The land of the rising sun 🇯🇵
The start of our 3 weeks tour around Japan started in it's capital, Tokyo. This was our first visit to Japan and it brought along both excitement and nerves partly due to the stories heard about how expensive it can be, language barriers and how complicated traveling around Japan was going to be. However this was not the case as I will elaborate further later.
Tokyo is like any capital city in the world, it is vast, busy and crowded but after traveling to so many cities I've come to notice the difference between Tokyo and other major cities. Although Tokyo may seem chaotic, the chaos is actually very organised; it is a highly efficient city and everything runs like clockwork. For instance public transport such as buses or trains always run on time and are never late. However, if you decide to travel on the trains during peak periods be prepared to be squashed like sardines. We experienced traveling at peak times on a number of occasions while in Tokyo and at first it could be intimidating but we found the experience to be novel and soon got use to it. There were a number of times where we noticed other wary tourist unwilling to brace the tight squeeze; as a result they could probably be waiting for a train for a few hours. The usual places like Shinjuku (which has the busiest train station in the world), Shibuya crossing, Harijuku and Tokyo central are constantly busy all day, however not everywhere is like that. During our stay in Tokyo, we stayed in an Airbnb located in a suburb of Shinjuku and it was a quiet residential surrounded by small local shops and restaurants. It was a nice change of scenery after busy days visiting the many tourist sights around Tokyo.
There were many reasons why we wanted to travel to Japan during this worldwide trip, one main reason was to experience the Sakura (cherry blossom) season. From the end of March until the end of April, the whole of Japan is inundated with tourists, all wanting to see Sakuras. The locals take the sakura season very seriously. The sakura trees only bloom for a very short period of time therefore blooming is forecast every year and very close attention is paid in order for the Japanese to partake in a traditional custom called Hanami. Hanami means enjoying the beauty of flowers and it always refers to sakura. For the Japanese, Hanami consists of having an outdoor picnic or party under a sakura tree during both day and night. During our visit to Tokyo, we observed Japanese gathering in great numbers in Ueno park holding a feast under the flowering sakura trees. People were drinking and feasting with family, friends and colleagues to celebrate the sakura season and some of these gathering can last late into the night. On that particular day there were probably thousands of people in Ueno park taking part in Hanami and it was enlightening to see how so many people can congregate in a park and utilise every square inch of open ground to celebrate the season together. Some of the best free places to experience sakuras are Ueno park (if you can brave the crowd), the Imperial East garden and Yoyogi Park. However, I would highly recommend that you go to Shinjuku Gyeon national garden where you pay a nominal fee of ¥200 to enter- it is well worth it as the park is quieter and you get to enjoy the sakuras at a leisurely pace walking around the park.
Tokyo is a place where you will find a melting pot of cultures, where the old and new, the conservative and brash coexist; therefore there is something for everyone. For instance there are temples, shrines and the palace to visit, and then there are places like robot restaurant, neon lights and modern buildings. When you visit a new country, it is always good to experience its culture as well as history and Tokyo did not disappoint. The preconceptions that Tokyo is expensive is only true to a certain extent. If you decided to eat in restaurants and not check out different options for trains than Tokyo could be expensive. Here are some tips if you are on a budget like us. You can purchase a 3 day metro card for ¥1500 which allows you to take all the metro lines around Tokyo- the metro system is not complicated once you get the hang of the different coloured lines and the numbering of the stations. We bought 2 cards as we were staying in Tokyo for six days and we probably used the metro more than the tickets were worth. I'm also glad to say that we did not lose our way once even though it was our fist trip to Tokyo. If you need to utilise a train line that the metro does not serve, like when we went to Disneyland Tokyo, you can take the metro to the end of the line then buy an additional ticket to Disney on the JR line relatively easily. Tourist attraction like Disney, the Tokyo tower and the sky tree are not cheap. However to get a free bird's eye view over Tokyo one could head over to Tokyo Metropolitan government building where there is an observation deck open to the public. Food wise, It was possible to find places to eat roughly costing on average about ¥500 so do walk around and try to spot where the locals eat after work.
Our next leg of our journey in Japan will take us to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. We will be travelling to Kyoto on a night bus in order to save on a nights accommodation and it's much cheaper compared to the flights and trains. Kyoto is an ancient city and I'm looking forward to a change of pace and to experience more of the traditional Japanese culture.