Tokyo, the sprawling capital of Japan has over 13 million residents. If you include its neighbouring suburbs this rises to over 33 million making it the largest concentration of people in the world (according to Japanvisitor.com).
Laura’s son James came to visit us for a week and with Tokyo having so much to see, rather than trying to cram in too much of Japan the 3 of us decided to base ourselves here for the entire week.
The vast rail and metro network is mind-boggling… even with the Japan Trains app, Google Maps and a guide-book, planning our activities and how to get to them, between them and back to the apartment still took a fair chunk of time every day!
Most stations have several exits; you need different tickets for different lines and often in order to get to our destination we had to change trains 3 or 4 times! We discovered that it’s OK to ‘underspend’ on a ticket i.e. to travel with a lower fare as you then just need to top up at a ‘fare adjustment’ machine before you exit the station or transfer to another line.
We felt a minor sense of achievement that we managed to successfully crack the train system without once getting it wrong and ending up on the wrong train!
The Tokyo Skytree was only completed in 2012 and offers amazing views over the city. We visited during an afternoon (at around 3 pm) but had to queue for about an hour.
The Sensoji temple is a 20 minute walk from the Skytree and is one of the most famous in Tokyo. The temple was closed when we visited but the area had a great atmosphere with a buzzing mix of tourists and locals.
Near to the Sensoji temple we visited a traditional Japanese street food outlet where, amongst other dishes we had delicious okonomiyaki, which is like an omelette/pancake. (The best place to find this dish in London is Abeno Too, near Leicester Square tube station where it is cooked in front of you on hot plates).
Electric Town is where the big electronic stores are located and the closest station is Akihabara. In many of the shops, international visitors are offered an 8% discount upon presentation of their passport.
One of the most enjoyable experiences we had in Tokyo was to participate in a Japanese tea ceremony. The tea house was located in Hama-rikyu Gardens a gorgeous oasis amidst the shiny glass skyscrapers. We had to remove our shoes before entering the tea house and were given a bowl of warm green tea and a cake together with an explanation of tea etiquette.
The whole experience was calming and serene particularly as we had chosen to visit towards the end of a lovely warm spring afternoon which gave us clear views of the immaculate park grounds surrounding the tea house.
Following our tea ceremony we made our way towards the Roppongi district which is an international area of Tokyo, containing most of the cities’ foreign embassies and a large number of international restaurants. En-route we came across another tower near the Shiodome area where we whizzed up in a glass lift and saw more amazing views (above).
One of the most breathtaking sights were the early evening 360 degree views from the top of the Mori Tower. The viewing area is outside on the roof so we were able to get some stunning shots without glass obscuring the view. This was followed by a fabulous meal in the Barbacoa restaurant located in the lower floors of the tower, a typical Brazilian restaurant where servers visit your table and carve the meat from large skewers.
Yokohama is a district of over 3 million people and is around 30 km from central Tokyo. This is a great place to spend a day and we will shortly produce a separate Yokohama blog post.
A visit to Japan is probably not complete without a trip on the bullet train. We have another up and coming separate post on this…