Last month we were lucky enough to go to Japan for a week or so. Absolutely amazing place and somewhere I need to spend more time. We based ourselves in Tokyo and and had a day in Kyoto.
Central Tokyo like most cities is full of shops and offices, but the sheer amount of different shops they manage to pack into one building through vertical integration does give that feeling of claustrophobia. We were staying just outside the centre in the Hilton , which is more in the business district of Shinjuku which gave us some relaxation away from the neon and bustle.
Kyoto was a different story, and is historically the old capital of the country back in the feudal days. Its also more traditional, and have a vast array of shrines and temples. We went to the old Imperial residence which was very well kept having hardly been used in the last 100 year.s
To get between these two cities we used the bullet train (The Shinkansen) . Amazing . Nearly 500k in 2.5 hours. Just incredible. Very comfortable, and due to being sleepy I missed the view of Mount Fuji on the way.
One thing the bullet is though, is expensive. However some due diligence up front can save you a fortune. Before you leave for Japan, you have to buy a JR pass – JR Pass (one week for about 190 quid). This is the price of the return trip between Tokyo and Kyoto. But both cities have such and extensive in city train network as well, means you can use this all the time like a travelcard in London. I read a lot before I left, that we should have a tube pass as well for Tokyo . Rubbish. We got every we needed and never waited more that 5 minutes for a local train. Once you add in the Narita express from the airport to central tokyo (70 miles out) that’s another 20 quid each way as well.
While on the subject of transport, as mentioned we were near Shinjuku. the station is the world’s busiest transport hub with over 200 exits and nearly 40 platforms. Its pretty busy and we were there every day, and by the end of our stay we were pretty adept at getting our way around !
While exploring Tokyo we went out to Akihabara. Traditionally the home of the video game industry. To be fair , it seems a bit run down now, but I still got to see some goodies and play on some stuff that I would have never got to. Also I had an introduction to some of the seedier side of Japanese video games, with some of the 18+ “dating sims”, which were a little weird. Also, the fabled Japanese arcade is not looking very healthy. If i’m going into a massive Sega branded arcade, I expect a little more than hundreds of fairground style grabber machines ! And the Taito centre. From someone who has been around games for as long as I have, its really disappointing.
Food was everywhere , but we did hunt out some recommended places. Namely Ichiran for Ramen, where everybody eats in there own booth called flavour concentration booths. Basically you go in , use a machine to order your meal, get a receipt, go to your booth. Which has a blind which is open about 6 inches so you cannot see anyone on the other side. They take your receipt. Your grub rocks up, they close the blind, crack on.
We also went more downmarket, and found a place that may or may not had a name, but effectively, down the side of Shinjuku station there is an alleyway which houses “restaurants” that seat about 6 people. Basically they serve up a take on BBQ, and bottles of beer. Although initially I was a little reserved, I really enjoyed it. And fair play to them as well. I left my glasses case there , with some expensive headphones in , and just went back the next day and there they were !
On our last evening we went to the government buildings near our hotel which are arranged in a twin towers formation. They are also the tallest buildings in the area and have a free viewing platform in both. Take note Empire state and The Shard. Our host on arrival told us it was a 45 minute wait. 20 minutes later we are several hundred feet up looking over Tokyo. The bonus for me was on the observation deck they had a small exhibition and shop for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Being a bit of an Olympics nut (see Olympics 2012- My tuppenth., this was great.
One last thing, taxis. Like London and New York, they have a standard official cab. Now these are based on the body work of an old Toyota but on Lexus running gear and interior. Except the doors are remote opened and closed. Not such as big deal, but they open traditionally unlike most auto doors which slide. Having spent nearly 50 years being used to closing doors when I get out of a car, I found myself constantly watching people walk away from taxis, and thinking, “why haven’t you closed the door?”, just in time to which it snap shut. Including our last day when i was told off by the taxi driver, for trying to close my own door !
Overall A+, will do again. Please enjoy the photos below…. All taken an an Iphone and unedited.