As promised here is the story of our excursion to Japan.
Monday – Departing Hwacheon for the big city
We finished work and caught the bus to Incheon. We arrived at Incheon around 1030 to be met by our friend Rachel who took us to meet some of our other friends that we hadn’t seen since our orientation who were also in Incheon that night. Incheon is/was a separate city to Seoul, but the urban sprawl now means that it is just one huge metropolitan area (25 million people or something ridiculous like that according to wikipedia!). It is large. Anyway, we caught the subway, found the others and it was really good to see them. We kind of wished we could have spent longer with them. We get on so well and there was so much to catch up on and stories to share but we were restricted to several hours unfortunately. We then headed back to my room-mate from orientations apartment, Ryan who was very kindly putting some of us up for the night. Hes American – but as much as it pains me to say it – he’s one of the cool ones. He even calls ‘soccer’ football and knows about Leicester City! Not bad for a small-town ‘hillbilly’ from Oklahoma.
Tuesday – Arriving in Tokyo
We caught our flight from Seoul-Incheon to Tokyo no problems. We had to queue at Tokyo Narita to get our passports stamped for almost an hour, the queue was enormous. So much for Japanese efficiency and first impressions. You get through Passport Control at Seoul Incheon in 5 minutes!
The weather was scorching hot in Tokyo. It was like being in Seoul again mid-August when we first arrived here. It was well over 30 degrees celsius and the humidity was intense. It was still 28 degrees at 11pm! Needless to say the now famous ‘Hollister’ shorts were more than appropriate for the occasion. After checking in at our hostel we decided to head to Shinjuku, which is one of the main commercial and adminstrative centres with lots of bright lights and skyscrapers. We headed to Shinjuku Station in rush hour. This was quite something. Shinjuku Station is used by 3.5 million people daily and has over 200 exits. In comparison the entire London Underground is used by ‘just’ 3 million people daily. Yes it was busy. It made St.Pancras seem small in comparison. We decided to go up to a free observation point at the top of the tallest building in the area. The view was pretty sweet (360 degrees of Tokyo) and the lights were very pretty.
The Skyscrapers are quite simply huge, and there was so many of them. We thought our 15 storey apartment block was tall, but Tokyo just made this look tiny. We headed back down and tried to find our way around Shinjuku. This proved difficult as the place was so huge, busy and frantic. We settled on a fast food Italian Place as it was one of the few affordable restaurants that wasn’t a Mcdonalds, KFC or Burger King and we were very hungry by this point! We then explored Shinjuku further, (although we had no idea where we were). I was dazzled by the bright lights,huge buildings and sheer numbers of people (as I’m sure some of you can imagine) but I noticed Amelia was becoming more and more unresponsive to my ever enthusiastic cries of ‘Woahhh, look at that’ ‘Wow, isn’t that pretty’ ‘Stand there, smile for the camera’ that were probably occurring at about 30 second intervals for a good hour or so at least. I finally twigged and we decided that it had been a long day so off we went back to the hostel and bed!
Wednesday – Senso-ji Shrine, Imperial Palace, Shibuya
We woke up bright and early (8am – a lie-in for us these days!) and headed to the Senso-Ji shrine which was about 5 minutes walk from us. We walked around, snapped a few photos and headed to the Imperial Palace Gardens where we did the same. Both were very pleasant and nice to walk around for an hour or so (although the shrine was very touristy). The weather was so hot and humid again, I managed to drink 3 whole litres of water in one morning without going to the toilet, we were both drenched in sweat. It was delightful.
We then headed to Shinjuku again, up the same tower as the previous night to check out the daytime view. This was was truly spectacular. For as far as the eye could see from 300 metres up from ground level was tower blocks, skyscrapers and this great big huge urban jungle. We were hoping to get a view of the iconic Mount Fuji from central Tokyo but due to the haze and pollution the sky wasn’t clear enough, but the view was nonetheless very striking. I thought Seoul was big, but Tokyo was gigantic. Depending on your definition of a city and metropolitan area Tokyos population is estimated at between 35-39 million people. In comparison London (which before moving to Asia I thought was huge), has a measly 8 million residents. Please thank wikipedia for these little snippets of wisdom.
We then headed to Shibuya which is famous for ‘that crossing’/outrageous traffic light junction. The sheer numbers of people crossing at these traffic lights every couple of minutes was unreal. It was like the crowd heading down Filbert Way and the Walkers Stadium after a match day but constantly, all day and night trying to cross this junction. It was relentless and got even busier once it was dark. We walked around Shibuya for a few hours, found some cool little places and ate some Baskin Robbins Ice Cream (which I had never had before -but I am now a huge fan!) and caught the subway back to the hostel.
