A place of over 9 million people, of Blade Runner-esque neon signs, of anime dressed girls, of musical toilets, of world’s tallest towers and of fat guys in thongs trying to forcibly eject each other off mounded rings. But, after 4 months in South East Asia the first thing we noticed and fell in love with about Tokyo (and Japan as a whole) was the tranquility of it all. Maybe we had adjusted to the constant noise from cities like Saigon, Hanoi or Phnom Penh, but to us Tokyo just seemed quiet, relaxing even. No incessant honking of horns or abrupt shouting; just people appreciating each others space and peace of mind. We were quick to realise that there was no where quite like Japan, and Tokyo was to be our first adventure there.
Whilst in Japan we were trying something new: Couch Surfing. A platform which allows you to find strangers who are willing to give travellers a sofa or a spare bed to sleep on. With Japan supposedly being the safest country in the world then what better place to start trusting complete strangers to let you into their homes and put you up for free…
So, after landing in Tokyo we made our way to meet our first couch surfing host: Moto. He turned up at our agreed meeting point with a cheery smile and a friendly outlook – phew! From the first moment, Moto was a great host. He gave us tours around the main sights (he even took a day of work for us!), introduced us to great food and was a fun drinking partner.
The Sights of Tokyo
We only had three full days in Tokyo so had to try to cram in as much as possible, whilst still lingering enough in certain places to appreciate the unique atmosphere and culture. A visit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which has a free entry viewing floor at the top gave us an appreciation of the size of city that we were hoping to get a better understanding of…gulp…it’s HUGE!
Senso-ji was our first introduction to Japanese Buddhist temples, and, being the oldest temple in Tokyo, it was a pretty good one to start with. As well as the main temple there was a five story pagoda and both buildings showed off their ancient Japanese design splendidly.
The Meiji Shrine then provided our first view of the classic Japanese Torii (shrine gate) which guards the entrance to the shrine dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife. Whilst this one wasn’t the quintessential orange/red that is tended to be associated with these Torii, its size was impressive. However, the most eye catching element of Meji Shrine is the large number of sake barrels donated for luck and fortune…what a terrible waste.
To finish off the traditional sights of Tokyo we explored the Imperial Palace. This is the primary residence of the Emperor and was built on the site of an old Edo Castle. Whilst little of the old castle stills exists it remains a beautiful place to walk around and explore.
Whilst the historic and religious sights were great to see, it was the bright lights and energy of the various Tokyo districts that really put a smile on our faces. The neon lights of Shinjuku, the bustle (Japanese style bustle) of Shibuya, the fun and craziness of Ikebukuro and the markets of Ueno. We loved them all as each offered something unique and we could have spent days in each area soaking up the local vibe and people watching.
Moto liked good food and took us to some amazing places to eat. For our first meal in Japan he took us for eel and things just got better from there. Even when he took us to the “diiirrtty restaurants” which were tiny kitchens with just a counter and a BBQ the food was amazing. However, it was when Moto made sushi for us one night that we got to know how good his food skills are. It was a lot of fun rolling our own sushi and it was superbly cut and prepared by Moto.
And as mentioned before, Moto was a fun drinking partner. Pretty much every night finished up at his (well, we were staying there) drinking his wine. And it was good wine brought in from his trips to Europe. So, whilst we didn’t expect to be drinking some of the best European wine we’d ever had in Japan – we did. Thank you Moto.
But it wasn’t only the European wine which Moto excelled in. He took us to a little sake bar where we were lucky enough to get a table (all other tables in the place were reserved all night). As we were so lucky we sat here for a good few hours drinking different types of sake. With prices cheaper than the supermarket, 100s of different sakes and a great traditional feel to the place we could understand why this was the sake place in town. The bar staff were great too, helping explain the different sake types and history. Our favourites? Well…pretty much all of them.
We really enjoyed Tokyo and to have Moto as a host was brilliant. We met up with him again (for drinks obviously) before leaving Japan and we hope we’ll see him again in the UK.