While Hong Kong had felt starkly different to the rest of China, Tokyo is as different again. Having always thought of Tokyo as being a crowded bustling metropolis, now it felt positively tranquil, and not just because we arrived near midnight.
It was about 2215, as we were on the train from the airport, that we read that the hostel check-in closed at 2200 and that we should have called ahead for them to let us in. Without phones that worked and no Internet all we could do was turn up and hope there was someone about to at least let us in the building. Thankfully our luck so far has held out and the staff were still wide awake and didn’t seem at all miffed that we were late. Of course now I have put that in writing, something somewhere will definitely go awry. Hopefully not in a major way.
With a much shorter time in Japan we limited ourselves to two days in the capital and on our list of must see things was the Tsukiji Fish Market. That meant an early start. Not quite what we wanted after finally settling down at 1 in the morning. It was definitely worth while though. Although you are allowed in at 8 to the outer market, you can’t walk round the main part until the mornings trading is wrapping up at 9. Not a problem though as there is a very good way to pass the time. The benefit of waiting aroung in the biggest fish market in the world and it’s being in Japan means that you can have a breakfast of the freshest Sushi anywhere on earth. And it’s good. Very good. Although the queue to dine at the most famous Sushi shop was 45 minutes long it is definitely worth the wait. Not needing to bother yourself with a menu, you simply sit at the counter and for the next 15 minutes gradually get served various forms of Sushi and sashimi by the chef who has just prepared them the other side of the counter. As dining experiences go, it’ll be a hard one to beat and on the first morning too. That said, we do have something lined up that may just top it in a weeks time.
The rest of the day we ambled around Hamarikju park and then the Imperial palace east park and somehow arrived in the evening without really noticing. In the evening we had Omanoyaki. This is something between a pancake and an omelet with cabbage and other filings. It is brought out to you in a bowl containing most of the ingredients and an egg. You then mix the whole lot together yourself and cook it on the hot plate in the middle of your table for five minutes either side and enjoy with mayonnaise and something similar to bbq sauce that I haven’t found the name for yet.
Day two in Tokyo. First stop was the national museum which gives you a brief walk-through of Japanese history and art in a well presented, well lit series of exhibits without omitting those bits that put periods of the country’s past in a negative light, unlike some places we’ve been recently…
After our Japanese history lesson we meandered through Yanaka old town before heading to Shibuya crossing. If you are told to imagine a street in Tokyo, Shibuya crossing is almost invariable what people think of as Tokyo. In short, it really is. A crossroad where, when the little green men appear at all sides, around 1000 people at a time set out onto the road to do what the chicken does and get to the other side. Somehow without all ending up as a massive heap in the middle as well.
Just before the evening we went to Akihabara, the electric district. Originally an area that sold all manner of radio and electric components it has evolved into what is probably most easily described as geek central. It is a collection of streets filled with games arcades full of young Japanese people, and not all male, mostly hammering away at buttons on arcade games, that to anyone not paying close attention, seemingly at random at unbelievable speeds. Still, they all seem to be enjoying it. There are also numerous young women dressed in various costumes out on the street trying to entice passers by into the bars where you are waited on by other similarly dressed girls. Apparently it’s popular here, but we decided to steer clear of what would probably just feel uncomfortable to most brits who have only been in the county for one day.
And that was it for our very brief stop in Tokyo. It’s definitely somewhere on the list of places to come back to, preferably with more time and more money to be fully immersed in all that the Japanese capital has to offer. For now though it’s off to Kyoto for lots of temples.