*Beware: There will be lots of Sakura pictures. No excuse for that, they are just so pretty!
The long awaited Japan trip begins! Quentin is so excited that he almost pees his pants at the airport and Rebekka is shaking so much that the flight attendant thinks she’s having a seizure. First stop: Tokyo. After months and months of pure “Vorfreude”, we finally headed to the Land of the Rising Sun, also known as the country of mouthwatering ramen, raw fish and automated warmed toilet seats! Oh and don’t forget, it is also the land of punctuality, precision and zen – definitely a stark contrast to the noisy and messy places we visited in south-east Asia. We stay in a capsule hotel, which means we each have our own 2m3 sarcophagus, closed by a curtain but with a comfy mattress. The level of cleanliness is something we haven’t seen anywhere before. Even Japanese businessmen share our “room”, so one evening a guy in a suit enters the room, directly climbs up in his little capsule and goes to sleep. The stay would have been perfect if it hadn’t been for this odd Chinese guy with a compulsive disorder (repeatedly zipping his suitcase open and closed between 6 and 8 am every morning…).
We had five days in Tokyo, which means 15 official meals and about a dozen of extra snacks/dishes/full menus in-between. There’s no time for lazying around: we buy some breakfast snacks at the airport, take the train, drop our bags at the hostel and go straight to Tokyo station to meet our friends Birgit and her son Julian. They’ll travel with us for a week between Nagoya and Kanazawa. You might think that a train station is the worst place to get food, but don’t forget that we are in Japan, so such prejudices do not apply. Actually, Japanese train stations are famous for hosting some amazing restaurants (check out Jiro’s Dream of Sushi!). Tokyo station is no exception, and we head straight to the famous “Ramen Street” to grab lunch.
Being in Tokyo is also the chance for Quentin to catch up with old-times friends, and for that there is no better way than spending the evening at an Izakaya – a type of restaurant/pub that offers a wide variety of small dishes that you should accompany with sake or other alcohols.
For the first evening, we meet our Swiss friends May and Patrick, who brought us to a tiny and very local Izakaya in the neighbourhood of Ikebukuro. From Japanese potato salad to entire raw mini-octopuses through Ochazuke (rice in a tea soup), everything was delicious and surprising.
The second evening, we met Quentin’s former Japanese roommates in another nice Izakaya, this time in Roppongi. Raw chicken tataki, charcoal chicken (felt like eating charcoal), bacon-wrapped onigiri (rice balls), etc. on the menu this time! Kampai!
Two days later, third Izakaya, this time in Shinjuku, with Quentin’s friends from the Kobe times. We get raw squid, crab liver, fried chicken, etc. etc. and of course: raw chicken! As the tradition wants, we end up in a Karaoke, where Quentin is (half)forced to dress-up in AKB-48 style (if you don’t know what that is, look it up!).
Enough about eating and drinking (or just wait a bit…we will do another post only on Japanese food later): Arriving in early April usually means: Cherry blossoms! We had planned our trip accordingly, but this year it happened incredibly early, and most of it was gone by the time we landed. Luckily, a different type of Sakura tree blooms a bit later (the Yaezakura), so we were lucky to arrive just in time to see them in the Imperial Palace Park and at Shinjuku Gyoen (Park). We were blown away by the beauty of the different rose hues, their fluffyness and elegance…
In Shinjuku Gyoen, the party is everywhere! 100 year-old grandmas are running the place: they got the best spots below the blossoming trees, marked their territory with flashy blankets and giggle all afternoon while sipping cold tea and snacking dried fish and beans. Kids run around, shouting and laughing, pointing at young lovey-dovey couples that try to get some intimacy behind lower branches.
Other than meeting friends and staring blankly at trees, we also got to explore several neighbourhoods of Tokyo and did some sightseeing. To make it short, here’s a summary and below are some pictures:
- Shibuya: who’s never seen videos or pictures of its iconic crossing? We also saw many of those go-karts tourists dressed in Mario, Yoshi or Peach!
- Harajuku: shopping-oriented, crowded with youngsters, we ended up in a shop selling exclusively pictures of idols.
- Shinjuku: known for its skyscrapers, we visited the Tokyo Metropolitan government got a nice view over Tokyo from its observation deck.
- Akihabara: the electric town, or rather electronics town, know for its maid-cafés, robot wrestling bars and giant gaming arcades.
- Asakusa: with views over the Tokyo Skytree (634 m), it is famous for Tokyo’s oldest temple (Senso-ji). Quentin’s friend Akiko took us around, together with massive crowds of other tourists. Luckily, we got a delicious lunch that gave us some energy back! We could then explore Asakusa’s kitchen shopping street, a real paradise for us!
- Meiji Jingu Shrine: Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrine, hidden in a park in the middle of Tokyo. It has a very special atmosphere, and everyday 3 to 4 shinto weddings are held there!
- Tsukiji Fish Market: apparently the world’s biggest fish market. Access has been restricted to certain times for tourists, but we still got to see some tuna cutting and hundreds of unidentifyable things. If it’s in the sea, you can find it in Tsukiji, they say.
- Tokyo Edo Museum: hosted in a building that looks like a spaceship, you can get an insight in what Tokyo looked like from 1600 until now.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Tokyo Edo Museum
Before leaving Kyoto, Akiko threw a little party at her place, and we had some home-made Okonomiyaki (japanese-style cabbage pancake with some delicious sauce on top). A great way to finish a hectic but amazing week in Tokyo! Next: heading to Nagoya!