Japan is karaoke crazy, but unfortunately we did not have enough time to try it ourselves. Actually where we had quite a fun night was at an Irish pub. We met Raymond, a friend of Tony from Donegal, Ireland who has been living in Tokyo for many years. Raymond was really nice and hospitable. He invited us to a local small traditional Yakitori (burnt meat on a stick) restaurant. It was delicious and it was an authentic Japanese experience. As a good Irish, Raymond took us afterwards to an Irish Pub. A Guinness became two and three, and whiskey… and we missed the last metro of the day! Oh oh, we had to do the unthinkable, get back to our hotel by taxi. The price of a taxi ride in Tokyo is exorbitant. We could have gone and spend the night in an internet cafe instead, but we didn’t. Internet cafes in Tokyo are crazy places as well. People who miss the metro or trains spend the night in them. You get a computer and dvd player in a closed booth that has quite a comfortable sofa to sleep in. It was really a strange concept, and men and women are separated by floors. There are showers and vending machines for food and drinks.
In Japan you can get anything from a vending machine, even hot coffee, but not from a glass, from a can that is hot. We even went to a restaurant where we had to select our food from a vending machine, and once we got the ticket we handed it in to the waitress, who promptly brought our food. Nothing is in english so figuring it out was no easy task. I am crazy about sushi so I had a mission to eat as much of it as possible. I thought there would be a sushi restaurant in every corner, but surprisingly there weren’t. We finally found one with the revolving band, and then a “standing sushi bar”, a tiny place where people stand around the chef and he makes your pieces and delivers them to you in a green leaf, then you leave; all very fast. Service is impeccable in Japan, and they do not expect or accept any tips, excellence comes by nature. We love this culture! We also discovered that where we could get really good, fresh and not so expensive sushi at the supermarkets, so I indulged quite a bit! Tony was happy as well as there were plenty of French boulangeries to satisfy his sweet tooth.One of the main highlights of a visit to Japan is attending the auction at the Tsukiji fish market. A lot of the fish sold in the world goes through here. To do this we had to take a taxi before 4 am to Tsukiji. Only 140 people separated into two groups are allowed daily to watch it. We were there at 4:15 and already there was a big queue. We were fortunate to get in, as many people just minutes after us were turned away. If you make the effort of getting up so early and paying a taxi (only possible way that early), might as well get there really early. Since we were in the second group we had to queue for an hour in freezing temperatures. When we were finally allowed in, we saw an interesting video explaining the history and present operations of the market. The auction in itself went by really quick. Experts placed live bids at the auction, the loud tuna auction being the highlight. It was really worth getting up so early for. Previous to the auction we saw the expert bidders carefully examining the huge tuna fish. Once the auction is over, the thing to do is head to the sushi eateries in the market. Apparently there are some eateries better than the others, where the queues to get a seat were more than 4 hours long. Personally I think that they are all the same, and only because an eatery was mentioned in a guidebook I was not willing to queue more than 5 minutes. In any case, if it was of better quality, I am no expert, so I wouldn’t have known the difference. Besides the queue, the prices were just ridiculous. A small plate of mixed sashimi (no blue fin or anything of the sort) had an average price of 40 Euros. Tony still wanted to try it, so we went into an eatery that was full of locals and no queue. Afterwards I ate my sashimi at the market, which was a 5 minute walk away from Tsujiki and for 7 Euros only. We also found a very famous and delicious noodle shop nearby to fill our half empty stomachs. Afterwards we went back to Tsukiji which was entirely open to the public by then to see the fish sales to the public. Never had we seen so many different types of seafood, including giant oysters which I still crave for. Another must in Japan is trying the different accommodations. We stayed in a “normal” hotel the first nights but we had to try something different. The normal hotel has the tiniest rooms imaginable, smaller than those in a cruise ship. You could not walk around the bed even. It had a bathtub, suitable for the size of a 4 year old at most. The highlight in Japan of course are the toilets, which do everything from massaging you, fanning you to playing tunes. Then for one night we slept at the capsule hotel. The main concept of it is to provide a rest for a night, especially for Japanese men who did not make the metro or train. Most are for men only, so we had a hard time finding a mixed one. Check in time is after 9 pm and check out before 9am. We paid the student price which was about 18 Euros each and were given funny slippers to change into, as we had to deposit our shoes in lockers. Men and women are separated by floors. There is a common bathroom in each floor which has normal Western showers and also the typical Japanese baths, which are basically common pools heated to a very high temperature. At 2:30 am they were great as I was the only one in them. Each floor had about 40 capsules one after the other, in two rows The capsule in itself is quite tiny, it has a mattress on the floor, a towel, sheets and a warm blanket, all extremely neat and clean. As well a kimono is provided. There is a tv (put coins in to turn it on), and a small fan. It was comfortable enough, but I hardly got any sleep. I went to bed early, the first one in the capsule; but after midnight most people (some drunk) came in so it got noisy. Secondly, I had no alarm, and next morning we had to be up by 3 am for Tsukiji, so I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up and had no way of communicating with Tony either. Yet another highlight was watching the sunset over the snowy peak of Mount Fuji in Tokyo. This can be done for free from the Municipal Government buildings. We strolled through Kagurazaka district which is a complete different pace than the rest of Tokyo. It’s a quiet, traditional and well preserved district. It has beautiful residential areas, which have delicately trimmed gardens. As well, we saw many different temples; some Buddhist, but very different style than the rest of Asia. A famous and big temple we visited in Tokyo was Senso-Ji, in Asakusa, another old nice district. In Senso-Ji we did a traditional ritual which gives you your fortune. Tony got the best fortune possible, and I got the opposite. So I did what the Japanese do, leave my fortune behind and tie it in the temple so the wind takes it away.
A visit to Tokyo would not be complete without a visit to Ginza, one of the world’s top 10 most expensive shopping areas by square meter in the world. All the famous brands have their own buildings. I was not really impressed by the products they sell, which can be found anywhere in the world, but by the incredible architecture and design of the buildings. Personally I was impressed by the Hermes building, a rectangular high rise building, its exterior made all of transparent bath style tiles. Again, in Ginza, you can witness the high fashion of its population, including the canines.It was time to continue our journey to Kyoto by riding the fastest train in the world, the famous bullet train. We left Tokyo behind, but there were so many things left undone. We are definitely returning to Tokyo, next time with a big budget and a big month! Japan is now battling South Africa for my favorite country visited.