Tuesday, 4 April 2017

PHOTO DIARY: Tokyo, Japan, October 2016 Part 2


With every passing day in Tokyo I fell in love with the city more and more. I also started to take more photos which means this post is a lot more visual than the previous one.

The Japanese are some of the friendliest people I have ever met and new days brought new conversations and experiences. Because we were on a three week holiday the days didn't fly by which I was very grateful for. It felt like we spent a really long time in Tokyo but maybe that's down to the fact we did so much sightseeing. After three days it felt like we'd come to grips with the subway, and navigating our way around the city was becoming easier with each journey. Shibuya Station, our local transport hub, had become child's play and the vast building no longer felt like a maze of construction work. The selection of sweets and take away food options in the local convenience shops were becoming familiar and I had developed an obsession with avocado and feta crisps. I was in love with Japan and everything it had to offer.

Day 4:






I had originally planned a day trip to Nikko for our fourth day in Tokyo but due to a late night of birthday antics and the fact there was still so much to see in this huge city we decided that the 7:30 am train departure was no longer that appealing. Spending the day discovering the area south of Shibuya instead was relaxing and incredible rewarding. Away from the hustle and bustle we had time to discover little shops, hidden alleyways and local life.

Steve, Steph and myself started the day at Tokyo Tower, the orange, Eiffel Tower like structure. Whilst the observation platform is nowhere near as high as the likes of Tokyo SkyTree or Tokyo City View I really enjoyed our visit here. The tower was really quiet when we visited so we almost had the vistas entirely to ourselves. It was great to finally see the city from a high point during day light, the views are vast and incredible.








Next to Tokyo Tower you will find Zōjō-ji, a Buddhist temple. It was here we sat and watched monks chant while breathing in their pungent incense. I am not a religious person but the entire experience felt deeply spiritual. The temple is beautiful and being able to witness the monks felt really special.



After a short subway ride to Ebisu Station, we settled for lunch at AFURI, a small ramen chain that specialises in yuzu shio ramen, with Helen and Holly. You place your order in a vending machine at the restaurant entrance before giving your ticket to a waiter and taking a seat at the open kitchen bar. The ramen was delicious, with a subtle pop of citrus thanks to the yuzu. I wish I'd ordered an extra slice of pork as the dish only comes with one small piece. We ate a lot of ramen in Japan and this place definitely sticks in my head as one of the most enjoyable.

This is a great spot to grab lunch in a lovely area full of fascinating museums like Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum; Museum of Yebisu Beer; and Tokyo Photographic Art Museum. Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit these but they're definitely on my list for next time.



Around the corner from AFURI you'll find Japanese Ice Ouca, an ice cream shop that specialises in homemade flavours. Now, I've mentioned on this blog before that when it comes to dessert I'm a vanilla ice cream kinda person and unfortunately Japanese Ice Ouca wasn't able to convert me to its Japanese flavours. Steph and Steve really enjoyed their purchases but I just couldn't get on board with the non Western flavours. I'm not a fussy eater by any stretch of the imagination but I guess ice cream is a different ball came.


Helen and Holly left to visit the Harry Hedgehog cafe in Roppongi (spoiler: one of them was bit after a minute so they did what any rational person would do, pose for cute Instagram pictures before leaving). Steve, Steph and myself headed over to Meguro River which is a popular cherry blossom spot in the spring and walked over to Daikan-yama a wonderful shopping area that feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Shibuya. We visited Kyu Asakura House, a traditional Japanese house built in 1919, surviving WWII air raids.

I loved walking around the wooden building and getting a feel for what a traditional Japanese home looks like. The sliding paper doors were beautifully constructed and the surrounding garden felt peaceful and fresh, I felt a million miles away from city life. If you're in Tokyo and you know you won't get a chance to visit somewhere traditional like Kyoto then this is a great place to experience a piece of Japanese history.


We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the shops of Daikan-yama. I adored T-site, the local Tsutaya Books branch. The shop has everything you could possibly want from a book store including a huge selection of magazines, comics, and music while still looking like a beautiful building. I loved the little winding streets in this area and we spent ages checking out all the independent boutiques and record stores. I imagine this would be a really cool place for a young person in Tokyo to live.


Helen came to meet the three of us as we made our way to Tokyo's version of a high line. While not quite on a par with the likes of New York, Log Road is a cute pedestrianised walkway built on top of the old Tokyu line tracks and is lined with a collection of little wooden cottages and plants. We stopped at Spring Valley Brewery for a late afternoon snack and beer tasting session. Sitting outside on the wooden benches, surrounded by greenery, felt far more European than Japanese.

Definitely consider popping by for an afternoon drinks and a taste of the non-hectic side of Japan. The avocado and crisp bread bowl and chicken wings we ordered weren't exactly Japanese but they were delicious.



It was time to head over to the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku for drinks at its New York Bar, something I had really been looking forward to. Lost in Translation is one of my favourite films and if you've seen it you'll know that many of the scenes take place in the New York Bar. Not only is there live jazz every evening, but the bar has incredible views across the city thanks to it's 54th floor location. You have to pay a cover charge during the jazz sessions and cocktails are on the expensive side, but it is so worth it for an indulgent and memorable experience.

