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Tokyo, a new world!

Written on: Saturday January 3rd, 2015

A journal entry from: Japan I can

Japan I can,

As I write this, Laure and I are sitting in a small store/restaurant waiting to catch a connecting train to Kyoto. We've been in Japan for 5 days now. 

The build up to our departure was a pretty hectic one. We had bought our flight tickets back in August and after that work and other commitments really took over. Before we knew it, it was Christmas and we had all our packing to do on the morning of the 27th before driving down to Toronto for the night. We flew out of Pearson on the 28th early afternoon, directly to Tokyo. Although the 13h flight was long enough, it was manageable and nice not to have to worry about our luggage. 

The time change is something that takes some time to wrap your head around. We arrived the following day at 5:30pm local time. Effectively losing a day along the way. It's pretty funny arriving as we really have zero comprehension of the language. But that makes up a lot of the fun! 

We didn't have to wait long before getting our backpacks and skis. (Yes we travelled with our skis and gear). We were advised by a friend to send our skis off by courier straight from the airport to the ski area. After several days of travelling we can both say we are quite happy we did so. Hopefully they will be awaiting us in Hakuba when we arrive next week. 

Getting around Tokyo is surprisingly easy. They have an amazing metro system. Colours, letters and increasing and decreasing numbers, that's really all you need to know. After about an hour and a couple of transfers we arrived at our neighbourhood of the city, Ikebukuro. One thing among many that I didn't really realize before arriving was the shear size of Tokyo! It is HUGE!! And even that is an understatement. It makes Toronto feel like North Bay. From what I gather it is between 37-38 million people in the greater Tokyo area!! So as we walked out of our station which was a main subway hub, it was like walking into a city on it's own. The moving masses of people and the endless lights/screens/music/flashing lights on every possible bit of building facade compounded by the fact that we were exhausted made as if we had just walked into some futuristic society! Mind... Exploding!!

After a bit of wondering we found our hotel pretty easily. We had, had a hard time booking accommodation leading up to now due to the holidays and really didn't have a choice when we had booked this hotel. However, it turned out to be a really great place. Very clean and practicle location. Although we both could have fallen asleep instantly we forced ourselves to go out for a while in order to go to sleep at the sametime as the locals and to help with the jet-lag. 

The following morning we were up really early due to the 14h time difference. Had an early 6am breakfast and hopped on the subway to get across the city in order to catch the early morning fish market. It was a good thing we did as it was the last day for the year. At first we walked and weaved through the crowds around endless booths of finished fish products. It was pretty impressive but not what we had imagined. After a little break we decided to go on a little further and that's when we really got into the true market.  As with everything in Tokyo, the size is hard to imagine. It took us about 45 min to walk in a straight line from one side to the other! We were both really quite blown away as we had never seen most of the products being cut up and sold. You can get the sense that as tourists you are a little in the way, but for the most part it was really neat. After over 2h's in the area, the smell had really gotten to both of us and we were ready to leave and get some fresh air!

That afternoon we did a little shopping, had a classic grocery store lunch in our room and took a well needed nap. We headed out again early evening and made our way to Tokyo tower which is basically an Eiffel Tower duplicate with a view of the city. It was nice to go up in the evening and see all the lights of the city. As far as the eye can see it never ends. One thing that I found quite strange was that when you go to a city like NYC is that the city limits are very defined. Tokyo however doesn't seem to ever end. 

We followed this up by chasing down an award winning whiskey bar from one of my magazines. After a subway ride and searching for sometime we eventually asked for help only to find out our map was wrong. The bar was pretty cool and settled into a basement with an amazing selection of around 700 bottles. However, it wasn't quite the speak easy we were looking for and felt a little out of place in what was clearly meant as a high end watering hole for the wealthy. We each had a classic Japanese highball, which turns out to simply be Japanese whiskey and tonic water... Although quite tasty I am still trying to wrap my head around mixing aged whiskey and tonic. Regardless, it is quite popular here and the way many people seem to enjoy their whiskey. When we did receive our bill it was a little shocking to have paid $30 a drink!! ... Lesson learnt, on to the next. 

