I fell asleep at 9.30pm and woke up at 1am and just couldn’t sleep again. Jet Lag is ridiculous sometimes, so I indulged myself in doing a little word till 3 am and then tried to will myself back to sleep till 8 am. I need to get on a schedule with this or I’m going to feel terrible for the next week. The bed here is perfectly cosy and the heating was set just right, there was also an egg sandwich waiting for me outside my room when I’d woken up and a little bag of cookies. Excellent service from the Airbnb hosts who may have forgiven me for saying chan instead of san. It was a beautiful day in Tokyo today, blue skies and golden sunshine. You didn’t need a jacket or even a hoodie and I took advantage of the glorious weather to walk to the Tobu Tourist Advisory Office in Asakusa about 35 mins away from where I am staying. Walking through this part of Tokyo, through side streets and alleys, really does feel like I’m walking through the scenery in manga I’ve read. There are telephone lines and what I assume is electricity but they are just crisscrossing everywhere creating this net in the sky. Shops call out to you, people whizz by on bikes and there’s this sense of order and calm to everyone, which contrasts heavily against the neon flashing lights and urgency of some of the main shopping areas.
Asakusa is awesome, I was wondering the streets filled with market stalls and street food. I passed up on getting some Bulbasaur socks (IT WAS VERY HARD TO SAY NO TO THEM). There were lots of yummy smells coming from all the street food stands, but I knew I wanted to get all my passes sorted before I explored. The Tobu Railway people are the BEST. I actually booked my return train on a wrong day and they just changed the whole ticket for me at the office with no fuss. I feel like in the UK no network would just swap it, though I could be wrong. She gave me a map of the area I’m exploring tomorrow, I am super excited for masses of World Heritage sites and a waterfall, one of the best in Japan so the guidebook says.
Wandering off after picking up my train tickets and passes I end up in a Moomin BubbleTea shop because I love Moomins and I love bubble tea. It’s super early in the day so it’s hardly busy at all. Tea in Japan is really delicious and creamy, it tastes like the chai my dad makes at home in the saucepan with lots of milk. I got a Royal Tea bubble tea and the straw came with this little Moomin that you could keep. I’m planning to go back again for more tea and to get some gifts. My first gatchapon of the trip was from the Moomin shop, and I kept the plastic ball! I realised later on in the day that you’re meant to put the plastic ball back so it can be reused! Gatchapon is plastic balls filled with collectible toys, so the series I got from was tiny little Moomin cups. But they have them for pretty much everything you can think of. It’s a great way to get rid of any change you have at the end of a trip.
I stumbled into Sensō-ji which is just a beautiful temple and grounds. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo, opened in 645 AD and was busy today with lots of people in kimono. I am not sure if it was a festival day or if they were just there to spend the day. There’s a heavy smell of incense and smoke in the air as you walk around the immaculate gardens. We were lucky today because there were some absolutely stunning cherry blossoms in bloom on one tree. I can see why people get so excited about cherry blossoms here. They are fat flowers, with a whole spectrum of pink shades in one tiny flower. There are also so many on one tree, the branches seem heavy with flowers. The temple is a highly visited tourist spot, but there are lots of nooks on the grounds where you can hide in quiet and sit and reflect on things. I watched a lot of people doing their rituals while they were there. There’s a lot of shrines coming up on my trip and I want to learn more about how people pray in them.
I grabbed some takoyaki from a little mum and pop stand near the shrine and made the mistake of shoving the entire ball in my mouth. It was super hot so I figured I’d just swallow it straight away to avoid it burning more of my mouth but the pain of having the molten takoyaki lava flowing down into my stomach was not fun. Takoyaki in Japan are less solid than the ones I’ve had in the West. It’s crispy on the outside but barely cooked in the middle so super tender and studded with large pieces of octopus. Japan has taste balances down in their food, everything works so harmoniously. The takoyaki is creamy, the sauce sweet, the bonito a little salty and the mayonnaise was a little spicy with wasabi, it was a perfect mouthful of food.
