After months of working in Yokohama, and having very little success making any real friends, we were very happy to have the chance to host our friend from Australia for two weeks. As the Kantō area is vast and there are so many things to experience there, we decided to embrace the Japanese concept of omotenashi, and create an experience where she should “want for nothing”.
Our friend loved the idea, and so when she arrived at the end of July, we had her welcome pack ready, including a schedule written up with a list of amazing places and foods that would fill our next two weeks. This post will be a basic outline of the adventures we had together. It was strange to feel like tourists in our own city, but it really reminded us how much beauty and culture Japan had to offer us. This was very uplifting after being homesick and overworked for a few months. I would recommend any of these places to any foreigners living in the Kantō region, or even any tourists who are coming to Japan for a vacation.
We started in Northern Tokyo, in the Asakusa area. Asakusa is a thriving suburb on the banks of the Sumida river. The major attraction here is the beautiful Sensōji temple complex. As our friend arrived late, we had a chance to wander through the temple complex at night. The vastness of the temple precinct was so much more obvious at night when there were no people around. After a (rather expensive) sushi dinner, we headed back to our ryokan hotel. We had a traditional room with tatami mats and futon to sleep on. I would recommend this kind of accommodation to anyone visiting Japan, even if you can only stay for one night.
We started the day back at Sensōji temple. We thought it would be best to start our journey together by asking Jizō-san for his protection and blessings. As the spiritual guide for travellers, he has played a big role in our journey here in Japan, and our friend was excited to learn how to honour him in the traditional way. After exploring the complex for a few hours and eating a lot of green tea and grape flavoured shaved ices to help escape the awful heat, we made our way down to the river to get a futuristic river ferry down to Odaiba Island.
The island itself is covered with many amazing attractions, from Venus Fort, a mall made to look like the streets of ancient Venice, to an enormous Ferris wheel (which I made the mistake of suggesting we go on) and the Miraikan, or ‘National Museum for Emerging Science and Innovation’. We spent the afternoon and evening here before heading back to our ryokan by monorail and subway.
Venus Fort Mall on Odaiba
For our third and final day staying in Tokyo, we spend the morning looking at souvenir shops, and went up Japan’s highest tower the Sky Tree. This tower is 634 metres tall and looks out over the vast expanse of Tokyo. For people from a relatively small city like Sydney, it is always amazing to see such an intensely built up area from above. It just goes on forever. Unfortunately, the Summer in Japan is so humid that the air becomes hazy, and although we had a great view, we couldn’t see more than twenty kilometres or so.
In the afternoon we went to Ueno park and had a wander around the amazing lotus flower covered lake, and to the Benten shrine. The humidity soon started getting to us though (it was 28 degrees and over 90 percent humidy), so we decided it was time for the one hour trip home to Yokohama.
We spent the evening eating homemade takoyaki (balls of savory fried pancake batter filled with octopus) and drinking our homemade umeshū which we had made in the rainy season. As it was too hot to sleep, we then went down to the park to let off some fireworks; a perfectly legal pastime in the Japanese Summer. That is unless you do it until two in the morning as we did…
The policeman was very nice and said he was glad we were having a good night, but perhaps it would be better for us to let them off earlier in the night next time.
After a well needed sleep in (we may have finished off the two litres of umeshū), we got on the train back into Central Tokyo. We looked around the Yūrakucho area where the Japanese salarymen go to eat after a long day at work (often before returning to work again in the evening). This area is known for its many bars and eateries underneath the train tracks. We found a delicious little place tucked away in a very shady looking tunnel.
Exploring the underground maze of tunnels together.
After lunch we walked a few blocks to the central Tokyo area where the buildings tower over the roads and give pedestrians the feeling that they are walking through an immense canyon of glass and metal. It is such a futuristic looking place, and it really filled us with awe. We felt like we were on the set of a film, rather than in the middle of a real city.
Our evening was very special. We arrived at our traditional Obon dance class at around five in the afternoon. After being dressed in our traditional Japanese summer kimonos, or yukata, we spent about an hour learning three traditional Japanese dances. The dances were simple and fun to do.
Bon dancing is a Summer past time that originated as a part of a festival for Ancestor veneration. Now, for most people, it is just a fun way to pass a hot summer night. Our dance was hosted at Honganji temple in Tsukiji. A huge central platform was set up to host the experienced dancers, mostly older women from the area, whom the guests would watch and mimic during the dance. This made it very easy to pick up the steps to new dances. Around the platform were the taikō drummers; and then the guests, including us, all danced in a circle around them.
We danced through the night’s heat for hour and hours, until we could barely walk anymore. Then we chose to walk anyway, to a magical Alice in Wonderland café in the Ginza district. We made it home on the last train and I thought I would never walk again.
After a well deserved sleep in, we lounged around the house until the late afternoon, and then made our way down to Yokohama bay to see the view from the Landmark Tower. It was a shock to see mount Fuji from the tower (a very rare sight in the middle of summer), and we all felt very lucky to have had the chance. (See a photo in my previous post)
We then spent the evening at a small theme park at Yokohama marina called ‘Cosmo World‘. Luckily, I wasn’t forced onto another Ferris wheel. Our day at Odaiba had really cemented in my phobia surrounding the awful things.
View of Cosmo World from Landmark Tower
After a very relaxed evening we had a leisurely walk up to Yokohama Chinatown for an all you can eat Cantonese dinner before heading home to catch up on some sleep.
I’ll continue with day six in my next post.
Let yourself get lost for a while.