Tokyo is one of those iconic cities, which a lot of people have added onto their ‘must see’ lists recently. Francis Street spent an amusing few days there but absolutely loved it, and he’s given us his top tips for getting the most out of your trip!
I flew from Heathrow with Qatar. As it was such a long trip, we decided to push the boat out and go business class, which was definitely worth it. One thing to consider however – Qatar has two types of plane, which has two different types of business class, one where the beds lay flat and the other where they’re at a bit of an angle. Go for the fully flat beds if you can, you really notice the difference! I would also recommend connecting through Doha if you have the option, the business lounge was lovely with full showers and luxury toiletries, a few nice shops and places to eat.
We stayed at the Mandarin Oriental (http://www.mandarinoriental.com/tokyo/) which was a beautiful hotel. It was in an amazing location with stunning views of the city skyline. The first thing I noticed were all the earthquake drills – Japan has quite frequent tremors, which we actually experienced while we were over there, but they are so well prepared and they ensure that you, as tourists, have nothing to worry about. For example, we were in the hotel for the tremor I mentioned above, and nothing in the room moved an inch – life just goes on as normal.
Another thing to mention here are the toilets. Japanese toilets are quite something to behold, with heated seats, automated seat linings that spin round the ring, and a whole host of other features that I had no idea how to use. One feature to look out for is the in-built bidet, which can take you by surprise if you’re not expecting it, and lead to one of my travel companions being sprayed in the face!
Tokyo is the place to go for food lovers, as long as you’re not too fussy. All the food is very fresh, cooked minimally and sometimes served raw or even still alive! One restaurant we went to I tried a local delicacy, which ended up being a live sea urchin. You crack the shell and eat it while it’s still moving – probably not something I would try again, but quite the experience!
Considering it is the largest* city in the world, with thousands and thousands of people everywhere you go, we felt incredibly safe. Everyone is so polite and everything is ordered and organised, down to trains leaving the exact second they say they’re going to. Everyone also seemed so small – I’m not a particularly tall gentleman, but I could see over the top of just about every other person’s head. Bear this in mind if you’re looking to shop while you’re over there – there is a huge variety of shops, but not a lot that will actually fit, an XL over there is probably a S/M in the UK.
We saw lots of the famous sights in Tokyo, including the iconic Skytree and the Samurai Museum, which was a very entertaining day. The highlight was dressing up and being taught the basics of Samurai fighting – a must for anyone to do. If you’re into films, you’ll want to visit the Gonpachi bar in the Nishi-Azabu district. This bar inspired the House of Blue Leaves, the setting for “that” fight scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 – the Bride v the Crazy 88s. Although the actual scene was filmed on set in Shanghai, the moment you step through the door of Gonpachi you’ll feel as though you’re in the film, just waiting for Lucy Liu to appear on the upper balcony.
If you get the chance, do go and see a sumo match. It was the most bizarre arena, a small circle in the middle surrounded by towering rows of seats. Sumo wrestling in Japan is like American football in the US – there is a huge build up before the match and the wrestlers themselves are superstars. The match begins with two men in the ring, an awful lot of grunting and throwing chalk to psych out your opponent, before both slap, push and throw each other, the goal being to get their opponent out of the ring first. Such an amazing experience, you’ll have never seen anything like it before.
After a busy few days in Tokyo, we decided to stop off in Kyoto on the way home, and instead of flying we opted to go via the bullet train. This ended up being the highlight of my trip, something I would recommend to everyone. As I mentioned above, everything is incredibly efficient in Japan, and the bullet train is no different. You get your ticket and are directed to a platform, where you’re given 45 seconds to board the train. A clock actually times you, you see the seconds counting down, and once the timer hits zero the doors shut and the train is off! Travelling at 200mph is something I never thought I would do on land – the cabin you’re in is pressurised, like a plane, and you just fly through the countryside. The journey is smooth, there’s no bumps or ‘chug’ noises as you get on a regular service, it’s so nice to just sit and take in the scenery. The line from Tokyo to Kyoto passes some beautiful sights, including the famous Mount Fuji. You’re in Kyoto in no time!
Kyoto is the exact opposite of Tokyo. Whereas Tokyo is neon skyscrapers and modern technology, Kyoto is traditional buildings and natural beauty. Rich in heritage and cultural sights, there are temples and shrines to visit, lush gardens to enjoy and Geisha join you for dinner! We stayed in a ryokan, a Japanese guesthouse, which was a very enjoyable experience. That is, until I wanted to wash and discovered all the men shared the bathing facilities – I didn’t think ‘having a bath with 20 other men’ would be something I would ever do in my life, but there you go, ‘when in Japan’!
This is just a brief overview of Francis’ trip to Tokyo. If you want to plan your own adventure in the Far East, give us a call on 01473 231181.