Thursday, 3 October 2013

Day 4 & 5: Speeding away from Tokyo Madness to Tranquil Takayama

Good morning, good day and good evening world!
The magnificent Torii that greets you as you enter Meiji-jingu
If you thought Tokyo couldn't get any wetter, well you thought wrong! Just on our short walk to breakfast, it started raining and it didn't stop. We hustled to a French boulangerie, Viron, in Shibuya which was recommended by Lonely Planet. We thought 340 Yen ($3.60 CAN) for a tall coffee at Starbucks was pricey, but a simple coffee at Viron was 660 Yen ($7.00 CAN)!
Yikes! But this didn't stop us from getting a croque monsieur, abricot croissant and a chocolate eclair! Everything was magnifique and the restaurant honestly made you feel like you were in Paris, the menu was even in fran├žais, much to our benefit. Although this was probably the most expensive breakfast we've eaten, it was worth every Yen.
This picture is ex-STREAM!!

Our next stop was Gwen Stefani's favorite neighbourhood, Harajuku. This area is the shopping capital of Tokyo with hundreds and hundreds of shops lining the streets. (Un)fortunately, we didn't see any of these shops, instead we walked to the Meiji-jingu shrine, the largest Shinto shrine in Tokyo. Before arriving, you pass a number of Torii (gates). These are the famous double T type gates that you picture when you think of Japan. They are extremely eye-catching. At this point, there was a torrential downpour and despite being equipped with raincoats and umbrellas, we got completely soaked. Sadly, it was hard to appreciate the beauty of the shrine with these weather conditions. The Torii were definitely the most impressive part of this sight. 
Be honest, does it really surprise you that much
that Japan has a Hello Kitty store?

The most frustrating thing about our experience in Tokyo was getting lost and endlessly searching (and mostly never finding) many of the sights/shops/restaurants/bars. As we exited the Meiji-jingu shrine from a different gate, we looked for the nearest recommended restaurant. Little did we know that we actually walked more than 2 subway stops away from the shrine, all in heavy rain. We finally reached Takashimaya Times Square, department store in Shinjuku where we warmed up with some tea and beef tongue. Very chewy but delicious! After exploring the mall, we left empty handed but with full stomachs.

Since we explored the male geek district the day before, it was only time to explore the female geek district in Ikebukuro. No matter what neighbourhood we were in and no matter what time of day it was, it seemed like there were constantly people out and about eating, shopping or playing arcade games, and Ikebukuro was no exception. We browsed a 7-floor anime store that lost Maja's interest after the 2nd floor. Oh and we felt no trip to Japan would be complete without a stop-over at the Hello Kitty store which was as adorable (and pink) as you would expect.
You can tell that these Anime characters are designed for women because all the men look like little girls
Exhausted as we were, some more than others, we ventured off to the Golden Gai area of Shinjuku. Golden Gai is made up of over 300 bars, each one smaller than the next, some are even smaller than a typical walk-in closest. The options were overwhelming and you could probably spend your entire trip going from bar to bar.
Maja barely fits in this stairwell leading to this shoebox sized bar in Golden Gai
In normal Tokyo fashion, we quickly and efficient left the chaos to a city buried in the Japanese Alps via bullet train. The shinkansen (bullet train) goes somewhere between 240 km/h to 320 km/h. The train went so fast that we even missed spotting Mount Fuji. After a five hour trip, we finally made it to refreshing Takayama. We checked into our Japanese style inn, Asunaro Ryokan, which was out of this world. The staff greeted us with slippers and showed 
us to our room, which was more like our own little Japanese-style condo. The tatami rooms featured a living area, futon beds, a day room for relaxing, and a private bathroom that featured a high-tech toilet with it's own sink. Guests are also given their own yukata, a casual summer kimono. Surprised by her size, the hotel manager had to replace Maja's yukata with what he called "a Japanese-sized" one. This ryokan also had some great little knick-knacks decorating the halls that had Maja giggling with joy.
Maja's ability to blend in with the local Japanese is uncanny.

Maja's favourite Japanese Grandpa
Our ryokan also offered free bikes for their guests, so we ventured off through the streets of Takayama via bike. It didn't take too long before we parked them though, opting instead to walk through the old centre of town, Sanmachi-suji. This part of the town is made up of three streets filled with traditional shops, restaurants, museums, and sake breweries. The traditional shops had wide ranging souvenirs from little figurines to yukatas to samurai wooden swords. We ended the evening with a decadent dinner at Kyoya, a charming little restaurant where we sat cross legged by charcoal grill. Mike chose the hida beef that you cooked yourself on the charcoal grill while Maja indulged in an enormous meal of sashimi, deep-fried prawns, miso soup, buckwheat noddles, rice and apricot Japanese liqueur, umeshu. The meal was succulent and the staff was extremely friendly, talkative and offered gifts of appreciation. We returned the favour with Canadian flag pins and maple candy. They were so humbled and were eager to pose for a picture with Maja. Now we are going to enjoy the peace and quiet in our ryokan with a relaxing soak in the on-site onsen (Japanese hot springs). 
The friendly and generous staff of Kyoya, Maja's new best friends.


  1. I love that you brought Canadian candy to give away! Toni

  2. One of Mike's co-workers told us to bring some small tokens of appreciation to hand out in Japan as tipping is non-existent. So that's why we stocked up on Canada pins and maple candy! Thanks for reading Toni! :)