Somewhere along the way, I have managed to take some photos of a small portion of the many million people you might meet in Tokyo. All of them so very different from one another. This gallery is made up of a few of those photos.
I once read that humans can easier distinguish the characteristics of those of their own race. It is called ‘The Other Race-Effect’ or ‘Cross-Race Effect, and seems to be a well recognised psychological disadvantage in people. As a Caucasian raised in Northern Europe, it is much easier for me to recognise the individual features of other Caucasians than it is to separate the individual features of Africans or Asians. One of the two main theories claim that our perception is based on how different other people are from us. If we recognise them as different on the level of skin colour, we might not subconsciously look for further characteristics of the individual. An other major theory claims that it is based on what we are used to seeing. Most of us will have grown up with people like ourselves and thus learned to recognise individual features that are common amongst our race, while overlooking those characteristics that are often varying within another race.
I think it is a combination of the two. After three weeks in Japan, I have noticed in myself a much sharper recognition of how different the Japanese are. I have felt this change gradually and particularly in Tokyo have I become aware how many different faces meet me in the street. But it is not only because I become used to looking at those characteristics which have a great variation amongst the Japanese. In fact, I start recognising in strangers characteristics that remind me of people I know back home. Thus, I focus on characteristics which are also varied amongst Caucasians.
Why am I writing this? I have no idea. But somewhere along the way, I have managed to take some photos of a small portion of the many million people you might meet in Tokyo. All of them so very different from one another. This gallery is made up of a few of those photos.
Before going to Japan my impression of the animé and manga culture was rather innocent. It was all excessive cuteness and pretty costumes. But after three weeks here the cuteness has turned sour.
We have reached the end of our three weeks in Japan and though I have fallen in love with this extraordinary country and its contrast of modern and ancient, I am happy to return home.
My head is full of impressions and I need time to contemplate all that we have experienced from food to theatre, from zen to rice pillows.
But we have saved an explosion of impressions for our last day. We are going to Akihabara the centre of the otaku world. This is manga and animé heaven on earth, and the place that all good otaku pilgrim to.
The dark side of Akihabara
It is a crazy place with promotional dance shows, girls dressed as maids and millions of figurines from famous manga and animé.
Before going to Japan my impression of the animé and manga culture was rather innocent. It was all excessive cuteness and pretty costumes. But after three weeks here the cuteness has turned sour.
This is a highly sex fixated culture and in Akihabara you will find not only the pretty and well proportioned animé characters. Almost everywhere you will find figurines with a directly sexual connotation.
There is nothing innocent about Akihabara and it sends out a message, which I can only assume adds to the already unhealthy direction that Japanese relationships are taking these years, where fewer and fewer children are born and the population only grows older.
To me it seems the ideal woman has been distorted into an overly cute girl (emphasis on girl) in a maid costume and with a large bosom. Girlfriends are available online through LovePlus.
Yes the modern Japanese culture which is founded in manga and animé is awesome and different and loads of other positive adjectives. But there is a shadow side to this, which becomes particularly obvious in Akihabara.
No wonder the Japanese women spend their nights at gentlemen’s clubs, where they can flirt with available guys for a price. Who wouldn’t want to satisfy the need for human interaction and dreams of relationships in this way, when the men fall under the spell of 17 year old virtual girlfriends.
Photos in the night
We split in Akihabara, since I had already from the outset of our trip planned to join an excursion for those with a love for taking photos.
While my boyfriend ventured out into the Tokyo summer evening, to say good-bye for this time to a country we have both come to love, I met up with a group of similarly minded travellers at Shinjuku Station.
For a couple of hours we walked around with cameras on night setting, taking pictures in the tunnels of Shinjuku Station and from various bridges and crossings including the ever busy Shibuya crossing.
My favourite part was when our guide took us up a narrow street in Shinjuku filled with small bars and restaurant. Here people were hanging out for food and beer after work. None of them seemed to have any issue with the camera crazy group of travellers taking their pictures.
I imagine they were used to it, since we had come to Omoide Yokocho, meaning Memory Lane. This is the fashionable name given to the area after a 1999 fire forced the place to be rebuilt.
The locals call it Piss Alley, since there used to be no toilets in the area prior to the redevelopment in 1999, and people therefore had to piss on the nearby train tracks.
There are around 60 bars and small eateries, which become filled with locals after hours. One of the main dishes here is yakitori, grilled sticks which can be made of pretty much anything. This matches well with how animal organs were sold here back in the 1940’s.
Piss Alley takes its origin in the black market trade of the 1940’s where more than animal organs was bootlegged here. Walking here is like a journey through time.
