A shrine at Zōjō-ji

Well this post has been a loooooooooooong time coming. I definitely should have been in a bigger rush to start writing up Japan, the last country of my 19 month trip around the world. I mean; once I finish writing up Japan, I’m done! But clearly the impetus to write up my travel blog has become a bit weak since landing into Heathrow on June 1st…

I’ll just shut up and get started.

Well first I just want to put our visit to Japan in context. Growing up, I felt Japan always possessed this legendary status as one of the most far-flung, exotic, intrepid and luxurious destinations in the world. I hoped I’d get there one day to see it. But I doubted I’d manage it until I was in my 30s or 40s… it’s an expensive place and not easy to get to. But back in the planning stages of this trip in Australia, when I was obsessively checking SkyScanner for cheap flights, I realised that getting to Japan wasn’t expensive at all. Like really; about £100 each? From Hong Kong that is. Jake and I were absolutely ecstatic that we could afford to include our dream destination in the trip. So we planned three weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun to finish our trip.

Me with the grand entrance to the Meiji Shrine near Harajuku

The first week of this we spent in Tokyo. How… how to begin describing this city? There is nothing like it on Earth. It’s huge, dizzying, extraordinary, inspiring and fascinating. Overpopulated, expensive, exhausting, offputting and bewildering. So many words are apposite because it’s such a diverse place. It’s one of the few cities in the world, like London or New York, that is a bastion of human progress and potential. The city possesses many qualities that appealed to me; great food, culture, history and technology. Everything you’d ever want!

From vending machine restaurants to bullet trains, maid cafés to Victorian fashion, Tokyo is by all accounts a quirky place. Most of the stereotypes are true. To see them play out right in front of your eyes is both disconcerting and entertaining. Cute schoolgirls in tiny skirts, hot food that comes straight from a vending machine, video game-themed everything and more people in one place than you’ve ever seen in your whole life… it’s astonishing. We spent our time here trying to see as much as we could; taking the metro to a different area of Tokyo each day to try and get under the city’s skin.

We stayed near Akihabara, the arcade and electronics centre of Tokyo. With neon signs coming out the wazoo, futuristic electronics stores and five floor arcades on every street, it was a great place to explore and come back to each evening. Jake and I are both pretty big computer game geeks, so we spent a lot of time and money in the arcades, playing versions of games that had yet to come out in the West. Heading upstairs into the smokey, seedy arcades, past the sad looking old people playing pachinko (slot machines) to play Dissidia Final Fantasy and Pokken Tournament was awesome. Not many white tourists were to be seen round here – although the locals didn’t bat an eyelid at us nosing around either.

We visited Shinjuku on our first day. We checked out a cat café, strolled round traditional gardens, perused the local fashions, visited a Square Enix themed restaurant, had fresh sushi and whiled away some time in an arcade.

A collage of our first day in Japan, in Shinjuku
Super cute cats in the cat café!

The next day we checked out Roppongi to climb to the top of the Tokyo Tower. This was the city’s most famous landmark for me; a red Eiffel Tower replica. We were lucky enough to be there on a day with perfect weather so we enjoyed some wonderful views of the cityscape. Afterwards we explored the nearby Zōjō-ji, a centuries-old Buddhist temple.

The Tokyo Tower
View from Tokyo Tower (with Zōjō-ji below)

We spent some time at “Sunshine City”, a shopping area we visited mainly because it was the location of the world’s largest Pokémon Center (merchandise store). Whilst here, we also visited an aquarium located on the the roof of the shopping centre. Weird right? We watched a sealion show, some cute otters and lots of weird and wonderful fish.

Yep, I’m a loser, get over it
Penguins at the Sunshine City Aquarium

The next day we visited one of Tokyo’s largest and most famous parks, Ueno Park. Whilst here we checked out the zoo which was amazing value (around ¥200, or £1.50) and saw tons of awesome animals, including giant pandas, a polar bear, some cool birds native to Japan and other Asiatic animals that were unfamiliar to us.

A super cute but probably somewhat depressed polar bear in Ueno Zoo

Another day we went to check out Harajuku, the ‘trendy’ area of Tokyo. It’s where the extremely fashionable younger population go to shop for the bizarre fashions Japan is stereotypically known for. Here, we met up with an old friend of mine Rosie, who happened to be holidaying in Tokyo at the same time as us. I hadn’t seen her in years and it was amazing to reconnect! The same day we also visited the famous district of Shibuya and had a go at traversing the renowned Shibuya crossing. The sheer amount of people and all the neon signs was mesmerising and chaotic, to say the least. I think I’ll struggle to forget the place!

Meeting up with Rosie!
Takeshita Street (yes, a hilarious name) in Harajuku. Bit busy!
Blurry picture of the Shibuya Crossing – it’s not really somewhere you stop to line up the angles of a photo…

Our first week in Japan was absolutely incredible. We saw quite a few more things that I haven’t mentioned here just because I’m trying to keep this brief (and failing). And despite trawling round the city for 7 days we barely scratched the surface of this incredible city. It was an awesome introduction to all Japan has to offer, but only the beginning of our time here. However Jake and I were super excited to leave Tokyo and begin using our Rail Passes to zoom around the country on Japan’s famed train network, to see what else this country had to offer.

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