Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Tokyo Trilogy: Part 1

So we're here. We arrived in Tokyo early on Friday morning (late Thursday night our time) and made our way from the airport to our hostel in Asakusa. Adrenaline was keeping us going at this point as we were both running on no sleep whatsoever! Economy class on Finnair left a lot to be desired. We opted to get the slow train to our hostel as it was direct from the airport and a third of the price of the more popular Narita Express. It all ran pretty smoothly and we arrived much earlier than expected. 

The hostel we are currently in, Khaosan Tokyo Samurai caters for almost everything we would need. It has a basic kitchen, very comfy bed, good aircon and hot showers. The last two of these are particularly important because walking around Tokyo all day is HOT and exhausting. It's a relief to get back to a clean and quiet haven and to kick our shoes off at the front door (this is a requirement of all living areas in Japan).

The day we arrived was a bit of a write off. By the time we'd walked to the hostel and checked in, all we wanted to do was fall asleep. Of course, that's the worst thing to do with jet lag, so we made ourselves ride it out until night time. We had a mooch around the neighbourhood and got our bearings. Found a good shop nearby where everything is 105yen (about 80p) which was great as we got some cheap food to keep us going. 

The next day, after a good nights sleep, we were ready to see the sights. First stop was Senso-ji temple which is a 10minute walk from where we are staying. It's a lovely area with a great market outside selling food and souvenirs. The temple itself has different areas- a large pagoda, the traditional arched entrance with a bell and some pretty gardens. Walking around Tokyo in July is a challenge which we quickly realised. Temperatures are in the low 30s but the humidity and the crowded streets make it feel much much hotter. Thankfully, unlike some larger cities, Tokyo does seem calm and serene and there isn't the usual pushing and shoving associated with a lot of tourist attractions. 

The next stop on our tour was Ueno Park. A closely district, the park lies within a sea of huge skyscrapers and is something of a oasis in the middle of the city. The serenity and the tranquility of the city is particularly apparent in the greener areas and this is one such place. Street performers, food stalls, a boat lake and a huge area of water lilies make up the park. A small temple lies in the centre-religion and spirituality are everywhere you look in the city.

Around Ueno we hit our first Japanese food. We headed to a sushi bar for lunch and it was amazing. We were both surprised at the price of food- a large bowl of sashimi with about 6 types of fish and a mound of rice was 500yen (about £4.00). We had expected Tokyo to be much more expensive from what we had heard. While Japan may be expensive by Asian standards, and accommodation can bump up the daily budget, food is not expensive by Western standards. Other things we have found to be cheap are transport and attractions. The metro is super efficient, easy to use and rarely costs more than a pound each direction. Attractions, particularly temples, shrines and outdoor spaces are generally free. This has really helped us keep our costs down and enabled us to have plenty of delicious food. 

By the end of the afternoon, jet lag, the heat and the walking had got the better of us. We decided to stay local for food but this turned out to be much more complicated than expected.... Where we are staying is right next to the Sumida River and the last Saturday in July (I.e our first full day) is a huge Japanese festival with fireworks. When we walked from our hostel in search of food, it seemed the whole of Japan had congregated in the small streets nearby. We walked through a massive crowd, got some street noodles from one of the vendors, and tried to find a space to watch the fireworks. 

This proved something of a challenge, especially when the bridge back to our hostel was barricaded. We walked for ages, got back on the subway, took sanctuary in air conditioned Burger King and finally ended up with a decent vantage point. Of course, as soon as the fireworks began, the heavens opened and cue the largest tropical rain storm we had ever seen. We were forced to shelter under a canopy outside an apartment block with 50 locals and ended up staying there for over half an hour. Decided to brave the weather and made a dash for it.....ended up soaking wet, lost and alone in Tokyo. I'm the end we managed to find the hostel after another subway trip. 

The next morning we headed out for another busy day. We went to Tokyo Tower which is an iconic landmark based upon the Eiffel Tower. A good tip, is that the Skytree is now a more popular observation deck but it costs over 3 times the amount of Tokyo Tower and by all accounts you get similar views from both. We got an amazing view over Tokyo, right out to the suburbs and ended up staying for a few hours. Again, this was relatively cheap and only cost about £8.00 which is so cheap compared to European equivalents!! 

After this, we headed to the Imperial Palace and had a wander around the gardens. The mid-afternoon sun and the exhaustion kicked in though and we decided to call it a day and continue the massive area of the gardens the following day. We headed back to the hostel, calling in at a 7/11 on the way, bought some dinner and had an early night.......

We are both loving Tokyo so far, it's a great city. So much so, we can't get everything into one entry without it becoming a novel so it's going to be a trilogy instead!! 

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