Thursday in Tokyo

Akihabara, Taito, Tokyo, Japan
Akihabara, Taito, Tokyo, Japan

A mixed bag is planned today, we got the train to Akihabara to take another look at radio city, buy we were a bit early, so we jumped back on the train to Meguro where we want to have a look at a nature park in the science and nature institute. At Akihabara there was a crowded smoking area where the sign said “This is a smoking shelter and should not be used of other purposes”, another sign said manners station I wander what trains pass through there.

The park was easy to find using the local maps by the road that we have find so useful. The park is a very tranquil place in such a busy city. They allow only 300 people in at at time, it has been pretty untouched for many decades. We kept or eyes and ears open for bird life and to got good views of a brown eared bulbul, a flock of great tits, a brown for which we have yet to ID, and we heard some bird making a racket but could not get any view of it.

Nature reserve Tokyo

Back at the station it was coffee time do we popped into a Starbucks at the entrance to shopping centre, where the carols were blaring out over the sound system. Helen had a doughnut and I had a cinnamon roll but with marron glace in it, which was lovely. The japanese get through a lot of sweet chestnut goods. Helen deserted me in search of a manners station, while I blogged and finished my coffee. However Helen came back unfulfilled yet optimistic that the pachinko parlour next door allowed smoking so I could gamble away a few ball bearings whilst Helen fed her habit.

Pachinko is the Japanese equivalent of the fruit machine gambling is forbidden in Japan so they circumvent the law by selling you ball bearings which you pour into the machine which is like the old pinball machines. I could not figure out what to do so I asked the attendant who tried to explain but then just gave me a breaker of balls which he poured into the machine and said service. Whilst Helen was smoking he loaded up another machine for her. I struggled to under stand the game, there was a thing you twisted which adjusted the speed at which the balls were launched into the playing area, points seemed to be awarded for different holes and pressing one of the three buttons cleared the score or possibly banked the winnings who knows whether we won anything. Next stop was Shinjuku.

Cemetery in Tokyo City

The manic crossing was not manic it was mid week and the fun happens at the weekend. I passed a second hand camera shop and spotted a 35mm f2 lens for the bargain price of £180 which is about one third the price of a new one here, and it turns out £50 cheaper than second hand in the UK. We wandered around the district taking in the sights it is a bit like the area around Piccadilly circus. Next on the list was to visit the HQ of Soka Gakkai we said to a friend who is a follower we would drop by and pick up some literature. They were very welcoming and after some confusion at reception we were sent up to meet someone who spoke English and who furnished us with what we came for, including time stamped visitors cards. We needed a sit down so we find the nearest green space which was just next to the national stadium and in front of the memorial picture gallery the building is unusual architecture. We tested for a while then walked past the stadium to the national garden to see what that was all about. It is a big stadium you could get glimpses of it through the entrance gays. We reached a station and stopped for a coffee.

The national garden closes at 4 o’clock so we had to walk around the edge of the park. We were aiming for a metro station to catch a tube to Jimbucho the book selling area, we wanted to try to get a Black Jack manga comic for a friend. After walking into two soft porn shops which looked like they sold manga a kind gentleman in a bookshop pointed us in the direction of a manga shop on the second floor of a nearby building, we would have never found it ourselves. It was not a long walk back to the hotel so we decided to walk back and drop into a good establishment on the way. We ended up at the place we are at on our first night. We both had fried tofu in a broth with noodles, which really hit the mark. A friendly man struck up a conversation with us and gave us some recommendations for choosing for our last day.

Ueno park, Taito and Asakusa

View of Mount Fuji across Tokyo skyline

Woke up at a reasonable hour this morning thankfully the rain had been replaced by sun with the clearest blue skies and depending on which forecast you believe no more rain till the weekend when we will be long gone.

We started at the usual station and with precision we changed trains at Akihabara then for off at Nishi-Nippori the headed down the side stress of Yanka talking in the shrines and cemeteries in the area. The shrines are scattered amongst the local houses and often it is not clear whether you could enter the shrine but the gates are always open, which makes them very welcoming. They are very calm places. The area appears to be a well to do area judging by the cars on the garages. The weather was gorgeous not a cloud in the sky, only a light coat was needed, it was so clear at one loint helen spotted mount Fuji in the distance with its snow capped top.

