7 Nights in Tokyo
7 Nights in Tokyo
1 Week Over and What a Week It Was!
Well, our first week travelling the world is over and what a week it was. Beginning with trying to navigate the subway system, to adjusting to life in a hostel, to wandering around Tokyo taking in as much as we could in the first few days (see “Ohayou Gozaimasu from Tokyo!”, we have come a long way in only a week.
During the first few days we walked for miles just exploring the city, something we did with our friend in New York as well, a great way to see the city. But….we walked too much and my old man back was killing me for a few days afterward. The adjustment to not going to the gym anymore is starting to catch up with my body and it’s not liking it. Creating our own mini-workouts where you have literally almost zero space to do it has been a challenge but also a fun experience. I’m also finding not eating as much protein as I did before to be an adjustment as well, I used to a high protein diet where in Japan, the meals are primarily rice or noodles, with some greens and some protein. The food is delicious, don’t get me wrong, but it is a big change from my 2-3 protein shakes a day and 7 egg white omelettes! So if I come back to Canada looking like Christian Bale in the Machinist, you’ll know why!
After a few days in Tokyo, where we explored mostly office and retail areas, usually during rush hour, we were starting to feel like we needed a break, a little fun and also see another side of the Japanese people. We escaped for the day and went to Tokyo Disney which was even more fun than I thought it would be and allowed us to see families, kids, teenagers all having fun and letting loose. Something we needed to see, even after two days in the big city.
The following day we took a day trip to Yokohama to visit the Ramen Museum, on recommendations from a few of our friends. Even though it was raining and we got lost in an industrial area (Alyse says it was Google Maps :)), the day at the museum really turned out to be a lot of fun. When you go downstairs from the museum you are transported back in time 70 years to the old streets on Japan which was really cool to be a part of (see “Not Just Ichiban Noodles“).
The next day we decided to explore some of the weird and wonderful in Tokyo, beginning with a “Cat Cafe” (Hapeniko Cafe). I can’t say this was my dream, but Alyse had been wanting to go to one since we arrived into Tokyo and it was weird enough that we had to just check it out. After a little bit of wandering around Shibuya, as the place is hard find, we made are way up to the third floor of this cramped little building. We walked into this “cafe”, which seemed like we had just entered someone’s apartment, and immediately felt like this was going to be weird and awesome. The prices weren’t cheap, it was 1050 Yen for 30 minutes (includes a drink), and after some negotiating with Alyse who wanted to spend a few hours here, we settled for a half hour….it was a good call.
First they gave us directions on how to pickup the cats, which colour of collars to avoid and how to wash your hands before and after handling the cats. Second, they take your drink order and then lead you into the main area which is basically just an open apartment with roughly a dozen cats hanging out everywhere. They had cats of all different colours, hanging out all over this apartment, with some sleeping, some playing, some fighting….only in Tokyo! Then we received our drinks and hung out in a room full of cats for half an hour. Apparently there are 100 cat cafes across Japan, and 50 located just in Tokyo. I have to say the staff were friendly, and the cats were obviously well taken care of, but they weren’t the cuddliest of cats. They were pretty aloof, probably because they have humans coming in all day long wanting to give them attention so they never probably need to seek it out. Overall it was a fun experience, a truly unique Tokyo experience, and one that we were glad we did, but we both agreed, 30 minutes was definitely enough time.
Later that day we took a tour through the Yebisu Beer Museum which, for beer lovers like us, was a great experience. The tour is about 30 minutes, and they take you through the history of Yebisu beer from its humble beginnings as a beer created from imported German ingredients, to its collapse after the war, to the resurgence in the 60’s. It was interesting to hear Yebisu and Sapporo Beer have the same owners, and in the past Asahi Beer was also owned by the same company. The tour is entirely in Japanese, but the tour guide did speak some English and was able to translate some of the exhibits for us. At the end of the tour we each received two glasses of fine beer and the guide taught us why the perfect Japanese glass should be 70% beer, 30% head (to reduce oxygenation). In Canada, and even in Sweden as the gentlemen at our table confirmed as well, we try and minimize the head as much as possible. The tour was a great way to spend a few hours, and for only 500 Yen each, it was great value as well.
Later that afternoon we made our way to the Harajuku and the Yoyogi Park area which are famous for attracting the weirdest people from all over Japan. Maybe it was the rainy weather earlier in the day, or maybe it was the fact that it’s become to “touristy” that we didn’t see very many strange people that day, but we did watch this group of Rockabillies dancing on by the entrance of Yoyogi park.
With giant trees, ponds, wildlife and fountains, Yoyogi Park is gorgeous and we highly recommend taking a walk through it if you have the chance. Located within the park is the Meiji Shrine, dedicated to the late Emperor and his wife, who were responsible for moving the capital city of Japan from Kyoto to Tokyo and catalyzing a renaissance in the country. The grounds and the architecture are stunning and even though it is quite busy with tourists, it was worth visiting.
On our last day in Tokyo (although we will be heading back to Tokyo May 9th), we decided on a day of absolute contrasts. During the afternoon we went to a park in the Shinagawa ward, which circled a tranquil pond created naturally by an underground active geyser. It was nice to lay in the grass, enjoy the sounds of nature and reflect on our first week in Japan. One of the many things that Japan does right are the parks. They are plentiful, well maintained and provide the residents with the quick escape from the cement jungle. We’ve stumbled across a few of these hidden gems where we’ve had the park almost entirely to ourselves.
Later that afternoon, we came back to the hostel and hung out with two of the Japanese guys who work at our hostel (one is the owner). It was the first time we’ve been able to just sit down and talk to people our age about what Japan is like, their thoughts on life, politics and what makes Japan unique. It was a highlight for us both that first week as we have found connecting with the people difficult due to the culture’s “keep to themselves” mentality as well as a language barrier that has proved to be much stronger than we had thought.
On our last evening in Tokyo we were able to make reservations at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. There was no better way to end our first week than at this show which, was by far the weirdest, craziest and most awesome thing we have ever seen! If you find yourself in Tokyo, see it. You will thank me later. I go into greater detail in my post “The Robot Restaurant in Tokyo was Awesome!”.
Our first week in Tokyo proved to be an adventure in itself teaching us lessons that we will take with us on our travels throughout the rest of Japan. We’ve found Tokyo to be a fast paced, modern metropolis that has a pulse that you can’t explain unless you come here. Much like Manhattan, it is a mecca of commerce, fashion and high end restaurants but at the same time there are pockets of the city that are gems waiting to be discovered. Whatever you are into, whether it be great food, shopping, themed cafes or robots, you will find it in Tokyo.
After taking part in the fast paced, modern lifestyle of the people of Tokyo we now settle in for a lesson on the history of Japan as we prepare to spend 10 nights exploring Kyoto’s temples, shrines, and gardens. We have also planned day trips to Iga, Hiroshima, Osaka, and Nara.