Friday, April 19, 2013

Japan Part 3: Tokyo

After 7 full days of skiing in Niseko we gradually watched the snow decrease on the bus ride back to the airport and then left it behind on our flight to Tokyo.
We arrived late Saturday afternoon and armed with suggestions from a friend who'd lived in Tokyo for a few years, headed out on the massive subway/train network to check out the town, starting in Akihabara which is described as the home to electric city.  The recommendation here was to visit the big super stores, also the small stalls under the train tracks that sell only one thing (like one store may sell only one type of wire) and if you have time go to a manga cafĂ© and hang out with the nerds. 
While we didn't make it to a manga cafe, we did find our way into a massive six or seven story arcade, which on a Saturday night looked like it was the place to be.  In the picture above, there is actually a line to play dance revolution, and they are playing like their lives depend on it.
We tried our hand at one complete immersion game and decided that we'd better leave it to the professionals and continued to wander around the stores.  Many of the large stores were full of smaller shops selling all kinds of what looked to us like junk.  Maybe your evening will be complete if you get a key chain of a lobster, or your favorite anime character?  At one point we even wandered by a yoyo store with multiple people actually shopping in it!
The next morning we made our way to Asakusa which is home to Senso-ji probably the most famous and coolest temple/shrine complex and related old town area.  Although somewhat overrun with people since it was a Sunday, the temple itself was really spectacular.

One of the popular things that you do at the temples is pay a small amount to get your fortune.  Once you've made your donation you shake a stick out of a can and match up your characters with the different little drawers and then pull out your fortune.  

All around the temple were markets, stores and restaurants, and unfortunately not pictured some amazing steamed pork buns and raman, and some quite awful bbq'd beef.
One of the really neat things about Tokyo is that it's really a mix of the old and new culture, and while most people were dressed in a Western fashion, you'd quite frequently see women dressed in kimonos on the street or the subway, and monks in their traditional outfits.
After that temple we tried to make our way to Harajuku but actually got lucky and stumbled on the Meiji Shrine which turned out to be hidden in a gorgeous park.

We were happy to take a bit of a break from the hustle of Tokyo to take a stroll through to forest until we came the to shrine itself.

This shrine was in such a beautiful location in the middle of the city that it's a popular place for weddings and we were lucky enough to see a bride and groom in their traditional clothing.  She did not have an easy time trying to get into the car after the pictures with that kimono on.
It was really amazing that the shrine seemed so isolated in the woods but was really just a small pocket of quite within the city.
After this nice quite place, we got to Harajuku which really defies description.  We'll leave it with this picture of the Japanese Elvis impersonators who were dancing in the park.

The next morning the boys woke up far too early to make it to the world famous fish auctions at Tsukiji fish market.  They actually start the auction at 5:30 in the morning, and they allow a small group of tourists in for about 20 minutes at a time.

A few hours later those of us who enjoy a bit more sleep showed up at the market, and not realizing that the public isn't welcome until 9 am, took a wander through the market.  Above is a guy using a band saw to cut a fish that weighs more than Debs!

It turns out that this was a great time to be walking through the market because you could see the fish guys actually carving up the tuna which we didn't see later.  The guy above is using a knife that could be better described as a sword to oh so carefully cut that huge piece of tuna.  After about 15 minutes, and just after we happened to walk by the booth selling fresh whale, we were escorted out of the market and asked to come back later.
After eating some of the best sushi ever for breakfast, the market opened to the public and we went back in to look around some more.  The market itself is made up of probably 100 different stalls within a warehouse selling every possible kind of fish or ocean product that you could imagine.

All of the sea food looked really fresh, and some of the crabs were trying to make their escape when we were walking by.

As you might expect after the fish auction, the tuna was definitely the star of the show.  Most of the stalls had a featured section, often in a glass showcase, of their best tuna and it all looked amazing.  Chris was happy to spend about $5 to get one of these boxes of the freshest tuna you've ever tasted.
The last activity that we managed to squeeze in before heading for home was a walk by the Imperial Palace.  Thankfully we were warned that you can't actually get near the palace itself, but it was still nice to get some glimpses through the trees.

Overall Tokyo was an amazing city that we really enjoyed eating our way around and seeing the sights. The search will now be on in Sydney to find a noodle shop that's half as good as all of the ones that we found in Japan.