Whilst the hotel evokes a luxury image with gorgeous rooms and price tags to match, the location isn't brilliant. It's situated a good 20 minute walk from Shinjuku station which means it's a little out of the way.








Our final stop of the night was the famous Omoide Yokocho aka yakitori alley aka Piss Alley on the north-west side of Shinjuku station. This famous, winding alleyway is full of cute little bars that serve yakitori (grilled meat skewers) and beer. The alleyway is a total contrast from the airy, vast spaces we'd become accustomed to in Tokyo. It's cramped, noisy, and full of life.

I'm not sure where we stopped for dinner but the restaurant had a huge cauldron at the front and our group of five just about managed to squeeze around the bar amongst a bunch of Japanese men. The restaurant specialises in pork and we were served skewer after skewer of delicious grilled meat until we'd had enough. Our meal was wonderful and a total bargain. We probably paid less than a tenner each for a huge pile of skewers and beer. If you're a foodie then you must absolutely pay this place a visit. The restaurants on Piss Alley each specialise in different food, there are sample dishes displayed at the front so it's pretty easy to figure out what each place sells.

We wandered around the Golden Gai area of Shinjuku, checking out the tiny, historic streets before emerging into a sea of neon lights before it was time to head home.

Day 5:






Our last full day in Tokyo was of course another busy one. Helen, Holly, Steve and myself caught the train to Yokohama, Japan's second largest city which is only a 20 minute train journey away. Our first stop was the Yokohama Landmark Tower where we were able to check out the views over the vast city.

Despite being in a different city, our train ride to Yokohama was through a constant metropolis so you couldn't tell where Tokyo ended and Yokohama began. Landmark Tower was a great way to get an overview of the huge city, especially as we were only visiting a tiny part.





As a hardcore lover of ramen I was beyond excited to visit one of the TWO ramen museums in Yokohama. The Cup Noodle Museum aka the original Pot Noodle was honestly one of my favourite memories from the holiday. We must have been the only adults in the place amongst a thousand Japanese school kids. The museum has a small section on the history of the company but the big win for me is the kitchen zone where you can create your very own Cup Noodle. Steve and I took great pleasure in designing our pot, complete with a lovely picture of the Yokohama Ferris wheel we'd be riding later in the day. We then choose a sauce (curry) and four ingredients (shrimp, spring onions, sweetcorn and smiley faces) before the pot was sealed up.

We ended up eating out Cup Noodle in Osaka on our last night in Japan but of course we kept the pot which is sitting proudly in our kitchen cupboard. We spent a small fortune in the museum shop which I have no regrets about because my Cup Noodle candle is probably one of the weirdest things I have ever purchased. On the top floor of the museum there's a section of ramen restaurants which made for a perfect lunch time stop.

Next time I'm in Tokyo I want to visit the Shin-Yokohama Rāmen Museum which looks even more amazing!






Our final stop in Yokohama was Cosmo World, the amusement park next to the Cup Noodle Museum and Landmark Tower. We wanted to ride Cosmo Clock 21 which is one of the world's biggest Ferris Wheels. Helen and Holly insisted that we ride in the transparent car which was slightly overzealous as the spent the entire ride terrified. The wheel is huge and whilst I'm not scared of heights I was pretty relieved once our car started to make it's downwards trajectory.






Back to Tokyo, we met up with Steph in Shimokitazawa, a little shopping area west of Shibuya that's full of boutiques and little restaurants. The roads are pedestrianised which makes for a very stress free shopping experiences. Similar to Shoreditch, this felt like quite an alternative area and a bit more geared towards adults compared to Harajuku. I wish we could have spent more time here, especially during the day as there are so many wonderful shops to explore.

I was desperate to visit a conveyor belt sushi restaurant as the raw fish in Tokyo is meant to be the best in the country. We found a hidden gem of a restaurant next to the station called Sutadonya. Each plate had two portions of sushi which is great for two people sharing. The tower of plates you can see is the remnants of mine and Steve's selection. The sushi was some of the best I have ever tasted, and also the cheapest. Everyone had a similar amount to eat and the bill came to less than a tenner per person. Had this been Yo Sushi in London, you'd be looking at around £20 each, at least. This place was such a great find and I'd visit again in a heartbeat.



Steve, Steph and myself waved off Holly and Helen who needed an early night before they headed off to Kyoto in the morning, we'd be seeing them again in 48 hours. The three of us headed to Shinjuku for a final evening of neon lights and Tokyo chaos. We paid a visit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings to check out the views over the city for a final time. The building is made up of two towers with observations decks on the top floor. The towers are free to visit and whilst they aren't the highest views in the city, they're a great way to save yourself some money. I can't remember which tower we ascended but the view is more or less the same from each. The observation deck is quite cramped compared to the other towers we visited but considering it's free, you can't really complain.







