Sayonara Tokyo

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Tonight is my last night in Tokyo. It’s been a wonderful week, and I’ve packed the days (and some evenings) with all sorts of sightseeing experiences. Here are my highlights, in no particular order:

Tokyo transport

I must admit I was extremely nervous about using Tokyo’s transport system. I mean, it’s a city of 13.2 million people and HUGE. What if I got lost and can never ever find my way back to my hotel? I needn’t have worried. It is SUPER easy to get around. Everything is colour-coded, numbered and written/announced in English. It is impossible to lose your way. And I had a smart card, which meant I didn’t have to worry about tickets. On my second day, I used the train to get back to my hotel. The day after that, I used the subway to get into Shinjuku Station. After that, there was no stopping me. A hot tip is to make use of the signed gate exits, because you can get quite lost exiting the stations.

Mt Fuji

I booked myself onto a day tour to Mt Fuji, and I’m glad I did. It was such a scenic 90 minute drive through the mountains (there and back), which were flushed with cherry blossom. Mt Fuji is notoriously temperamental, and many people have made the trip only to be disappointed because the mountain couldn’t be seen. I was lucky: there wasn’t too much haze, and the cloud cover cleared to reveal the summit for a few minutes.

Tokyo with Masa

As part of my self-guided package, I have a guide in Tokyo and in Kyoto for 8 hours each. My Tokyo guide was Masa, and it was a delight to spend the day with him. He took me to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Meiji Shrine, Kiyosumi Gardens, Fukogawa Edo Museum and back to Asakusa. Of these spots, my favourites were the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, the Kiyosumi Gardens and Fukogawa Edo Museum.

The gardens were lovely spaces even with yesterday’s cold and dreary weather. Gravel paths meandered past pines trees and azalea bushes, over footbridges and across stepping stones, and under cherry trees still blossoming, but with petals falling like snow as the wind swept past. The Fukogawa Edo Museum housed a life-size replica village from the Edo period, which was fascinating. The fact that you can walk the village and really get to grips with life as it once was makes it an excellent experience.

Masa and I lunched together, and he took me to a spot where office workers and business people go to eat. For ¥1000 ($10), I had a delicious noodle soup, with a side of dumplings. Even better, I was the only gaijin there! I loved how my meal came with a paper bib, which I definitely needed, because I accidentally dropped my dumpling in my soup and it made quite a splash.

Tsukiji Fish Market

While I didn’t get to the fish market in time for the auction (apparently you need to be there at 5am), arriving at around 9.30 meant I could still soak up the atmosphere. It was lively and busy, and so interesting just wandering around the different fishmongers’ stalls. I saw huge slabs of tuna being sliced and diced, shellfish, crabs, octopus, squid and small fish stored on ice in polystyrene containers. I even saw the infamous fugu (blowfish)!

Boat to Odaiba

I would not have even thought to go to Odaiba if Masa had not mentioned it. I caught a ferry from Hama-rikyu Gardens, which took me up the Sumida River, under the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba, which is a man-made island. The view of the Tokyo skyline while sailing up the Sumida can best be described as spectacular, and ditto once I got to Odaiba. I caught the train back to Tokyo via the Rainbow Bridge, and enjoyed another perspective as urban scenery flashed by.

Japanese toilets

As I tweeted/facebooked the other day: never underestimate the allure of a heated toilet seat. Especially on a cold day (which it was yesterday). People marvel at the feat of engineering that is the Japanese toilet and rightly so. There are all sorts of things you can do at the touch of a button, including play music! At the other end of the spectrum are the squat toilets, which are there to provide a basic function; no more, no less. Squat toilets tend to be attached to public facilities, for example parks and gardens and subway stations. I’ve used them before, so I don’t mind going in a squat if that’s the only port in a storm!

Convenience stores

These are a one-stop shops for the Japanese, selling hot, freshly cooked food, refrigerated food, snacks, grocery items and alcohol. All have ATMs, with English translation. Apparently these convenience stores are squeezing out the supermarkets because they are ubiquitous and can keep prices low because of the turnover. I find they are handy for lunch – the sushi is tasty and cheap. And I’ve stocked up on wine, which is only ¥600(ish) or $6 a bottle.

Next stop

The next few day will be one nighters in three different locations as I venture into the Kiso Valley and hike the Samurai trail: Nagano, Matsumoto and Tsumago. This is a more rural Japan, and I’ll be interested to see if not speaking Japanese will be an issue. It hasn’t been up until now!

2 Comments

  • Daniel April 19, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    Sounds like a great trip

    Reply
    • dileeshus April 19, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      It sure is, Daniel. First trip as a completely independent traveller and I’m loving it!

      Reply

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