A Travellerspoint blog

Tokyo 2015: Day 1 Part 2

Hunting for Godzilla in Shinjuku!


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After a brief convenience store bought lunch, we headed to Shinjuku with our first stop being Shinjuku Goen (garden). During our last visit to Tokyo we were disappointed to find it closed but today it was open and rapidly filling with tourists and residents alike, all eager to visit the cherry blossom trees. With the highest concentration of the trees in Tokyo, it’s a prime viewing spot and spring is the only time the garden charges for entry. Needless to say, the park was filled with cherry blossom trees in full bloom and was absolutely magnificent. I’ve never seen so many blossoms, or people for that matter, fill a park and it remains an absolute highlight of the trip.

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After a good hour or two we left the park onto something more commercial and modern. Shinjuku has an amazing vibe and has a little bit of everything packed into it. Narrow streets lined with restaurants and pachinko parlours give way to roaring roads, with the entire area covered in towering neon signs. The whole area buzzes with energy and life, giving it a real sense of modern Tokyo. Despite the warren-like roads, even late at night, couples and business men walk through the area and you very quickly begin to realise just how safe a city Tokyo is.

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We had a blast exploring the streets, ducking into the colourful arcades and window shopping but the real highlight came when we finally managed to find the Godzilla hotel. The hotel has had quite a bit of press lately and I was eager to see what the fuss was all about. After a bit of a search, we finally spotted a claw gripping the edge of a building’s roof and, after moving back, Godzilla was visible. It didn’t disappoint and as you’ll see from the pictures he looms over the area, occasionally blowing smoke. They really did go all out on him and it’s proved to be a popular hit.

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As night fell, the area came to life with its neon and bustle proving some excellent photo opportunities. We ended up having quite a search for something to eat, many of the places seeming quite pricey for the apparent value of the food but we finally happened across an excellent okonomiyaki restaurant in an underground shopping centre. Here’s a quick travel trip, if you’re visiting Japan then aim straight for these shopping centres and train stations if you’re looking for food. Unlike British equivalents, these places are designed to attract the hungry and the restaurants are usually good quality and affordable. Even better, they usually have English menus or at least window models of the meals that you can point to. It’s a quick and easy way to get food and hands-down beats trawling the streets looking for restaurants.

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Well-fed and watered, we made our way to one of my favourite areas of Tokyo, Golden Gai. It’s by no means easy to find but well worth it when you do, the narrow streets and tiny bars giving an atmospheric, if seedy-looking, experience. We’ve always joked that Japan would be the only country we would be happy to walk through such an area and it’s of course completely safe. Many of the bars can only fit a handful of people in and are apparently exclusively for regulars, but others openly welcome western visitors and a good many had taken the invite.

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Just across from Golden Gai is the small Hanazono Shrine. It’s been standing since the area was a vegetable field and looks fantastic lit up at night. It’s only a ten minute visit at best but well worth a look, especially given its proximity to Golden Gai.

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So, that’s our first day in Tokyo covered. Feel free to browse the photos below and ask any questions in the comments section below. We’re by no means experts but will be happy to answer any questions if we can!

Posted by Gavin_w207 12:41 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo japan golden spring shinjuku cherry_blossom gai hanami shinjuku_gyoen shinjuku_garden hanazono_shrine godzilla godzilla_hotel_shinjuku Comments (0)

Tokyo 2015: Day 1 Part 1

Harajuku

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So, here we are, our first proper blog post. We recently visited Tokyo so to get ourselves ready to cover our experiences in China, we’ve decided to cover this trip first! Our first full day In Tokyo was spent in Harajuku and Shinjuku, two hugely different areas of the city.

First up was Harajuku, famed for the beautiful Meji Shrine and gardens along with its shopping and iconic fashion. Hoping to beat the crowds we made our way to Meji Shrine, its entrance framed by a huge wooden tori that leads through to the shrine and its large gardens.The shrine itself was built in honour of Emperor Meji, after which the Meji era is named, and he is revered for the rapid modernisation that he led the country through in the early years of the twenty-first century. Of course, that honour also comes hand in hand with the events of World War Two that naturally go unmentioned anywhere within the shrines grounds. The Emperors soul, along with his wife’s, are enshrined here making this one of the most important shrines in Tokyo.

The walk down to the shrine itself winds through a small wooded area that is surprisingly quiet, considering the bustle of the area around it. As you make your way towards the Shrine, you’ll instantly notice the large rack of sake barrels part way along the path. They are given by famous sake makers (brewers? fermenters?) every New Year and are fantastically eye-catching as you can see below.

