Two Weeks in Japan, Part 6 (The End): Tokyo vol. III

This article is part of the “Two Weeks in Japan” series and follows Two Weeks in Japan, Part 6: Tokyo vol. II

For our third day in Tokyo we were visiting Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay. We got to the island early using the Yurikamome train, a fully automated train without drivers on board. I was surprised to see that the train does not run on rails but has wheels with tires instead (so maybe there is a better name for it than train)!

In Odaiba we went to the Sega Joypolis, a theme park by the well known games company Sega. The park has many nice attractions like a half-pipe (with a series of snowboard-like devices/wagons where two people can stand at a time), many enhanced video-games (for example a rollercoaster where we had to shoot zombies) or an experience inspired by a horror movie. This horror experience was based on the movie Sadako 3D (with a terrifying girl like the one in the Ring movie), we were taken to a dark room with a few computer screens that suddenly started malfunctioning! Our guide (speaking Japanese) tried to turn them off and had to unplug to do so but they quickly turned on again (oooohhh)! Helena and I were very tired (it was evening already) so we were not really excited by the whole scary experience and this must have been so clear in our expressions that the guide switched to English and told us: Very dangerous! Very very dangerous! Run run!

Another thing that I enjoyed seeing was that the Joypolis had many interactive installations using methods similar to the ones I was working with at the time. Check out this live hair change to make queuing less boring:

Love Helena’s air style!

The Joypolis is an indoors park and before we knew, night had fallen so we just had dinner and went back to the hotel.

No fear, Gundam’s here!

The next day we headed to Yokohama, to visit the rāmen museum and later to a town called Kamakura. I had seen the rāmen museum in some movies and I had three wrong assumptions about it: 1) it’s in Tokyo (it’s not, it is in Yokohama), 2) it’s an open air place (it’s in a basement floor) and 3) it’s a big place (it’s rather small). Still, I liked it because we learned a bit about rāmen, it is possible to try several types of it and learn from which regions it comes from, the atmosphere is good and there was a magic/juggling show going on.

Rāmen museum under a beautiful sky

Rāmen museum under a beautiful sky

We also took the chance to visit the Yokohama’s China town with its complex colors and architecture contrasting with the Japanese ones. We entered a Chinese temple and I started taking pictures as I saw no sign forbidding it. Suddenly a lady starts yelling at me, telling me to stop taking photos and basically pushed me out the temple… This also contrasted with the laid back and respectful attitude of the guards in the Japanese temples that had asked me to stop taking photos before. In my defense, after almost two weeks in Japan, I was quite used to look for signs forbidding photos but I hadn’t seen any when entering this Chinese temple because we entered through a side door and the sign was hanged outside over the main door.

After Yokohama, we went to Kamakura, a small town whose main attraction is the giant Buddha statue (daibutsu) with almost 14 meters of height. The statue is impressive and the place is quite peaceful so I definitely recommend it.

Giant buddha statue

Peaceful place

That night we went back to the nice rāmen place I mentioned in the first volume of the Tokyo’s part, in Ikebukuro (I wish I could remember the name of the place…), and got back to our hotel to get ready for our last day in Tokyo.

For our last day in Tokyo, we wanted to check out the fish market but we realized that it had strict rules to visit it and we had to be there very early, so we decided to take it easy (we were tired for the almost two weeks of moving around) and just went there a bit later in the morning. Naturally, the whole frenzy fish selling was no longer taking place so we just bought a few things in some small stands there like nori sheets (they were way cheaper there than back at home) and some beans which we thought were the nice tea we had tried in a few restaurants. When we got home and tried the tea, the beans were tinier than we remembered and they looked like coffee beans (the drink also tasted a bit like very weak coffee) so we just thought that we had bought some very bad coffee. The funny thing is that one year after the trip to Japan, we moved to the Geneva area (where I am currently working at CERN) and shortly after a German PhD student named Christian started working in my office, he knows a lot about tea and Japan (even speaks the language) and he told me those beans were actually roasted barley tea (or mugi cha). Mystery solved!

After the fish market, we went to the nice district of Asakusa, to visit Sensō-ji, one of the most impressive temples in our trip. In there we did the traditional custom of giving a donation and getting a small note telling your fortune. About mine, I won’t disclose everything but among some nice things it said “Building a new horse and enlarging are both good”. No kidding!

A buddhist temple in Asakusa

Sensō-ji

Close to the temple, we went to a nice sushi restaurant, with a conveyor belt surrounding a chef making the sushi in real time. We had been to sushi restaurants with the conveyor belt in other places in Europe and they all followed a “flat-rate” model (pay one fixed price, eat all the sushi you want), however, in Japan the common thing is that each dish has a color which indicates its price and in the end they sum it all and you pay. Still, the sushi was great and not that expensive.
Once we finished visiting Asakusa, we headed to the Tokyo University through a nice park with an impressive pond called Shinobazu, full of waterlilies, fish, ducks and turtles.

Shinobazu pond.

Shinobazu pond.

The last night in Tokyo we changed again to the last hotel of the trip (Narita U-City), this one was outside of Tokyo close to the Keisei Narita Station, on the way to the airport because we figured that the next day it would be simpler and faster to get the airport from there, and being away from Tokyo it means it was also cheaper.

