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Turning 24 in Tokyo

sunny -1 °C

Tokyo

On the plane on the way to Tokyo, we discovered that our flight would be arriving into one of the largest airports in the world around 10.15pm and the last train to the city was at 11.05pm. If we missed it, it was going to be £200 for a cab, or, more likely, an uncomfortable night in the airport. The hostess on the flight advised us it was more or less impossible... Challenge accepted. At 10.30pm we were still on the bus between the plane and immigration. At around 10.40pm we were nearing the front of the immigration desk, from where we legged it through baggage (thank god for hand luggage) and customs, stopped at an ATM and then did a 1km sprint with our backpacks to the station. There was a short queue for tickets but someone showed us how to use the machine and miraculously, we made it to the platform with time to get a sprite out of a vending machine. It was such a relief but it wasn’t over yet. As we were on the last train and it took around 1.5 hours, we missed the connecting subway and so we ended up walking about half an hour to get to our air bnb, where we eventually arrived at about 1.30am to experience a power cut which we had to resolve because it cut the heating off. And whilst Tokyo was about 27 degrees warmer than Harbin, it was still below freezing.

Naturally after such a hectic night, we decided to get up early to make the most of our time. We sluggishly got ready and headed out to explore our corner of Tokyo, Asakusa. We hadn’t got far before we found a diner-esque cafe to grab some breakfast and, more importantly, coffee. Walking into that cafe was the best thing that could have happened to us that morning. We were greeted by the friendliest of staff and a good breakfast dinner that put unwavering smiles on our faces for our entire stay. Asakusa was the perfect location. There were so many things to see just steps from our front door, including a temple, shopping streets, a beautiful park and the view of the opposite river bank.

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We strolled around for a good part of the day in Asakusa before tackling the Tokyo Metro system to go to Shibuya and witness the ‘Shibuya Scramble’ crossing. It was pretty cool to see, we watched the lights turn red and seemingly the entire population of Tokyo cross the road from the second floor of a big shopping mall before getting stuck in ourselves. We wondered around Shibuya and got a drink while we waited for darkness to fall so that we could see the neon lights. Our next after-dark stop was the observatory at the Government Building in Shinjuku which is free (!!) and gives panoramic views of the city from the 48th floor. It was breathtaking to see the sheer expanse of the city completely lit up.

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Our final stop was Ebisu, an area renowned for its Izakayas, kind of like Japanese Tapas bars. We weren’t sure what to expect but we certainly weren’t expecting to be so intimidated by these little venues. The problem was that they were so tiny and intimate and very few had a menu at all, let alone an English one. Tired and hungry, we traipsed around feeling more and more disheartened until finally we summoned the courage to take the plunge. And it was fantastic. Seeing us struggle to decipher the menu, one of the women sitting next to us at the bar turned to us and offered her help and recommendations which we readily accepted. We had a fantastic meal and it was the perfect way to finish the day before we caught the last subway back to Asakusa.

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The next day was my birthday and so, after an exhausting day the previous day, we got up at 6am. For good reason though, we were off to the Sumo box office to try our luck at getting tickets for the Sumo competition which was sold out apart from a few tickets they release on the day. Luck was on our side and we got the tickets with ease. We decided to take advantage of being up and out so early, by visiting Tokyo’s Fabius fish market. It may not seem like your usual birthday treat, but it was incredible to see the wholesale section of the market which only opens to the public at 10am. It was so vibrant and lively and gave a real insight into the traditional methods and trading of the Japanese fish market.

We then went to the Imperial Palace Gardens located more or less at Tokyo’s geographical centre, stopping at a small Italian restaurant under the railway lines for a delicious lunch. The gardens were huge but not particularly special in any other way. It was sunny, despite being cold so we sat on a bench for a bit before strolling around the surrounding area which was pretty swanky, with lots of tall modern buildings before heading back for the Sumo. Sumo is not something I’ve ever really looked into or taken seriously, but it soon became evident how sacred and ritualised the sport is in Japan. When we arrived, there were people waiting to have photos with some of the Champions, who humbly walk down the street from their “stables”, where they live and train before a competition. The match was sold out but our seats, despite being far back, had really good views and for the next few hours we were completely sucked in to the Sumo bubble. I really really enjoyed watching the fighting, it was far more dignified than I had expected and the fighters were very agile, perhaps even elegant, given their size.

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On our third and final day, we took the time to wander around Asakusa again in the morning before exploring the nearby area of Ueno. We didn’t know much about the area before we arrived and so we were suitably surprised when we found it to be a manic street sellers and street food market. Our initial attempt at lunch was not too successful, octopus cake balls. Our second attempt was even less so, as after deciding to go straight into a local place, the most appealing thing on the menu was ‘guts stew’. Yum. Our third attempt was far more satisfying- we got a big bowl of udon noodles and tempura vegetables in an upstairs restaurant that had a view down onto the busy street below.

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After lunch we headed to Roppongi Hills to look around the area and stopped for a while for a rest and to look at the next leg of our journey as we hadn’t really had time to sort anything out. By the time we came out, it was nearing sunset and so at the last minute we decided to go up to the observatory they have there. It was cool to see a different perspective of the city as the sun set and to watch all the lights come on, the perfect way to end an awesome three days in Tokyo.

Reluctantly we headed towards the airport and prepared for the overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur, but Japan, we’ll be back!

Posted by amysblog 18:21 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo japan travel city izakaya sumo Comments (0)

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