This will be the first in a series of posts from a trip Corina and I made to Japan in August this year. It was only 8 days but we jammed in as much as we could. We had two very full tourist days in Tokyo plus a day at Summer Sonic. The trip came about because I wanted to visit my son who was going to be in Tokyo and Osaka for Summer Sonic so I asked my good friend Corina if she would like to join me for an adventure. All our planning was made around attending the two festival dates.
Now if you were planning a trip to Japan and you could choose any time of year you liked it would not idealy be in the middle of Summer. It is hot and it is humid! All I can say is HAIR! Every photo of us included red sweaty faces and frizzy unruley hair. But you know what, we had a ball anyway.
Our first destination was Tokyo. We stayed in Roppongi which was an easy subway ride from Tokyo Central. Roppongi is a really cool suburb to stay in. It had plenty of restaurants and some funky places to see such as the Hedgehog Cafe to which can I say “only in Japan”.
On our first night in Japan after travelling all day we were quite tired so just wanted to find somewhere to eat close to our hotel. After a walk around Roppongi we settled on a little sushi restaurant. We were made to feel very welcome by the chef and the customers seated near us, although I was quite shocked that you can smoke inside a restaurant. The chef had a nephew who was on working holiday in Australian and he was keen to practise some English to show to him when he returned. Luckily one of the customers was quite proficient in English so between us we had a very interesting conversation. Their English was way better than our Japanese.
The next morning we explored a little futher around Roppongi and discovered Hinoki-Cho Park, a lovely place that was so peaceful and quiet. There was a large pond which had an abundance of birdlife, turtles and dragon flies. One of the most unexpected things I took away from Tokyo was despite how many people live there it was quiet, clean and friendly. I never felt unsafe or bustled.
I loved the lights of an evening, it reminded me of New York with the big electronic billboards and the crowds. It was also very different from New York as there were no honking horns and all the writing was obviously in Japanese script.
A large part of the uniqueness of Tokyo was the blend of the old with the new. Near Tokyo Central is the Tokyo Imperial Palace which is set right next to the business district with large office towers.
It was only short train trip on the subway to all the well known spots such as Shibuya and Shinjuku both of which were a hive of activity both day and night. The organised chaos at the busiest intersection next to station Shibuya is something that needs to be seen to be believed. We had heard about the Shinjuku Robot Restaurant but didn’t realise you needed to book a few days in advance. Again I say “only in Japan”. I’ve included links to a couple of pretty ordinary videos I took but words alone cannot do this place justice.
As well as Summer Sonic and shopping in some out of the way little places where I needed google translate to help me make a few basic purchases such as baby powder which came in a compact – superb! We saw some unusual sights not the least of which was a cart full of toddlers who were being pushed through the shopping area. I’m guessing they were in day care and it was the safest way to take them from one place to another as a group. I also had the most amazing sushi meal experience where we had our own chef who prepared the sushi in front of us as well as explaining how to eat it correctly. I will be forever spoilt for sushi now.
We decided against booking an organised tour and some people were a little bit horrified that we were going it alone but I think we got a much more authentic experience. In saying that we did lots of research before hand. We had a shared one note file that we planned out all the places we wanted to stay along with information about the train system, cultural information as well as must see tourist activities. We also split up the research, Corina did a thorough search of the rail network and I did the accomodation, flights and cultural.
I can highly recommend pre-purchasing a JR Railpass and a data only sim. These two were invaluable, one for the easy and resonably priced travel between big cities and the other for navigation, google translate and information about the towns where we stayed. Using the rail network and google maps we were able to get ourselves to all our hotels without needed to take a taxi. We may have had to drag our suitcases up flights of stairs and been confused at times but we did it. We also may have taken the odd uber back to the station for the train in the morning.
For more photos check out Liz Hemmings Photography Facebook page.