So we were in Tokyo. Or were we? Arriving at Narita airport, you’d think you were anywhere but. Looking out of the window of the train we see green fields and hills. Even a windmill. Not exactly a high tech metropolis.
Even when we arrived at Asakusa station we thought we might be in the wrong city. Where were all the neon signs and girls dressed like anime characters?
All we saw were very quiet, exceptionally clean streets with hardly anyone around.
We checked into our amazing capsule hostel and went on a search for food. This is where we got a bit scared – there were no shortage of restaurants but they were all very small with no English or any indication of what they served or prices – slightly unnerving.
We were a bit despondent – is this what Japan was going to be like for us? Somewhere we’d struggle to get around and feed ourselves. We’d been travelling for 10 months, this was hardly the first time we’d been outside out comfort zones.
Eventually we found Matsuya, a Japanese fast food chain, managed to eat some donburi (meat on rice) and vowed to be more adventurous the next day.
Our first day started with a walk around Asakusa’s biggest attraction – Senso-ji Buddhist temple. It draws huge crowds and is what you expect from a Japanese temple – the distinctive building style, a pagoda and manicured gardens.
Then we headed to Shibuya. This is where we saw the Tokyo we expected. The one you see in films. Huge neon signs, pounding pachinko parlours, the famous scramble crossing. It’s all here.
We wandered down some back alleys and found ourselves in a Sushi restaurant. Not just any sushi restaurant, not even a conveyer one. Nope, in this one you ordered via a tablet in front of you and your sushi arrived minutes later on a little train. It was good. Better than any sushi I’d had in England before. The fish on the nigiri was delicious and fresh. How was this possible for 129 yen per plate? This wasn’t even the cheapest place!
Stuffed with sushi we walked towards Meiji Shrine. But not before we passed a pram full of cats. Because Japan.
The shrine is set in a huge forest and was stunning. We saw our first Torii (the gate at the entrance to a Shinto shrine), something we would see countless more of throughout our stay in Japan.
We headed next door to Yoyogi park as the sun set, and strolled around for a while. As the cold set in, we made our way back to the crazy side of Shibuya and visited the Golden Gai – a network of small alleyways filled with tiny bars. This was the only place that disappointed us – there was no atmosphere and nothing going on there despite being evening.
Our day finished with some people watching at the scramble crossing, and a (fairly expensive) beer at the Kirin Ichiban Garden – a semi pop up beer garden.
It had been a hectic day, and in contrast to the night before we felt completly comfortable with Tokyo. We knew already that we loved Japan and couldn’t wait to see what the next 3 weeks brought.