I was lucky enough to go back to Japan in April. Again, this was a work trip but this time I went with a Japanese person (always a bonus!) and after I had finished working I stayed in Japan by myself for a couple of extra days. I felt I could not go all the way to Japan for a second time and not actually see any of it – so I crammed in as much as I could over the two days to make it worthwhile.
The benefit of being in Japan with someone who is Japanese is great – there is a huge language barrier there with a lot less people speaking English than you would expect. Getting around was a lot easier when I was with my colleague Hiroko and become a lot more difficult once I was alone. The other big benefit is when ordering food! I wanted to try some real, traditional Japanese food and being with Hiroko helped me find the best of the best. There are some amazing, small restaurants in Tokyo which could easily be mistaken for someone’s house or garage from the outside. Inside consists of a small kitchen and bar with stools, or sometimes a few small tables. I was really glad that I was with Hiroko as I would not have noticed these places and they were really great!
One place that we went to was a Ramen place. I am a big fan of Ramen and having it in Japan did not disappoint. Another traditional meal I had was sushi – this was not such a fun experience. I know it sounds so naive but the sushi in Japan is just so raw!! I enjoy sushi back home and in other Asian countries I have been to, but this was nothing like that. Sat at one of the bars I watched as the chef pulled out fish and other sea animals and just chopped bits off it, to then put it straight onto the rice with some wasabi. There was not just your typical fish included either, I but also the likes of fish eggs and eel. On top of that, the chefs and waiters watched eagerly as it was put in front of me so I had to try and eat as much as I could. It was by no means a bad meal, just not what I was expecting.
Due to only having a short amount of time I tried by best to do as much as I could in the limited time I had. This included making the most of the Friday evening. As soon as I had finished working I went back to the hotel to get changed, said goodbye to Hiroko and went off on my first solo Japanese adventure. I went to and up the Tokyo Sky Tree – the tallest building in Japan at 2,080ft. Surprisingly, it only cost around £15 to get up (pretty cheap for this kind of thing) and queues were not an option. The views from the top were great and it was a clear, sunny day, making it even better. On your way down there is a place called Sky Town – lots of different shops near the bottom of the Sky Tree. Within this was a deli with lots of little stalls selling different food. I picked out a selection from several different stalls and headed back to the hotel.
The next morning was all systems go. I packed up everything and left my case with the hotel and went to get the metro. The general idea of the metro is great - you see where you want to go from where you are now and the price is included then just buy a ticket for that price and off you go. In theory. However, it is not always clear which direction you want to head or which exit you need, so it can be tough! I had scoped out the route I needed the night before so had no issues this time and headed for Asakusa.
Once in Asakusa I headed to Asakusa Samurai Kart. I had signed up for a tour around Tokyo with a twist – you went on a Go Kart dressed as a typical Japanese character. I, of course, went as Pikachu! The trip was great and lasted around two hours in which you went around a lot of the local areas. It was a really good way to see the city and gave me such a better feel for the place. We stopped off a couple of times and saw some nice things. I must admit, I did not expect to be fully on the roads, but fully on the roads I was which was generally fine but when you are going close to 60mph in an open kart around a corner with a huge lorry going past, you get a little scared! Such a different way to see a city and a great company that I really recommend looking into if in Tokyo.
After this I made my way to Kaminarimon Gate, which is a very famous and traditional Japanese gate. The place was packed so I did not spend long here, moving on after my obligatory tourist selfie. I headed back to the hotel to pick up my case and headed to my new place of stay. As I was in Japan I decided to try something different: a pod hotel (also known as a capsule hotel) called The Millennials. This was essentially a hostel with several floors, all including around 20 “pods”. This is literally 3 walls and a shutter in front containers a bed, shelf and mirror. That is it. I was given an iPhone when I checked in which I could use to operate the bed (flat or tilted), the fan and the lights. This was also my key for the lift which only allowed me to go to the communal areas and my floor – this was great as you could not lock your case away, so it made me feel like my stuff was a little safer! I was a bit apprehensive about staying here especially as I was on my own, but I really enjoyed it and was so glad I stayed somewhere so different to just another hotel.
After dropping off my stuff I made my way to the famous Shibuya Crossing. I had been across this once earlier in the week in early morning and did not find it that busy, but what a difference it made going there in the evening! I am not sure I have ever seen so many people in one place, never mind trying to cross the road at the same time. It was great fun making my way through the crowds and went across a few times. As it got later it got busier and busier. I also watched it once from above in the station, which is great to see!
The next day I went on a day trip to see Lake Kawaguchi and Mt. Fuji. It was an early start so I again mapped out my trip beforehand and made it there early. It was quite a drive out of the city which I actually really enjoyed as once you start heading out of the city centre, Japan is such a different place. It was really beautiful – full of lush, green areas and hills all over the place. It was really nice to be able to see so much of this. Our first stop on the trip was to a farm where we got to go strawberry picking (as well as eat lots), then headed back on the road to Lake Kawaguchi. I was so impressed with the Lake. It was beyond beautiful and right behind it stood Mt. Fuji looking glorious. It was honestly one of the best sights I have ever seen. We had lunch overlooking this and then had some free time to wonder around. I bought some presents and souvenirs at the small shops nearby and had a bit of an explore.
We went on some cable cars which took us up high and gave us another great view of the mountain and then headed to a flower park which again let us view Mt. Fuji from a different angle. Originally, I had wanted to climb Mt. Fuji but at this time of the year it is not possible, so I was glad I still got to see it – it’s a very impressive mountain!
Heading back, we got stuck in traffic on the way into Tokyo, which made us over an hour and a half late getting back to the drop off point. I then had to get to the metro, get to my station and back to my hotel (stopping for a fantastic Mexican burrito on the way). Despite being late getting back, it was really good walking through Shibuya at night with all the billboards on the buildings lit up and live music and people – it is exactly how I imagine Tokyo to be.
The next morning I got up super early and made my way to the airport. It was a close call and I very nearly missed my flight after opting to take the normal train over the bullet one (a lot cheaper!) and it taking forever, including an unscheduled stop for over 30 minutes! But I made it and got home fine.
I really recommend seeing Tokyo if you get the chance – Japan is so cool and forward-thinking. They have the best toilets ever and have even banned smoking on the streets unless in a designated smoking area! I wish I had longer so that I could go to Kyoto and other parts, but it just means I will have to go back one day!
(PS I have lots of photos on my Instagram @LozForbes – feel free to look!)