13 days, 13 nights, three cities, and a bout of dysentery.
Tokyo is big. BIG big.
I was expecting a big, highly populated city but it really took me by surprise. I’ve been to other big places, Hanoi, Bangkok, but Japan being what it is I kinda mistranslated “excellent public transport” to “fast and easy to get anywhere.”
You can go lots of places, it’s true, and the trains will arrive on time, they’ll be heated and clean, and they’ll have announcements in English; but there’s a lot of distance to cover and train changes to coordinate.
The size was hard for me to adjust to and it meant I didn’t enjoy my time in Tokyo as much as I’d hoped. We stayed at a cute, very clean place called Nui Hostel in Kuramae. Unfortunately the excellent cheap digs came with a price we didn’t factor in – an extra subway ride just to get to the main train line. I definitely recommend first time visitors, and those not good at navigating, stay on the JR Yamanote loop line.
Spending so much time on trains was a really good way of observing Japanese culture though. Everyone learns to get comfortable so close to strangers and you’ll find many people napping with briefcases on their laps. The trains were where I saw the most interesting clothes and accessories, and where I sat next to a guy casually reading anime porn. They were where we learned how to pronounce Tokyo and Kyoto place names correctly.
As a Gaijin in a foreign country not knowing any of the language I found it pretty hard to find good Japanese food (completely my own fault). Going to restaurants we’d researched were missions in their own right which we didn’t have the time or energy for; we’d often end up eating at the (excellent) convenience stores, or an American themed family restaurant. It was a real treat when we got to meet our Wellington friend Mika for dinner, she read a whole menu to us and acted as translator.
Despite our terrible language skills we found everyone to be very accommodating and eager to use any English they knew. Most people were really friendly and welcoming, with the occasional scowl from an elderly person, and a pointed finger from a child wondering what’s up with the two pale girls and how did that one end up with pink hair?
We spent six nights in Tokyo before catching the shinkansen to Kyoto, which is much closer to my pace of living.
I took A LOT of photos. Rather than trying to use the awful WordPress galleries I’ll post a few of my favourites and leave you with links to explore more of them on Flickr. Enjoy. (See all of my Tokyo photos here.)
The Sumida River as seen from our window at Nui Hostel
View from the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku
We (I) got a bit lost getting here, but a nice man saw us staring at our map and walked with us a few blocks to point us in the right direction. Well worth the visit because it’s free! If you’re not familiar with the area try to get off the subway at Tocho-mae Station on the Oedo Subway Line. (See more sights of Tokyo)
Our first visit to the famous Shibuya Crossing
Swan boats in Inokashira Park
Inokashira park was a beautiful surprise on our walk to The Ghibli Museum. Full of autumn leaves, dogs wearing coats, little black ducks, fountains, …and swan boats. I’m sure there’s some kind of terrifying swan boat king horror movie in the making here. (See all photos of Inokashira Park and the Ghibli Museum)
Ghibli Museum turret in autumn
The Ghibli Museum was more than we could have hoped for. We squealed and exclaimed about all the small details. I hadn’t been a Studio Ghibli fan for long, animation really isn’t my jam, but the museum really solidified my love.
There are no photos allowed inside which meant no one standing in the way taking selfies. I got to take it all in without my camera glued to my face. (See all photos of Inokashira Park and the Ghibli Museum)
Robot Soldier guarding the Ghibli Museum rooftop garden / Pfft pictures of food is for chumps, Japan advertises with plastic plates of meals
Takeshita Dori (Street) is where you’ll find the cool kids shopping for cheap jewellery and the latest fashions. Like really, this is where trends are made and new products are test-marketed.
Lunch at the Brown Rice Cafe in Shibuya
We got a litte lost trying to find this place (you have to go through a holistic health store on one side) but it was well worth it. Just vegetarian whole foods made delicious.
Me & my Tigger hat in front of DisneySea’s Mount Prometheus
The American Waterfront & SS Columbia
This was my first visit to a Disney park, and wow. Wow. DisneySea is next door to Tokyo’s Disneyland. It’s designed for an older crowd, which definitely appealed to me as I kinda really don’t enjoy children.
DisneySea has seven ports with different rides and landscapes, and it’s just so cool. Everything looks amazing so even when you’re not on the rides there’s lots to discover. The day we went wasn’t too crowded but there was still quite a long wait for the rides. We managed to go on everything we wanted to and we stayed for the christmas shows…which really weren’t as cool as I was expecting. I read “floating christmas trees” and somehow equated that with trees floating in the air rather than in the big lagoon.
The best rides are always the most terrifying ones, so if you get to DisneySea then make sure you ride the Tower of Terror. (See all photos of DisneySea)
Nui Hostel, Kuramae
The aforementioned cute digs, Nui Hostel. Everyone working there was super nice, and the place was decorated beautifully. The hostel lobby doubles as a cafe/bar, tree trunks hold up huge wooden bar tops, and exposed concrete walls are decorated with dried flowers and planter boxes. (See all photos of Nui Hostel)
Lazy cats at Neko Jalala / A beautiful bride (?) at Meiji Shrine
Kate and I love cats so we obviously had to check out a cat cafe in Tokyo. Kate had heard about Neko Jalala in Akihabara so we went there one night to have a play. Unfortunately all the cats were tired and grumpy by the time we got there. Grumpy cats unite! (See all photos of Neko Jalala cat cafe)
At Meiji Shrine we were treated to a procession of beautifully clothed people. We’re still not sure what they were doing but I’ve deduced that it was probably a wedding party entering the shrine to be married.
Elsewhere in the grounds a few children in colourful traditional clothes ran about being cute. (See all photos of Meiji Shrine)
Photo sets: Nui Hostel & Kuramae; Inokashira Park, Ghibli Museum, & Mitaka; Sights of Tokyo; DisneySea; Neko Jalala Cat Cafe; Meiji Shrine