We were following a walk in the guide book which took in most of the sights in the area and would lead us to Ueno park, but like all the guide books the map did not have much detail, so we had to follow our noses a bit. At the exit of the cemetery area we find a coffee shop called I had scrambled eggs on toast and a nutty coffee, Helen had a latte and vegetable sandwich. She said she had never been so pleased to see some ice berg lettuce.

Ueno Park, Taito, Tokyo, Japan

From there the theme continued as we headed towards Ueno park. We saw more shrines down the back streets and came across an antiques or bric a brac shop where I purchased a holiday souvenir two small Sakii cups in a wooden box. We skipped the zoo they are the anywhere in the world. Just as you go into the park the first thing you see is a very large area of water similar to a reed bed but made of plants with big leaves and I imagine large flowers. We ticked off a few Japanese birds including an interesting duck, and thrush. We still haven’t figured out the screaming birds that stick around these trees with yellow fruit which the locals collect the seeds off. Earlier in the day we saw a great tit.

In Ueno park there are lots of museums we choose the museum of western art , which is a great collection. Strange you say to go all that way and look at western art, our excuse is that it is in Japan so probably the only chance to ever see it. Out side the science and nature museum is a big plastic whale. We stopped for coffee on the edge of Asakusa district, I had what looked like custard tart but turned out to be pumpkin tart but tasted like custard tart with a hint of pumpkin.

Asakusa is an interesting place, lots of artisan shops quite a few knife shops the prices seemed quite high but you pay your money you take your choice as they say. As you get towards the magnificent shrine it gets quite touristic, with lots of trinket shops and food shops. The shrine it self is quiet extensive and the temples are on much larger scale to the ones we had seen earlier in the day.

The Tokyo Sky Tree from Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo, Japan

Next mission was get back to Tokyo station for some good before heading back to the hotel. We were right next to a metro station so the obvious choice was to take our first underground journey. First we had to buy a ticket using a list in English but a map in Japanese, Helen figured it out straight away and we soon had two 190 yen tickets. We went from the end of the line to Ginza then change to take another train one stop to Tokyo station. The metro is much slower than the trains we were used to, but we were soon at our destination. Next mission was get out of the underground to the station and into the train station, as it is a maze of platforms and perhaps the tube company would rather keep you on the tube than deposit you with the train company.

We found the station and headed for a JR East office to book tickets for tomorrows excursion to the seaside town with yet more shrines, can you see the theme developing. Next we headed for the food place we had used yesterday, and found an establishment that suited both of us. We both had a noodle dish Helen’s was with mushrooms and vegetables and mine was with mixed seafood, they came with a bowl of what looked like stock with eggs stirred in strange taste but not unpleasant. We then had trouble find the right platform and when we did we got off at the wrong end of our local station, so had a longer than necessary walk home which was not welcome after being out on our feet for over eight hours, but all in all we had had a great day, and we had seen Mount Fuji.

Raining hello kitty and Kishu inu

Our room at Hotel Niwa, Tokyo

Late start again, I think it is the jet lag, in the middle of the night we wake up then fall asleep only to wake up at 09:00 feeling tired. That would be late evening at home, so our body is saying time for bed but we need to get up. Helen insisted on some fruit and veg in our diet so last night we bought a couple of bananas at one pound each for breakfast, as well as a small jar of instant coffee.

We headed off at about 10:30 the plan to go to a kite museum, and then play it by ear from there. When we got to the station it was a bit more challenging, we could not figure out which way to go turn put we were true trying to navigate with two different maps one for the Metro and the other for JR East train company. We spotted that we could get to the electronics district from the station so we jumped on the train and got off at Akihabara, which is the Tottenham court road of Tokyo, but multiplied up about 100 times, shop after shop with separate floors devoted to different kit, computers, cameras, peripherals, tablets, phones etc etc. We choose one store and did all the floors officers were reasonable bit not out and out bargains the main thing was the choice. We popped thorough a short of bazaar shop which had lots of small stories selling specialist products, plugs, chips, radios, transformers, wires etc etc. Helen soon got bored, but did make a purchase of some more headphones for the flight back. We spotted a coffee shop for a rest and a fag break for Helen then headed back to the station to find the more museum, it had started to rain.

