As we descended through the clouds for our final approach into Tokyo Haneda Airport we were confronted by the enormity of this metropolis. Light. As far as the eye can see and in every direction Tokyo and its neon lights seemed to go on for ever. It was only when we saw how huge this city was that we realised the scale of our adventure…quite frankly it was terrifying.
It was at baggage claim that we had our first real experience of Japan, the toilets. Often when Brits travel one of the things we struggle with is toilets, they never live up to our porcelain paradises back home. Japan however has made me weary of returning to a world of boring manual flushes and cold toilet seats. This first toilet had it all, a comforting voice to make you feel welcome in the cubicle, a warm (but never hot) toilet seat and a bum wash and dry mechanism. It was the stuff of dreams. It’s probably a sign of the kind of people that Yianna and I are that our first proper conversation after having arrived in Japan was about how brilliant the toilets are.
The cultural shift between the UK and Japan was evident as soon as we left the airport. As we attempted to navigate the labyrinth of the Tokyo metro we quickly became lost. Stood in a corner of Hamamatsucho station surrounded by a pile of backpacks we were already on the verge of breakdown, then out of nowhere appeared an old Japanese man. Without a moments hesitation he greeted us, bowed and asked where we were going. This complete stranger guided us through the metro and walked us right to the door of our hostel. Through all the commotion we failed to get his name and although he will likely never see this I cannot thank him enough, had he not helped us I don’t know where we would have ended up!
Up until this trip I had never actually stayed in a hostel, and I’m not sure that Anne Hostel Yokozuna has given me a fair comparison of what most hostels are like. Big beds, a traditional Japanese kitchen and of course the ever present Japanese toilets. After a much needed wash and some aggressive unpacking we set out to explore our local area: Ryogoku.
Now the guide books will tell you there is little to see in this area of Tokyo however this isn’t the case. The area around the metro station is a warren of neon bathed streets lined with local restaurants of every variety and some great bars.
Th place we stumbled upon for dinner was Sumibiyakiton, a charming little yakitori house. We were expecting the usual, delicious chicken breast and thigh skewers as well as amazing cuts of pork…we weren’t completely wrong, there was both chicken and pork and it was amazing. The cuts however were not as expected. Everything from pork rectum to chicken gizzard and quite literally anything in between. At this point we were confronted with the choice between playing to safe and knowing we would enjoy it or going all out and digging into some juicy pork tongue…safe to say we jumped right in!
When our food arrived, paired with some beautiful sake, we had literally no clue what we were looking at. Our ‘5 mystery cuts of pork’ looked delicious but equally we had no idea if they were belly and loin or rectum and diaphragm…it was rectum. I can honestly say I have never tasted better pork than that night, the texture of tongue and heart might have been a little odd (we were very aware we were eating tongue) but the taste was incredible. We also had octopus poached in wasabi and chicken gizzard both of which were again delicious, though gizzard is not the easiest thing to swallow.
After dinner, with a belly full of diaphragm and sake we found a beautiful whiskey bar just a stones throw from the hostel called G-Forest. This dark wooden bar could hold no more than about 20 people and every inch of it was covered in whiskey bottles. We were drawn in by the smell of whiskey and the warm lighting from inside. The place was empty apart from one patron when we arrived. Having looked at about 300 different types of whiskey we finally settled on some Yamasaki from Kyoto.
It was the perfect way to spend our first night in Tokyo, but the real excitement would start the next day…in Harajuku!
See you soon,