Tokyo: First few days

So after arriving late in the evening to the Japanese family with whom I’m staying in Tokyo on Sunday I went to bed fairly early and set out into the city just before 9am. First I had some admin to complete and then I set out to explore the city. First I headed to the nearby Ginza district where I first went to GAP to get a new tshirt to replace one that is damaged and jumper for the winter. The prices in GAP weren’t actually that high and were about the same as in the UK. After that I had a wander round the district to get a feel for it and vaguely looked for the Apple Store and it’s free WiFi as mentioned in the guidebook which meant I got a feel for the district. Ginza was very modern with lots of tall buildings. As the roads are also very wide it seemed like a place with a very big scale and as it was about 10:30 in the morning it was actually quite quiet as the shops had only just opened. I headed West to Tokyo station to get my Shinkasen tickets for later in my time in Japan. After that I went downstairs into a shopping centre to grab some lunch. It was actually surprisingly cheap costing only £4.50 including a drink. You must remember that the currency has risen by 60% over the past year due to bankers repaying low interest loans to Japan so it used to be only £2.80. Even against the US dollar it has increased by 30 or 40%.

After lunch I headed to the imperial palace to take a look around there. Unfortunately it is closed to the public and the building itself is inside a massive park so you can’t easily take a look at the building itself and have to make do with looking at the very traditional Japanese buildings around the edge. There is also a park next to the Palace but as it was Monday this was closed – the Japanese seem to shut a lot of their museums and attractions on Mondays.

After that I returned to the subway to go to Asakusa. Asakusa is the site of the famous Buddhist temple Senso-ji. There is also a Market in front of the temple which I walked through to get there. The temple itself was red and built in old Japanese style though behind it there were modern buildings – it was strange to see it in that position. After that I headed west into the narrow streets around the temple which were full of people walking down the middle of the road. The streets are narrow and remind me a little of Cusco though without being on a hill. That area of the city is where a lot of new parts of Japanese culture started so it was full of strip clubs and gambling dens – though it wasn’t a dodgy area like it would be in Europe. After going there I got the subway to Shinjuku which is the district that is supposed to represent the whole of Tokyo. First I headed for the Tokyo metropolitan building which is very attractive and supposed to represent modern Japanese architecture. This building also has viewing platforms at the top so you are able to look over the whole area and it is supposed to be particularly good at dusk which is when I arrived as you got to see the lights come on in the city. The view from the top was amazing and you could see the city completely covering the land in all directions. Tokyo is absolutely massive! The nearby lights of the building and neon that you could see from the top were impressive too but after I thought I should get a closer look. After a wander round the district where I managed to get lost as they have maps with different directions other than North at the top of the map which was very confusing. As the district is dominated by a massive train station it isn’t as big an issue as it could be though! Even so I still managed to see two branches of the high-end jewelry chain Tiffany and Co which seems more than excessive for a single district. I think that this along with vast numbers of other high end branded retailers is due to the Japanese being very keen on them. After this I went back to where I was staying and had some supper.

The next day I again got up fairly early and headed to a nearby flea market with the people I was staying with. On the way we passed their local temple which was more subdued than the one I had seen the day before and was also much quieter. This was very interesting as there were a wide variety of goods on sale (they even had Peruvian hats) and for a market the quality was very high. On the way back we went via a nearby University which was very modern and we had some cheap lunch there which cost about £3.

After that I headed out to the nearby Meiji-jingu shrine which was fairly typical but large. What was really good was it’s location in a large tree filled park. It also had a small garden which you had to pay to enter and that was very quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

After that I headed out of the south gate I entered the young persons district of Harajuku. It contains the Ota Memorial museum which is a small art museum with traditional ukiyo-e paintings and prints. They have 20000 works but only two rooms so they rotate the stuff once a month. This time they had work relating to the famous Japanese work Genji Monogatari (tale of Genji) written about the Japanese imperial court 1000 years ago this year. There was also artwork based on the 19th century parody version of this based on the imperial court of the time. This is the traditional art with the white faced Japanese and was well worth seeing. After that I went past H&M which was so full of people it had a queue outside. For a Tuesday it was like an Apple Store in the UK or USA. Apparently H&M is popular and there are only two stores in Tokyo so they are both busy. In comparison Tiffany who I mentioned earlier have at least four stores (with two in Shinjuku alone) and they are far more upmarket. After leaving H&M I wandered down towards Shibayu station via the tree lined Omotesando which was full of a huge number of branded stores and bright lights in the dark. On the way I passed a mobile phone store and thought I’d take a look. The only phone that I recognized from Europe is the iPhone – though it didn’t seem to be recieving much attention – most of the phones were square looking flip phones which the Japanese seem to love.

Aside from the mobile phones another thing I saw when wandering the streets was people dressed up in strange costumes. Apparently this is cosu-play and is to get away from the conformity of Japanese life. I didn’t get any pictures of this unfortunately. I also saw a large number of single women walking around; much more than in Europe or the Americas. It was interesting to see that they didn’t feel to be in relationships as much; whether this leads to better relationships (i.e. a lower divorce rate maybe) or not would be interesting to find out. They were also generally very pretty. I get asked this everywhere I go but as there were lots of pretty women at university (and secondary school before that.) I have fairly high standards so they are usually average but that isn’t true here.

After returnng back to where I was staying in the evening I had a French potato pie (which I ate with a knife and fork rather than chopsticks for a change.) and some traditional Japanese dessert before sitting down after dinner to watch Hull play Liverpool on Japanese TV. Even though I don’t normally like football this match was great and had a nailbiting finish. After that I watched a Japanese antiques program which went into the history of the time/pieces in great detail so would be great if you spoke Japanese.

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