Calguksu (칼국수), hiking and staying up for shopping in Seoul (clearly all cities should have shopping until 5am)

Our stint in Seoul was coming to an end; after two days of running around, we were tired but still aiming to cram as much as possible into our final day in Korea’s capital.

Our first stop was lunch (we slept in a little that morning). As a result of the abundance of food we had ordered and/or were served in Ohseagyehyang (오세계향) (see the Gyeongokbung Palace blog post for more information), I decided that my lunch would be yesterday’s leftover dumplings and Sichuan spicy noodles, whilst Anna and my travel companion went on the hunt for food. We found a restaurant called Eunseong Calguksu for lunch, a traditional Korean eatery whereby my two companions ordered Calguksu. Calguksu is a noodle dish originating in Korea, which consists of noodles in a fish broth (or some other form of meat broth) with vegetables and long egg noodles.

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The area where the Calguksu restaurant was

After lunch, we grabbed a quick coffee before getting a bus from near the restaurant and heading towards Bukhansen National Park (which took about an hour and 15 minutes) to do some hiking. Because of our lack of climbing experience and the fact that we didn’t own a single cagoule between us (let alone three), we took an easier hiking route which meant that we missed a lot of the best views that exist further up the mountain. Unless you can climb that far up and are incredibly well kitted out (which we weren’t- climbing gear is not cheap), the views are not unbelievably impressive. However, the hiking route was very pleasant nonetheless, and a nice contrast to the urbanised and high-paced lifestyle we’d been living in Seoul until that point.

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The entrance to the walking route and map of the area

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A view whilst hiking and the leaves we stumbled across

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Interesting graffiti in the park

We found a cute little coffee shop near the park at the end of the hiking route. Here, we ordered some food and drink (a lovely onion bagel with Philadelphia and a peppermint mocha) and just relaxed and chatted. We were considering what to do that evening; a large part of me want to visit the Gangnam district (and I won’t lie, that infamous song by Psy definitely had something to do with it) but in the end we decided to head to the Dongdaemun area- reknowned for its late night shopping and upbeat ambience.

We returned to Gongjon restaurant (the Vegan restaurant we visited on the first evening- see the “A little sample of Seoul” blog post), located in the Dongdaemun-gu region. When we arrived at the café, it was crammed full of people- with lots of gorgeous dogs running around as well! We quickly deduced that this must have been an animal rights/lovers, vegetarian or vegan or pet-owners meet up (sorry guys, we weren’t detective enough to find out which, I think the former). Fortunately, the owners had enough space to squeeze us in so, like the carefree tourists we are, we gate-crashed the gathering. Dinner was good, but spicy was an understatement! Last time I ordered the tomato and burdock spaghetti- lovely, but with a definite kick of chilli. This time, under the recommendation of my travel companion who thought it would be less spicy, I ordered Aglio e Olio Pasta. After all, I thought, how spicy can a garlic and olive oil pasta be?

I was wrong.

One word, my friends. Jalapenos.

And yes, I ate it all.

And yes, the flavours were great but my mouth watered and tears were forming in my eyes and I got through my raspberry squash at a record pace.

What was bittersweet about this meal, though, was the fact that it was our Seoul goodbye to Anna (although we were seeing her in a few days in Daegu).

We gave her our gifts, a white patterned umbrella from Osaka and two hand-picked pearls from a stall in Cheung Chau (where we were also able to choose what silver pendant we wanted the pearls to be set in- see “Cheung Chau: sunshine, seafood and street stalls”).

After some shared sentimentality, we hailed a cab onto Dongdaemun. And wow- what an amazing vibe!

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Dongdaemun shops lit up at night

Lit up like a Christmas tree, with blue lights radiating outside one building, stairs lit up with black animated figures walking across them and the DDP (Dongdemun Design Plaza) festival in full swing, the shopping district managed to effortlessly encompass a clubbing and nightlife vibe, with bars and clubs being replaced by shops- both high-end and bargain priced. Music was being blasted out from a stage, where a band were performing and multiple people were crowded around. Street stalls were selling all sorts of foods- from twisty potatoes to sausages and doughnuts to waffles.

