Konnichiwa from Japan
Its been a short trip to ‘the land of the rising sun’ as originally it was planned as a short stopover on route from Vietnam to Mexico but plans changed and the Central American trip was put on hold due to cost!
Still I have tried to squeeze as much as I can in during my 8 days here.
I believe we left off last time with me bored, hungry and penniless or should I say ‘Yen Renmimbi’ less transiting in Guangzhou. Thankfully I got out of China not long after that and arrived in Tokyo late evening.
I crashed in a hotel close to the airport, the next morning I headed to my more centrally located hotel in Shinjuku.
Dumped bags at the hotel and wasted no time in getting out on foot around Shinjuku, found it totally overwhelming after being in SE Asia for the last 7 weeks. Neon clad high rises everywhere, a mix of western shops, designer shops and Japanese shops, every other building served food…well I think they did…they all had chalkboards outside titled ‘lunch menu’ but that was the only bit I could read…the rest Japanese!
Also the noise, arcades and slot halls kicking out booming noise, shops with illegal rave style sound systems outside on the pavement blasting some Japanese techno, people talking and walking, cars, taxis, buses…even the traffic lights and pedestrian crossings chirruped at you when it was safe to cross, one set even played a loud emboldening piano concerto piece to symbolise you could cross! Christ alive!
I spent 2.5 hours wandering around before popping to the Family Mart over the road which for a small shop had everything! Hot food, cold food, dim sum, sushi, sandwiches, bakery, chilled dairy, drinks, snacks, instant noodles, western snacks…you name it, it was there!
Managed to source some more superglue to fix my shoes which was good!
So headed back to check in, do some sightseeing planning and rest. The receptionist had sellotape so also managed to fix the corner of my passport too! Bit of a bodge job but it will do.
The next few days in Tokyo were a confusing blur of weird mentalness and walking.
The first day I walked down through a lovely park, which still had cherry blossoms in bloom, to Harajuku which is the district renowned for its fashion and apparently its condom shop. I wandered around there for a bit before taking in a shinto shrine, Harajuku not the condom shop!
On the way to my lunch spot in Harajuku I stopped off at a cool shop called ‘Alice on Wednesday’s’, it’s an Alice in Wonderland themed shop with 3 possible entrance doors, thankfully someone was coming out as I went in so didn’t need to make a guess. You have to stoop down to get through the small door before entering the 3 storey shop full of themed delights.
Had a mooch around, took some pics then headed to the weirdest place for lunch, the Kawaii Monster Cafe. Like a lot of restaurants in Tokyo, the monster cafe was on the 4th floor of a high-rise. You go up in the lift to the restaurants designated floor, then ping the doors open and you are in the restaurant…except in this case…ping and I was some other multicoloured, loud, monster world! To be honest I still hadn’t got over being overwhelmed so the whole experience was like a surreal daydream…but I queued up in front of a wall totally cover in the face of a monster, Choppy is his name…..for those of you born in the 80s or earlier think ‘my pet monster’! Then I got asked which of the 4 areas I wanted to sit in…Sweets Go Round, Mushroom Disco, Milk Stand or Mel-Tea Room, I opted for the tea room.
I was lead to the tea room area, shown to my seat and given an iPad encased in a plastic cake containing the menu…..the food was not of the highest quality….its more the novelty factor!
After ordering my waiter very kindly advised that ‘the show was about to start’! I am thinking….’what show???!’ Then this weird carousel starts up and starts flashing and spinning around on its own! If there weren’t children around entranced, it would have been creepy and I would have half expected Captain Spalding, from horror film ‘The Devils Rejects’, to appear suddenly! (If you haven’t seen the film, google him and you will get my drift!)
Anyway we digress with the inner workings of my mind….the kids were loving it!
3 performers appear in wonderfully weird outfits and spent 15 minutes shouting and possibly singing into a microphone whilst climbing all over the carousel in its colourful, noisy splendour!
Performance over, yes that sums it up, I returned to my table to feast on a substandard salad before taking my leave but not before popping to the bathroom! Jesus!
Don’t get me wrong, it was hilariously weird and well worth going for the novelty factor and if you are below the age of 12 probably the coolest thing you have seen, but I left unsure as to what had just happened! Haha
That night I had booked a ticket at the Robot Restaurant….clearly I hadn’t enough surrealism for the day so I spent 2 hours of my evening surrounded by even more…this was on a whole different spectrum to the Kawaii Monster Cafe and anything I had experienced previously!
It started by entering the ‘restaurant’ from the street and walking down a neon passage to a lift out the back. You then get sent up to the bar and waiting area which had a woman singing and robots playing guitar! Another woman was walking around with free shots of sake, which I passed on but thinking about it now might have been the way to go!
About 30 minutes later you get told to head down to the ‘restaurant’ area. Quick trip to the loo….
Tells you all you need to know!
The ‘restaurant’, is not a restaurant…the only food it serves is popcorn and bags of crisps and pre-ordered sushi bento boxes.
