Friday, 4 January 2013

Tokyo 2012

In September 2012, I went to Tokyo with my Fiance. It was his 30th birthday and we wanted to celebrate with a trip to remember, and with him being an avid video gamer and me being obsessed with the kitsch and cute, where better to go than the Metropolis that is Tokyo?!

Tokyo Tower
View of stormy Tokyo from Metropolitan Government Building
We flew via Hong Kong, and spent the first week staying at Hotel Montery Hanzomon which was a great place in a quiet location not far from the western side of the Imperial Palace. The hotel was 3* and worked out about £75-£80 a night. It was quiet and peaceful in the hotel, but we didn't do much there apart from sleep as we wanted to see as much as possible. We didn't opt for breakfast as it was about £15 additional quid a day, so mostly we ate on the go or took early lunches. Food in Tokyo is pretty reasonable, and we were on a bit of a budget so opted for their fast food options a lot of the time - though I mean Japanese fast food, not American! You could get a decent portion of Katsu curry or Ramen for around £3-4 each so that was most of our lunches sorted, then we spent a little more in the evenings. Some places even have vending machines outside with pictures of the food so you could press a button and pay, then take your ticket to the counter, which is great for non-Japanese speakers like us! The sheer volume of restaurants was astounding. You could walk past a building that looked much like an office block with 6-8 stories but then find it had a restaurant or two on every floor. One warning though is that sometimes the lifts would open right into a tiny restaurant so by the time you'd walked out you'd already be greeted and seated, with no time to decide if you actually want to eat there or not! Booze was a lot more expensive than I thought it would be, in China we paid about 20p for a large bottle of beer, but in most bars they were at least £4-5 for a tankard. We often took some canned sours drinks back the hotel with us for a low-key drink in our rooms.

If this is fast food....

The second week we stayed at the Andon Ryokan, where the rooms were more traditional, with futons that you rolled out yourselves and straw mats on the floor. The lobby area was modern, with WiFi and a fridge of beer and facilities to cook for yourselves although we never took that option. The place is located further north, close to the Asakusa area where there are more traditional temples than fancy modern architecture. The staff were really helpful, great at offering advice and directions and the cost was more modest at around £55 a night. In hindsight, we could have stayed there for the whole time, as it was a much more intimate atmosphere than the hotel which was more faceless, but before travelling we didn't know what to expect, and worried about comfort in the guesthouse so opted for a hotel with a "real" bed so we knew we'd get some proper sleep.

Rainbow in Ginza
I'm not going into a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of everything we did in Tokyo, here are just some of my highlights.

See? Ridiculous
Tokyo Disney! I spent all day smiling! It was quieter when we arrived and got much busier, with enormous queues even though we went midweek, but I loved taking the Boyf on "It's a Small World" which I remembered from Disneyland Paris and really enjoyed the Pirates! ride and the incredible Captain EO 3D film with Michael Jackson! The shops were great too, loads of great Disney merchandise, I got a ridiculous Marie hat/scarf/glove combo which I haven't dared to even wear yet! The light parade at the end was really special. The tickets cost about £50 each so it wasn't cheap and I think the Boyf was a little apprehensive about going but we both had an amazing day, our faces hurt from grinning ear to ear for the entire duration!

Kiddyland / Hanuhinken  - both amazing toyshops in Harajuku/Ginza respectively. We had so much fun in there, me with the Hello Kitty and Rilakuma goodies and Boy with the Transformers and Lego! I found so many gorgeous bento boxes and wanted to buy them all but they were quite expensive. I ended up settling on this adorable Rilakkuma set (Rilakkuma is a very cute, but grumpy bear by Sanrio).
Golden Kitty!

My friend had asked me to get her as much bento stuff as I could but I knew there must be some better value bits out there, so I kept on hunting and eventually I found a great 100yen (80p) shop in Shibuya, where I got her (and myself) some really sweet bento items, and now she's looking forward to competitive mumming when her little boys starts nursery! He will be the only one with flags in his food and little rice balls! I also got myself and my parents a little Japanese ceramic cat from Daiso, another chain of 100yen shops in Harajuku. I didn't want to spend too much on my parents as I spent a lot on some gorgeous carved wooden chopsticks for them in China which they admired and then promptly gave back because they don't use chopsticks, ungrateful sods! Here we also stocked up on sweets to take back to work with us.

