Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Tokyo Trilogy: Part 2

Hi again,

We've had another really busy few days in Tokyo. There's so much to see and do and our feet are nearly dropping off from all the walking we've done!! 

Back to Monday which is where we last left off. We decided to be productive early on and sort out our Japan rail passes. Similar to an interrail/euro rail pass, this one ticket allows you unlimited travel on Japan railways for 14 consecutive days. We had to buy an exchange order while still in England because you can't buy one once you have arrived in Japan. Japanese rail travel is incredibly expensive (although efficient) so apparently the rail pass works out at the same price as a one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto so we thought it was definitely worthwhile as once we leave Tokyo we will be visiting another 4 regions of Japan all by rail.

The pass proved remarkably simple to sort out and since we were in the area anyway we ended up walking back to the Imperial Palace to take a closer look. So far, this hasn't been our favourite attraction. A lot of the area is closed to the public and the first gardens you come across are quite sparse and open without much to see. Overall a bit of a letdown and Ueno Park was a much nicer outdoor space. The only highlight was seeing a procession with members of the royal family leaving the palace.

Next, we decided to explore a couple of the larger districts of Tokyo. We headed to Ginza first, which is the commercial centre of Tokyo with lots of shops and restaurants- a bit like London's Oxford Street.  While here we visited the Sony Showroom which was cool- you could try out all the newest gadgets including new generation 4k TVs and amazing glasses for the Playstation which allowed two players to see different screens of the same game. The whole place was aquarium themed with loads of tropical fish everywhere and a live tank outside with sharks in.

After walking around Ginza we hopped back on the subway (which is super easy and cheap by the way) to our next district- Akihabara. Famed for electronics, this neon filled area has pretty much every single gadget (real and fake) you may or may not have use for! This definitely fulfils a cultural stereotype that Japan is gadget-crazy! 

We headed back to the hostel and stopped in at an amazing department store near to us with a huge basement foodcourt. This seems to be the most cost effective way of trying a huge variety of local foods and they literally sell everything from whole octopi to fresh fruit to tempura, gyoza and a wide selection of prepared foods. We both love Japanese food here and have managed to try loads without spending a fortune. Going late at night means they are also reduced further making it even better value for money!! 

After eating in, we headed out for a few drinks to the local bar and ended up playing a few rounds of beer pong with some locals.....alcohol is hugely expensive in Japan compared to the UK so we've had to limit our consumption unfortunately! Beer is the most popular drink along with sake (can't say either of us are fans) but even that is very pricey and spirits even more so.....

The following morning, our heads thankfully weren't too foggy! We'd spent all our yen, so before hitting the sights again we went to try and withdraw some more money and hit our first problem of the trip so far. Basically, we'd both got Halifax credit cards which don't charge fees when you withdraw money on them abroad but they are master cards. It took us over an hour to find an ATM which took MasterCard by which point we were stressed and flustered. Eventually though, after replenishing our funds we made it onto the metro and headed to Western Tokyo for the day.

The first stop here was the Meiji Shrine, which is the largest Shinto temple in Japan. It's a gorgeous space with loads of shaded green areas and you walk through a huge wood making you forget you're in a huge city. You reach the main shrine and its spectacular. This has been one of our favourite sights so far....

Leaving here, we headed back to the hustle and bustle of the main streets of Harajuku, the neighbouring district. Harajuku girls are obviously famous for their crazy outfits and we definitely saw a few..... We walked around here for a while, made a quick detour to anger district-Shibuya and both were busier than most other places. There were a huge number of designer stores in both and after a long wander around we made tracks back to the hostel.

Tokyo is massively diverse and east does truly meet west in its various districts. Still loads more to do and we're cramming it into a couple of days so we'll post again......

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