There were 4 rows of chairs, 2 on each side with what looked like a dance floor running in between. I was sitting next to a small group of nutters from all nationalities who had just come off a Gadventures tour and had a few days in Tokyo together after the tour. So for 2 hours I became a surrogate member!
The show itself is about 60 minutes long with a couple of intervals, which believe me you need to recover from the bizarre and frankly mind-blowing things you have just seen!
Basically people, dancers and robots come from both sides of the ‘stage’ and perform different scenes with an array of eardrum breaking loud music, sound effects and epilepsy inducing flashing light displays! We had drummers on angry robots, a girl riding a shark, a girl riding a dinosaur, robots dancing to Michael Jackson, a man with a huge indian moustache riding a bird and a huge flamingo…….all sorts of lunacy!
I headed back to bed not entirely sure what had just happened!
The next day was less surreal and more cultural, went for a long walk to the Imperial Palace. It was closed but I circumnavigated the outside then took a stroll through the palace gardens.
I then took a long walk back to Shinjuku, wandering empty quiet streets and parks before reaching the hotel just before sunset.
That evening I met up with an Indian guy called Neil who I met on couch surfing, he works in Tokyo and we arranged to meet up in Shinjuku to go for some drinks in Golden Gai. Golden Gai is a famous area in Shinjuku of tiny bars that fit 6-8 people in each one…the first one we picked had a wonderfully decorated stairway leading up to it…red carpet on the walls and ceiling…interesting! We squeezed into the corner of the tiny bar, had some snacks and a couple of cocktails then headed off to another one.
The next one had a lively, drunk Japanese man at the bar who clearly wanted to communicate with us but couldn’t speak any English. That didn’t deter him from trying so he kept talking to us in Japanese, assuming in the hope that we would all of a sudden develop the skill to understand and reply!
After that Neil headed off home and I took a slow, quiet evening wander back to my hotel…picking up some tasty dim sum on route!
Friday saw me head to the station and get the shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto. I have always wanted to visit Kyoto to see the Geishas strolling around Gion and wander round all the shrines and temples.
I bought the cheapest seat available in unreserved, so had to queue up with the locals and hope there was a seat left for me. As it happened I headed right to the front carriage and there were plenty of seats, sat with a young Japanese family and a business man.
Spent the journey watching Japan speed by through the window, would have liked more time to explore the country fully…next time!
Arrived at Kyoto station and decided I would walk the 45 minute walk to my apartment, so setting off on foot ladened with 2 rucksacks and my over shoulder bag I started walking…sun was out and scenery was nice so made for a nice walk. Found an old man selling fruit so stopped and bought bananas, oranges, apples and strawberries from him which seemed like a brilliant idea until I then remembered I was walking…with already 3 bags!
So ladened with 4 bags…I carried on with my walk which then climbed up a steep hill pass the National Museum! It’s at this point you wonder whose bright idea it was…then you remember it was your own!
Made it eventually, tired and sweaty to my apartment, checked in and set all the bags down! Realised I had lucked in and my little apartment for the next 3 days had a washing machine! Get in!
So first job was to head back out, minus all the bags to the family mart to grab food, drink and washing powder. Back and washed every single thing in my rucksack bar the clothes I was wearing! Bliss! Everything then smelt lovely and fresh…not musty and worn!
Crashed out that night and had a well deserved lie in the following morning.
After a late start I decided to head out to see a long-awaited sight…Fushimi Inari. Maps.me (a spectacular offline map app) said 1 hour 10 minutes walk to the shrine…fine. So headed out armed with my map app into the streets of Kyoto. The receptionist thought I was mad, making a point of stating that it was a very long walk! This is a relatively short walk in Japan by my standards!
Had a wonderful walk to the shrine…maps.me takes you the best and quickest walking route which took in all the tiny residential back streets as opposed to the traffic heavy main routes.
I quietly wandered around lovely streets for over and hour in the vague direction of the shrine…passed Japanese people going about their business…washing the car, watering the plants, walking their cat!!! All really friendly, smiling and greeting me with konnichiwa.
I stumbled across some empty temples and shrines on route…
My stroll brought me right to the entrance to the shrine and the street food stalls…wandered along savouring the smell of teriyaki chicken skewers, dim sum, hotdogs, sushi etc.
Arrived at the shrine and started wandering under the beautiful, vermillion coloured gates that I had wanted to see for so long. At first there were loads of people and it was slow going and difficult to get any decent photos but after a while the crowds depleted and at points I was left wandering around the mountainside alone.
The route through the gates continued up and round Mt Inari, so I continued to completed section after section…taking in little cemeteries with shrines and dedications along the route.
It was a stunning walk, with long periods of time on my own…just climbing each step at a time..one by one and then realising I was at the top..by accident! So basically climbed a mountain by accident..hadn’t set out to climb a mountain that day…just see the shrine and gates but had another ‘in for a penny moment’ and thought I may as well keep going up section by section and I will stop at the next one, nah the next one, nah the next one…saw a sign ’10 minutes to summit’, well may as well finish it now!