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Feeling so Avatar right now

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The animated stairs

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A sign leading towards the Art Hall                     The expensive shopping area

We first walked around the expensive shops and, despite finding some avant garde and genuinely gorgeous pieces, our wallets were not going to stretch that far. We walked down the street a bit to a building selling every kind of clothing imaginable alongside bags, shoes, souvenirs and accessories. The format was that of a market, spread out like a shopping centre; a range of stalls selling similar types of item existed on each floor yet each stall was manned by different people and stall owners. In spite of their unwillingness to smile, Anna managed to find herself some wonderful shoes for work and a very smart watch. The pricing was okay- not the cheapest but definitely affordable- think shops like New Look and H&M (with perhaps some clothing shops undercutting these prices slightly).

Although a big part of us wanted to stay out late (the 5am closing time hung over us- the huge temptation being staying out until that time purely to shop), we had to be sensible. An early flight out of Seoul to Jeju Island- combined with the fact that we hadn’t repacked our bags yet- meant that after a few hours, we returned back to the Blessing Hotel to pack. Spurred on by some excellent 90s hits (thank you Youtube) we packed whilst wondering why no boy band currently comes close to matching “Backstreet’s back- alright”. When we got to Britney, we realised that if our neighbours could hear us and didn’t grow up in the 90s, we were probably responsible for their suffering. So apologies if you’re reading this blog post 🙂

Stay tuned for Jeju Island, a hidden gem (at least to us Westerners, it is apparently a popular tourist destination to Koreans and Chinese people) which turned out to be rather enjoyable!

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this entry- I really appreciate your continued support.

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The tea ceremony that didn’t matcha up to our expectations and our visit to the “number one attraction on trip advisor” in Kyoto- Fushimi Inari

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The tea ceremony was something that I had been excited for prior to Japan. Hailed as a personal ceremony in which we would acquire knowledge and be able to experience how Japanese tea is typically prepared and consumed, expectations were high. Our day started off fairly slowly- we looked for a vegetarian place called Mumokuteki Café and Foods to eat lunch but were unable to find the place, so ended up at our old safety net (where I was guaranteed at least one type of vegetarian food)- Starbucks. Following our over-sugary stint in what had become our saviour of a coffee shop, we changed into warmer clothing (since the weather had cooled substantially during the early afternoon) and went to the Kiyomizu Gojo Station, where we took the Keihan Main Line towards Demachiyangi and got out at Gion Shijo Station.

Organised under a company called EN, finding the tea ceremony could have been easier. Though informed on our tickets that access to the ceremony would be near the side entrance of the Chion-in temple, the problem arose in that a) we had no idea whether the entrance we were at was the main entrance or the side entrance and b) passing locals and tourists also seemed to have no idea. In the end, we arrived at the ceremony 3 minutes late, but were fortunately let in since we would have otherwise had to wait a further 45 minutes to attend the next ceremony. In our mind, the “intimate” ceremony we were told tea-making would involve would consist of 4-6 people. Instead, picture 16 of us crowded and sitting cross-legged in a narrow, dark, Japanese-style room. My travel companion and I were sitting against the door, and a couple of Asian tourists in the centre of the room were more interested in sniggering at certain points than the ceremony itself. The woman holding the ceremony was knowledgeable and clad in traditional attire, which was a positive. But I did not enjoy making the tea, and drinking it was adequate at best. Before preparing the tea, we were supposed to eat a cube saccharine-tasting jelly sweet dusted with sugar but not everyone chose to complete this instruction. I also had a poor whisking action apparently, whereas my travel companion mastered it. The moral of the story is- never ask me to make you a cappuccino… I can make you a decent cup of English breakfast tea (I hope) instead though 🙂

During the ceremony, my emotions transgressed from grumpy (when I saw how busy the ceremony was), to incredulous (tea-making was clearly an art, and the way it was presented to us was doing no testimony to this fact) to amused (at how some of the other attendees were reacting) to finally exasperated. The thing that I had such high hopes for was a bitter (and bitter tasting in terms of the tea) let down.

