Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Pseudo Finale

My Japan trip and series is slowly drawing to the end, with the final entry next week...then I'm actually going to have to think about what I am going to talk about again!  However, I'll cross that bridge later.  Enjoy part 4!

Part 4 - Tokyo, the sequel

Currently, I am sitting with a sandwich and a latte at the airport, so where better than here to recount my final days in Japan?   When I left you last, I was on the train back to Tokyo on day 10 and as such, I then arrived back in Tokyo.  As we had time to kill before our hotel check-in, we decided to have a quick detour to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tower, where you can ride up to the 47th floor.  This gave us an amazing panoramic view of the surrounding area, which really highlighted the number of green areas within the city.

After enjoying the view, we then had some lunch before heading into the Shinjuku area for a wander around the variety of shops and departments stores littering the area (There was about 4 department stores in this particular area).  Before that, we searched for a place called Mosaic Street, which was a small but impressively lit shopping street that sold a variety of items plus Electric Town: a part of the city that is filled with a variety of electric stores, all selling the most modern items you can think of...and a few you probably wouldn't think off.  We then headed down to the Isetan food store and bought some of the best cheesecake I have ever had.  Coated in base, it had two layers...the first was a baked cheesecake layer followed by the creamiest layer of normal cheesecake layer ever.  It was epic.  This area is also home to the amusingly named 'Piss Valley', known for it's small restaurants and named for the previous lack of toilets. 

Finally, after a few hours of wandering, we had dinner at a small cafe (amazing food and cheap as well) before bed.
Now, day 11 was a big one.  We got up especially early so we could go to Tsukuji Fish Market, a place famous for the fish (Obviously - Ed) and for the tuna auctions in the morning.  We knew that we wouldn't get to see the tuna auction as you had to be there for 4:30am but we were looking forward to seeing all the sellers hawking every type of fish imaginable!  So, eager and filled with excitement, we walked down Ginza, stopping only for a quick look at the Sony Building, before arriving at the market.  We turned the corner and there it was: the sight of sellers packing up their wares.  Oops.  Seemingly, you need to get up even earlier than we, time for some advice.  We arrived at 9am, so make sure you're even earlier if you want to see the actual sales.  Slightly disappointed, we managed to salvage the visit by exploring the shops next to the market.  These sold a variety of goods, from teas to fish to dishes to knives.  Now, in particular, the stalls selling Japanese knives were impressive as they were just lined with a variety of ultra-sharp cooking utensils.  If you bought one, you then had it sharpened in front of you and could even get your name (Japanese symbols) carved into it.  Having decided I would pick up a multi-purpose kitchen knife in Japan, I was tempted but I wasn't sure about buying it from the market without researcj.

After the market, we then grabbed a coffee and headed to Hama Rikyu Gardens for a wander around.  These particular gardens are famous for being the old duck hunting grounds of the emperor and was split into hree distinct areas.  The first area you came to was a small garden with a huge lake with a tea house in the centre.  You arrived at said tea house by wandering over a meandering bridge that gave a great view of the lake and surrounding gardens.  It should also be noted, that as you entered, you walked past a three hundred year old tree that was absolutely massive and had survived earthquakes, wars and dynasties!  The next area you came to was the bay area, a small path that gave good views of Tokyo Bridge and the bay.  Finally, you then wandered back to the entrance through a forested section, which is supposedly filled with cats: a throwback to the parks old duck hunting days but they must have been on holiday that day.

Our next stop was the man-made island, Odaiba bay but to get there, we had to travel via the Monorail (Monorail Monorail Monorail Monorail Monorail).  After our fleeting trip across the Rainbow Bridge, we headed first to Palette Town where there was a shopping department called Venus Town.  Now, I guess you're probably thinking 'Robbie, you seem to be spending a lot of time in department stores' and whilst I agree that I spent more time than I normally would in departments stores, they seem to be a massive part of Japanese culture.  Plus this was made to look like a replica European Medieval town, complete with massive fountain.  That I had to see. 