Tokyo stock exchange

We figured out the train to a station near the kite museum, but spent some time walking in heavy rain try to find the museum, which is located on the fifth floor of a building which had a restaurant on the ground floor which was owned by the guy who put together the collection. The museum is full of kites with little explanation but there was kit collectables from all over the world, and it only cost 200 yen to get in. Whilst in the warmth of the museum we consulted the guide book the nearest attraction was the Tokyo stock exchange, where for free you could have a look around the exchange and the museum. We arrived dripping wet from the rain we were the only people without an umbrella. We passed through security with even though we set off the metal detectors. The museum was small and explained the history of the exchange. We passed through the actual exchange observation deck, then Helen spotted a coffee room with a smoking area a coffee to have a fag, I had a coffee from the vending machines which offered a wide choice .

We bought some souvenirs from the reception then left. It was raining stop we consulted the guide book an decided the next destination should be the communication museum in the NTT offices, it was shut on Mondays like many of the museums, so we went to the Tokyo station. At the station we figured out the best way to experience Japanese food. They have food halls which serve all shoes of different specialties we went to an soba noodles restaurant and had a lovely bowl of noodles in a broth came with tempura prawns. We decided that on future nights we would head out to a similar place to eat, lots of choice an they are used to foreigners. When we had finished eating Helen noticed some people smoking so asked for an ashtray, she was disappointed to find we had been sat in the no smoking area, foiled yet again!

As we had eaten well and it was early evening we went to a large building with shops and bars for a look round and a beer heading back to the hotel. Turns out to be a building full of posh shops selling stuff we neither like r could afford, so we want back to the station to get the train back. We jumped on a rapid train which did not stop at our station of choice, se we got off two stops later and crossed the platform onto the more local train for another stop then got off at our station, or so we thought. We are sure we got the name right but it was not the station a quick lookout the map outside and we figured there was only a five minute walk to the hotel. We went through another interesting district with more food establishments, it seems there is no shortage of restaurants in Japan. We stopped off at the seven eleven for some breakfast bits then retired to our room with the hope of getting u a bit earlier and a bit less tired.

Yoyogi park, and the Meiji shrine

Entrance to Meiji Shrine, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

After the marathon time spent awake yesterday we slept pretty well, and did not finally wake up till 09:30. We have decided that we will skip breakfast at the hotel as it is 2,300 yen each. We stopped of at the lobby of the seven eleven next door for Helen’s first fag of the day,then headed down to the nearest station to try out our Tokyo Oyster cards. The station was confusing until we spotted the English signs. From Suodobashi station we caught a train to Shinjuku where we found a nearby Starbucks some breakfast, then we got back on the trains to go to Harajuku station. Shinjuku station is the one famous for employing people to squash commuters onto the trains during rush hours, it was quite crowded and it was only a Sunday, I wonder what it is like on a week day?

The train was an over ground so we had the opportunity to see the world go by. We passed lots of water one area seemed to have boats for hire, we passed a fishing place where there were lots of fishermen on methods jetties with fishing rods, apparently quite popular I remember seeing it on a documentary about cap once on TV. We guessed correctly which station to get off at, and soon found the park entrance, there were lots of people walking down the wide tree lined avenues we followed the crowds and eventually came to the main shrine area. People come to the shrine to get married so there are as lot of people in traditional dress especially ladies and children. There seemed to be a harvest festival gong on as there were many displays of produce some on the form of large boats worth sails made off leeks. I didn’t know where to point my camera there was too many things to photograph.

We did a leisurely loop around the rest of the park, we were on the look out for the rockers that the park is also famous for. We spotted for a coffee then headed out to find them. We had a stroke of luck my Kindle is a 3G version and can access data worldwide, so we found a picture of the rockers and showed it to an official, who pointed us in the right direction. The rockers were strutting those stuff at the entrance to the park, which is separate to the shrine park. We walked round the park and did some people watching. It seems the Tokyians know how to make use of the green spaces, there was not just lounging around, the rule was that you had to be doing something either cultural or physical. We saw people with Frisbees, hula hoops, shuttle cocks, basketballs, soccer balls, tambourines, then there was the was the cultural ones singing, dancing, reciting, playing etc. There were also some street performers, one on a cylinder and board was very good as he flicked bowls on tithe head of the girl balancing on his head. There was an fenced off area that seemed to be full of dogs and their owners I thing the area was where you are allowed to let your dog off its lead.

