Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tokyo

Our very first stop in Tokyo was our appointment with Studio Ghibli Museum. Why I call it appointment is because you have to buy the entrance tickets waaay earlier (we bought ours in the 3rd week of Sept for 14 Oct from my friend's relative who lives there and had the tickets mailed over. Even then, the weekend of 15 and 16 Oct were already sold out!).

We took the "Cat Bus" from the Mitaka JR Station. 

The Cat Bus. I was rather disappointed it didn't have multiple legs nor was it furry.
Ghibli Museum is a strange building, rounded edges with lots of plants growing all over it. Looks like a submarine, somewhat.
The giant powerful robot from Laputa

No pictures are allowed inside the museum. All I can say is that it is definitely a must-visit for Ghibli fans. Despite limiting the number of visitors every two hours, the place was packed! We got to watch a short non-distributed cartoon in their theatre too. It was about a bunch of kindergarten kids who created an imaginary boat and their encounter with a whale in their sea adventures. Unfortunately, no English subtitles.

We then took the train to Shinjuku, which is apparently one of the busiest stations. That area is where all the shopping is. We didn't really shop but found cheaper food around there.

We stayed at Hotel Villa Fountaine in Shiodome Building. The place was really posh, after all the hotels we stayed in. We had a queen sized bed and we could walk around the room comfortably!


The reason why I chose this hotel is because it is the most affordable hotel near Tsukeji market, which we aimed to go on Saturday morning. Being the weekend and only two batches of 60 visitors allowed per day, we woke at 3am and started walking to Tsukeji Market at 4am. We weren't the first ones there but had made it for the first tour which started at 5:25am.

Dodging fast moving vehicles, we made our way into the freezing hall where the fresh tuna were laid out for inspection:

Armed with a torchlight and a sickle, the buyers inspected the fish by looking at the colour of the meat, hacking off a chunk, pressing it with their fingers and sometimes eating it.

Satisfied with their inspection, the auction began with the ringing of bells which is when the action starts. The auctioneers starts calling out the numbers on the fish with their price (I think) while the buyers indicate their bids by a mere lifting of a finger. It all went pretty quickly, I must say.

video

We were only allowed in there for about half an hour which flew by quickly. After that, it is highly recommended that we have a fresh sushi breakfast and one of the restaurants recommended in Lonely Planet is Daiwa Sushi. There was a long queue outside and the seatings were cramped with a maximum of perhaps 30 diners in two shops.


As the guide also says, if you're not sure of what to order, just order the set meal, which KS confidently did. The first thing the chef placed on our plates was umi. Now, if you know us, we are not exactly adventurous when it comes to food. Umi looked like some brain or intestine of some creature. I was horrified that I had to eat this and look like I was enjoying it since the chef was right in front of me!

Part of our sushi set. Umi is the orange one in the forefront, the texture not shown clearly in the picture. 

I was very proud of KS, the less adventurous, who stuffed it quickly into his mouth and chewed. I tried doing the same but I had to take two mouthfuls instead of one. It didn't taste THAT bad, just that the texture grossed me out (it disintegrated in my mouth). Later we only realized it was sea urchin (which I have once eaten straight from the sea in Bay of Plenty, NZ).

So, there we were, stuffing our faces with raw unknown seafood at 6:30am. Our poor stomachs! Definitely a once-a-lifetime experience. To be honest, I couldn't really tell the difference in terms of freshness nor can I say I absolutely enjoyed this type of sushi. Give me raw salmon anytime but this? Hmm... However, I would consider this one of the highlights of my trip.

Next stop was Ginza, the shopping district. There, I found a large Muji shop and fell in love with the place. It's like discovering Ikea for the first time, just that it has more stuff like food, electrical items, clothes. One can almost build a house with Muji's product offerings!

We then headed to Asakusa to see the Senso-Ji Temple.

The entrance with the distinct huge red lantern in the center.
Another part of the Senso-Ji entrance
More lanterns
The Pagoda at Senso-Ji

The next day, we headed to Harajuku in hope of catching sight of the famous Harajuku culture. However, we only saw a couple of girls despite spending the entire day people watching. Our guess is that we went on the wrong day, it should have been a Saturday instead of a Sunday. So Lonely Planet had incorrect information.

Anyway, we visited the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, a simple wooden structure with hardly any colours except for the beautiful wood. While we were there, there were three weddings going on! Oh, they were the centre of attention from the tourists! We took photos while their family posed for their photo session, captured every step of they took... like paparazzi! So somewhere around the world, these couples have their wedding photos in someone's holiday photo library.


Bridal party moving from one part of the shrine to another, with the couple shaded with the large red umbrella

Of course the whole proceedings took place with much seriousness and ceremony, up to the point of how the bride holds the closed fan in her hands when photos are being taken.

Besides the weddings, there were also many mother-child couples who came to the shrine, fully clothed in traditional clothes. Tourists kept stopping the parents to ask permission to take photos together with their dressed up child.

I must say the ladies look really elegant in their traditional clothes.

Beside the Meiji Shrine, there was a park where we saw the most bizarre collection of activities. I actually saw a group playing lacrosse (which I was looking out for when I went to London, since I've always read it in Enid Blyton's Malary Towers and St Claire's), a girl who brought a mini harp to play with her group of friends, a group of youngsters playacting, another group playing the clarinet to the song of Doraemon, couples doing the salsa at another corner...

A group of guys attempting to play the didgeridoo
Guys having fun beating drums, creating an upbeat atmosphere at the park
This guy was swinging this ball with a tail, amazingly fluid and graceful.
video

A group of guys and a couple of girls dressed as Elvis and grooving to his music at dusk

We walked away dizzy with such an eclectic mixture of activities from all over the world!

That night we headed to Odaiba, a reclaimed piece of land connected via the Rainbow Bridge which looks like the Brooklyn Bridge.

We were supposed to take the ferry here but missed the last boat
Strangely, there was a Statue of Liberty on Odaiba island too

The next day, we had booked a typical tour to visit Mount Fuji and it's surrounding areas. Unfortunately, the guide was merely functional, merely ushering us from one place to another. I would have loved to hear about Japan, more of it's culture or any information about Japan but the guy hardly spoke. I was comparing him to our Blue Mountains guide who drove AND talked the entire day, from where I learnt eating kangaroo meat is better for the environment. This Mt Fuji guide wasn't even driving, but mainly spoke about administrative stuff.

Our first sight of the majestic Mt Fuji
Yellowing trees! And a part of Mt Fuji at Station 5.
The set lunch was at a nearby hotel: the round labu-like thing is made up of about 4 dishes.

We were then whisked off to Hakone where we took a cable car up to this place where there's sulphuric activity (don't expect a Rotorua, NZ here though). Here, they boil eggs in the hot water springs and because of the sulphur, the eggshells turn black. They believe the number of these eggs you eat will equal the number of years you will live. So if you want to live long, eat a lot more.

Black eggs for sale
Since we didn't have enough time, we didn't manage to visit the place where they actually boiled the eggs. We were hurried down to catch the last pirate boat out to Lake Ashi. As you can tell, I really don't like tours as you don't have the flexibility of deciding what you want to do. But we didn't know how to get to Mt Fuji on our own so we thought a tour would be simpler.

We hurried so much that we had about 20 mins to kill while waiting for the boat to arrive.

On our final day, we headed to Roppongi, a beautiful town within the city. Very modern buildings. Here's the iconic spider structure:


And again, to end my post, here's the Tokyo manhole cover:


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