I headed back down Mt Inari and wandered back to the apartment the same way I came..more small residential streets and polite locals.
Crashed out that night, aching limbs and blistered feet!
The next day was a monster temple and shrine sightseeing day! I had planned my route…hours and hours of walking…again…
So headed off to the furthest place first, picking up one shrine on route, then worked backwards….again wandering down side streets and back streets as opposed to main roads.
Started with Heian Jingu Shrine
Then went to Ginkaku Ji and Eikan Do Zehrin Ji temples.
Then I wandered along a canal and down the Philosophers Path on route to the next shrines/temples. The Philosophers Path is a nice, peaceful place for a stroll with only a handful of small, local eateries and shops. The path has little stone steps marked out and willow trees and trees full of blossom overhang the canal.
The Philosophers Path led straight down to Nanzen Ji
I then swung by Chion In and lastly the Yasaka Shrine on route home
The final walk home was a real struggle, legs had given up, feet were even more blistered and cracked! So I hobbled through Kyoto and back for some dinner and well deserved rest!
Tried out my miniature bathtub…even had a small TV at the end…so that night I soaked half of me in the bath whilst watching some Japanese shopping channel! Fun times!
My last day in Kyoto and Japan was a lazy one, I spent the morning resting and didn’t venture out until mid afternoon. I spent the morning watching some Westworld and future travel planning…endured a small earthquake that left my balcony doors rattling for 30 seconds or so and patched my feet up as best I could.
About 4ish I headed out back in Kyoto and this time to Gion where the majority of the Geishas hang out. It’s not as narrow and picturesque as depicted in the film…Memoirs of a Geisha…its packed with people and taxis, busy streets and no constant streams of white-faced geishas. Still I enjoyed the stroll around.
After Gion, I hobbled over to Ponto Cho a narrow, bustling alleyway alongside the canal that is full of tiny restaurants…grabbed some gyozas and then headed back to the apartment to get packed for the off in the morning.
The following morning I walked back down to the station..this time downhill and without the massive bag of fruit.
I grabbed a bus to Kansai Osaka airport and sat back taking in the final scenes of Japan……Nintendo offices with OAPs playing croquet out front…symbolises the mix of old and new Japan.
I had a fair few hours spare at the airport so once checked in I wandered round doing some chopstick shopping….I have a new obsession with chopsticks…there are so many different styles and colours…I bought 4 sets (of 2) in Kyoto for home, but the ones in the airport were amazing – decided against buying any more and took myself off away from the chopstick shops and headed to my main obsession…perfume! I have an issue with perfumes…I love them…I could happily buy 20 and douse myself in them daily!
However, I had a budget of whatever Yen I had left…which sadly wasn’t quite enough for any of the perfumes I wanted. So I did the sensible thing and refrained from buying any and took myself and my leftover to the money exchange and changed into Taiwanese New Dollars (for my next stopover).
The exchange lady was very helpful, changed my money without haste and even went so far as to give me a voucher with my Taiwanese New Dollars…the voucher was for 5% off perfumes in Duty Free…I kid you not! So now that I have exchanged all my Japanese Yen…I can now afford the perfume I wanted! Damn you exchange woman!
Took my humpy self to Starbucks and spent the last of my Japanese coins on a Chai Latte before boarding my flight to Taipei in Taiwan.
It was an uneventful flight, which I supposed what you want them all to be!
Arrived in Taipei late, grabbed a cab to my hotel nearby which proved harder to find that I had envisaged.
The taxi driver pulled up in a rundown high-rise area and pointed at a hotel, which was definitely not mine…I said it wasn’t the right one…he said yes right one!
He then proceeded to drop my bags outside it and show me into reception…funnily enough reception confirmed it wasn’t the right hotel, however, mine was next door!
So I wandered next door into a huge, empty marble atrium with 2 lifts! Excellent…what now?
The buttons in the lift were hardly helpful…started at 15, 22, 28, 30 and then 37, 45 and finally 52! Not sure what happened to the floors in between but they didn’t have buttons!
The taxi driver pressed 30 and stepped out of the lift before the doors closed and left me ascending to the 30th floor alone.
After a slow, creaky ascent the lift open straight into a lovely hotel lobby with friendly, waving receptionist! Bizarre!
Checked in and crashed out as I had an early taxi booked back to the airport for my flight to Bali and the next instalment of my travels.
So a short but surreal trip in Japan rounded off in Taiwan.
My feet are still recovering for the sheer amount of walking around…didn’t step foot in the metro once and only took 2 taxis!
So I summarise as follows:-
Number of steps done – 168,000 in 9 days!
Number of times eaten rice – 2 (was having a break from rice)
Number of times eaten dim sum – 10
Favourite Dish – Gyozas of course! Not like the duck ones in Wagamamas but amazing still!
Number of times I had no idea what was happening whilst watching robots or animated animals – 27