Next, we wandered down the alley, passing a 22m high robot, to the museum of Science and innovation where we enjoyed playing with different exhibits for a few hours.  This covered a huge range of topics, including space, medicine, data and robots.  It is well worth a look if you're in the area.  However, it was here that I discovered that I suck at keyhole surgery.   I'm pretty sure I killed the patient several hundred times.  After the museum shut, we then walked to the giant robot, which turned out to be a life-sized version of a robot from the anime Gundam.  As we got closer, it suddenly lit up, started making noises, moved about and had smoke emitting from it.  Either we arrive in time for some short of show or I'm sort of intergalactic threat. 

I have to extend my thanks to my mum here.  One of the many reasons why I love her is that, when her (apparently) grown up son gets oh-so-very excited about a giant robot that lights up and moves, not only did she humour me (instead of pretending she wasn’t with me), she was more than happy to come with me to get a closer look and even took photographs of me in front of it!  That said, you would be dead inside if you didn’t get a little excited over a giant robot with smoke coming out of it.

Once the show was done, it was time to get a quick picture of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower (wow Japan seems to have everything).  I'm not really sure why Japan has replicas of these but they do, so that's that.  After we were done here and after a very long day, we headed back to the hotel area, stopping off at another small eatery for some chicken cutlet with noodles, rice and demi-glace sauce and a large beer (delicious after a very long day).  In my not-very-professional opinion, I would only go to Odaiba Bay if you have plenty of time in Tokyo.  It has a few nice sights but it is very much like the rest of Tokyo: I only went as I thought it would be more beach-like but oh well, I still had fun.

Day 12 was upon us and my time in Japan was quickly coming to an end.  I did have one special thing up my sleeve though, to ensure I went out on a high: the Studio Ghibli Museum which was just amazing.  To start with, the building is beautifully designed, with ivy running up the sides and as you enter, you receive a film ticket.  Not only does this allow you into a special showing of a Studio Ghibli short that is only shown at the museum but it has film cells in it as well, so you get a small keepsake straight away.  The museum itself is a fairly open layout, letting you wander into the different exhibits as you please and the hallways, corridors and even the bathrooms are beautifully designed, reflecting the worlds that Studio Ghibli creates.  Moving onto the exhibits themselves, they are a mixture of short films, interactive displays and artwork: all scattered into rooms that replicate scenes from films.  These allow you to see behind the scenes of these films, and highlights the amount of work and detail that goes into each, whilst managing to remove you from reality.  Finally, there is the short film that you get to watch as mentioned earlier, which is only shown in the museum.  I won't discuss what it shows (as it would ruin the magic) but it left me smiling for a good long while.  As you exit, there is a cafe and a souvenir shop.  The cafe I didn't go into, as it was crowded and overpriced but the souvenir shop has a huge range of Studio Ghibli items: from biscuits to towels to dvds to jigsaws.  If you're a fan of the films, I can't recommend this enough.  It was one of the memorable museums I have ever been to and I was grinning throughout the museum and long after.   

After Ghibli, I then headed to Akihabara,   the main anime and manga area, taking a detour to a shrine.  Now, you wander through the various streets and when you suddenly realise that most windows of most shops suddenly have anime characters plastered over them: that's how you know that you've arrived.  What you will find is a mixture of multi-storied shops selling anime characters and game centres, with a few electronic stores thrown in for good measure.  I enjoyed just wandering through an area filled with items and dvds of things that I know and like plus it was pretty cool seeing all the huge figurines in the store.  This is basically an Otaku's dream and when I go back, I'll make sure to go for even longer. 

Once I had my Otaku fill, I then rushed to an area called Roppongi Hills, the upmarket shopping area with a great view of Tokyo Tower aka the Japanese Eiffel Tower.  Why was I here?  Well, I had decided to visit the Yoshikino Showroom, for their Global Knife sets.  As mentioned earlier, I had decided to pick up a Japanese knife so I decided to go with the Global Santoku Knife.  I had thought about it a lot and decided with Global as it had a lot of good reviews plus I can expand my set without having to return to Japan.  This gives me something that I can work on and build on as the years go on.  The reason I went with a Santoku knife is because of the versatility of it.  Roughly translated, it means 'Three Graces' which means it can be used for meat, fish and vegetables and can be used for chopping, slicing and dicing.  Basically, it is a Japanese chef knife, so can be used for most things. 