Dancers in Yoyogi Park, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

Next stop was to be a the oriental bazaar near by which Helen had spotted in the guide book. Lots of Japanese ware in a nice shop that was well spaced out, unlike the western shops which are squeeze in as much as you can. Helen bought some gifts. Then we headed back to the hotel because we needed a east before going out for something to eat. The trims were quite busy people were on the move, the Japanese queue on the platform nears marks then was politely for the disembark before getting on themselves.

After a rest and freshen up, we ventured out again to find something to eat. We could not make our minds up where to eat. Many restaurants have photo’s or plastic models of the food they sell but neither are very appetising, add to that neither of us eat meat and Helen does not eat fish either it makes the whole thing a bit of a challenge. We ended up at the Tokyo dome we we found a Spanish restaurant, I managed to stay slightly Japanese with the Japanese crab pasta, and Helen got another tick on the list of countries where she has eaten a Margarita pizza. Before going back to the hotel we had a look round the attractions at the dome, and stumbled across another unusual Japanese tradition, there was an area with posts of fairy lights including a long tunnel, and all around were late teenagers, mainly girls all dressed up in Anime style clothing, photo graphing each other. Some of the camera and kit was very serious I saw a 50mm f1.2 canon lens they retail at £1,200 many of them had flashes and reflectors.

Back toward the hotel we tried to go to a Belgium beer establishment we had spotted yesterday, but alas the place was shut, so we went back and had a beer at the hotel. We managed to stay up until 21:00 the jet lag is wearing off.

Four on the Richter scale

Around imperial palace

Following on from the last entry. Once we had unpacked etc we decided to have a quick snooze, before going out for a bite to eat. Two hours later I wake up really tired and struggle to get up and have a shower. Helen is awake once I had showered and we agree we should get out and have something to eat, to force ourselves onto local time if we slept at 17:00 we would be up and awake at some ridiculously early time the next day.

We headed back to a street where we had earlier seen some food establishments, and after some debate we decided on a little place with pictures of food that looked veggie. We sat down and the girl running the place bought us a glass of water each and handed us a menu in English, no pictures but the descriptions we good enough. Whilst we consulted the menu there was a movement much like mild turbulence you get on a plane. The locals expressed surprise but no panic the girl came out and quickly changed the channel to a news channel. Clearly we had experienced out first earthquake, the news channel was suggesting 4 in the Richter scale, a quick look in the Internet suggests it was M4.8 the news channel stayed with the story for a while showing recordings of camera shaking from various places in Tokyo. After about twenty minutes they moved onto the usual stories but the quake was in the headlines but was not the main topic of conversation.

We had a rice mushroom and egg dish with a small cup of miso on the side, cost was 2,000yen which included 2 large beers. Suitably refreshed we headed back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

Flight VS900 to Tokyo Narita

VS900 To Tokyo

The day has finally arrived we are off to Tokyo for a week. Didn’t have the best night sleep in anticipation of the exciting week to come. Got up at about 06:30 and spend a leisurely time having breakfast and finishing off the packing. We are allowed two 23kg bags in Premium Economy we both managed one bag each both less than 14Kg’s. Butlers taxi was five minutes early and we were soon on our way, strangely we stopped for diesel at Watford on the way. The weather was foggy but Heathrow was bathed in sunshine. While Helen was having her last fag before Japan I busied myself taking videos of my self. The plan is to create a video montage of very short (most less than a second) clips of video of our trip. The results should be really good I got the idea from another video on YouTube where a guy had done a tour of Europe, most of the frames consist of the person centre picture but the wide angle lens of the GoPro takes in a large area of background and the surrounding view.

Checking in was a breeze there were no queues at the bag drop, security took some time but the queues kept moving, there is not priority boarding like there is at London Luton. One through security you enter a shopper paradise with many ways found to part you from your money. Looking in Dixons it was a crying shame that white canon lens worth over a thousand pounds were there to be picked up and fondled, no lens cap on either end, there was smudges all over the lens! Note to self I wonder what happens to the lens when the shops close etc is it possible to pick up a bargain?

Around imperial palace

Helen grabbed a glass of wine to calm her already calm nerves, whilst I purchased a pillow for the flight. I found a memory foam one for £14 we’ll see how well it works. Our flight was soon called at gate 20 so we wandered on down. There were no queues at the gate and we were soon sat down in the lounge waiting for boarding. Complimentary magazines and newspapers were supplied. We were only sat for about 5 minutes when we were called to board.