My friend and I were sitting outside Chion-in temple trying to decide what to do next; we hadn’t finalised plans for that day so it was up in the air as to what we should do at that point. I suggested we get the train to where the Fushimi Inari Shrine lay, since this was awarded the accolade of number 1 attraction on Trip Advisor and that site has been my kindred spirit online whilst travelling (alongside Happy Cow- love you Happy Cow). We got on a train again from Kiyomizu Gojo Station and ended up at the wrong station since we accidently took a lim exp (limited express) train compared to the local train we needed. However, doubling back on ourselves was easy enough and in no time, we ended up back at Fushimi Inari. We arrived in fairly good spirits and, when walking past a tour group, my friend exclaimed “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream”, leading an older British woman to remark “Gosh, I haven’t heard that in years”. Amused, we carefully skipped past the tour group and approached the walkway leading up to the shrine entrance. To our left, stalls were selling grilled meats and pineapple sticks, and every few metres, a green flag proudly waved at us, reminding us how the shrine had been voted the number one attraction on Trip Advisor.

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Some of the meat kebabs on a stall                                         The flag acknowledging Trip Advisor

I’m not really sure what my first impressions were- my friend said “stunning but ridiculously touristy”. The entrance consisted of a number of large pillarbox red buildings.

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The top of a Fushimi Inari building                                    A shrine located near the entrance of the attraction

We ascended up a number of stairs before our eyes met the start of the Fushimi Inari gates and the subsequent footpath that followed.

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The beginning of the Fushimi Inari Path

At this point it was early evening and as we progressed through the makeshift tunnel of red arches, people were starting to leave the path, passing us in the opposite direction. It became more peaceful, easier to take photos and more mysterious, even slightly eerie. The now dark red (when light was absent) columns were majestic, stacked continually into the distance. We kept walking and climbing and walking again until we reached 15,500m on the path.

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Fushimi Inari at night

Though we were by no means at the end of the path, by this point we were losing light rapidly, some areas around us had been plunged into darkness and we hadn’t had anything to eat since midday.

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A list of heights that the Fushimi Inari Path can reach

We followed a different route to leave the path and though this was poorly signposted, we discovered other statues, shrines and monuments along our route. Part of the way there, a cat started walking in front of us and stayed with us for a while (a number of cats are present around the various shrines in Fushimi Inari). Although we knew we were close to the entrance, we were a bit unsure of where to go at one point but my friend’s years of watching Japanese anime and general aptitude for languages meant he was able to ask a local and understand the Japanese word for left, leading us back in the correct direction.

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The Hacherei Shrine (which we found during our alternative route back to the entrance)

Was this one of my more inept days? Probably.

Was this one of our more fun days? Definitely.

Dinner that night was at the glorious Maharaja (see my veggie bites blog post for a summary of the restaurant). To access this Indian Food haven, hop onto the Kiyomizu line again and disembark at Gion Shijo Station. We ended the day back at where we are staying watching a few episodes of the trashy reality youtube show we’ve become hooked on (don’t ask what it is- you will become addicted and time is too valuable) and, for me, writing diary entries.

I like days that go well, but my appreciation soars when a day starts sour and gets progressively better as it continues. Kyoto was not just matching Tokyo but overshadowing it by a considerable amount, and our impressions of the place (with Zenrin-ji yesterday and Fushimi Inari today) were becoming more and more favourable.