The next morning we made our way to one of the main train stations to buy our tickets in advance for our trip out of the city in a couple of days. As always the size of the station was never ending. It was nice however to have that out of the way. I figured that each day we must have walked about 5km in subway transfers alone, that's how big the stations were, that distances between tracks were even measured in the 100's of metres and walking 700m between transfers was not uncommon. 
If you haven't grasped the size of this place yet, then I am not sure how else to describe it, but I am going to stop mentioning it now. 

Afterwards we headed to Shibuya station to check out the famous scrambled square. It's about 5 streets intersecting which when the lights turn red, pedestrians cross in every which directions. We ended up having lunch up on a 7th floor of a building overlooking the square. This was pretty cool. We explored the area afterwards which was quite intense with shopping and electronics. Keep walking and this turns into love hill which is an area of concentrated love hotels and maid cafés. Love hotels are exactly what they sound like, either booked for a "rest" or the evening. You can walk into these mostly shady looking front doors to find a tv screen showing the available rooms. (Generally standard looking rooms). These rooms have become very popular for youth who are not able to go home yet with their partners as well as drunken partiers and business men. The other, maid cafés is where you can go to have a cute girl simply cuddle or flirt with you. They are everywhere! It was quite interesting to see how common these were and that people actually pay to simply have that sensation that someone is interested in them. Pretty sad

Staying with the strange and unusual we then quickly visited a cat cafe near our hotel. Simply a place where one can hangout and read in the company of mostly sleeping cats... Again rather strange in my opinion but Laure noted that for many people who have never had pets that this could be quite special. There are also bunny cafés! 

I forgot to mention that today was New Year's Eve. After a little break back at our room we found a nice little restaurant near by for dinner which happened to be a semi whiskey/bourbon bar! Surprisingly as we walked more and more we noticed that the city was littered with whiskey bars! Too cool and a real contrast from home. After dinner we headed to the subway to make our way to a shrine where people go to visit and celebrate the new year. Unfortunately we counted down the new year in a subway car, but in a sense that was indicative of where we were and pretty cool!

The shrine was interesting but accompanied by an ever so long line. Laure convinced me to wait it out and in the end it was fairly neat. By the time we got back to our rooms around 3am we were zonked. 

On our last full day we slept in a little and then had hoped to do a bus tour. Unfortunately after finding the area it was closed due to the holidays. It was still neat to explore a new area. Finding places seemed to always turn into quite a mission and our last destination was no exception. We were looking for a high tech sushi bar near scrambled square. We had an address, a name and even a google map screen shot. So should be pretty easy.... not so! After almost an hour of walking the same 500m and asking three different times we finally found it. It's like finding a needle in a haystack. For sushi lovers, this place was heaven. You sat down at what almost looked like a casino slot table and ordered whatever you wanted from a digital screen. After a few minutes your food arrived in front of your face by high speed tracks. It was cool to see but not really my thing, Laure however loved it!

By the end of this third day of walking we were pretty sore and tired. We took a nap and then went out one more time exploring our neighbourhood and going into some of the odd stores. Entire buildings of video games etc... On our way back to our hotel we went in the back entrance for the first time only to find the quaintest little speakeasy whiskey bar "5 feet" from our hotel! Go figure! As tired as we were we said we had to go in for a wee dram and some food. Turned out to be the best bar so far! 

The following morning we packed up our bags and headed to the main train station to catch a direct bus to Mount Fuji. Tokyo has been great, truly an amazing city and something that will certainly not escape me. It gives a whole new meaning to the word space and just how surreal it is that we have so much "space" in Canada. The things that have amazed me most so far in just how nice and polite the people are as well as how clean the city is. It's funny, as Canadians I feel that we are known globally for our friendliness, but when comparing to the people here, we don't even compare. It's that simple! And that's even in a city, so I am excited to get to see the countryside. That to me is the beauty of travelling as I feel we can always improve, as individuals and as a society. Taking the best of each environment and adapting it to home! 

Well that sums up Tokyo. It is safe to say I am now all tokyed-out! 

Sorry for the lengthiness of this blog, hope this blog find everyone well. Happy new year! 

David W. 

-Going to the bathroom in Japan is like going to an amusement park. The toilets do everything! You can even make them play music to cover your sounds! 

 

From paola on Jan 3rd, 2015

Ollie and I read your blog very interesting and fun !:) ps. nice writing

From Lovely on Oct 25th, 2015

You've hit the ball out the park! Incldeibre!

From Civil on Dec 21st, 2015

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