It is a magical place which brings to mind the old Japan – not as seen in Kyoto or Nara or the Gassho-style guest houses in Ainokura. This is post-war Japan, and a place I definitely wish too return to, if ever I have the chance.
Unfortunately, after three weeks my camera was slightly filthy. There was not much left of the attentive care the Panasonic man had treated my camera with during our first day in Nagoya.
But while my photos of the night scene at Shibuya Crossing were a bit blurry that is okay, because it tells its own story of three amazing weeks through the nature, culture and modern cities of Japan.
After the end of the tour, I found my boyfriend at a sushi joint in Shibuya, which during the last week had become our neighbourhood. Here we enjoyed one last taste of Japan before returning home full of impressions and memories and stories to share.
One thing we agreed on was that this will not be the last time we visit Japan.
So off course I placed myself on the top of the Yūyake Dandan stairs, to capture this famous view of one of Tokyo’s few remaining traditional areas.
After a slow day yesterday, we were ready for another long walk through the different neighbourhoods of Tokyo.
We began the day with a to-go coffee in Roppongi as we walked through this international neighbourhood, slowly making our way to one of Tokyo’s most famous landmarks – Tokyo Tower.
I wonder what it is about the Eiffel Tower that has the Japanese in such awe that you can find copies of it in both Nagoya and Tokyo as well as an actual 12 metres high replica in Tobu World Square.
Yes, I know that neither the Nagoya TV Tower nor Tokyo Tower are 1:1 copies of the Eiffel Tower. Tokyo Tower is taller, measuring 332.9 metres and can boast of only two levels and a very bright aviation safety orange and white design. But anyone with eyes can see the similarities and the influence for Tokyo Tower.
I have seen the original several times, and love it for its raw look and the fact that it was only ever built to impress at a time when constructions of this kind were amazing achievements.
Tokyo Tower is well proportioned and stands out in the Tokyo city-scape. While it does not measure up to the original, it is a beautiful piece of construction.
Built in 1958, it predates the 1976 CN Tower in Toronto and the 1969 Berliner Fernsehturm erected by the DDR. It tells the story of a post-war Japan rising in a new capitalist world.
It was planned to be taller than the Empire State Building, which at the time was the tallest in the world, but the plans had to be changed due to funding issues. While the dreams were not completely fulfilled, it stands as a magnificent symbol of modern Japan.
Zōjō-ji Temple and the Garden of Unborn Children
Next door lies Zōjō-ji Temple, the head temple of the Buddhist Jodo sect. It was built in 1393, and moved to where it stands today in 1598 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. It has been the family temple of the Tokugawa clan, and holds a mausoleum. Through time six Tokugawa shoguns have been buried here, but not much remains of their final resting place after parts of the temple and mausoleums were hid during the WW2 raids on Tokyo.
We passed through parts of the surrounding graveyard, and I was particularly touched by the many rows of statues symbolising children. Unknowingly, we had reached Sentai Kosodate Jizo – The Garden of Unborn Children.
The many statues represent unborn children, including miscarried, aborted, and stillborn. Here parents of unborn children can choose a statue and dress it with clothes and toys, as well as stones which guarantee a safe journey to the afterlife. Gifts are also donated to Jizō, the guardian of unborn children, for the safe passage to the afterlife. It is a beautiful thought and way to commemorate and mourn the loss of an unborn child.
Walking through Ueno
After our visit to the Garden of Unborn Children, we took the train to the hustle and bustle of Ueno, getting off at Nippori Station. Walking west of the station, we reached Yūyake Dandan, or in English – the Sunset Steps. These are 36 steps, which opens up to the Yanaka Ginza shopping street.
According to the walking guide I’d found online the shot from the top of the stairs and down onto Yanaka Ginza is a famous view often portrait in television and news papers. So off course I placed myself on the top of the stairs, to capture this famous view of one of Tokyo’s few remaining traditional areas.
The Yanaka neighbourhood was fortunate to survive the bombings of Tokyo during WW2, and much of it therefore still remains the same. Yanaka Ginza is one of Tokyo’s remaining shotengai – traditional shopping streets. Here you will find small food stores selling tea and Japanese delicacies. It has not yet been overtaken by chain stores and supermarkets as most other parts of Tokyo.
We looked in at a few shops, including an old tea shop with the wonderful fragrance of Japanese teas in the air.
We walked up and down the narrow shopping street before taking a small passage into the Yanaka Temple area. As with Yanaka Ginza, the area which houses more than 60 small Buddhist temples survived the bombings of Tokyo.
We reached the area of Nezu, which is known for its small alleys. At a larger road traversing Ueno, we found a ramen shop and a long overdue lunch, before we moved south towards Ueno Park.
