Friday, July 09, 2010

Trip to Japan (Arriving in Tokyo)

A few months ago I was fortunate enough to be able to visit one of the foremost countries that is on the top of my places to visit list and that was to the "Land of the Rising Sun", Japan! Tell you what... When my "financial manager" approved it, I quickly snapped up the air tickets and proceeded to research and plan where we would like to go and visit. The trip was for 8 days excluding flights itself.

For the air tickets I had booked them with All Nippon Airways because they had a promotion at the time of booking and the flight was actually a co-share flight with Virgin Atlantic Airlines so actually boarded a Virgin Atlantic airplane instead. Now I've heard and read some pretty raved reviews of Virgin Atlantic Airlines so I was actually looking forward to the flight.

The flight from London Heathrow Airport to Narita Airport, Tokyo was about 12 hours. The inflight meals themselves tasted delicious when they served Japanese cuisines but with their western dishes the quality was quite poor and quantity was next to a snack level. I am being kind here. It was horrible! With most airlines, short distance or long haul, within the first two hours of take-off, you would usually be served with a snack and or drinks before you're being served with your choices of main meals but with Virgin Atlantic it was well after four hours after take-off. After that they basically turn off all the lights etc. and expect you to go to sleep. What?! Overall experience with Virgin Atlantic Airlines was really poor. If I were to fly to a destination that they offer, I would definitely book with a different airline. You are asked to pay for a premium when you fly with them so you have high expectations.

Anyway got a bit side tracked there. Back to my Japan post. :) When our flight touched down @ Narita Airport, it was still in the early mornings and we actually were waiting for our relatives to arrive as it was a family trip so we had some spare time. So we roamed around the airport before decided to head up to the top floor of the airport where they have an observation deck to chill out and relax. On the top floor there is a staff food hall which served your typical Japanese meals at a fraction of the costs of the meals from the ground floor. Hah! So we ended up having brunch there as we were still starving from the Virgin Atlantic flight. Then we just roamed about the rest of the airport, checking out all the shops and the quirky things they were selling. We haven't even left the airport yet and already were having a blast.

When our relatives arrived, we caught the last Airport Limousine Bus (it's just a fancy name for a coach) to Tokyo to our hotel, the Park Hotel Tokyo. It was pretty late by then so we decided to rest up and be ready for the rest of the trip. Last thing you want is to suffer jet-lag throughout the trip.

The hotel itself is quite central and it had an awesome view of Tokyo Tower and the surrounding city illuminated at night. When we woke up the following morning, again we were presented with an amazing view of the city, Tokyo Tower and the Zōjō-ji in Shiba Park during the day. What I didn't realise was that when the day became clearer; Mt. Fuji was actually just sitting behind the view of the city and mountains from our rooms. WOW! How awesome is that?! It certainly pays to book early.

View of Tokyo Tower and Mt. Fuji @ Park Hotel Tokyo

Anyway first official sights-seeing day in Tokyo so after a quick breakfast we headed out to our first stop, the Kaminarimon aka Thunder Gate @ Asakusa. The gate, with its lantern and statues, is popular with tourists so obviously we had to go. Once you enter the Thunder Gate you are immediately walking along the Nakamise Shopping Arcade where there are all these small shops selling a range of items from ornaments to snack foods along this straight road to the Sensō-ji Temple, the oldest temple and most significant in Tokyo. There was a lot of food there so we ended spending a good half-day there trying most of the different snacks they were offering.

What we forgot to do was buy postcards because for every trip we take, for whichever destination we always buy postcards to say we've been there. For the entire trip, Nakamise Shopping Arcade seems to be the best place to get postcards because they seem to have the best quality of them found. Anyway so if you collect postcards yourself, get them from there. About halfway down the arcade there will this one shop that sells them. It's next to this shop on the right hand side of the path that was selling the Maneki Neko, the beckoning Japanese lucky cat ornaments. So if you see them you know you're at the right place.

Nakamise Shopping Arcade @ Asakusa

After that we were on the lookout for a good place to have lunch. Tell you what... Not able to speak and read the language is really hard to get around Japan. We ended up wasting a lot of time because of this but then once in a blue moon you come across a nice place that offered superb meals. And that what happened, we were reading our guide books and it mentioned that place X was really good. We must have walked around looking for the place for a good half-an-hour before finding it. The place was really smokey and the meals were western. I mean you fly all the way to Japan, why would you have a western meal especially for a tourist? So we walked around again and found one just in the basement of the same block.

When entering the tiny restaurant, you have to take off your shoes and place them into a shoebox. They didn't speak a word of English so this was going to be interesting. Luckily enough they had pictured menus so we just ordered from that. When the meals came, wow! They were super delicious and cheap too! Man this would be one of those local restaurants that only locals would know of. If you want to know where this restaurant is then check out the image below.

Korya-Ume @ Asakusa

After our lunch we headed out to Ueno Park. Why? Because it was also the Cherry Blossoms aka Sakura season while we were there. How awesome is that?! Able to come to Japan and able to come during the Sakura season is like hitting two birds with one stone. See if can do a hat-trick later on. :)

Of the many cherry blossoms (Sakura) @ Ueno Park

There were dozens of variants of the cherry blossoms @ Ueno Park. Some white, some pink but then there were so many different levels of pink too. It is like a massive celebration when the flowers bloom because as the locals call it "the Hanami" (Cherry Blossoms viewing), the flowers only bloom for few weeks at maximum of each year. There were tonnes of locals camping out beneath the trees along the path where they shared food and drinks like an outdoor party.

By the time we left Ueno Park the day was almost over and decided to head back to the hotel to rest for the next day and that is where I'll stop for now. Day two to come...

If you can't wait on the pictures then head over to the Tokyo link by the Snapshot area on the right.

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