The (酒) Sake Diaries – Part 1 – Japan Bound and Tokyo(東京)

March 29th 2012 (Friday)

Having worked the early shift I finished work and met Natascha on the train on the way to Victoria with my rucksack. We bought dinner at Victoria. We decided for this trip that we would get a train to the airport and then a hotel near to the airport else we would be up before daylight to get to the airport, park up and then rush about to get to the terminal. We arrived early evening and munched down our dinner bought on the way to the airport and drank a bottle of Prosecco we had brought along. Then after hitting the bar for a couple of drinks we headed to bed.

March 30th 2012 (Saturday)

We got up and jumped on the hotel bus and headed to the terminal, checked in and headed through security. We took off from Heathrow bound for Frankfurt to connect with our main flight to Narita near Tokyo. We were travelling on one of the new Boeing A380 and we were seated in the middle near the back. We were expected it to be quite cramped, but as it turned out we were very comfortable and I had loads of leg room which was amazing.

April 1st 2012 (Sunday)

We arrived on time at Narita at 07:50 on the 1st April and after leaving the plane we queued up at immigration, once through there we had to wait an age for the bags to come out. They were literally the last bags out, typical… We grabbed the bags and headed out through customs and down into the underground area that is the station. We decided to activate our JR passes so we could use them the following day onwards through the trip. We joined the queue and were there for about 2 hours before finally being served and got the passes activated.

As the passes were valid from the 2nd April we had to get tickets for the train. Once that was sorted we headed to Tokyo on the JR Rapid train which took about 80 minutes and we were both exhausted and started to nod off. We then headed into the underground system and made out way to Hiroo station. The journey was easier than we imagined it would be and with a quick change at Ginza station we arrived soon after.  When we emerged from the underground the skies were a clear blue and it was only a short walk to the hotel. As we had arrived about an hour early, they wouldn’t let us check in early so we slowly wandered around the area and grabbed a snack to pass the time.

We checked in and headed up to the room which was a massive 9m2!! But it had a compact bath room, compact bed and compact floor space to move around on. There was a lovely paper crane on the bed and gowns to wear.

We washed up and headed out to look around the local area for somewhere to eat. We looked at a place we had seen earlier but it was now closed for a private function. We ended up at a diner called Jonathans and ordered way too much to eat and then headed back to crash for the next day.

 April 2nd 2012 (Monday)

This was a shorter day than expected for us. We eventually surfaced at 6PM!! We got showered and we headed back to the restaurant we couldn’t get into the night before, but this time we could go in.We headed to the door past the lit tree covered in cherry blossoms, through the sliding door into a massive room. There were tables on several tiers and you could see the cooking staff making the dishes behind a counter. We waited for about 5 minutes and then were seated at the counter with a loud welcome from the cooking staff.There were lanterns around the room and cherry blossoms in bloom. It was very busy in there and we had prime spots to see the creation of the dishes, it was great.

We had several dishes including burdock root, Unagi (eel), squid, tuna, prawn dumplings and prawn tempura. It was worth the extra nights wait. When we had finished we found a 7-11 and stocked up for breakfast and also grabbed a beer or two. Then we planned our next day.

 April 3rd 2012 (Tuesday)

We got up early and washed up and ate breakfast before heading to our first destination. We had chosen to go to Shinjuku Gyoen. We headed there on the subway with the aim of seeing cherry blossoms. We arrived and paid the 200 Yen to go in to the gardens. As we wandered around the gardens on the walkways, past the ponds and over the bridges we came across some of the trees in bloom which were stunning. A lot of the park was still to blossom due to the cold weather but the rest were quite lovely.

We found an area with a huge pond and crossed over the bridge and saw a sea of mouths opening and closing from the resident carp. They were begging for food and it looked pretty funny.

Further around the pond there was a temple overlooking the waters and the rest of the park with stunning views and we tried to imagine what the park would like in full bloom. Around the park there were groups of people taking photos of the trees that were blossoming followed by the French formal garden with its naked trees in lines. 

We left the park to head to the other side of town to Asakusa in search of a huge temple called Sensō-ji. There was a massive gate to walk through and in the courtyard there was a massive incense bowl smoking away for washing the breath of the gods over yourself before entering the temple.

We entered the temple, out of the by now heavy rain, and in front of us was the golden altar and waited for the ceremony to begin at 2PM. The bells rang and we didn’t wait for the ceremony to go too far before we headed to off into the rain. On the way out we found a couple of small shrines and took a few snaps and then started the trek to the Sky Tree.

The sky tree is the tallest structure in Tokyo and was due to be open in “Spring”. We crossed the river and trudged through the rain that was getting increasingly heavier. We were hoping to get some food at the tower but it seems “Spring” was not yet as everything was closed, BOO. We were getting wet pretty quickly due to the rain not letting up, and eventually found a small 3 tabled restaurant with pictures for us to points at. We went in and ordered from the pictures and a few minutes later tucked into the hot tasty food we had been served. We then had to find the station to get back into town again which meant more trudging. And when we did find a station we eventually got told it was not the right one and was directed to the correct one. We then had help getting the tickets we needed as there was no English at this station and we were not completely sure which station ours. When we got into the subway tickets in hand we boarded a train to our next location, Shibuya.

We came here as I wanted to see the famous crossing seen in many films including the infamously bad Fast and Furious, Tokyo Drift (don’t bother watching it it’s rubbish!!!). But when we arrived it was blowing a literal gale and the rain was horrendous. We found our way to a bridge inside the station complex that looks on at the crossing and took a few photos, but due to the weather it was not as busy as I had hoped and the pictures were not the best through the glass. Behind us was a massive panel of art work depicting the bomb drop at Hiroshima which was pretty powerful. We then headed up into the shopping mall, which is part of the station complex, as a rest from the rain and had ice cream from a shop which was very expensive and for a small tip they sang to us which was very funny especially with the hand actions that went with it.

We then headed down into the station to Rappongi to go to the Mori Tower which would allow us to see the Tokyo Tower and city from high up. When we got there it was still blowing a gale still and the cloud had closed in with the rain. The view would have been very poor if we had gone up and so we didn’t bother instead we had a look inside the complex before heading back to the hotel. On the way out we spotted a Yakatori restaurant and decided to have dinner and beer there first.

We eventually got served and snaffled down almost two plates of raw cabbage with a vinegary dressing and then the skewers as they arrived at the table. Once we had finished I asked for the bill in Japanese which I was quite proud of and we got the simple response of “Hai” (yes). We paid and then left to get to the station as dryly as possible through the gale. On the way back to the hotel we grabbed breakfast items and travelling snacks for the next leg of the journey to Hiroshima and then went to bed.

 April 4th 2012 (Wednesday)

We got up early and ate breakfast and then checked out. We went back to the subway to go to Tokyo main station via Ginza. When we arrived at Tokyo we found the JR office and went to reserve seats on the long journey to Hiroshima. The teller printed out the tickets for the 2 legs of the journey. We would go from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka, change there and onto another Shinkansen to Hiroshima.  We found the platform and waited for the train to arrive. When the train arrived the seats were facing forward and when we looked again they had all turned to face the new forward, it was like magic. We boarded the train and stowed our rucksacks in the overhead area and sat down for the train journey to begin and travel at nearly 300km/h.

Then we started moving…

Read Part 2 to find out about Hiroshima.


  1. The (酒) Sake Diaries | Chris Ainger's Blog - May 20, 2012

    […] 1 – Japan Bound and Tokyo – Click Here Part 2 – Hiroshima – Still being Written Part 3 – Oita and Beppu – Still being Written […]

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