19 May 2014

Miyajima & Tokyo: Ittekimasu, Nihon!

It was a lovely experience to spend Saturday night in a traditional Japanese ryokan, although the noisy Spanish group in the next room seemed to be ignorant of how well sound travels through such thin walls. Yesterday morning, I rose early and went out in search of coffee, this time visiting Cafe Sarasvati, just down the road from my ryokan. They were offering single-origin hand-drip coffee on the menu, so I went for that, although the usual range of espresso-based drinks and their iced equivalents — very popular in Japan — were also available. The coffee was excellent. The roast the beans themselves and indeed, they had just started the day's roasting while I was there. Sadly, my Japanese wasn't good enough for me to enquire too much further about the process and about the cafe.

After going to eke a few more photos of the torii at high-ish tide out of my moribund camera battery, I headed over to the ferry terminal to begin my very long journey by boat and train back to Tokyo. Although the JR Pass is great, you can't use the fastest bullet trains (the Nozomi trains), which only save you a few minutes on shorter journeys, but on the 500-odd-mile Hiroshima–Tokyo run, the Nozomi would save you a couple of hours and avoid the need to change at Shin-Osaka or Shin-Kōbe.

Nonetheless, I was back in Tokyo by 4.30 and checked into my hotel 20 minutes later. The hotel itself was definitely of the functional variety, as you might expect from a business hotel next to a major transport hub. My room was miniature, even by Tokyo standards, but it was clean, quiet and wifi-connected, though, so I was happy enough. I spent an hour or so revisiting some of my favourite shops, like the Loft and Muji near Yarakucho station, and exploring the modern architecture masterpiece of the Tokyo International Forum.

Then it was time for my last supper. I met with some family friends in the Roppongi area and we went to Uoshins fish shack. My experience was a lot better than my previous abortive visit to Uoshins, even though it was Sunday and they kept running out of things. As well as the biggest oyster I've ever seen, we ate plenty of sashimi, crab, deep-fried shrimp and crab, and enjoyed a few eggcup-sized cups of sake. It was a really nice way to spend my last night in the city.

Sadly, this morning I had to be up early for my 10.50 am flight. I had planned to go for a last, brief run, but sleep deprivation got the better of me. I thought Narita airport might prove to be a good place for shopping, but this wasn't the case. Not that I had much room in my bag left at this point! After spending all day on the plane, I got home this evening and it's still only 9.30 pm London time. What a long day!

I'll do a few more round-up posts of my trip, highlighting some of my tips for where to go, where to stay, how to get around, where to shop and — most importantly — where to find good coffee! The CliffNotes version is that I had a great time and it wasn't as expensive as I was expecting. I probably would have stayed for another day or two if I had known that. I don't think I would have visited more places or done more things, but my pace might have been more leisurely. Japan is such a diverse and interesting country that genuinely has something to offer no matter what kind of trip you want to take.

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