Tuesday 5th June - Tuesday 12th June 2012
05.06.2012 - 12.06.2012 24 °C
WELL... getting to Tokyo led to one of the worst days I have had in a LONG time:
When I arrived at Hong Kong airport, I was originally told that my flight had been cancelled and so they had to book me on a new, later one which would mean getting to my connecting flight would be "a bit of a rush" (understatement of the year!), so I spoke to the manager of China Eastern Airlines and explained to her that I would like someone to meet me once I got off the plane in Shang Hai so that I could be whisked through to my next flight with minimal hassle, she agreed and called her colleague.
The flight was supposed to land in Shang Hai at 15:45, but actually didn't land until 16:20, and my next flight was due to take off at 17;00... to top it all off there was no one to meet me at the airport so I had to run to the information desk and explain my situation and then run with a poor woman half a mile through the airport to my new gate! Luckily, I made it just in time, though I did have that awkward 'last person on the plane, everyone staring at you' thing!
Drama No. 3
When I landed in Tokyo around 9pm and tiredly strolled through customs, I waited by the baggage carousel until it stopped moving, and a man came over to me and said "What are you waiting for?"... "UHHH... My bag of course!"
So, my bag was not on the plane and had been left in Shang Hai... I had no clothes in my hand luggage or toiletries or anything, and the man at the airport said that my bag should arrive "at some point in the next few days" NOT good enough... this is where the tears started, I was stressed and tired and generally hysterical, so he called Shang Hai and made sure it was found and then put onto a flight the next day, plus he gave me ¥4000 compensation. (Sometimes tears do work)
Drama No. 4
With all my bag issues, it was now nearly 11pm and I hadn't even begun the journey to my hostel yet, to make matters worse, I suggest you Google "Tokyo Train Map"... I should be given a medal for actually getting there!
The woman at the airport said that as it was late, she would advise getting a taxi from the station to the hostel, an unnecessary expense, but probably a good idea given the time and I wasn't 100% sure where it was either... she said she would help me by printing out a map of the hostel and writing the details I gave her from my booking email on it so I could give it to the taxi driver.
The taxi driver took me to the wrong hostel!!! It cost me GBP5 to be taken to the wrong place! By this point I was getting angry, I called my hostel and shouted at the poor reception man that I shouldn't have to pay for another taxi to take me to my hostel as it was not my mistake... he was understanding but said there was nothing he could do... so another GBP8 down on a second taxi, I finally arrived at midnight!
I then had to waste the whole of the next day waiting for my bag, which didn't arrive until 8pm!
So typical that everything runs smoothly for 5 months, and then on the last stop it all goes tits up! Tokyo did not make a good first impression, but once I had had a sleep and could eventually shower and change my clothes I felt a million times better and decided to just forget it and move on with Day One of my Japanese experience...
Up early so that I could pack as much as possible into my day! I grabbed a ham sandwich from the 7eleven for breakfast and made my way to Ueno via train (only two stops so pretty smooth sailing), unfortunately, there are not many signs written in Japanese and English over here, so once you leave the train station, its all about guess work! As the weather was nice I didnt mind a stroll through the Ueno Park and eventually saw the entrance to the zoo! My main objective of the day was to see a PANDA!! as I haven't ever seen one before:
It turned out that although the zoo was small they also had hippos which I hadn't seen and a variety of strange South American creatures (including a CAT!?) so I was happy that it was worth ¥600 (about 5 pounds). The only issue I had was that a lot of the animals were pacing in their enclosures which I always think hints that they're bored or unhappy, and some of the enclosures were REALLY small! :-(
Throughout the day I also walked past groups of Japanese pre-school children, who each wore a white tunic and a different coloured hat and proved to me that Japanese toddlers are THE CUTEST in the world... if in future I need to adopt, Japan is where I'm coming! (They grow up to be absolutely stunning women too!)
Was adorable to see that the Grandparents play a big part in bringing up the children too!
