A Travellerspoint blog

Tokyo

overcast 25 °C

Despite promising weather forecasts, our second day in Tokyo turned out to be only slightly less damp than the first. The Lure of the Giant Pandas was too much to resist by now, so we made our way to Ueno Zoo. Sure, there were snakes, giraffes, zebras, turtles, even a giant turtle, but let's face it, we were here for the pandas. Ling Ling and Zhuan Zhuan, the two pandas who call this zoo home, were asleep when we walked past, so we decided to have a look at some of the other animals and come back. Wandering amongst the school children, we strolled past the gorillas, tigers, lions, elephants and other animals. But we could only be distracted for so long and so we headed back to the pandas' neck of the woods to see if they had woken up. Though both were still snoozing we watched for a while and were very pleasantly surprised when Zhuan Zhuan finally decided to get up for a spot of lunch! We were very pleased :) What a beautiful creature. We're glad we stopped by for a visit.

But animal loving aside, how can Tokyo be properly experienced without a few shopping trips? Shopaholics would find no cure here. The numerous department stores are packed with goods from every corner of the globe. Anything you want can be found, providing you look in the right area. It seems whole districts are devoted to one particular profession. For instance, a whole area with practically nothing but 'Hair and Make' shops, or the rather famous electronics district Akhabara with a sufficient range of tempting gadgets and gizmos. Yes, that's a real word, my spell checker says so. We thought we may have ended up in the 'Star Wars' district at the Tokyo International Forum, but it turned out to be a convention of sorts.

Star Wars Convention

Star Wars Convention

Shibuya Intersection

Shibuya Intersection

Tokyo is a fascinating city. Bustling to its brim with activity, and yet it feels safer than any other large city I've been to, including Melbourne. People are polite, the advertising isn't. Visiting various areas of Tokyo, it is interesting to compare the differences in the suburbs. Shibuya, in Western Tokyo, with what seems like 100 giant TV screens all shouting for attention, is the bustling crazy Tokyo most imagine the city to be. In contrast, Ginza in Central Tokyo, though busy, is refined and kind of feels like an open air hushed library. The street was closed down to traffic while we were there, so people were wandering the street freely.

We visited Yoyogi Park for their flea market on Sunday. Surprisingly, no purchases were made here, but it was entertaining wandering around listening to Japanese punk music and enjoying the street performers.

Market at Yoyogi Park

Market at Yoyogi Park

Afterwards a visit to the Senso-Ji Shrine in Northern Tokyo, not particularly far from our hotel, was a necessary stop. Though packed with tourists, ourselves included, there are still enough worshippers here practising their rituals. Fanning the incense smoke over themselves, tossing coins into the giant offering area and going about their routines. The construction itself is a magnificent sight to behold and a pleasure to walk around. The nearby stalls provide some good colour as well.

Returning from the shrine, we noticed there seemed to be quite a few scantily clad Japanese men walking around in matching outfits. As we headed further away from the temple, we noticed more and more of these men gathering. Before we knew it, we were in the middle of a procession of some sort, fully equipped with a creepily masked man, an old guy on a horse and what must have been a very heavy shrine.

Men standing around in costume

Men standing around in costume


Bored

Bored


Strange costume

Strange costume

We have enjoyed our stay in the Hotel New Izu. The staff were very friendly, even presenting us with a gift of two pairs of chopsticks on our last day! Not much was ever on TV, apart from The Ring one night; that's the American adaptation of the original Japanese movie, dubbed back into Japanese. If only they had English subtitles. :)

Heading out of Tokyo on the Shinkansen, by now we were ready for a change of scenery.

Posted by Peter 07:04 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

The Etiquette of the Umbrella

19 °C

We arrived in wet Tokyo with nothing but some light coats to stand between us and the weather. First things first, time to catch a train. The Keisei Skyliner is an express service that conveniently runs between the airport and Ueno station, a mere ten minute walk from our hotel. We patiently waited on the platform and watched as seats in our train were automatically swivelled 180 degrees to allow us a better view, a thoughtful touch. First glimpses along the way showed us a rural landscape with bamboo groves, lush green ricefields and err ... a windmill complete with a typical Dutch bridge. And a pleasant drizzle to complete the picture.