Unaware, we ended up at Shinobazunoike, a beautiful pond where we enjoyed gazing at the thousands of water lilies making the place so magical.
In fact Shinobazunoike is made up of three ponds, and it is possible in that way to walk on a narrow stretch of land across the water. In the middle of Shinobazunoike lies Shinobazunoike Bentendo, which must be Tokyo’s most beautifully situated Buddhist Temple.
Ameyoko Shopping Street
We ended our walk through Ueno in the crowded Ameyoko Shopping Street, which runs along the train tracks north of the station. It was previously known as Ameya Yokocho, meaning candy store alley, since sweets and candies were sold here.
The ‘Ame’ in Ameyoko can however also be said to represent a shortening of American, since many black market goods from the US were found here in the years after WW2.
Today it is a busy shopping street selling all kinds of goods. It is a colourful display of various shops and people, and I enjoyed tremendously to observe the many visitors to the shopping street as well as the many salesmen attempting to get their attention.
Enjoying cakes on a stick in Ginza
It had been a long day, but I’d promised Hiroshi that I’d meet up with him and his friends for a beer out in Ginza. We started out with eating Chinese at local joint before heading off for an after work beer at a small Japanese bar. The place was crammed with Japanese business men in black trousers and white shirts standing around drinking beer.
Apart from beer, the bar offered several snacks, and when my friends translated one of them into German cake, I had to know what that was. And it was weird. The German cake came on a stick, and was in no way particularly German. We also had the fortune of getting a blue ice cream which came in a glass of alcohol.
I really love how the Japanese reconstruct everything and makes it so decidedly over the top Japanese.
We went home as the business men started drifting off.
After nearly three weeks of sightseeing and so many impressions, I decided on a slow day. My boyfriend was off on his own discovering other parts of Tokyo, but I needed a quiet day without too much walking.
Already from before we left for Japan, I knew I wanted to explore the hipster fashionable neighbourhood Shimokitazawa.
It was a pleasant and relaxing couple of hours with no purpose but to soak up the atmosphere.
Returning to the centre I met up with my boyfriend for an intensive round of kimono shopping at Oriental Bazaar in Harajuku. We ended up loaded with cotton kimonos as well as other last minute souvenirs.
I have never and will probably never taste sushi as fresh as that at the small sushi joint we found near Tsukiji Market. These places are known to serve only the latest caught fish from the market next door, and oh my goodness can you taste it.
Before going to Japan, we booked a guided tour of Tokyo Imperial Palace, which is only open to the public through specific guided tours, and on Wednesday morning I was pretty much bursting in the seams from the fact that our sheet of information clearly stated that the doors would be closed for late arrivals. We were definitely late!
Yet, we managed somehow to sneak in with the rest of the group as we were given a short introduction to begin with. This was followed by a 1,5 hours walk around the grounds with a Japanese guide and each our audio guide as companions. It was an odd setup and would have been more engaging if there had been an option for an English guide and if the blasted sun had taken a time off behind a cloud or two. But thenit wouldn’t have been Japan.
The Imperial Palace is the primary residence of the Japanese Emperor, which I found pretty cool since – well – he’s an emperor.
The large park and current palace lies on the site of the old Edo Castle which was built in 1457 and later destroyed through rebuilding, earthquakes and fires. A new palace saw the light of day throughout the Meiji era and later a new palace was built to house the imperial family as they moved to Tokyo.
But with the air-raid bombing of Tokyo on May 25 1945 most of the wooden palace was lost.
The current residence of the imperial palace thus is built post-World War II and in comparison to what we have seen in Japan so far not the most impressive of buildings.
Fresh sushi at Tsukiji Market
I know that one of the ultimate Tokyo experiences is to get up before the break of dawn and see a fish auction at Tsukiji market and we had planned to do so at some point during our trip.
But with the small chance of even getting in and the fact that we had no idea of how to get from Shibuya to Tsukiji market in the middle of the night had us skip that part of our trip and instead visit the place in the hours of normal human beings.
We arrived past noon and in hindsight we should probably have made it there earlier as most of the market was closing down, but it was still an amazing experience to walk the halls of this place.
After a walk through the imperial gardens followed by a walk around Tsukiji Market, we were both ready for lunch. And what better place to have lunch than at one of the amazing sushi joint near the market.
I have never and will probably never taste sushi as fresh as that at the small sushi joint we found. These places are known to serve only the latest caught fish from the market next door, and oh my goodness can you taste it.