Finding #Zen-rinji Temple: initial impressions of Kyoto and exploring our favourite attraction

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When Japan was mentioned to me as a potential travel destination- my mind envisaged this image of absolute solitude in a beautifully sculpted Temple garden. And visiting Zenrin-ji temple provided me with that opportunity, though achieving this golden silence was not exactly easy, as I’ll explain later on. And choosing where to go is something that can also eat up a large amount of time- Kyoto itself is akin to a giant buffet when it comes to temples, which makes the situation especially problematic if you only have time for a couple of main courses 🙂

We started our first full day in Kyoto visiting Apprivoiser (see my veggie bites post for more information). Having left the restaurant feeling nicely re-energized, we made tracks to the downtown area of Kyoto, situated only 15 minutes walk away from where our hotel was located. The vibe in Kyoto is very different from that of Tokyo- for a start, the number of fellow tourists increases but not exponentially. You also need a state of permanent vigilance when it comes to bicycles racing across pavements, something which is not necessary in Tokyo (because everyone mainly walks their shorter distances). In addition, Kyoto fashion is far more “sexy casual” (as a floor advertising clothes in a Kyoto department store described) than Tokyo. Fashion in Tokyo is more diverse, but perhaps overarching more conservative. In Kyoto, it was more the norm for girls to wear knee high or thigh high boots, stylish cowl neck sweaters, cute mini dresses/skirts and brightly coloured but well-tailored mini coats. Perhaps this is a good time to note that both the Tokyo and Kyoto undergrounds carry signs like this one:

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A sign warning girls to beware of people looking up their skirt

So despite fashion being (in my opinion) really nice- I’d be lying if I said that such signs didn’t unnerve or concern me slightly. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t walk around with my travel companion saying “I love what she’s wearing, but I couldn’t wear that on the London underground” multiple times. However, by and large, Kyoto had an air of youthful vibrancy that the region of Tokyo we were staying (Ikebukuro, the business district) unsurprisingly lacked.

But I’m going to stop myself before I digress anymore- we were heading to downtown Kyoto in order to hop on a bus to get to the Eikando Zenrin-ji temple. The temple itself was the headquarters of the Jodo Sect Seizan Zenrinji Branch, and is a still fully functioning temple amongst the Jodo Sect of Shingon Buddhism, with the still fully-functioning temple element being important to us when choosing which temple to visit.

We got a bus from the central downtown area- with the temple name clearly displayed on the list of bus destinations. It cost only 230 yen for our entire journey, with our stop being something like the eighth stop on the line- but the experience itself was not particularly pleasant. It was bumpy, crowded and jolty, but it meant that I was clinging on to the handle falling from the ceiling with such intent that I realised my upper arms had received a complimentary workout. And in that respect, every cloud has a silver lining.

When we disembarked from the bus, we realised we had no idea where we should be heading. Despite there being a board nearby, nothing said “Zenrin-ji” only “Eikando”, and since trip advisor hasn’t posted the full name of the temple (Eikando Zenrin-ji temple), this confused us as we were worried we’d be heading to the wrong temple. Reassured by the fact that there would be at least one temple in the area we could visit (since the map was full of them), we nonetheless decided to ask around in a few shops before one lady guessed what we were getting at and pointed us towards the correct place.

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The sign which also helped us. A lot.

The part of Kyoto where Eikando Zenrin-ji temple was located fit my prior expectation of what Kyoto would be like far more than downtown Kyoto- this area had emptier roads, smaller dusty coloured houses, shops and cafes (although more of the former than the latter two options) and generally an incredibly communal, village-y feel that downtown Kyoto lacked.

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Entry to the temple was 600 yen each and it was absolutely stunning! Autumnal coloured leaves, majestic trees, sparkling water with little stone bridges above, a small fountain by the exit and beautiful brown and white temple buildings. Below are some of my favourite images from the temple.

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A temple building                                                       The bridge leading over the lake

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The view from the bridge                                         Another bridge leading to a shrine

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Autumnal leaves framing the lake

We enjoyed the peace (a school was nearby so we still had some background noise of children but this wasn’t disruptive per se). What was disruptive, however, was that we’d only been inside the temple for twenty minutes or so when what seemed like a tour group of Japanese businessmen arrived, completely killing the ambience with chat and noise. Like the other tourists present, we were not best amused, and we felt especially cheated since the same thing happened in Happoen Gardens in Tokyo (we had 10 minutes of peace before it was interrupted by a wedding). And I’m fully aware that I may sound a bit like the Grinch (in spite of it not being Christmas) but for many of these gardens in Japan, it is the silence that makes the place magical and ethereal, and allows you to feel a million miles away from reality but absolutely in harmony with nature.