The next day, we started our trip early and we saw a very long queue waiting for the KLM’s desks to open. So we waited, and waited, and waited and realized that our flight was delayed… We must have waited more than 3 hours in the queue which never got smaller.
Eventually they started opening the desks but it was clear that they were very badly organized. Finally, after all that time waiting, when we got to the counter, the lady tells us that she thought our backpacks were too big for hand luggage. I replied they were actually smaller than they looked and that we traveled all the time with them. She said that we had to try to fit them in the appropriate metal frame for the matter and we could go there, check and come back to tell her the verdict. I told her that the metal thingy was out of her sight and that maybe she wanted to come with us to check, otherwise she would have to just trust me and so far, she hadn’t wanted to do that. She looked at me with an expression of “Oh! So someone could actually lie to me!?” (Japanese people, always so innocent) and followed us. The bags fit and we got our tickets!
I was worried that the plane would be so delayed that we would miss the flight from Amsterdam to Barcelona, not only because of the hassle but also because from although the flight from to Barcelona was part of our ticket, once we arrived in Barcelona, we had a flight home to Coruña which was bought independently. Luckily, once we landed in Amsterdam, some assistants were waiting for everyone who was going to Barcelona as the plane had already boarded but was waiting for the people from Tokyo. We arrived with time in Barcelona but guess what, our flight to Coruña was also delayed (but at least we didn’t miss it).
All summed up, we had been traveling for more than 24 hours and needless to say, we were dead tired. I even remembered waking up the next morning with the feeling of having slept really well like I had not in ages and thinking “it is good to be home”.

Photo of Helena and I

Finally I am finishing this series of articles. Since the trip took place, and I started writing its articles, almost three years passed by (!) but I got a good excuse as a lot of things happened. I have changed to a different country (and job) twice, and I am now a father, so far an incredibly rewarding, exciting and ongoing journey.

Until the next time!

Two Weeks in Japan, Part 6: Tokyo vol. I

This article is part of the “Two Weeks in Japan” series and follows Two Weeks in Japan, Part 5: Takayama.

On August 17, 2012, at around 5pm we finally arrived in Tokyo for the second half of our trip. We stayed in a western style hotel in the Ikebukuro district which was the cheapest of the entire trip but it was in the basement, with a very tiny bathroom (I had to lean in order to shower without bumping my head).

Best rāmen in Tokyo!


We found the best rāmen place while exploring Ikebukuro in our first night. For the first time we used the machine at the door for ordering. You put the money in, choose the dish and it returns a ticket that you have to give to the waiter. This way waiters don’t have to handle money. Pretty smart!
In this place, I ordered a different kind of rāmen. The noodles didn’t have any soup but there were rather two extra bowls with a different sauce each. Since I didn’t know how to eat that in the beginning, I asked a man that was sitting nearby how to do it and he explained and invited us to join his table. He was maybe under 50 and could speak a bit of English; as most of the Japanese people we met, he was very curious to know about us, where we came from, etc. and then he said something like “Tokyo is very expensive! It is a shame my cousins are staying with me and my wife and I have no extra room for you but I give you my number and the next time you come to Tokyo you can stay at my place! By the way, I can drive you around after dinner if you want, my car is nearby…”. This could be seen as creepy from a Western point of view but I truly believe he was sincerely being nice. We were tired anyway so we kindly declined and went to the hotel as a new intensive week was about to start.

Shinjuku

Tokyo is a HUGE city. It’s more like a set of cities so we decided to explore one or two districts each day if we could. Thus, the next day was a very big one! We decided to go to the Shinjuku district and visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building with the purpose of seeing the landscape from the top. The view was impressive: buildings and more buildings spread until the horizon, giving us a good idea of the dimensions of the city.

They rebuilt fast after Godzilla!

After coming back down from the Metropolitan building we had to wait for a while because of the thunderstorm and the heavy rain that had formed meanwhile. Luckily we found that there were what seemed to be underground streets so we proceeded to our next destination: the Square Enix Store!

While we were looking for it, another very Japanese thing happened. I couldn’t find the store so I asked a young man who was entering a restaurant (it was lunch time) if he knew where it was. He explained where it was but then postponed his lunch a bit and walked with us for a while until we were at the store! Go to a city like London and ask someone where something is and you’ll see the difference.

Harajuku and Shibuya

After visiting the Square Enix Store we headed to Harajuku, the young and hip district known for its Gothic Lolitas. We took some photos of street artists and funky things we found in the streets and walked further south to Shibuya.

Harajuku’s street art!

Whenever you see videos of Tokyo, there is a good chance you will see Shibuya Crossing, supposedly the world’s busiest crossing. Our first impression was that we expected it to be somehow bigger. It is indeed packed. It’s amazing the number of people crossing when the pedestrian traffic light is green and then give way for the cars. It was also amazing to see the scene in that same cross in Resident Evil: Afterlife after we had been there. Luckily we didn’t experience a zombie outburst.

Next to the crossing there’s the statue of the famous dog Hachikō. Being the good tourists we are, we took the typical picture next to it 🙂

Next to Hachikō!

Kabuki-Chō

After that we passed a bit by Kabuki-Chō, the red light and yakuza district where we saw many love hotels and other funky things but the craziest thing I managed to do was to be able to change a pair of sneakers that Helena bought in one store in Shibuya by a different color in another branch of the store in Kabuki-Chō. Pretty bad-ass!

And that is all for the first day in Tokyo! I will try not to take too long to post the rest of the trip…

to be continue…