Japan · 3 Days · 30 Moments · November 2013

Tokyo: Short Trip To A Megacity

1 December 2013

6. Kamakura Beach / Inamuragasaki Before returning to Tokyo enjoy the sunset on Kamakura beach. If you still have enough time left over before sunset and if you're eager to see Mt. Fuji, get on the regional Enoden Train (direction Fujisawa Station, so further away from Kamakura) and get off two stations later at Inamuragasaki Station. It's about 2 km, so you can also just take the bike. Voilà, your beautiful Fuji sunset as a worthy ending of a day in Kamakura!
5. Hase-Dera Close to the Great Buddha, this is the last temple on our Kamakura day trip. According to legends, two statues of the eleven-headed Kannon were made out of one tree, one of which was enshrined in Hasedera temple near Osaka. The other one was left floating in the sea to find its own place. So when it was found fifteen years later in 736 at Nagai Beach, buddhists brought it to the close Kamakura and built a temple to honor it. On the site you'll also find an Inari Shrine, where many little Jizō statures are put up by parents of stillborn or aborted children to watch over their souls. The site of Hase-Dera is full of beautiful places, it offers a nice view over the shore and tought me a lot about buddhism.
4. Daibutsu - Great Buddha He's sitting at the Kōtoku-in temple, measures 13.5 meters, he's probably about 760 years old, he weighs 93 tons and is made of bronze. He doesn't look like the bowl in front of him that has been filled with fruit could be more than a small snack to him. That's the Great Buddha at Kamakura. Very impressive. Note: We took the Enoden railway line from Kamakura to Hase Station and had to walk for about 5-10 minutes to get to the Great Buddha. Not necessary if you have a bike ;-)
3. Hokokuji Hokokuji is definitely my favorite temple. I'm not really a garden person, but those gardens are so calm and peaceful, there's something special about this place... Out the back, there's a bamboo grove and everything is covered in moss. Great place to have a cup of green tea relax from the exhausting days in Tokyo... By foot, you will walk for about 30 minutes, I recommend bike or bus!
Rental Bicycles in Kamakura Rent a bicycle! I didn't and I regret it! Without a bike you'll have to walk a lot to get around, and the routes are usually next to rather big roads, so the walking is not of the romantic but rather of the annoying kind! Get off the train at Kamakura to find a rental bike shop right next to the station.
2. Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū is the most important Shinto Shrine in Kamakura. It's quite crowded, many Japanese come her to pray and see the shrine. While we were there, it was the time of "Shichi Go San", which is a tradition of taking children to a Shinto shrine at the age of 7, 5 and 3, dressed up in Kimonos to celebrate their growth. The children were really proud when we asked them if we could take photos of them. And of course, the site also attracts many tourists.
Koyo (Autumn Colours) To the Japanese, colourful leaves in autumn are about as exciting as cherry blossoms in spring. November is a very good time to see trees and forests glow in red and yellow tones and many Tokyoites leave the city to marvel at the colourful scenery. Particularly beautiful is the entrance of Engaku-ji, it seems to be a popular photo spot for Japanise townies.
Drawing the temples of Engaku-ji If you have got some paper and a pen with you, sit down with the Japanese artists at Engaku-ji and draw the Zen temples...
1. Engaku-ji in Kita-Kamakura (Yamanouchi) So we got off the train at Kita-Kamakura which is a lot less crowded than Kamakura's main sights. On the left side of the train tracks we took the stairs up to Engaku-ji, an old zen buddhism temple complex. The beautiful wooden Sanmon main gate marks the entrance, behind it there is the Butsuden, the main hall, where a golden Buddha looks down on you. The site is very calm, an old lady is sweeping the forecourt and the autumn leaves (November/December) create a magical setting for the old Zen building. Further up on the hills of Engaku-ji you'll find a teahouse offering tea and sake. Perfect place for a little break! Note: If you decide to rent a bike, this will be a few minutes from the center of Kamakura. There's a couple of temple sites along the way from Kamakura to Kita-Kamakura, which I didn't have time to look at: Kencho-ji and Jōchi-ji. I'm sure they're also great, however, entry is about 300 Yen to each of the temples in Kamakura. So choose wisely!
Getting there Yokosuka Line goes to Kamakura, starting at Tokyo Central Station and stopping at Shimbashi, so there's two central stations to get on the train. The train ride takes about 55 minutes. We got off at Kita (north)-Kamakura - I think this is a good option if you don't want to use rental bicycles. If you go for the bicycle-option, get off at Kamakura.

