So, That Was Japan!

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Where to begin, 5 days worth of updates into one blog post. Day one started after arriving in Osaka from Hong Kong, pretty tired, cold and homeless. The first hour or so was spent sitting in arrivals in the Airport trying to get some money out of the bank, an idea of how the tube system worked and somewhere to sleep. Once we’d done all three, we set off into Osaka center to our hostel, the Hotel Toyo. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a rather clean Japanese style room, i.e. we were sleeping on a gym mat on the floor. Ah well, a beds a bed.

Check in formalities out of the way, bags dropped off, we ventured off to find Sushi. Mmmmmm, that was interesting. Some were really nice, others weren’t so much. At one point, poor Jemma looked like she was going to be seeing her raw fishy friend again, which probably would have triggered me off too; it was disgusting. At least we can say we had Sushi in a proper Sushi bar in Japan.

After dinner & the early morning start we decided on an early night, drink a few beers and watch a film. Day one in Japan, done. Day two was a little more exciting. We went to the city center to have a nosy around the many shopping centers; there’s literally one on every corner, usually all linked under ground via a maze of tunnels lined with more shops. Brilliant! It was walking around these places that I think Jem actually fell for Japan and especially the clothes shopping. Unfortunately, suitcases & bank balances held her back from going crazy. On the roof of one of them is a giant Ferris Wheel providing cracking views all around the city.

After the Sushi experience the previous day we decided to play safe and had an Italian meal for lunch. Quite surprisingly, this was possibly one of the best Italian meals we’ve both ever had, and pretty reasonable on the wallet. Both fully fueled and raring to go, we hit the arcades. Like shopping centers, they too seem everywhere. Expecting to see the latest games which would blow our minds and fuel our excitement for their arrival in the UK, we were surprised to find pretty old games and some pretty boring. Another popular game in the arcades here seems to be the grabber machines, which are equally as hard to win on. It was a pretty fair competition between us, Jemma won the baseball throwing game (I know, for a girl she was pretty good at it!) and I won the Zombie shooting game.

Late afternoon was spent walking around Ameri-mura which means American village. Around here, everybody wears American apparel, listens to Gangster rap. A lot of the clothes are imported from American charity shops for added authenticity. It’s pretty cool, certainly my highlight up to that point and like Jem, it was here I decided Japan would take some beating for a destination on our trip.

The following day, day three in Japan started with a bang. Five o’clock or so in the morning, Jem jumps up out of bed/off the floor to announce she’d been sleeping with somebody else! This multi-legged, hard shelled character was there crawling over Jem’s face. A blimming cockroach! A small one, but still a cockroach. Well, me being the skilled Steve Irwin style character, played it cool, removed the offending insect from the pillow and went back to sleep. Poor Jemma, I think she was too scared to sleep again that morning so we started the day early, which was handy, we had a train to catch to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan.

Kyoto

This city is home of the Geisha’s, a place to see an older style Japan away from the dizzingly high skyscrapers & bright lights. Here we went to the Imperial Palace, where the emperor used to live before the capital was moved to Tokyo. It’s a big place, and took us an hour with a tour guide to walk around. The tour was free which is a bonus. After the tour, we went to Kyoto center and had a look around some more shopping centers. One which we found was fantastic. 6 or 7 floors of electricals, cameras, massage chairs, toys, clothes, food and gadgets! If only there was a shop like this at home.

Before our over night bus to Tokyo, we had a spare hour or two so hopped on the number 206 bus and headed over to Gion for a bit of Geisha hunting. Gion is the place where apprentice Geisha’s come to graduate so to speak. We were told to have any chance of seeing a genuine Geisha to get off the main roads and walk around the many back streets, which we did. Pearing through small windows in to the many restaurants & bars we think we spotted one but we don’t think she was a full Geisha. There’s plenty of women walking around which you might think was a Geisha lady but apparently there’s also plenty of women dressed Geisha-esque. We decided to escape the freezing cold with a quick drink before our bus. What luck, the first place we find, is an Irish bar with authentic Irish band playing live every night, bonus!

