Monday, 14 January 2013

Japan: Tokyo

We'd booked to catch the overnight bus from Osaka to Tokyo, which took about 12 hours. We were a little bleary eyed that day as it was New Years Day, so it was a good job that we decided to leave the hotel at 12 to try and find the spot where the bus would leave from at 9:30 that night. The information that we were given is that it would leave from Kansai University Hospital, and the man in the hotel gave us plenty of information on how to get there.

A couple of trains later and we were in what felt like a post apocalyptic movie, where the only person who had survived was the station master. The streets were dead and all of the small shops were shuttered. The station master pointed straight ahead for the hospital, and as we looked at the maps we realised that it was a small village just filled with university hospitals. The bus left from outside the Family Mart, but try as we may we couldn't find one anywhere.

The pink suitcase which had turned out to be the white elephant of the holiday that I had to drag around with me turned out to be particularly burdensome, so Nick deposited me, along with all the luggage, on a wall outside of the station with my Kindle, while he took a better look. I sat there reading while I heard trains come and go, the odd person would amble past and every now and then a white bag would roll down the street, the sun started to get lower and eventually my little spot on the wall was swallowed up by shadows. An hour and a half passed and Nick finally came back, looking the most dejected that I'd ever seen him look. He said that he'd walked for miles, tried talking to anyone he could find, had a history lesson about Scotland from an old man, but still didn't know where the bus left from.

I checked our papers and noticed a number it said to call for emergencies, but that the line was Japanese only, but with Nick looking so deflated it was worth a try. I went in search of a phone at the station, and the Station Master said the only one was on the platform, but he kindly let me through, when I got there, it only took 100yen pieces, so I had to go on the hunt for them. Eventually, I called the number and the woman when I asked if she could speak English curlty replied with 'No'. But she must have heard my desperation when I said 'HELP' as she gave me a number to call. Unfortunately I didn't have a pen so my best MAC lipstick had to suffice.

Finally it turned out we were at the wrong university hospital and needed to travel further out of Osaka. So happily we left the tiny town of Takaii in hunt of the next University hospital.

It took 5 minutes to find it once we were at the right station, so we dumped our luggage in a locker, went for food and then spent the last hour watching Attenborough in a Starbucks.

When we got to the bus station, the bus was waiting there, or so we thought, so we showed the man our ticket, who said that we weren't booked on that bus. Cue another panic from Nick, until a rather swanky bus pulled up and we realised that was ours. The bus had massive seats with hoods over them so that you could shield your face from the light, or if you're like me and sleep with your mouth wide open, hide your embarassing gawpiness from other passengers.

Over night Bus

Ready to go

With the help of ear plugs and an eye mask I slept really well on the bus, although everytime I woke up Nick was sulking about the man next to us who was snoring really loudly, so needless to say when we arrived in Tokyo at 7 the next morning, we weren't at our best.

Prepping for a night of sleep on the road

With it being a national holiday the streets were completely dead at that time, it was weird to see somewhere I imagined to be so busy, to actually be so peaceful and quiet. We should have taken it as a sign of things to coe, but it didn't even occur to me while we were getting out bearings We caught the train to Harajuku and then got a taxi to our hotel in Shibuya.

The hotel was smack bang in the centre of Shibuya, which we couldn't have asked for any better. We went for breakfast at Starbucks so we could use their Wifi to plan the rest of the two days that we had left. We decided to make the most of the amazing day and the deadly quiet that had engulfed Tokyo in the early hours of the New Years holiday and headed to Yoyogi park.

Yoyogi Park in the Morning

Yoyogi seemed to be running an outdoor broadway show as on our wanders we saw a guy tap dancing, another man practising his flute with his music taped to the tree, and another lady playing a saxophone to an invisible audience.

Playing the Jazz Flute

As we left the park at about 10 Tokyo seemed to have come to life, especially at the shrine that sits just outside of Harajuku, there were hundreds and hundreds of people steadily walking through the leafy paths that lead you to the shrine, so we decided to follow and see what was going on. Apparently it's important in Japanese culture to visit the shrine in the first few days of the New Year to really be able to start fresh.

We followed people old and young, girls dressed in harajuku clothing to old ladies who looked like they hardly owned any clothes apart from the ones that they were stood in. The ten minute walk was fascinating as it was so green, you didn't feel like you were just on the edge of Tokyo and right next to Harajuku. As we got to the temple, the people filtered into queues to properly enter it, so we decided to leave that area and head back towards Harajuku.

