Monday, 30 September 2013

Tokyo Day 1 & 2 : Stinky Fish and Swollen Feet

Good morning, good day, and good evening world!

We are finally back with a new post about a new trip from halfway across the globe! We touched down in Tokyo Narita Airport after a 16 hour long trip *whew*!

Touching down at 4pm Tokyo time felt like 3am to our jet lagged Canadian minds but we were still determined to seek out a bit of Japanese flavour before passing out in our (relatively difficult to find) hotel room. It was hard to find, but we definitely still recommend Sakura Fleur Aoyama Hotel, it's relatively cheap and only a 5 minute walk from Shibuya Station (but since one of us is Mike, we naturally still got lost). We are staying in Shibuya, which is like Tokyo's version of New York's Time Square (but WAY bigger, if you can picture that). It was a joy trying to walk Shibuya Crossing with two large pieces of luggage. This intersection has the busiest foot traffic of any intersection on the planet, with an estimated 100,000 people crossing every hour, and trust us, it wasn't easy passing through  hundreds of people all crossing at the same time while at the same time dragging an awkward suitcase behind you. Luckily, we've found the Japanese people to be EXTREMELY courteous, friendly and gracious as they always move out the way of your path, your photos, and are quick to offer a helping hand and test out their own English. We explored a bit more of Shibuya that first night, weaving in and out of various small streets, blinded by the neon lights and overwhelmed with the hundreds of thousands of signs everywhere we looked.

Now imagine knocking your suitcase into each and everyone one of these people
The next day we expected to awake relatively early, planning to make it to the five a.m. tuna auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market, unfortunately our jet lag had other plans. We awoke at 7:30 a.m, had a quick breakfast and then quickly received a crash course on Tokyo's elaborate, enormous and complicated subway system. Now imagine the picture above of all those people at Shibuya Crossing. Now imagine them all crowded into a subway car at rush hour. Fun stuff :)
Cleaning the Tuna slicer sword (Don't mess with this dude)

Enormous Tuna Steaks, 5000 yen per kg
Mmmmm suction cups!
At the fish market, Mike managed to stroll the sights without plugging his nose or gagging at the overpowering fish smell! What a big boy! This is the world's biggest sea food market and there sure were some interesting sights. Octopus, snails, clams, eels, squids, basically anything you can imagine. If it came out the ocean, you could buy and eat it at this market. More than 400 different kinds of seafood arrive daily from all over the globe. The best sushi restaurants were also found next to the market as lineups circled the block for people waiting to try the day's special dish. Nothing to report quite yet on that front though, Mike still didn't man up and try some fish (don't worry guys, we're pretty sure it WILL happen eventually). Regardless of whether you're a fish fan or hater, this place is definitely a site to behold.
Lookout point at Hama Rikyu Garden, 10 seconds before Maja trips :)
Mmmm tea... Arigato!
Next up, we made our way to the nearby Hama Rikyu Garden, which was a beautiful and relaxing experience after that chaotic fish market. This gorgeous park is full of century-old trees, perfectly manicured hedges and has an enormous pond with an adorable little tea pavilion in the centre. The foliage at this place was spectacular but there isn't really that much to say beyond how peaceful the experience was. The highlight was definitely the tea pavilion which was rather expensive (for tea) but provided a great taste of Japanese culture, complete with tea ceremony instructions and confectionery to sweeten the deal. This confectionery is called wagashi and you are supposed to eat it prior to drinking the tea in order to sweeten your pallet, balancing the strong bitter taste of the matcha (powdered green tea). 
The confectionery may look like fruit but it's more like candy. Not really sure what it's made out of though
See? I wasn't kidding about the crowds!
Maja's Pagoda Crown
The day's highlight was definitely our visit to Asakusa and the Senso-Ji Buddhist temple. This is one of the major tourist spots in all of Tokyo and for good reason. In order to make it to the temple you have to make your way through a crowded marketplace, Nakamise-dori, that sold some truly amazing goods. Once you plowed your way through the crowd, you are treated to an amazing view of a five-story pagoda, giant lanterns and sandals (yes, giant sandals!). The temple was truly a spiritual place, with enormous incense burners, prayer sticks and cleansing pools. Everywhere you turned you'd see local Japanese spreading incense on themselves and praying. It was truly inspiring. On the grounds there is a Sinto shine which was immaculate. Waterfalls, statues, banzai trees and koi ponds were only a few of sights at this amazing place. It was pretty
damn crowded, but totally worth it. 

Gorgeous Senso-Ji temple (I don't think all these people were just here to pray)
 Finally, we ended our day with another relaxing stroll through Ueno Park and the Yanaka Cemetery. I know what you're thinking, a cemetery? What are you? morbid? The Japanese have a very different relationship with the dead than we North Americans. It doesn't seem to be something to fear, rather it's something to respect and we definitely weren't the only ones casually walking around Tokyo's largest graveyard, with over 7,000 elaborate and gorgeous grave sites.
An example of a typical Japanese grave site. I think I may steal this design for my own when I pass
Ueno Park is where most of the museums are located but being the philistines that we are, we decided to pass on the museums this time around. Instead we strolled around this popular park (with all this walking, maybe now you can understand where the swollen feet came from), enjoyed some extremely expensive coffee, watched some traditional Japanese busking and took in an amateur baseball game. It was a great way to end our first evening in this breathtaking city.
Trying to take a selfie with a heavy DSLR camera and the low evening sun in your eyes is definitely NOT EASY!

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