Take me, Tokyo.

Tokyo, the city of neon signs and Shinto shrines, of skyscrapers and crazy newspapers. The gadgets and gismos, the foods, the kimonos. The vending machines, the trains, the architecture, the rains. The people, the shops, a city that runs by its clocks. The calm and the gentle, the chaos and the mental. A city of contradiction, constantly striving for the latest, while maintaining the traditional greatest. How does it do it, you ask? There is only one answer: It’s Tokyo.

We woke on our second morning in Tokyo to farewell one of the strangest roommates we’ve had to date. We are pretty sure she was fairly intoxicated both when she arrived and left, and while she attempted to make her bed for the first, second and third time (by putting the duvet down first, and sheet on top…), AND while she managed to devour 3 sushi rolls and 2 jellies whilst lying in bed. Once we’d attempted to wrap our heads around what we had just witnessed, we went on a hunt for a little local coffee spot we’d been recommended: Sol’s Coffee. As pros at navigating the city (and with the help of the conveniently colour-coded bridges that line the river) we found the little hole in the wall and treated ourselves to one of the best coffees I’ve had. Ever. Needless to say, Sol knew our names and coffee orders by the end of the week.

Once caffeinated, we decided to wander the streets of Asakusa around our hostel (Khaosan Kabuki). We visited the beautiful but highly touristed Senso-ji, though we later decided we preferred it at night because there were no tourists or crazy markets open. Silently, as Hannah had challenged me to stop talking, we walked around the lantern-lined lanes scouting out the best grub. I was doing well at my silent challenge until we got back to the hostel for a quick pitstop and I jumped at the chance to talk to a fellow traveller while Hannah was out of the room. Unfortunately and fortunately, James was far too interesting to talk to, and I ended up getting busted by Hannah who said she could hear me talking from the corridor. Absolutely worth it though, James was full of information and really helpful regarding things to do in Tokyo, blogging, business, cooking, and life in general really. Coincidentally, he was moving to Australia (from Canada) once he left Japan so hopefully we will meet again in the future!
IMG_0215 Near the Senso-ji

That night we met up with four other Australians (Charlie, Harry, Pat and Vince), two Americans (Alex and Eric) and a Canadian (James) at a hostel bar where we were lured by offers of free sake and plum wine. Needless to say with that mix of nationalities, things didn’t stay tame for long and before we knew it we were in a kareoke room with unlimited shots of water and water cocktails until 2am. The strange night that transpired, however, did not stop there, and we ended up in a 24hr MacDonalds talking about politics, religion and sex until 5am. Go figure.
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On a side note, amazingly one of the Australian boys is at the same uni as me, doing the same degree but a year ahead, AND happens to run The Brief magazine for the Law Society, resulting in me getting myself a job as an editor for the publication. It will be the first law-related thing added to my resume! Who would have thought traveling would provide the opportunity to progress your career! Woooo!

We woke the next morning with relatively fresh heads (more so than I imagine the multitude of men passed out cold in MacDonalds the night before would have). As the sun was shining, we decided to save some pennies and walk through Omote-sando and Ayosan, which turned out to be Hannah’s heaven. She was a very happy little munchkin after getting to snap away at architecturally famous buildings such as the Prada building, and buy copious amounts of god knows what from the organic health food stores.
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One of my favourite things about the train rides home each day is watching the people who are sleeping, which is often most people on the train, and wondering if they have ever missed their stop. But I bet they haven’t. It’s incredible to watch a commuter who looks basically unconscious open their eyes, lift their head and step off the train at their stop as if they weren’t just passed out against the window with their mouth hanging open. HOW DO THEY DO IT?!

The next morning, due to my mistake, we managed to walked the entire loop around the Imperial Palace trying to get in before I decided to actually read the guidebook, and realise that it is only open two days of the year, and that today was not one of those days. Oops. The walk got us sweating for the first time since we’ve been here though, and the joggers who were lapping us made us motivated to go for a run ourselves. When we get home, maybe. Maybe not. We did make it into one of the palace gardens however, and saw a few confused cherry blossom trees which was a welcomed surprise.

