10 May 2014

Hello, Tokyo

After a long flight, where I managed to sleep reasonably well, I made it to Tokyo's Narita airport this morning. Immigration was a little lengthy, and when they take your photo for security reasons, the little monitor gives yo the impression that you will be superimposed over a manga background. I was lucky enough to be picked up at the airport by a family friend, so I didn't have to get to grips with public transport. In fact, I arrived at my hotel way too early to check in, so I just changed, reorganised my handbag and headed out into the sunshine.

I'm staying near the Imperial Palace and one reason I picked the area was so that I could go running on the 5-km path that runs around the gardens. I walked part of it on my way into Ginza (a central shopping district) and although I missed the cherry blossoms, there were oodles of flowers in my favourite shade of pink.

I made a beeline for the Tsukiji fish market, hoping to score some fresh sushi for lunch — or whatever meal it was meant to be. The market was very hectic and a little confusing. I was heading for Daiwa Sushi — a Lonely Planet recommendation — which turned out to be in an area south of the main outer market, near the wholesale centre. I normally prefer to go off-piste but I was hungry and so joined the queue (NB the name isn't signed in English so check the characters!). In about 20 minutes, I was perching at the counter of the tiny restaurant. There were no other tourists, which was a good sign. I went for the sushi set — ¥3500, or about £20, you got seven pieces (well, six plus a set of salmon roe sushi rolls) and some soup. I was worried I would hate the eel and the sea urchin, but they were pretty good. I was more challenged by another piece, which was liberally doused in high-strength wasabi. Eek! The food was great, though, and the staff were friendly, so a lovely first meal in Japan.

After lunch, I indulged ins bit or retail therapy. Window-shopped, anyway. I'll definitely be going back to lifestyle store Loft, stationery store Itoya, and the huge branches of Muji and Uniqlo.

Although it seemed like a long and not that interesting route to the Sensō-ji temple, I decided to walk, to try to fend off jet lag and to help me get my bearings. I had heard that it isn't always easy to navigate in Japan, but so far, so good. The bright red Sensō-ji is a beautiful site and it was bustling today, helped by the glorious sunshine. I didn't stay long,  but I did pick out an excellent fortune — the best fortune, in fact — from a sort of steampunk vending machine.

You deposit a ¥100 coin, shake a tin and pull out a stick with a number it, find the drawer with the corresponding kanji number and pick a slip of paper bearing your fortune. If you don't like your fortune, you can tie it to a little fence and pick another.

Just across the river, although actually about a 25-minute walk is the Tokyo Sky Tree. Built in 2012, this 634-metre tower has viewing platforms at 350 and 450 metres. I thought I had timed my visit well for sunset (around 6.30 pm today), but when I arrived, I was given a piece of paper with the time I was allowed to start queuing — 6.30, in my case.

Luckily, they let me in at about 6.10 and there were a number of other 6.30 folks ahead of me, so I was able to reach the lower observation deck just in time for a gorgeous sunset, and a glimpse of the distant Mount Fuji. It was quite magical to watch the city light up, even if the crowds around the windows made it somewhat less magical. It's about ¥2000 to go to the lower deck. You can upgrade for another ¥1000 once you're there, but I decided the view was quite good enough from 350 metres.

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