I have always had a bizarre fascination with Oriental Culture ever since I lived in Singapore at the age of 17. From the way I wear my hair in a high top to the obsession of sushi.
However I wanted to dig deeper than just ' Ikura' (Salmon Roe). I wanted to get lost in the land ofJapanese living and learn the ways of life over there. I feel I was snatched away too early and being made to move back to London was not the right time for me. So my partner and I decided to take atrip over the Christmas holidays and celebrate the turn of 2010 in Tokyo style.
We arrived at Narita airport on the morning of the 28th December, in total we had been travellingfor over 24 hours, but I got the sense it was worth it as soon as I stepped off the plane. The 12hrplane journey half way across the world brought us 9 hours ahead of London, so I was ready andwaiting for the jet lag to kick in. We had only booked a week as we both had commitments of work and college. It would have been ideal to have a bit longer to get over the tiredness but I couldn'tcomplain I was inTokyo.
We hopped ourselves on the Tokyo Sky Train, which was an incredible experience as it allowed us to see the whole of Tokyo from its rural to urban areas. It helped us get to the nearest metro station(Tube station) to reach our destination Akasaka, where we were staying. It was a challenge I mustsay the least as everything is in written in Japanese apart from the minor words in English but we gotby. Otherwise cabs would be the other option but they are a very expensive indeed
I felt like I had skipped forward 5 years in a time machine that I never thought would be possible.From the heated power seat of a toilet, that sings to you and cleans your private areas (if you wishso) to walking human robots. It made London look like we were living back in the 1980's. We got back to the hotel, dumped ours bags, straightened ourselves up and got back out on theroad to nowhere.
I was so excited and full of adrenaline with not knowing what was going to happennext, all these new experiences were so much to take in. We hit the town of Shinjuku, known for itsbusiest station in the world. Lucky for us it was the holidays so it wasn't so bad. After walking aroundhelplessly, getting caught up in all the madness we found a nice small conveyer belt sushi jointwhere we were greeted by the all staff and given a hand towel to freshen up. I found this overwhelming and embarrassing at the same time, as I didn't know if this was just because we weretourists or if this is the norm. We found this to be happening everywhere we went from theboutiques to restaurants but we realised long enough everyone was greeted this way.
After, we ended up in the corner of the gay district, of Shinjuku in the tiny drinking dens which holds a capacity of 8 people. The alleys hold so much life that you get caught up in all the excitement andthe time just flies by, the next thing you know its six in the morning. The drinking is practically 24hours everywhere and they all like to have a drink. But you don't see rowdy chavs on the street causing disturbance or trouble as everyone is very disciplined with manners.
However on a couple ofincidences we found a man collapsed on a flight of stairs, one crouched randomly in the middle ofthe floor and everyone rushed round him for the train. You would see people hanging over the barand they would be just left till they came round. The best moment was when we were walking in Shibuya one morning when a man fell out of the bush it was hilarious.
The Japanese take pride in everything they do from the cleanliness to their garments it has to be exactly perfect. You never see litter anywhere and they follow recycling very seriously as it’s not a chore for them. Queuing for the trains is a photographic moment, they would form a single orderlyline waiting for the train, but when they are getting on the train it’s all push and shove. It definitely takes some getting used to as you don't expect it. They are very helpful people and would willingly offer to help if you looked lost. However in the hustle and bustle you are every man to his own.
Ludwig, my boyfriend being 6 ft tall would overlook them all but would still managed to be pushedout the way by a four and a half foot old lady. It’s madness.
Over the next couple of days we crammed in as much as possible, we didn't want to miss anythingon this trip. We managed to get ourselves up at 5.30am to reach Tskukiji, a fish market that had tobe one of the main highlights of the holiday. It's the nation's fish market in full flight and it’s whereyou can enjoy fresh sushi for breakfast. The texture of the sashimi would just melt in your mouth, I
have never tasted anything like it, and we didn't know when to stop eating. I would highlyrecommend this if you were in Tokyo, as you would never have tasted sushi so fresh as this in yourlife before. (Tesco's is now out the window). Witnessing a single tuna of over 250 lbs, there has been bigger tuna than this, being sold. Only being 7am in the morning, there were queues of up to 100 people long waiting for their favourite 10-seater sushi house. Some coming from a night out (better than our kebab joints), or just having food before work. When you see the locals queuing that longfor something you know it must be good so we joined in.