30 November 2013

4. Kabukichō If you're still not tired, go to Kabukichō for the Blade-Runner-feeling - if Kabukichō can't make you tired, nothing can. The red-light district is full of amusement halls, host and hostess clubs, nightclubs, restaurants and bars... If you're looking for a nice bar, you're going to have to find one on your own. I asked one of the many shady-looking bar promoters that block the street, if he knew a bar to just share some beers with friends and he showed us a Mexican bar on the 7th floor. It was okay, but not super-awesome enough to be shared with you! I'm sure you can do better! And don't forget the upper storeys! Oh and be careful, they didn't charge us for the entry, but we did have to pay 300 Yen cover charge...
Kinji Used Clothes Like most things, clothing is expensive in Tokyo. But there is a way around this: second hand stores. My favourite one is Kinji, it's huge and has, amongst others, a lot of crazy 80ies and 90ies clothes, many of them at reasonable sizes and prices ;-)
Daiso Close to the western beginning of Takeshita-dōri, there's Daiso coming up - a 4-story 105 Yen Shop, which sells everything you could possibly imagine to get for about 1 Euro. My treasure (do not judge!): Origami paper - correction rollers in the shapes of penguins, bunnies and ducks - little soy sauce plates - stickers. Many stickers - calendars and notebooks - sticky memos - calligraphy pens... They also have a food section that has a lot of Japanese delicacies. I don't know how you will do, but by the time I left the shop, it had gotten dark.
How to do a Temizu In front of the entrance of Meiji Shrine, there's a water bassin for visitors to wash their hands and get clean before entering. Sounds simple, turns out to be complicated. So here's how you do it: You take the dipper in your right hand, fill it with water and pour some water over your left hand. Now you take it in your left hand and pour water over - correct - the right hand. Swap hands again, put some water into your left hand and rinse your mouth. Spit the water water into your left hand. Now use both hands to hold the dipper and turn it up, so the water rinses the handle. Congrats, you're all clean now.
3. Harajuku After all of this old culture - time to get to know the young, new culture! Luckily, we're really close to the Harajuku quarter now. This is where Tokyo's teens seem to go after school for some late-afternoon shopping and a waffle with ice cream. Takeshita-dōri is the central shopping street - let's mingle with the teenies and be amazed by the completely random english words and phrases on the clothes to be sold - we couldn't stop laughing!
2. Meiji-Shrine Coming from the city hall, you will enter the park around the Meiji Shrine through the northern entrance. When I was there, it was raining, and still, the atmosphere in the park and around the shrine was incredibly beautiful. Parents holding umbrellas for their little children dressed in Kimonos, Shinto monks praying, a bridal pair having their photos taken, and then about 300 young men in suits with umbrellas (with our growing pantomimic skills we were able to find out that they were Japan's baseball players receiving a blessing for the upcoming baseball season). So apparently, the shrine is very popular amongst Japanese shintoists. Leave the Meiji park through the southern exit.
1. View from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Start the day with a view over Tokyo - and if you're lucky, you might see Mt Fuji on the horizon. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building ("city hall") has two towers with a panoramic observation deck on each at 202 metres. Free entrance (yay!).