To make up for our walk, we treated ourselves to a trip to Muji. The only way I could describe Muji is as a Japanese version of IKEA. It had beautiful furniture, clothes, plants, stationary, beauty products, health foods, and a delicious cafe full of pastries. After we’d done some shopping and some eating, we walked downstairs and that’s when we discovered the rest of the shop. It had valentines gifts, jewellery, gift wrapping stations, luggage, kitchen appliances, bikes, travel ware, watches, wallets….the list goes on. If you have heard about those crazy Japanese department stores, this was one of them.
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We finished the night off with dinner with Hiroko at a ninja themed restaurant called Ninja Akasaka. When we arrived we were taken, by a ninja, through secret passageways, over bridges, through small gaps and even got to smash a door down to climb over. The whole restaurant was underground and looked like a scene from a movie. A dark ninja village fit with smoke, flame torches, bridges, swords, and most importantly, heaps of ninjas walking around the place. The food was crazy and we were even treated to a magic ninja show at our table. It was an experience I will not forget. For all the right reasons.
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The next morning something bad happened. You can tell you’ve been spending too much time with someone when you start unintentionally dressing the same. I guess it’s good for traveling when you know you’re on the same wave length as each other…but to everyone else we just looked like idiots when we walked into the common room for breakfast both wearing a striped shirt, black jeans and big fluffy socks, like some form of team uniform. To make matters worse we’d been laughing at a couple we spotted the day before who were wearing matching jumpers and shoes. Thankfully it was snowing outside so we were able to quickly cover our fashion faux pas with as many layers as we could. Once we were sufficiently wrapped up so that we could barely move, we braced the weather.
IMG_0216 That’s a wrap!

First stop was Akihabara, affectionately known as Electric Town. The streets were lined with department stores selling every gadget and gismo under the sun – electric hairbrushes, selfie-sticks in all shapes and sizes, massage machines, cameras, and things that I think were supposed to be some sort of toy. Scattered amongst the department stores were a few sex shops that contained all kinds of electronic things that I cannot even describe, but needless to say, many many many laughs were shared.
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Across the road, market stalls were filled with electrical cord, strips of neon lights, screws, globes, and tiny pieces of what I think are used to make computer hardware but to be completely real with you I have no idea. Looked amazing though. I managed to talk to someone about my GoPro and he declared it dead at 11.24am, and with it all my hopes and dreams. Thankfully we visited Tokyu Hands in Ginza next which was basically an enormous store of Japanese stationary, so I decided I’d make a scrapbook instead of a video for my time in Japan.

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After jumping back on the subway, we rode our beloved Ginza line into the sunset all the way home.

I think I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so.

Kyoto

It’s quarter past two in the afternoon and I’m lying on the couch in my hostel wearing my pyjamas. Before you judge me, Hannah is on the couch next to me passed out. So I’m doing okay. The last couple of days in Kyoto have been a whirlwind, and this trip shows no signs of slowing down. Apart from today. Today has been a very slow day. But a very deserved day.

We started the week by packing our bags, farewelling our host Mark, and hitting the subway for the next leg of our adventure. Settling into our seats on the Shinkansen, for what we expected to be a lengthy ride to the next city, ended up being a short 15 minute trip to Kyoto. Sydney should really invest in trains that travel at 220km/hr. And in trains that leave precisely when they are scheduled. It’s too easy.

Arriving in Kyoto we had no idea what to do. We had planned to read our Lonely Planet on the train ride but clearly had our reading time cut short. Nonetheless we went wandering and found the local Nishiki Markets full of fresh fruit, vegetables and meats. Freezing and hungry we found a bustling little corner and sat down for some delicious fresh ramen and soba noodles. My face was so cold I couldn’t feel that I was burning my tongue until afterwards. Worth it though. On our walk towards Kyoto Tower we walked by a Cat Cafe, and I thought of my crazy cat lady at home. For those unaware, a cat cafe is just a cafe with heaps of cats walking around. We poked our heads in the window and it looked hilarious. Oh Japan, you continue to entertain me. On we walked, past liquor stores where we checked what the damage would be for the nights that would undoubtedly be to come. $12 for a bottle of Vodka and $16 for Baileys. That was very doable.
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After following two good looking chaps from our hostel who had #swag we navigated our way to Kyoto Tower where, for what feels like the 100th time, we climbed to see an amazing 360 degree view of the city. We can’t help that we enjoy getting high! Apart from the amazing view watching the sun set and the lights come on all over the city, the tower was also great for organising the rest of our time in Kyoto, as we were able to spot the temples and districts we wanted to visit in the following days from the one convenient spot. After taking a photo with a group of random guys from Korea (the third group to ask for our photo so far!) we left and headed to the Gion district. We managed to find the district eventually but weren’t so lucky with finding any Geisha. We did however find some delicious gyozas for next to nothing, although I’m pretty sure Hannah enjoyed the condiments more than the meal – helping herself to pretty much all of what looked to me like rice bubbles. Clearly she was deprived of good old ‘Snap, Crackle and Pop’ as a child.
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Literally running home to avoid frostbite, we warmed up by sitting on the heated toilet seats and entertained ourselves by watching the Clown fish in the common room of our hostel. YES! I found Nemo! Definitely not at 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.