Thursday – Ginza, Lots of rain and Tokyo Bay
So Thursday morning we headed to Ginza which is the ‘upmarket’ shopping area. We paid a visit to the Sony Building which was pretty cool. We felt that it was a morning well spent especially as the weather had now turned and it was just tipping it down with rain. In Asia, there is no such thing as rain. It just pours.
We walked around Ginza for a while but it didn’t have anything we hadn’t already seen and it was mainly comprised of expensive shops and restaurants. If you are a woman with a lot of money, or you just enjoy shopping and the finer things in life, then it would be heaven for you. The Tiffany store is 15 storeys high, as are Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vutton, Armani and countless other brands. We didn’t bother going in to any of them, it didn’t really appeal to either of us and we couldn’t afford to buy anything anyway. Ginza for us could have been quite easily been in London, Los Angeles or even Manchester just maybe more upmarket and without the chavs and criminals. The brands were all the same.
We then decided to head to Odaiba (Tokyo Bay), Amelia bless her soul got absolutely drenched. She blamed me for this as I insisted we head to the subway as I didn’t think it was going to stop so figured we may as well just get it over and done with! Amelia wanted to wait a little while longer just to make sure. She hates the rain, and she hates the cold. She got soaked in rain, and she was cold. Not a good combination. We then headed to Tokyo Bay in silence before the mood lifted courtesy of an ‘Oreo Mcflurry’ and a Mcdonalds Coffee (I think that’s what she had?). I thought by this point that everything was fine between us again, but Amelia has since told me she was pretty much ‘hating me for the rest of that day’. We walked around, checked out the Toyota Exhibition, admired the view of the bay and bridge, ate dinner and headed back for an early night.
Friday – Mount Fuji
We got up very early once again and trekked across the Tokyo Subway during rush hour (which was busy to say the least) to the bus terminal. For this trip we decided to do an organised tour as we figured it’s the best way to guarantee seeing Mount Fuji with limited time.
We got 2,300 metres up onto Mount Fuji (and it was a lot colder than ground level) but unfortunately we could not see a thing or get a close up of the summit due it being so cloudy, which was a huge disapointment. We then headed back down the mountain and off to another place in the National Park where the cloud did subside and we finally got a view of Fuji. Fuji is huge – 3,776m (12,388 ft) it sticks out like a sore thumb and we were very grateful for finally being able to see it!
We went on a pleasant cable car ride with views of Fuji and the Pacific Ocean and a lake tour which wasn’t all that special. It didn’t compare to Lake Paroho which I drive past twice a day in Korea! We then headed to the ‘Shinkansen’ (Bullet train) station and caught the bullet train back to Tokyo Station. The bus journey to Mount Fuji took well over 2 hours driving at a good speed, we arrived back to Tokyo via Shinkansen in 36 minutes. Quite impressive.
We then headed to Shinjuku and checked out the red light district as apparently this was worth a visit. It was pretty cool and was lined with bars, small nightclubs and ‘love motels’. Love motels are basically hotel rooms that serve a purpose for Japanese couples. As space is restricted in Japan (and Korea) there is little room for privacy, so couples often hire the room by the hour for a ‘rest’ (it’s relatively cheap) or hire it for the night to do their business. Either option is relatively cheap. Traditionally these love motels are known for their sleazy decorations in the form of heart shaped beds, sex toys in the drawers, and having a general pornographic feel to the rooms kind of thing. We walked around the area in Shinjuku where they are located, and there was plenty of couples we saw wondering in and out so business must be good! However, in recent years the Japanese government has passed ‘anti-sleaze’ legislation in an effort to tone down the nature of these ‘hotels’ as they were concerned of the ‘damage’ they were causing to Japans image and reputation. Now they are quite upmarket and surprisingly sophisticated, and some are even extravagant. We walked past one called ‘Bali something or another (I cannot remember the full name!)’ and it was decorated and furnished to resemble being on a tropical beach/rainforest. It looked much cooler than it sounds trust me. Some of them have Jacuzzis and various other gizmos to make them more attractive and desirable to potential customers. Either way it was an experience walking around.