We soon realised that life without an umbrella may prove less than ideal today. In most cities, you tend to see a few people without an umbrella, happy to be soaked or simply unprepared, having forgotten to watch the news the night before, but not in Tokyo it seems. In Tokyo, everyone had one with them today. They must all watch the weather forecasts.

We made our way to our accommodation, the Hotel New Izu in, while refreshing ourselves in the rain. Though we were very early to check in at 10:00 AM, they already had our room more or less ready for us. Our room is small, but feels more than spacious enough. It is decorated in Japanese style with mats on the floor and simply mattresses as beds. Comfortable enough and a very good price for Tokyo at just over 10,000 Yen per night. One immediate difference you note as a westerner is that all the doorways are considerably lower. Even I am not far off bumping my head!

The rain would not let up, so we decided to brave it. Our hostess was kind enough to lend us a couple of umbrellas to walk around with, to help us fit in. Tempted by the prospect of giant pandas in nearby Ueno Park, we headed in that direction.

First lesson in Umbrella Etiquette.

Store your umbrella appropriately when entering a store.

We were in need of a caffeine fix by now and duly entered a coffee shop. Noticing a bucket near the door with someone's umbrella in it, this seemed a logical place to put ours. Well, unfortunately, the other person had set a bad example it seemed, as the shop assistant quickly came over and started tidying our umbrellas. Turns out there were plastic bags in the bucket for the specific purpose of putting one's umbrella in. So, if possible, shake your umbrella well, roll it up and bag it before entering an establishment. Most stores have these umbrella shaped bags at the entrance, some with hi-tech bagging machines to make life easy.

During our coffee break it became apparent to us that a zoo visit would be rather unwise considering the present state of the weather. So, we shifted our focus to the Tokyo National Museum, also located in Ueno Park.

Second lesson in Umbrella Etiquette

Technology can help.

Well, technology can help with just about anything; from hi tech toilets to trains, from all-in-one washing basins to umbrella storage. Entering the museum (420 Yen a person), we were presented with a rather nifty system of locking away your umbrella for the duration of your visit.

umbrella-storage.jpg

The museum turned out to be a great choice for the day. Providing shelter from the rain and an initial insight into some of Japan's rich cultural heritage with a little lesson into the Japanese culture of today thrown in.

Third lesson in Umbrella Etiquette

If your umbrella's broken, make it obvious.

Moving from Honkan, the primary building, we went to visit one of the other exhibition buildings, the Gallery of Horyu-Ji, that is part of the National Museum complex and part of the same 400 Yen ticket. While folding up my umbrella I noticed some of the spokes were loose, so I spent about 30 seconds trying to sort it out. Before I knew it, a rather friendly lady rushed out of the building offering me a new umbrella! Baffled by why such generosity, I thought I must have misunderstood her, but after some discussions it was clear she couldn't bear the thought of me carrying around a less than perfect umbrella. How nice, now I would have a souvenir and an umbrella of my own! :)

So, after a day of Northern Tokyo, the Japanese get my vote for the most polite people I've met so far.

surveying-the-rain.jpg
View from Honkan, at the Tokyo National Museum

wash-basin.jpg
Who needs a seperate soap dispenser, tap and dryer when you can have them all in one device?

Gallery-of-Horyu-Ji.jpg
Gallery of Horyu-Ji, part of the Tokyo National Museum complex

matsuya_display.jpg
There's no shortage..

sesame_street_lesson.jpg
and a final lesson, by the great educator Sesame Street.

Posted by Peter 02:20 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

It's getting closer

Less than two weeks now before we hop on the plane again and head for Japan.

See the pic of our travel agent below - it used to a a movie theatre.

IMG_0950-small.JPG

We popped in today to pay for our JR Rail Passes. Two weeks for two people cost just over AU$1100 . Supposedly that's considerably cheaper than paying for individual tickets (on the bullet train at least).

All the planning is starting to come together. Our first accommodation is booked - the Palace Side Hotel in Kyoto - this place is a serious bargain compared to the other options I've seen so far and gets a very good ranking on Tripadvisor to boot. We got a twin room with kitchenette for 8925JPY per night! Saves on food too this way ;)

Posted by Peter 05:34 Archived in Japan Tagged preparation Comments (1)

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