and hello to sushi, heated toilet seats and winter for 2 weeks!
15.02.2011 - 01.03.2011 8 °C
After leaving hot and humid Malaysia, we arrived in Japan – and good lord, it was freezing! OK... it was only about 8 degrees Celsius – but we were about to experience the only 2 weeks of winter we’d have on our travels and we weren’t used to it!
Before you start rolling your eyes – keep in mind that we didn’t pack any winter clothes since 95% of the time we’d be in warm weather! So whenever we’d head out in Japan, we would have to wear at least 2 or 3 layers of the clothes we did bring!
We spent one week in Japan checking out Tokyo!
One of the hotels we stayed at in Tokyo was near the Ginza district, which is famous for its shopping – both traditional Japanese shops and some of the world’s leading brand shops.
Ginza is also near the Tsukijii Fish Market, the world’s largest fish market
– which we visited a few times, checking out the fresh seafood, jandals (Japanese sandals), and of course eating the freshest sushi ever!
There are dozens of restaurants and food stalls – so if you are unsure of where to eat, just check out the people that eat there. Look for those wearing rubber boots – these are the people that actually work at the fish market and as we’ve learned on our travels, the locals always know best!
A few days later, Jesse’s Grandpa (Ogeechan) took us for a behind-the-scenes tour of the fish market.
Tourists aren’t typically encouraged to do this, as it can be quite chaotic with the moving trucks and boxes of seafood being moved around the one million different stalls in the fish market. But given that Ogeechan used to work at the fish market, he wanted to take us around there – and no one questioned him about it!
Ogeechan turns 90 years old this year but still travels around Tokyo by foot and by bicycle every day!
At one point in the fish market, a shop owner that Ogeechan knew tried to sell him some O-toro Tuna – the most prized cut of tuna, for about $72 Canadian! A pretty good deal – but considering we were going to be spending the day sightseeing in Tokyo, it wasn’t a good idea to bring a huge piece of raw tuna with us!
We then headed to the Hama-rikyu gardens, a scenic park and special historic site in the middle of Tokyo. We walked around and checked out all of the different trees, plants and buildings there.
This is also where we boarded the water bus, a ferry service touring you through Tokyo via river and under the many bridges!
At the last stop, we could see the Tokyo Sky Tree, soon to be completed, the Tokyo Sky Tree will be the tallest tower in the world at 634 meters.
(Side note – the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai will still be taller, but it’s classified as a “man made structure”. The Tokyo sky tree will be the tallest TOWER – so yes, it’s just a matter of definition...)
We also took pictures of the Asahi Beer Hall – which looks like a giant foaming beer!
You may be wondering, like us, what the heck the swiggly looking gold structure is beside the beer shaped building. Well, after some research, we found out that it is the Asahi Flame, and is said to represent the 'burning heart of Asahi beer' and a frothy head. Apparently many Tokyo residents refer to it as "the golden turd"! You heard it here first folks...
After getting off the water bus, we were in Asakusa, another popular area of Tokyo to visit. It is home of the Sensoji Temple, which is visited by over 30 million worshippers ever year.
It also has many shops, restaurants and sweet shops –
we stopped at one sweet shop and tried manju – which is a japanese sweet, made from flour and rice powder and has a filling – then is fried. It was delish! Jacq had ‘matcha’ flavour (green tea flavour) and Jesse had ‘goma’ (sesame) and Ogeechan had ‘kabocha’ (pumpkin).
Another area we visited in Toyko, was Akihabara, which is known as the electronic district in Tokyo. Here we shopped at Yodobashi Camera, one of Japan’s most popular electronics stores – with over 8 floors of electronics and other random gadgets.
Most noteably, they carry the largest selection of the newest cameras on the market and of course we couldn’t resist so we we both bought new cameras! Jacq bought a Canon IXY 30S and Jesse bought a Fujifilm Instax mini (Fuji Film’s equivalent of a mini Polaroid camera).... and we both haven’t stopped talking pictures!
Jesse’s mom liked Jacq’s camera so much she also bought the same one! The store also had neat accessories; including a tiny mirror that you place on your camera, so that if you are taking a self shot (think your arm out, trying to squish everyone’s face in the frame!!) – so now you can make sure everyone is in the shot without guessing! OF COURSE, only in Japan!
One of our favourite experiences was heading out to Kamakura, which is just south of Tokyo past Yokohama. Jesse’s mom and his Aunt, Pico-chan were amazing tour guides!
Kamakura is a small and relaxed town, home to 65 temples and 19 shrines, some of which date back centuries.
We first went to the Hokokuji temple, known commonly as the bamboo temple, as you have to walk through a beautiful bamboo forest before getting to the temple.
It was breath taking! When we arrived, we participated in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
Shopping in Japan, although not as affordable as Hong Kong, is an attraction all on its own. There are so many shopping districts including Ginza, Shinjiku, Shibuya, and Harajuku, and each has its own unique characteristics.
Take Harajuku for example, one of the fashion capitals of the world, it is renowned for its unique street fashion and is one of the largest shopping districts for young people in Japan.
Shibuya, just one station from Harajuku also has some of the latest and craziest fashion trends from young people. One of the most popular shopping centres in Japan for young girls known as 109 (Ichi-maru-kyū).
It is a 9 floors complex filled with stores for young girls that is designed in such a way that you actually have to circle each level before making it up the escalator to the next floor. Every floor was packed, each store was pumping out next level beats and girls were dressed in the craziest outfits - you would sooner think you were in one of Tokyo’s newest nightclubs. By the time we reached the very top – we were ready to take the stairs to avoid the insanely busy escalators back down.
We could write an entire blog entry about food alone! Instead we’ll let you drool over these pictures of some of the food we tried in Tokyo!
WHY WE LOVE JAPAN!
After all of the eating, the shopping, and seeing sights such as Tokyo's temples and shrines - there are certain things about Japan that make it so unique and special.
Japan is ahead of the times! From heated toilet seats (which also play music or flushing noises) - to taxi cab doors which open and close when the driver presses of a button - to sushi you can order via touch screen!
We also couldn't leave Tokyo without visiting the Hachiko statue at Shibuya station. If you aren't sure who Hachiko is, do yourself a big favour and rent the movie! OR - read this (spoiler alert if you plan to watch the movie)! This is the type of dog that we would like to get - if we can get them in Canada!!
We had to check out Pachinko - a gambling machine only found in Japan.
While a pachinko machine closely resembles pinball machine - it is also much different! It has no flippers and uses a large number of small balls. While at the time, we had little idea what was going on (these things are SERIOUSLY loud!) we learned that the object of the game is to fire the ball up into the machine, controlling only its initial speed knob. The ball then cascades down through a dense forest of pins - where most of the time, the ball falls to the bottom and is lost, but if it goes into special pockets, more balls are released as a jackpot. Each ball is about 4 cents - so you want to win as many balls as possible!
Next up – our “rail” trip to Nara, Kyoto and Kobe!