Day Three - second day in Japan

12.50am Tuesday

Shinju TempleAnother fantastic day in Tokyo. Despite all our fears, Tokyo is a lovely, exciting and inviting place to explore. Today we had a lazy morning followed by finally braving the metro system. We asked the bloke at the front desk of the hotel for help and he came up trumps with a full explanation of what to do and a piece of paper he handwrote to give to the people at the train station to buy our ticket with. Our first stop was to a Shinto shrine, Meijo- Jingu, to get a taste of what Japan can offer culturally. We were not disappointed at all.

The shrine itself was built to commemorate Emperor Meiji who reigned in Japan until the 1920s. It’s set in several hundred acres of beautifully landscaped deciduous trees well within Tokyo’s city limits, and it’s truly spectacular. We spent a full half-day lazily walking around the grounds, exploring the shrine and surroundings, and being awed by the lovely ornamental inner gardens. We were lucky enough to catch a traditional Japanese Shinto wedding too, with the beautifully made-up bride and bridegroom and their attendant parents in full traditional garb.

We contrasted the peace and tranquility of Meijo-Jingu by next visiting the urbana of Shibuya, a trendy shopping district. In honesty it’s not quite as nice as the area of Tokyo our hotel’s in, and we didn’t spend long there. Instead we set sail (or rather, set bemusedly-is-this-the-right-trainly-metro) for Akhibara — the “Electric Town” of Japan. A friend of mine once described it as “the biggest Dixons in the world” and I don’t think he did it justice. The best description I can have is: Take the style and panache of Richer Sounds, add a dash of Tottenham Court Road and then use the same tactics as Egyptian street traders…you end up with a noisy, bustling market-style feel but instead of appalling carved trinkets you can buy the latest motherboards, processors, cases, Anime figurines and mobile phones. The noise is quite overpowering — our guidebook recommended not being too caffeine-filled before visiting; and I know exactly where they’re coming from. I thought my head might explode at one point!

We ventured into one of the more respectable-looking places, an eight floor department store selling electronics goods pretty much exclusively. Quite something to behold — I saw a Playstation 3 (alledgedly!) running some demos. No photography allowed near it unfortunately else I’d have a load of pics. Pretty impressive-looking all the same; though not in the same league as the original pictures and videos Sony released might suggest.

After a brief relax in the room we finally decided to get some proper Japanese food. Dressing up nicely, we headed for one of the swankier restaurants in the hotel. A quick nod in the direction of honesty here…we very nearly bottled it — we were starving and had visions of ending up paying enormous amounts for food we couldn’t eat. In the end, curiosity and the abiding sense that we couldn’t leave Japan without a real food experience won out, and not with a small amount of trepidation we sat ourselves in the beautifully-decorated restaurant.

Raw Fish!We honestly needn’t have worried. The food was simply stunning. I don’t think I’ve ever had such delicious seafood in my life, and the tastes and textures were tremendous. By the end of our rather large set meal there was little left and we were absolutely stuffed. Amazing — my eyes are now very much opened to Japanese cuisine! Beautifully presented, amazingly flavoured, fresh and to me anyway like nothing else.

We’ve just retired to the room after a stint in another bar in the hotel, where a fantastic bartender kept us amused with his cocktail-making skills. We got talking to him after spotted him do something unusual with a Guiness — they were selling it as draught but it came out of a bottle. I was just saying to Ness ‘I don’t think they should be able to do that’ when he placed the freshly- poured, jet-black, headless glass of Guiness onto a special machine, shaped like a normal Guiness pump. The bartender pulled the top of the machine down (just as if he were pouring a normal Guiness) for a few moments, then walked away. While he was away, the pint slowly frothed up until it had the trademark white head of a Guiness!

After quizzing him (he claimed it was “Top Secret!”) the machine gently vibrates the pint, causing it to fizz up in such a manner. Amazing — apparently they only have them in Japan. I ended up being talked into a pint, and it did taste ok (inasmuch as I don’t like Guiness really!)

So, all in all, another great day in Japan. We both agree it’s a fabulous place worthy of further exploration. In a way it’s a shame our flight means we’ll be leaving here about 4pm ish tomorrow — we hope to get to see the Imperial Palace first — but then we’re off to Sydney to see what the wonderful land of Oz has to offer us!

More pictures…

Filed under: New Zealand Trip
Posted at 16:56:17 BST on 16th October 2006.

About Matt Godbolt

Matt Godbolt is a C++ developer working in Chicago in the finance industry.