The Sumida River
After the most amazing lunch we slowly made our way towards Hamarikyu Gardens from where we took the boat sailing up the River Sumida and all the way to Asakusa Station.
It was a hot, but pleasant trip and somehow I kept thinking about how many times I’ve seen Groups of Japanese on a canal cruise in Copenhagen. Today, they would be staring at me.
Arriving in Asakusa, I’d planned a trip around the area, which began with a visit to the Sensō-ji temple and Nakamise Street. Sensō-ji is Tokyo’s eldest temple dating back to 645. It was, however, bombed during WW2 and rebuilt in the post-war period. Nonetheless it is impressive and a landmark for Tokyo.
Reaching Sensō-ji one has to pass Nakamise Street, which could be the explanation for this wonderful street being filled with handcrafts and local goods. It is a rare place for authentic souvenirs in Tokyo.
I would have loved to have more time in Nakamise Street, but so it is with all of Tokyo. It seems impossible to take it all in with the limited time we’ve planned. And I had somewhere else I wanted to explore.
Kappabashi-dori or Kitchen Town as it is known is a street in Asakusa, which caters to the restaurants and chefs of Tokyo and abroad. This is where you will find all the best in kitchenware – be it pots and pans, Japanese knives or pottery. One thing which almost all Japanese restaurants have and which they also shop for at Kappabashi-dori are plastic representations of food.
Anything from sushi and ramen to fruits and drinks is sold in plastic form in Kitchen Town and all of it capable of fooling you into believing it is real food. They call it sampuru and it is the Japanese version of a menu card.
If I didn’t know better I would have eaten it, if it was on my plate.
We’d seen tame deer in Nara and now we got to see wild monkeys at the foot of Mount Fuji. As if Japan couldn’t get any more amazing.
I have no idea how we ever managed to get on our way to Fuji. It had been a dream since we left from home, but we hadn’t really made any specific plans to visit the area near Fuji. However, after a few days in Tokyo and with the blasting heat from Kyoto fresh in mind, we really needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of Japanese city-life.
Thus, we bought two return day trip tickets to Fuji, which probably would have been much easier if I hadn’t stressed about it so much. there really is a reason that I plan everything in advance. If not, I go into complete panic mode.
Looking back, I am so absolutely thrilled that we went. Not only because we were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of the top of Mount Fuji which is pretty difficult in the summer, but also because we ran into a group of wild monkeys, which might be one of the absolute high points of this trip and something I seriously did not expect to happen.
After a long haul with train and bus, we started off enjoying the energetic and cool atmosphere of Mount Fuji Fifth Station.
Not only was the temperature close to cold, but we also got to enjoy large groups of Japanese preparing for their climb up the mountain.
The top was mainly covered in clouds, but for a few minutes they parted and we were left with that iconic tip of Mount Fuji stretching out into a clear blue summer sky.
After visiting a few souvenir shops we took the Retro bus line to Lake Kawaguchiko and around the Northern shore, getting off to enjoy the magnificent view of Mount Fuji as it rises behind the lake.
Public transport however is not very extensive in these parts and it proved difficult to get a bus back to our point of origin. After a long walk at the shore we finally caught a bus which drove us to Kachi Kachi Ropeway on the Eastern Shore of the lake.
The ropeway ascends 400 meters and at the top you are greeted with a beautiful view of Lake Kawaguchiko as well as a view of Mount Fuji. The place also offers the “best” in Japanese snacks which to a Westerner is a cultural experience, to say it mildly.
Japanese snacks and candy are in no way similar to the Haribo mix and Snickers bars that we in Western Europe consume in great numbers. In Japan a lot of the snacks are based on soy paste and have that specific umami taste, which all the trendy Westerners talk about, but no one really can describe.
The view of Mount Fuji was definitely worth our trip up the mountain side, but the most charming surprise of the day happened when we decided to go for a short walk around the trails of the mountain not far from the viewpoint.
Suddenly in front of us a family of wild monkeys were crossing the path and by some immense luck my boyfriend happened to catch them on camera as they criss-crossed our path. The mountain side was full of monkeys and they were very visible in between the trees.
I’ve only ever seen monkeys in the zoo and I never really thought that I’d run in to any in Japan. But here they were and so close to a major tourist hotspot. We’d seen tame deer in Nara and now we got to see wild monkeys at the foot of Mount Fuji. As if Japan couldn’t get any more amazing.
It was a perfect ending to a day which to begin with I hadn’t even thought we could do. And it will be a day which I will remember for a long time to come.
While the servers might have been slightly stressed when we changed tables, I think they forgave us the chaos as they saw our awe of the view.
