassel you and the service is great. You can walk into an electronics shop and play with all the stuff and no one will bother you unless you talk to them, its great. Also there’s no one here that looks menacing and there seems to be little or no theft. Even my tourist guide book says that if you leave something somewhere, like a wallet or a camera, chances are it will still be there when you go back. This may be the reason why everyone walks around with mobile phones hanging off their neck in full display. No one is going to steal it from you. Talking of mobile phones they seem to be light years ahead, it makes my Nokia look like something from the stone age (which incidentally doesn’t work here).
Last night I managed to stay awake long enough to go out in the evening. I decided to go back to Shibuya because there seemed to be a lot of stuff going down there. Here it is at night time –
Tokyo is one big Picaddilly Circus (or Kings Cross for Australia) with neon lights flashing and blinking at you everywhere. They also like the sort of music you get in old games consoles. When you put the two together you get a head spinning combination of sound and music. I noticed today that when the train doors are about to close they play music a bit like what you get in Super Mario Bros when you are running out of time to kill the end of level boss.
After having Sushi at lunchtime I decided to have something different for evening food, so where better to go than Outback Grill. A traditional true blue ozzie streak house –
True Ozzie Dinner, brought a tear to my eye
I met a Japanese girl in there who told me she wanted to come to England and meet David Beckham and was training to be a psychologist. I didn’t understand anything else she told me!
Today I went to Electronic Town Akihabara to pick up some electronics. Here is some little electronic market which pretty much had everything you needed to build a robot that could destroy the world –
Here is a car parking building, which rather than housing people houses cars. You drive into the building and an elevator takes you and the car up to your floor where you leave it.
After the dizzy experience of walking around all the electronics shops I decided to head for Shinkuju to go to the government building and have a look at the view. It is free (where Tokyo Tower costs money) and it is on the 45th floor so the view was going to be good. Unfortunetly it started to rain so the view was a little bit obscured. On a clear day you can see Mount Fiji. Here is the view looking towards Mount Fiji (which you can’t see) –
And there’s no street names?
I then headed to the Shinjuku shopping area, I found this tourist information sign that showed me my location. Unfortunetly it appears you have to be in another dimension to be able to work out where exactly you are –
4 Dimensional Location Map crossing mutiple space time boundaries
That is it for today, going to go out in Ginza tonight to see what is going down. I need to rest again now, this place is crazy!!
I know I thought I did not have jet lag but that was clearly wrong. After having a lay down at 18h00, I thought I was in for a 1 hour nap; I woke up 7 hours later! So I have still not seen Japan at night, that is planned for tonight!!
Today I went to Harajuka where I had a look at the Meiji Jungu Shrine, that was very nice –
I then walked down a famous street called Takeshita Dori (pfff) apparently there’s no one under the age of 25 who goes down this street. I saw loads of funnily dressed Japanese teenagers/young adults down here, they have a very strange style. I also found a lot of surf shops which I went in and cried my eyes out looking at the beautiful surf boards. They are so expensive here though, ¥116,000 for a 5’10 board (about $1500 AUD) double the price of Australia!
I found loads of clothes that I wanted (and bought) 55DSL t-shirts cost ¥1000, about $12 or £5 so I bought loads of them!
Who said Tokyo was expensive? A Latte and a croissant comes to ¥232 in a normal coffee shop (not starbucks) which is about £1.15 or $3 AUD – I am sure Sydney and London are excessively more expensive than that!!
Cola doesn’t come in cans, they come in these weird little bottles, it tastes the same though –
I had to go into one of the arcades here, it is such as Japanese thing that I thought I would try it. I had a go on Tekken 5 and was playing against the computer (and doing pretty well) but then ‘NEW CHALLENGER’ flickered onto the screen and I was playing against the guy opposite me (who I couldn’t see). I got beaten pretty much KO PERFECT each time.
The surf culture here is huge, I did not expect that. I spoke to a guy in the Quicksilver shop (I was wearing my Quicksilver – Australia t-shirt) and he gave me the names of a few places you can surf in Japan. If I find time / work out how to use the train system I might give it a look. I wish I had my surfboard with me, but realistically it would have been absolutely impossible.
I had Sushi for lunch today (thanks to the guy who prevented me from putting something that wasn’t soy into my soy dish). It was pretty much the same as it was in Australia, although less expensive. Here are some Sushi USB devices (not edible) –
Right, I am going to do a major suitcase sort out now. I have bought 2kg of stuff and I am on the maximum limit I am allowed for the plane. This is going to get interesting.