We decided to move on from the Temple at this point. I’m not sure whether Zenrin-ji Temple has a marvellous policy whereby tickets allow for re-entry once you’ve left or whether the lovely women who sold us tickets simply recognised me and my friend and waved us back in (upon seeing our previously brought tickets) but after the Philosopher’s walk, myself and my friend walked back past the temple to get to the bus stop and saw the group of Japanese businessmen boarding a coach and leaving. We felt triumphant since this meant that we did get to return. But more on that later 🙂

The Philosopher’s walk was a pathway my friend wanted to try and had been signposted before we entered the temple. It was a long, gravelly walk, surrounded by grass, water and dark khaki trees, but we did see some interesting things along the path- a lady surrounded by cats who jumped for the ball when she held it up for them, an elderly man who drew the most amazing ink sketches of landscapes and then a coffee shop, mainly filled with locals eating mizo and noodles. We stopped there as we were in need of a little perk-me-up at this point; my advice is don’t- it wasn’t too great. My friend went for strawberry shaved ice (too artificial tasting) and I had an incredibly watery hot chocolate. I don’t actually think the name of the coffee shop was overly visible from the outside or I would have taken a photo but just avoid it if you are doing the Philosopher’s walk- I think it makes more sense to bring your own snacks.

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The view at the beginning of the walk                    The cat lady we saw on the Philosopher’s walk

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Moggy                                                                  The work of a Japanese artist sketching as we walked

Upon seeing the businessmen leave as we walked back, we returned to Eikando Zenrin-ji Temple and climbed up to a pagoda which was absent of people; I had a brief nap on a wooden bench (probably responsible for the subsequent insect bites on my leg despite having smothered myself in insect repellent). And I could do this, because the peace was magnificent- all we could hear was the birds tweeting merrily and, when we descended from the Pagoda, a gong being hit at regular intervals (about 4.30pm), symbolising the monk’s prayer time.

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The view from the Pagoda                                    Another view from the Pagoda

You may need luck on your side to obtain peace in the temple gardens but if you get it, than wow- be prepared to be amazed. Hearing the monks during prayer was an additional unexpected bonus and I left the temple feeling more mentally relaxed and calm than at any other point in Japan.

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The landscape at the exit of Eikando Zenrin-ji temple

Seeing Mount Fuji and our first (and only) organised tour day in Japan.

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When researching Japan, seeing Mount Fuji was something that seemed very appealing; though not experienced enough (nor, to be honest, within the budget) to do any of the actual climbing, we decided the best way to be able to get to the volcano was by coach tour. This is because getting there alone would have incurred much higher room and transportation costs.

This in and amongst itself was a new experience for me; waking up at 6:30am to make our way to the Hotel Metropolitan- the tour meeting place (as lovely as it is, staying there would have been ridiculously over-budget, especially considering how expensive Japan is), we clambered onto the coach. We faced an early disruption in the form of the couple sitting behind us, of which the women was coughing frantically on automation every 30 seconds to a minute. Neither of us had any cough syrup on us and needless to say after 5 minutes, we had uprooted to the empty back seats of the coach 🙂

Arrival at the coach station was manic, with people jostling in different directions to find the coach they were actually meant to be on. We had to hunt down the Mount Fuji/Hakone bus, but another guy on our initial transfer coach, for example, was off to have a sushi making session. Upon reaching the coach, we were greeted by a larger than life tour guide called Makoto. He was knowledgeable enough, but made (what I found to be) some pretty unsavoury jokes (suicide forest and perils of climbing Mount Fuji). The initial part of the journey, though long, was actually fine upon discovery that the coach had wi-fi connectivity, but also being able to gaze out at different parts of Tokyo and then (after some more roads) look out at the Mount Fuji area.

