The land of the rising sun
Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
98Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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Where I stayed
Couchsurfed with Camila
The ride was quick! I busily read about Tokyo for an hour, then slept for an hour or two. The train arrived into Tokyo central station. I agreed to meet my host, Camila, at Shinjuku station. If you've watched Lost in Translation, Shinjuku is Bill Murrays first sight when he wakes up in the cab. The metro is quite complex and there is a mix of subway lines, JR (Japan railway) lines and some independent lines. I found my way to the north of Shinjuku station, but needed to meet Camila at the south exit. It's known as one of the largest stations in the world, it took almost 30 minutes to make my way to the south exit. I didn't write down Camila's instructions so we were delayed in meeting, my bad, but meet we eventually did.
She took me straight away to the Metropolitan Government building which has a free skyline view of Tokyo. We arrived just before closing, the only downside, was carrying both my bags.
The view was as I imagined. Bright lights, tall buildings, a dense city full of neon signs, traffic and electric activity. I feel happy and content on making it this far. Camila is a wonderful young lady. At 21 she is fluent is Japanese and English having grown up in Argentina. She talks more than I do. She had great knowledge of the history of Tokyo and apart from her skin colour, she acted as a local Japanese woman. Lots of bowing, pleasantries and respect to others.
Knowing I was on a budget, we hit a sushi train restaurant in Shinjuku. Shinjuku is anything but camera shy. More than any other neighborhood, it represents Tokyo's sensory overload and breakneck pace. It is rumored that Ridley Scott drew inspiration from Shinjuku for the cult classic, Blade Runner. The sushi restaurant was fun. The plain plates were 100 yen, the plate with decorations, 300 yen. I grabbed four plates of plain plates and watched as plates stacked twenty high circled the train track, well, empty plates. My first sushi is Japan, it was cheap, delicious and made in front of you! A great start!
Camila lives near Kawasaki, it's a 40 minute ride west of Tokyo and then a twenty minute walk up a hill. Her place was very cool, although I couldn't see her bed. Only when she pressed a button did the bed lower itself from the ceiling! Yes, the place was small but cosy and comfortable. I gladly slept on the floor, after carrying around my large bags for a couple of hours, I was knackered!
Camila is studying in Japan, so I joined her on her commute in to the city. This involved a tightly packed commuter train, so tight you need not worry about losing your balance. Despite the quietnes of the train and the uncomfortable position, Camila continued talking. It was packed, but not as bad a Sao Paulo.
We would meet up later on that evening. So, I have two full days in Tokyo, to try see as much as I can. I started off in Shibuya. This is the Tokyo in my dreams. At Shibuya crossing is a mix of neon lights, giant screens and hundreds if not thousands of people crossing the street. Again, featured in Lost in Translation, it is the famous crossing of Tokyo. My first time crossing, I stood in the middle of the crossing, looked up to the sky and smiled. What an experience!
Remember Hachiko the dog? The film with Richard Gere I saw a few times on buses in South America? Well, when the owner died, the dog waited at Shibuya station everyday for ten years. There is a statue in place remembering the dog. It is now Tokyo's most famous and popular meeting spot. The proud pooch is usually surrounded by hip looking Tokyoites with smart phones in hand. It also has a few free wifi zones!
I next went to Harajuku station area and Tokyo's grandest Shinto shrine, Meiji-Jingu. The 1920 edifice enshrines the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, under whose rule Japan ended its isolation from the outside world. It was destroyed during bombings in World War II and reconstructed in 1958. Surrounded by 70 hectares of forest, it is a welcome break from the city.
Next was Roppongi. A party town at night, but pretty peaceful and quiet during the day. I checked out Roppongi hills, a large real estate area and spent time at the gardens of Tokyo midtown. It was also a convenient place to recharge my itouch. On Roppongi is Tokyo tower and next to it the Zojo temple. A former funerary temple of the Tokugawa regime, one of the most important temples of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism. It dates back to 1393 but the original structures have been relocated and had been rebuilt several times. Whe sitting here and reflecting, I listened to Bear Grylls on desert island discs, I never knew he was from the isle of wight? Born Edward Grylls in 1974, did you school with him Dave? He broke his back in the SAS then after recovering climbed Mount Everest. Four of his team died on that trip! An amazing interview.
