Tokyo

This Tuesday, I’m taking the last of my 5 personal days at AEON turning my 2-day weekend into a 3-day weekend, so Yasu and I could take a little trip east. On Sunday we met up at Nagoya station where we took the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Since my arrival in Japan I’ve been on numerous Shinkansens, but this was my first time to travel on one together with Yasu.

Getting comfortable on the Shinkansen to Tokyo

The highest and most impressive mountain in Japan is Mt. Fuji. It’s 3,776 meters high and is classified as an active volcano, but with a low risk of eruption. Its last eruption started on December 16, 1707 and ended on January 1, 1708. I’d never really seen Fuji-san, except when I took the Shinkansen home after the Bon Jovi concerts in Tokyo in January, but I only saw the base of the mountain because the rest was all hidden in a blanket of clouds. So I got really excited when Fuji-san suddenly appeared in full view on our way to Tokyo! And I wasn’t alone. There were even some tourists almost climbing on other passengers, who really couldn’t care less but happened to sit on Fuji-san’s side of the train, to be able to take some pictures of the giant mountain.

The first place we went to in Tokyo, after dropping off our suitcases at the excellent Mitsui Garden hotel near Tokyo Tower, was Shibuya. Last time I was in Tokyo I’d really wanted to see the busy crossing I saw in the movie ‘Lost in Translation’, but I got confused about its location and only found out it was in Shibuya when it was too late. This time I was going to see it for sure! And the place did not disappoint! It’s the world’s busiest scramble crossing just outside of Shibuya station (I came so close without knowing it last time), and when it’s time for the pedestrians to cross vehicles in all directions are stopped. Here is a movie I made standing outside on the crossing, but the poor quality of my digital camera makes it look like it was taken from behind glass or a curtain of plastic. Still it gives a nice impression of what’s it like to cross the street in Shibuya.

Next was Omotesando. Which is supposed to be beautiful avenue stretching from Harajuku station to Aoyama-dori, lined with pretty trees on both sides and is referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. I’d read a lot about it in a novel about a Japanese-American hitman, which had made me really curious. On the way there we passed by the entrance to Yoyogi Park, which is a popular hangout especially on Sundays. People gather to play music, create art, do street theater, or to be seen while being dressed very differently. Some of them looked pretty intimidating or simply creepy, but there was one girl (not even as weirdly dressed as some of the others) who looked harmless enough and really willing to have her picture taken:

Me with perhaps a Himegyaru

I had imagined us having lunch and doing some people-watching at one of Omotesando’s sidewalk cafés I had read about in that assassin book. But this was badly timed because apparently a big green St. Patrick’s Day parade had just taken place on the avenue so it was immensely crowded. We walked down Omotesando for a while in search of any sidewalk cafés, but I guess they’d taken all the furniture inside for the parade or we were simply not in the right place. After some time we were too hungry to be picky and ended up in a small underground Hawaiian restaurant on our way to Takeshita-dori in Harajuku. There were only 3 edible things on their menu, the rest were all colorful cocktails, and I ordered some Loco Moco. And it was absolutely delicious, but maybe I was too hungry to be unbiased though.

After lunch we strolled down Takeshita-dori, which was crowded too, of course. This part of Harajuku is home to many Japanese crêperies, which are usually food stalls serving crêpe (really thin pancake) cones with dozens of different fillings, from whipped cream with strawberries to salmon with seaweed. I had seen them the last time I was there and since then I learned Harajuku was famous for it or something, so I wanted to do the crêpe-thing too. But we weren’t very hungry anymore after our Hawaiian lunch, yet I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t do it. Yasu decided not to join in the crêpe fun because he was too full, but I know him and if I would offer him a bite of my crêpe he would end up eating most of it anyway, he just loves food. So I knew I wouldn’t have to eat one all by myself and that he’d share it with me, so I bought one with chocolate ice cream and bananas. We ate it in some back alley with others doing their best to eat their Japanese-French snacks, it’s not easy to eat a crêpe without spilling stuff everywhere, around garbage cans. This whole experience may sound weird and disgusting, but it actually was one of my favorite moments of our trip!

Yasu taking a bite of crêpe

After a quick look around Roppongi (another neighborhood I had read about in that book) which wasn’t as spectacular as I had imagined, we walked to Tokyo Tower. Tokyo Tower looks like an orange version of the Eiffel Tower because its design is actually based on the Paresian tower. I wanted to see Tokyo from far above, and the tower would be the place to do it as it is 332.6 meters tall, making it a bit taller than the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, by the time we finally got there it had already started to get dark, which means good pictures of the view with my camera were no longer possible. But seeing the city colorfully light up the dark the way it does, was something worth seeing anyway.

Tokyo’s orange Eiffel Tower and the moon

The view from the main observatory

For dinner we met up with one of Yasu’s friends from college, Yuppian. She now lives and works in Yokohama and had wanted to meet Yasu’s girlfriend for quite some time now. She even did some research into Dutch culture and told me that Dutch people are supposedly modest and don’t like to waste things. Always interesting to hear what foreigners think of us, not sure about it’s accuracy though. Anyway, we had dinner in a cute izakaya (which I had spotted last time I was in Tokyo), where they grilled our food right in front of us at the bar. I tried some Japanese thing I hadn’t before like grilled squid and oden (stuff stewed in a soy-flavored dashi broth eaten with mustard). The latter always scared me a bit so I never tried it before, but it’s not bad at all. It was great to meet Yuppian and the food was great.

Yuppian biting into some garlicky fried chicken

Another thing I had really wanted to see the last time was the Tsukiji fish market. I had once seen a Kyushu fish market on a Dutch travel show on TV, and it looked really interesting, with hundreds of different kinds of fish everywhere and nice sushi places where you could eat the freshest fish ever. The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market (which is the market’s official name) is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, so my expectations were high. But our visit was disappointing and almost life-threatening. Maybe if we’d had a guide, the visit could have been awesome, but when we went there on Monday morning, we almost got lost in some kind of factory with boxes full of food (not fish) and hundreds of men riding around on scary vehicles in such a hurry that they didn’t seem to mind running over some lost tourists as we were probably extremely in the way. Luckily Yasu saved himself quickly enough on some occasions, and after we escaped from the scary parts of the market, we tried to stay in the area crowded by foreign tourists, where we felt safer.

Tsukiji fish-less madness

So far we hadn’t seen any fish except for the sushi pictures in front of the tiny restaurants. Besides wanting to see the fish auction, eating fresh sushi for breakfast was our reason to make a pit stop at Tsukiji on our way to Tokyo Disneyland. But of course the lines for the sushi restaurants were long in true Tokyo style, and the restaurant that didn’t have a line were way too expensive (hence the lack of a line). So we gave up on seeing any fish auctioned off and decided to get our breakfast elsewhere (which turned out to be hot dogs in Disneyland). But on our dangerous way back from the fish market, I encountered these Styrofoam boxes of fish on the ground, so at least I did see some fish there:

Our trip to Tokyo was certainly different from what I’d expected but I still had a great time. It was crowded and hot, but I saw a lot of the things I didn’t get to see last time, even if they were not what I had imagined them to be. I left the place very satisfied and ready for our next stop: Tokyo Disneyland.

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