Left: details in the backstreets of Harajuku
Right: Details of the Meiji Shrine
Japan had been on our travel wishlist for as long as I can remember, so in order to have a reason to go and splash out on a great adventure we got married. And hopped on a plane to Japan within 48 hours of saying I do! Just kidding about the reason we got married though, I'm so proud and honoured I get to share my life with my wonderful human being Chris.
Everyone has their own idea of the ideal post wedding escape, often involving picture perfect beaches and palm trees. That's not us. One: because I almost get a sunburn as soon as I leave the house. Two: Hubby and me are too impatient to lie on the beach, and basically can't deal with doing nothing, unless it is sleeping for 2 days in a 5 star hotel to recover from all the wedding madness. So instead we thought, why not give ourselves a good old culture shock and explore a country that is as unknown to us as having cured pork intestines for breakfast (yes for real, but that's for another blog).
As I've got too many beautiful images to share to put in one post, I'll be dedicating a blog to each city we visited. It's no way a complete travel guide to Japan, but it certainly contains some great discoveries, and I hope one day you'll be looking up some of these spots when you're about to hop on a plane to the country of cherry blossoms and sushi!
City of 35 million people. What better way to recover from a wedding and the biggest jet lag ever experienced?
You book a splash out hotel where you can just stay in and do nothing. I mean, nothing except sleep, eat your leftover wedding cake (yes I took a tupperware box of it because I can't bare throwing away food), and use the spa. Usually we travel pretty cheaply, sleeping in the car if we need or want to (okay that only happened once and it was awful), but we somehow thought that wouldn't really fit this occasion. To be honest, if you book at the right time, even the most luxurious hotels in Tokyo go for normal prices, and we were pretty lucky we found ourselves a lovely room in the Conrad hotel. After getting ourselves a 'just married' upgrade, with the lovely view below and complementary honeymoon cake, we dozed off into pamper heaven...
[EAT] Ginza Bairin - 7 Chome-8-1 Ginza, 中央区 Tokyo 104-0061, Japan
Fantastic Katsu Don, the most tender pork loin and very well priced.
[STAY] Conrad Tokyo - 1 Chome-9-1 Higashishinbashi, Minato, Tokyo 105-7337, Japan
Beautifully modern 5-star hotel with spa, panoramic city views and the best service I've had in any hotel so far.
View from our room at the Conrad // Room details
[EAT] Ichiran - 1 Chome-22-7 Jinnan, 渋谷区 Tokyo 150-0041, Japan
Okay, usually I'm all about supporting local and small businesses, but this one is quite an experience. Ichiran is a Tonkotsu Ramen chain, so you'll find them in more places other than this one in Shibuya. Like at many ramen restaurants, you order and pay at the machine and give your tickets to the server. In this particular chain, you also fill in a form about how you want your noodles done, level of spiciness etc, when you sit down in your single booth. After your ramen arrives the server closes the little 'shopwindow' in front of your seat so you can slurp away in peace. And the ramen are lush!
There are so many amazing ramen places, established ones and new ones popping up all the time all over town, so it's quite impossible to track them down sometimes. So just head out and pop in somewhere!
Ramen at my personal dining booth at Ichiran // The busy Shibuya crossing at night
[EAT] Sometaro Okonomiyaki - 2 Chome-2-2 Nishiasakusa, 台東区 Tokyo 111-0035, Japan
I have a big love for savoury food over sweet, so these savoury Japanese pancakes are one of the ways to my heart. You can pick from several flavours, we had one with normal pork and one with ginger (LOVE), you sit on the floor, and you make the pancakes yourself.
Entrance and empty plates at Sometaro Okonomiyaki
Escaping the city
Tokyo, but also Japan in general, is a place of opposites and contrasts. Busy markets and shopping streets are countered by temples, shrines and parks. Harajuku girls, cosplay characters and robots share this beautiful land with monks and businessmen and women. Never have I visited a country where tradition and the future, nature and human development co-exist in such harmony. To escape the busy city and get some peace and quiet we visited some of the extraordinary parks and shrines that Tokyo has to offer.
[DO] Shinjuku Gyoen - 11 Naitōmachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to 160-0014, Japan
In this national garden you can find a mix of the traditional Japanese, English and the French Gardens. It's a perfect place to enjoy an afternoon away from the city.
[DO] Meiji Jingu - 1-1 Yoyogikamizonochō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 151-8557, Japan
This shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, and is located next to Harajuku. The shrine is free to enter, but there are beautiful inner gardens as well where a small fee must be paid. In these gardens you can also find Kiyomasa's Well, which is believed to be one of Tokyo's strongest positive power spots.
