Thursday, March 26, 2015


We are in Japan on honeymoon - having got all that pesky marrying stuff out of the way and being long overdue a proper holiday, we decided to visit somewhere we've both always wanted to see, somewhere suitably weird that would provide us with delicious food, awesome trains and plenty more to keep us entertained.

So far the food has not disappointed - we have had sushi for breakfast, delicious bento box lunches and some lovely dinners, with a fair few interesting squishy sweet treats in between. The trains are indeed excellent - frighteningly clean, timely (apart from that one time when one of them was two minutes late), and very comfortable.

Sushi breakfast
We arrived in Tokyo last Wednesday evening and successfully found our hotel in the Ginza district. We enquired at reception about places to eat and were informed that since it was a little on the late side (9pm) quite a few of the local places would be closed, but were given somewhere to try. We failed to locate it but a lovely lady stopped and offered to help, and directed us to a more restauranty area a few minutes walk away. We had been advised to look at more than just ground level when seeking food - Tokyo is a dense city and restaurants can be several floors up. We ended up on the 11th floor of a shopping centre with a couple of meal sets - the presence of bibimbap on the menu and the kimchi that accompanied our meals suggested we might have ended up in a Korean restaurant, but it was tasty nonetheless and very good value at 1500yen (approx £8) each.

Next day we started off with a sushi breakfast in the Tsukiji fish market, which was lovely but huge. The market itself was very much reminiscent of south east Asian markets in layout and atmosphere - simple restaurants linked by narrow corridors, hard to tell where one ends and the next begins, tiny ladies ushering you in with laminated menus, each establishment equipped with a tiny open kitchen, diners crowded on stools around a narrow bar. And then you notice the super-clean kitchen, the floor that's not wet and filthy and the lack of stifling heat and mosquitoes. (Not that I want to diss SE Asian markets too much because they are awesome).

Sweetcorny goodness
We then quickly found ourselves in a convenience store checking out the weird treats (funny how that keeps happening) - I definitely won the most weird and disgusting item competition with my heated can of sweetcorn drink - imagine drinking a slightly sickening sweetcorn soup from a can. No really, just say the word and I'll bring you some back.

Our morning was spent wandering around a very pretty park which had a pond, giant fish, some grumpy looking cats, and two cherry trees that had managed to blossom, and we soon realised that it wasn't exactly warm.

We were in denial when we packed - we're going on holiday, how could it *possibly* be cold? A quick check of the weather forecast indicated that Tokyo was several degrees warmer than London. We'd also heard Japan can be quite rainy so we packed raincoats rather than winter coats, and threw in some thermal base layers just in case it got a bit nippy.

In the evening we went on a food tour - since discovering food tours in Vietnam, I've been keen on this as a great way to learn about the different foods of a country or city when first arriving. Unfortunately this wasn't a great food tour, there was not a lot of variety - but it was an enjoyable evening out with other Tokyo visitors, appropriate amounts of sake, tasty things on sticks and some sizzling pancake-hotplate action.

Dgym cooks up some monjayaki

Our second day was crazy and action packed, maybe a bit too much so. First up was a visit to the Kimuraya bakery at Ginza station, the oldest Western style bakery in Japan. Unfortunately this didn't open till 10am and we were out of the hotel and wanting breakfast by 9 so we settled for a pre-breakfast breakfast at a local cafe while we waited, and I had a lovely bright green mug of matcha. The bakery was well worth the wait as we were very excited to be able to buy what turned out to be a cubic apple turnover, thus beginning a new era of "trying to find cubic food".

Cubic food
Next stop was in southern Tokyo for the Miraikan Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Our main reason for visiting was to see the Asimo demonstration. If you didn't know, and didn't see him on QI, Asimo is a humanoid robot. I don't have pictures because it was a popular demo - I was standing behind a tall person, and everybody was filming it anyway so you can look it up on Youtube. He ran around, stood on one leg, hopped and then sang a little song. It was all very impressive although I'm not convinced it's not just a short person in a robot suit.

There were plenty of other exhibits, including some demos and videos of robot hands and eyes (motion tracking systems), and a Shinkai 6500 submersible which you could go into and imagine what it's like being crammed into a space not much bigger than a phonebox with two other people thousands of metres under the ocean. Museums can be pretty tiring and our feet were knackered after that so the obvious next step was to catch the metro to the other side of town and go up a 450m tower.

The Tokyo Skytree is only two years old and is the world's tallest self supporting tower. We've been up the Willis tower in Chicago but this one is higher and one of our goals for this trip was to send Dgym up a tall tower and make him feel sick. Well, we went up but, disappointingly, he felt fine.

Next morning it was me feeling ill after accidentally ordering a bowl of natto, nasty stuff which we had been warned about on the food tour - it looks like an innocent little bowl of beans but dig in and they turns out to be stuck together with this stringy gloopy saliva-like substance. The taste is not nice either, I barely made it through a spoonful and had the aftertaste all day. It basically looks and tastes like a family of slugs have wandered all over your breakfast.

We had to head out of Tokyo after that as it was Saturday, and hotel bookings are insane on Saturday nights in Japan.

It's a huge city but it's clean, easy to get around and has nice parks. We were surprised by how quiet it is and at first wondered whether our ears had gone funny - cars seem unusually quiet, people don't raise their voices a lot and the streets just didn't seem that busy for such a dense city. We've headed off to see some more of Japan for now, but will be back for a few days at the end of our trip.

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