5 days - December 2016
Final Stop Tokyo!
The trip started in Kyoto when we had to buy tickets to get on board of the famous Shinkansen (Super rapid train!). When asking the train timetable we’ve been told there was a high-speed train every 10 minutes. Instead of just believing it we started questioning his English skills. Well it appears that he was right: there is a high-speed train between Kyoto and Tokyo (500kms apart) EVERY 10 MINUTES! (for the Sydneysiders: more often than a Town Hall-Kings cross train during non-peak hours, can you believe it?) . We were definitely impressed by the frequency, punctuality, service and quality of the trains (might justify the high price).
Tokyo Metropole can be quite intimidating with its 37.5 millions people calling the city home (almost double than Australia !) and we did feel lost when we took the subway for the first time and saw a human tide commuting, all wearing black or grey clothes and packed into the subway watching their phones. Thanks to our best friend Google Maps we found our Airbnb in Asakusa. We’ve loved this part of the city. It’s quite traditional – especially at night when all the tourists are gone- and you can walk around the old streets and see the ladies leaving their place at dusk with beautiful kimonos to go to the Senso-Ji temple. The temple is Tokyo’s oldest and was bombed during WWII. It was rebuilt and now is a symbol of rebirth and peace to the Japanese People. The neighborhood is dominated by a Huge Tori (Gate) Kaminarimon (Thundergate) home of a big Lantern in which you can see a dragon! We’ve spent New Year ’s Eve there and saw thousands of Japanese lining up to hear the countdown and be the first to do a prayer. Traditional I’ve told you.
We’ve also decided to be locals and draw a Omikuji. A Omikuji is a piece of paper predicting your fortune. As newlyweds we wanted to see what lies ahead. We’ve both picked a Omikuji box, picked one stick having a character on it, searched for the drawer labeled with the same character and read the paper. Well Cedric -usually really unlucky -got the best Fortune predicting Happiness, prosperity and success in all his projects while I got the worst one! I didn’t want to stay on this prediction and tried again and guess what out of the hundreds sticks, I’ve picked the exact same character and thus got a double bad fortune… (Note if you’re worried for me, I’m writing this article 8 months from the trip and I can say that nothing hit me yet, I’m still married, I even got a second wedding in Paris, I’ve travelled to 5 countries over the year and our World tour is kicking in 3 months so all good thanks!)
Quite opposite to the traditional Asakusa, there is the impressive Shibuya known for the busiest pedestrian crossing in the World- in one day a million people cross it (25% of Sydney population!). Loud music, big screen, neon flashing lights, shopping: it's a Tokyo icon and represents the Japanese extravagance to me.
We’ve spent a bit of time in this neighborhood, buying Origami paper, watching thousands of people crossing the street from the Starbucks Coffee and we’ve discovered there the Pachinko Parlor. Imagine a big room full of smokers, zillions of small steel balls falling, the noise from the falling steel balls and a flashing bright lights! Quite an experience seeing all these gamblers.
Another buzzing neighborhood is Akihabara or The Electronic town with its neon signs. Shopping district for Electronics, mangas and its maids or cats cafe. Don't hesitate going into the buildings, taking the elevators and stopping on each floor. You will find cafe/stores with different themes. It's how we ended up in a room full of 40+ waving neon sticks while watching ladies dressed into school-girl and dancing. Is it how they disconnect after a long day at work?!
Make sure you go to Harajuku to see Cosplayers (we realized there that we were quite old already...!) and head to the Meiji Jingu sanctuary. Not the most interesting temple but the wood gate is impressive and you can also have a picnic in the Yoyogi park nearby.
At night you can head to the red-light district (Kabukicho) and check out the lights, karaokes, weird bars and many love hotels with different themes (really popular in Japan!). We haven't spent long there and instead we had dinner in Shinjuku. A few meters from the busiest train station you can find old streets (Golden Gai and Memory lane) with tiny restaurants- capacity of max 10 people. Don't expect fancy food but nice and simple yakitori, gyozas and ramen.
On New Year's day we went to DisneySea! It was packed with many young adults couple on a date and dressing-up like Minnie. (they do love costumes!)
And finally on our last day, we've been quite local again joining thousands of Japanese gathering at the Imperial Palace to see the Emperor New Year's greetings. We then headed to our last visit: the Hipster Shimokitazawa. Good vibes, nice thrift shop, theaters, live music, Shimakitawa is the Japanese Newtown. We had our best Ramen and fried chicken there (maybe because it was the last one?)
Anyway thanks Tokyo, you're enigmatic, fascinating, bizarre and that's why we loved you!
# Food is amazing and not as expensive as we first think. You can find nice Ramen or curry at around $10 dollars
# Buy a local Sim card to get through public transport
# Don’t go during winter- it's freeeezing- except if you want to go skiing
# Stay minimum 4 days as the city is massive and so diverse
# Get a Suica transport card, it will avoid you counting how much you need to pay before buying a ticket