2019 - Japan - Day 2
Our first full day in Japan started late. I didn’t wake up until 8.30am and then woke up Karen at 8.50am. She had managed over 12 hours sleep and so we were hopeful we had dealt with the jet lag. How wrong that was to prove.
We had to have a traffic light signal to move about the Hotel room. When I wanted to move out of the 2 square foot spot that Karen had allocated me, I had to formally request permission, otherwise gridlock ensured.
The bathroom was bijoux as well but well equipped. It had an enormous step up to it which was presumably to cater for the pipework that had to be retrofitted after the buildings conversion.
After our daily absolutions we made our way down to breakfast which was in the Pasta restaurant attached to the Hotel. The choice of food was interesting and 90% of it not to our taste. There appeared to be things bubbling away in water, but we had no idea what they were. There was plenty of rice and sweetcorn available, all of which we ignored. I went for the scrambled eggs, which wasn’t bad, just cold. There was a weird toaster oven that we used to heat some bread. There was a selection of various teas available including a coffee flavoured tea. What is the point of that? You could just have the coffee that was available. Sadly there was no English Breakfast tea, so I settled for Darjeeling which wasn’t too bad. Karen tried some cereal and decided it tasted better than it looked.
We had made an assumption that we would be up early and therefore intended to go straight to the Tokyo Skytree Tower (highest Tower in the world), as apparently later in the day there can be a two hour wait to go up it. Despite it being around 10.30am when we left the Hotel Room after cleaning our teeth, we thought we would go and look at the Tower anyhow. At Kanda Station we purchased 1 Day subway passes after more confusion of trying to use the wrong machine. They all looked the same to us but were probably clearly labelled with Japanese script on them.
After catching the subway to Akakusa Station we crossed the Sumida River and headed for the enormous tower. Although it was difficult to miss it, there was a myriad of buildings in front of it so when we passed an Information centre we popped in to get precise directions. As ever the people inside were so delighted to be able to assist us. They told us a short cut through some municipal building which was interesting.
When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to find there was no queue whatsoever, and so purchased combo tickets to go up to the two viewing decks. It only took 50 seconds to go up Floor 350 (Floors numbered by meters up). Whilst it was busy on that floor it was easy to move around. The only downside was the mist or fog or smog which meant whilst we could see Tokyo quite clearly, we couldn’t see the Mountains further away.
Nevertheless it was flipping high and flipping impressive. We took lots of photos before going down to the 340 floor and standing on the glass platform. Karen was very brave and actually stood with none of the hysterics from when we were up the CNN Tower in Toronto. After this we used the rest of our combo ticket and went up even further to the 450m Floor. The view was the same just even higher. The lift up to this was most impressive having both a glass door and ceiling.
The set up on this floor was rather strange. The floor was not level and as you walked around you spiralled up even higher. On the inner walls was a celebratory exhibition of Hello Kitty. Many Japanese were paying much more attention to that rather than the view itself. We thought she was a rip off of Miffy (or was it the other way around?)
The journey down was fine and we came out into the obligatory gift shop which had the usual tat, apart from the official Tokyo 2020 Olympic merchandise section which was interesting.
At the base of the Tower was a shopping mall and a food court. We wandered around in hope but couldn’t find anything that looked vaguely appetising to us. Then we spotted a posher supermarket place on the level below. It had various outlets that sold lots of more recognisable and appealing food.
We ended up buying some lovely fresh crusty bread and some battered prawns and whitefish. We sat and ate this in the Rest Area provided. We didn’t purchase any drinks here as Karen had spotted a Starbucks on the ground floor outside Tower and so we headed there to her a coffee and me a reviving cup of tea. Karen went and ordered and then rejected the first offering after they made my tea with steamed milk and then randomly apparently added a shot of something to it. I could hear her repeating herself saying just hot water and the tea bag please. She got there in the end.
We then thought we would go to Ueno Park, which houses the zoo and a couple more famous shrines. To get back to Asakusa station we thought we would take the monorail. However apparently our 1 day travel anywhere subway pass didn’t cover that so we ended up paying again. The park was busy as there was some food festival on. After sitting by the fountains for a while we made our way over to the zoo. Sadly last admissions was at 4pm. We hadn’t planned to actually go in, but would have liked to see the Giant Pandas. Then when we saw that it cost less than £5 to get into the whole zoo we kicked ourselves for not getting there earlier as it would have been worth that just to see the Pandas. Instead I pretended to Karen I could see them through a gap in the fence wandering about smoking cigars saying 'thank goodness
all those humans have left'.
We walked and saw a Five Story Pagoda and then went to the Shrine. Here we cleansed ourselves as instructed and then showed our reverence by bowing and clapping the correct number of times. We weren’t the only ones doing it but I did wonder if it was a little trick they just put on a sign in English so they can laugh at the stupid tourists. Rather poignantly the shrine had an eternal flame that was lit from the fires from the devastation at Hiroshima that they have managed to keep burning.
After this we wandered to look at the Park Ponds before walking back to Ueno station to go to Roppongi on the Subway. When we failed to get through the barriers we were then told that our '1 day Subway go anywhere pass' wasn’t valid on this line either. I didn’t moan about it at all.
Fortunately a helpful lady who explained this to us then showed us how to get to our destination via a different route. This worked fine. The reason for going to Roppongi was there was an Outback Steakhouse there! We found the restaurant easily and ordered the usual Outback special. The only difference being was that you got two sides plus a salad with your order. We marvelled at this additional side for ages. The food was good albeit about 50% extra cost than we usually pay in the USA.
Once we paid the bill we stood outside at a busy crossroads watching the traffic, the neon lights and the billboards. The weather was still warm and we felt perfectly safe standing there before catching the subway back to Kanda.
As we got off the train and literally came out of the station we could hear lots of shouting and commotion. It turned out to be the very start of a large Traditional Samurai Festival that happens every 2 years called the Kanda Matsuri. There were lots of people in Samurai dress chanting and various various shrines. It looked hard work to me but a lot of fun. If we had been five minutes earlier or later we would have missed it so timing was everything.
After sorting ourselves out once back in the room we were in bed by 11pm, both tired but content after a good first day.
So far I like Japan. All the people are so helpful, friendly and courteous. The difficulties we have had have been of our own making in not understanding the written or spoken language. On the subway it was amazing to sneakily watch people messaging each other using the Japanese script. To my uneduacated eyes it looks impossible to learn. It is so different to ours. I wonder what it is easier, ours or theirs? The food situation will be an ongoing challenge but that's our fault as well.Still not sure about all the people wearing masks but that can wait until another day.