Sunday, 10 December 2017

Toyko, Japan

After a perfect wedding, my wife Emily and I recently went on a three week honeymoon adventure to Japan. We travelled with Qatar Airlines, booking a flight deal to fly via Doha in business class, for the same price as an economy flight from London. The only 'snag' was having to fly from Amsterdam, so we had a 30 hour layover there, which gave us enough time to quickly explore the city, as neither of us had been before.

We arrived in Tokyo early in the evening, flying into Narita, which is quite a distance away from the action in Tokyo. We bought train tickets at the airport on arrival to get to our hotel, and with various changes and trying to navigate the train system for the first time, it ended up taking us the best part of three hours to go to our hotel. We were so glad to finally drop our bags and head out for our first bowl of Ramen :) 

We stayed at the APA Higashi-Shinjuku-Kabukicho hotel, which was only a few minutes walk from the more bustling parts of Shinjuku, but quiet enough to get a reasonable nights sleep. As we had heard is common in Japan, the room was tiny, but perfectly fine when we wanted to spend most of the time out sightseeing anyway.

tokyo art
Street Art in the backstreets of Harajuku

On our first full day in Tokyo, we again tried to master the train system and again got a bit lost, but that's all part of the adventure! We headed to Harajuku, which sounded like a cool area to visit, reading our trusty Lonely Planet guide book. Harajuku is essentially a very hipster area, full of lots of different weird and wonderful shops, along with lots of big brands that have moved into the area. It's well known for streetwear and interesting fashion, and is notably written about in Gwen Stefan's song Harajuku Girls. Harajuku also has plenty of street art and great places to eat; particularly lots of places for sweet treats, crepes and ice cream. 

takeshita street
Takeshita Street

The Takeshita exit of the JR Harajuku Station takes you straight out onto Takeshita Street (I laughed), which is a great starting point to browse lots of shops and pick up souvenirs. The street leads out onto a main road and then beyond that, there is a small labyrinth of roads that are filled with streetwear and other cool shops. 

When we returned to Harajuku for a bit of shopping at the end of our honeymoon, we visited Cat Street, which has lots of bigger brand shops and particularly outdoor and skate brands, including Patagonia, Burton, DC, Columbia etc. I picked up an awesome Burton t-shirt with a Tokyo design on it.

tokyo old building
Thought this rundown building looked cool!

japan street art
Harajuku Street Art

harajuku shrine
Tōgō Shrine in Harajuku


Whilst working our way around Harajuku, we stumbled across the Tōgō Shrine, which was a nice little spot to wander around and have our first taste of Japanese history. We didn't get any photos of the main shrine itself as there was a wedding going on, so we kept out of the way and let them enjoy their special day. 

We decided to visit the Harry Harajuku Hedgehog Cafe, which is very close to the JR Harajuku Station. We were unsure about whether or not to visit, as I am very conscious of animal welfare. The hedgehogs seemed well looked after, although I'm not sure they really want to be manhandled quite so much on a daily basis! It was a fun experience and cost about JPY 3000 for the two of us to sit and play with the hedgehogs for 30-minutes and have a coffee, which was included in the price. 

hedgehog cafe tokyo japan
Emily with Harold II. Harold I was not so friendly.

After our time was up with the hedgehogs, we headed to the highly regarded Meiji Shrine. This is classed as being in Shibuya (a big and famous area next to Harajuku), however the main entrance is actually located directly outside of the JR Harajuku Station. The Meiji Shrine and grounds surrounding it were impressive, and despite there being a lot of people there, was a relatively relaxing place to wander around for an hour. 

sake barrels japan
Sake barrels at the Meiji Shrine

After an action packed first full day in Tokyo, we walked from our hotel to the busier area of Shinjuku to go to the Robot Restaurant. We had heard about this from a few different people and a visit here seemed to be an essential part of visiting Tokyo. The tickets were quite pricey at at JPY 8000 each, but we were told it was worth it. The show itself is in a small auditorium and is a carefully choregraphed and crazy show, featuring radio controlled carnival floats, dozens of performers and a sea of light and colour. The production value was huge - they definitely had not skimped on making it a 'full on' experience! It's hard to explain the craziness of the show, but there are plenty of videos online if you want to check it out.

Our friends Alyssia and Jon had been to Robot Restaurant a couple of years ago, for Jon's birthday. They didn't say what what the surprise would be, but to say that it was one of our birthdays. We did try and say at the ticket counter that it was in fact our honeymoon, but it was lost in translation a little bit. They did a big embarrassing announcement about it being my birthday and gave me a robot souvenir. It was hilarious!

robot restaurant photo
Emily outside the Robot Restaurant

robot restaurant tokyo
Robot Restaurant show

robot restaurant japan
Robot Restaurant carnival float

The next day we headed to Shibuya, which is synonymous with the Shibuya Crossing - supposedly the busiest road intersection in the World. Throughout the day, hundreds of people cross the road from all angles at the same time and it's quite an impressive spectacle. There is a Starbucks that overlooks the crossing - incidentally probably the only Starbucks in the World to only serve small drinks, as it's very popular and they want you in and out quickly. The Starbucks is a great place to watch the crossing - even better if you're lucky enough to grab a seat at the window.