On our way we noticed a big queue and realised it was for the Shinto fortunte. At the start of the year, you must select a slip of paper which tells you your fortune for the year. You do this by shaking a small wooden box which contains lots of small, thin pieces of wood. There is a small hole in the top of the box, and when you feel ready you tip it. Each piece of wood has a number on it which corresponds with your forecast for the year, Nick and I are in need of someone to translate it for us!

Meji Jingu Shrine

Meji Jingu Shrine

Meji Jingu Shrine

When we got back into Harajuku I was excited to start shopping, this was the part that I had most been looking forward to. I had a look around some of the shops, and realised that I was probably twice the age of the target audience. Nick stopped to get a churro with cream on top, and eventually my hunger got the better of me and we found a Hawaiian themed burger place where the man would shout 'Your burger's ready, mahalo!' Hilarious, but a much needed break from the madness below.

Harajuku Station


Creamy Churros in Harajuku

Japanese Hawaiian Themed Burgers

After lunch we decided to go and check out the infamous Shibuya crossing. Which resulted in us crossing it several times at weird angles and then having a race to the opposite side while trying to take different paths. Needless to say, I won.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

In the evening, we carried on the shopping theme and went to check out a few Anime shops and Tokyu hands, a store that had absolutely everything. By that time we were hungry again so found a tiny restaurant in a basement that served delicious skewers, my favourite were the asparagus and pork skewers and the chicken soup with grilled rice triangles. As we left the restaurant, the waitress chased after us and gave us hot packs to warm our hands with. So thoughtful!

Christmas Jumpers on Tour

Anime Toys

Japanese Chef


Chicken Soup and Rice

Warmed up and full we decided to check out the crossing at night time, where we noticed a statue in memory of a poor dog that had waited outside of the subway station waiting for its owner for 9 years! I don't know how anyone knew that that's what the dog was waiting for, but so be it!



Afterwards Nick decided to check out the Tokyo branch of the British pub we went to in Osaka, while I had a quick look in Forever 21. We finished the first day with an amazing crepe in Harajuku, which we ate while making our way home through the dark and frosty Yoyogi park.

Harijuku Crepe

The next day had a particularly exciting start, the hotel did the closest thing to a fry up that I'd had since leaving England in March. Although it was all down hill from there.

We decided to go to the Imperial Palace first, and although we were aware that it was going to be closed, we expected it to be like the Osaka castle, where you could still see the building and walk through the grounds, but unfortunately you weren't allowed to cross the bridge into the grounds.

Imperial Palace Garden Entrance

As close as we could get to the Imperial Palace

Therefore we walked to Tokyo station where I'd heard there was a good shop for Yukatas, the kimono style dressing gown. After a bit of shopping there, and some strange food that was just like dish water with udon noodles in it, we decided to head to the Sumo museum.

Hibiya Park

Hibiya Park

By this time the wind had picked up and it was freezing cold outside, when we got there, the gates were locked up tight, and no sumos were in sight apart from the ones painted on the walls. This had been the highlight for Nick's holiday so I felt really bad for him as he rattled the gates.

Sumo Museum Wall Art

Sumo Museum Wall Art

Reaction at the Sumo Museum being closed

Trying not to be dismayed we decided to head to the Government buildings, which offer a great view of Tokyo,  but when we called in at the hotel to warm up, the receptionist told us that they were also closed.

Add to this the fact we had an 8am flight the next morning, but only discovered then that the air port was an hour and a half outside of Tokyo, meaning we would be leaving at a time when public transport wouldn't be running so the ludicrously expensive taxis were the only option. We were not happy bunnies and this all added to the end of the holiday blues.

We had our last bowl of ramen and decided to call it a day on our day of failures. We lazed in making the most of BBC World News and packed.

Tokyo had been the part of the holiday that I was most looking forward to as it was somewhere that I had always wanted to go. I think because of the time of year we went (New Year) it didn't live up to expectations, and compared to how well everything went in Osaka, I would definitely recommend Osaka to anyone over Tokyo. I would like to go back if I had the chance to visit the Ghibli museum, but it was Osaka that gave me the experience of Japan that I'd always imagined it to be.

On the way home we got the most amazing view of Mount Fuji, then from high above in the plane, we could see that the ground of Busan was covered in snow. It felt nice coming back to a place that feels like a home from home, where things are strange but that I've somehow managed to make sense of all the weird goings on in Korea.

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