Meji Shrine and its surrounding buildings are grand and beautiful, with the whole area being exceptionally peaceful. What draws much of the crowds are the main shrine and the large tree that grows just next to, its entire circumference lined with circular racks filled with ema boards. These boards are for writing prayers on and are hung beneath the tree. The monks then read them on certain mornings, before burning them. It’s believed this process helps to grant the wishes and it’s amazing gazing over the hundreds of ema to see the sheer range of languages. People all over the world write prayers at this shrine, and similar ones all over Japan, wishing for happiness and good fortune for friends and family. During our first visit to Tokyo back in 2010 we filled out an ema, wishing for good luck and the health of our families, and its polite on your return to the shrine to write another board giving thanks if your wishes come true. They did, and during our month-long trip in 2013 we wrote another to keep the gods sweet! With our big trip to China looming, we decided to write another, so time will tell if we’ll be giving thanks again…

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After taking a stroll around the main shrine, we left to seek out the gardens. After a short walk, we found them and our first big cherry blossom tree. Much gasping and photo-taking ensued and it finally began to click why the Japanese go so crazy for spring. The trees and their blossom really are stunning, adding colour to already beautiful gardens.

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Done with shrines for the day, we decided to hit the main shopping areas of Harajuku with one shop in mind… KiddyLand! Without a doubt the greatest toy shop we’ve ever been in, KiddyLand is six themed floors of heaven if you’re a child, and possible financial ruin if you’re a parent. Floors range from Studio Ghibli, to Moomins to Snoopy along with the latest crazes and fads of the year. After checking the Yokai Watch (the latest big thing in Japan, and really what’s not to like!) and Pokémon merchandise I was quickly dragged up to the Rilakkuma area which now covers an entire floor. For those of you not in the know, Rilakkuma is a huge franchise in Japan involving a highly chilled out bear whose face, along with those of his friends, are plastered on just about every item you can imagine. Plushies, stationary and cook-wear are all covered along with more niche tastes such as toilet seats and vacuum cleaners. Needless to say, Kathy left with a slightly lighter wallet!

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Our toy-shop fix finally done with, we moved on to Yoyogi Gyoen (garden). The park was spacious and filled with cherry blossom trees, under which were spread large blue sheets for groups to eat under. Lunchtime was just getting warmed but there was already lots of people already there, giving us a small idea of just how busy the parks in Tokyo must have been the weekend before when the blossoms first opened.

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Next, we headed down towards Takeshitadori which is a long pedestrianised road filled with shops. This used to be the heart of Harajuku fashion, with shops such as LaFloret gaining worldwide fame. Admittedly though, the iconic fashion is on the way out now. Where there used to be those dressed as Lolitas, there are just tourists and many larger names such as Disney are beginning to line the road. Still, it’s a great walk and still retains much of its character… Just don’t expect to see much of the strange fashion choices so many people associate with Japan!

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With the main sights of Harajuku ticked off of our list, we made our way back towards the station but not before stumbling across Brown's store which was a pretty strange experience. Brown is a huge bear who we saw more and more of throughout our trip. He didn't seem that popular, considering he had his own shop, but he did crop up occasionally in a few shops. The store itself was small, but well worth a visti, even if it was just for the giant model of Brown and his room downstairs!

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Well, that's it for Harajuku! Next time it's Shinjuku where we'll be covering the amazing park, the Godzilla hotel, Golden Gai and neon filled streets! Feel free to ask us any questions in the comments section below. We're by no means experts but we'll be happy to answer any questions if we can.

Posted by Gavin_w207 04:36 Archived in Japan Tagged japan asia cherry_blossom lolita harajuku kiddy_land hanami 2015 takeshitadori meji Comments (0)

What the future holds...

Welcome to our travel blog!

It's not long now until the big move, until we up sticks and fly halfway around the world to start a new adventure in Jinan, China. Soon we'll be starting a two year contract in a country that couldn't be more different from England. The contracts have been signed, we're halfway through a course of every vaccine imaginable and we've one more term left in our current schools. Everything is going to change, and it'll change soon, but for now life is continuing in its usual fashion and we mean to enjoy it, however eager we are to get started on living our dream.

We're starting our blog now, before we leave in July, so we can record our experiences right up to the big move, including any travelling we do before hand. This will include a trip to Tokyo that we'll be blogging about very soon!

See you soon,

Gavin and Kathy

Posted by Gavin_w207 14:43 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged england before_the_move Comments (0)

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