October 11, 2015

The bright lights of Tokyo (Temples, tea gardens & bullet trains )

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Japan has always been on my bucket list. Its a place that, in my mind has delicious food, a fascinating culture, a country that is still steeped in tradition but has the unusal and fantastic juxtaposition of high tech technology making everyday life that bit easier.

This is not entirely obvious at first, in fact not really until you arrive home do you remember the clean streets, no litter in sight, no bins either making every street sparkling and totally dirt free. Toilets with more functions than you can imagine, trains that run at super speed and tubes that are never delayed it is a society that seems to run seamlessly.

We arrived late on Sunday night to a glistening view of downtown Tokyo, crashed out and woke early the next day to growling bellies (less than a little impressed by a body clock tilt and hungry for tempura).

We decided to venture to two districts in the north west of the giant metropolis of Tokyo, Shibuya (home to the biggest pedestrian crossing in the world) and Shinjuku, the birthplace of Tokyo street fashion, streets lined with neon advertising and home to Tokyo's quirkier assets (cat cafes, maid cafes and restaurants run by robots).

In-between these two areas we wanted to stop by Meiji - Jingu Shrine, less of a tourist trap than some other sites of Tokyo and truly beautiful.

As we arrived through the giant gates of the shrine we were able to witness a traditional wedding ceremony. we crowded amongst the other toruists to capture the procession of the bride and groom through the temple precincts.

The dress of each member of the ceremony was beautiful and with not a hair out of place, flowing silks and black velvet hats you felt like you had stepped back in time.

Once they had entered a private part of the shrine we ventured on around the rest of the magnificent complex.

Wandering through the wooden buildings we wound our way through to the pristine gardens in the surrounding woods. A calming zen garden takes you on a journey past tea houses with rice paper screens and serene round windows over ponds brimming with orange coy carpe finally to a wishing well.

After the shrine we walked up to the Shinjuku district. This area is full of neon strip lights and hectic with music, tooting horns and mind boggling style. Around the back of the main station is a small collection of alleyways making up the famous area known as 'piss alley'. Red lanterns strewn across doorways and sliding doors just open enough to peer in you can see food being prepared for the evening rush and people stopping in for a late lunch of Ramen. 

The style of these street restaurants is simple. You sit along a bar facing the kitchen and watch the chefs at work. With all menus being mostly in Japanese with basic english we decided that we would not risk this on our first day and instead headed off for Katsu in the station food court.

The stations in Japan are not only hubs of activity but also have amazing food. Restaurants line the food courts like traditional streets. 

Every restaurnt in Japan wants to give its customers an accurate description of what to expect from its food and this is done with extremely detailed acrylic imitations of every dish. Some of these were better than others, the more deatiled the imitation the more appealing the restaurant!

Can you believe these are plastic?!   ^

After we had our fill of the real thing... we wandered around the rest of 'piss alley' one more time before heading back for a long sleep.

Day two and we headed up to the North East of the city to an area called Akasusa. Here there is a beautiful shrine, a perfect cafe (with amazing green tea ice cream!) and the famous kitchenware street of Tokyo - Kappabashi. A street lined with shops stocking everything you would need to kit out a restaurant. From stools and benches to the plastic food of Japan, chopsticks, cookware and table linen this place could be described as a  cookware addict homeware lover's heaven.

The Akasusa, Sanja-Sama shrine is entered through  large gates which have huge lanterns hanging in the centre. Off to each side of these gates are small streets clad in wooden shutters and rice paper screens. If you can tear your self away from the tempation of wandering off up side alleys you walk up the market street to the main shrine. Each stall is bursting with street food, red bean paste, pancakes, rice tapioca on sticks, mochi and amazing soft serve icecream.

We wandered the Sanja-Sama shrine for a good hour, snapping away, lighting incense and really becoming immersed in the culture of this incredbile country. With grumbling bellies we went in search of a late breakfast...

We found a tiny cafe and gorged on freshely baked bread, shaved ice (a summertime Japanese treat) chewy milk balls and matcha soft serve. All washed down with matcha tea.

Once we had our fill of ice cream for brunch we went searching for Kappabashi Street....

Once I had had my fill of cookware we ventured back to our hotel to pack up for leg two of our adventure, Kyoto by bullet train....

More adventures next week!

My must sees for Tokyo...

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