We are beginning to feel much too much like locals here in Tokyo. We were even stopped in the street today and asked for directions, of which we could provide straight away. Probably better than I could for the Sydney CBD. I think it must be time to leave soon…
After being fortunate enough to spot Mount Fuji from the top of the SkyTree on our first day in Tokyo, we decided to try our luck again and see if we could catch a glimpse of it a little closer up by taking a trip to Hakone, a small village about an hour and half trip out of a Tokyo. Rising earlier than we have generally been getting up on this trip (it has been too cold!), we managed to navigate our way to the station and get on the right Shinkansen, headed out of town. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not looking as clear as the train station signs, helping us seamlessly change lines, and as a result when we arrived at the ticket office in Hakone we noticed the live camera showing Mount Fuji was just a bunch of clouds. Determined not to make the trip a waste, however, we took the opportunity to visit an onsen (traditional Japanese public bath) – an absolute must do on a trip in Japan.
If our nerves weren’t already getting the better of us at the start, we almost accidentally walked into the men’s change room before a very sweet staff member came chasing after us. Once pointed in the right direction, and shown a list of the rules, we very awkwardly giggled our way to the baths. Once submerged in the beautifully hot pools, the awkwardness soon washed away and we were able to enjoy the experience and marvel at the steam rising from the water and ourselves as we chilled outside in nothing but our birthday suits. It felt ridiculous putting all our layers back on while we still felt boiling after the baths, and we quickly understood why onsens are still so popular in Japanese culture today. Plus whatever was in the water managed to clean all our silver jewellery and make it really shiny! Added bonus!
As we headed back into the centre of Hakone with red faces and most of our jackets and jumpers in our hands, we decided to give Mount Fuji a shot. A forty minute bus ride through the mountains later, and we arrived to a view of clouds. I was at least pleased to see snow piled up on the side of the road – a small taster of what is to come in Sapporo and a chance to practice making snowballs and snow sculptures. Bring it on Sapporo Snow Festival! After grabbing some food we reluctantly headed for the bus stop, good thing I looked up as we crossed the road, because Mount Fuji had decided to pop out behind some clouds and we quickly snapped a few pictures before it disappeared again! I left feeling much more satisfied than I think my bowl of noodles alone could have made me. Thanks Fuj!
Once arriving back at our hostel, we were informed by the staff, who know us all too well by now, that we were being upgraded to a private room as a treat, and once we dumped our bags in our new ‘penthouse suite’ we decided to hit Shibuya and Harajuku to celebrate. After getting a bit lost at first, we eventually turned the right corner to be hit by an assault of sights, smells and sounds. We’d found Shibuya. *Shibuya yeah yeah, Shibuya!* Overwhelmed and in awe, we watched the famous crossing, the busiest in the world, from the safety of a second storey Starbucks window with our hazelnut and whipped cream frappa-mappa-crappa-chinos. Hyped on a dangerous mixture of excitement and caffeine we hit the streets to explore Shibuya and all it’s craziness, and even got a chance to cross the intersection along with a few hundred others.
A quick subway stop away and we found the colourful and kawaii-ful Harajuku. Full of young Japanese hipsters and shops selling retro 90s getups and some of the wackiest accessories I’ve seen, Harajuku was definitely a fun area to walk through. Famous for its people-watching (dress ups and cosplay are very popular in this district) I’m afraid the cold weather meant we missed seeing some of the crazier outfits. Just another excuse to come back though I guess!
Back on the train, the 30 minute ride from one side of the city to the other flew by as I was busy laughing at the lady sitting next to me whose head kept bouncing around like a bobble-head as she dozed off. Little did I know that would be me the next day, although I wouldn’t be as skilled as her and walk up just before my stop. Thank god I have Hannah.
Another early morning, though not as early as the tuna auctioneers that start at 4.30am, we rose and left for the Tsukiji Fish Markets. Getting off the train it was easy to work out where the markets were – just stepping onto the busy sidewalk was like being picked up by a current and swept away like, well…like a school of fish I guess. How appropriate. Deciding to leave the outer market for later, we hit the serious part, and while a lot was already sold out, we managed to see heaps. Huge tunas being sliced and diced by huge knives or bandsaws, crabs that were still crawling, the biggest prawns I’ve ever seen, sea cucumbers, something I’m not sure what, clams for miles, fish in all shapes, sizes and colours, octopus, squid, and most importantly, some of the freshest, most delicious looking sashimi ever.
Once we couldn’t deny our sashimi craving any longer we hit the outer market where I got a BBQed scallop and Hannah tried a sweet egg roll again (still doesn’t like it, but kudos for trying) before we sat down for some serious sushi. The first for the day but definitely not the last; we ended up having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner that day.
After buying some pretty sick looking handcrafted knives from the fish market, we headed to Roppongi, a district known for it’s partying but also home to 21_21 Design Sight. Paying me back for my mistake at the Imperial Palace, Hannah hadn’t checked to make sure it was open and it wasn’t until we got there that we found out it was closed for three months to set up a new exhibition. She still managed to take some cool photos of the exterior of the building though, so make sure you check her out on Instagram for some awesome spatial designer wank no doubt. Just kidding. Or not. We’ll leave that to the pros, they know who they are. *insert creepy winky face*
After joining the masses and falling asleep on one of the overheated trains, we decided I could probably do with a coffee from our mate Sol. Plus we used the walk there as an opportunity to stock up on some chocolate for the 7-Eleven convenience stores that are on every corner. Literally.
Buzzed and ready for more activities, we headed out to a top secret location where we were put through our ropes in ninja training. With some weird stares and a lot of questions, we basically just ran around a department store in ninja costumes. I can’t tell you much though, or I’ll have to kill you or something ninja like that.
Back at the hostel for our final night we were very generously treated to a hand roll sushi party by the staff. We each got to make our own sushi rolls, eat soba noodles, and drink sake and plum wine. Plus it was a great opportunity to chat to people from all over the world and we got some very helpful insights into both Sapporo (Japan) and Seoul (South Korea) which are our next stops.
I’m very excited about seeing the Snow Festival in Sapporo, and have already promised countless people photos so will try to be on top of that. Hannah is still not convinced about the negative degrees yet, but fingers crossed we survive! If worse comes to worse we might just become ice statues ourselves. Could be worse things!
Bye for now, a long train ride awaits me!