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The road on the way to Mount Fuji                      The view from the service station (on the way)

Timing was crucial that day… too foggy and we would not be able to see the views from around Mount Fuji. Rainy, and the large amount of grey and blue in the landscape would have been lost behind a veil of drizzle. Thankfully we got lucky. The sun was shining upon upheaval from the coach, the air fresh, and the views- a beautiful azure coloured sky providing a backdrop to the mountain/volcanic range- were wonderful.

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Mount Fuji (the peak from a distance)                At M. Fuji- the view

We walked around the souvenir and on-site shops, whereby items as diverse as Fuji canned air (which my friend wanted to buy) to walking sticks and cajoles were being sold. Each of us was given a lucky bell charm, which apparently links to Mount Fuji (I’m ashamed to say I just can’t remember how). We climbed up towards a shrine, whereby you can write a wish plaque and attach it to the shrine, with the hopes that a goddess will grant said wishes. My friend had already done a similar thing in Hong Kong on a Wishing Tree but since I had never done this before, I wrote my wish in chunky black permanent marker and dated it. So if I’m ever fortunate to have my bullet pointed dreams become reality, I guess I know who to thank 🙂

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Holding my wish plaque

We also enjoyed mucking around in some random tunnels (because essentially, travelling aged 21 is an excuse to be big kids- my friend being the pun-loving little brother, and me- the bossy older sister).

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  Someone is happy to be at Mount Fuji…                        Tunnel time!!!

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The view that lay beyond the tunnels

We moved on from Mount Fuji just as a murky grey fog was starting to completely obscure the scenic views. Lunch was at a café type place whereby I was accompanied in my vegetarian meal choice by my friend, who was sweet enough to go for the same dish so that there would be no confusion on the part of the tour company. It wasn’t for me, the eight green grapes were okay and if the tempura wasn’t cold, it would have been nice but I think it’s fair to say that we were both very hungry when we moved on. Next was meant to be a boat trip (the Lake Ashi Cruise), but a timing mix up meant we went on the Hakone ropeway (a cable car system) and then arrived at Owakudani sulphur pools first.

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From inside the cable car at Hakone ropeway

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A view of Hakone ropeway from Owakudani sulphur pools

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The Owakudani sulphur pools from the viewing deck

It was pretty impressive but after a few photos there wasn’t loads to do. The cable cars and Lake Ashi cruise were also nice, but not especially unique to Japan. All in all, it was good to be able to see Mount Fuji, but the rest of the tour was just not as memorable (although some of the people we met were).

Tokyo time part 1: Senso-ji Temple and Tokyo Skytree.

My second day in Tokyo (after a very pleasant flight from Hong Kong but a stressful first day of settling) allowed me to have my first insight into ancient Japanese spiritualism and religion via a temple visit (which I hope to experience more of in Kyoto) and gave me the chance to see 360 degree views of Tokyo, lit up and twinkling at night from an almost bird’s eye viewpoint (350m high).

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My friend and I awoke on day 2 in Tokyo with the intention of having an early start but in reality, we didn’t venture out into Ikebukuro (where we are staying) until late morning.

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Ikebukuro at night- this commercial area of Tokyo encompasses the “work hard, play hard” philosophy.

Here you can see it lit up at night.

Our primary form of transport that day would be the train network; we had brought a JR pass in advance (for up to 7 days, standard price of £165.50, free trains on the JR network and some buses). This was also an important purchase for us since we knew it would cover the cost of our train travel to Kyoto (our second destination in Japan). The first port of call was Asakusa, and to get here, we took the Yamanote line to Ueno station and then had to buy tickets to travel on the Ginza line (since this is part of the subway system, not the JR network).

*note, if you do have a JR pass, you can get a shuttle bus to and from Tokyo Skytree in Asakusa to Ueno station, which eliminates the cost of buying a metro ticket- we discovered this whilst in Asakusa*.

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Ikebukuro JR station                                                                                  Asakusa Metro Station

But enough on trains, we had a short straight walk from the station to get to the Senso-ji temple. The temple itself is Tokyo’s oldest temple, known to the people of Japan as the Asakusa Kannon and attracting over 30 million visitors per year.