We also visited a bar in this area which is supposedly one of the most ‘seedy’ area in Tokyo. Amelia being the plonker that she is managed to leave her camera at the table. She did not realise until the next day and was quite upset thinking she’d lost it. However, we were in Japan. We headed back to the bar on the Saturday evening and it was there waiting for us. Amelia was delighted. We were most impressed as chances are anywhere in Britain, Europe or the West, it would have been stolen. Not in Japan though. I got chatting to an Australian couple in the hostel and he had left his wallet with all his travel money, cards and everything in one of the parks. He didn’t realise until several hours later. He headed for the Police station, and there it was, not a single yen missing, A week later there has still been no suspect activity on his card or anything.
There seems to be absolutely no crime in Japan, or Tokyo. It was quite remarkable for such a huge city. We saw plenty of people enjoying themselves and drunk, but no fighting, nothing. Everyone just seemed to be enjoying life. The same could be said for Korea, with the exception of the westerners (and mainly American GI’s) that come here and behave as they do at home in Korea. Fortunately this seems to be rare, it probably has something to do with the low number of foreigners actually residing in Korea!
Saturday – Harajuku, Sumo Wrestling and Shinjuku
Once again we got up early as we had to get our tickets for the sumo wrestling which was taking place that day. Sumo Tournaments only take place in Tokyo like 3 times a year and one was taking place whilst we were there, so naturally we had to go and check it out. We got our tickets no problem and headed to Harajuku for the morning to do some shopping. I managed to finally find some trainers to fit me in the Nike Store and walked away with a bright pink pair of trainers. They are quite phenominal.
We then headed to the sumo after lunch. Sumo Wrestlers are ridiculously obese. It was pretty cool watching them but a little tiring as most of the bouts lasted barely 5 seconds, and it took 6 or 7 minutes for the ceremonial warm up etc… each time. We enjoyed it though and are very glad we were fortunate enough to go. I don’t know many other people that have been lucky enough to see the ‘Sumo’ in Japan…
In the evening we headed back into Shinjuku, found a nice little restaurant and treated ourselves to a relatively expensive meal. I had some Italian pasta dish, Amelia was more adventurous and dabbled in some Japanese cuisine. We then walked around and explored a little (and hunted for a final Baskin Robbins – but to no avail. Sorry for that Amelia) before heading back to the hostel and to pack for our departure in the morning.
Sunday – HOME!
Good things about Japan/Tokyo
- People spoke English, everybody we asked had some form of English comprehension. In Korea even some of the English Teachers have limited English
- No Crime
- It’s ridiculously cool, well Tokyo at least. I never realised how cool and ‘fashionable’ the Japanese were until our visit.
- It’s very beautiful at night
- Lots and lots of shopping (if you enjoy it and can afford it)
- Would be a great lads night out. The whole city is buzzing on a Saturday night. Boys you would absolutely love it here
- The women – Now asian women aren’t really my thing (except for Amelia of course!) but my god, japanese women are not your average asian woman. I know most males would appreciate them.
- Efficiency – The subway (although not as modern and comfortable as Seoul) is reliable, punctual and frequent. Totally puts the underground to shame.
- Everybody is so polite.
Negative things about Japan/Tokyo
- Too many people. Although this is part of the Tokyo experience I guess. Everything is so crowded and hectic it’s overwhelming at times.
- They have a massively ageing population. The birth rate among Tokyo couples is 0.9 per couple. I don’t remember seeing a single pregnant woman!
- It’s so bloody expensive!
- It’s too westernised. If you want a truly Asian experience your better off going to Korea, China or South-East Asia. I cannot comment on other areas of Japan though.
- They seem to think they are better than other Asian countries and ignorant to their history. The tour guide for our Fuji trip told us all about Japanese History but totally missed out WWII and they refer to the Japanese Occupation of Korea as an annexation. In reality they stole, murdered and oppressed Koreans and their culture for 35 years. If we didn’t live in Korea, we would never have known otherwise. Oh, and they just don’t talk about the War. We were told that even today they try to justify their actions on the odd occasion they do speak about it.
All in all though, we really enjoyed Tokyo and Japan, it was good fun and we had a good time. We did all the things we wanted to do and we left feeling satisfied that we had made good use of our week long holiday!
We were however glad to be arriving back into Korea and our small little mountain town. It’s so beautiful here. We’re very grateful our walk to work is in fresh mountain air as opposed to the absolutely manic Tokyo subway. Tokyo and Japan is well worth a visit without doubt, just make sure you have plenty of money to make the most of it!
Next holiday – Borneo and the Phillippines. We can’t wait.
This is super, super long. I am very sorry if I’ve sent you to sleep.
Love to all at home.
Time to finish work now, it’s the weekend at last! goodbye xxx