Back to Tokyo - Meeting new arrivals, arcades, robots, hot tubs and the day trip to Hiroshima! [Day 62]
It was back to Tokyo for my last few days in Japan and I decided to spend the afternoon checking out the arcades over here. I’ve obviously heard so much about them, having worked for Sega for the last seven years, so it was really cool to see them for myself. Loads of great new games to play that you don’t get back home, plus all the oldies like Street Fighter and Bomberman! The Sunday lunch time match back home was Arsenal vs Everton which meant a rather reasonable 9.30pm KO on this side of the world. This is now the second Arsenal game I’ve watched since being abroad and we’ve lost them both. I’ve taken a vow not to watch any more as clearly their late season slump is down to me. I might make an exception if we make the FA Cup final though. I was quickly cheered up when I got back to the hotel as Nat had arranged a FaceTime whilst out with the Sutton crew for lunch. Really nice catching up with everyone and I also got to meet the two new additions to the group; Layla and Maximilian! They are both absolutely gorgeous and I can’t wait to meet them in person in a few months time.
The next day I was back on the sight seeing trail, checking you the Tokyo Skytree (the tallest tower in the world) and the Tokyo Tower (imagine the Eiffel Tower painted red and white). I decided to pay the rather hefty (for a traveller) ¥2000 to go up to the first deck on the Skytree. At 350m it’s a pretty impressive view. The only let down was that it was a pretty hazy/polluted day so the view wasn’t perfect. You can pay another ¥1000 to go up another 100m but decided it probably wasn’t worth it on a day like that.
I found out a few days previous that my friends James and Eleni were over in Tokyo this week, so we arranged to meet up Monday night. They were actually supposed to make this trip about 3 years ago, but unluckily the massive earthquake of 2011 struck shortly before they were meant to fly. Back to the night in hand, James and Eleni were already booked to go to the Robot Restaurant, so I rang them up and managed to add a third person. It’s pretty hard to describe what the hell went on for the hour long show, but there were robots, big drums, wrestling, scantily clad women, singers, music, lasers and of course gangnam style! If you want a little more of an insight, scroll down to the previous post and watch the video. After the weirdest show I’m ever likely to see in my life, we headed to Shibuya to grabs few drinks and catch up. Really nice to see them, it was good to see some familiar faces too after a month on the road on my own. I hope they enjoy the rest of their trip, which I know they will!
Tuesday I was back on the train again (definitely making use of this JR pass) heading to Nikko to see a few more temples before I leave. I think they might actually be the best ones I’ve seen. They are all set in the forest and all look in need of little repair work, which added to the charm. They were also the most brightly coloured ones I’ve seen, so they made for some good pictures. Arriving back at the hotel around 6, I got chatting to Gavin and Scott who were on vacation here before they jump on to a ship for 5 months to work. This gave us quite a lot to talk about what with my friends Claire and Jo both doing this as well. Gavin is a drummer in a band and Scott teaches old people (his words not mine) to use computers. We grabbed some sushi and a few beers together and then hit the hot tub and saunas in the hotel. I think we were in there for about two hours. I seem to have this mild addiction that I developed in Budapest a few years ago where I hop between the hot and cold baths. It’s vicious cycle that’s hard to escape, but it’s very relaxing!
One of the cities I wanted to visit whilst in Japan was Hiroshima, the sight of where the very first atomic bomb was dropped back in 1945. I really should have planed my trip better, as in go when I was in Kyoto last week. But I didn’t! So I had to make the 5 hour train ride their and back in a day. Sounds slightly ridiculous but it gave me time to right my last blog post, watch Black Mirror which James and Eleni recommend to me. If you haven’t seen it you should! It’s written by Charlie Brooker and is a very dark but funny look at modern life, media and technology. Actually I just remembered OG told me about this ages ago!
Anyway, back to Hiroshima! I started by visiting the atomic bomb dome which is the only remaining building from the blast. It cuts a very stark image against everything else around it. There’s also a panoramic picture next to it that was taken after the bomb was dropped. That’s when it really sinks in what happened here. Everything you see here is new, relatively speaking, as 70 years ago EVERYTHING was wiped out. The surrounding area is a memorial park, with different statues commemorating different things; from students to children to world peace. It was genuinely emotional being here and gives you a little perspective on things. I also visited the museum here which shows you Hiroshima before, during and after this terrible event. Some of the interesting things I learnt here were that every major of Hiroshima has written to every country, every time they test or make nuclear weapons, asking them to stop. The other thing that got me was who has nuclear weapons. I thought it was a lot more countries but it’s actually only 9. I know it’s not as simple as this, but with so few countries with them, you would think it would make it easier for everyone to disarm them. Unfortunately not though.
Sorry to end my last post in Japan on a rather sober note. What I will say is that if you ever make the trip over here, please take the time to visit Hiroshima. It’s an eye opening experience but what I will say is there is something very uplifting when you actually see the city now. It’s like any other with shops, restaurants, offices, parks and homes. Everyone is happy too and apart from the memorials you would never know what had happened here. To me that says a lot about people and how they can bounce back from absolutely anything!
Robot Rock at the Robot Restaurant!
Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Kamakura and Mai pen-pal! [Day 59]
The next stop on my trip was Kyoto, which meant I got to ride on the famous Japanese bullet trains! Not only are the super quick, travelling at 200mph, but they’re also likely to be the most luxurious form of transport I’m going to take on this trip! Comfy reclining seats, loads of leg room, a power supply and a pretty awesome view of Mount Fuji to boot! So a very pleasant 3 hours later I arrived in Kyoto at the first of many capsule hotels I would be staying in whilst in Japan. Capsule Ryokan is just around the corner from the station with a bus stop outside, so it was very easy to get around during my stay here. My first port of call was the famous Bamboo Grove, which I’m sure you can work out is a bamboo forest. It really was a sight to behold and was also a little trippy if you stare in to the never ending rows of trees as you walk along. That evening I went along to another one of those vending machine restaurants which the hotel had recommended. Easily the worst place I’ve eaten so far, I must remember that when a hotel recommends a place it’s usually because they’re getting a kick back from the restaurant and doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good!
The next day I took a short train trip to Nara which is known for its gardens where deer just wonder around everywhere and also the Great Buddha who lives in the Daibutsu-den Hall. After dodging deer, that all think you have some food to give to them, I arrived at the hall which is impressive not only in its beautiful design but also it’s size. Apparently it’s largest wooden structure in the world! What’s even more impressive is that this is not the original hall, the original which was destroyed in the 16th century was even bigger! It almost takes your breathe away as you step inside and look up at this giant Buddha, who pretty much takes up half the building. He’s surrounded by a circle of 16 other golden Buddhas, as well as statues of bodhisattvas and guardians either side of him. Very cool! There is also a pillar with a hole in it that is supposed to be the same size as the Buddha’s nostril. If you can crawl through it, it ensures enlightenment. It looked a bit of a squeeze for a child, so I decided against being the foreigner who gets stuck in it! I headed back to Kyoto for the rest of the day, wondering around the different temples that litter the city. All as spectacular as the next and one of them, which is up on a hillside, had a fantastic view of the city, well worth the effort fighting my way through the tourists to get to.
I went to Osaka the next day, which is like a smaller version of Tokyo. Just one of those days were I wondered around in no particular direction taking in the sights. Cool city but in hind sight I probably didn’t need to go there, as I mentioned it’s pretty similar to Tokyo. In the evening I got chatting to Sebastian who was staying at Ryokan as well. Interesting fella who works for 6 months of the year in his home town of Munich and then spends the rest of the year travelling around the world. He’s been doing this for about a decade now! I kind of admire people that can do this, experiencing as much of the world as possible. There’s a famous saying “if the world is a book and you don’t travel you’ve only read one page”, and going by all the places he has been to he’s probably on the last chapter! This was his first time in Japan and he likes it, but he wasn’t much of a fan of all the tourists here and the fact you have to pay to get in to the temples. His previous experience of Burma, where you can go in to any temple you want for free, may have ruined him in this respect. He was also told me how when he last went monks would even put him up for the night in the temples. Not something that is likely to happen in Japan any time soon!
After my time in the Kyoto area I head back to Tokyo for one night before I made my way down to Kamakura where I’d be visiting my Japanese pen-pall Mai. That’s right I said pen-pal, very retro right?! To briefly explain, when I was working at Sega I used to do a lot of work for the US office. Mai was my point of contact over there and we got on really well. She left the company about a year later and moved to Japan to work for her aunt who ran a restaurant/pet pampering place. Only in Japan! We stayed in touch over the years and obviously when I decided to come to Japan it meant we could finally meet! Kamakura, where Mai lives, is just outside of Yokohama. It’s a cool little beach town with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. I actually noticed after a few hours of being there that my walking pace had slowed down significantly compared to my time in Tokyo! I kind of felt like I was on holiday! I met up with Mai at the station and she took me to this cool little restaurant called Jammin’ which was very in keep with beach vibe! We chatted away as if we were just old friends catching up, which I guess we are! Very nice to finally meet her. She would have liked to shown me around her home town, but shes currently 7 months pregnant (who isn’t these days!), so she wasn’t really up to traipsing around sightseeing, but she pointed me into the right direction to some of the nicer temples and gardens.
I forgot to mention the previous night! Sorry this isn’t in chronological order, but that seems to be the theme of this travel blog anyway! So the previous night the hotel which I was staying in, which was the most traditionally Japanese place I’ve slept in, recommended a restaurant down the road. Ignoring what I said a couple of paragraphs ago I went along feeling a bit more optimistic this time. I wasn’t disappointed either, as I was treated to some great musical entertainment with my meal (which was delish!). There were 3 guys playing a variety of musical instruments, mainly bongos which you can never go wrong with in my opinion. Then there were 3 girls doing the singing. I suppose the best way to describe it would be African style music. I could be wrong, but it was superb what ever it was and very upbeat and happy! I actually got a video of it if you scroll down a few posts if you want to watch it. It was just one of those random experiences that you come travelling for. Won’t forget it for a long time!
So my time is nearly up in Japan, with just a few days left. I’ll wrap up the rest of my time in Tokyo tomorrow in another post, so stay tuned.