Being a typical tourist we found ourselves up Tokyo Tower, being the world's tallest self supportingsteel tower beating Eiffel Tower at 333 m tall. It had some phenomenal sights and overlooking all theareas around. The observatory commands a 360 view of the whole Kanto region of Tokyo. I have to admit I looked more straight ahead than down. If you want to check the spectacular view at night itis open till late, which I would have rather preferred.
Nevertheless we did get to go 38 floors up in the ANA Intercontinental Tokyo hotel, which has thebest bar in town, known for its expensive cocktails and its 360 outrageous views. The skyline was phenomenal at night and is always that extra bit special as we got to witness Mount Fuji in the distance.
We hit some local markets in Tskukji, Ikebukuro and Ueno where all the haggling took place. China,Fruit, fish, sushi knifes you name it you could find it. It was so noisy and you could feel yourself getting lost in all the mayhem. Fruit is expensive as it’s really hard to get in Japan. A grapefruit is a delicacy and people would give these as gifts. They could cost around £50, very shocking. Strawberries were really big and oranges full of flavour. So our 5 a day was out the window.
A friend of ours recommended a place called Andy's Shinhinomoto in Ginza. Part of a side of restaurants located under a train track, you could feel the whole place move when one went past. They are quite hard to find as it took us nearly 45 minutes walking up and down but it’s worth it I assure you. Run by a man from Scotland, he was really popular with the locals and the expats. The place was packed from corner to corner leaving us a pre booked space at the back. The food was great having fresh crab from Tskuiji itself and a large portion of tempura. The sake kept on coming and you were high from the atmosphere in the place and it was not just the drink.
New Year is the biggest celebration in Japan, so to celebrate to 2010 we decided to go Electric Tribe.It was very pricey but everything on New Year is and we had been careful with our money so wewanted to celebrate the New Year with a bang. Based in Yebisu, they had djs from all over the world,it was really something special. Mix Master Morris, Laurent Garnier, DJ Krush, to name a few were allseeing us through the New Year. It was great, the crowd was very mixed and we got to mingle withthe locals, it was a lot of fun. People were coming in and going out all night and the djs kept thepeople dancing till the morning. Drinks were expensive and they served free food all night so peoplecould maintain their drinking on a reasonable level. The smoking ban doesn't exist in Japan, whichwas hard to get used to but they still had a smoking area in the club which is nice for us non smokersto dance in a smoke free environment. However smoking is banned down streets, they have locatedareas around Tokyo were they can smoke and nowhere else. Which I think is excellent.
The last couple of days were vital as I wanted to see as much as possible. So we decided to get aTokyo cruise which takes you on a tour around all the outskirts of Tokyo. Taking you down theSumida River Line, you get to see some fantastic sights; it’s very popular for the locals to get around too. It brought us into Asakusa where big celebrations were taking place at the Senso-Ji, The AsakusaKannon Temple. It is visited by 30 million people a year and is Tokyo’s oldest temple. It’s the Hatsumode period which takes place in between 1-7th January. People visit the temple at the beginning of the New Year to pray for their wishes to be fulfilled. It was crazy but an amazing experience for us to witness. The grounds were enormous with so many gates and halls for people to wander round. Inside there were lots of stalls selling food, trinkets and memorabilia.
We took a stroll in to Harajuku to check out the famous Harajuku girls that only parade on a Sunday. They are equivalent to our drunken Punks in Camden town, without the attitude, disorderly behaviour and happy for you to let them take a photo. They are famous for their unique style butrarely dress the same. Many prominent designers and fashion ideas have sprung from Harajuku and incorporated themselves into other fashions throughout the world. Most young people gather onJinju Bridge which is a pedestrian bridge, so they will be easy to find if you are interested in a look.
We ended the holiday by of course hitting the sales and being taken away by all the new moderntechnology that was on offer. We were persuaded and end up buying the latest video camera; wedidn’t feel too guilty as it was a very good price. They really cut their prices over there.You here of people going over there and never coming back, well maybe that will be me next time.