After the zoo I found a Starbucks and had my Hazelnut Latte for lunch (^_^)
I was told by some of the guys at my hostel that Akiabara was a funky neighbourhood near my hostel where Japanese anime comics had taken over and the world of popular culture had followed with youngsters who dress up like their favorite characters from Manga and roam the streets, so after my coffee and a few more chapters of my book (reading is another thing that I hope to continue once I'm home!), I got back on the train to see for myself what all the fuss was about, and wasn't disappointed!!
Once I stepped out of the train station I noticed their were several young girls (I'd say 18ish) dressed in funky, and kinda kinky French maid outfits that were handing out flyers for "maid cafes"... I had read in my guide book that these were a popular experience and so I went along with one of the girls to a retro-themed and very pink American diner-inspired cafe. Here, I was introduced to "Piko", another french maid, who was very giggly and liked to do cat impressions! She sat me down, sang me a song and asked me to count down from three to one with her and then she produced a little electronic candle in a glass cup that lit up when she got to one and blew on it! This caused the giggles to spark up again and she did a little song and a happy dance and then showed me the menu. I settled on getting a 'chocolate bear ice cream', which was like a sundae of chocolate and vanilla ice cream with chocolate and vanilla whipped cream, cornflakes and chocolate sauce! The top was decorated using oreos and a cup cake to look like a bears face and it tasted DELICIOUS! She then served me some Jasmine tea as she sang another song and did more cat impressions! Meanwhile she asked me about myself, writing on paper what I couldn't understand and then asked me to write a message in her book and draw me a picture! So I drew her a cat and wrote that I liked her outfit! Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos of her, but as part of the price she gave me a pink lighter and a souvenir photo of us both doing the cat impression!
Very cute but very strange!
After that I had a wonder around town in search of some of the Manga comics to flick through, and came across the Hentai section of the book shop... for those of you who are not familiar, Hentai is Japanese anime porn, and it is VERY graphic and (quite disturbingly) features a lot of fetish porn and sex with children!! I decided this would be a perfect "present" for Patrick and after about an hour of flicking through the various books (there are hundreds of them), I finally settled on a story about a sex crazed lesbian gang who, half way through the book, grow penises and turn into hermaphrodites (but continue to have sex with each other)... believe me, that was one of the most "PG" story lines!!
An experience for sure!!
Very near to my hostel is a new 'structure' known as the "Sky Tower" which is one of the tallest structures in the world, at night, it is lit up with a different colour each day (today it was purple), so once the sun had set I went with a girl from my room to have a look at the tower and what was inside... mostly it is just a shopping mall with a very up market food hall (where I treated myself to a coffee and caramel bun), but there is also a planetarium on one of the upper levels which I am tempted to re-visit! Never been to one before, but will have to investigate the cost!
Then back to the hostel bar for around 9pm, where I drank "Umeshu" (Japanese plum wine) with Ginger Ale! LOVELY! (^_^) x
The next day, the sun was gloriously bright and so I spent the day in a park in Shinjuku, reading my book and attempting to soak up some rays...
I was SUPPOSED to be going to a Tea Ceremony at 5pm, but after attempting to navigate the train system to the correct station, the woman didnt show up!!! I looked around and waited for half an hour before finally decided (very aggravated) to leave! Luckily, after a strongly worded email, she refunded my money, but I am annoyed about the unnecessary inconvenience and expense of the trip! Another wasted day! (Though I did see a woman in a kimono on the train...)
I decided on my way home to stop in Shibuya (one of the busiest neighbourhoods) for a Starbucks and to watch the traffic of people crossing the main intersection outside the train station...
Once I arrived back at my hostel, my friend Adam informed me that "We're going out tonight"... as it was Friday and I had a bad day I thought, WHY NOT! Plus I have heard that clubbing in Tokyo is an experience not to be missed... the train system stops operating between the hours of midnight and 5am, so once you're out, you have to stay out and dance till dawn!
We had a few pre-drinks at the hostel and gathered people... so that it ended up being Me, Adam (Australia), Shaihn (France), Marley & Tom (UK) and Bee (South Africa)! Had a couple of Umeshu drinks and then headed into town... quick stop over for a curry (with some questionable chicken) and then on to the club!
