After Hong Kong it was time for my very brief stop in Tokyo, Japan. I was there for two nights as well but my flights were a little more helpful in the amount of time I had for sightseeing. I had almost two full days to explore the city. Because Tokyo is huge and there is, once again, a lot I did and saw I divided my story in two parts. This is the first half!
First impressions of Tokyo
Around 5:30 pm I arrive at my tiny hotel in Tokyo. I throw my backpack in the corner of the room and let my body free fall on the bed. It had been a long day. This morning I got up at 5:30 am to get to the airport in time. The journey was a little delayed but all went well. At the Narita Airport I’m surprised about the amounts of crystal white and pink plastic that is used in almost anything. The border security machines that scan passports and the interior of the metro, everything is plastic and everything is colored baby pink. My train rushes through the rice fields and drops me off in the center of Tokyo within 40 minutes.
I startle awake. 9:00 pm it says on my phone. Oops, I think. I didn’t mean to fall asleep as I was planning to explore the city at night. My stomach growls at me, I haven’t eaten since they served lunch in the airplane. Yet I don’t really feel like eating. The exhaustion has overtaken the feeling of hunger. With heavy eyes I drag myself to the nearest supermarket I can find to get myself a sandwich. The label is in Japanese and I have no idea what it says, but the sandwich looks like it has chicken, lettuce and tomatoes, so it’s good enough.
The next morning, I wake at 5 in the morning and I can’t manage to fall asleep again. It’s bound to be a busy day today so I try to figure out a logical path to all the places I want to see. My first stop is the Asakusa temple. There are a couple of huge temple buildings, which are gorgeous, but it is super touristy, despite me being there rather early. I’m surrounded by the clattering of coins and metal boxes. At every single corner of the temple complex there are fortune-walls. They are similar to fortune cookies. You throw a coin into the wall, then you shake a box that holds a hundred sticks. One of those sticks comes out as you shake. You then read the number on that stick and open the drawer in the wall matching that number. You then find a paper that tells you your fortune. It is super popular among the tourists, you can tell by the amount of non-stop noise it makes. I feel sorry for all the people working at the temples. Even though the temples are really big and quite impressive, the number of tourists there make it a little less authentic and I decide to not linger around for too long.
My next destination is the Imperial Palace. Part of my journey I do by metro, another part I do by foot. I take a lot of alleys and avoid the main streets. Luckily, I run into some temples used by the locals, which aren’t as known or popular as Asakusa. The colors of the temples are very different from the ones in Hong Kong. Even though there still is a lot of gold, the red color is used a whole lot less or sometimes not at all. The majority of the temples are colored in blacks, whites and browns. This is also the case in the Imperial Palace.
When I get there I am just in time for the changing of the guards. then I take a walk through the Imperial Gardens, along the hundreds of pine trees and many different plants and flowers and the Imperial Pond, that holds a number of Koi fish released there by the emperor and empress themselves. Fascinated by their culture I read all about former warrior rituals and the traditions of the Imperial family. I learn that pine trees symbolize a long life. That explains why there are so many.
Rain, rain, rain
It was a long walk and above me the clouds turn darker and darker. Grey to black clouds gather all over the city. I quickly hop in to a metro towards Shibuya Crossing. When I get there, rain is pouring down like it hasn’t rained in years. I’m surrounded by flocks of umbrellas, that like a herd cross the street when the pedestrian traffic light turns green. I run through the crowds, hopping from under one umbrella to the next and then pop into the McDonalds, because it is the first restaurant I could find. I initially wanted sushi for lunch but it is raining too much to find another place to eat and it’s already three in the afternoon. After a quick cheeseburger I sprint into a bookstore that also sells umbrella’s. With my umbrella covering me I roam around the area a bit longer but there isn’t much to do so I decide to go to Meiji-Jingu temple which is nearby.
After a little search I arrive at a big forest-y park where the temple is supposed to be. Rain is still pouring from the skies so there is no-one else. The dirt path to the temple is soft and mushy and full of big puddles. With each step I take I feel water splashing up my legs. The water keeps creeping up and even my shoes are now getting soaked; I feel my socks squishing in my brand-new Sketchers.
The temple is luckily worth the annoyance of the rain. It is quite different from all the temples I have seen thus far as it is has a courtyard, and there are a holy tree and a wishing-wall. Different from the fortune wall, this is a wall that people hang their wishes on. As I am exploring the temple, a long line of people in traditional clothing pass by. They are led by two monks, dressed in black, and a female, dressed in a long white kimono. A large white cap covers her head. “It’s a wedding” I hear the safety guard saying to a group of Swedish tourists. Even though it was hardly ceremonial, I appreciated that I could catch a glimpse of a traditional Japanese wedding. My pants now completely stick to my legs, as they are soaked with water. There is no sign of the rain stopping to fall anytime soon, so I have to pick between going back to the hotel where nice dry and warm clothes will be waiting for me or conquering the weather by going to the Shinjuku district and look for a place to eat there. I decide to go for the latter option, as that area is famous for its lights and billboards, which is more beautiful at night.
Shinjuku is exactly like the pictures. I roam the streets looking for a place to eat. It is, however, already quite late and most places are packed. When I finally find a place that is not in what appears to be a red-light district, a rat pops out of the front door. “Never mind” I think as my last resort, a sushi bar, is about to close. I take the metro back and eat another burger on the way. As soon as I get back I take a long hot shower. I’ll catch up on sushi tomorrow.
Want to see more pictures? Check them out here.