Finally, having returned to the hotel, we went out for dinner.  Originally going to have a quick dinner, we ended up walking slightly further than planned and decided to go to a recommended tempura restaurant.  Sitting at the counter by the kitchen, we decided to go with the chefs recommended set which was made up of a variety of fish and veg, including eel and a clam still in the shell (you just pick out the meat).  The benefit of sitting at the counter means that we could watch the chefs as they prepared and cooked our foods and, as soon as they were ready, they were passed straight to us.  Both delicious and fresh, it was well worth the (short) time waiting for the seats.  The batter was light, the fish and vegs were perfectly cooked and you had either soy sauce with radish or salt, pepper and wasabi to dip it in.  Add a bottle of sake and some tempura ice cream (Yes I know but I had to try it and where better than here?  Don't judge me!) and it was a great last (proper) meal in Tokyo (as we were having a quick dinner on the last night).

Day 13 and it's D-day or T-day, if you will.  The last day in Japan!  This basically translates to a day of last minute shopping, buying gifts and items.  However, I decided to start off the day with a little bit of culture, an ukeo-yo or Japanese woodprint gallery.  Held in a mock zen garden, the gallery covered three floors and displayed items that depicted from mythological scenes, historical battles and secret murders.  Fascinating but not for the weak of heart.  After the gallery, I then continued with some shopping in the area before lunch. 

Going to another recommended restaurant, this time for ramen, I stood in the queue waiting for a seat, when the elevator next to me opened and I got ushered in, by what I assumed to be a one of the waiters.  However, it turned out to be a completely different restaurant soooo straight back down to a nice hot, creamy bowl of pork and garlic ramen (much to the disgruntlement of the waiter who spotted me as I entered the restaurant).  This was a perfect meal for such a cold day and it left me with a nice warm stomach for ages afterwards.  In fact, I'm making it tonight!  Next, it was back to the busiest crossing in the world to pick up some Christmas presents then it was to a book store with some English Mangas and cook books that I had spotted the other day.  I even managed to pick up a manga anthology whilst I was there: something I couldn't have easily picked up in Nepal or the UK.  Finally, I headed back to Isetan for the last of the gifts I needed to buy where I then promptly got lost in the food department. 

Seriously, it was like the circles of hell in there.  Each corner led deeper and deeper into the cavern, where stranger and stranger sights were to be found.  I felt like I was in a 'Where's Wally', set in a culinary hell where I couldn’t find anything I needed.  However, as I decided to give up, I eventually discovered what I was looking for and was able to make a bid for freedom, dashing to my hotel before I got lost again (after fueling up with a coffee).  One last dinner (Teriyaki pork and rice), some packing and just like that, it's my 6am bus to the airport to leave.  Sayonara Japan, it's been a pleasure.

Pick of the week

Aberdeen Parkour - Ok, I'm not much of a parkour enthusiast but not from lack of want.  I've practised a few times with friends and really enjoyed it but I'm not sure how suitable Kathmandu is for parkour.  However, if you're interested and you live near or in Aberdeen, check out this webpage!  It's a great link to the parkour community, highlighting classes run by professionals and detailing what parkour is.  It also has links to other communities in various cities, so you have no excuse!  A great way to have fun and get fit.

Music of the week

Unlike the last couple of weeks, I know exactly what I am playing this week: Rammstein - Ich Will  It's an amazing song and an equally amazing video.  I love it and I hope you love it as well.

So, last Japan entry next week then it's back to having to think what I'm writing again!  On a more serious note, if you have any feedback or constructive criticism, let me know!  This was probably my first travel review, so I'm always looking for advice.  Also, don't forget to like the Facebook page as well!

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