Rilakkuma Bento!
Kiddyland also has a sponsored street underneath Tokyo station where there is a shop for each of the popular characters, Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma and many more we hadn't heard of before. A lot of time was spent here buying souvenirs for relatives. I had been told about it by a Twitter friend, and I am glad she told me as it was quite hard to find, we probably wouldn't have found it off our own bats.It was next door to Ramen Street, an underground street full of....noodles! We found a great shop down here which sold a lot of Japanese confectionery where we found KitKats in amazing flavours like Wasabi and Cayenne Pepper - both delicious!
Tokyo Station by night

On the subject of food, when in Tokyo, one must visit the big department stores' food halls, they are like museums! So much beautifully presented confectionery and bento! Mitsukoshi in the heart of Ginza was a favourite .
Books from Tokyo
I also really enjoyed Kinokuniya bookshop in Shinjuku. I love books, and they have an amazing floor where they keep their English books and art and craft books. We walked away with some stunning graphic art books and a Hello Kitty guide to learning Japanese, sooo kitsch! We also went to the antique books area near Akihabara where I got a vintage Japanese quilt magazine for my flatmate and I picked up some really sweet craft books and a guidebook for London in Japanese, which was possibly a purchase even more ridiculous than my Aristocats hat, but completely necessary!

At this point it sounds like all I do is shop, how dreadful! Here's some culture bits:
Dolls representing stillborn babies, Zojo-ji Temple
Saki barrels at Meiji Temple, Harajuku
Sensoji Harajuku
Asakusa is the traditional district which seemed to be stuffed with temples and pagodas (and a market, but I managed to avoid spending at all there!), and despite being stuffed with tourists like us, I found it was surprisingly peaceful. Another haven of peace was the nearby Sumida Park, next to the river. The Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka was also exceptional. You have to buy tickets in your country of origin prior to going, and they only have a set number of visitors each day. The first room was the most impressive with some amazing models showing scenes from the films. There is also a room upstairs covered with artwork from the films, which are stunning, and your ticket will include a screening of a short film which nobody outside the museum has seen.
Hibiya Park Garden Installations
View of Skyscrapers from Imperial Palace Gardens right before a  storm

Imperial Palace

Hibiya Park was also a highlight, it's a beautiful park right in the centre of Tokyo, but is so peaceful and tranquil. While we were there they had a competition for garden design, and there were loads of miniature gardens for the public to admire. We also found the nearby Godzilla statue, which was a lot smaller than I thought it would be! We spent a lot of time walking around the Imperial Palace Gardens and got caught in a  hailstorm, huddling together under our umbrella in the middle of this historic sight was memorable! There is a section of the gardens which you can enter but we went on the last day of our trip, a Friday, and unfortunately it is closed on Fridays. Ueno Park is also enormous and beautiful, and home to many of Tokyo's museums and a small zoo.
Ueno Park
My culture section seems a lot shorter than my shopping section, oh dear! When I go somewhere new, I want to be able to bring back with me as many reminders of my stay as possible, and I certainly feel we did that! There was so much more that I wanted to bring back but was running out of money and was getting paranoid about my baggage allowance (as it happens, I ended up with 3kg to spare, and was full of regret that I hadn't utilised it)!

That was lengthy! Everything about Tokyo was amazing, I loved every inch of it, even the crazy-busy bits. I want to go back the first chance I get. From now on I will just have to get my cute dosage from Super Cute Kawaii instead.

This year brings a trip to Paris for my birthday in March which we booked last night via Eurostar. We are going early on a Wednesday, staying one night and heading back on the Thursday which is my birthday. I can't wait, I am so excited! I am also hoping to go to Melbourne with mum around May but this depends on whether dad needs a back operation and when it will be. Fingers crossed!