Despite it pouring with rain all day, we enjoyed wandering around Shibuya, particularly Center-gai, which is a pedestrianized shopping area.

shibuya japan tokyo
Emily with a very Instagrammable building

Emily had heard about a Tokyo fad called Purikura, which is essentially a room filled with elaborate photo booths - you take your photo and you can then edit yourself to be the wide eyed, made up popstar you've always dreamed of. Check out the glamorous photos below!

purikura kawaii
Purikura 

purikura photo
Purikura

After lunch we headed to Akihabara, also known as Electric Town. The area is well known as the 'geek district' where everything seems to evolve around all things gaming. It was cool to see all the buildings covered in gaming imagery and advertising and see all the different shops - even though I'm not a gamer myself. Well worth a visit for a couple of hours.

geek district japan
Akihabara

After staying in Shinjuku for two nights, it was time for us to move to an AirBnB in the 'Old Town' part of Tokyo, nearer Ueno. We had decided that it would be nice to stay in two separate places to explore more of the city. Although the AirBnB was great, in hindsight it was not necessary to move, as it is so easy to get around Tokyo with the trains being so efficient. 

Top of our list of things to do the 'Old Town' was to visit Ueno Park. This is well known for being very beautiful, and alongside being a lovely park to wander around and visit shrines and temples, is also home to several museums - which we did not visit. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the park, taking lots of photos and enjoying the beautifully colored trees. 

ueno park tokyo
Ueno Park

tokyo japan shinto shrine
A temple in Ueno Park

ueno park trees japan
A pagoda in Ueno Park

honeymoon in japan
A shrine in Ueno Park

japan pretty trees
Views from the top of a temple in Ueno Park

japan ueno park photo
Ueno Park 

A reasonably short walk from Ueno Park is the historic area of Yanaka, which is a very relaxing area to walk around and has many temples and shrines to visit. In the photo below, I enjoyed the contrast between the very old building, alongside the zebra crossing in the foreground.

yanaka japan tokyo
Yanaka

My boss Grahame and his pals James and Alan had booked the same awesome flight deal as us, and arrived in Tokyo three days later for a short trip. We arranged to meet them at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, where we enjoyed the incredible views of the Tokyo skyline from the 41st floor at the Peak of Joy bar, whilst making the most of the 'all you can drink' bar and tasting board. The food wasn't magnificent, but we did well with the drinks and the view and company were great. Later in the evening we heading further up the building to the New York bar, as seen in the movie Lost in Translation. The views were again amazing and we had some live jazz to set the mood nicely too! We later headed into Shinjuku for drinks, and a bizarre Michael Jackson themed bar and live show.

The next day Emily and I dragged ourselves out of bed with sore heads, to travel to Hakone to see Mt Fuji, which I'll write about in my next blog post.

peak of joy bar
Tokyo skyline from the Peak of Joy bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

After spending another two weeks traveling around Japan (which I'll write about in further blog posts), we returned to Tokyo for two days at the end of our honeymoon, to do some shopping and fly home. We visited Harajuku again, as we enjoyed it a lot the first time round and thought it was the ideal place to do some last minute shopping.

This time around, for our last night, we stayed in Kinshicho, which is much further out from the main action in Tokyo. We wanted to stay at the Moxy hotel there, which is a new brand of hotel by Marriott, which we had stayed in earlier in the year in Berlin and really enjoyed. The hotel was brand new, only opening five weeks before our stay. The hotel was spacious, modern and with a hipster vibe - and a quiet and ideal place to spend the last night of our honeymoon. It took the best part of an hour each way to get from there to Harajuku/Shibuya, which would have been a pain if we'd book there for all of our nights in Tokyo. 

moxy hotel
Moxy hotel Tokyo Kinshicho

Near the JR Kinschico Station is the Skytree Tower, which we're told has great views of the city. We decided we'd go up on our last morning, however unfortunately it was a very cloudy day, so we gave it a miss. On our last night we had a drink at the Skytree View Bar, located opposite and a couple of blocks away from the Skytree Tower. We had a cocktail each there and it was pleasant enough, although not as impressive or as luxurious as the Park Hyatt bars we had previously visited.

skytree tokyo japan
Cocktails at the Skytree View bar

I'll write some more posts soon about the rest of our honeymoon in Japan, including Mt. Fuji, Ito and the Izu Peninsula, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and The Japan Alps. Thanks for reading!

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