Day 2 of our Japan adventure started early in the morning. In Japan sun rises earlier than in Switzerland – already around 4.30 am. The night before we’ve admired the amazing view from our window and we forgot to shut the curtains. Our room was facing east and first rays of sunshine woke us soon after the sunrise. Still a bit jet-lagged, we couldn’t fall asleep anymore. We woke up, got dressed and went to the breakfast. As we expected, hotel offered a broad variety of Japanese and Western dishes. We were not yet ready to try Japanese breakfast, so we’ve grabbed some coffee, bread, croissants, butter, marmalade and some fruits. With our bellies full, we were ready to get out and explore Tokyo.
Asakusa was just getting awake. Most of the shops and restaurants was still closed, but some of the people working in the area were already preparing for a new day. The neighboorhood was so different without the crowds of people we’ve met the day before. So peaceful! We liked Asakusa even more.
To get to the subway station, we walked past by the Senso-ji temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple founded back in the 7th century. When we approached it, we’ve heard the sounds of the drums. Soon after, a parade of Japanese people all dressed in the same outfits approached us. Some had carried bamboo ladders, others different structures. I have no idea what this was all about, but it was very interesting.
After spending some time watching the parade, we finally moved and reached the subway which took us to Ginza. We went there to see the Tsukiji Market, one of the largest fish markets in the world.
We’ve started our visit at the outer market, where are the restaurants and stalls selling all kind of goods – from dried fishes and seaweed to knives, fruits and vegetables. I was interesting to see all those exotic ingredients used in Japanese cuisine.
At the inner market area, the numerous sellers at small stands were selling all kinds of fish and other sea food. There was almost no sea creature found in the sea around Japan missing (e.g. large tunas, squids, octopuses, shrimps, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, eels, shells, etc.)
After seeing the inner fish market, we went back to the the area with sushi restaurants to try some sushi. Unfortunately, we were not the only with the same idea. There were long queues in front of all restaurants. Because we were not yet hungry and were meeting friends in an hour, we’ve decided not to wait and rather explore Ginza area. We stroll back to the main shopping street where some of the luxury brands can be found. As the prices were way over our budget, we’ve just done some window shopping. In the middle of all the luxury shops we found a tiny shop selling lovely postcards. We are always sending postcards to our families from our trips, so we’ve bought some. Our grandparents love receiving postcards. For them are a great souvenir and a reminder we think of them wherever in the world we are. We’ve got our postcards, but not the stamps. We’ve searched and found the post office, where we bought them. Then we left Ginza, to explore other areas and meet our friends.
Our next stop was Shibuya. At Shibuya station, we found the exit leading to the statue of Hachikō, the famous Akita dog which once belonged to professor who lived near Shibuya station. During his owner’s life Hachikō waited for him at the station every day to come back from work and accompanied him home. Even when the professor died, the dog returned to the station, every day for a long nine years, nine months and fifteen days – until his own death. Remarkable story of a loyal dog.
Hachikō’s story was immortalised in popular culture. I first heard about it, when watching the movie Hachi: A Dog’s tale starring Richard Gere and Jason Alexander. If you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend watching it. It is wonderful and touching movie. One of few movies that brought tears to my eyes.
We took some pictures and then walked to the Shibuya crossing, just a step away from Hachikō’s statue. This large intersection was truly unique. So many people came from all directions at once. The crowd and the surrounding of so many neon advertisements and giant video screens were overwhelming.
From Shibuya we walked to Harajuku station where we’ve met my former classmate and his girlfriend who are currently living in and working in Tokyo. We saw each other for the first time after after long three years. After a cup of coffee, over which we exchanged what happened to us in recent years, we went to see the Meiji Jingu shrine. This lovely shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji who ruled Japan in the 19th century, in the time when Japan open its borders for foreign trade, modernised, and transformed from feudal state to capitalist and imperial power.
The Meiji Jingu shrine is surrounded by a green area that can be entered through large wooden tori gate. Despite we’ve met a lot of tourists, was the area peaceful. Another contrast to the loud and overwhelming Shibuya.
