First day in Tokyo. I was told to expect a full culture shock… It was more of an arrow planted right into my heart: fascination at every step.
Quick thoughts on these first 24 hours.
Lost in translation: the tube maze
In my notebook, twenty or so key sentences in Japanese. Yet words were no issue. A gentleman, seeing my interest in a temple, happily pointed out a few details. Another mimed how strong dishes on a menu would be. Enthusiasm is an international language!
Theoretically, the tube should not have been a problem. The machines at the stations all have an “English” option. Google Maps gives you the perfect itinerary.
Here is the tricky part. There are 3 three “subway” companies (Tokyo Metro, Toei, JR) operating multiple lines. Some of the stations are connected, others adjacent. Because you are dealing with separate systems, if you buy a single ride ticket on one, it won’t get you on the other. Add to this the price is linked to the distance from one point to the other… If like me, you love to walk and walk and were only counting on a ride, maybe two a day, this can prove challenging. Even the 24-hour tube ticket only covers the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines. You quickly get used to it, it just is a little Tetris-like at first.
Looking for spring
It’s almost hanami, understand Cherry blossom viewing time. This brings an excitement similar to the one we felt as a kid, counting the days till Christmas. It will take just a little more warmth, just a little extra sunshine for the flowers to bloom into floral fireworks. The shops are filled with sakura inspired product: pink sake, beautifully-shaped biscuits and candies… Along the canal, lanterns were being set up, a good sign. Almost there! More news soon 😉
A taste of street food: dango
Food is as important a key in understanding a country as its history. Indulging in street food means even more of a feast! Two things will stop me in my tracks: the aroma and the locals queuing for a specific stall. Both applied to dango, which I expected to be savoury. Each dumpling has the same consistency as a mochi – without any filling. Instead, it is glazed with a sweet soy sauce, think honeyish with a savoury edge. Glorious. Very rich, too, one skewer is enough for 2.
Not everyone but a good third of the population. Some are similar to what you would see a doctor wear, others are more… design. I’m surprised it’s not more of a fashion accessory, really. You could have sweet or crazy patterns, shades matched to your handbag…
Funky details everywhere…
A twist on milk and bubble teas, well known by now. The cheese is, in fact, a mix of cream cheese, whipped cream and a little rock salt. It’s so incredibly addictive… Only one address does it in London (Happy Lemon, under the name crown milk) so it’s quite a treat to indulge here… I loved Fortuner‘s: perfect consistency, lovely option to have it with a mix of mango juice/tea and it even comes with a heart straw…
Fortuner | 150-0001 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya City, Jingūmae, 3-chōme−27−15
Forget the High Street and explore Harajuku
A colourful district with independent shops, some featuring contemporary designs, others exquisite vintage clothes and accessories. The street fashion, mixing all styles, is quite fascinating. The good place to add a little Cosplay pieces to your wardrobe too!
Take a stroll through Meiji Jingu
This large Shinto shrine, planted with 100,000 trees, will make you forget you are in a big city. Surprisingly young though! It was finished in 1920 as the tribute to Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken. You will pass a large wall made of sake bottles, beautifully wrapped: on is added every year in their memory. It’s the perfect place to start learning about temples traditions. Start with the “purification” fountain near the entrance and take one of the ladles provided. Fill it with fresh water, transfer some into your cupped hand then the other. Then step towards the shrine. Throw a coin into the offering box, bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and pray a few seconds. If there is a bell or gong, use it before praying in order to get the kami (god or spirit)’s attention. You can buy protective charms too or emas – small wooden plaques with a picture linked to the location, on which you can write your wishes.
Upgrade your cup of coffee…
and ask for 3D latte art on yours at Cafe Reissue. The foam is denser than you are used to, which means it stays longer and you have plenty of time to take pictures. They can also print your portrait on your usual cappuccino…
Cafe Reissue | 3-chōme-25-7 Jingūmae, Shibuya City, Tōkyō-to 150-0001
Day 2 soon!