The three of us enjoyed one final walk around the busy streets of Shinjuku, taking in the neon lights and crazy atmosphere. We walked past the Robot Restaurant which looked totally bonkers. I'd considered visiting when planning the holiday but it didn't fit in with our plans, and quite honestly I don't regret not going. We stopped for some drinks at the tiny but decadent Albatross Bar and gamers paradise 8bit Cafe before saying a final farewell to Steph. It was so nice to catch up over the five days we had together but she had to head back up north for work.


Steve and I had a final walk around Shibuya, including Dogenzaka aka love hotel hill, which made me sad about the end of our time in Tokyo. I loved this city more than I ever thought possible and vowed to return as soon as possible. Similar to London in terms of constant hustle and bustle, but also a million miles away in differences, it's one of the most exciting places I have had the pleasure of visiting.

Day 6:








The two of us were able to spend one final morning in Tokyo before heading off to our next destination. Our first stop was the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. I'd booked tickets a month previously and had been counting down the days until we could visit. The two hours we spent here were quite possible the best two hours of our entire holiday. As a huge fan of Studio Ghibli, the museum is a dream come true with many of the films being brought to life. You aren't allowed to take pictures inside which is great because no one deserves to have the magic of this special place spoilt before they get the chance to visit. Discovering how the animations are created and sitting in a life sized cat bus took my breath away. If you ever have the chance to visit, make sure you bring plenty of money for the gift shop because you will want to buy everything.



Back to Tokyo I wanted to have a final walk around Harajuku, especially as we planned to visit Harajuku Gyozaro for lunch. The gyoza here are famous across the city and the long queue is a testament to their popularity. We decided to speed things up and get a portion to takeaway. The fried pork gyoza are delicious with the crispy parcels stuffed with succulent meat melting in your mouth. I'd nearly return to Japan just to try these again.



Steve and I hadn't spent much time during the day in Shibuya so we made sure we would spare a few hours for exploring before catching our train. There are so many shops here that you could spend days visiting them all. We made the conscious effort to only check out the record stores in hope of narrowing down our options. Our first stop was the enormous Tower Records which should be your go to stop for all things music related. I think there's around 11 floors, including a roof terrace, with every genre you could imagine on sale. We made our way to the indie / rock floor and proceded to split up in search of our favourite band sections. I bagged myself a Japanese Green Day release whilst Steve found a few Japanese New Order goodies.

We also visited HMV Record Store which as you can guess is an HMV shop that only sells vinyl. It was tiny in comparison to Tower Records but had a good selection of new releases on sale. We didn't buy anything from here (records are expensive in Japan) but it was still nice to browse.

Our final shop was the even smaller but just as prestigious Manhattan Records which specialises in Hip Hop, R&B, and dance. While not my genre of choice it's a nice shop that's easy to find amongst the warren of buildings in Shibuya.

There's far more than these three music shops in this part of Tokyo but you would need to give yourself an entire day to visit them all. Shopping in Japan is on a level I have never experienced before. There is so much choice!



Our final stop before leaving Tokyo was to check out the Shibuya Hikarie skyscraper which is found next to the station. On the 8th floor you'll find d47, a little museum that displays speciality items from each of the 47 prefectures in Japan. There's a little cafe called d47 Shokudō that serves food and drinks from the various prefectures as well. I enjoyed a tasty apple juice (can't remember where from unfortunately) while Steve had a cute custard pudding.



Before catching our train we paid a last visit to the famous Shibuya crossing and sought out the Hachikō statue which I'd been meaning to visit every single day. We picked up our bags from the Shibuya station lockers and caught our train to Odawara where we would catch a second train to Hakone, our destination for the night.

I was so sad to leave Tokyo but I know it won't be the last time I visit this incredible city. We managed to see so much but there is still a long list of things I want to do next time. I'd love to visit 

Next time I’d love to visit Shinjuku during the day and check out the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen. I also want to spend more time in Ginza, visiting the incredible department stores as well as finding the famous Nakagin Capsule Tower. We didn’t manage to visit any animals cafes in Tokyo despite having many intentions to so I'd like to visit the goat cafe, the hedgehog cafe and of course a cat cafe. I’d love to spend more time in Ueno Park, visiting some of the museums and temples that are found within the huge area. I really want to go back to Shimokitazawa, Daikan-yama, Ebisu and Meguro as there’s are so many cute shops and cafes lining the streets. I’d love to spend more time in Yoyogi Park and the area west of there as it’s a part of the city we didn’t visit at all. Of course I need to pay another visit to Akihabara and I wouldn’t mind spending more time in Roppongi to visit some of the art galleries. Tokyo Dome Attractions had to be cut of my list this time around but it would be fun to check out some of the rides one evening as well as visiting the famous Kappabashi Street for everything kitchen related. I’d love to visit Yokohama again, as well as Kamakura which is the next city over and hopefully I’ll actually make it to Nikko next time.

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4 comments:

  1. This makes me want to go to Japan even more! Next time, take me with, will you? 😉

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  2. The Park Hyatt bar is high on my list for my next visit as it was a little out of budget as a student! The cup noodle museum also sounds amazing in a totally different way! x

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  3. This looks amazing, what a trip!

    Maria xxx

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