Our second day in Tokyo started bright and early, though bright is hardly the most appropriate word considering stepping outside meant entering an involuntary wet t-shirt competition. Obviously being the practical and foreword thinking people that we are Yianna and I had brought only a single pocket-sized umbrella on this trip…great ‘adulting’ I know! Luckily the wonderful Anne Hostel provided communal umbrellas for ill-prepared travellers such as us.
Our first stop was the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and behemoth of a building that stands on huge concrete stilts and appears to float above the city. This museum tells the story of Tokyo from its humble beginnings as Edo, the hometown of the Tokugawa family, right up to its modern day status as time largest city in the world. With exquisite examples of traditional dress and relics from throughout Japan’s history this museum is a must, however three things really stand out.
Firstly the to scale replica of the magnificent Edo bridge, once the main thoroughfare into the the city. Built using beautiful Japanese wood and lashed together with rope it really is a magnificent sight. The second highlight of this museum is the paper cutting…and yes it’s exactly what it sounds like. A crowd gathered in anticipation, of what we weren’t sure but we certainly weren’t expecting anything like what happened. A woman dressed in a traditional short sleeve kimono came out onto a small stage and proceeded to cut paper in a really quite hypnotic manner as she swayed from side to side and bounced up and down. After about 30 seconds using nothing but plain paper and a pair of scissors she revealed a beautiful silhouette of a Geisha. A beautiful warm up act right? Wrong! This continued for a very long time, safe to say we moved on, I mean how many ways are there to entertainingly cut paper?
The final part of the Edo-Tokyo Museum that really makes it worth a trip is the interactive exhibits. With everything from traditional 13th and 18th century houses you can walk through and relax in to our personal favourite…modes of transport. With cars, rickshaws, penny-farthings and horse carts to try out the fun is endless, at least for me. Being the lazy Queen that I am I made Yianna do all the hard work!
By the time we had finished in the museum the rain had disappeared and the sun was beaming across Ryogoku. After a short ride on the metro we arrived in the central districts of Tokyo and Gina home to the Imperial Palace, a huge area of lawns, forests and waterways that stands surrounded by hundreds of glass skyscrapers.
After crossing the moat into the Imperial Palace gardens the noise of the city seemed to disappear, replaced instead with the sound of birds and crickets. The concrete jungle of central Tokyo is suddenly transformed into impeccably maintained lawns marbled with gravel path. The area covered by this Palace is daunting, after what seemed like years of walking across these paths we final arrived at the gates of the Palace itself…it was closed. What happened next can only be described as desperate, thinking perhaps we had come in the wrong side of the park we wandered for hours around the gardens seeking a way into the centre of the complex. Although we saw many lovely bridges and algae filled waterways we were unable to find a way in…almost as if the Emperor wasn’t prepared for our arrival, rude.
After our wander through the Imperial Palace (which all jokes aside is magnificent and definitely worth a visit) it was safe to say we were beyond the point of mere hunger and so it was time for our first taste of Sushi in Japan. On the recommendation of one of our Japanese friends in London we headed to Midori Sushi in Meguro. Although we were mistaken in thinking it would be easy to find, so after using some questionable directions from our friend back in London and going to every floor across two different shopping centres we eventually found Midori tucked away in a corner.
A queue of about 50 locals stood in front of us. Finally something we know us brits are good at, a queue. The closer to the door we got the stronger the smell of fresh fish, green tea and miso became and the more our stomach rumbles resembled the muffled songs of a humpback whale. When we finally got in and sat down we went hell for leather ordering everything that sounded remotely interesting…which was the entire menu. Everything from Sea Snails to Eel, giant crayfish to soft shell crab and we wanted it all. It was at this point that we saw just how fresh many of the ingredients were. In the middle of the restaurant was a series of tanks filled with all manner of sea creatures, swimming about completely unaware that they would soon be soaked in soy and awash with wasabi.
When our first order arrived it it was gone within about 30 seconds; raw bonio, Hokkaido octopus, tamago, conger eel and salmon each one better than the last. I cannot recommend this place highly enough, especially if you are happy to go outside your comfort zone and eat something new. By the end of the meal we had eaten about 25 plates of sushi including Norwegian salmon, cod roe, pickled white radish, chicken teriyaki hand rolls, Inari and every type of squid imaginable and all of this came to £13 in total…safe to say we will be going back to to Midori!
The best part of the meal however must go to Yianna. On the small tray of condiments was a box of green powder, which Yianna assumed was Wasabi. She put some on her sushi and claimed it had very little taste, and what taste it did have definitely didn’t resemble wasabi. So in an attempt to enhance the flavour she mixed the powder with her soy sauce…to no avail. It was at this point that one of the waitresses hurried over and began giggling and pointing at the now greenish gloop on Yianna’s plate. After a few shakes of the head and many judgemental glances from around the restaurant the chef revealed a plate of wasabi. It was also at this point that we realised the powder must be matcha…meaning that the tea we thought we had been drinking, which was very weak, was in fact boiled water.
We paid the bill, left the restaurant and vowed to return and redeem our reputation among the sushi chefs of Meguro.
Now it’s time for a breakdown…literally. Whether it was tiredness, embarrassment after sushi, being in a new city or a combination of all of these we don’t know. On our way to Shibuya to do some exploring and find another camera SD card we became what can only be described as delirious. After traversing the most complicated camera shop in history, fighting the crowds of commuters around the incomprehensible busy station of Shibuya and struggling to work the basics of camera use we needed to find a safe and relaxed space…a wine bar.
It was here as we counted out a rucksack worth of change to pay for our very large jug of strawberry sangria that we broke into a fit giggles. How anyone ever let us travel to the other side of the world alone is a mystery. These giggles were only intensified by our reaction to possibly the best toilets in the entire world. 5 different bum wash settings, a heated seat, a visitors book to describe your experience (no joke) and a completely silent flushing mechanism…it was the stuff of dreams.
Composed, collected and slightly tipsy we headed into our next district, Ueno and this time for some Karaoke! Now up until that point I had envisioned Karaoke to be in a bar environment, singing in front of strangers and having a merry old time…apparently I was wrong. Firstly this Karaoke bar was like something out of a Las Vegas nightmare, white marble covered every surface and the corridors were lined with musical instruments and costumes for us to use. So after booking our room and ordering 2 non-description brightly coloured ‘cocktails’ each we were escorted to a tiny leather clad room with two microphones and a karaoke machine.
The next hour was the funniest of our lives, we reinvented ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and gave new life to Cher’s ‘Believe’ as well as getting in a beautiful rendition of ‘Wannabe’. The funniest aspect of this whole event however was the Japanese remakes of famous music videos that played on the to screen. Imagine ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ taking place in a snow covered Japanese housing estate, picture Bonnie Tyler as a beautiful Japanese girl wandering the icy streets in search of her cat…then you can begin to picture how amazing this was.
After our brief time at the karaoke bar we found a beautiful little restaurant overlooking the main crossroads in Ueno and ordered some whiskey. It’s funny how in Tokyo the best view you can find is of a crossroads, and it really is a wonderful sight.
So as we sat watching the world go by, siping our whiskey and occasionally bursting into laughter with the memory of Karaoke we reminisced about our time in Tokyo. Now it was onto the real adventure, the next day we would be heading to Hokkaido, the most northerly and wild of Japan’s islands. Who knows what will happen!
See you soon,