Before I start, I should mention that once upon a time, Mr R lived in Tokyo. Not for too long, but long enough to learn a decent amount of Japanese. This definitely made our experience here a whole lot easier. Don’t let that put you off, I am not saying that anything we encountered would be problematic for non-speakers, it might just take slightly longer and involve a lot more sign language!
Anyway, after a smooth and seamless flight (accompanied by what seemed to be the entire Royal Ballet Troupe about to commence on a tour of Tokyo – I caught a fair few of them doing stretches and pliés in the queue for the loo!), we landed at Narita airport bright and early in the morning. We took the train straight into the city and caught the first glimpse of the different planet that is Tokyo…
Our first hotel, The Sheraton Miyako in Meguro provided an oasis of calm after trips into certain parts of Tokyo (where it was so busy it was hard to make out an individual person from the rapidly moving swarm at times). Our room overlooked a beautiful leafy Japanese Garden and was spacious and comfortable. On arrival, the two small members of the family seemed devoid of jet lag symptoms and set about pressing all the buttons on the various gadgets in the room. One of them managed to switch on the TV, and bizarrely enough tuned into a Japanese food programme on the Viktualientmarkt in Munich….
A quick rest later, we set out to explore some of Mr R’s old stomping grounds…First stop Shinjuku, where animal mad Small Girl made a beeline straight for Hachiko, the statue of a loyal hound who would turn up at the station to meet his owner from work – and carried on doing so for 11 years after his death.
Then it was on to the vast impressive underground food court in Mark City. Such places provided many a free sample “meal” for Mr R and his colleagues once upon a time, and could be the answer as to why there are not that many free tasters to be had nowadays (much to his dismay!)… The array of food on display here though was incredible, and mouth-watering…
Then, just as it was beginning to get dark, we headed to the bright lights of Shibuya, an area particularly popular with Tokyo’s youth, and primarily known for its vibrant shops, restaurants and bustling nightlife. A little hungry after the food court visit – but not wanting to scare the Small people with more complex Japanese food, we let them choose dinner. And that’s how we ended up at the small but perfectly formed (and incredibly good) Sushi Go Round. Amused by the two little English children with their love of ikura, one sushi chef gave them his undivided attention for the hour or so that we were there, and in between them grabbing things off the conveyor belt, he would pass them tiny plates he had made especially (without wasabi!)… Forget any myths that Japan is still overly expensive, this particular meal including drinks cost £22.
The next day we headed to Asakusa, first stop Sensō-ji Temple. This beautiful Buddhist temple (the oldest in Tokyo) is popular with both locals and tourists alike. It’s a special way to spend half an hour or so, whilst observing the various prayer rituals, choking on incense, and indulging in a little fortune-telling by way of O-mikuji. In return for a donation, your future is predicted by shaking a hexagonal box until a stick appears, and then matching the symbol on it to one on hundreds of tiny drawers. In the event that you pick favourably, you fold your slip of lucky paper and tie it to a nearby wire for extra luck. If it’s bad, you have to tie it to a pine tree apparently, but ours depicted that we would have good fortune in the Spring! Here’s hoping!
Preparations for the Tanabata Festival were underway whilst we were there, and as it a breezy day, the decorations provided a colourful display as we walked towards lunch, this time for slightly more adventurous fayre, in a very good izakaya with fish tanks in the window. I noticed Small Girl had been unusually quiet throughout the meal, the explanation for which was that she had been worried that this was about to fall on her head, which is understandable I suppose!
The afternoon was spent in the tiny but surreal Hanayashiki fun fair, which claims to be the oldest in Japan. After riding about on free range giant panda robots (chased after by both parents, slightly worried about them mowing people down), exploring the “Surprising House” and testing such rides as the Sky Tree, they both typically claimed that the very best thing about this place was the more down to earth crayfish fishing – crab fishing Tokyo style! These tiny aggressive creatures can’t help themselves when it comes to the sparkling metal lure attached to the tiny fishing rods, and sit their waving their pincers about until the temptation becomes so great that they suddenly find themselves hauled out into a waiting bucket. Once the fisher person has caught five in an alloted time, they are rewarded with a packet of sweet cigarettes (remember them?). I think both children would be quite content to still be sitting there now. Actually so would I.
Our first few days in Japan had been a resounding success…