Walking through the arch, you experience a riot of colour and noise as market stalls selling items as diverse as rice-crackers wrapped in seaweed, toys pertaining to superheroes and childhood and traditional Japanese-style fans and tea sets line the streets.

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The top of the arch which you walk through        At first sight: the shopping area leading up to the temple

The shopping area forms a kind of crossroads, whereby taking the north fork (if you are coming from around Asakusa station way), leads you directly to the temple. The weather that day was fairly warm, and my friend spotted a street vendor selling Japanese soda. To get the taste, the vendor drops a ball of flavour through a closed bottle top, which then lodges itself into the bottle as a result of the bottle shape and, according to my friend, it then “effervesces… or something”. He also asked me to write that, in his in own words, “he is not a scientist” 🙂

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Japanese soda pop!

Upon approach to the temple; shop stalls become slightly more tourist-focused. If you look up, you can see decorations which seem to resemble tree or tree branches (maybe they are real, I’m not too sure), resplendent in shades of peach, fuchsia, lemon and crimson. Prior  to entering the temple, you walk through another arch (red and gold) and soon come across an urn, with incense smoke rising urgently and weirdly, almost elegantly, and the opportunity to buy incense sticks from a stall to the right.

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The burning of the incense in the urn                                      The temple from afar

The purpose of the incense (reputedly) is to be a method of purifying the surroundings, bringing forth an assembly of buddhas, bodhisattvas, gods, demons, and the like. Entering the temple, you can throw money into a ridged box and say a prayer. It is also possible to light a candle. Since photos are allowed, below is a snapshot from inside of the temple.

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The shrine at which people throw money (into the box below) and then pray

The temple gardens were also beautiful, and my friend developed a new obsession (see below).

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The temple gardens                                                                  The obsession- a loved fish  nicknamed “Diem”.

After the senso-ji shrine, we decided to try and get back to Ueno, where a number of museums are. However, by the time we arrived at quarter to five, everyone was shutting up shop (so to speak). We made the impulsive decision to hop on a shuttle bus which had just arrived outside where were standing in Ueno (near Ueno zoo and the shuttle was free as a result of our JR pass). The final stop- Tokyo Skytree

By the time we reached the attraction, the city had crept towards darkness and my hunger levels were at an all time high (being vegetarian in Japan is not all that easy- a blog post about that might be coming soon amongst other things). So we decided to have a look around to find a place that I was able to eat at. Eventually, we found a fusion café in Tokyo Skytree town (my friend had eaten fried chicken in Asakusa earlier) and since the staff were so polite and obliging (this seems ingrained in Japanese culture), I was able to eat spaghetti with soy sauce and seaweed. Skytree itself exists within a shopping village, and shops there are either cute, quirky and full of anime references or high-end/high street clothing and accessories brands. There are also food courts and restaurants. It spans over roughly 8 floors, with an east and west wing and a centre point.

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An anime shop                                                                              What caught my eye 🙂

Post-food, we went to the fourth floor to access the Skytree tower. The lift elevated to us to 350m high ridiculously quick, so much so that my friend (who’s not crazy about sudden changes in height) did not experience any inertia.

The views from behind the glass windows were like nothing I’ve ever seen before; Tokyo became a toy city, with flashes of gold light from buildings and darkness only arising from rivers, fields or the sky itself. Below are a couple of my favourite pictures from the observation deck:

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I’m also seriously proud of my friend (who suffers from vertigo) for standing on a sheer glass floor (with the drop from that height visible beneath it).

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The glass floor in question                                                       Having a little sit down in the most comfortable place

In the end, he may have left Skytree feeling tired, and I may have felt energized, but both of us thought Skytree was an incredibly worthwhile thing to do. At 2060 yen, it may have been more expensive than Tokyo tower (which is where we initially planned to go and is located in Minato, Tokyo) but in my mind, it is well worth the cost. The views are mesmerising, staff are so sweet and cheerful and it was a lovely way to end a really good day in Tokyo.