I’m back from Japan and have to say the wrench I felt leaving was worse than any holiday I’ve ever had before. I fell in love with Tokyo while I was there. Really. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed visiting a new city as much as Tokyo, but it’s difficult to say why.
So what was so great about it?
From my perspective, Tokyo has the perfect mix of history, modernity, people and things to see and do. From day one, we experienced nothing but friendliness and help from everyone we encountered: people on the street, in restaurants, shops, museums. Basically, anyone I interacted with was helpful and polite.
Bus drivers, shop assistants, hotel staff…they all seemed to want to do their very best to help out two clueless visitors from London. Despite our almost complete lack of Japanese (nothing beyond “hello”, “thank you”, “please”, “coffee” and “toilet”….I only learned the essentials!) we managed to communicate effectively wherever we went. I put this down mostly to our hosts’ strong desire to make visitors feel welcome and not stumble where language was an issue.
What were the highlights?
A day trip to Mount Fuji was incredible. I’m not someone who enjoys guided tours, but this was just perfect. A bus from Tokyo, halfway up Mount Fuji, then down to a nearby lake in Hakone for a quick cruise, then back to Tokyo by Shinkansen bullet train. We saw beautiful countryside, stunning panoramas from Mount Fuji and a (for me, at least) thrilling journey on a speedy train. We went with Grey Line Tours and I would definitely recommend them to anyone who doesn’t have a local to show them around.
An evening in Akihabara, the “electric town” in Tokyo was also an eye-opener. The sheer volume of electronics stores was mind-blowing as was the choice on offer in each. I can honestly say I’ve never seen such a selection of mobile phones in my life. And while tempted to splurge on gadgets, I reined myself in and limited it to just caressing the gadgets where they sat.
A morning spent in an Onsen, enjoying hot springs, saunas and massive amounts of relaxation in a traditional Japanese spa. I’ll say it now: I was a little worried about breaking the various rules and regulations, but some pre-reading helped me out here, as did the incredibly friendly staff at the onsen itself. The trick is just to watch what others are doing and take their lead.
Yes, you’re required to go clothes-free, but I spent so much of my time trying to understand the process and rules, I quick forgot about the nudity. Anyway, I’ve always found it to be a great leveller and after a while I genuinely forgot I was naked. My only mistake of the visit? Moving directly from a 40C bath to an 18C bath.
That was bracing.
And there was no going back. It was down a single staircase, with three guys queuing behind me. I had to grin and bear it. As I said, it was bracing. But made the 80C sauna a few minutes later all the more welcome. A really chilled out and relaxing experience and if there was a similar facility on offer in London, I’d be a paid-up member in a flash.
(And obviously, I’ve not photos from my trip to the onsen. Probably best for all concerned, really…)
And then there was the Robot Restaurant. Dinner while watching women and robots “fight” to amazingly cheesy music. It’s not half as exploitative as it sounds and is genuinely laugh-a-minute good fun. My description just can’t do it justice – check out their website for a flavour of how bonkers it really is.
Beautiful Ueno Park, Tokyo National Museum, Asakusa, Rippongi Hills and Shinjuku and its madness. Honestly, there wasn’t a single district we visited that I didn’t like. All different, all fun.
There were just too many experiences to summarise in a single post like this, but believe me I’d recommend Tokyo to anyone. It’s accessible, easy to navigate by public transport (London Underground could learn a thing or two from the Tokyo metro) and full of friendly people. Learn a few words of Japanese and go with an open mind.
I’ll definitely be going back. Eight days was just not enough to do it justice. Next time, I’d like to see more of the country and head out to Kyoto as well.
Thanks Tokyo, for an excellent holiday. Hope to see you again soon!