North of Shibuya lies Shinjuku a business and administrative centre of Tokyo. As with so much of Tokyo, Shinjuku should be seen at night. However, in such a big city one needs to prioritise. We therefore ventured into the streets of Shinjuku in the daylight hours.
We started on the western side of Shinjuku Station walking up the main street, which offered several massive shopping opportunities, including a Muji Store with a canteen in the basement. It am starting to get the feeling that Tokyo is all about shopping till you drop. Though not as luxurious as Ginza, Shinjuku is definitely a wonderful place to spend a few hours and a credit card.
But Shinjuku is also known for another type of shopping. This is where you find the infamous red light district Kabukicho. We only saw it in daytime, before the neon lights turned the kinky ladies clubs into colourful beacons.
But what caught my fascination – in the anthropological sense – were the many clubs for women. Unlike red light districts in Europe, Kabukicho seems to cater to both men and women. Massive billboards showing charming and boyish looking gentlemen decorated the streets. This is where the restrained women of Japan go to enjoy a few hours of freedom from an otherwise very male dominated society.
Kabukicho however is also known for a real size Godzilla, which rises above the buildings. In fact, it is merely a head, but it looks real, the way it peaks above a large building.
I love this part about Japan. They are not afraid to add massive figures in the cityscape. Not only are the commercials central in many of the commercial centres both in Osaka and here, but their inclusion of massive crabs, blowfish, dragons and now Godzilla breaks up the store fronts.
The rectangular and boring high-rises become playground to disruptive commercials for eateries or cinemas, which again become iconic for the cityscape.
Lunch on the 6th floor
After hours of walking through Shinjuku, I was more than ready to find a place for lunch. After crossing the tracks, we came upon what will be one of the best lunch experiences of our trip.
We try to keep a reasonable budget, but when we crossed paths with a 6th floor restaurant called Yakiniku-Tei Rokkasen and offering a 1.5 hours grill buffet and a view over Shinjuku, we just had to try it out. It might be one of our most expensive restaurant visits in Tokyo, but in all fairness that is only because I am comparing it to the cheap sushi eateries in Shibuya.
And we did not regret spending our money on these 1.5 hours of delicious heaven. First we were seated in a cubicle with no window view, but it didn’t take long for me to wiggle us into a booth with a view.
While the servers might have been slightly stressed when we changed tables, I think they forgave us the chaos as they saw our awe of the view. We spent our time both eating and taking pictures from our seats.
The food was absolutely amazing. If there is one thing the Japanese know how to do it is greasy meat. They are in no way afraid of the fat, which at the same time is not a thick layer on the one side of the meat, but intricately woven into the meat served. It brings out a mouthwatering juiciness, which is hard to compare.
Buffets in Japan are limited to the extend that you have to pay for any dish you have not eaten, making it less likely for people to order too much. A very good way to stop food waste – except when you get the brilliant idea to check out the pig feet. We had to hide them under napkins and other items because we simply couldn’t eat them. Being from Denmark I am pretty used to eating various parts of the pig, but I swear to never order pig feet again in my life.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
After finishing our lunch – apart from the hidden away pig feet – we ventured into the business and administrative part of Shinjuku and towards the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which offers a free view of the city from its 202 meters high observation deck on the 45th floor.
Yesterday in the Marunouchi Building, we had seen Tokyo by night. This afternoon, we got to see the city under a light cloud cover as it spread before us from Shinjuku.
It is always a thrill to stand so high and look down upon such a massive cosmopolitan city, which from high above seems to be one single human made organism. The clouds which in the horizon seemed heavy with rain gave it all a dramatic effect.
After a short walk around the not so attractive business and administrative part of Shinjuku, we returned to Shinjuku Station. As the worlds busiest train station this is a place where you can get easily lost.
We almost got separated when on our way through a tunnel in the station, I came past a small stand, where you could have your glasses cleaned by placing them in a tub of water and the wait 60 seconds while they were shaken clean of dirt.
My glasses have never been this clean before, but the 60 seconds it took were enough to loose sight of my boyfriend – even with newly cleaned glasses. Thankfully he’d waited further up the tunnel, or I might still be running around this massive station searching for him.
Harajuku and Meiji Jingu Shrine
It was already getting late as we reached Haranjuku Station, but with a slight addiction to temples and shrines from our stay in Kyoto, we decided to check out the Meiji Jungu Shrine.
Unlike the many shrines and temples we’ve seen so far Meiji Jingu is a modern shrine dating back to 1920 when it was built in commemoration of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.
Emperor Meiji has also given name to the Meiji Restoration, which brought about feudal Japan and the samurai class in favour of a modern state. Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of this new Japan. He came to power in 1867 at the very peak of the restoration.