We’ve strolled under the trees, pass the sake barrels, to the shrine. At the shrine’s entrance, friends showed us how to cleanse yourself at the purification fountain before entering the shrine. We took one of the ladles provided, filled it with fresh water and rinsed one hand and then the other. Then we transferred some of the water to our hand and sip it and then spit it beside the fountain. You’re not supposed to swallow water, nor drink it directly from the ladle. As we’ve planned to visit more temples at our trip, this was very interesting and useful info.
The shrine was lovely, but definitely not the most memorable shrine we’ve visited while in Japan. The most memorable was witnessing the shinto wedding procession. Very different than the traditional Slovenian wedding, but still very interesting.
After we’ve left the shrine, we walked past the Harajuku station to the Takeshita street, the birthplace of many of Japan’s fashion trends. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any extravagantly dressed Harajuku girls. According to our friends, those girls are mostly teenagers who dress up every weekend and come to Harajuku area to hang out. We were there on Monday, at the time when the girls were most likely to be in school. However, we saw the stores and got the vibe of this unique Japanese subculture.
As it was already past lunch time, our friends took us for a lunch to the very artistic “Harajuku-style” okonomiyaki restaurant. It was our first encounter with this Japanese pancake/omlette-like dish containing a variety of ingredients. We left the decision what type of okonomiyaki to order to our friends. They have ordered three different types. First one was Tokyo style okonomiyaki and was even when prepared a bit liquid, other two were regular ones. All contained different vegetable and meat. My friend likes spicy food, so the first okonomiyaki he ordered supposed to be a bit spicy. For his taste it was just right, but for my taste, it was way to spicy. Luckly, the other two okonomiyakis were delicious.
Preparing and eating okonomiyaki was a fun experience. We were seated at the table with a small grill plate, we’ve got our own bowls filled with ingredients which we had to mix and grill on our own. Thanks to our friends who were already a semi-pros at preparing, we’ve done a great job. None of our okonomiyakis did fell apart.
With our bellies full, we decided to go to my friend’s favourite part of Tokyo: to Odaiba, a popular shopping and entertainment district on a man made island in Tokyo Bay. To get there, we took the overground train. We were lucky enough to get the seats in the front row so we were able to enjoy the scenic ride.
At Odaiba we’ve strolled around the area. It was very modern and surprisingly calm. We saw the replica of Statue of Liberty, which was given to Japanese in the late 90s to celebrate Japan’s ties with France.
Another Odaiba attraction was a giant robot – a “life sized” Gundam statue.
We spend some time at Toyota Mega Web building – a giant Toyota showroom that shows off all of Toyota’s latest models, car accessories and technologies. For me, it wasn’t the most interesting thing, so I was quite happy when we moved to the shopping mall. We’ve strolled through the stores and saw some really weird stuff you can probably buy only in Japan: from the pet strollers, weird Japanese cartoon toys to the equipment for training the face muscles.
We left the shopping mall just in time to see the sunset. It was the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever witnessed in Japan: the colours, the setting, the Tokyo in the background. Just gorgeous.
As it was already dinner-time we’ve left Odaiba and went to Shinjuku Station. Everyone who have ever been at this station knows, this station is massive. Thanks to our friends, we’ve navigated through its corridors and found the correct exit. We went to the Omoide Yokocho (“alley of memories”), a narrow street full of tiny bars and restaurants (“yakitori”) offering grilled meat on a stick. Once nicknamed the “Piss Alley” due to its lack of public toilets, it was exactly that kind of street my boyfriend would never go eating, if we would be here were on our own. But he trusted our friends and now we’re reacher for the unique experience of eating different meat (including a beef tongue) and vegetable on a stick at the very authentic Japanese place.
After finished eating, we’ve moved to another street full of tiny bars (“izakaya”) with maximum capacity of eight chairs. It was another interesting experience: very intimate atmosphere where we were encouraged to communicate with all of the guests. There, I also tried my first sake – traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. It has unique taste, different than I expected. I still cannot decide whether I like it or not.
In the intimate atmosphere of izakaya, we talked and talked and talked until it was time for our friends to catch their last train home. We’ve promised to see each other once again before heading back to Europe. We said good-bye to each other and then we’ve returned back to our hotel in Asakusa.