We arrived in Tokyo late afternoon and headed straight to the ryokan we were staying in. Ryokans are a traditional Japanese style inn typically with tatami-matted rooms and communal bathrooms. We purposefully chose to stay in as many ryokans during the trip as we could to have an authentic experience. This one was a modern take on the traditional style and felt like a cross between a youth hostel and a boutique hotel. We decided to head straight out for dinner, we were aiming for a restaurant that Jon had found in the guide book. After one stop on the underground and a short walk we thought we’d found it. As neither or us speaks Japanese we took the plunge and went in, only to find that we were the only tourists in there and the staff spoke very little English. It turned out it we were in an Okinawa themed restaurant, which was unexpected, as it should have been a ramen restaurant. We thought little of it though as it was named correctly an in roughly the right area. When the magic show started we realised we may have made a mistake! While we were waiting for our food the owner asked us how we found the restaurant and thinking it was the one from the Lonely Planet and not really knowing what to tell them we blurted out ‘You’re in the Lonely Planet’, hopefully they weren’t too upset when they found out they were not in fact in the guide. This experience turned out it be the perfect introduction to Japan.
We got up early the next morning and headed to the Tsukiji fish market, possibly the largest one in the world, it’s most busy around 6am but we didn’t get there that early! So even though we missed the tuna auction it was still a hive of activity, with more different types of fish and sea creatures than I knew existed.
I knew that tuna are a large species of fish but it is difficult to appreciate their size until you see them up close. Here one had just been carved and the meat looked more like a red meat than fish. It was a really interesting experience to explore the market.
After the craziness of the fish market we headed to the nearby Hamarikyu Gardens for a slice of tranquillity. We came from autumn in Australia and it was a shock to find it so hot and humid in Japan. It was so hot that day it was nice to spend some time relaxing in the shade. We had missed the cherry blossom season but the garden was beautiful and it was especially interesting to see the juxtaposition of the garden against the background of the city.
After we left the garden, had lunch and explored a bit more we managed to get to the Yebisu Brewery in Shibuyu with enough time to sample a couple of beers before closing. Those of you that know me will know I hate beer but even I found I liked the beer in Japan!
Day 2 in Japan was my birthday! It began with breakfast in Yoshinoya on our way to Asakusa. Yoshinoya is a chain of restaurants serving simple Japanese food, it’s cheaper than most fast food chains and much more tasty!! In Asakusa the 3 day festival Sanja Matsuri was in full swing. The day we went hundreds of smaller shrines are carried through the neighbourhood to the Asakusa shrine, Sensō-ji, to the sound of flutes, whistles and chanting. It was crazy, so many people and the chanting was really loud. It was really fun, such a great friendly atmosphere.
After the festival we had to change hotels, the new place wasn’t a traditional hotel but it was nice and the bed was comfy so much so that we relaxed for a bit and watched some Sumo on the TV. We then headed to the Imperial Palace Gardens for a wander and then on to Shibuya. Famous for it’s crossing it’s a large shopping area which is extremely busy, the crossing is a road juction where at peak times 3000 people can be crossing the road during one change of the lights. As you can imagine it was busy and hectic and we were soon keen for some dinner and respite. There were so many places to go it was really difficult to choose a place, we ended up jumping in a lift to the 3rd floor and coming out in a japanese bbq, the room was bustling and very smoky with little bbqs on every table. We sat down and found there was no english menu or english speakers so we dove in and pointed at a few meats. It was delicious, we had pork belly (that option was mimed by the waiter so we knew what that was) and possibly beef tongue washed down with a beer it was great.
After dinner we went for a few drinks, taking the same approach for finding dinner, heading up some stairs to what we thought was a bar. It was called Black Sheep, we had to climb over a child gate to get in, the bar itself was a small room that felt like it was a one point someone’s living room that they had turned into a bar. It was great and the bartender made a mean mojito and Cuba libre so we were happy. The manager was a rather eccentric man who’d lived in London for 8 years working with models, it turned out that the child gate was to stop his dog from escaping! She was a little temperamental and prone to biting! At one point I accidentally went through the wrong door looking for the toilet and walked into an office with 6 men sitting round a table playing cards. It was a super day and a really fun evening.
That was it for Tokyo until the end of our trip, up next Kyoto.