The Shrine is placed in a small forest in the middle of Tokyo, which by itself is surprising to see. It takes ten minutes walk to reach the Shrine from the busy hustle and bustle of Harajuku.
On the way to the Shrine we passed a stack of wine barrels from Bourgogne which has been consecrated at the Shrine to the spirit of world peace and amity. Well what is better than wine to assure amity and peace. The information spoke of the Meiji period as one of enlightenment and the emperor as having integrated Western influences through culture and food to Japan.
By gaining the good and rejecting what is wrong,
It is our desire that we’ll compare favourably
With other lands abroad
Poem by Emperor Meiji
Returning to the bustling life of Tokyo, we ventured down Takeshita Dori in Harajuku. This is the beating heart of Japanese teenage culture. Here you find every other person wearing a maid costume or cosplay outfit and most shops selling items, which seem as if My Little Pony threw up a rainbow.
It is all so over the top cute that I can’t shake the feeling that it is a sign of a society where women are still objectified to the extreme.
Whether this is the younger generations attempt to rid themselves of the strict social norms of earlier Japanese generations or if they simply redo them in a sexist way, I cannot tell, but to me there is a certain sourness to the cuteness.
Nonetheless or maybe because of this, Harajuku is an interesting place to visit.
But my feet were starting to hurt and after a short stop in KiddyLand, we walked slowly towards Shibuya to enjoy the crowded streets and commercials one more time.
Japanese city maps which are placed around to help guide tourists and visitors rarely point north. Their top will always be the direction in which you stand when looking on the map.
We arrived in Tokyo yesterday and since it is Sunday, I’d planned for us to visit the Shinagawa Intercity Flea Market near Shinagawa Station before exploring the famous shopping district Ginza. Ginza is particularly interesting on Sundays when the main street is closed off for traffic.
Shinagawa Intercity Flea Market
I have terrible trouble with reading Japanese maps, because they defy some of the fundamentals of what I know from home. On a European map the top will always point North and any city map you find will no matter where it is placed show North at the top. The same way we see a Europe or world map with the northern hemisphere on top.
But Japanese city maps which are placed around to help guide tourists and visitors rarely point north. Their top will always be the direction in which you stand when looking on the map. For some reason it makes sense, and it reminds me of that scene on Friends when Joe and Chandler are sightseeing in London and Joey places the map on the street and steps on it for a chance of an overview. Joey would feel right at home in Japan.
I however am lost. It doesn’t help much that everything is written in kanji signs.
Thus, finding our way from the Shinagawa train station to the flea market proved a challenge. It didn’t help any that the flea market took place inside a nondescript modern building.
To top it off, when we arrived we soon realised that my boyfriend had forgotten his credit card and we were running low on cash. We spent the next 45 minutes attempting to find a way into the glass room where the building’s ATM was placed. Sundays really are a bitch when on holiday. In addition, my boyfriend had to make his way home to Shibuya to assure that it was in fact forgotten and not stolen.
I ended up only scarcely looking through the items at the flea market with nothing catching my attention before we were meeting up again in Ginza.
Ginza however caught my attention and interest. Ginza is a shoppers paradise. One of the most prestigious and well known shopping districts in the world.
Here you’ll find flagship stores for most of Japan’s international brands like Sony and Uniqlo as well as foreign designers from H&M to Gucci and Vuitton.
But what truly caught me here was that on Sundays, the main shopping streets in Ginza become car free and open up to shoppers drinking a coffee at a café in the middle of the grand Tokyo boulevards.
It seems as if the area with its beautiful high-rises gets a chance to breath and show off its very best with the open space.
This is the perfect place for commercial events and advertisement and we ran into a large group of kimono clad women posting for some commercial photography shooting. They seemed quite content also posting for everyone else.
Ginza on Sundays is definitely one of my favourite shopping experiences except that we didn’t buy anything. But how on earth would I have the space for more shopping.
It was simply the fresh feeling of space on the open road which made me fall in love with this area.
Our final stop in Ginza was Hibiya Chanter Square, which we spent quite a bit of time in search of. We wanted to see the iconic Godzilla at Hibiya Chanter Square.
I trust that this is how people feel when they find The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen and realise that it is not the size of the Statue of Liberty, but merely human-sized. This iconic Godzilla is a small statue, which seems easy to miss entirely. But it is there, and we saw it, documented it with a picture and went on our way.
From Ginza we moved on to the Marunouchi business district with a plan to visit the Marunochi Building from where we had read that the view of Tokyo should be pretty good. Evening was coming around and the streets of Marunouchi were dead quiet with the massive buildings all around standing as guards for the coming night.
