Japan Series: Tranquility in Tokyo

How to describe Tokyo in three words? Massive, dazzling, overwhelming. Tranquility ain’t normally one of them!

This was certainly not the case either, when I woke up at 3am on the first night and the room shook for 3 seconds – yes, that was an earthquake! It was only a 2.0 so was not horrific but earthquakes are common in Japan.

As a first-time traveller to the country, Tokyo was really something. I have never been in a city comparable in size to it. The scale of Tokyo only began to unravel when I gazed out through the window in the Government Building tower one night. So. Big. (this is a great way to see the city day or night for free by the way!).

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Still, despite the hustle and bustle of city life, stuffed metro carriages and huge zebra crossings, there are pockets of calm in the form of gardens and shrines that slow down the pace.

Meiji Shrine is one of them. It is currently being renovated in time for the 2020 Olympics, so I did not see her in her true glory, but the size and beauty of the surrounding area is so serene, only a stones’ throw away from Harajuku.

Hamarikyu Gardens, a 40-minute ferry-ride away from the beautiful yet touristy Asakusa temple, is such a tranquil spot to appreciate natural beauty surrounded by the cityscape. The gardens do not hide from the skyscrapers and modern buildings, rather they embrace them. The tea rooms here gave me my first experience of Japanese green tea and wagashi (sweets).

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Asakusa

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Asakusa and my first sight of sakura!! (cherry blossom)

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Hamarikyu

 

On my final day, I braced the area of Shinjuku on my own, clutching my phone with the GPS on, using Harrie’s trusty portable wifi, stashed in my bag, to go to the Shinjuki Gyoen (Gardens). These gardens were massive and only 200 yen to enter. It took me a good 2 hours to walk the length and breadth of this place, but it did not feel anywhere near as magical as the last two places. My only guess is that this is just such a huge area and they simply don’t have the means to truly care for every corner of it. It did feel like it wasn’t looking its best, or maybe I just have high expectations. Either way, it is a great way to spend some time away from the faced-paced city, whilst still in the center of it.

This city really threw me in the deep-end as my first stop on my whirlwind trip to Japan. Despite all that, it was exhilarating and totally different to anywhere I have been before.

 

What do you think of Tokyo? Let me know in the comments!

Robyn

 

Welcome to the Japan Series!

Three weeks ago I had the pleasure of packing my bags again and flying from Heathrow airport to Tokyo! The main purpose of my trip was to visit my old housemate Harrie. She moved to the other side of the world for her Masters instead of staying in the UK, like I begrudgingly (at times) decided to do for work.

It has been 9 months since we were hobbling around campus in our heels on Graduation Day last July, but it felt like no time at all when we found each other in the Arrivals hall. For this trip she was my rock/translator/interpreter/tour guide/life-saver. Having a Japanese-speaker, someone who knows the customs and culture was so beneficial as I was truly lost at times and overwhelmed by everything around me.

I know just how useful being able to speak the local language is, and I love it when I go to countries where I can communicate without problems (South America, I cannot wait!), and it is so frustrating when I cannot do that! Being able to say the basics though was really helpful and went a long way.  Not many people actually spoke any English but there were signs, maps, menus etc. in English in most places we visited.

All I am going to say, is now that I have experienced Tokyo, and more precisely, Shinjuku train station at morning rush hour, London is so tame – and I thought London was insane! I knew nothing.

We spent the first two days of my stay in Tokyo, a day-trip to nearby Kamakura, two days in Kyoto and two more in Tokyo, three days were travel days.

I am looking forward to sharing all the amazing-ness of Japan with you…!