Part 2 in my Japan 2019 series. If you’ve missed the first part, you can catch up here.
The excitement of making it to Tokyo was dampened by a lengthy immigration queue. This is one of few seemingly inefficient processes in Japan. It took a long time back in 2015, and four years later it wasn’t any faster.
It was smooth sailing from there. We took the Keisei Skyliner train from the airport to Ueno station, then the underground to Kayabacho and our hotel, the Sotetsu Fresa Inn. The room, whilst small, was comfortable and the hotel was well located.
Time for a nap! We had been on the go for more than 24 hours with no real sleep, and it was only a few hours until we were due to meet up with Masaco. Masaco hosted me during my elective, and when I told her we’d be visiting on our honeymoon, she invited us out to dinner.
That sounds nice and normal, right? Not quite. It was dinner on a riverboat.
We met at Kachidoki station and walked to the riverside, where we boarded a boat and were asked to take off our shoes. The floors of the boat were lined with tatami, traditional straw mat floors, and there were a number of low tables set out at either side. Each table was already laden with a feast. Sashimi and tofu. Roast beef and edamame. Weird and wonderful textures and colours. The tables were of the more comfortable variety, with a hollowed out area underneath to allow for more comfortable seating while still giving the illusion of being traditional. The tofu restaurant beside Tokyo tower had the same sort of seating.
Masaco brought along her two children, Chihiro and Akika, but her husband had to work and couldn’t join us. We brought out the traditional gifts of our people, chocolate, teabags, and Cornish cider, and some pencil cases for the children.
The food on the table was only the beginning. Next came tempura – fish and vegetables deep fried in a light batter, and served with a dipping sauce. Then the rice, and noodles. And finally we were served a Japanese favourite, coffee jelly. It’s exactly how it sounds, but quite pleasant on a hot day.
We had a very pleasant evening, enjoying traditional food and taking in the Tokyo nightscape. Nothing crazy happened at all.
Oh wait, this was Japan. We were introduced to an older gentleman in a happi, a traditional coat worn during festivals, and Masaco explained he was the entertainment for the night. Was he going to be singing, dancing, reciting poetry? We had no idea.
First, he produced a plastic bag and pulled out little wooden noisemakers, handing them out to folks around the room. Then the singing commenced. It was along the lines of “A-saltey, a-saltey…” sung loudly and with convinction, to the beat of the noisemakers wielded by patrons. After a while, our entertainer produced a roll of sticks bound together with string, which resembled a placemat when unrolled. By moving the position of the string and twisting it in different ways he was able to create a variety of symbols and structures.
It wasn’t long until we were called upon as honeymooners to come up and create bridges, then hearts. All of a sudden we were holding up a giant heart, and told to kiss. Shortly after we were presented with a little gift bag, and inside were three little boat chopstick rests – miniatures of the type of boat we were on. It was such a kind gesture, and a beautiful memento of a very weird but wonderful night. We bade farewell to Masaco and the kids at Kachidoki station, and made our way back to Kayabacho.
Our second day in Tokyo began with breakfast at the Pronto attached to the hotel. I had toast and a boiled egg. With salad. Close, but not quite a Western breakfast. Iced coffee is ubiquitous in Japan in the summer, something I can really get behind.
It was time to do something touristy, and where better to start than Akihabara. Electric town.
Akihabara is the Japanese capital of geek culture, no exception. The stores are saturated with manga, anime, games, anything cute (kawaii, as it’s known in Japanese), and at times questionable. Maid cafes where women dressed in maid costumes serve you average food and drinks are on every corner. I wanted to show Sarah a shop that had a big impact on me. A shop on a scale like no other. Yodobashi Camera! Nine floors of goodness. Why wouldn’t you want to buy a camera, PC, phone, bottle of wine and a toilet all in the same place? You wouldn’t even entertain combining those things in the UK, but Japan seems to be fond of the concept. The stationery section blew Sarah’s mind – the Japanese are a bit fond of pens and pencils – and she found a new and improved camera bag.
After wandering around the many floors of Yodobashi Camera and bringing digital pathology to a massive Wacom Cintiq screen, we left on the hunt for some lunch. And promptly ended up in a puppy cafe.
Continued in Part 3: Twokyo