When we finally found Marunochi Building it was dark, but this only made the view from the top so much more magical. Watching the lights of Tokyo spreading out below us was absolutely amazing, and best of all it was free.
Tokyo Ramen Street at Tokyo Station
Marunouchi begins at Tokyo Station and after a long first day in Tokyo, we only had one stop left before returning to Shibuya and our pleasant little studio apartment.
Tokyo Station is famous for its Ramen Street, which offers eight of the best ramen shops in Tokyo. The eight restaurants are found at the Yaesu Underground Exit of Tokyo Station.
We had some trouble finding the place, but once we arrived we were in no doubt that we had found it. Long lines in front of all the restaurants spoke to the popularity of this place.
However, ramen shops have a marvellous system of paying in a machine before getting a seat, and so the serving went fast, and it was not long before we got a table in one of the shops alongside a refreshing bowl of ramen.
Surrounded by the neon lights and massive commercials in Osaka’s Dotonbori, I can only come to the conclusion that Japan’s third largest city has been worth every minute we spent here.
There is so much to see in Kyoto that I must admit myself sceptical that we should also venture all the way to Osaka on a day trip. The city has more than 2.5 million inhabitants and is the third largest in Japan. To see it in a day seemed daunting when we could simply spend the day temple crawling in Kyoto.
But my boyfriend convinced me to go and I do not regret it. Osaka is a city full of life, a metropolis not unlike how I imagine Tokyo to be. With large skyscrapers and massive commercial signs and screens. Osaka’s Running Man being the most adored in the city scape of Osaka.
But before we made it to the hub of Osaka’s commercial district we’d spent hours traversing the sights of the city.
We began at the ever present Ōsaka-jō, Osaka’s most famous sight.
What we did not know, as we ventured into the long line of tourists waiting to visit the castle, is that it is a reproduction made out of concrete and with elevators moving people around rather than the narrow stairs which we’d become accustomed to in Matsumoto.
The main tower of the castle was razed to the ground during the Meiji restoration in 1868 and reconstructed in 1931. With the end of WW2 the castle, which at the time housed a large arsenal, was bombed by American air raids. In the 1990’s it was renovated and an elevator was introduced inside, making it more handicap friendly but less authentic.
However, the fact that it has been rebuild to claim the glory of the Edo period is a wonderful thing and it is truly a majestic building from outside.
Osaka Castle was completed in 1586 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi after he had unified Japan in the wake of the Sengoku. The Sengoku, which means the Warring States Period, is a period in Japanese history which began with the Ōnin War in 1467 to 1477 and the collapse of the Ashikaga Shogunate.
Though the Shogunate never ceased to exist, the period was a constant struggle amongst the Japanese warlords which ended with the rise of three subsequent warlords, known as the unifiers of Japan: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
As a powerful daimyō (feudal lord) Oda Nobunaga had managed to gain control of most of Honshu, when he was killed in 1582. It was his retainer Toyotomi Hideyoshi who saw the completion of a unified Japan. This he did with Osaka as his capital and the castle as his show of power.
But after his death in 1598 it became impossible for his five year old son and heir to keep his fathers position. Toyotomi had established a go-tairō (Council of Five Regents) to rule in the place of his son Toyotomi Hideyori, but in particular one of them had further ambitions.
As the most powerful daimyō in the Council of Five Regents, it did not take Tokugawa Ieyasu long to gain power. In 1600 at the Battle of Sekigahara, he won a decisive victory over the other Regents and by 1603, Emperor Go-Yōzei awarded him the title and rule as Shogun.
However, young Toyotomi Hideyori was still a threat to the newly appointed Shogun and the future of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The Siege of Osaka
We’ve already seen Tokugawa Ieyasu’s castle in Nagoya which he had built in 1610 after the end of the Sengoku and his rise as Shogun as well as Nijo-jō, which he had built and used as the Tokugawa residence in the imperial city of Kyoto.
We also visited Matsumoto-jō which relates in its own way to the strife between the Tokugawa and Toyotomi clans, but for all intents and purposes Osaka-jō plays the most central role in Tokugawa Ieyasu’s rise to power and his defeat of the Toyotomi clan.
Through the winter of 1614 and the summer of 1615 Tokugawa led a siege on Osaka, which ultimately ended the Toyotomi and introduced the Tokugawa Shogunate, which would rule the country for the following 250 years and move the seat of power to Edo which today is better known as Tokyo.
Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street
After a walk through the Castle Park we took the subway to Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street. According to Osaka-info it is the longest straight shopping street in all of Japan expanding from north to south 2.6km. There are approximately 600 shops with address under the roof of the shopping street.