29 November 2013

Ito-ya Stationery, origami, washi and writing paper, anything you need for Japanese calligraphy - if you're a bit artsy, like drawing and writing, you'll love this shop in Ginza!
4. Ginza Just like Shibuya, Ginza is a commercial district with many multi-storey shops. However, Ginza seems richer, the streets are wider and the shops more expensive. After burning down completely in 1872, the whole area was rebuilt. The streets became wider and a boulevard was built, based on European standards. Even though most of the shops are expensive, I enjoyed wandering around window-shopping in a sparkling Ginza that apparently is really looking forward to Christmas! Ginza is also a good place to dive into nightlife: you'll find many bars, restaurants and clubs!
Yakitori For a snack, stop at one of the Yakitori-stands in Asakusa! You'll get grilled chicken meat on a bamboo skewer - delicious!
3. Kappabashi Only a few minutes away from the crowded loud side of Asakusa, I found myself in Kappabashi, the Kitchen Town of Tokyo. Shops provide japanese knives and chopsticks, the plastic display food you find in all the restaurants' shop windows as well as beautiful and very low-priced china... This seems to be where the Tokyoites buy their kitchenware. I would have loved to spend hours in this area, souvenir-shopping and exploring!
O-mikuji If you wonder about the frames covered with thousands of white paper strips close to shrines, those are bad o-mikuji, bad oracles, which their owners have attached to the frames in order for them to wait and to not become true. For a small donation, you can get an o-mikuji that will tell you if and to what degree you are cursed or blessed. It's pretty much a win-win-situation if the curses stay at the shrine ;-)
2. Nakamise-dōri - Sensō-ji Temple - Asakusa Shrine Don't let the tourist crowds of Sensō-ji put you off. The gate with the big paper latern (Kaminari-mon) marks the entrance of Nakamise-dōri, a shopping street leading to the buddhist Sensō-ji temple. Indeed, I found Nakamise-dōri touristy and slightly overprized, but the market has a very long tradition. Behind the buddhist temple, there is also a shinto shrine which, unlike many others shrines, has never been destroyed by earthquakes, fires or war and thus still dates back to Japan's Edo Period. Many festivals (Matsuri) revolve around this old Shrine, the most important one of which is Sanja Matsuri in late May.
1. Jogging around Imperial Palace Most of the Imperial Palace's site is not open to the public. So all you can see is some of the buildings from across the waters and parts of the park. Quite nice, but not that exciting - if you live close to here, I suggest you do what many Japanese do: go for a run around the park!
Matsuri & Co. Before you leave for Tokyo, do some research on which traditional festivals (Matsuri) will be on during your trip. Around the 15th of November, when we were there, the "Shichi Go San" was on and we saw many 7, 5 and 3-year old children dressed up in Kimonos at the shrines, where their parents and grandparents prayed for them to be blessed. We just missed the "Tori-no-ichi", the Rooster Fair, at Hanazono Shrine by one day, but we still went there to see the left-overs. At Meiji Shrine, preparations for the Crysantheme Festival wer being made... Note: I found the following page to be quite helpful: http://www.goldenjipangu.com/
Sushi! While you're in Shibuya, celebrate the day of your arrival with some excellent Sushi! Sushi-no-Midori offer Sushi at a fair price and in satisfying amounts! ;-) Follow the signs to the Mark City complex in Shibuya Station and be prepared to wait in a line - think about the large servings and the fresh fish while you wait! A huge plate (see picture) plus crab salad as a starter and miso soup and a bowl of egg paste with mushrooms and herbs cost about 3000 Yen.
Lost in Shibuya In case you lose your friends in the rushing crowds of Shibuya, which is not completely unlikely, wait for them where Hachikō, the little dog, used to pick up his owner every day after work, right next to Shibuya Station. When the professor died in 1924, the dog still went there every day to look for his owner. Since 1935, a statue marks Hachikō's waiting spot and today, many Japanese keep him company while waiting for their dates...
Supermarkets With just a few exceptions, I lived on supermarket food during my Tokyo trip. That's firstly due to my small budget, but then I also just really like buying authentic food at supermarkets and looking for nice spots to enjoy my snack... I find this uncomplicated and I love exploring different countries' ranges of products. I pretty much fell in love with the sticky rice triangles, which proved to be delicious and filling... FamilyMarts and Seven Elevens are the most common supermarkets.
Tokyo Subway The subway system works great in Tokyo. Even though the map looks chaotic and crowded, it won't be difficult for you to get around thanks to the excellent signposting in the subway stations. Do prepare for long walks in the stations between different lines! My friends and I tried out various ticket options and I found one to be the easiest and cheapest: the PASMO card, prepaid and equipped with a chip that you place on a reader to enter the subway ticket gates. You can get it at automats that say "PASMO" and it will save you a lot of time (especially when travelling in a group). It charges you the same as a single ticket (about 160 Yen per ride depending on how far you go), but you won't have to calculate where you need to get off and then buy the proper ticket every single time. There is a deposit of 500 Yen that you will get back at all tourist offices in the bigger metro stations. Also there is a service fee of 210 Yen. Totally worth it though!
Shibuya My plane arrived in Tokyo at lunchtime and when I left the hotel room it was about 4 pm. Despite a long flight I always feel very eager to explore a city right upon arriving. There is no better way to get a grasp of the Tokyo feeling than to dive into the crowds of Shibuya. Take the subway (Ginza line - orange; or Hanzomon line - purple) to Shibuya Station and watch as up to 15.000 people cross the road within one traffic light phase. Shibuya crossing is a famous spot and often featured in movies. Join the crowd and let them drag you into huge fashion stores and electronics shops with many floors to satisfy a consumeristic insanity... Warning: Shibuya is very exhausting. If you are tired from your journey, consider taking a walk around the Imperial Palace (see day 2), which is more relaxing!