Had a mild drama with my shoes, but did a nifty and militarily co-ordinated trainer swap with one of the boys and we were good to go...
Luckily, we had managed to get a discount voucher off their website so was only ¥1000 entry, and for three floors of dancing and ¥500/drink, it was quite reasonable!
We spent most of our time on the middle floor which played current English chart songs, remix with dance music and some Japanese songs which we bopped along to! I made friends with some of the Japanese and by the end of the night we were all one big group and making heart symbols with our hands (very popular over here)! Even met an adorable Japanese couple!
By the time 5am rolled around, we walked out of the club into the cold and very bright light of day! The sun seems to rise very early here, sp we got the tube back to Asakusa along with a lot of business men who were on their way to work and finally fell into bed around 6:30am! (hard core)
A great night and some awesome new friends!
My next "Japanese" experience was to visit a public Onsen in Asakusa. These are public baths which are separated into male and female rooms. Apparently quite popular with the locals (I don't know if they just don't have washrooms at home!?) but they are basically large jacuzzi baths which are heated to 40 or 45 degrees as well as having sauna rooms and cold baths.
The one I visited was recommended in Lonely Planet, and it is mandatory to be naked! I was told that the Japanese are a little funny about tattoos as here it is only the gang members which have them, but as mine is not Japanese artwork, I think they let me off (although no doubt a lot of the old Japanese women were bitching about me!).
Locating the onsen (like everything in Japan), was an absolute mission! I had to study three maps (written in Japanese) whilst trying to orientate the shoddy one in my lonely planet, ask three different people to point me in the right direction and even then, I had three very sweet Japanese school girls tying the name into Google Maps and escorting me to the front door!! DRAMA!
Once I arrived, the lady gave me a towel and a bar of soap and directed me to the entrance. The changing room was like any other gym, with lockers and mirrors with hair dryers. The actual washing room had rows of individual shower heads at waist height, each with a plastic stool and a bowl in front. You had to crouch down onto the stool and wash yourself first before getting into the main bath. The water smelt strange and was a light green colour, which I assumed had been enriched with natural minerals, and the bath was HOT! I could only stay in for 10 mins at a time and I was sweating quite a lot, but I guess that was the point of the hot water! They also had jacuzzi jets which you could put on and a massage chair in the changing room which I had a go on!
I would say it was an experience, but not one I think will catch on in the UK... I've never seen so many naked women of all ages! I shall never complain about my fat bum again!! (and I don't ever want to get old!) :-S
On the way home I also took a quick snap of the rickshaw "drivers"... these are incredibly athletic Japanese men whose job it is to taxi people around town in carriages by RUNNING!! They effectively take the place of a horse and run around, pulling the rickshaw carriage with you in it... some of them were pretty beefy and all wore tight cycling shorts!
Owing to the high population in Tokyo and thus the large number of Japanese that live in high rise apartments, many are unable to own pets. A solution to this problem has been the invention of pet cafes (cat, dog and even lizard!) which are located around many neighbourhoods in Tokyo and are VERY popular with the locals!
Basically you go to a random womans flat and pay her ¥800 to spend time with her cats- stroking them, teasing them with toys or feeding them (for an additional fee)... It was another interesting experience, but again, a bit weird... and the cats didn't seem to want anything to do with us! The kittens were cute though! (^_^)
After the cat cafe, we got on a tube to Harajuku, the teen centre of Tokyo where all the school girls go to buy their cutesy outfits a accessories! Here I didn't even bother trying on the clothes (lesson learnt in Singapore and Vietnam- "I think you... XXL"), but it was interesting to see what they wear and I even got to see a girl dressed as Little Bo Peep as well as many Goths! We even stopped at a condom emporium on the way home...
So that concludes a week in Tokyo, an awesome place with lovely people who are genuinely really interested in you and are always very helpful. Unfortunately, I think I would have had a better time if I could come back with more money... it is SOOO expensive and its very difficult to do on your own! x
I CANNOT WAIT to be back home... after 5 months, 11 countries, 39 places and a million memories, I am poorer and happier than I have ever been, but GOD do I miss mash potato!! x
Dōmo Arigatōo Tokyo! x