The next day we woke to find tiny snowflakes falling from the sky outside our window. And after putting on two pairs of socks, three thermals tops, a jumper, a jacket, two scarves and a beanie, I was ready to step outside. After flashing our JR train passes at the station like celebrities, we hopped on a train bound for Nara – a town which is hard to say whether there are more tourists or deer. Like an obstacle course, we managed to dodge the cold, the camera lenses, and the crazy deer ramming at your legs for food, and arrived at the Todai-ji temple – the home of a 15 metre high Buddha. The temple itself was pretty incredible, and no photo could accurately depict the size of the room and Buddha. Regardless, it didn’t stop most tourists, and the continuous camera shutter sound was harsh against the peacefulness of the Buddha. After watching a group of tourists holding biscuits be attacked by a mob of deer we pop back on the train headed for Kobe. However, we didn’t last there long. Our frozen fingers and rumbling bellies won over and we headed home for dinner which we cooked ourselves! Anyone know how to use a rice cooker? Because I don’t.
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The next day was a big one, and also the cause of the state I am sitting in now, on the couch, with Hannah passed out next to me. It started with a challenge. We took our map to reception to ask the best way to get to where we wanted to that day. The girl looked at us and laughed, saying that it was a lot to achieve in a day. Challenge accepted.

First stop was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which happens to feature on the cover of our Lonely Planet guide. Hannah and I have had a growing obsession with bamboo ever since we started recording the various ways it was used through out South-East Asia, and it was great to see it in such abundance and so green. Big shoutout to the kind man at the station who was laughing at us trying to work out where we were for helping us, and for telling us all about tofu for some reason.
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Next stop was to the Kinkakuji Temple, or the Golden Pavilion. After a fairly solid walk we reached the pavilion – a beautiful gold temple sitting on a stunning serene pond. A truest Japanese looking setting. No filter required. After getting lost in conversation we managed to find the exit and set off back to the station, but not before being interviewed by a small group of Japanese students on an English excursion. KAWAII!!!!
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The last stop of the day was on the other side of the city and we were in a race against the sun. Making a vital mistake and not reading the guidebook properly we decided to walk instead of train to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine. Not a particularly pretty walk, we found ourselves out if the tourist zone, and lost. Thankfully a very kind old man pointed us in the right direction before wishing us a happy day, and we with sore feet we made it to the shrine. Which is located a few metres from the station. Good one Emma. Walking through the food stalls we gave into temptation – Hannah got some okonomiyaki and I helped myself to a pork and shallot skewer dripping in teriyaki sauce. Gone in one bite, we then had to carry our rubbish for miles. Japan is immaculate and you never see any rubbish on the floor anywhere. But they have NO bins anywhere in the streets. How do they do it!?!?
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Getting the the shrine was amazing. 228 metres of bright orange torii dedicated to Inari, glowing in the fading light around them. A really really cool shrine. One of my favs to date. And we arrived at the right time because it wasn’t too crowded later in the evening.

Getting back to the hostel we treated ourselves to some Baileys at the bar…while wearing slippers. Classy. At this point the hostel had been taken over by some 50 odd American a College students who were on a Semester at Sea program which sounds incredible. Over 100 days, 12 countries, 4 continents. I was jealous to say the least. One Baileys turned into two, which turned into four, which turned into us dashing down the block in our slippers to the closest corner store to buy more drinks, which turned into two Aussies and a whole heap of Americans roaming the streets, which turned into a karaoke bar, which turned into joining random Japanese peoples karaoke rooms, which turned into a lot of Katy Perry, One Direction and random Japanese pop music. Waking up with a whole heap of new friend requests, a pretty sore head, and a rough throat, I farewelled our new friends, and got comfy on the couch. Which is where I still find myself….six hours later. Hannah eventually made it up to join me, but has been unconscious for most of the day. Our new room mates have just arrived though so I should probably go shower and make myself approachable.

I’m pretty hungover, but pretty goddamn happy right now. How about you?

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