Tokyo: Welcome to Japan!

My conscientious boyfriend had been learning Japanese all the way around New Zealand. We struck a deal – I would drive and he would learn Japanese. Sounds fair! On the plane to Japan we were strangely calm… which is really very strange looking back, as we had not booked any accommodation and we couldn’t speak the language. I attempted to learn my usual repertoire of words (Yes, No, Thank you, Please, Sorry). My boyfriend on the other hand had a fairly good grasp of basic phrases, (do you have a non-smoking table please? please could we have a room for one night? do you speak English? etc). He practised his Japanese language on the air-steward on the plane, who informed us that Japanese people do not say “No” as it is considered rude. This threw us a bit, as “No” was one of the words we had learnt!

On the train on the way into Tokyo we felt scruffy – everyone was very well dressed. In our previous travels we had felt like the rich westerners – now we felt like people were going to give us money as donations for food. 😉

We arrived in Tokyo late at night and went to a nearby hotel. My boyfriend asked for a room in his best Japanese. The hotel man (who was standing about a metre from him) pointed at him and laughed loudly. To this day I have no idea why – whether he said “penis” by mistake or his accent was funny… who knows! Obviously I found it very rude at the time and felt sorry for poor boyfriend who had taken a great deal of time and effort to learn the language. But looking back it is pretty hilarious! I have resolved to point and laugh at my boyfriend more often, for my amusement. If he asks why, I’ll say I’m being cultural.

The one thing I don’t think the Japanese value is space. The room and en-suite was great – it was all there… but it was all tiny. The bed (sold as a double) was more like a slightly wider single. The bathroom was miniscule and it felt like we were camping, continually trying not to hit the sides of the room etc. (and we’re not THAT fat!!)

We explored Tokyo, and loved it! On day one we headed for the Imperial Palace and saw a horse-drawn procession in honour of the arrival of the Chinese Ambassador.

We walked around the city, to Akihabara, the electronics district where we saw lots of Sega shops, lots of life-size dolls, and models of cartoon characters. We also visited Ginza, which was “the posh bit” and was more like London or New York.

We also wandered the back streets and just took it all in. It was bizarre to be somewhere which on the one hand seemed familiar, with brands such as Sony and Gucci (which I am obv VERY familiar with… I buy it all the time……. 😉 ) but on the other hand all the writing was in a language we couldn’t read. And a different alphabet. Some areas of the city had no English whatsoever. Buying food was the most difficult thing for us, but I will discuss that in a separate “food blog” shortly…

One morning we got up early to go to the fish market. Unfortunately because we are lazy we got there late and only caught the tail end of it. Which I suppose could give rise to a fish joke… No? Anyway. We saw the fisherman cutting up the fish and wondered about getting some sushi – after all this must be the freshest place to go. However the sign said “Japanese people only”. I have no idea why this would be the case – it seemed very strange to me.

One day we visited the National Museum for Science and Innovation (you have to get the train to Obima over the Rainbow Bridge). It was very interesting and we saw a robot and learnt about Maglev trains etc! We visited a large shopping mall nearby and also a Statue of Liberty. (This is the third I have seen – one in Paris, one in New York, and one in Tokyo).

Tokyo seemed to be a delightful mix of old and new, mixing traditional culture and cutting edge technology. We were looking forward to exploring Tokyo and the rest of Japan in more depth…

Next blog: Tokyo 2 – Sumo!

Previous blog: Great Barrier Reef, Australia

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