Tokyo

Next day, or yesterday as we write this, we arrive after a long bus journey in Tokyo. Arriving at 7am a bit blurry eyed we were easily confused by the metro system here. After hearing stories that Tokyo people aren’t the friendliest, we decided to tough it out and try make sense of the madness ourselves. After working out there’s two subway systems we finally managed to make our way to Asakusa to the hostel Asakusa Smile.

Check-in is supposed to be 3pm and arriving at half 8 we could easily have been stuck with the rucksacks for the best part of the day. Fortunately the staff here are very friendly, speak good English and allowed us to go up to our room early. A quick freshen up, a rough itinerary drawn up and a sandwich inside us we headed off in to Ginza district. The main attraction here was Japan’s oldest beer hall. The Sapparro Beer Hall is in the basement of yet another shopping center and looks more Bavarian that Japanese.

Expecting a large hall with rows of tables and a multitude of beers to work our way through we got a small pub selling half a dozen draught beers. It’s a lovely pub, the food was tasty and the beer was great. Their stout would rival a pint of Guinness any day. Back to the hostel then for a power nap and to recharge some batteries; the camera’s & Jemma’s before going down to the bar to watch the Japan v Australia match on TV. In the bar we got chatting with a few Japanese regulars all with excellent English.

The main reason they come to this particular bar is to speak with English speaking guests to improve their own English. Another thing with the people we met, they’re all about 10 or 15 years older than they actually look. There must be something in the water or the Sushi they eat which keeps them so young. We also took the opportunity to talk about Jem’s Japanese letter ‘J’ tattoo which we’ve established isn’t. It’s not far off and means quite good things in Japanese; good with the hands, tactical and practical, often used when referring to a Ninja warrior. Cool!

Final day, or today, was a busy one. Started with a new game we’ve invented, Japanese Menu Roulette. Find a restaurant which doesn’t speak English, doesn’t have an English menu or have any photo’s of the dishes and order something. Anything, just point. It’s a good game which we both won. The food was great and luckily, no sushi. From here, we wandered down Shopping Street, and it’s a lot like other markets we’ve come accross but with nicer looking street food and along the drive way to a massive Japanese temple. Being Sunday, it was mental how busy it was.

At the temple, we chose our fortune (mine medium, good things will happen if you work hard etc…) but Jemma’s wasn’t so lucky, pretty much saying bad things will happen with finding things she’s looking for, bad things for romance, bad things for finances just leave everything and go on a trip. Ah well, we’ll battle on and prove it all wrong. Next up was the hand washing fountain thingy, which you pour a cup of special water from the fountain over your hands to wash them, sip a bit and spit it out. It does good things I think, but then I can’t read Japanese so we’ll never know. There’s a incense burning pot which you’re supposed to breathe in and a big metal box at the top of the steps to the main temple which you throw money in to pray. We did them all so there’s no reason why we won’t get good fortune now.

Next up was a marathon of subway trips to various districts of Tokyo. To the Akinhabra area to see ‘Electric City’, street after street of Comet/Currys/Dixons like shops but with more choice & slightly better prices, more arcades and people dressed in Victorian clothes, manga costumes and everything else you could imagine (except goth & emo, that’s another district). Shibuya district had more clothes shops and more uniquely dressed teenagers called Harujaku. There are some scary looking characters here who don’t like strangers taking photos of them. Shame. Then, the Shinjuku area. This is the entertainment area, with more shops (even more expensive & posh ones this time), more arcades and a red light district, but by this stage we were getting tired and things we’re starting to look samey.

Now we’re back in the hostel, grabbing a sandwich to eat, writing this, sorting out some photos to upload later and packing our bags. In Tokyo, it’s surprisingly hard to find free WiFi. When you do it’s great; proper fast. Tomorrow, we’re up early to catch a flight to Bangkok and to some warmth. On our last check, there was a thirty degree shift in temperature. Expect the next blog posts to be about me moaning how hot it is. Can’t please some people.

With Japan now ticked off for this trip, I think I speak for both of us when I say Japan is amazing and we’ve only just scratched the surface. It’s definitely somewhere we’d both come back to, only with bigger suitcases, more money and a lot more time. If you want great shopping, even better food, charming people and plenty of history & authenticity, Japan is certainly somewhere you should come.

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