I later went to the area of Ginza to see the Sony Building. A place for gadget hounds in search of gizmos that have yet to be released. I know my brother Pete would have loved this place. I was due to meet Camila back in Shinjuku for dinner but she had to cancel so I returned to Shibuya crossing for the night time view and then found a tasty cheap Ramen restaurant in Shinjuku that Camila had recommended. They will refill your noodles for free! I walked around the red light district but it's very different to sat Amsterdam, there is nothing on display, just some 'host' boys hanging on the streets. It felt very creepy and is designed for rich Japanese business men to entertain clients. A friend of Momo's in Kyoto was a host and earned thousands of dollars a week doing it. Still seems creepy!
Camila and I returned to her place together and after walking around all day, I was so tired!
Next morning, she forgot to set her alarm so was running late. She left me her key and I continued sleeping! I left the floor at 11am. I headed straight to Tsukiki to try get a glimpse of the central fish market but I was too late.
I headed North to the Imperial Palce. This is the permanent residence of Japan's emperor and imperial family. The grounds of the Palace are off limits but the area is the geographical and spiritual heart of Tokyo. Situated next to the financial district, many businessmen and families could be seen on a stroll or a late lunch break. A great sight.
I wandered north still to the Akihabara electric town. Bustling, busy and fun to watch! Many items are market-tested here, so even if you have no intention of shopping now, it's worth a peek to see what you may be buying in yep years. I also noticed a load of anime porn magazine shops! Those crazy Japanese guys!!
My last stop of the day was Asakusa. The neighborhood is centred on the imposing temple of Senso-Ji which was founded in the 7th century, not only before Tokyo was Edu but also before Edu was a glimmer of an idea. The walk to the temple starts at Kaminarimon Gate, continues past lines of souvenir and food stands before reaching the temple. I arrived there in the evening and enjoyed the kit up area.
It is here where I also met Camila. She won two free tickets to Jspanese sit down comedy, similar to stand up but she's sat down. We got a free drink and had to sit on the floor, oh man!! The sit down comedy was a little acting while explaining a cute story. The woman was from Liverpool, so in England, she wouldn't lady 30 seconds but the Japanese loved her simple comedy. Most of it was in Japanese but I had my translator with me!! Between the sketches, she showed a slide show of what she had been doing this year. When the tsunami hit, her bookings cancelled and her only thought was to pack a bag and 2000 balloons (she makes balloon puppets) and drove to Fukushima. The devastation she witnessed was very upsetting, unimaginable but she went with costumes and everyday put smiles on children's faces! An amazing woman! Not the only person who did that, but thousands in Japan also volunteered in the clean up. The most humbling information I heard was there was zero looting! Nothing was stolen! Are there many countries in this world that could boast that? I'm embarrassed to say England can't boast that, Canada can't, nor the USA etc! This shows how honest and proud the Japanese people are.
After the gig we took the long ride home. Near Camila's subway stop was a cheap meat and rice place. You go to a ticket machine, select your meal then sit down. It arrives within minutes! I'm sad to say my time with Camila went so fast!
Next morning, I was hoping she'd let me lie in, but she told me the bad news that I would be leaving with her at 8am. My flight to KL was not till midnight, oh man!
We said goodbye at a train station and I headed to Yokohama to kill time and wander around. I enjoyed seeing the wheel and some crazy cars in the Toyota building. The fancy car has it's seat on the centre with a seat either side. I guess it's for a pimp and his ladies?
It wasn't long before I set off for the airport and killed my time there between eating, sleeping, carefully packing my bag to satisfy AirAsia weight policy and sadly, I left Japan.
A top destination, I would always recommend Japan to anyone, as always, it's more fun with local people.
Next stop, the Philipines via KL.