Jethro: Next stop was an unexpected one, New York!
Ok, we’re not in New York, that would be a crazy route.
This statue of liberty is actually in Odabia, Tokyo! oh yes folks, we’re in Japan!
Jethro: The time between deciding to go to Japan, and leaving, was only slightly longer than the time between leaving and arriving. 25 hours of travel took us on an unexpected detour from our intended route south (which was a path through Malaysia/Singapore/Indo). Due to plans changing for Peach’s birthday, we had an extra month to spend in Asia, before heading to NZ/Australia. With monsoons ruling out other extra destinations, we found the excuse to go to the mega expensive but mega exciting country we didn’t think we would do in this trip. Japan! And first stop, Tokyo! After Japan we will rejoin the Singapore/Indo/NZ route, and then do Australia after NZ.
Peach: It took a total of 25 hours to travel from Penang to our Tokyo hostel, including a night bus to Kualar Lumpur, a train to the airport, a flight, and another train, and a taxi – the taxi’s (with the auto opening passenger doors) have a really cool retro style to them . We arrived at 12:55am and the reception was open until 01:00am so that was close! The hostel was pretty decent though, absolutely spotless with excellent showers and comfy beds. The budget won’t stretch to a private room in Tokyo (very expensive!) so we stayed in a dorm, but it was very private with out bunk bed area curtained off from the rest of the dorm. After a good 10hours of recovery sleep we headed out to forage for Japanese food and made it about 2 meters to the restaurant next door and had our first taste of super amazing Japanese noodles! The restaurant was ace, the kitchen was open and we sat on the bar facing it, everyone including the chefs wave hello when you enter and waves goodbye and it was just a really good atmosphere.
Jethro: Our first taste of Japanese food was quickly followed by a visit to Akihabara district, AKA ELECTRIC TOWN. The place where Japanese videogame culture is –
Peach: Toilets! Ok, so some people might not find toilets a very interesting subject, but within minutes minutes of arriving in Tokyo I was absolutely blown away by the amazingly sophisticated (and rather complicated) modern toilets that we have found are common – even public loos here. They genuinely require instructions on how to use the self cleaning, heated seats, ‘flushing noise’ (intended for added privacy in public toilets) and washing and drying functions built into each loo, and some of them even lift the lid automatically when you enter a cubicle. Fair enough not all toilets have all buttons, and they don’t all have instructions, but they are pretty amazing
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Jethro: Back to Akihabara! This is the most popular otaku District, which is what many would assume all of Japan is: Manga, video games, and sexualised weirdness. Game shops ease you in on the first floor containing regular games and comics, get weirder on higher floors as the anime girls get sexier and the collectables get weirder, and eventually scare you off with a top floor of guys playing yugioh style card games surrounded by blatant pornography.
We weren’t brave enough to go as a couple to the “Maid Cafes”, where cute Japanese girls dressed as sexy maids wait on tables. We’d heard about the one where, if you could chug a jug of something in one go, the maids would slap you (that’s a prize??). We were not ready for that level of Japan. We mostly checked out the awesome arcades and collectables shops. A seven storey electronics shop was awesome to explore too.
That first night however, we pushed the Tokyo craziness as far as we could. I had booked seats in what I like to think is Tokyo’s version of watching a West End show in London. Never say I’m not cultured or romantic, I take my girlfriend to the best shows there are. It was time for the ROBOT RESTAURANT!
Peach: One of Jethro’s classically crazy ideas was to go to the Robot Restaurant (yes, it’s a thing) and see a robot show on our first evening in Tokyo. Like the rest of Tokyo, it was flashy, crazy, and a whole lot of fun! The photos didn’t really work out because of the lighting but this video captures the crazy perfectly…
[Video coming soon because Snapchat won’t let jethro save it]
The robot restaurant was near a modern and flashy district called Shinjuku, which I had read about and really wanted to go look around before the show. As with the rest of Tokyo we kind of wandered around in a bit of a daze, soaking in the sky high towering buildings covered in neon lights and beautiful scripted writing. We had some more Japanese food, this time it was mixed with Chinese influence and was ramen (noodles and stuff in a clear and flavoured broth) with wontons. Again – very delicious!
Jethro: We were walking around a really cool park (“Chiyoda”, with gardens and the imperial palace etc…) and stumbled into a level of Mario kart. It was this stone fortification thing, but was obviously the inspiration for bowsers castle level on the video game. A curvy wide pathway wound it’s way up. We ran up it, pretending to drift around the corners. It was weird in another way because when the wind blew, it made really loud and beautiful ghostly music sounds. There was a beautiful Japanese style garden, and after viewing several more since we have decided that Japanese style gardens are our favourite in the world ( excluding Vance Gillgren gardens of course (; ). They feel miniaturized, and are both clean and tidy but still feel wild and natural. We didn’t actually find the imperial palace as the park was soo big, and peach was still unable to do too much strenuous while still sick and on her drug cocktail.
It was very cool that the one and only Greg Donohoe was in Tokyo while we were! We actually stayed an extra couple days so we could meet up. Was brilliant seeing a UK friend after so long travelling, and we did all the Japan classics like conveyor belt sushi, streets packed with neon signs, sake, and karaoke. Cheers Greg + friends, was an absolute blast! (:
Peach: The busiest crossing EVER is in a district called Shibuya. When you see images of ‘busy’ in films or on the television or of Tokyo in general, it’s probably this busy road crossing that you are being shown. It’s right next to probably the busiest Starbucks ever which has a great view of the crossing. We decided on a cafe facing Starbucks instead (L’Occitane) which looked a teeny bit quieter where we ate and drank rose tea and watched the crazy amount of people cross the crazy busy road over and over. Naturally, we crossed it a few times ourselves and took selfies. Not because we needed to go anywhere, but because we wanted to be a part of it.
Jethro: At one point people dressed like Mario characters careered over the crossing in Go-Karts. It looked amazing! But was sold out online for weeks and you needed a Japanese/International driving license. ):
We also went to the national Museum of emerging science and innovation. It was Ok, with a bit of a kids/cheesy interactivity focus. There was some very in depth science thrown in too, maybe the average Japanese person knows more than we did, because it was hard to follow. They had a cool directional audio demo, a marble model of the internet, and “Asimo”, that robot from 10 years ago who was going to change the world.
He came out of a small box where he’s stored now, and did a scripted run around. He kicks a football and it’s a hell of a shot, as fast as your average human could kick a ball. I kinda felt bad for him, like a band that has a famous one hit wonder and then finds themselves doing tiny gigs in pubs 10 years later. He still got a nice round of applause.
Another place deserving a mention was Shimokitazawa, which is Japanese hipstertown. Vinyl record shops and secondhand clothes shops mingle with homemade cafes that are actually converted living rooms. We tried on some second hand kimonos and yakata and tried to convince ourselves that there was space in our backpacks.
After 5 days in Tokyo, it was time to head for the hills! We were aiming for a loop around the Japanese Alps. First stop, Matsumoto!
P.s. Did you know some restaurants here have vending machines where you order? Japan!