In Japan shopping streets are commonly covered, which makes it a delight to shop in some of the many different shops in the humid summer climate.
Walking through Tenjinbashisuji, we found a small place selling Takoyaki. Takoyaki which are ball shaped baked batter the size of golf balls. It is the number one thing to try out in Osaka and so many foodies on the web put this down as culinary heaven.
Well, I was not overly pleased and while I love so much of the food we are having these days, Takoyaki is not on my list of things to miss. The taste was just wrong.
But I loved the little worse for wear shop and the bare nothing sitting area in the back. This was definitely not catering to the tourist crowds.
After window shopping in Japan’s longest straight shopping street, we took the train to Shitennōji Temple, the Head Temple of Washu Buddhism and the oldest official Buddhist temple in Japan.
It was founded by the legendary Prince Shōtoku in 593 after his victory over the Mononobe Clan. The Prince wanted to adopt the new and progressive religion Buddhism, while the Mononobe Clan supported the traditional Shinto religion of Japan. As such, the temple is crucial in understanding the religious history of Japan.
The temple buildings, though beautiful, are far from as old as the temple history. The entire temple was rebuilt in 1963, but from the design 1300 years prior. It is a magnificent complex with a beautiful pagoda, which made me wonder if I should have made a count of the number of pagodas we have seen so far.
What I liked the most about the temple were the beautiful paper lanterns.
Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine
After nearly two weeks of walking around in Japan and an intense schedule of temple crawling in Kyoto the last couple of days, I could feel my feet starting to give way. I was far from pleased with my boyfriends enthusiasm and plan to visit the large Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine. Most of all I just wanted to sit down and not move for a week and I was almost stomping my feet like a five year old until I realised how little energy they had for such endeavours.
But I’ve come to know through my travels that a little pain in the feet is nothing compared to the regret you feel if you didn’t see all there was to see. So off we went from the Buddhist temple to the Shinto Shrine, once again by train.
And now that I have rested my feet I am off course very happy that we went.
Sumiyoshi is the ancient entrance way to Japan and it is believed that in ancient times, Suminoe no Tsu (Suminoe Port) was situated only a short way south of Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine. This makes sense since the three Shinto gods who are referred to as the Sumiyoshi sanjin are gods of the sea and sailing. In ancient times this was the port that lead into the world, to the T’ang Dynasty in China and as Japan’s entrance to the Silk Road.
Since the shrine predates the arrival of Buddhism, it is a much older place of worship than the Shintennōji Temple. It is also an example of the architecture style sumiyoshi zukuri, which is without influences from mainland Asia.
The grounds are beautiful, but what fascinated me the most were a group of ducks wondering around. Three ducks following each other religiously and a fourth that was constantly left out.
Evening in Denden Town and Dotonbori
Returning from Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, we made our way towards Nipponbashi, which has sprung up and become known as Denki Machi, meaning Electric Town. Often nicknamed Denden Town this is one of Osaka’s main shopping streets offering cheap electronics from massive discount stores as well as stores catering to the Otaku.
However, as it was getting late many of the shops were about to close as we made our way through the area and most of our shopping was confined to window shopping. At this point however my feet were killing me and I was getting hungry. It was past eight pm and most restaurants would soon be closing down if our previous experience in Takayama was any indication.
And there it was! Ichimizen – the smallest restaurant I’ve come across that wasn’t an outdoor food vendor. Yet, with some of the largest portions of tempura donburi (tempura rice bowls) you can imagine. While my feet got a well deserved rest, we placed ourselves firmly in the seats at the counter of this small but welcoming place.
The very idea that such a wonderful restaurant can function in such a small place is heartening and I think that we can learn a lot from Japan in how even the smallest of places can come alive and become charming additions to a city scape.
Ichimizen is nothing more than a counter and glass front which open up. In the day time you can sit outside and I imagine they open up as a type of street kitchen, but in the evening they close up and from the counter to the glass wall you will find no more than a meter worth of space – if even.
And then they serve the best tempura I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. This in itself would have been enough for me to find our trip to Osaka a success. But we were far from done for the day and my feet were a long way from getting back to Kyoto.
We spent the next couple of hours walking through the Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street alongside Osaka’s youth before reaching Dotonbori and the running man. The entire area is lit with commercials and neon lights and to someone like me who only ever really saw Picadelly Circus as any form of comparison this seemed a magical land.
Surrounded by the neon lights and massive commercials in Osaka’s Dotonbori, I can only come to the conclusion that Japan’s third largest city has been worth every minute we spent here and I would have loved to have more time exploring this metropolis.