Sunday 23rd November – Monday 24th November
Sunday, our first full day in Tokyo, dawned bright and sunny, as can be seen in this view from our hotel room. We decided to head for the Shibuya area, where young Tokyoites hang out at weekends.
Completely accidentally, we came across the Blind Football World Championships, being played close to the Yoyogi national stadium, which was built for the 1964 Olympics and will also be used for the forthcoming 2020 Olympics.
We popped into the stadium to watch the second half of a semi-final match between Spain and Argentina. There was some amazing skill on show, with the players relying on the rattling sound of the ball and on shouted instructions from their coaches and from the sighted goalkeepers.
The match ultimately went to penalties, for each of which the coach behind the goal would tap something metal (possibly his keys) on the goalposts before the player took his shot, to give the striker an indication of the position of the goal.
Argentina were victorious, and they celebrated very passionately, which was unsurprising, given that the reward for the ultimate winner of Monday’s final would be a place in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Unfortunately for Argentina, however, we later learnt that they came up against their great rivals, Brazil, in the final…
Next, we visited Takeshita Street, which is the Tokyo equivalent of Camden – i.e. a place for “alternative” fashions. It was completely packed and totally crazy – in other words, very Tokyo!
Lunch was some delicious gyoza (Japanese dumplings), in a tiny place that served pretty much nothing else, and had punters queueing around the block!
Imperial Palace East Gardens
On Monday, which was a public holiday here in Japan, we visited the very beautiful Imperial Palace East Gardens.
Although Simon is definitely the principal photographer in our partnership, I have got more into taking some snaps myself on this trip, albeit only with my phone, rather than braving Simon’s very advanced camera!
We also looked around a free exhibition in the park, focused on the current Emperor’s first overseas trip in 1953, when he was only 19 and the Crown Prince (he did not become Emperor until 1989). He spent around a month in the UK, attending the Queen’s coronation and also visiting Bamburgh Castle, close to where we live. The exhibition included a couple of paintings of the castle that were given to him as gifts, and even a photo that he himself had taken of it.
Next, we walked through to Tokyo’s main train station, in search of a uniquely Japanese shopping experience – Tokyo Character Street! This is a collection of shops in a passageway under the station, which specialise in merchandise relating to various cartoons and comics. As mentioned above, Monday was a public holiday, so the area was buzzing with costumed characters and over-excited children!
We finished the day with dinner on Ramen Street, also in Tokyo Station. The process for eating in these “hole in the wall” places is a little unusual (kind of like “if Argos did noodles…”).
1. Decide what you want to eat (with the help of pictures and English descriptions on the menu, in our case) and calculate the total cost.
2. Proceed to a vending machine, insert money and press the buttons (thankfully also with pictures) associated with your choices. Collect a ticket from the machine.
3. Join the queue to enter the restaurant.
4. On being shown to a table (shared with others), hand your ticket to the waitress (who, rather alarmingly, was wearing wellies…).
5. Receive your food.
Video of the day
One of the interesting things about being in Japan is the huge differences you see in things like music and TV. In the USA, Australia and New Zealand much of the pop culture is very similar (for which read: Taylor Swift). While that’s certainly here too, there’s also a lot of stuff we wouldn’t see or hear back home. So, to give you a taste, this is go!go!vanillas.