Japan 2018 Travel

Tokyo times

22 October 2018

From the tranquillity of the Kumano Kodo area, we take a bullet train to Tokyo. The sound of the birds and the wind in the trees disappear and instead we are assaulted by different electronic bleebs of every kind. After a couple of hours in the train it feels like a little too much. Too much lights, to many sounds and too many people. The contrast is to big and it feels as if Tokyo will not be my kind of city. And yet, there is more to Tokyo than the madness as we’ll discover.

We clearly need food. Or I clearly need food. Erik is fine as I am sinking deeper into the clutches of the Hangry Monster. We cross the famous shibuya crossing along with what appear to be hundreds of other people (and tourists taking pictures, just like ours) and make our way to the neighbouring Shinjuku area. And here, at the Golden Gai block, Tokyo already redeems itself.

It is filled with green trees bending over a stone path. Small wooden buildings have restaurants in them and we simply pick one at random. We are taken in (no shoes!) and walk into a small, romantically lit restaurant. We sit at the bar with our legs dangling into the sunken floor. The first plates later, we are in ecstasy. Every single dish is like a dream on a plate. A dream in our mouths. We keep ordering more and more in the hopes of never letting our taste buds be without this glorious food ever again, but our stomachs start to protest after a second serving of delicious full complicated light and heavy stewed beef and it’s only because it must be good that we finish the plate with a thank you message on it. Filled to the brim, I can’t wait what else the madness of Tokyo will have to bring us.

Tokyo, like a lot of cities, is made up of different neighbourhoods. Two of these, we’ve now visited and now it’s time to visit more. And like most cities, this is best done on foot.

So we simply get ourselves breakfast, walk to the park on the other side of the railway tracks and start exploring. Making our way through the park, past notable buildings and all kinds of evidence that we are not in a European city on a summer’s day, but in the exotic Japan. We see Buddhist statues, Japanese style street art, prayer tablets and more green than I would have thought possible in such a metropolis.

After our walk, it’s time for the opposite: the electronic hub of Akihabara (not one for gadgets or sounds and lights all around, I do love the sound of the word “Akihabara”). It’s a bit underwhelming as most of the interesting stuff is (apparently) happening inside the buildings. We venture into one of the game halls, but again, the Hanger strikes and I am simply overwhelmed by the sensory overload.

So we eat and continue on our way. We see more of the city, and enjoy the old and the new. The high views and low ones, looking up towards massive buildings, but I am getting a bit tired. Too warm and not enough to drink. I need to change that and not let it interfere with my experience. So after burgers in a burgerbar (for shame, western food in Japan, but who cares, sometimes you simply crave something else) we make our way back to our hotel room. Getting ready for a Fuji-day in the morning.

Mt. Fuji was something I’d been looking forward to for some time. It seemed like a great way to get active again and see some more of the Japanese landscapes. But, it being such a well known-turisty place, I feared it would be a let down. It would turn out to both be great and a let down at the same time.

We arrive at the station early in the morning so as to make the most of our day. Turns out, you can’t just arrive and book a ticket for the next bus to one of the surrounding villages, you need to arrive two hours in advance. What we can do however, is buy a ticket, then wait for the current buss to leave, then register for the seats that may remain empty for the bus leaving in ten minutes. Then change our tickets to that bus if seats turn out to be unoccupied. So, within ten minutes, we get to talk to the same girl and embark on a bus only ten minutes behind our original schedule. I guess bureaucracy is a universal thing.

We arrive at the small town of kawaguchi and find out our planning is off. On Google I’d found a great route to a viewpoint, but according to the people manning the station, this would mean walking on a highway. Not a great idea. The alternative is to stand in line for over an hour and take another bus (and another hour) to get us to the viewpoint. Not really the idyllic spot we’d hoped for then. So we end up renting bicycles. I’d keep hoping to take a beautiful picture of Mount Fuji reflected in one of the lakes, but it’s simply to windy.

Finally done planning for today, I simply enjoy our ride. It’s good to feel active again. We’ve arrived just after spring. That means no cherry blossom (or beautiful fall colouring), but the intense green that is exploding out of every pore of the flora around us, has a beauty of its own. It’s no wonder the Japanese allegedly have a word for this specific greenery. Before the intensity of summer has turned the green slightly less verdant and way before the decline of fall has set in, we get to explore myriad shades of green in all their intensity. It is beautiful in all its unplanned glory.

We spent the afternoon enjoying the low level heat of basalt rocks that make me feel as if I am being warmed by the earth itself. It’s very soothing.

Back in Tokyo, it’s time for the one thing we haven’t been able to eat yet: sushi from a conveyor belt. And not just any conveyor belt. No, we get to order our sushi from our individual I-pads and minutes if not seconds later, our orders come racing towards us on three levels of conveyor belts. It’s as close as I’ll probably ever get to ordering food Star-Trek-style and although a bit weird (and not the best sushi we’ve eaten) it’s a great experience.

The next morning it’s raining. What to do in Tokyo when it rains? We try visiting the statute of liberty (tiny compared to the real thing) and we try shopping. But in the end, we decide to do one of the things modern Tokyo is known for: play games in an Arcade. And not just any game, a virtual reality game.

Before it’s our turn we have to wait for a bit, so we enjoy ourselves we some of the other (sometimes incomprehensible) games. We dance and we tap our hands to screens. I ghost bust as Luigi and finally we are sent into a virtual warzone.

It’s a very strange experience. Rationally, I know the I am simply walking around a little roped of area, but my mind is telling me I am in a complete world. When I step onto a moving train that goes up and down like a rollercoaster, I have to remind myself that I don’t have to counterbalance the movement. I am standing still on a very solid floor. I tap buttons that aren’t there, shoot monster that aren’t real, get the shit scared out of me by a very real Erik pinching my arm and cross a small wooden with the fake floor about a mile beneath me, onto a plain and than the game is done.

And just like that, our final day has arrived. We’ve seen all we HAD TO SEE, so today, we do what we do a lot on our final days in cities: we just stroll around. Picking new spots once we are done looking at the current one. We check out the Senso-Ji temple and Tokyo castle with hundreds of other tourists. We walk around a garden and we relax along the way. Today is not for visiting new sights, today is for amazing food.

We wanted to use the opportunity in Japan to dine at a two-star Michelin restaurant. And the one we fixed on was quintessentially… French? The one place we could book in advance online (we didn’t want to take any chances), was Michel Troisgros and so, that is the restaurant we’ll dine at.

Turns out, the chef that developed the restaurant is featured in an episode of Netflix’s chef’s table. We check out the episode to make ourselves long for the food even more and then we depart, braving the busy Tokyo local trains and dive into a wonderful food experience.

The food is wonderful. Every single bite is a unique experience. Flavours upon flavours upon flavours that are perfectly balanced. It’s the kind of food that has strange but lovely textures running all through it and each new plate makes us look at each other in a wish to share how insanely beautiful everything is. My eyes roll back in sheer food ecstasy every few minutes and I don’t want it to end. But by the end I am so full, filled with food and filled with the experience right here right now.

And filled with everything we have seen and done the past two weeks. It’s been a blast, but everything must come to an end. We dream our way back to the hotel for just one more sleep and one more flight home and then we are done. Japan is over and we get to remember it as we dream up the next adventure!

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