As soon as we landed in Tokyo we were greeted with glorious Japanese efficiency, cleanliness and a very polite customs officer.
After checking through my rucksack and welcoming us to Japan he replaced all the items with absolute diligence, a small but appreciated joy. Having lived in Japan for six months a few years ago, I was delighted to be back and share this country I love so much with Guy. Heading through the airport we found our way to the Tokyo metro link. Despite the challenges of the Japanese language signs are also all in Romaji, a representation of the sounds of Japanese in western characters which is helpful for getting around and attempting pronunciations! In addition the Metro has a handy 24hr travel pass which makes life easier for the weary traveler. As we travelled across the city on the metro we passed traditional houses, high-rises and temples and Guy’s face was one of curiosity and wonder. We arrived at our hotel the APA Ueno, which was ideally placed half way between Haneda and Narita Airports in the Asakusabashi area of the city.
After dropping our bags at the hotel we headed out into the city. We had arrived on a public holiday and it was a surreal feeling to be in a city with a population of almost 14 million and be walking empty streets. Soon we found some of the infamous vending machines of Japan, I opted for a hot coffee which was much needed after our early start, Guy had a Fanta although we couldn’t decipher what flavour it was meant to be! After our refreshment break we continued to Asakusa a district famous for the Sensoji temple. Turns out on public holidays everyone goes to the temples to pray so here we found what seemed like the majority of the population of Japan! Passing through the Thunder gate and into the narrow shopping street we were funnelled towards the temple. Police were there with megaphones controlling the flow of people into the temple. Although something of a swarm we were swept along gently in waves of people until we made our way into the temple itself. Inside Sensoji, dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy, we made our own offering bowing twice – clapping twice – praying – bowing once more. Owing to the size of the crowds the usual gentle dropping of coins into the collection boxes had become crowds throwing coins overhead into a central collection sheet. Quite the sight to witness, we felt very lucky. Around the temple we found a vast array of food stalls to choose from including grilled sardines on sticks, we opted for the safer option of chicken and noodles instead and it did not disappoint. From the relative calm away from the queues we took in the graceful sloping roof of the temple, the bright colours and the elegant five tiered pagoda adjacent to it before heading out of the crowds.
Continuing on foot we made our way to the nearby Sumida river bank where we ambled along, unfortunately jet lag was beginning to set in and we sat for sometime in something of a daze before heading across the city to Ueno Park. Famous for its cherry blossom in spring the park has a number of museums and temples within it. We visited the Shinto shrine of Toshogu dedicated to Inari (a collective of the principle kami, or spirits of the Shinto religion) via a tunnel of Torii gates which mark the transition from the profane to the sacred. Surrounding the shrine were a huge number of fox statues; kitsune, the foxes are known as Inari’s messengers. Once again a huge line of people waited patiently to pay their respects to Inari. We continued through the park past the Shinobazu Pond and out into the mêlée of the city once more.
Returning to our hotel we checked in and headed to the tenth floor. Space is something of a premium in Tokyo and our room was a prime example of this. With a double bed pushed into the corner and the desk top in line with the end of the bed we had little more than a metre wide corridor to move in. With four bags between us this made for some excellent under desk Tetris! Despite the size the room was quiet and comfortable and everything our jet lag was craving. The small bathroom that jutted off the side of the room included both a sit in bath, shower and the always enjoyable Japanese toilet (you can read more about that one in my blog Tales of a Tokyo Toilet).
Following showers and dinner at a local restaurant we finally gave in to sleep, our bodies attempting to adjust ready for day two.