Braving the Tokyo subway today was less stressful than yesterday because I had only one bag with me. It seems to be busy all the time and I just try and stand whenever I am on it even if there is a seat. I love how efficient they are though. We are spoilt in London because the underground goes everywhere, but it doesn’t run super well (unless the Olympics is on). The subway here has never been late. It’s been held up due to passenger illness a couple of times but everything is always on time. Also, everyone is so organised, there’s a great method to people squashing onto the trains. The queues at each carriage door make a lot of sense, the trains are quite steady so even if you’re stuck in the middle with nothing to hold onto there is no danger of falling over. There are little informative videos about Japan which you can watch as you stand, though most people are just on their phones. I love when the trains are above ground, seeing all the different places is super nice, and it’s awesome to get off at places that just look fun and have a wander around. Using GoogleMaps I do honestly feel as comfortable on the Tokyo Subway as I do on the London Underground. Everything is well signed out, it’s hard to get on the wrong train. I wish I had a face mask though, just because EVERYONE else does and I think people might feel better if I had one on too, but they are sold out in every store I go into.
Today was a day to wander around, my only set plan was the Ghibli Museum at 4. So I made my way to Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens. My mum loves gardening and before I left we watched Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens, where he traveled all over Japan learning about how they garden here. Like a lot of things in Japan, gardening is so meticulous. Everything, from every leaf to every flower is pruned and looked after to be a specific way. In winter they support a lot of the branches with bamboo scaffolding, the trees look like they are surrounded by massive cages. I went to Koishikawa to see the plum blossoms, which are currently in season. The gardens were established in the 17th century and they were the first place I’d found so far with a stamp for my stamp book! I love Japanese gardens because of their focus on water, and this garden had a huge lake with streams running off of it that wound through the area and you explored via a cobblestone pathway that led through groves of maple trees and over stone bridges. A lot of people were out to see the Plum Blossoms and they are very pretty, though smaller than the cherry blossoms I’d seen earlier. The Plum is so much more fragrant though and the whole area smelled amazing. There’s a massive rollercoaster that lurks behind some tall buildings that overlooks the garden and it’s so strange because there are places where you hear people screaming as they ride. Though overall the garden is peaceful. I stopped and sat by the lake to eat some dango, with soy sauce and brown sugar syrup on them. I have never had dango but I always sing the dango daikazoku song from the end of Clannad. Dango is essentially a rice flour dumpling that has been cooked over a fire and then covered in sauce. It’s a close relative of a mochi. It’s crispy and slightly sweet and the salty-sweet tang of the sauce pairs perfectly with it. Mine was dusted in soy powder too and was the perfect snack to eat under the plum trees watching the ducks on the lake.
After exploring the park it was Ghibli Museum time, which involved two trains and a bus because the Ghibli Museum is a little far out. The museum itself is small, spread out over three floors but it has no structure to what you see first, it’s set out a bit like a maze. You are free to wander around and create your own experience at your own pace and I really loved that. Obviously everything was in Japanese so I was mostly looking at the pictures, there were lots of original drawings from the films as well as a display on the kind of paint they used when painting the cells. They had thousands of little paint pots with specific colours to make it easier to colour match. There was a wonderful exhibition which had live animations, like the zoetrope with a whole Totoro animation that was just super cute. The museum is set out over three floors with a shop and a cafe as well as about 5 exhibitions and a room to watch two short films. I had to book it in advance as they only sell tickets on the 10th of each month, but it was a wonderful couple of hours.
In case you were wondering, and I know you are wondering, I have bought my first Bulbasaur item of the trip. A Bulbasaur shaped coin purse. I went to Donkihote and Daiso today. Donki is a bargain shop that sells EVERYTHING and Daiso is a 100 yen shop, everything is cheap in both shops and both are great to buy presents for people back home. I mostly got makeup and Pokemon-themed items today but I do want to try the Hello Kitty makeup line in Daiso and go to a bigger Donki to see what other anime items they have.
Today was mostly just a free wander around sort of day, I ate some snacks, didn’t stop to eat a proper meal yet. But I am sure that will happen soon. I get so full of sandwiches but I think I will try and have udon or ramen when I’m up in Nikko over the next couple of days. Early start tomorrow, have to head to the station for 6.30 to grab a train bento and then head to the mountains. Catch you then!