The seats in premium are very spacious with plenty of leg room even when the person in front has their seat reclined. We got ourselves comfortable whilst the ground crew delayed our departure shift cargo around in the hold. We had the pleasure of the preflight drink, followed by the safety briefing. Soon we were taxiing out to the runway and taking off, heading out over Clacton in Essex, then across south Scandinavia, then a long stretch over Russia, before reaching the Pacific and then Japan.

We had a choice of dozens of choices of films, TV program’s and music to chose from the in flight entertainment system all provided on demand. I fancied Dark Knight Rising which we missed when it was on at the cinema, but first it was time for pre-dinner drinks then a veggie Thai curry. Suitably refreshed and after turning down a night cap and coffee we tried to get some sleep. Not before going to he loo. On her return Helen managed to catch her head phones plug as she sat down and snapped it clean off in the socket, luckily she was able to extract the end of the plug otherwise it would have been silent movies only for the rest of the flight.

I felt surprising tired at 00:00 Tokyo time, perhaps my body clock had shifted in anticipation. I suspect not you will have to watch the blog for and update. As it happens we have been preparing for the flight by getting up at 05:00 and going to bet at 07:30 for the past week. My theory is that idle can shift our sleep even a few hours then the 9 hours time difference will be just a little bit easier to adjust to. If it does it’ll let you know, and the. Right a best selling self help book on the subject. As after all I will be an expert after one flight!

Two artists in Chiyoda park

I take my hat off to anyone who can sleep on and aeroplane even the people in Upper Class who get a bed. You can recline and shut your eyes but sleep is something that just escapes me. Having said that I did spend a lot of time relaxing with my eyes closed. Does that count as sleep? Some time in the middle of the night we were handed a hot pastry with mature cheddar in it but it tasted of nothing to me, I had read somewhere that you lose your sense of taste on a long flight, I had! An hour or so later a jug of water and glasses was bought into the cabin. At around 07:00 Tokyo time the sun started to rise and a fantastic landscape could be seen below.

We were in a very cold part of the world, the land scape was plains, pine covered mountains, with the odd frozen lake and rivers. We were over a place in Russia just over a corner of China. The city was called Khabarovsk, it must be cold it is north of Vladivostok. Every so often we would pass over signs of human habitation, fields covered in snow, roads, pipelines, I think I even saw a skiing resort with one oft and three runs down. The sky had that classic white land, rising to the blue sky through yellow and pink.

At about 07:30 someone wandered through the cabin in a dressing gown, with his tooth brush! He was a row in front of us and a few seats over he must have got changed into his lounge wear sometime in the night, I would guess he is a seasoned traveller. Soon it was time breakfast was to be served, I could smell the frying of bacon and eggs. Not really I believe they just microwave or bake to get the prepare pared breakfasts hot. We were in for a treat some sort of scrambled egg mushrooms and tomato dish for us.

Tokyo skyline view

Breakfast was cleared and the staff encouraged us to get ready for landing. Helen and I had managed to trash completely the floor area around our two seats. Once off the plane immigration, luggage collection and customs was a breeze. The airport seemed deserted and there was hardly a queue at immigration, where we had our passports checked and scanned and it photo and finger prints taken. We arrived at the luggage carousel and our bags were more or less waiting. Then we were waved through customs. We sought out a place to buy a Narita Express ticket into Tokyo Station. A kind man pointed out to us that our best bet was to buy a combined return ticket which included a preloaded money card for the metro. It was to be the first test of using a credit card and it was a breeze, we had to sign rather than use a pin. It cost 11,000 yen for the whole lot that’s less than £100 so £25 each way each and we had two cards with 2,000 yen of metro credit on each.

The train left at 10:15 and took about one hour to get to Tokyo station. It was really great to be in a different landscape which we had a good view of from the large train window. At the station I made my first cash purchase, a lighter for Helen, the we found the exit and the very well organised taxi rank. We had prepared a google translation of “please take us to Hotel Niwa” and it worked a treat he driver instantly figured where wanted to go. The ride cos us £10 a bargain.

We were too early to check in so we left our bags and went for a walk towards Chiyoda park where the imperial palace is. It is a lovely park and we both agreed we should return for second look. The sun was shining and there was a bit of a chill in the air. We got back to the Hotel at 14:30 our room was not ready but they put us in one that was not, Helen promptly fell a sleep while I typed up this blog entry.