Left & Centre: Details of Shinjuku Gyoen
Right: Writing our wishes at the offering hall at Meiji Jingu
Tsukiji Fish Market
[DO] Tsukiji Fish Market - 5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
I admit. We didn't get up (or stay awake ) at 2AM to get to the tuna auction you can watch as a visitor. The awkward time difference between the UK and Japan made sure we had a pretty bad jet lag, and we just couldn't part with our bed just yet. If you do want to watch the famous tuna auction, you have to get to the fish market for about 3AM, get in, and wait until 5:25AM until the first auction, or 5:50AM for the second. Also note that the number of visitors is limited to 120 per day, on a first come first serve basis.
Details of the old Tsukiji Fish Market
Instead, we slept like babies until 7:30, had breakfast and headed to the market for 9AM. From around this time you can enter the wholesale market as most of the busy trading has finished. But not to worry, there is still so much to see! I wouldn't want to be there any earlier, as you'd be interfering with people trying to do business. Now we could walk around, admire fish and seafood we'd never seen before, take photos whilst dodging the scooters zipping around to pick up and drop off fish. Believe me, those drivers are mad and you have to fear for your life. I hope you get the chance to visit the market before it moves to it's new location in 2017/18 as the old structure is just as impressive as the fish market itself.
Now I'm jumping from the start of our trip to the last. After our travels to Kyoto, Hiroshima and Hakone (where I'll be writing blogs about as well) we returned to Tokyo for the last leg of our wonderful time in Japan. As we explored a lot of the more well known areas of Tokyo at the start of our trip, we decided to stay a bit more local this time. First stop, the neighbourhood of Iriya. Great location to roam the backstreets, yet still so close to public transport in case you do want to get around the city.
[STAY] Edo Sakura ( 3 Chome-2-13 Shitaya, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 110-0004, Japan )
Minimalist, understated traditional Japanese rooms, and that includes sleeping on futons! Great hotel with lovely staff, most of them speaking English (which is something we really got to appreciate during our time here!).
[FOOD] Banninriki 万人力 ( Japan, 〒110-0013 Tōkyō-to, Taitō-ku, Iriya, 1 Chome−24, 入谷1-24-2 )
I'm going to say this over and over again, all the ramen we had were fantastic. This one was slightly different to the ramen we were used to, as it's a dry ramen with little bit of sauce at the bottom instead of noodles in soup. I love ordering it with a half boiled egg, which just adds an amazing creaminess to the dish. I guess you could almost say it's a Japanese version of carbonara (please forgive me!). Plus I can never stop myself from ordering all the toppings, like fermented bamboo shoots, spring onion and nori. And of course the pork! Fun fact here again is that you order from a vending machine. They'll give you an English translation card, but it still doesn't always make sense. Just experiment, or try to figure out which button is the most worn, must be popular then!
Ramen at Banninriki with a heaven of toppings: fermented bamboo, half boiled egg, nori and spring onion.
And a beer, as it would be rude not to.
If I had to pick a place in Tokyo to live, it could well be here! For the last night we decided to treat ourselves to a stay in the worlds first design hotel Claska, in the lovely neighbourhood of Meguro. For those who know me personally, the place is filled with vintage shops and independent boutiques, so I easily could have spent all my money here, I'm in heaven.
Exploring Meguro on our funky (complementary!) bikes from Claska
Bringing me back down to earth hubby suggested we take the complementary Claska Bikes and explore Tokyo in a new way. And to be honest, cycling in Tokyo feels like a breeze after getting used to London traffic. It's like being back in Holland! (except for I can't read any signs and it's a lovely 25 degrees C).
Pastel dreams at Claska Tokyo
[STAY] Claska, Japan, 〒152-0001 Tōkyō-to, Meguro-ku, Chūōchō, 1 Chome−1−3−18
[SHOP] The area of Takaban, filled with lot's of vintage clothing shops and foods of all sorts.
[SHOP] Walk or cycle along Meguro Dori towards the Otori Shrine and you'll find vintage interior shops dotted around either side of the street. And don't forget to visit the shop in Claska!
[EAT] Senba Meguro 〒153-0064 Tōkyō-to, Meguro-ku, Shimomeguro, 6 Chome−1−24
Local recommendation. Very small restaurant with daily changing menu, where the chef gives his take on Japanese cuisine with the freshest ingredients. Imagine scallop sashimi, Japanese beef stew and grilled tuna on the bone with Japanese grated radish. Have your Japanese phrasebook or Google translate by your side, as the owners do not speak a word of English, but that's part of the experience. They were the loveliest most genuine people you could imagine, and rushed to one of the other Japanese guests who turned out to speak English, and who started to translate the entire menu for us. We ended up saying: we'll have what you're having. Best decision!
The neighbourhood of Meguro is filled with quirky architecture, tucked away cafes and vintage shops.
That's it for Tokyo, for now! Soon I'll be sharing our adventures and tips for Kyoto, Hiroshima and Hakone as well.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear what your favourite spots are in Japan!