Today was our first day out exploring Tokyo. We got off to an early start and where at 7am at the train/subway station. It took us a bit to figure out where to buy the subway card, which one and where to hop on the train as there are multiple different train & subway systems (so different maps for each one). Luckily, all Japanese people we’ve encountered are super nice and helpful, even if we don’t speak Japanese. Our first stop on our “sightseeing tour” was Asakusa station to visit the Sensoji Temple. When we got off the train station we found this Japanese restaurant that served breakfast right next to the Kamimarimon Gate (where a giant latners hangs). We ordered different items off the menu including rice porridge, grilled fish, sashimi, miso soup, sour tofu and cabbage salad…not a breakfast we’re usually used to, but something we could get used to! It was delicious.
After breakfast we started walking along the Nakamise Shopping Street to the temple. The shopping street is filled with tourists but has lots of local food stands and souvenir shops. When you get close to the temple there’s a “smoke bowl” set up where people covered themselves in smoke from head to toe (I later read that they believe you get smarter by doing so). The Sensoji temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo, built around 628. All very crowded but still a must see esp. if it’s your first time in Tokyo.
After walking around in the Asakusa neighborhood we took a bus to Ueno park. I’ve never seen so many people squeeze in one bus – what a trip! I was looking forward to get away from the crowds/tourists and enjoy a quite stroll in the park while admiring the blossom of the cherry trees (that’s what I had in mind). However, as soon as we got to Ueno Park there where masses of people and under each tree where people having picnics. I couldn’t believe how many people pilgrimed there just to see it. The cherry blossoms where beautiful and just like you see in the pictures, but I more enjoyed experiencing the people & culture. The Japanese put so much love in detail and setting up a picnic with friends & family. Instead of steaks & sausages, they bring small bento boxes filled with many different vegetables and fish (mostly). I also saw many women dressed up in kimonos.
In the park where many food stands where we tried everything from grilled octopus, spicy crab meat, cucumber with miso, fish omelette/pancake to green tea jelly beans. Wow! So much to food! There’s also the Zoo in the park – which we didn’t visit.
We then headed over the Shinobazu Pond & Boat Pond and admired more of the spring blossom trees around the lake. As you know by know I’m crazy about dogs. Do you remember the movie “Hachi: A dog’s Tale” which was this movie about Hachiko (an Akita dog) and a professor and their relationship? After the professor passed away Hachiko would wait at the train station every day for more than nine years (not knowing he was dead). Well this story was based on a real life story back in 1924. The professor worked at Tokyo University where they put up his statue and I wanted to see it. I actually wanted to see the statue of Hachiko at the train station where he was waiting, but we looked up the wrong one and ended at the university. It’s just a statue but the story is so emotional and inspirational about this dog’s dedication that I was happy to see it!
From there we took the subway to Shinjuku area. This is Japan’s greatest entertainment district including crazy shops, department stores and the electronic “mile”. Going there at night was especially cool as all the billboards where lit up – I’ve actually never seen that man streets with so many neon signs in one proximity (yeah not even Times Square). By chance we discovered the “Cat Cafe” which I read about. It’ located very hidden in a building where you walk up to the 6th floor. We didn’t want to go in there (I’m more of a dog person), but always curious to find out. You have to take off your shoes before you go in and you can’t hold the cats (only pet them). They will charge about $10 per hour to play with the cats – I didn’t actually see the café part. I guess it’s nice to visit if you LOVE cats, but for me it was just creepy.
We walked around in that area and actually had reservations at Robot Restaurant – but when we got there it felt like a real tourist trap. We skipped it and continued walking around while discovering plenty of “massage places” (the kind where men only would be allowed in). We couldn’t read the signs but when we walked but then quickly understood. We walked some more and more…and ended up at Isetan department store. You would never think what kind of stores / restaurants / shops are all tucked away in this area. Most restaurants are underground and this department store was super fun. The clothing is just one of a kind here!
Around 9pm we headed back to the hotel. What an exciting first day!
Some new things learnt today….
- Japanese people LOVE cats. Today we’ve seen a man with his cat in a sushi restaurant: the cat sitting on a seat next to him, getting handfed with food from a tube and afterwards he cleaned the cats mouth with a napkin. Yeah we thought this was a crazy one man incident. The next day we saw a man holding out a book with his cat sitting on – the cat wore a Mexican hat and just sat their while the man carried the cat around. In the department stores are entire sections dedicated to cats where you can buy everything you can think of with cats on. We asked the lady what the deal is with cats and she simply said “cats are booming right now” 😊
- When you pay for something they will always give you the check on a small plate and present it to you with both hands. They never just put down the money, but always hand it to you. Which brings me to the next point…
- Friendliness! I can’t put in words how friendly all people are. I can’t believe how thankful and friendly people are no matter what small item you buy.
- No walking on red lights. Even on the smallest intersections people here wouldn’t cross the street when the light is red.